blue flamingos

Fauna Native to P3X 479


Category/Rated: Gen, G

Year/Length: 2007/ ~1714 words

Pairing: None

Disclaimer: No, I don't own them, for which I should think they're profoundly grateful.

Summary: John never thought he'd find himself missing Wraith attack and capture by Genii; not until he got back to Earth, anyway.

Series: The Return 'verse

Author's Notes: For [info]14valentines Day 4 Domestic Violence

Feedback: Yes please. Even if it's bad. Especially if it's bad.


John adjusts his thigh holster, keeping his eyes down. It doesn't help, the gate still a looming presence at the top of his vision, his team just on the edge when he looks to the right or left. He fights down a sigh. It's not their fault, and it isn't fair to punish them for it.

The part of him that wishes they'd left that ship out there, the part that waits for Rodney to call every evening and goes looking for Lorne and Cadman whenever he's in the Mountain, that part knows he's going to do it anyway.

"Colonel Sheppard." John looks up to find General Landry standing in front him. "Ready for your first mission in this galaxy?"

"Yes, sir," John says. Well, ready as he's ever going to be, which isn't saying a great deal. He's not at all sure he shouldn't have asked to go back to a regular unit; would have done if he could've been sure he's get to fly, not lead from behind a desk.

"Good. Just remember, it's a scientific research mission, that's all. Whatever happens –"

"Don't engage the Ori," John parrots. It's been drilled into him since he got given his team, and it's maybe the biggest adjustment since he got back. The cognitive dissonance in going from being the front-line of their fight to the guy who leads safe research missions is kind of jarring; he's got less status than Cadman and the other Lieutenants on Atlantis.

"Exactly." Landry gives him the flat smile John's becoming very familiar with. "Good luck, then."

"Thank you, sir." John turns to his team as Landry makes his way up to the control room.

P3X 479: two days to catalogue and observe the fauna, with Babiss the zoologist and Tyler and Wallace the Marines, all of whom have been with the SGC for a year, because apparently he's not allowed to play with his own Marines anymore. He's not sure what fauna they're supposed to be expecting, and it's a sad comment on his life these days that this boring mission is the most excitement he's going to get all week.

"All right." His new team used to be someone else's and he doesn't want to know exactly what happened to their last team leader, because he doesn't need any more bad omens. "There shouldn't be any trouble, but keep your eyes open and stay together."

It's probably the least inspiring pep-talk he's ever given, and that includes the time he was on so much morphine he was seeing at least two of everyone and briefing them from a hospital bed for reasons that were never entirely clear to him, but he's saved from trying to rescue it by the woosh of the gate engaging.

They go through pretty much together, since the planet's already been cleared as safe – not even the prospect of being taken captive for their genes to liven up the trip – with its civilisations round the other side of the planet. The anthropologists giving that part of the briefing had explained why that was, but John had kind of tuned out, too busy missing Teyla, who at least usually livened up her tales-of-cultures-we-have-known with some, well, actual tales of cultures she had known, rather than a run-down of population statistics.

It's a nice day, not too hot, which will make the hike through the woods to the area they're actually researching a lot more pleasant, though sadly no more amicable, the four of them trudging along in silence that John can't find the energy to try and break. Apparently, all it takes is a couple of weeks apart for him to start missing Rodney's grumbling and Ronon's grunted responses, even if they did make him feel like that father of a couple of small children most of the time.

Babiss clumps up next to him after a while, weighed down with cameras, sample jars and camping equipment, like the rest of them. It seems that gate teams in the Milky Way regularly stay overnight on their trips, which he supposes is one more disadvantage to not giving any jumpers in this universe. "Babiss," John offers, since the scientist doesn't seem overly inclined to start whatever conversation he's intending. Maybe he just thought John looked lonely.

"Colonel Sheppard." Babiss adjusts the shoulder strap of his camera. "I just wanted to say – we're glad you decided to join SG21."

There are so many things wrong in that sentence that John can't pick one to say. Well aware that he's started channelling Rodney McKay, and that death is thus clearly imminent, he drags up the smile he uses on potentially hostile natives. "I'm sure it'll be an experience for us all," he says, which seems to be the right thing as Babiss drops back to walk with Wallace again, leaving John to once more follow Tyler in silence.

