Title: Saving Captain Holland, Chapters 1-5
Author: Daisy May
Fandom: Stargate: Atlantis, Stargate SG-1
Genre: Action Adventure, Drama, Romance, Science Fiction, Slash
Relationship(s): John/Rodney, Jack/Patrick Sheppard
Content Rating: NC17
Author Notes: My casting of Patrick Sheppard comes directly from Keira Marcos, with grateful thanks. Viggo Mortensen is Patrick Sheppard. I also borrowed the idea of an acronym from enigmaticblue’s story If All Else Fails although I did make up my own. The original idea was all hers, though. This is an AU and while I’ve used canon in some places, in others I’ve ignored or changed it entirely.
Beta: Ed Ronhia
Word Count: ~78,500
Summary: When Major Sheppard saved Lyle Holland from certain death in Afghanistan, he had no idea of the impact it would have on his life. Barely twenty-four hours after the rescue, he was promoted and on a spaceship. He was promoted again after almost losing his life in the Battle of Antarctica, but where Goa’uld are concerned, sometimes friends turn out to be enemies.
‘Aw, crap!’ John muttered to himself, pulling the cyclic towards him and manoeuvring his Apache away from the machine gun fire from the figures in the valley of one of the many sand-dunes in the area. He hoped Holland had managed to get himself far enough away from any of the Taliban roaming around to allow John to land and take off again without them shooting up his helo too severely. He was going to be in enough trouble already coming out here without taking a damaged bird back to base.
Checking the dunes ahead were clear – although that didn’t necessarily translate to safe – he eased the cyclic forward again and continued to search for a crashed Apache, likely still burning since less than an hour had passed since the call for extraction had come into the Forward Ops Base to which they were both attached. He finally spotted a thin plume of smoke rising from behind yet another dune and, cursing to himself again, he took the Apache down into the narrow valley between two massive sand mountains and zeroed in on the burning Apache and a figure lying in the slight shade offered by an old broken down Russian helicopter.
John landed as close to the wreck as he dared, leapt out and ran to his friend who managed to pull himself into a seated position, his leg bleeding badly and his face battered.
‘Where’s your co-pilot?’ John demanded, examining Holland’s leg injury and pulling a field bandage from one of the pockets in his flight suit.
Holland lifted a hand and pointed to the smoking helicopter. ‘He was dead before I even got her down. Bastards.’
John gave his friend a quick check over, considered the risk of applying a tourniquet to his leg and dismissed it. He suspected Holland was concussed at the very least, but there was little he could do about that, so he muttered ‘brace yourself’, pulled Holland upright against himself and half carried, half dragged him to his own Apache. If he could spot the smoke from the burning helo, there was little doubt it would lead others to this position, so he had no time to waste in getting them both out of there.
He managed to get Holland into the second, lower pilot seat and safely strapped in with only a few groans from the patient and scrambled into his own seat. Within seconds they were in the air, a cloud of sand rising beneath them from the power of the rotors as John carefully lifted his Apache out of what amounted to a gully – except for the lack of water in this part of the world.
Just as they rose over the top of the dunes, John spotted yet another group of Afghans appear over the edge of the next dune along, and although the throbbing whirr of the rotor blades drowned out their shouts, their actions were unmistakable. A nifty manoeuvre by John kept the helo away from the machine gun fire, and he banked when he caught a glimpse of a surface to air missile launcher being lifted hurriedly from the back of one of the jeeps. He pulled out of range as fast as he could make her go, all the while cursing the people in the US Government who thought it a good idea to sell arms to people who would then use them against their own people.
If they were the ones being shot at they might exercise a little more discretion.
Thankfully, it was probably going to take the Taliban longer to set up the SAM than it would John to get to a safe altitude, but he fired a couple of flares to divert any missiles they might launch at him just in case he was mistaken, and deliberately flew in anything but a straight line to further confuse them. He fired four of his own Hydra 70 rockets at them, giving a grim smile of satisfaction when he hit four of the five jeeps, then pulled back on the cyclic even more as the last vehicle exploded with far more power than it should have if they were carrying normal SAMs.
‘I guess the rumours about them having Stingers is true,’ Holland’s voice said into John’s ear, startling him as he hadn’t taken the time to fit the helmet system containing the radio onto his friend.
‘And I guess you’re not as badly hurt as I thought you were if you managed to get the helmet on,’ John snarked back. ‘Feel free to take over weapons if we see any more. I’m thinking keeping us both alive would be a good thing.’
‘And where is your co-pilot? No, don’t tell me, you came out here on your own, against orders, didn’t you?’
‘Not against orders as such,’ John hedged. ‘More that I…ah…might have left before anyone could tell me not to.’
‘You’re a stupid son of a bitch, but I’ll make sure I say something nice about you at your court-martial.’
John grinned to himself. ‘Now, there’s the Holland I know. Always so positive.’
‘Asshole. What weapons do you still have on this thing in case we come across any more bogies?’
‘Pretty much everything. She was fully equipped after my last mission, except for fuel.’
‘Except for…Jesus H Christ, Sheppard! How much fuel have we got?’
‘Enough, so stop worrying, Mom. I’ll get you back safely and—’
John broke off as he heard the sound of jet engines and suddenly saw an F-16 Falcon fly past him. He clicked on his radio to alter the frequency. ‘Arclight, this is Roundhouse Zero Six. I am returning to FOB Fenty with the pilot of Zero Eight who is badly wounded.’
‘This is Arclight Zero Three. Roger that, Zero Six. Did you take out those bogies back there?’
‘Affirmative, Arclight Zero Three. Is that a problem?’
The sound of laughter came over the radio system. ‘Did you know the Knave was travelling in that group or was it a lucky hit?’
John frowned to himself and forgot all about proper radio etiquette. ‘Huh?’
‘We’ll escort you back to base, Roundhouse Zero Six. I just wish I could see the look on the old man’s face when he hears this story. Arclight Zero Three, over and out.’
Much to his bemusement, John saw the F-16 Falcon reappear on his left, the pilot raising his hand in greeting as he shot past, with his fellow pilot passing John on his right. The two F-16s circled John, offering protection as he flew the eighty or so miles back to his base close to Kabul and as John drew closer to his home base, he radioed to let them know Lyle was on board with a severely injured leg and probable concussion. The F-16s saw him right to his FOB, and each gave a barrel roll as they banked away once he began to make his approach, making John mutter about show-offs, as if he hadn’t performed the exact same manoeuvre in an F-16 himself.
He swallowed nervously when he saw a few people waiting by the helipad for his bird but managed to execute a perfect landing despite his apprehension when he recognised his Commanding Officer, Colonel Leverham, leaning against a jeep waiting for him with a grim look on his face. One of the base ambulances sped right up to the helicopter as the rotor blades slowed and then finally stopped, and within minutes Holland was loaded up and whisked away. John took his time making his post-flight shut down and checks, but as the people forming a welcoming – or perhaps an unwelcoming – committee for him didn’t appear to be in any hurry to leave, he finally grimaced and removed his helmet before jumping down and making his way to face his CO, sparing a look for the empty berth just down from his own where Roundhouse Zero Eight was usually parked.
Several hours later John was on a military flight back to the US, and not in chains or even handcuffs. He still didn’t quite believe that bit. Holland was going to be fine although he had a couple of months of physiotherapy to work through, and that too was more than John hoped for when he first heard Holland’s SOS. He’d accompanied his friend on the medevac as far as Ramstein Air Base where Holland was transferred to the military hospital in Landstuhl while John changed planes and continued home to the US and into the unknown. Still, at the moment, no one was yelling at him, no one was shooting at him, and no one was threatening to lock him up and throw away the key. He might not know precisely why he was being shipped home stateside, but if his years in the Air Force had taught him anything, it was to make the most of the quiet, safe moments and not meet trouble half way. It had a good enough lock on his location at the best of times.
