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Episode 4: To Build a Fire

After pulling on a second pair of thermal socks and loosening the laces so his heavy boots would slip on more easily, Rodney McKay carefully tucked in his pant legs and began tying the laces snugly. 

“We're not going to Antarctica,” John Sheppard said, stuffing a pair of warm gloves into his vest pocket. 

“Close to it,” Rodney said, then stamped both feet to test the feel of his footwear. Satisfied, he grabbed his own pair of gloves and wound a wool scarf around his neck, looking around at his teammates who were assembled in the gear up room, preparing for an off world mission. 

“Rodney, I wonder if your vest is going to fit over all those layers.” Teyla eyed the scientist with a quick once over. 

“Everything works just fine. Thank you very much.” Rodney's voice was a bit muffled by the scarf, which had bunched up at his neck. As he put on his vest and zipped it up with a great deal of difficulty, he said, “You're all going to be very sorry when I'm the only one who is warm and you're freezing your butts off on planet zero.” 

“Aye, I'm with Rodney on this one,” Carson Beckett said from across the room, where he was following Rodney's lead in adding extra layers of warmth to his off world attire. 

“I told you two.” Sheppard's voice sounded a bit impatient. “This planet has a snow cover of about six inches. It can drop below freezing at night, but if we play our cards right and nobody drags their ass, we'll be home well before dark.” 

“Weather report says possible storm,” Ronon said. The Satedan's concession to the climate of the planet they were about to visit was to add a long sleeve shirt beneath his long coat. Otherwise, he looked much as he always did. 

Teyla was dressed warmly also and, like the men, was wearing thin thermal underwear. Both she and Ronon checked their weapons, picked up radios and waited for the others. 

“Possible means maybe.” The Colonel clarified Ronon's weather report and looked at Carson and Rodney, who were both now suited up and appeared ready. 

“I still don't know why I have to go along on this jaunt,” Carson said. “Any one of the medical staff could have handled a birth.” 

“Because we need you,” Rodney said. “The natives, Tuskians or some such, asked us to help with, and I quote, 'an unusual birth', and you're the closest thing to a doctor we have other than Jennifer who is, you know, important.” 

“Very funny, Rodney.” Carson smirked. 

“But now that you mention it,” Rodney said, “I don't know why any of us have to go. I mean, is this the kind of mission the flagship team should be going on?” 

“Flagship team?” Sheppard's eyebrows went up. 

Rodney finished adjusting the straps on his backpack so it would fit over his bulky outer layers and replied, “Flagship team, that's us. The head scientist, the head military guy, the head expert on all things Pegasus and...uh...the ...” He paused and moved a step away from Ronon, who was glaring at him. “The head fighter.” Ronon looked pleased, so Rodney felt safe for the moment. 

“Because,” Sheppard explained, “we were there when the call came in. It's an emergency—in case you hadn't figured that out, McKay—so we're going.” 

“I am most willing to help out our friends,” Teyla said. “The Athosians have traded with the Tuskians since long before you came to this galaxy. Besides, I welcome the chance to do something physical for a change. The last few weeks have been very difficult.” 

Feeling chastened, Rodney went back to fiddling with his equipment. 

“Now, if you girls are finished making yourselves pretty, are we ready to go?” Sheppard's impatience seemed to be growing with each minute he had to spend in the overly warm room while dressed for the extreme cold. 

The team wasted no time in getting to the gateroom and lining up ready to go through the active Stargate. Rodney was the last to arrive, and looking around at his bundled up teammates and seeing that they were prepared and waiting, flashed the Colonel a slightly repentant look. John narrowed his eyes at him and gave the signal to move out. 




As the event horizon shut down behind them, the team walked forward a few steps before stopping in unison and looking around them. 

“Huh,” Rodney said in a hushed voice, “it's a marshmallow world.” 

“Indeed it is,” John said. “And why am I not surprised you would think of food?” 

His teammates had each turned in a circle, taking in the expanse of white stretching ahead of them. 

“Most beautiful,” Teyla added. “I have not seen such a sight since my last winter on Athos.” 

Ronon tipped his head up at the trees and poked at a snow-covered bush with his sword. “It looks like ice cream,” he said, stepping around a plant that was bowed by the weight of the snow. 

