Word Count: ~4600
Summary: It's not every day you discover that you're king of the dinosaurs...
Aiden Ford And The Dinorama
There were red rock cliffs facing the Stargate, green-gold meadows behind it. Green forests started scrubby on a distant hill and swept up towards the ice-tipped mountains in the distance. A red sun shone down on the planet, and three moons of varying sizes glimmered palely in the violet sky.
It was a nice planet in Aiden's view.
Back in Atlantis, the database had marked P8D-943 - no name, so it had been designated a number- as a friendly planet, without hostiles.
Of course, the database wasn't always correct, but Aiden was hopeful. Planets without hostiles - alien or human - were rapidly becoming one of the high points of life in the Pegasus galaxy.
"Probably because there's something here that's even worse than the Wraith," grouched McKay as he stomped just ahead of Aiden, waving his hands back and forth in the air in front of his face.
Teyla glanced back at them from where she walked near Major Sheppard, her brow slightly furrowed. "There is nothing worse than the Wraith in Pegasus."
"Well, these bugs are coming close!" McKay swatted at the bugs coming to rest on his skin. They seemed to like him more than they did Aiden or Teyla or even the Major. "They're probably bloodsuckers, transmitting disease with every bite they take!"
Up ahead, Sheppard glanced back, his brows drawing down behind his glasses in a frown. "They're not biting, McKay."
"Maybe not for you! If there's anything bloodsucking or vicious or stinging, it'll go right for me. They always do." Another swat and grumble. "Why couldn't we bring the 'jumper? Oh, that's right, because Sheppard was worried about scratching the paint job!"
The Stargate on this planet had been set facing a cliff wall so the Wraith couldn't send their darts through. There might have been just enough room to fit the 'jumper in, but Sheppard hadn't been willing to try it. Under other circumstances, they would have farmed this exploratory mission off to another team. Where other circumstances involved there not being an Ancient-style power signature emitting from a location not more than a couple of klicks away from the Stargate.
"It's not that far, McKay." Up in front, the Major adjusted his sunglasses the better to see the rim of the crater in which the power signature was located. "Think of this as your daily dose of exercise."
"I don't have a daily dose of exercise. If the universe had intended me to be the kind that did exercise, I'd have been something brainless like a soldier, not a scientist."
The snide commentary was aimed more to Sheppard than to Aiden, but the sting was still there. The man had no respect for anyone who couldn't do what he did - which was just about everyone on the expedition. And, sure, the guy was a genius, but he didn't have any respect for things he couldn't do either, and that was just plain rude in Aiden's opinion.
Aiden opened his mouth to make a sharp retort about McKay's prejudices and was neatly interrupted.
"Dr Weir gave me to understand that the training - physical and mental - to become a member of the Atlantis expedition was exceedingly rigorous," Teyla said, her tone smooth and curious. "She said the SGC breeds no fools."
McKay snorted. "I wouldn't say that. The SGC breeds plenty of idiots who can't see beyond their noses."
"And plenty of people who seem to think that ZPMs should be handed to them on platters."
"I do not think that--" McKay glared at Sheppard. "I just don't see why we couldn't take the 'jumper! Then we wouldn't have to fight off bloodsucking bugs with every step!"
"I do not believe they are bloodsuckers."
"Does it matter? We're practically chewing them!"
Aiden couldn't see the Major's face from back here, but he could hear Sheppard's roll of the eyes in his retort. "Then don't talk so much, McKay!"
There were ruins with a distinct power signature that was powerful enough to be a ZPM.
Of course, the ruins were close to the bottom of a crater. Gold stone nestled among lush jungle, and the midmorning sun glittered off the thin snake of a river whose source crashed over the lip of the crater several dozen miles away in a foaming thunder that was nothing more than a hiss from where they stood.
"You want me to climb down that?"
The path down the side of the bowl was almost vertical at first. But it was an easy trail - a switchback for the first fifty yards down before a stone-laid path vanished into the nearest jungle.
"We could throw you off it."
