The jumper lowered from the bay just as the football sailed through the interior, whisking over the top of one physicist’s head, and descending perfectly into the awaiting hands of the former runner in the back of the ship.
“Hey!” McKay shouted, irritated as he ducked his head and scrubbed at his hair. “Cut it out! This isn’t the place for that!”
Ronon grinned, and leaned back, and shot the ball back the way it had come. The football arched perfectly, and seemed to hover for a moment over McKay’s tucked-in head before it continued forward. Sheppard captured it from the pilot’s seat, hardly moving from his position. He grinned, realizing that any team in the NFL would be glad to have the Satedan.
“Enough!” McKay shouted. “You can’t be throwing that thing around in here! No monkeyshines in the jumper!”
“Monkeys shine?” Ronon tried, remembering a primate they’d spotted on one of their adventures. Sheppard had used that word to describe the creature. “Shine? Do they… glow?”
“No… no!” McKay shot back. “They do not. Unless… unless of course they’ve been painted with some substance or genetically altered to…” He shook his head sharply, stopping himself. “Just… you shouldn’t be throwing things around in the jumper!”
Ronon shrugged. “Why not?” he asked as the ball came back to him, falling perfectly in the cradle of his arms.
“This!” McKay started, his face turning a bit red as he pointed to his laptop, “Is a crucial piece of equipment programmed with very important information, essential to our mission. If your actions caused any harm to my laptop...”
“It’s shockproof, McKay,” Sheppard responded glibly.
“Which doesn’t give you the right to test that theory!” McKay shot back.
Sheppard shrugged. “Nothing’s going to happen to your laptop.”
Rodney pointed in the direction of the control system. “And this is a highly advanced space vehicle! Created by the Ancients. This is not a place for… fooling around. Do you have any idea of the type of damage you could do if… Ronon!”
But the Satedan had released the ball, but it went awry as Ronon tried to avoid the fuming physicist. Sheppard reached, but the oblong ball bounced off the colonel’s fingers, went a little wonky, and collided with a WANG on the DHD.
“See! See!” McKay struggled out of his seat.
“It’s fine.” Sheppard grabbed the ball as it skittered, and shoved it protectively under his seat.
“You could have damaged the equipment beyond repair,” the scientist squawked as he moved forward to run his hands over the buttons, searching for any sign of injury. “That’s it! Jumper 5 is going back!”
“Nope,” Sheppard returned. “Too late. We’re all set to go.” A voice was buzzing in his ear over the radio as they hung in the gateroom, before the engaged stargate. “We’re not going back.”
“The DHD could be damaged irreparably!” McKay insisted, intently looking for any sign that something had actually been hurt with the mild collision.
“Irreparably?” Sheppard repeated. “Thought you could fix anything?” And he gave McKay a grin.
“Well, yes, I can fix it,” Rodney admitted, “With the proper tools and replacement parts, and sufficient TIME – something I am rarely given. But crystals may have been cracked, or knocked out of alignment. Who knows what damage the two of you have caused! If we’re trying to get back through the Gate with some more annoyed aliens on our tail…”
“We’re just going to check out a gate for the bridge project,” Sheppard grumbled. “And we didn't hit it that hard. You whack the buttons harder when you’re dialing a Gate, especially in you’re in a mood.”
The Canadian’s jaw dropped, his attention finally drifting from the DHD. “I do not!” he shot back and his eyes narrowed as he added, “and what do you mean by ‘mood’?”
“What, you don’t know what ‘mood’ means?” Sheppard asked, his smug smile increasing.
McKay jutted out his jaw in contempt.
Teyla had been doing her best to keep out of the ‘discussion’, but she finally spoke, “Dr. McKay, I believe the DHD is undamaged.”
“Yeah, McKay,” Sheppard agreed, getting settled for the flight. “It just got a little bump. Sit down. We got to get going.”
A voice came over the comm., and Weir asked, “Is there a problem, colonel?”
“Nope,” Sheppard responded, touching the radio with one hand as he easily tossed the football to Ronon with the other.
McKay scowled at the Satedan as Ronon came past him to take a seat up front, and then he went back to jabbing away at his laptop.
Ronon flipped the ball in his hands and then jammed it into a storage compartment at his feet.
“Everything is A-okay,” Sheppard continued over the radio. “We’re ready to go.” He smiled at Weir through the ‘windshield’ of the jumper as she leaned at the balcony railing.
“Safe journey,” Weir told them. “Come home safely,” she added with a warm smile.
With a groan, Sheppard asked his crew, “Why does she have to jinx us like that all the time?”
“Ah, you see!” McKay pointed out. “You’ve already possibly damaged our means of getting back safely. Thank you very much! There’s reason enough to believe this journey is ill-advised.”
Unconsciously, Sheppard ran a hand over the DHD. “It’s fine, McKay.”
“There’s nothing wrong with it!” Sheppard sniped. “I thought you wanted to find a couple more Gates before Lorne or the others completed the quota.”
McKay’s taut face changed a bit at that fact. He looked contemplative and then nodded. “I see your point,” he stated.
“Great. Everyone ready to go? No more fits?”
“Fits? All I was saying is that it isn’t a good idea to horse around on the ship,” McKay explained. He paused as if he meant to leave it at that – but couldn’t help himself. “Because we all know what happens when there’s too much horseplay, don’t we?”
Ronon and Teyla both frowned at the terminology. And, before either could ask, Sheppard groaned and eased the ship forward -- and they disappeared into the blue.
And then… they were in space.