“Well, don't try licking it,” John said. “We don't know where it's been. Or where it came from.” 

Ronon smirked at him and said, “This is nothing. Winters on Sateda sometimes brought so much snow we had to climb out on the roof.” 

“Must have been great for skiing,” John perked up. 

“The kids used to have snow battles that lasted all day. Good times.” 

“Some things never change.” Rodney rolled his eyes and turned to look in a new direction. 

The landscape was mostly tree-covered, and the fallen snow had left the branches covered with fluffy piles of the white stuff. It looked like someone had dusted the whole planet with powdered sugar. The snow had accumulated a bit more than six inches, and the sky was blue and clear, which relieved John's unease considerably. 

“Well,” he said, “it looks like the show is over for now, so let's find a path and head out to the village.” 

“There seems to be a wee bit of a trail over this way,” Carson said, pointing between two large trees. The hint of a path could be detected by the change in levels of the snow. 

“All right, let's move out,” John said. “McKay, get your ass back here. How many times have I told you not to wander off?” 

“I was just...” Rodney waved vaguely in the general direction of a particularly impressive display of icy branches, but seeing John's glare, turned in his tracks and headed back toward the team. “Fine, I'll just march in lockstep like a good boy.” 

Ignoring him, John ordered Ronon to take point, and they started down the path. It was fairly easy for the rest of them to follow along in Ronon's much larger footprints, and the fluffy snow offered little resistance. 

“So, Doc,” John stepped up next to Carson and asked, “how long do you think this little shindig will take?” 

Carson shrugged. “It's impossible to say, Colonel. I have to see how things have progressed first. It's my understanding that we're dealing with a breech birth, which could be trouble without the proper equipment. I just hope I have everything I need.” He indicated his bag of hastily assembled medical equipment. 

“Wait,” John interrupted, “isn't that where the kid is turned around the wrong way?” 

“Indeed it is, and unless we can get the little one to advance down the birth canal head first, we may have a bit of a long ordeal. Or worse than that, have to do a Caesarian under less than ideal conditions.” 

John winced and quickly added, “Too much information there, Carson. Let's just move along and see what's happening.” 

“I remember being here before, now that we have arrived,” Carson said. “It was summer though. Lovely people, if I recall correctly. I did a bit of general healthcare and inoculated a few wee babies. Before leaving, I told them to call if they needed anything.” 

“And I guess they did,” John said, looking around to check on the rest of the team. 

Rodney had dropped back to walk beside Teyla and could be heard reminding her of the time he delivered Torren. John guessed this must be making the Athosian sorry she had agreed to take the six, since having to guard their rear made it impossible for her to change positions to avoid the scientist. 

“Now that you have such vast birthing experience, Rodney, I can call on you if I should need assistance.” Carson called out and grinned at John, who ducked his head to hide his own smirk. 

“Really?” Rodney picked up his pace until he was right on Carson's heels. “Because, you know, I might be needed to help keep watch and ... guard stuff.” 

“Don't worry, Rodney,” John said, “I'm sure we can spare you if Carson needs help.” 

The trail wandered through a forest for quite some distance. Above them, the trees were heavy with snow which occasionally drifted down on their heads. Everything was unusually quiet and still. No animals or birds could be heard and nothing seemed to be alive anywhere around them. Occasionally, Ronon whacked at some vegetation or a low hanging branch with his sword, but otherwise, they left everything undisturbed. Finally, they emerged into a clearing, which was at the top of a gentle slope. 

“Cool,” John said, when the others had emerged from the trees and gathered around him, “we could ski from here.” 

“Speak for yourself, Tony Hawk,” Rodney said, brushing a bit of snow off his shoulders. 

“Tony Hawk is a skater, not a skier,” John said. “You don't know a lot about much of anything, do you?” 

Ronon grunted and began looking for where the trail continued. Teyla helped Ronon brush away snow to reveal the smooth surface of the road, while Rodney and Carson stamped their feet and complained. 

Carson moved up next to John and re-adjusted his backpack. “I'm hoping you weren't serious about the skiing.” 