Aiden was only half-kidding. The Major's twitch of the mouth before he turned away to survey the trail suggested that he'd entertained the idea - even if just for a moment. McKay had a way of making even the easiest walk across friendly territory seem like a chore.
"We'll take a break. Get a drink, restore McKay's glucose levels. Then we'll start down."
They pulled out the canteens in their backpacks. Well, the Major, and Teyla, and Aiden pulled out their canteens. McKay pulled out his LSD and started reprogramming it.
"Dr. Zelenka said that almost any exertion would be worth a ZPM," Teyla remarked as she fished about her pockets for an energy bar. "Since Atlantis does not have the capacity to build one."
"Yeah, well, do you see Zelenka here? Because he's safely in Atlantis and I--"
"Agreed to be part of a Gate team, McKay," said Sheppard, slightly exasperated. "If you don't want to come out on these jaunts, then I'll talk to Weir and we'll put you back in the labs."
"Oh yeah? And then if you got into any kind of trouble that required someone who could think his way out of an impenetrable shield of invulnerability, you'd be screwed!"
"I am sure that Dr. Weir would be happy to assign another technical person to Major Sheppard's team," Teyla said between mouthfuls of sticky, honeyed oats and fruit bits. "I believe there is some status involved?"
Well, sort of. For McKay there was. A couple of the scientists thought it would be cool to be assigned to a Stargating team, rather than stationed in Atlantis. Doubtless, the adventures of SG-1 had influenced that over the years.
For Aiden...not so much.
Colonel Sumner had been a good officer. Aiden had read the man's file - the parts of it he was authorised to do - and developed a lot of respect for the guy and what he'd been through. But Sumner had his own prejudices about scientists, and he'd been the one picking the military personnel.
Sumner hadn't picked Major Sheppard. Dr. Weir had done that, and although Aiden hadn't been privy to the showdown, he'd heard murmurs about it in the SGC mess for weeks afterwards.
Now that Sheppard was the ranking officer in Atlantis, he got respect for the job. Well, he got respect for the stunt he'd pulled off with the Wraith the first time, too, but that was rather grudging.
And he'd asked for Aiden on his team. Which Aiden could have refused but didn't.
He quite liked the Major. The guy had asked for him because he had 'initiative and a good attitude and Stargating experience.' And Teyla was interesting and good company - and not just because she was pretty.
"Are you going to have anything to eat or drink?"
"Yes, yes, just as soon as I..." McKay looked up. "We're not going already?"
"Sooner we start up, the sooner we get down there and find what's leaving the power trace."
"And the sooner we can make it back up before dark," Aiden said pointedly. Okay, so it was prodding McKay, just a little. But the guy wasn't going to move it without some kind of incentive, and Aiden didn't much like the idea of climbing that trail in the dark.
McKay scowled but began fumbling through his pack for his canteen. "Fine, but if I break my neck, then someone else is carrying me back!"
"If you break your neck, will it not be impossible for you to move in any case?" Teyla asked the question with all the delicacy of someone uncertain if they should be pointing out the obvious.
"Exactly my point."
Her brows rose. "Okay."
The ruins were stone, but still distinctly Ancient. The structure seemed to be sound - although the more perishable parts of the structure had long since fallen apart, but the framework remained and gave a good idea of what the original building had looked like.
Parts of it looked like Atlantis. It wasn't a clear resemblance, but there were...echoes. If that made sense.
Aiden mentioned this to Sheppard who nodded. "I see it."
Ahead of them, Teyla paused in one of the doorways, looking back at the room they'd left behind, then the one before them. "I believe that the jungle is becoming more verdant, not less. And the temperature is warmer here than it was at the edge of the ruins."
"Maybe it's more sheltered than the rest of the valley because of the ruins?" Aiden suggested. "A microclimate."
"And what would you know about microclimates?"
"About as much as you do, McKay," said Sheppard. "How close are we to the power source?"
"Oh, not far. In fact, I think that the power source is located at the centre of the ruins. If you assume a roughly circular layout and structure, of course."