McKay leaned forward, eager to press his point, and instead uttered an astounded, “Oh,” as the jumper cleared the Gate. For a long moment, his quiet exclamation was the only sound heard within the ship.
There was something special about traveling through the Gate, Sheppard realized. Well, to enter an environment that he’d had never seen before was always a surprise. A few years ago he would have laughed at the prospect – but now he was stomping around on foreign worlds on a daily basis.
New worlds, new places were always worthy of a moment of awe. Okay, that wasn’t necessarily true, Sheppard realized. As much as gatetravel should have always inspired him, the planets had begun to have a sameness to them – one desolate city was pretty much the same as the next one – one dirty shack was rather like the other dirty shack – and Ancient ruin looked pretty much like any pile of rocks -- one ferny forest didn’t hold that much significance after he’d been through five or six that looked just like it.
But there was something different about a space gate. Space was pretty cool to begin with, but this particular view was … spectacular. Sheppard held his breath as he gazed out, letting his eyes widen at the sight.
A ringed gas giant loomed before them, filling their windscreen, looking like one of those surreal posters that the science geeks always had tacked up on their walls in college. It was too vivid, too astounding, too goddamn gorgeous to be real.
The planet was all dressed up in swirls of oranges and pale yellows. From their angle, the surrounding ring was delicate and tilted. A series of Earth-sized moons hung around it like remarkable ornaments.
They’d come looking for a Gate to harvest. They'd been through the Ancient's database and this particular Gate seemed like a perfect candidate. There weren’t any human civilizations nearby -- not even a livable world. There’d been conjecture about why the Ancients had bothered to place a Gate here – in the middle of nowhere – but now Sheppard had an idea. Maybe the Ancients had just come here – from time to time – to stare in perfect wonder at the beauty before them.
It reminded Sheppard of a long drive he had taken to the Grand Canyon – all the way wondering when the hell they’d reach the place – and then never wanting to leave once they’d made it there.
And for that reason, it seemed almost a sin to remove this Gate in the middle of nowhere.
The planet and its moons looked illusory, too beautiful to be real, too remarkable to be comprehended, and for a long moment Sheppard and his team just looked upon the sight, unable to utter a sound.
It was McKay who again broke the silence, rattling off the possible composition of the big beautiful world, speaking in an almost dreamlike manner. He talked about the possibility of metallic hydrogen at its core and molecular hydrogen above, probably talked about some other gasses too. He went on about ice particles, silica rock, iron oxide that probably made up the ring. He started speaking about the Kelvin-Helmholtz mechanism when his voice just sort of faded and the four passengers of the jumper just continued to stare at the remarkable sight.
“Sure looks cool,” Sheppard finally voiced.
“Yeah,” Ronon added.
“It is… lovely,” Teyla confirmed.
“That’s what I was saying,” McKay insisted.
“Let’s check it out,” Sheppard said, not expecting anyone to disagree with him. He brought the jumper around, swinging it closer to one of the planet’s moons. The satellite was cratered, looking rather like Earth’s moon. It’d have to provide an unparalleled view of the gas planet. Nice place to set up a vacation cottage -- a domed city, Sheppard thought as he cruised past. Long as you have enough oxygen, and food… and water.
“What did the Ancestors call this place?” Teyla asked, her eyes large as she watched the remarkable scenes unfolding before her.
McKay frowned and consulted his laptop. “Muskingum,” he responded, flipping one hand and making a face at the sound of the name.
Sheppard shook his head. “Let’s call it Saturn II.” He smiled. “Yeah, I like that better. Or maybe Sheppardonia.”
McKay scowled at that suggestion. “The names for the moons are no better,” McKay went on. “We got Toboso, Moxahala, Rehoboth and Philo.” He sighed. “For such an advanced race, you’d think they’d try a little harder.
“We change them. Hmmm. Got it. Groucho, Chico, Harpo and …” Sheppard started and frowned. “Who’s the other one?”
“What, Zeppo?” McKay responded as they cruised closer to the glorious rings. His gaze left the laptop to take in the close-up view of the fragile looking rings. “Or Gummo?”
“There was a Gummo Marx?” Sheppard questioned.
McKay took a moment to answer, his attention on the planet, and not really paying attention to what Sheppard was asking. He swallowed and answered with a dry, “Yeah. He didn’t made it into ‘Animal Crackers’ or ‘Horse Feathers’ or any of the movies. Was in their Vaudeville act but didn’t like performing. Became an agent or something…”
Ronon looked curiously toward Teyla, and the Athosian just shrugged. She was more used to their incomprehensible conversations than the Satedan was, and had learned when it was best to just 'let it go'.
“Okay, well, we’re not naming anything Gummo,” Sheppard decided, as he guided the jumper around the planet, taking in another moon that seemed all ice. “Unless we find a tiny little moon that doesn’t matter anyway. Maybe we should call the planet Marx World or something. Think that’d fly?”
“Honestly?” McKay stated, “No.”
“It’s not like we’re going to name any of the moons ‘Karl’ or anything.”
“Still, not such a good idea.”
“People have no sense of humor. I mean, all they have to do is…”
And again there was silence as the puddlejumper came around the big creamsicle planet, and the four gazed out at a sight even more incredible than the big ringed world. The ethereal thing had been hidden by the bulk of the gas giant. A cottony shape blossomed in space -- a cloudy apparition, all in reds and pinks and shot through with an intense purple-blue. It looked almost looked alive, unnatural in the vacuum of space.
“Dr. McKay,” Teyla said softly. She glanced toward the astrophysicist and saw a look of rapture on his face. “What is that?” she asked.
“Supernova,” McKay whispered, his voice reverent.