He stretched his legs out, thankful to have sufficient space for his long legs and not be crammed into a seat designed for someone half his height on a commercial airliner. He smiled to himself, remembering his brother’s complaints the one time they were forced to fly commercial instead of by private plane from Virginia to join their parents in California at the start of the school holidays. Dave had never quite understood that for the majority of Americans, travelling first class was a dream beyond reach, let alone fly in a private plane, and John had feigned sleep for most of that journey, but it hadn’t stopped Dave’s complaints one iota.
It was always difficult for a pilot to travel as a passenger but so much had happened in the last 12 hours that John was able to sleep quite soundly, having the soldier’s knack of being able to grab sleep wherever he could as long as he wasn’t in danger. Thus, when he heaved his pack over his shoulder and made his way down the open ramp of the C-17, he was feeling quite refreshed. He was due to be met at Bolling AFB and given new orders but the only transport he could see, apart from the trucks loading up with equipment from his plane, was a large black SUV with tinted windows a couple of hundred yards away. Seeing little other option, he began to walk towards it when it suddenly started up and drove towards him.
A young airman jumped out of the passenger seat. ‘Major Sheppard?’
‘May I take your pack, sir?’
John handed it over and climbed into the back of the car as the door was held open for him. Within minutes he was inside the main building and saluting a four-star Army General wearing class As and wondering into which rabbit hole he’d fallen.
‘At ease, son,’ the General told him, and John flowed into parade rest.
‘I guess you’re wondering what you’re doing here?’
John guessed this was a rhetorical question he probably shouldn’t answer, as both his surprise and his confusion were no doubt writ large on his face. I don’t know anyone in the Army.
‘I don’t suppose Lyle ever discussed what his daddy did for a living, huh?’
‘No, sir,’ John replied, his mind whirling. He’s Lyle’s daddy? What the actual fuck?
An hour after he landed at Bolling and the day after he rescued Lyle, John was in his freshly pressed class As clutching his cover as a car drove General Holland and himself to the White House to meet with the President. John repeated this to himself a couple of times to make sure he wasn’t dreaming.
‘Relax, son. You’ll be fine. The President asked to meet you when he heard about your last mission, though we’ll only get a few minutes with him as he’s a very busy man.
‘Yes, sir, about that…’ John wasn’t too sure how to finish that sentence once he’d begun it. ‘I…I had no idea Rased Al-Baham was in that convoy when I fired on it. I only learned he was one of Bin Laden’s lieutenants after I landed. I was just trying to keep Holl— your son and myself alive. It wasn’t anything else, really.’
General Holland laughed. ‘The President still wants to meet you. It’s rare we have anything to celebrate when it comes to Afghanistan.’
‘No buts, son. Just smile and say thank you when the President tells you how brave you are. You and I will have a chance to talk afterwards.’
‘We need more men like you in our military,’ the President told him as he returned John’s salute. ‘Men who are willing to risk their lives to save others. I never served myself, but I like to think the motto of my government is ‘Never leave anyone behind’.’
John nodded although he didn’t have a clue what the man was talking about and a glance at General Holland confirmed he didn’t either, so he smiled as instructed. ‘Thank you, sir.’
A whole series of photographs were taken of the President pinning on both a shiny new medal and two new silver oak leaves in place of the gold ones he’d worn for the last four years, and then several more of the President shaking his hand, and John wondered to himself where these would end up. He suspected he’d just become the poster boy for the current administration and would no doubt see his face in magazines and perhaps even on posters in the lead up to the Presidential Elections in November as the PR gurus would no doubt want to make the most of any good news from Afghanistan. He made a mental note to prepare himself for the inevitable mocking that would follow and managed to stop himself from grimacing at the thought.
Maybe I’ll get sent on a mission where nobody knows me. Outer space would work.
As the White House gates closed behind them, John wasn’t sure if he heard correctly when Holland muttered, ‘I swear he has a list of good sounding phrases given to him each morning, the fucker.’ John glanced at him, but Holland made no sign if having spoken to John, so he leaned back in his seat and waited for himself to wake up as this just had to be a dream.
After signing his name a couple of dozen times, he followed General Holland into a suite of rooms at the Pentagon with ‘Vice Chief of Staff of the Army’ written under his name.
‘I thought we could talk about your next posting,’ Holland said to John as he settled himself behind the large desk and pointed to a chair set in front of it.
‘Next posting, sir? I’m not going back to Afghanistan?’
Holland chuckled. ‘I’ve got something a little more exciting for you, if you’re interested, of course.’
‘How do you fancy serving on a spaceship?’
John gaped at him, but after a minute or so Holland raised his eyebrows.
‘No? Not interested?’
‘The USS Prometheus, to be exact. Her CO is looking for an experienced pilot to lead his F-302 squadron, and I thought you’d be perfect, as did he when I spoke to him a couple of hours ago.’
Much to John’s astonishment the window blinds suddenly closed, blocking out the daylight, and a TV on the wall to one side began to play what looked like a low-budget sci-fi film.
‘This is the first US Interstellar Battlecruiser, launched last year and, hopefully, the first of many spaceships we’ll build,’ Holland explained. ‘She’s operated by the US Air Force and crewed entirely by Air Force personnel although that might change as new ships are launched. She might not be the most elegant ship ever designed, but she’s all ours, so that makes her beautiful in my book!
‘She’s part of a top secret project I think you’ll be perfect for, but I need you to sign this before I tell you anything else. I should really have had you sign it first but…’ He shrugged and heaved a substantial comb-bound document from his desk drawer.
‘Do I need to get a lawyer, sir?’ John asked with a frown, remembering advice his father once gave himself and his brother.
‘I’m afraid your lawyer wouldn’t have the clearance to see even the outside of that agreement, Sheppard, but if it helps, I signed an identical one when I was first read into the programme. I’m honestly not trying to get you to sign away your first-born or a kidney.’
John nodded and took the pen Holland was holding out to him. He gave the ‘Non-Disclosure Agreement’ a quick flick through but after reading the phrase ‘penalties for disclosure include…’ a couple of times he shook his head to clear it and signed on the – many – marked pages.
Holland took it back from him and dropped it back into his drawer. ‘Now, General Hammond, the CO of the programme you’re about to join, usually gives this briefing but, given that you’ve just saved the life of my only son, I asked if I could brief you on it.’ He gave John a mischievous grin and winked. ‘I think you’re going to like this…’
John touched his new silver oak leaves and looked around him, still trying to get his head around the fact he’d been promoted and appointed third in command of a spaceship – a fucking spaceship! – all because he’d saved the life of his friend. He wondered if Colonel Leverham had any inkling what was in store for his errant pilot when he’d packed him off back Stateside, and decided he hadn’t, and gave an inward grin at the thought.
As he stood on the tarmac of yet another Air Base, this time in Nevada, a jeep screeched to a halt beside the plane, and the driver, a young Airman, climbed out.
‘Colonel Sheppard, sir?’
‘I’m Airman First Class Stevens, sir, and I’m here to take you to Colonel Ronson.’
John knew Ronson was his new CO and Commander of the Prometheus so he nodded and climbed in the passenger seat. Glancing towards the ground crew a couple of hundred yards away, the Airman lowered his voice conspiratorially.
‘We’ve got about a half hour’s drive to get to Area 51, sir, and there’re several security points to go through, as you can imagine, so you need to keep your ID handy.’
John nodded again. ‘Carry on then, Airman.’
‘Colonel Ronson said to take you straight to the Prometheus,’ Stevens told him. ‘I’m hoping to get a transfer to the maintenance crew there and get to work on the F-302s. I just wish I could tell my mom that I’m going to serve on a spaceship!’
John couldn’t help the grin that escaped him at the younger man’s excitement. ‘It is pretty awesome, isn’t it?’
‘Yessir, and you’re going to be the new Flight Commander, aren’t you, sir?’
John raised his eyebrows. ‘News travels fast around here.’
