He just wished that McKay would stop whining about how long it had taken them to reach this point; it wasn't like he hadn't tried to get them closer to the current path they were taking- the most direct route to the crater on the ground had been a partly-concealed path in a small stone canyon shielded from the casual view by trees and other assorted plants in the area; it would have taken a trained soldier to spot the area where the vegetation didn't quite line up with everything around it, and even then they'd need to actually know there was something here worth looking for-, but landing the gateships in an area this densely packed would have been difficult even for an experienced pilot, and he was still learning how to do more than the basic essentials of flight at this point...
"We're almost there," McKay said at last as they walked further along the canyon, studying the device he held in his hands; any attempts he might have made to complain earlier had been swiftly shot down by pointed glares from Sumner or Ronon (The man might have a rather ambiguous respect for the chain of command- to the extent that Sumner wasn't sure if Ronon was really loyal to them or simply going along with the expedition for the chance to kill Wraith-, but he could definitely make an intimidating impression), but nobody could fault him for speaking at this point. "Whatever we detected, it's definitely around here somewhere..."
"Any ideas what it looks like?" Ronon asked, glancing at McKay as he continued to study his surroundings, his hands around his gun in preparation for anything that might require him to use it.
"I'll know it when I see it..." McKay muttered briefly, before he turned to point to his left with a brief smile. "And I see it."
Walking over in the direction that McKay had just pointed at, Sumner pushed a few trailing vines away from the wall, revealing a small cave inside the cliff with a simple square archway carved through the wall.
"Looks like a door," Ronon said briefly, as the four of them walked into the cavern.
"Yes, it is," McKay commented, the sarcasm in his voice trailing off slightly as Sumner shot a brief glance over at him- professional conduct on missions was something that he expected and demanded from all of his team- before the team commander turned his attention back to the door before them. The door itself didn't appear to be much- the only thing that they could see on the other side was a stone cave that didn't appear to have anything significant in it-, but the presence of writing that Sumner clearly identified as Ancient to the right of the door more immediately drew his attention; it at least confirmed they were on the right track...
It was the words written below it that attracted his attention.
"What the hell...?" he muttered, walking over to stare at the words carved into the stone below the Ancient writing, only slightly aware of McKay having joined him as he studied the writing that should under no circumstances be here, with faint traces of moss growing slightly over them as though they'd been here for a few years- certainly long before the Expedition had arrived in Pegasus-;
DO NOT ENTER
"Oh my God..." McKay whispered as he turned to look at Sumner, his eyes wide. "It's a time displacement field..."
"Which means?" Ronon asked, looking slightly uncertainly between the two.
"Basically, if this warning's accurate- and even if it's not I'd definitely prefer to get someone here to translate what the Ancient says before I even think about stepping through that door myself-, then time beyond that doorway is going at a different rate to what it's going at out here..." McKay explained, his gaze shifting between the door, the writing, and his scanner. "There's definitely some kind of energy barrier across the threshold, but there's no way to determine what it does, unless..."
He clicked his fingers in inspiration and turned to look at Teyla and Ronon, who were still looking between the two former Milky Way residents in confusion. "Get me a branch."
"What-?" Sumner asked, as McKay pulled a camera out of his pocket and smiled at him.
"You got tape?" he asked with a casual smile. "We tape this camera to the end of a branch- I didn't ask for a log," he said, changing tack mid-sentence as Ronon held out a large branch that looked more like a small tree, the Satedean subsequently stepping back to allow Teyla to step forward with a smaller branch while Sumner produced the previously-requested tape.
"Anyway, as I was saying," McKay continued, as he wound the tape around the camera as he held it at one end of the branch, "we extend the camera through, record for a few minutes, pull it back, and then play the recorder; at the very least, we'll be able to determine if there actually is a difference between the rate that time's flowing out here and in there."
"MALP on a stick," Ronon said briefly.
"Good description," Sumner responded, nodding at the Satedean with a brief smile.
"Yes, well..." McKay said, shooting a brief indignant glare at the two soldiers before he turned back to the door before them, extending the camera out just far enough to pass through the field, causing a faint blue glow at the point where it passed through the door like an object passing through water.