“Not to worry, Doc. It looks like we have a trail.” John indicated the area that Ronon and Teyla had revealed and waved the others ahead of him. “Now just try not to slip and fall while walking down the hill.” 

“No need for sarcasm.” Carson trudged ahead a bit slower than before. “I'll have you know I'm carrying some very delicate instruments in my pack and wouldn't want them to be damaged.” 

“Maybe we can all hold hands.” Rodney was never more snarky than when someone else was complaining louder than he was. 

“Shut up and move out.” John poked at some snow that had fallen down the back of his neck and urged the others to hurry up. 

The path became progressively easier to follow, and they soon discovered that the surface appeared to be more like a road than a dirt trail. At the crest of another small hill, they got their first glimpse of the village, which left them momentarily speechless, as they paused and took in its picturesque beauty. 

“Oh my,” Teyla said, and the others nodded in agreement. 

“It looks like a highland village in Scotland.” Carson's tone was almost reverent. 

“A ski resort in Colorado,” John said. 

“When my sister and I were little our parents took us to the Canadian Rockies. We couldn't afford one of the resorts, so we stayed in this little motel that had these tiny primitive cabins. Every night the bears came and tried to get through the window. Woke us up. I'll never forget...” 

“McKay!” John's sharp voice effectively shut down Rodney's narrative. 

“Reminds me of a hunting camp on Sateda. I could shoot that bear for you,” Ronon said. 

Rodney brightened. “Would you? Thanks buddy.” 

“Let's move out. We're burning daylight.” John's mind was on the weather report and the need to complete their mission before it once again began to snow. 

“Yes, and I am sure our mother-to-be is anxiously awaiting our arrival,” Teyla said, as she indicated that Carson and Rodney should precede her down the road.




Once they arrived in the village, things progressed rapidly. They were greeted warmly and welcomed back to the galaxy after their long absence. The Tuskians had long been allies and trading partners and were genuinely glad that the ancient city and its inhabitants had returned. 

John stood watching silently, ever alert for anything out of the ordinary, but seeing no immediate danger. They were known to these villagers, and he didn't expect anything unusual to happen. Carson and Teyla were whisked away to a small cottage in front of which several townspeople had gathered. Some of the men had shoveled paths in the snow leading to and from various other buildings, and a group of children were pelting each other with snowballs a short distance away. The whole scene could have been a number of places on Earth in an earlier century. 

Ronon wasted no time in pitching in to help gather firewood, and soon a large bonfire provided a place for the men to gather and warm their hands and bodies. They soon ran out of things to keep them busy and resorted to doing what men the universe over do in a similar situation--wait and worry. It didn't seem to be a local custom to have the father present at a birth, as it soon became apparent that the tall young man with the fiery red curls was the expectant father. 

“Failan was so eager to escape the birthing chamber, he ran out without the proper covering to protect him from the cold,” an older man said with a teasing lilt in his voice, as he held out a thick coat made of some sort of animal skins to the younger man. 

“Thank you, Father,” Failan replied, accepting the coat and shrugging into it with a nod of gratitude. “But I wanted to stay. It was Berga who insisted that I leave her sight.” 

The other men laughed heartily. “She won't be eager to set eyes on the likes of you for some time to come I'd wager,” his father said. 

Failan took the teasing with a shy smile. 

“Take my word for it.” Rodney spoke up. “Witnessing a birth isn't all it's cracked up to be.” 

“Rodney is our resident midwife,” John said and winked at Ronon. 

Rodney preened a little as the others all turned as one to observe him closely. “It was a, you know, emergency,” he said. “But I wouldn't recommend it.” 

John smirked at him, and Ronon snickered at his discomfort. “So,” John said, changing the subject, “is this your first?” 

“Indeed it is,” Failan answered, “and Berga was most nervous about becoming a mother even before it became necessary to call for help. We wish to thank you for bringing Doctor Beckett so quickly.” 

John nodded. “Our pleasure. We are happy to help our friends. So tell us, what do you guys do for fun around here?” 

The men passed the time swapping hunting stories and trying to outdo each other with lies about the biggest fish caught or the prettiest girl won. All in all, it was a desperate attempt not to think about what might be going on behind the closed door of the small house, from which the occasional piercing scream emanated. As time went on and the screams came closer together, the men found things to do elsewhere. Pretty soon the firewood supply had doubled, and every house in the small village had a cleanly shoveled trail leading to its front door. 