Stevens grinned at him. ‘We’re a small unit, and we keep ourselves well apart from the ‘Big Air Force’ as we call it. Our work is top secret, and it’s easy to forget who you’re talking to after a couple of beers.’
‘You don’t look old enough to drink yet, Airman,’ John told him, and Stevens flashed him a cheeky grin.
‘I’m 19, sir, and I only drink coke, honestly.’
‘Sure. I believe you.’
By the time they pulled into a parking area containing a couple of dozen cars and not much else, John knew all about Airman Stevens’ family and his ambitions and, newly returned from a battlefield where even the keenest of youngsters soon became war-weary, it was quite refreshing to discover such energy and eagerness. The spaces between the lines of Stevens’ chatter also displayed Colonel Ronson as a popular and responsible commander and so very different from the under-equipped, overworked, and understaffed COs under whom he’d so recently served. The prospect of working with Ronson as his number three, to say nothing of flying F-302s each and every day, was quite thrilling.
‘Where is everything?’ John asked as he looked around and saw nothing but hot desert.
Stevens gave him another grin and John recognised the kid’s anticipation at being the one to reveal some great secret to him.
‘There was no way to hide something as big as Prometheus so she was built in an underground hanger and it made sense to put everything else underground as well. After Google Earth came out a couple of years ago, we knew a lot of people would be very interested in what we did here.’ He began to walk towards what looked like an old hut. ‘This way, sir.’
The hut was actually an elevator which opened onto the entrance to the Prometheus’ docking bay, and John realised the massive doors needed to let Prometheus rise into the atmosphere were camouflaged. Seeing the ship in her underground hanger, however, was quite surreal, especially as she was so ugly.
‘When I first saw her I thought she looked like something my brothers and I used to build with our Meccano sets,’ a new voice right next to John said as he gazed up at her, making him laugh.
‘Just what I was thinking,’ he replied, turning to look at his new companion and giving a start when he read the name on the flight suit. ‘Sorry, sir!’ He pulled himself to attention and saluted.
‘At ease, son. We’re fairly relaxed here,’ Colonel William Ronson told him with a smile. ‘You must be John Sheppard. I’ve heard a lot about you.’ He grinned at John’s surprise. ‘Richard Holland and I were at West Point together and remained friends even after I decided to switch services. I’m glad you were able to rescue my godson.’
John was getting pretty tired of people making him speechless, but he managed to say something in reply to this unexpected information which couldn’t have been too stupid as Ronson patted his shoulder.
‘We’ve managed to find some quarters on base for you so I’ll get someone to show you the way. Take the weekend to get yourself squared away and we’ll talk again on Monday morning. We have a couple of pool cars if you want to go anywhere and there’s a list in the mess if anyone’s going into Las Vegas. We have just the one mess hall here as we’re a fairly small base although we do have a separate officer’s lounge.’
He called over to a Lt Col busy signing paperwork while sitting on the edge of a desk pushed up against the wall. The man looked up, smiled, and threw down his pen. He jogged over to where Ronson and John were standing.
‘Sheppard, this is Peter Kirkland, my XO. Kirkland, John Sheppard, our new Squadron Commander. Will you take him to the quarters next to yours and show him where the mess is?’ Ronson turned back to John. ‘Kirks will look after you, especially as you’re taking the Snakeskinners off his hands. He’s threatened to space most of them at least once.’
Kirkland turned out to be a helpful guy a few years older than John. He’d been a ‘Toad-Master’ – the pilot of a mid-air refuel stratotanker – before he left the Big Air Force to join the crew of the Prometheus, and may well have refuelled John when he flew F-16s in the Balkans in the mid-1990s.
‘So, why is my new Squadron called the Snakeskinners?’ John asked Kirkland as they ate dinner together in the base mess that evening.
‘To be honest, I don’t quite know, except it’s got something to do with some of the bad guys off-world having pet snakes or something.’
John grinned. ‘Pet snakes? Really?’
‘Something to do with snakes, I’m pretty sure. Maybe they’re the pets of giant snakes? The leader of the main Stargate team, SG1, christened the F-302 pilots the ‘Snakeskinners’. Apparently, he’s got an odd sense of humour although I’ve heard he’s a great pilot.’ Kirkland grinned back at him. ‘I’ve never been through the Stargate but I have been on a couple of other planets. The people on those, though, were just regular people except for the fact they live on another planet. No snakes whatsoever.’ He shrugged. ‘To be honest, we don’t have much to do with Stargate Command – that’s where the Stargate is, in Colorado. We get one or two of them out here occasionally, but it’s like we’re the poor cousins of the whole programme really.’
‘Except for the fact you work on a multibillion-dollar spaceship,’ John added dryly.
Kirkland laughed. ‘Yeah, except for that part. So, what did you do in the Big Air Force?’
‘I’m just a helo pilot, nothing special.’
Kirkland narrowed his eyes as he glanced down at the uniform jacket hanging over the back of the chair. You’ve got a lot of medals for valour for ‘just a helo pilot’, and you wouldn’t have been appointed Squadron Leader if you weren’t something special.’ His eyes moved up to meet John’s. ‘You’re the guy who single-handedly took out half-a-dozen of Bin Laden’s Generals, aren’t you? It was in the Stars and Stripes this morning.’
So it’s half a dozen now? Really?
John shrugged his shoulders noncommittally Kirkland, still meeting John’s eyes, nodded once and let it go although John felt sure it wasn’t the end of the conversation. For now, though, he began to explain what John’s role on Prometheus would be, and how he’d get to chose his own pilots for the eight new F-302s that were about to be delivered and which made the Squadron up to twenty planes. John listened to him and occasionally nodded in response to what Kirkland was saying, outwardly attentive, but the small boy within him was jumping up and down and pumping the air with his fists yelling Spaceships, freaking spaceships!
John could honestly say this was the best fun he’d had in years. Flying an F-302 was a wet dream come true and not only was he flying a fantastic plane each and every day, but he also got to do it in space! That, in and of itself, was awesome made real and given a hypersonic engine. Hitherto, John considered the Black Hawk to be the most exciting thing he’d ever flown but the F-302…. Leading a squadron of them had to be the very best job in the world, and he still pinched himself sometimes to make sure he wasn’t dreaming.
Life on board Prometheus was good too, and William Ronson was an understanding commander with enough experience to allow his crew to do their jobs without interference or micromanagement and yet was able to deal with the side effects of having a group of highly trained men and women living in close proximity sometimes for weeks at a time. To relieve some excesses of energy from his pilots John began arranging games of pick-up basketball in one of the two big F-302 bays on Prometheus, and it wasn’t long before Kirkland approached him and asked him to widen the games to include most of the younger members of the crew. Colonel Ronson happily signed the requisition orders for proper hoops and balls, and it became a regular occurrence to hear the tap, tap, tap, of a ball – sometimes more than one ball – being bounced from within the 302 bay.
John also developed a couple of friendships with people in the wider programme although, for the most part, he agreed with Kirkland’s assessment that anyone based at Area 51 was looked down upon by many of the people at the SGC proper. One of the two people who didn’t look down on them was the XO of SG-11, a Major Evan Lorne also formerly part of the Big Air Force, who was thrilled when John offered to take him up in his F-302 when Lorne was sent out to Nevada for some trivial errand. They didn’t discuss what either of them did in the past but, given Lorne’s experience as a pilot, John wouldn’t have been surprised to find they’d followed similar career paths, although Lorne’s Masters was in geology rather than mathematics as John’s was. Still, they enjoyed each other’s company, and John made a mental note to approach Lorne if a place became available in his squadron as he knew the younger man had his differences with his current team leader, Colonel Edwards.