"I am not fluent in Ancient," Teyla commented from where she was studying the Ancient writing, "but I do recognise a few words; 'welcome' and 'ascension'."
"Ascension?" Ronon repeated.
"To a higher plane of existence," McKay clarified, rotating the 'MALP on a stick' to get a better view of everything on the other side of the field. "The race of people who built the Stargates eventually evolved to a point where they 'ascended' to a state of pure energy."
"That'd be great," Ronon comment with a slightly impressed tone to his voice.
"Yeah, well, sadly, it's a matter of, uh, evolution," McKay said, glancing briefly back at Ronon before returning his attention to the 'MALP on a stick'. "Anyway... I'm sure we've got more than enough now."
Pulling the branch out of the field, he casually turned the screen on and studied it, smiling slightly in confirmation. "Yep, it all adds up; the cave looks perfectly normal, but the camera recorded over two hours of footage and the battery's nearly depleted after only a couple of minutes from this side..."
He shook his head slightly as he turned back to look at the writing on the wall. "What doesn't add up here is the warning..."
"You mean this writing in... English, correct?" Teyla asked, looking in slight confusion at McKay. "I understood that Ancient itself evolved into a language on your world; is it not possible that a similar language to the one you know could have developed independently?"
"Possible, but unlikely," McKay said with a firm shake of his head. "English evolved from a combination of so many different languages on our world, the odds of someone else developing the exact same linguistic structure for their written language a whole galaxy away from us are... are..."
"Really small?" Ronon finished for him.
"To say the least," McKay said with a brief nod before he turned his attention back to the writing. "Anyway, what we need right now is someone to translate the rest of this writing; maybe if we can find out why the Ancients set this place up in the first place we can get a better idea of what to do about it..."
"Fascinating..." Elizabeth said as she studied the writing before her- this was definitely one of the most interesting offworld translations she'd discovered since they came to Pegasus- before glancing back at the team that had requested her presence offworld; this was the first time she'd actually been called in to assist Sumner on anything other than the daily operation of the city- and even then he only took a peripheral position in all non-security-related matters-, and she had to admit that she was highly fascinated at the discovery. "And you're sure that time's flowing faster in there?"
"At a rate of two hundred and fifty to one," Teyla confirmed with a nod. "I sent my watch through while Colonel Sumner and Doctor McKay were requesting your presence."
"Good call," Elizabeth said, nodding in approval at Teyla while ignoring the slightly surprised look on McKay's face at the suggestion- berating him for a lack of respect for his colleagues wouldn't really accomplish anything- before she turned back to the translation that was her original reason for being here. "Anyway, I'm interpreting a bit, but it seems as though the field we're dealing with here was originally designed, not as a sanctuary from the Wraith, but a place the last of the Ancients could travel to and hopefully ascend without fear of attack."
"That makes sense," Sumner said, nodding in approval at the strategy. "They could spend lifetimes developing inside the field before any enemies even discovered that they were there in the first place."
"And anyone attacking the place would probably get ripped apart by the temporal stresses; quite frankly, I'm not sure if anything we've got could cope with what we'd deal with if we tried to get through that force field," McKay put in.
"What does the writing actually say?" Teyla asked, turning the group's attention back to the central issue.
"Well, based on this, the writing serves as a welcome and a warning for any humans who come here under the Ancients' protection looking for sanctuary," Elizabeth explained. "Judging from what I can understand here, I think it was left intact for anyone who came here to use it to seek the path to Ascension on their own..."
"And what's the warning?" Ronon asked, with his usual direct manner.
"That once you cross the threshold, there's no return," Elizabeth answered.
Personally, she found that part of the field's design a bit extreme- surely Ascension should be about making a choice, and it wasn't exactly a choice if you began to breed inside this field and never got the opportunity to leave it if you disagreed with how things worked-, but it had all been designed so long ago that there wasn't much point dwelling on it; the situation was what it was, and nothing was going to change it.
"Ah," McKay said, nodding slightly in understanding. "Well, that would explain why someone left the 'Do Not Enter' sign there, even if that doesn't explain why they wrote it in a language that nobody on this side of the galaxy could know..."
"Yes, it's... very strange..." Elizabeth reflected, even as she couldn't help turning over the implications of the message in her mind.