When, once again, they built up their bonfire and passed around the sandwiches that someone's wife had provided, they noticed that all was quiet. 

“Hey, the screaming has stopped,” Rodney said needlessly. “That's gotta be good. Right?” 

John grimaced, feeling doubtful, but didn't reply. 

“Works for me,” Ronon said around a mouthful of food. 

Failan looked nervously at the other men, who all nodded their encouragement, and tried to look positive. 

“The doctor has been inside a very long time,” Failan said. 

“Don't worry, my son,” his father said gently. “Babies take a long time, particularly the first. Why, just ask your mother how many hours she labored to bring you into this world.” 

“It is as Dorgan has said,” another added. “My sweet wife took all of two days to give birth to this one.” He clapped a rather large young man on the back who grinned and shrugged his massive shoulders. 

Rodney opened his mouth to contribute a bit of sarcasm that would undoubtedly have gotten them in trouble, but Ronon interrupted. “Starting to cloud up,” he said, stepping away from the fire and turning his head up to the sky. 

John followed him and studied the thickening clouds. The wind had picked up a bit too, and the men pulled their coats tighter around them and dug their hands deep into their pockets. 

“Is there any way we can find out how much longer this might...” John began, but stopped in mid-sentence when Teyla emerged from the building and hurried over to them with a big smile on her face. 

“You have a strong healthy son,” she told Failan, who momentarily looked like he might faint before hurrying past her and disappearing through the open door. 

“Well, finally,” Rodney said, “you didn't take nearly as long to push out Torren. I was beginning to think...” 

“McKay!” John's voice held an edge of impatience. Indicating the sky, he turned his attention to Teyla. “It looks like the snow may start up again any minute. If we're going to make it out of here, we've gotta go soon.” 

“Understood,” Teyla assured him. “I will do everything I can to hurry Carson along.” She nodded to the other men and quickly went back inside. 

The villagers were pounding Failan's father and another man, who had identified himself as Berga's father, on the back and congratulating them when John reclaimed his place by the fire. Someone had pulled out a jug of what had to be the local moonshine and was passing it around. John declined, but Ronon took a hefty swallow, declaring, “It'll keep you warm.” 

“No thanks,” John said. “I've learned that some of these local brews might start out all right, but before you know it, you're revisiting your lunch.” 

Ronon held out the small clay pitcher to Rodney who shrugged and took it. “It's a long walk back. One needs all the internal insulation one can get.” 

“Well, take it easy you two,” John warned. “I'd hate to have to drag your unconscious bodies back through the gate by one foot.” 

Rodney blanched and Ronon chuckled before taking another swig of the powerful drink. 

Another hour passed with further darkening of the sky. The wind was becoming more persistent also, and all the children had disappeared back into their warm houses. Most of the men had wandered off as well with a few last calls of congratulations to the two grandfathers and words of farewell and thanks to their visitors. John was alternately eyeing the door to the cottage and the gray skies while chewing on his bottom lip. 

“Pardon me, Colonel Sheppard,” Dorgan said, as he stepped within John's line of sight, “but I feel you and your team should take advantage of our hospitality for the night. Storms can come up suddenly and grow in intensity beyond the few inches you see here. We have plenty of room in the village for all of you.” 

John considered the offer for a moment. “Well, I appreciate it,” he said, “but we're expected back in Atlantis. I think we'll be fine if we don't linger much longer.” He was about ready to pound on the door and yell for Carson and Teyla to get a move on when it opened and first Teyla, then Carson, emerged. 

Ronon took the case of medical supplies that Carson was carrying and slung it over his shoulder, while John looked around for Rodney. “All right team, let's go. We need to get going,” John said, waving for McKay to hurry and join them. 

The scientist took his time leaving his place by the fire and shuffling over to join the others. 

“It hasn't started snowing yet,” John said to Teyla and Carson. “But it looks like it might start again soon. So, in the interest of not getting snowed in, let's get a move on.” 

“Very well,” Teyla agreed. “We are ready if you are.” 