He also made the acquaintance of a surly, bad-tempered but brilliant scientist who everyone except John appeared to dislike. McKay made John laugh, however, and an odd sort of friendship developed between them as they grew to know each other during McKay’s increasingly frequent visits to Area 51. Indeed it was surprising how many times McKay appeared in person to look at various minor problems on Prometheus given the number of minions the man appeared to have. John had always had a weakness for smart men and McKay hit all of his buttons, but since much of the scientist’s conversation revolved around his attraction to large breasted women with blond hair, John was content to keep their friendship strictly platonic although he certainly found McKay’s broad shoulders, mobile hands, and firm, shapely ass appealing.
The Presidential elections came and went, not that the crew of Prometheus paid much attention. Politics was something that happened to other people many miles away, and although there was a new administration in January 2004, nothing changed for them other than General Hammond being retired and replaced by a diplomat friend of the new President. Again, little changed for the crew although they were, nominally, under the command of the SGC. It came back once more to the divide between the SGC and Area 51. The crew were briefed about the imminent threat against Earth from Anubis, and that SG-1 had a plan up their sleeve but considered it was little to do with them.
At the moment Prometheus was in her underground berth with everyone confined to the craft in the unlikely event they were needed, and John was acting-XO to Kirkland while Ronson recovered from a broken ankle, sustained when he fell over one of his toddler grandson’s toys. The crew all tried to be sympathetic to their commander’s plight but tripping over a toy car when your day job was flying a spaceship was beyond comical, and John felt sure that when Ronson did return he’d be coming across a lot of toy cars hidden around his ship. He certainly had a couple stashed in readiness in his locker.
For the time being, though, the basketball courts were in almost continual use as the people both on and off duty tried to pass the time. John was fully caught up on his paperwork and already two units ahead in his Air Command and Staff College training given the amount of downtime he had. At the rate he was going he would have finished his studies to general officer level within the next six months.
‘Wanna play Prime/Not Prime, Kirks?’ John asked his friend, lounging in the XO seat with one leg hanging over the arm of the chair on the bridge of Prometheus while Kirkland occupied the Command Chair.
‘You do know you and McKay are the only people who play that stupid game, don’t you?’ Kirkland told him, his eyes fixed on the bank of monitors showing the feed from the three SGC satellites and the ship’s sensor array. ‘Gant, can you get a wider field of view on the space radar?’
John gave him a narrow look and sat upright. ‘What is it?’
I thought I saw— What the fuck!?’
Three Motherships suddenly appeared on the radar screen having dropped out of hyperspace between Mars and Earth’s moon.
Kirkland grabbed for his radio while chaos erupted around him. John leapt to his feet and gave a piercing whistle which earned him a frown from Kirkland who was now patched through to someone, the Pentagon probably John decided, as he thought he heard Richard Holland’s name mentioned. His whistle did, however, bring a halt to the chaos.
‘Battle stations, everyone,’ John ordered in a voice low enough not to disturb Kirkland again. ‘We need to be prepared to go as soon as we get the order.’ He turned back to the XO position and flicked one of the screens to CNN which wasn’t reporting anything out of the ordinary, and looked over to Kirkland who was now on his feet. ‘I’m going to join the Squadron and get ready to deploy as soon as we’re needed.
Kirkland nodded and clicked his radio to mute. ‘I’ll keep you briefed on the situation.’ He lowered his voice and stepped closer to John. ‘I…John. I’m not sure I’m ready to take her into battle. I was a tanker pilot, for fuck’s sake. I’ve never been in a fucking battle before!’
John rested his hand on his friend’s shoulder. ‘But you have trained for it, Peter. And you have the best crew in the galaxy to support you. I suspect they’ll send someone with more experience to lead us into our first real battle, but if they don’t, I have every confidence in you. And so does Ronson; he’d never have made you his XO if he didn’t. Trust your training and your crew.’ He squeezed Kirkland’s shoulder, gave him a grim smile and a nod, and jogged off the bridge to get his own crew ready.
He had been in battle before.
One of John’s favourite films as a boy had been ‘The Battle of Britain’, especially since his maternal grandfather was British and flew a Spitfire in the battle, and was shot down and injured in August 1940. His grandfather, who later married an American, sustained a leg injury in the crash and struggled to walk afterwards, but he loved to sit with his grandson and tell stories about that long, hot summer and the sight and sound of enemy aircraft flying over southern England.
John remembered his grandfather’s stories now as he ran through Prometheus to get to his F-302 and thought of a cultured English voice shouting ‘Scramble, chaps!’ as a call to action came to their airfield. John’s Squadron hadn’t been scrambled as yet, but he was determined that the moment they were, his men would be ready to answer the call just as his Grandpa had sixty-four years before.
Waiting to engage was the worst part of any battle, especially as the Squadron was forced to listen as Major Erin Gant, Prometheus’ Communications Officer, gave the crew a running commentary on Anubis’ advance force destroying the Nimitz carrier group in the Pacific Ocean in a matter of minutes.
‘Why haven’t we been launched yet?’ one of John’s pilots muttered in frustration. ‘We might have been able to do something to help them.’
‘I guess we’re being held back until the main fleet arrives,’ John replied as calmly as he could manage, hoping his tone of voice would help his Snakeskinners.
‘What main fleet?’
‘I’m pretty certain Anubis has more ships than just these three.’
‘Jesus!’ another pilot said. ‘If this is what he can do with three ships, imagine what he could do with more!’
And that’s why they’re holding us in reserve.
Several minutes later Gant reported that more than thirty ships had appeared on the deep space radar and John suspected he wasn’t the only one to gulp at this news. A sudden movement which he recognised as Prometheus preparing to launch made him look around at his men and judge their preparedness.
‘Attention all personnel.’ Kirkland’s voice, now strong and steady, came over the tannoy. ‘We have been ordered to launch and pick up our new acting-commander, General Hammond. All civilians report to their battle stations and remain there until further notice. Infirmary, prepare to receive injured personnel as soon as we engage.’
‘Right, everyone.’ John got to his feet and dusted down his flight suit with hands which were, thankfully, not shaking. ‘If you haven’t already been, pay a visit to the head. I want everyone ready to launch in five minutes. Understood?’
A chorus of ‘Yes, sir’ answered him and he motioned the leaders of the four flights to join him for a briefing.
‘General Hammond will likely have specific orders for us, but the usual rules apply. Keep your eye on your flight and your radios open.’ He turned to Williamson. ‘You’ve got the two babies with you. Keep a close eye on them and have them fly as close to you as they can. They don’t have the experience the rest of us do, but I have complete confidence in them to—’ He broke off and touched his radio.
‘Sheppard? General Hammond has just boarded. We’ll be launching momentarily. Kirkland out.’
‘Okay,’ John told his Squadron with a grim nod. ‘Saddle up, boys. We’re on.’
‘Flights, this is Phoenix. Orders from above. Target the Al’kesh, then the gliders. Prometheus will support us. Keep low, everyone.’
The next few minutes were a confusion of the screaming of F-302s and Goa’uld gliders, along with the sound of weapons firing and hitting metal. John saw two of his F-302s go down in flames but didn’t have time to mourn their loss; instead, he used it to drive both himself and his men. The F-302 might be the flight of his life in terms of velocity and manoeuvrability, but the Goa’uld gliders matched them in speed and agility and overpowered them in quantity. His Squadron was taking down more of the enemy than they were losing, but overall they were outnumbered by at least ten to one, and he wondered how long they could sustain their superiority.
‘Phoenix, this is Prometheus. SG-1 is on its way to Antarctica in a cargo ship. We need to give them time to get to the Lost City under the ice.’
John raised his eyebrows at this news. ‘Understood, Prometheus. We’ll do our best to give them the time they need.’
He relayed the message to his team adding, ‘We need to defend them at all costs.’
A part of his mind followed SG-1 as they appeared to be drilling into the ice beneath them, presumably to get to the city below, while he concentrated on the battle around him. Prometheus had moved over SG-1’s Tel’tak to protect them against missile fire from the larger cruisers and motherships Anubis had brought to the party, but this didn’t keep the more agile gliders away from them. That was the job of John and his Squadron and, as always, he led from the front.