"Which it's run to so far." The Major looked around as they entered the next room. "Teyla's right. The greenery's getting thicker..."
Something rustled in the greenery behind, and Aiden turned, bringing up his weapon. A split-second later, Major Sheppard and Teyla had their weapons up and pointed at the room they'd just left.
"What? What is it?"
Aiden held up a hand and listened. Beneath the chirp and squeak of the birds and small creatures in the jungle, the noise of the waterfall could be heard. And under that...nothing more than the soft slide of leaves against each other as tiny breezes slid between the trees.
"I heard something move."
"It's a jungle," McKay said. "Everything moves."
"You're sure, Lieutenant?"
"Yes, sir." He said it with certainty, although he wasn't feeling completely certain that he'd heard what he'd thought he heard - something large, moving in the undergrowth, large enough to rustle plants with a distinct sound of its passing.
Sheppard nodded. "Okay. Keep your ears out. There could be anything hiding in the jungle."
Aiden felt hot under his collar, although at least Sheppard hadn't reprimanded him, or sneered the way McKay did. It was just a little irritating the way the man went on about people who were on a hair-trigger of paranoia - as though he had any legs to stand on when it came to paranoia.
Teyla was right. The jungle was getting thicker, and Aiden had to pull out a machete to hack away at some of the vines and plants to gain them enough space to move through.
"We're nearly there... Hey! Watch where you're swinging that thing!"
"Watch where you're standing, McKay!" Aiden hacked at the vines that overhung a large branch in their way, waited for them to fall, then ducked under the branch. And stopped.
A paved area had been laid out in the centre of the room, with rough stones about the size of a human head set in a swirling circular pattern. Really weirdly considering the rest of the place was jungle, nothing grew over or around it. In the middle of the circle was...well, Aiden imagined it was the thing that was giving off the energy signature that was the reason they'd come this far.
It looked like a design cross between an industrial boiler and a satellite dish - if industrial boilers and satellite dishes had been manufactured in stone and glowed like there was the heat of a volcano inside.
"This is our power source?" Teyla inquired as McKay paced forward and began scanning the device.
"Well, it's obviously Ancient design."
"Like we couldn't tell just by looking at it."
"Yes, but what you wouldn't be able to tell just by looking at it is that the power signature is almost exactly that of a ZPM."
"Almost?" Aiden questioned and shrugged off McKay's glare. "You said 'almost exactly that of a ZPM'!"
"Well, it's probable that the casing around the ZPM is disrupting the readings..."
Teyla interrupted before McKay could let loose. "Why would someone turn on a power source in the middle of a jungle, and then leave it?"
"That," Sheppard said, "is the million dollar question."
Of course, answers to million dollar questions didn't grow on trees. Even in the Pegasus galaxy.
After fifteen minutes of monologue from McKay, barely interspersed by questions from Aiden, Major Sheppard, and Teyla, Aiden was just as glad to go out on recon with the Major.
"We'll call in if we spot anything," Major Sheppard assured Teyla before they left.
"She didn't look reassured," Aiden noted as they pushed through the jungle.
Sheppard smiled, a sardonic quirk of his lips. "Teyla can handle McKay. She just prefers not to. And these ruins were put here for a reason."
With the point of his weapon, the Major indicated the top edge of the wall, where the 'roof' of the buildings should have been. "See anything there, Lieutenant?"
Aiden strained his eyes. "No, sir."
"That's because there isn't anything there. In fact, there's no sign that this ever had a roof on it at all."
Now that he looked, he could see it. "An open-air structure built in stone and filled with jungle. So...nobody used to live here."
"No-one human, anyway."
"So...what was this place used for?"
"And that's the question, isn't it, Lieutenant?"
"Another million dollar one?"
"Getting expensive around here." Sheppard grimaced and spoke into his radio. "Teyla? Has McKay come up with anything yet?"
"Other than that the power source is unlikely to be a ZPM, no. Have you found anything?"
"Jungle. A lot of it. And the fact that nobody's ever lived here. There's never been a roof on this thing - it wasn't built to house people."
"Then what lived here?"