“I hate to leave the new mum and her little one so soon after such a difficult birthing experience,” Carson said, looking back with a doubtful expression to the recently vacated house. 

“If you think she's still in danger, you can always stay behind for a few days,” John offered. 

“Well, no,” Carson said, “there's no immediate danger to speak of. She's a hearty lass who ordinarily wouldn't have had any problem with childbirth. I'm sure she will be fine under her mother's care, and her fine new son is a sturdy lad. That was part of the problem actually. The baby's size made it hard for him to...” 

“Doc,” John interrupted with a twist of his features, “what have we said about too much information?” 

“Aye, sorry Colonel.” Carson chuckled. “I forgot for a moment about how squeamish you are for someone who has seen his share of blood and gore on the battlefield.” 

John signaled for the team to precede him down the path. “Battlefield gore is one thing, Carson,” he said, “but this is a whole other ballgame.” 

Teyla said a few quick words of assurance to Dorgan before quickly taking her place in front of John. “You should have seen Carson,” she said. “He did a wonderful job with both the new mother and her child. It was most impressive.” 

“Well, nice,” Rodney said, “at least he's good for something.” 

“Thank you, Rodney,” Carson said. “I'll remember that remark the next time you come into the infirmary complaining of a splinter in your pinkie finger.” 

Led by Ronon, the team waved farewell to Dorgan and started back down the path leading away from the village. Teyla and Carson chatted back and forth about Berga and her new son, while Rodney filled them in on the ordeal of waiting and shoveling snow. They hadn't gone far before small flakes began to fall lazily from the sky. 

“It's snowing,” Ronon observed needlessly. 

“Dammit,” John said. “All right people. Watch the path and pick up the pace.”




At first, the light snowfall didn't pose much of a problem and following the trail that had led them to the village was easy. But, after some time, it seemed as if the skies opened up, and the snow began falling much faster. The wind also picked up and began to blow the snow sideways, mixing it with the dry powder that already covered the ground. The team huddled deeper into their coats and bent their heads against the gusts. 

“Stay close together,” John said, having to shout to be heard, “and keep everyone in sight.” 

“Are you serious?” Rodney said. “I can't even see my own feet. Teyla? Teyla is that you?” 

“Stop grabbing me!” Ronon pushed the scientist, who stumbled and almost fell. 

“Ronon!” Teyla said. “We must stay nearby each other.” She shuffled over to Rodney and gave him a pat on the back to reassure him that she was near. 

Within moments, the snow was swirling over and around the team to the extent that they could barely see each other. They trudged forward in a scraggly line with Ronon in the lead and John bringing up the rear. Every bit of John's wilderness training ran through his head, as he desperately tried to remember the parts about surviving in severe snow storms. 

Carson grabbed onto the back of Ronon's coat and followed the big man closely. “It's me, Ronon!” he shouted. “I'm right behind you.” 

“Follow me, Doc.” 

“Rodney? Rodney, is that you?” Teyla's voice was barely audible above the howling wind. 

Rodney moved closer and placed a hand on Teyla's shoulder. “I'm here! But I can hardly see anything!” 

“Keep moving in a straight line and stay close!” John could barely see the others in front of him, and he kept having to swipe his hand across his face to rid it of ice crystals that stung and forced him to squint. An occasional lessening of the wind gave him a glimpse or two of several darker shapes, which were bent almost double against the storm. 

John continued shouting encouragement to his team, and Ronon replied with a few words which let him know they were all still together on the trail. This procedure worked until something huge suddenly appeared to form itself from the surrounding snow, and with a tremendous roar that could be heard clearly over the storm, dashed in front of them. John saw Carson jump back and fall into a snowdrift, as Ronon pulled his sword and swung toward the invader. 

“What the hell was that?” John spun around just in time to see Teyla raise her P90 and fire at what could only be described as an enormous snowman. 

“Get down!” John shouted, and added his own gunfire to the mix. 

The creature was fast for its size and twisted its body in such a way that all the bullets sailed by it. The only damage was the destruction of a number of tree branches and a few rocks. Carson and Rodney finally seemed to come to their senses and joined the others in firing at their attacker. The resulting barrage of automatic gunfire did little to slow it down, even when several of the bullets found their mark in its gigantic body. 