Within minutes he began to receive reports that the F-302s were out of ammunition and when Hammond advised him that he couldn’t receive them back on board due to the damage Prometheus had sustained, John ordered his people to rendezvous at McMurdo, just a few miles away. Soon, he was the only F-302 remaining, and he tried to make sure each of his shots counted. He managed to hit another Al’kesh when he realised the shields on Prometheus must be falling as fewer and fewer hits glanced off their shields with a fizz. Just as he thought she might take a direct hit, he saw the Tel’tak had cleared the hole, and a flash of light indicated SG-1 had ringed down below the ice. A ragged cheer came through his radio from Prometheus, and he heard General Hammond give the order to set course for Anubis’ mothership. As he banked away from Prometheus to allow her room to manoeuvre, while still protecting the sheet of ice covering the city, he felt an impact on his plane and saw a glider speed past him. He fought with the controls as the ice rushed up towards him, then…nothing.
Afterwards, John realised he remembered bits and pieces of the aftermath of his crash and subsequent rescue, but not enough to paint a coherent picture. He remembered thick black smoke filling the cockpit and the biting cold of the ice as he lay there after hitting the ground, and thought he remembered seeing tiny bulbs of light erupt from below the ice and race towards Anubis’ mothership, but suspected he dreamed that.
When he came to full consciousness, experience told him he was in hospital. Perhaps it was the smell of disinfectant he recognised or maybe the number of machines he was connected to; either way, he knew he was injured and that it wasn’t going to be shrugged off in an hour or two, or even a week or two.
The news wasn’t as bad as it might have been, however. John had cracked a couple of ribs when his plane hit the ice, and broke both his legs in several places, although his padded flight suit protected him from hypothermia and frostbite when his body hit the ice. His stomach lurched when he heard about his legs, remembering his grandfather’s injury and his inability to walk unaided afterwards, but as soon as he explained what caused his heart rate to spike he was quickly assured that medicine had moved on tremendously in the last sixty years and although it would take time, he wouldn’t suffer any long-term loss of movement.
He improved even more after Daniel Jackson and Major Sam Carter visited him.
‘As soon as we can move you to the SGC I can get to work with the Goa’uld healing device,’ Carter explained. ‘It’s a long story but I was host to a Tok’ra for a few days, and it left me with the ability to use the Goa’uld equipment to heal some injuries. It can’t regrow organs but it can hasten muscle and bone regeneration, but I won’t be able to use it until we get you to the SGC.’
‘We don’t have any way to explain your miraculous recovery to the medical staff here,’ Daniel added. ‘But we brought you to the hospital in Colorado Springs from Prometheus, via Cheyenne Mountain, of course, so that as soon as they say you’re ready to begin rehabilitation, we can get you moved into the care of the medical staff at the SGC.’
‘You don’t have to do that.’
‘Yeah, we do,’ Jackson said, his lips curling into a smile. ‘You saved our lives, and we owe you.’
‘If we do move you, though, it’ll mean your family won’t be able to visit,’ Carter said with a frown.
John gave a humourless laugh. ‘That won’t be a problem. I haven’t spoken to my father or brother for over ten years.’
‘What about friends?’
‘Most of the friends who might want to visit are either in Afghanistan or are read into the programme.’
Carter’s face cleared. ‘Then we can get you moved as soon as possible.’
Time hung heavy while he waited for his bones to knit sufficiently to permit his move to the SGC and although he tried to amuse himself with books, magazines and the TV, there were periods when he wondered if he’d ever be fit enough to walk, let alone fly again. Peter Kirkland came by whenever he could, but he had both his own duties and those of the third in command to do, at least until John returned. Colonel Ronson visited and explained that while he’d do his best to keep John’s position open, he needed someone to take command of the Squadron in the interim. One of John’s team leaders, a Major Cameron Mitchell, was asked to step into his shoes temporarily and John half expected him to be given the position permanently, given that his name had been on the list of possibles for Squadron Leader before Holland had tapped John for the post. John knew Mitchell would be a good leader for the Squadron but it did make him wonder where he’d end up next and, damn it, he loved flying the F-302s.
Evan Lorne visited a couple of times, and Jackson and Carter returned for several visits, and on one occasion had been accompanied by their teammate Teal’c, wearing a woolly hat pulled down low over his forehead. His thanks to John were very formal but no less sincere than those of Carter and Jackson. McKay also visited, and John didn’t struggle to make conversation when he did since McKay always had something to say, usually amusing, at least to John.
On one particularly tiring day in late February when his spirits were low, and the weather matched his mood, he heard Rodney McKay before he saw him and grinned to himself, immediately feeling better. Rodney came barrelling through the door into his room talking at top speed and top voice into his cell phone and waving his one free hand around.
‘I don’t care what Bill Lee said, Folger. I’m in charge, and I say you’re not laying a finger on the gate. I haven’t forgotten what happened the last time you touched it, you fucking idiot! Now piss off, I’m visiting a friend in hospital.’ He closed his phone with a snap and threw himself into the comfy chair at the side of John’s bed. ‘I work with halfwits and morons. Can you believe that idiot Folger wants to try his new version of ‘Avenger’ on our gate? Says he’s fully tested it and knows it’ll work this time.’
Since John had already heard all about Felger and his attempts to re-programme the Stargate network he was able to follow this conversation, although Rodney wasn’t always as easy to follow. His brain switched from idea to idea far quicker than any computer could and frequently without explanation to his listeners. Only Sam Carter appeared to come anywhere close to matching McKay’s brilliance, but now he’d known Rodney for a few months John found he could often follow the thoughts and ideas his genius friend expounded if he concentrated hard enough.
‘I thought General Hammond wanted to fire him.’
‘He did, but before he could do it that Weir woman took over and said she wanted to keep him as she thinks he’s brilliant.’ The disgust on McKay’s face revealed his own opinion.
‘Is she still there? I thought she was going to take charge of the Outpost?’
Rodney pulled a face. ‘She is, but something political is preventing her from going.’
John tried to hide a smile as Rodney used the same tone for the word ‘political’ as someone else might use for ‘ebola’.
‘Consequently,’ he continued, not having noticed John’s twitching lips, ‘she’s still infesting the SGC and the ban on off-world missions has stayed in place. She won’t even let Carter contact the Asgard about Colonel O’Neill.’
John frowned at this news. ‘Still? Surely she knows there’s no other way of reviving him?’
‘She’s certainly been told enough times by just about everyone at in the Mountain.’
‘So he knowingly risked his life to protect Earth, and she won’t even let Sam use the phone to save him?’
Rodney glared at him. ‘The Asgard beacon is not a telephone. It’s a…means of communicating with them.’
‘Like a phone.’
Rodney opened his mouth to either argue or yell – maybe both – then closed it again and tilted his head on one side. ‘You’re teasing me.’
John smirked at him. ‘Yup.’
This time, however, the word ‘idiot’ was said with endearment rather than the venom Rodney had used when describing Felger, and John grinned at him, feeling inexplicably warm and fuzzy inside.
John moved to the SGC in early April. The hospital doctors tried to argue against his discharge but General Holland – who came to supervise John’s removal personally – managed to convince the medical staff that he would receive first-class treatment from NORAD and they finally agreed to release him.
‘I’m sorry I’ve not managed to get to see you before now, John,’ Holland said once they were safe within the SGC ambulance.
‘That’s alright, sir. I didn’t expect you to.’
‘I wanted to come, but there’s been so much to do since the battle. We’ve not finished the physical clear-up in Antarctica as yet and don’t even mention the international repercussions to me.’ Holland gave a deep sigh. ‘President Hayes is considering declassification.’
John tried to pull himself into a seated position but the tiny Major Fraiser, the Chief Medical Officer of the SGC, pushed his shoulder back down.