The question hung in the air as something shifted through the undergrowth.
The P-90 seemed heavy in his hands as he lifted it, as the boughs before him shivered, long leaves rippling.
It was small - about three quarters the size of a man. Two-legged with a long tail, just like in the pictures he'd seen as a kid. Big arms and a runner's legs. Lizard head, but feathered - colourfully feathered, like a bird of paradise.
Aiden hadn't been expecting the feathers. Or the way it tilted its head as it saw him, as though contemplating him: friend, foe, or food?
The moment was electric.
Sheppard turned, his weapon coming up. But he didn't shoot, didn't move. "Shit! Don't move, Ford."
"Not moving, sir."
McKay's voice squawked from their radios. "What's going on out there? Sheppard? Ford?"
The dinosaur - it looked a bit like one of those velociraptors from Jurassic Park - turned its head to look at Sheppard, then, as though dismissing the Major as of no moment, looked back at Aiden again.
Its lips pulled back showing sharp teeth in a feral grin.
Then it leaped.
Aiden heard the chatter of the Major's weapon only distantly, his attention was on the creature and trying to avoid those teeth in case it kept coming after being shot and went for his jugular. He'd never wrestled with dinosaurs before, he didn't know what to expect. He hoped Sheppard didn't shoot him along with the dinosaur.
He realised Sheppard hadn't shot the dinosaur about the time it slammed into him the way his cousin Gary used to do - two hundred pound Gary in a five-foot-nine body that was mostly the frame for a helluva lot of muscle.
Aiden did what he used to do when Gary tackled him. He went limp.
As he hit the ground, he saw stars of light, tiny supernovas against his vision. Then the galaxy whirled as he rolled over, trying to keep his chin down, trying to dislodge the creature. It refused to be dislodged. It was big. And strong. and it smelled like...chocolate pudding?
Someone was yelling something at him, even as the velociraptor made growling noises as it looked into his eyes. Aiden couldn't hear what was being said. Couldn't seem to work out what his brain was frantically trying to tell him behind the panic alert of 'DINOSAURS! VELOCIRAPTORS! TEETH! SHARP TEETH! DON'T BARE YOUR THROAT!'
There were the sounds of more shots in the background. Then someone's voice, high and clear and sharp.
It took Aiden a few moments to realise that movement elsewhere in the room had stopped. Mostly because the velociraptor was still growling in his face.
There were footsteps by his head. Booted footsteps. Booted feet that nudged the growling velociraptor off Aiden, as though the creature wasn't capable of taking off her leg at the knee.
But it went. Rolled off and climbed to its feet like nothing so much as a dog who'd gotten a bit too playful and had realised it had crossed a line.
"I believe it is safe," said Teyla, reaching down with one hand to help pull him up. "They are not dangerous."
"Not dangerous?" McKay demanded, his hand on his weapon. "Are you kidding?"
"They didn't harm us." Aiden said. He felt weird, defending dinosaurs, but the things weren't attacking them - just standing around. "And we attacked them."
"Or tried to." Sheppard was dusting himself off, and keeping a wary eye on the velociraptor who was watching them all with a look that Aiden would have described as 'curious'. He crouched down and picked up what Aiden realised was a slightly flattened bullet. "What the hell kind of creature has bulletproof hide?"
"One that's got friends!"
Aiden looked up. Another two had come out of the woodwork, both a little smaller than the first one, not as brightly coloured, and apparently not as 'friendly', because they were pacing at the edge of the room, as though uncertain whether they should go or stay.
The first velociraptor hissed at them, although not in what seemed an unfriendly way.
"Look at the points on those teeth!"
"Do not your household pets also have sharp teeth, Dr. McKay?" Teyla was regarding the first creature, and now began to approach it, her hands up.
"Yeah, but they can't take your hand of with one snap of their jaws!"
"I think it is safe enough," she said, and, standing in front of the creature, brushed one hand over the top of the raptor's head.
Damn thing pushed its head against her hand like a puppy, angling for a rub. The growling sound in its throat grew louder.