Half an hour later, they come out of the trees on the edge of a wide field of tall grass leading down to a rocky-edged stream. John calls a halt to the hike, sends Tyler and Wallace off to check their perimeter, because it's not unheard of for uninhabited stretches of plane to *become* inhabited, and not usually by fluffy bunnies or people who subscribe to ask-questions-first-shot-later-only-if-really-necessary. Babiss is setting up his equipment in the shade of one of the trees dotting the field, but he stops when John crouches next to him, keeping his eyes on the Marines and the stream.

"So," John says. "What exactly are you looking for here?"

Babiss' eyes go wide in horror, though he covers it well. "I went over it in the briefing, Colonel."

"Yes, I was there. Fauna native to P3X 479, cataloguing, photographing and if possible collecting samples thereof." He remembers it well, especially compared to Cameron's tales of the search for the Holy Grail – literally. "But what exactly *are* the fauna native to P3X 479?"

"Oh. Well, there's a complex eco-system, of course –"

"Of course."

"But this area is mostly known for its bird-life. Hens, ducks..."

"Oh, bird-life," John says, but the sarcasm is lost on Babiss.

"There's supposed to be a colony of hens coming this way today. They breed at the stream, you see, or near it, and build their nests in the trees we just walked through. They're really quite fascinating, unlike any similar birds on Earth, with quite unique habits..."

One thing John's learned on Atlantis that looks like it'll be useful everywhere: how to tune out science-babble when he really wants to.


The day's just beginning to shade into evening, and John's fought down the urge to say they'll head home and try again in the morning - because that's not how it's done at the SGC - when Babiss looks over Wallace's head to the tree line behind them, exclaiming in delight. John follows his gaze and sure enough, there's a brood of hens coming over the woods towards them. He's not sure he's ever seen a hen fly before, but it looks just as graceless as he would have expected it to if he'd given it any thought. Hens are definitely birds made for the ground.

The birds swoop in low over their campsite, maybe thirty of them, clucking and rustling their feathers, and land not nearly far enough away, considering they've come to mate. That's something John just doesn't need to think about, never mind have a front row seat for.

Babiss gathers up his camera and one of the three toolboxes they've brought. "I'm just going to get a little closer..." He trails off and starts crawling low through the grass. The hens don't seem to notice, or they just don't mind, going on with their pecking and clucking and general hen-ness, and that's when John finally notices that, fascinating and unique mating habits aside, these are hens, but not as he knows them.

They have a third leg, stuck firmly in the centre of their breast, making them look like tripods with feathers. Odd as it is to say, after more than two years of all the weirdness Pegasus can throw at them, this might just be the strangest thing John's ever seen.

Wallace and Tyler barely spare either the birds or their team-mate a glance, playing some complex card game that John can't follow, but he can't take his eyes off the hens once he's noticed the leg. They use it like an animal with front paws, moving first the front leg, then the other two, not quite in tandem. It looks horribly inefficient, and more than a few of them lose their balance and go over in a squawking, flapping ball of feathers, the whole thing making them seem even less graceful.

John can't figure out *why* they'd have an extra leg, never mind how. Genetic mutation? Some kind of experiment? He entertains, briefly, the possibility of it being for fighting, but just the mental image makes him burn that idea from his head pretty damn quickly. Literal hen fights are too surreal, even for him.

Maybe they used to have four legs, he thinks, though the placement of the third leg makes that kind of unlikely. Maybe they're just a freak of nature; they certainly wouldn't be the first one at the SGC. On the other hand, maybe they serve some deeply useful purpose. After all, there's got to be a reason why they've been sent to catalogue hens when the universe is at risk from half-ascended evangelical preachers. John refuses to believe he's done anything so bad that karma would inflict this on him without a better reason.

Babiss finally crawls back when it gets too dark to see, babbling excitedly about the birds until John shuts him up so they can all get some sleep, even though the sound of the hens going at it thirty feet away doesn't exactly make for a restful night.

When John crawls out of the tent the next morning, he nearly steps on a hen threesome less than a foot from their pile of supplies.

Oh yeah, he thinks, looking for a stick with which to separate or at least remove them. Life in the Milky Way is going to go *great*.

Next: Keep on Living

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