‘Stay where you are, Colonel.’
John did as he was ordered, as Rodney had told him what a martinet she was, and lay back down.
‘I didn’t think the programme was ready for that yet, sir,’ he replied to Holland.
‘It’s not, but apparently, Dr Weir has suggested it.’
His tone conveyed just what he thought of Dr Weir, as did the expression on Dr Fraiser’s face. John looked between them.
‘Am I being taken into a mini war zone?’
Fraiser and General Holland laughed.
‘Don’t worry, son, she’s finally gone to the Antarctic Outpost to lead the team there,’ Holland told him. ‘She’s planning an expedition to go to the Lost City of the Ancients.’
‘So McKay told me, but he also said they’ve no idea where it might be or what they’ll find if they do ever get there.’
‘They don’t as yet, but Daniel’s on the case and planning to go with them,’ Fraiser added. ‘Dr Weir refused my offer of suggestions of medics to consider and has instead asked a geneticist to head up the medical team.’
‘A geneticist?’ Holland repeated. ‘I didn’t know that. What does a geneticist know about treating injuries and illnesses?’
‘Well, in Beckett’s case he trained as a doctor before he specialised, but on his own admission he’s not treated a patient for almost eight years.’
‘And she still wants him?’
‘Says he’s, and I quote, ‘invaluable’.’
‘And what does her supervi–‘ John broke off. ‘Huh. Who does she report to?’
‘The President,’ Holland said grimly. ‘She reports directly to him, not the Secretary of Defence or even the Chiefs of Staff, which has irked one or two people as you can imagine.’
The ambulance drew to a halt at that point, and the rear doors opened for SGC security to check the identities of the three of them and the inside of the ambulance. Holland glanced at John and grinned as he reached into his pocket for his ID.
‘Welcome to the SGC, son.’
John walked around the Stargate and looked up at it.
‘Do you ever think it was a mistake to open it?’ he asked Jack O’Neill who was leaning against the wall watching him. ‘That it’s more of a Pandora’s Box than anything else?’
Jack paused for a moment to consider this. ‘Sometimes, particularly after a nightmare. In the cold light of day, though, no, I don’t. The Goa’uld would have found us one day, especially as one or two of them had already visited Earth in the past and knew the coordinates if they delved far enough back in their memories. Surely it’s better that we’re prepared for when they do come, as Anubis did, and Apophis before him.’
‘But you don’t think you’ve painted a big bullseye on Earth because you’ve maybe upset the wrong person or meddled in someone else’s affairs?’
‘Perhaps, but the Stargate wouldn’t have remained hidden away forever. At some point, whether now or in a hundred years, someone would work out how to use it and open it, and we’d be in exactly the same position. The Goa’uld can live for thousands of years, don’t forget.’ He straightened up. ‘And since you’ve just become the 2ic of this facility. Colonel, don’t you think it’s time we got down to work?
John laughed and touched the shiny eagles on his epaulettes. ‘Yes, sir, General O’Neill.’
The promotion to full bird was a shock for John, coming, as it did, only months after his promotion to light bird, but O’Neill explained it was by special Presidential request.
‘The sort you don’t say no to. Carter got a bump up to light bird, and Jackson and Teal’c both got new medals. T doesn’t really know what to do with the metal bit, but he sews the ribbons onto his PJs.’ Jack tipped his head to one side. ‘They look quite fetching; I might do the same.’
At that point, John realised his new CO was stark staring mad.
For now, the pair retired to John’s office which was next door to O’Neill’s but much larger.
‘I don’t want people to be able to make themselves too comfortable in my office,’ O’Neill told him. ‘You’re here to make my life easier; ergo, you get to deal with people who just want to talk at me.’
It was a unique command style but one John couldn’t fault. ‘What exactly is my job, sir?’
O’Neill looked surprised. ‘Well, y’know, you lead SG-1 and…make sure the scientists have decent coffee and…I’m sure you’ll figure it out.’
He wandered back into his own office at that point and left John alone, but only for a few seconds since Master Sergeant Harriman appeared in the doorway with an arm full of files.
‘You’ll need to look through these to select your new team, sir.’ He put the files on John’s desk and turned to leave.
‘Hold on a moment, Sergeant. What new team?’
‘SG-1, sir. Colonel Carter’s on Atlantis and General O’Neill is now in command.’
‘And Teal’c and Dr Jackson?’
‘Teal’c spends a lot of his time off-world organising the Jaffa rebellion and Dr Jackson is visiting the Unas on P3X 888.’
‘But he’ll be coming back, won’t he?’
‘Yes, but you may want to think about a replacement for him as he’ll probably go out with several different teams.’ Harriman tipped his head on one side. ‘Although you might only need two members as Jonas Quinn was on SG-1.’
‘Jonas Quinn? I thought he returned to Langara?’
Harriman opened his mouth to speak when an alarm began to sound, and he hurried off with John on his heels.
It wasn’t the first time John heard the alarm for an unscheduled offworld activation. They appeared to be almost daily occurrences, but while he was in the infirmary, they never interrupted his daily routine as they were none of his concern. Now, though, he was the second in command of the Mountain, and they were very much his concern.
O’Neill appeared just as the dialling sequence finished.
‘Receiving Jonas Quinn’s IDC, sir.’
John gave a start, and O’Neill looked across at him.
‘Nothing, sir. Just…surprised.’
‘Open it up, Walter, and let him through. I thought you’d read most of the AARs, Sheppard? Quinn was on SG-1 while Daniel was…dead.’
‘I did read them, and I do know who he is, sir. I was just surprised as…’ He glanced at Harriman who smiled at him.
O’Neill nodded. ‘Walter mentioned him just before the gate dialled, did he? Yes. His name isn’t the only thing he has in common with Walter O’Reilly, y’know.’ He turned and watched as Quinn walked down the ramp with a rucksack over his shoulder. ‘Better go and meet your new teammate, Sheppard.’
‘And then Vallis ordered the guards to lock me up.’ Jonas finished telling his story and sipped the coffee John topped up.
‘So, how did you escape from prison?’ O’Neill asked.
‘I didn’t get that far. I’d begun keeping a packed bag in my office in the ministry as Vallis was getting more and more paranoid and I was worried he’d turn on me again. One of the guards who was supposed to lock me up knocked out the other guard, and we both managed to get into the building where the Stargate is.’
‘And what about the man who helped you escape? Won’t he be punished?’
‘He has family on another planet and wished to join them. Vallis and his cronies have been targeting anyone with a foreign parent and those they suspect of being against their rule. Petron knew they’d come after him sooner or later. Anyone who wasn’t born in Kelowna is at risk, as are those who have criticised Vallis’ control over our country. I knew it was only a matter of time before I was suspected of treason again.’
‘And are you guilty of treason?’ John asked carefully.
‘Against my own country? No. Against what Vallis considers is right for my country? Yes, absolutely. And I’d do it again.’
‘Won’t he guess you’ve come here?’
‘Possibly, although I didn’t come here directly. Both Petron and I went through to Ringovnia, and then I dialled the gate for Earth. Vallis won’t care where I am as long as I’m out of his way.’ Quinn turned to O’Neill. ‘Col— General O’Neill, you know my strengths and what I’m capable of. Will you grant me refuge on Earth?’
‘I’ll certainly speak to the President on your behalf, Jonas. He’s the only one who can decide that, but I will support your case. I can’t see why he wouldn’t agree, though. You saved the lives of all of SG-1 when you were here before, as well as helping us save the planet a couple of times. He owes you.’
‘And if you’re happy to rejoin SG1, Mr Quinn, I think we have our team,’ John told him. ‘I know who I want for the other two places.’
‘Please, call me Jonas. Who’re the other two?’
‘Dr Rodney McKay and Major Evan Lorne.’