"I'll be damned," Aiden murmured. The velociraptor really was someone's household pet. Well, had been some Ancient's household pet. Possibly.
"You'll get eaten."
Teyla didn't look away, but kept scratching the creature's head. A thin film fell over the creature's eye - an inner eyelid, Aiden realised. "It's feathers are very soft," she said after a moment.
Aiden took a step forward and the velociraptor's inner lid lifted. Its head stretched out a bit further and it took a cautious step forward...
"Sir, I think..." It had leaped for him first - not for Sheppard. He wasn't sure what that meant. But he wasn't going to be a coward about this like McKay. And Teyla had been petting it and it seemed to like her, so...
The feathers on the head were definitely soft. Almost downy under the top layer, although they did look a bit like scales if Aiden squinted.
Across the room, McKay was keeping his distance, and Sheppard was giving the two new velociraptors the eye. They were giving him the eye right back, even as they sidled along the edge of the room to put themselves closer to the velociraptor Aiden and Teyla was patting.
The smaller one of the duo - about hip-height to a man - peered out from behind the larger one and made a hissing noise. Aiden's dinosaur made a hissing noise back, and the smaller one eased gently out and padded across the room to nudge Aiden's hip with its head. It made a squealing noise, like an excited kid, and Aiden brushed a hand across the top of the little guy's head.
Not too bad for dinosaurs.
Teyla laughed then, and the tension in the room eased up. Mostly.
"You okay there, Ford?"
"As long as they're not eating me."
"They're probably rubbing their scent against you so they can mark you for later eating."
"Cheerful, McKay." Sheppard rolled his eyes. "They seem to like you, Lieutenant."
"Maybe I'm a likeable guy, sir."
McKay made a muffled noise that sounded suspiciously similar to 'Hah!'
"Perhaps a further perusal of the ruins would be in order," Teyla suggested. "Or perhaps Dr. McKay could continue his studies with the power device."
"There's nothing to study. Look, whatever it's doing, it's generating a hell of a lot of power, but I can't find any way to get in. Or a reason that they set this up here in the middle of an abandoned planet, in a crater full of dinosaurs."
"It's not full of dinosaurs, McKay." Aiden said. "Just these ones."
"You sure about that, Lieutenant?"
Heads began poking out of the fern fronds, interested eyes blinking at the team as heads tilted and teeth bared and the hissing began.
Aiden only had two arms.
And there were a lot of dinosaurs trying to get his attention.
"You can't tell them to go away?" Major Sheppard asked looking up curiously from McKay's handheld device. He'd managed to attach a couple of ones with pinkish feathers, but the bulk of them were following Aiden's every move.
"I don't think they're the kind of creature that liked to be told to 'shoo'," Aiden said, somewhat apologetically.
It was a little worrying, perhaps, but other than the almost obsessive attention they were paying him, the creatures seemed harmless. Most of them had flopped down on the stone circle around the room, lazing in the sunlight pouring down around them. Like a pack of dogs waiting for the signal to go out.
McKay was poking and prodding at the stone boiler, trying to work out a way to open it up, or at least get it to reveal what it was doing. A few heads swung back and forth with his movements, but none of the creatures had even tried to approach him yet. Obviously, said the Major, he wasn't a velociraptor person.
Or maybe velociraptors weren't McKay people.
"It looks like...but that makes no sense. Why would you...? Oh, no, don't-- Oh. Okay."
"Dr. McKay?" Teyla had small crowd of the velociraptors around her, with a small one poking its head hopefully into her lap, and a big guy resting against her shoulder as she leaned back on the stairs.
"It looks like the power is going into...some kind of a shield. Only...the power isn't just keeping things out it's...sort of splitting the power - part of it going to maintain the shield, part of it... That can't be right!"
"McKay!" Sheppard was sharp. "If it is right, what's it doing?"
"It's...creating a kind of protected area around these ruins. So the effects of weather aren't so harsh inside here."
"So that's what it's doing," Aiden said. "Why?"