The storm had abated a bit, giving the team a little more visibility. 

“What's this thing made out of, rock?” Rodney said, as he huddled behind a bush and attempted to reload his weapon with clumsy gloved fingers. 

John signaled for them to fall back, and the others found their own place to take a breather. The monster, meanwhile, had disappeared into the trees. 

“Want me to go after it?” Ronon called out from his vantage point behind a fir tree. 

“Negative,” John replied, “let's see what it does next.” 

“Eat us would be my guess,” Carson mumbled. He had crawled over behind a particularly large tree and was hastily checking to see that he had not used all his ammunition. 

“Try not to kill it if it comes back,” John said. “For all we know it could be sacred on this planet and we'll create an intergalactic incident.” 

When the creature didn't immediately return, they all came out of hiding, brushing the snow from their clothing and reloading their weapons. Ronon walked a ways back down the path and pushing some branches aside with his sword, looked under and around the large trees. “I don't see any sign of it,” he shouted. 

The snow wasn't falling quite so heavily, and they took a moment to regroup before starting off again. 

“Maybe we've seen the last of it,” John said. He walked backwards behind the others and searched their surroundings for any sign of their attacker. 

“Or he's gone to find friends,” Rodney said and sank deeper into his collar. 

Once more, with Ronon in the lead and John on their six, the team trudged forward and the snow once again got heavier. They had gained a bit of distance, passing groves of trees and several open fields without incident before the next onslaught. The monster gave them a warning this time by pausing to throw its head back and give a roar of frustrated rage before it ran at them, large claws extended and pointed teeth showing in a grimace of hatred. 

“Take cover!” John shouted, and some of them scrambled behind boulders, while others ran into a small copse of tall trees. 

A sudden gust of wind blew the snow around in such a way that they were all nearly invisible. The creature seemed to be confused, paused for a moment and then went back in the direction from which it had come. 

“Wait for it. He's coming back,” Ronon warned from behind a large tree and nobody moved. 

They didn't have long to wait until it came back toward them at a run, howling like a whole battalion of banshees. John stepped out from behind the large rock where he had taken shelter and fired over the creature's head. Its forward momentum carried it past the team before it could react to the attack. Everyone came out of hiding and stood ready to fire, hoping that the big animal would decide it had had enough and keep going. But that was not to be. 

Enraged, the creature turned back toward them and came toward John, arms swinging. It was at least a foot taller than Ronon and covered from head to toe in long white fur, which made it difficult to separate from the falling snow. The roar that came from its mouth momentarily drowned out the screams that were coming from both Rodney and Carson and the angry curses of the other men. Teyla set about systematically firing warning shots at the monster's feet, but when it turned toward her and advanced menacingly, she fired directly into its huge chest. John joined her in bringing the attacker to its knees, where Ronon's sharp sword finished it off. 

“Wuh, why didn't you shoot it with that big gun of yours?” Rodney winced as he watched Ronon pull his sword out of the fallen monster and wipe the blade with a handful of snow. 

“This was faster,” Ronon said, grinning. “And more fun.” 

They stood silently looking down at the body of the enormous creature. Taking inventory of the team, John saw that everybody was slightly out of breath, and Rodney had lost his hat in a snowbank. Otherwise, they seemed to have come through unscathed. 

“He looks like the Abominable Snowman,” Carson said. Now that the danger was past, his medical curiosity appeared to have kicked in, and he was circling the body and leaning closer to observe it carefully.

“Bigfoot,” John added with a grimace. 

“How do you know it's a he?” Rodney said. He had found his hat and was pounding it against his leg to clear it of snow. 

Carson pointed to the creature's midsection and Ronon chuckled. “Big foot and big...” 

“Ronon!” Teyla said, with a bit of amusement in her voice. 

“Well whatever it is,” John said, “it wasn't very friendly. Now let's move out before his friends show up wondering why he didn't make it home for dinner.” 

“Friends?” Rodney looked around in alarm. “You think there are more of them...him? Because, you know, that would be so not good.” 

“Let's go!” John shouted. “Back in formation and move out!” 


>>> Onwards to To Build a Fire, CH II


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