It wasn’t long before John felt entirely at home at the SGC. The only thing he missed was flying every day, especially in an F-302, but O’Neill fully understood that and made sure he got enough visits to Prometheus to keep up his flying hours. He joined John as his co-pilot on several occasions, and sometimes they switched it and John was his co-pilot. Colonel Pendergast, the new Commander of Prometheus, being willing to let them fly an F-302 whenever they wished – or perhaps the stars on Jack’s collar persuaded him, John wasn’t quite sure. In any event, a relationship developed between himself and O’Neill that John had never experienced with any of his former commanders; had never even dreamed was possible. Perhaps it was the kind of unique relationship that happened at the SGC, John didn’t know, but he did know that he was the happiest and most content he’d ever been.
Going through the Stargate was an adventure itself and could only be understood by those who experienced it day in and day out. Most of the time SG-1 went out as a foursome although, as Jack pointed out, there was no reason a gate team had to be four people. They worked well together even though McKay argued his inclusion at first.
‘I’m a scientist and quite happy to be one, thank you very much. Furthermore, the whole reason I was brought in to the Mountain was that Carter was unable to combine being Head of Science and a member of SG-1.’
‘No,’ Daniel – home from visiting his friend Chak’a – argued back. ‘She wasn’t able to combine being Head of Science, and a member of SG-1 and her duties as an officer.’ At Rodney look of puzzlement, he sighed. ‘The officers in the mountain all have administrative duties to perform as well as a certain number of hours training they need to complete. Sam had those as well as her scientific projects, and while she wasn’t in the direct chain of command, she was an advisor for General Hammond. With all of that on her plate, it’s no wonder things got ignored. You just have your sciency stuff.’
‘Sciency stuff! I’ll have you know—’
‘Rodney,’ John drawled. ‘Don’t argue with him, he just teasing you. He’s right, you know, and it’s not taking anything away from how hard you work or suggesting Sam Carter is better than you.’
‘I didn’t mean that, Rodney,’ Daniel told him. ‘I just meant that you each have different demands on your time, and if you do want to become a member of SG-1, you can. Miko Kusanagi is a perfectly capable number two and most of the scientists are terrified of her after she gave that demonstration of Samurai fighting in the mess the other day.’
John grinned at the memory. ‘It was great, wasn’t it? And it’s not just the scientists she terrified. Several of the Marines looked as though they might need to change their underwear as well and I’ve had three requests that she start a training course.’ He gave Rodney sideways look from under his lashes. ‘If you don’t want to join my team maybe I should ask Miko.’
Daniel caught the glint in his eye and nodded thoughtfully. ‘It’s not a bad idea. Sometimes having a woman on the team is useful, and it’s not as if she can’t defend herself, is it? She’s probably the better option.’
Rodney stiffened and jutted his chin out. ‘I’m perfectly capable of defending myself too; I just didn’t want to spread my talents too thinly. A lot of people depend on me, you know.’
‘I do know, buddy,’ John told him, patting his arm. ‘You’re an integral part of the Mountain.’
Rodney gave John a suspicious look which made him think he might have overdone the flattery.
‘Right.’ John clapped his hands together. ‘We have a team, then. Report to the gun range at 0800 hours, McKay, and we’ll get your accreditation sorted.’
Rodney gave him a final glare and marched out of John’s office.
‘Phew! I thought we’d overdone it at one point,’ John said to Daniel, relaxing back into his chair.
Daniel laughed. ‘Rodney’s like most people deep down, for all his genius. He likes to be persuaded and have his achievements recognised, that’s all. Rodney won’t let you down, Colonel. He came out with SG-1 a few times when Sam wasn’t available, and a couple of times with all four of us. He can shoot straight and run for his life; the main qualifications required for being a member of SG-1.’
‘Call me John, please. Is that why you’d rather not go out with SG-1 any more?’
‘Thank you, and no, my decision had nothing to do with the trouble SG-1 so frequently found, and that might well change now you’re leading the team anyway.’
‘Somehow I doubt that very much. I seem to attract trouble.’
‘Not half as much as Jack does, believe me.’
‘Hey! I resemble that remark!’ a voice said. Jack O’Neill was leaning on the door jamb between his and John’s office watching them.
‘You have to admit, Jack, half the times we found ourselves in prison was because of you,’ Daniel told his former team leader.
‘That still leaves the other half.’
‘Divided between Sam, Teal’c and myself. You’re still the top of that particular league table.’
‘Perhaps.’ Jack shrugged and came fully into the room and threw himself onto the couch, stretching his legs out in front of him. ‘I’m more interested in your answer to John’s question. Why don’t you want to be on SG-1 anymore?’
‘That wasn’t what he asked, but my reply to both questions is the same. I’ve always had a lot of requests from other teams to go out with them, for various reasons. You know that as they copy you in to most of them. I just thought this was my opportunity to…share myself out a bit. And I’d far rather go on a mission to explore a past civilisation than watch Sam, or Rodney as it’ll now be, examine a bit of technology. I’m an archaeologist and anthropologist, but I rarely get to go on missions where I can use those skills.’
‘You’re also the best diplomat we have in the Mountain and’ve got us out of more than one scrape.’
‘Actually, we have a whole team of diplomats on SG-9.’
‘Maybe, but they’re not you.’
‘Jack, I’m not leaving the SGC, just SG-1, and Jonas has all the skills I have and more. He’s got an eidetic memory, for heaven’s sake!’
‘I’m just saying you more than earned your keep on SG-1 and you don’t have to stand down.’
‘I think that’s John’s decision, not yours, Jack.’
John held up his hands. ‘Hey, I’d love you to stay on SG-1, Dr Jackson. You can be team leader if it’d persuade you not to leave, but you said—’
‘It’s Daniel, and no, I’d much rather be a…a floating member. If you need my skills I’ll be happy to join you, you just have to ask, but as I said, I’d much rather stick to my specialities for a while. You’ll be just fine with the team you’ve chosen, John, and whenever Teal’c’s on Earth he’ll be joining you, I know.’
John nodded. ‘If you’re sure?’
‘I am, but thank you for making sure. I’ve been asked by SG-13 to join their second visit to PX3-997 tomorrow and have a look at the ruins they found. They think they might be Furling as they’re definitely not Ancient and don’t have any of the markings generally found on Goa’uld ruins, as well as being in a sector not associated with any particular Goa’uld. If they are Furling, they’ll be the first real sign of them we’ve found since Heliopolis and the moon of P5X-777.’
Both Jack and John smiled at his enthusiasm.
‘I still think they sound like cute, fuzzy bears,’ Jack commented and stood up. ‘Right, gentlemen, I have…things to do.’ He pushed his hands into his pockets and strolled back to his own office.
‘So, we’re fine, are we?’ Daniel asked John.’
‘Yeah, Daniel, we’re fine.’
‘So some Ancient knocked up an ancestor of mine thousands of years ago?’ John suspected he should be more freaked out than he was, except it all happened a long, long time ago.
Janet Fraiser gave him an amused smile. ‘Or your ancestor knocked up an Ancient, yes. And the strength of your gene is extremely rare.’
‘And by strength you mean…’
‘General O’Neill has the strongest gene we’ve found before you, but until you sit in the chair at the Outpost, we won’t know how powerful it is since we measure that by your use of the weapons chair, what we call the Chair Interface Aptitude. It’s a test Dr McKay devised after Carson Beckett identified the ATA gene.’
‘Okay,’ John said slowly. ‘When will I get the chance to—’
The door to her office opened, and Rodney stuck his head around it.
‘Have you done explaining his promiscuous past to him yet? Can I have him back in my lab?’
‘Hey, it’s not my promiscuous past that’s in question here,’ John protested. ‘You can’t blame me for what one of my ancestors did!’
‘The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, that’s all I’m saying. Now, can I have him back, Dr Fraiser, please?’
John noticed Rodney was always very polite to Janet Fraiser, unlike his manner with most of the other people in the SGC. He could only think it had something to do with the abnormally large needles she wielded on a near daily basis, and he rubbed his arm at the memory.