"Well, if I knew that, I wouldn't be sitting here trying to work out what this thing is doing! But wherever it's getting the power to do whatever it's doing will be impossible to replicate."
Aiden snorted. McKay always said that. "So it should take you a couple of weeks to work it out then?"
"Maybe a month."
Aiden saw the smile that tilted the corners of Teyla's mouth. He turned back when one of the velociraptors by his leg hissed at another one who was trying to edge in too close, so he only heard her question. "Do the Atlantis database notes say anything about the planet, Major?"
Sheppard made an indeterminate noise. "Looks like this place was an experiment for the Ancients. Kind of like a planetary lab."
"What were they testing?"
"Don't know. The translation's rough and I never got Latin. But I found the word vivarius, which'd mean something along the lines of a 'place for life'. Add to it the fact that this structure wasn't built for human habitation..."
He fell silent, and at first Aiden thought Sheppard was still reading, until Teyla asked, "What is it?"
Aiden turned just as Sheppard leaned over to show Teyla something on the handheld. Her brows went up. "I see. And this is...?"
"The guy whose project this was, I guess."
"It would appear to explain why they are so fond of Lieutenant Ford."
He frowned, growing irritated with all the talk around him. "Why?"
Sheppard turned the pic around, and Aiden found himself looking at the headshot of a guy - presumably an Ancient - who looked quite a bit like him - colouring, shape of the face, maybe a bit older and filled out, but... "Wow."
"Pretty good resemblance, huh?"
"So, wait, wait, wait," McKay interrupted, his hands hovering in the air like an instructor waiting for his class' attention. "This place was put together by some guy as his own personal petting zoo?"
"Looks like it."
"And he just happened to look like Ford?"
"Probably. Or he could be an ancestor."
"An Ancient Ancestor, or just an ancestor ancestor?" Aiden felt that needed qualifying.
"Perhaps both," Teyla suggested.
"Then why doesn't he have-- Never mind," McKay said. "Genetics."
"Genetics," agreed Sheppard.
"And so these creatures remember someone who probably died, oh, ten thousand years ago - long before any of them existed, and when Ford turns up, thinks Daddy's come back to see them?"
"You have a way with words, McKay."
"Perhaps they've got genetic memory," Aiden suggested. "So they remember the guy who first put them here and looked after them."
"Resulting in a positive attitude from these creatures." Teyla said, smiling.
"Wonderful," said McKay, implying it was anything but. "So, is there any chance that they remember how this Ancient dinosaur guy created this power source in the first place?"
Aiden shrugged and scratched a velociraptor on the head - okay, so the zoologists would protest the name, but he was going to call them that, because it sounded cool, even if they probably weren't precisely the right species. "Perhaps you could ask them?"
"Very funny." McKay slouched back behind his laptop screen.
By the time they left, they'd discovered all kinds of things about the velociraptors, and absolutely nothing about the power source that had been made to look after them.
They liked Aiden, and being scratched on the head. They were omnivores, although they tended to eat small, furry things which they thought was appropriate to share with the team. They took Aiden's refusal to share their meal as 'his loss, no skin off our backs' and promptly stripped the meat off the bones in a way that left Aiden without any appetite. They had a fondness for the curry chicken MREs, but not for the beef stroganoff.
And when it was time to leave, the whole tribe or herd or whatever they were turned up to say goodbye and set up such a warble of noise that it echoed after them all the way up the hill.
"I gotta get back here sometime," he said as they started up the trail in the afternoon light.
"It's not every day you discover you're King of the Dinosaurs," Sheppard said, smiling with more warmth than Aiden figured he'd have ever gotten from Colonel Sumner.
Then again, it wasn't so long ago that Sheppard had discovered he was 'King of the Ancient gene', so Aiden figured the Major understood how it felt.
McKay huffed. He'd been grumpy ever since it became obvious that there was no clear way into the power source, no clear way to mimic it, and absolutely no way to take it back to Atlantis for study. "I hate this planet."
Aiden grinned. He'd thought it seemed a nice planet when they arrived, but he'd been wrong.
It was a fucking awesome planet.