It might only be a theory, but she couldn't ignore the fact that there was at least one person in this galaxy who had a distinctly English-sounding name that nobody else knew about, who could very easily have been to this planet...
"So, as long as we're here, maybe we should... take a look?" McKay said, indicating the door with an uncertain shrug. "I mean, something this big has to be powered by a ZedPM; if we can get in there and shut it off-"
"No," Elizabeth said, shaking her head as she looked back at McKay.
"Pardon?" McKay said.
"Putting aside the fact that we can't even know for certain if you'd even be capable of extracting the ZPM- if there even is a ZPM there; for all we know this field could be generated by drawing on energy from the planet's core or something like that- from whatever device is responsible for generating the field, I'm not entirely comfortable with the idea of shutting down something that could be protecting an entire civilisation from the Wraith if someone's inside there, particularly given our inability to communicate with anyone inside the field." Elizabeth asked with a slightly pointed stare. "And besides, I admit that... temporal mechanics... like this aren't my strong point, but if time suddenly starts flowing at a different rate for you while you're inside the field that you're turning off, I'm not entirely sure that what would happen to you would be beneficial...."
After a moment of silent staring between the two, McKay nodded slightly.
"Point," he said, groaning in frustration as he stared at the cave before him. "So... all this way for nothing..."
Nothing but more questions, anyway, Elizabeth reflected to herself, silently studying the writing written underneath the Ancient text.
Even if John had written that warning... how could he have learnt how to write in English all the way out in Pegasus?
Staring at Elizabeth as she stood on 'their' balcony that night, a part of John tried to encourage the rest of him to do what he'd always done and go to her even as the rest of him knew that he couldn't do it without attracting too many questions.
He knew that it had been a dangerous thing to do when he carved those words into the wall below the Ancient writing- and it had taken a ridiculously long time to find a decently-sized chisel to do that job; that rock was really solid-, but he couldn't not do anything; the possibility of someone else getting stuck in there like he'd been trapped himself wasn't exactly a pleasant one, particularly when the odds were far slimmer that there'd be another Ascension-seeking civilisation inside the field who'd Ascend while the new guy was there and subsequently be able to 'negate' the time dilation field long enough for whoever it was to get out...
It had been an interesting time in its way, he wasn't denying that- the meditation techniques he'd learnt while he was living among them had definitely helped him maintain his focus while he was 'detoxing' himself after needing to use the Wraith enzyme on his missions, and that woman (Alyra, her name was) had been the closest thing he'd really had to a friend since the elder Elizabeth had died-, but it had never really been a home for him; even in those long-ago days, 'home' for him had already become Atlantis, and he'd been constantly eager to get back there before Elizabeth and the expedition had come through...
Still, no matter how defining a role his time there had played in his development, John just wasn't ready to answer the questions Elizabeth would obviously want to ask him regarding his knowledge of English and where he'd learned it; that would just lead into questions of how he'd come to be here and why he'd stayed here for so long that he just...
He wasn't ready for them, he supposed.
He knew that it was irrational to be afraid of how she'd react if she knew the truth about him, of course- the elder Elizabeth had been nothing but kind to him during the brief time they'd spent together-, but it was one thing to give helpful information to a scared fifteen-year-old boy in that state and another to accept a war-hardened man in his mid-to-late thirties (That time in the time dilation field had really thrown him off regarding how old he should consider himself now) in the same state; there was no guarantee she'd be anything like as accepting of him as her previous self had been after what she'd seen him do...
In the end, it wasn't worth the risk; better to avoid Elizabeth until the incident had been forgotten about in the midst of the next situation that required the two of them to talk about things.
He might have to tell her everything eventually, but he would tell her the truth about himself when he was ready to do so, not when circumstances forced him into a position where it seemed like he had to do so...
If nothing else, he never liked the idea of being 'forced' into something by accident; even his self-imposed 'exile' to Atlantis- while it hadn't been his choice to come to the city- had only lasted this long because of his decision not to go back after he'd learned what he was dealing with...
Sorry, Elizabeth, he thought, glancing in the direction of the balcony where the woman he would always love waited for a visit that, for the first time in the past year or so since they'd started that particular 'habit', would never take place, but this isn't the time for me to tell you what you want to know.