‘Has everyone in the SGC and at Area 51 been tested for the ATA gene?’ he asked. ‘I’m just curious as to why my gene wasn’t picked up any sooner. I’ve been here for almost a month, now, not to mention the three weeks I was here in the infirmary.’
Fraiser shook her head. ‘No, we haven’t had the chance, as yet. Dr Beckett only isolated the specific DNA marker in early March.’
This information made John frown. ‘That’s still over two months ago, and if it’s as rare and important as you say it is, we need to make sure everyone is tested as soon as possible.’
‘I can’t have my people tied up doing hundreds of blood tests for days on end,’ Fraiser said sharply. ‘There’s less urgency now the Atlantis Expedition has left and testing the whole Mountain, to say nothing of Area 51, will take time.’
‘They don’t need to be tied up’ John told her and held up his hand as she opened her mouth to speak, making her flush with annoyance. ‘My gene was discovered when I was in McKay’s lab and picked up what turned out to be an Ancient children’s toy. Why can’t we pass something we know is Ancient technology around everyone here?’ He turned to Rodney, still waiting by the door. ‘The toy I picked up can’t hurt anyone, right? We just need to line everyone up and let them pass it along. Those it lights up for, we do blood tests on.’
Rodney scowled and rolled his eyes ‘I’m an idiot! Why on earth didn’t I think of that?’ He pointed a finger at John. ‘And don’t you dare tell anyone I said that!’
John laughed at him and glanced over to Fraiser, whose frown had dissipated. ‘I do suggest we add the test for the gene to the initial medical for anyone else joining us, though. You take blood for various other tests, don’t you?’
‘We do, Colonel, and I agree. I’ll add it to the protocols.’
‘Thank you, Major.’
McKay gave a huff of impatience. ‘If you’re quite done with the mutual admiration society, Colonel, I need you back in my lab.’
‘Aw, Rodney, you only want me for my genes!’
McKay spluttered all the way back to his lab on level 21.
‘And so Rodney wants me to try out the chair at the Ancient Outpost. I told him we need to wait until Prometheus is back in Sol as I don’t intend to spend three days going there and back by plane.’ John took a sip of his coffee after a lengthy explanation to Jack about his newly discovered ATA gene and was surprised when Jack frowned. ‘Problem, sir?’
‘Not as far as I’m concerned, but there might be elsewhere.’ Jack gave a heavy sigh. ‘The trouble is, that after the battle with Anubis the President had to do some fancy footwork to keep the whole thing hushed up from countries who weren’t read into the Stargate Programme. A couple of those who are read in were very unhappy as well, but for different reasons. All sorts of disinformation had to be created and spread around, and still is being, to a certain extent, as we haven’t finished clearing up all the wreckage yet.
‘The French and Chinese reps on the IOA were furious when they discovered the US had more F-302s that they thought we had, even though that sort of information was never anything to do with them. They have the basic plans for the Fighter-Interceptor, and it’s up to them to build them or not. Anyway, the Outpost has caused more problems than pretty much anything else since we began, supposedly because of the Antarctic Treaty.’
‘But in reality, the other countries don’t want the US to have control of such a powerful weapon,’ John finished for him, a look of distaste on his face. ‘Self-serving bastards.’
Jack nodded. ‘Exactly. The long and the short of it is the Outpost now falls under the purview of the IOA, and you know how much I hate those fuckers.’
John smirked. ‘Almost as much as you hate Ba’al, right?’
‘Right. They wouldn’t let Carter contact the Asgard to get me defrosted or whatever the hell it is they do, for weeks.’
‘I thought that was more Elizabeth Weir?’
Jack shrugged. ‘Weir, IOA; they’re both the same thing as far as I’m concerned. Then they tried to force me to go with the Atlantis Expedition as they don’t have anyone else with a strong ATA gene and only a handful of people with the gene at all. I refused and, for once, the President backed me against both Weir and the IOA. I think he was worried about what would happen to Earth if the Goa’uld came calling again.’
‘And you don’t want them to know I have just as strong a gene as you.’ It wasn’t a question.
‘Stronger, McKay thinks. Certainly more powerful as you have what he calls a natural aptitude. You’ve got Ancient doodahs I couldn’t get a squeak out of to work, and he suspects that if we got you in the chair in Antarctica, you’d be able to get far more systems online than I could the one time I was able to try after Thor sorted me out.’
John gave him a sharp look. ‘Maybe, but you didn’t try very hard, did you?’
Jack grinned at him. ‘Perceptive bugger, aren’t you? I knew I liked you.’ His grin morphed into a sigh. ‘No, I didn’t try hard, but I don’t want them to know that or to discover all the Outpost’s little secrets. The chair is a dangerous enough weapon as it is. I’d hate to know what else might be hiding down there.’
‘Wouldn’t it be better to know exactly what is there?’ John asked neutrally. ‘Just in case the Goa’uld do come back?’
Jack shrugged his shoulders. ‘I have to think that if we get even a whiff of a System Lord close to Earth, Hayes will have me down there so fast you’ll think yesterday is tomorrow, and the IOA will be too busy crapping themselves and trying to get off-world to save their sorry asses.’
‘Okay, then. Do we need to keep an eye on the IOA?’
‘I’m there before you, John. Your chum Richard Holland is about to become the new US representative on the IOA.’
‘He’s my chum’s father, not my chum.’
‘You saved his son, that makes him your friend for life, and we need all the friends we can get, especially where the IOA is concerned. I trust him to keep us in the loop regarding their decisions and plans, and work for the best of the US, and Earth in general, not like the rest of the fuckers who’re only interested in what they can get for themselves, be it money or power. As far as Holland is concerned, the oath he took when he was commissioned is an oath for life. He swore to defend the Constitution of the US against all enemies, and he’ll do just that.’ He took a deep breath and John mentally prepared himself for more revelations. ‘Now. The NID. What do you know about them?’
John frowned. ‘Only what McKay’s told me. That you hate them almost as much as you do the IOA and Ba’al.’
‘Ba’al killed me and then shoved me in a Sarcophagus dozens of times, and the IOA would do the same if they got even half a chance but without the Sarcophagus. The NID claim to be patriotic but are just greedy bastards for power and money. McKay hates them as much as I do and has learned from experience to have as little to do with them as possible.’
‘They were responsible for him spending three months in Siberia, weren’t they?’
Jack wiggled his head from side to side. ‘Indirectly, yes. McKay pissed off Carter and she…retaliated, you could say. It wasn’t her best moment by a long shot, but she was also responsible for bringing him back to the SGC and recommending he be made Chief Scientist so maybe she redeemed herself in the end. Anyway, you need to keep an eye out for the NID although they’ve been much quieter of late, and that bothers me. They’re most interested in Area 51 since that’s where most of the tech we find off world goes, although I know McKay keeps the very best stuff here, even more so now he has his own pet Ancient light-switch.’ He grinned at John’s discomfort. ‘Don’t worry, Sheppard. Fraternisation isn’t a thing here as we work so closely together and the rules have to be different when you deal with aliens and other species. Just don’t hurt him. He might be a pain in the ass, but he’s my pain in the ass. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for McKay, he’s saved my life more than a few times. But that wasn’t what I wanted to talk to you about.
‘I have a couple of files on the NID I’ll let you have, but if you have any problems and I’m not available for any reason, go to Malcolm Barrett. He’s one of the NID’s senior agents and one of the few good guys in the organisation. Dated Carter a couple of times, as well, but I don’t hold that against him.’
John grinned, then frowned suddenly in the realisation of what Jack had just admitted. ‘You say you have files? Isn’t that rather…dangerous?’
‘Handwritten files only, and they’re well camouflaged unless you’re looking for details of the Mountain’s sewage system. I’ll put them on your desk later. You’ll need to go past the drainage plans and details about the blockages we’ve had here.’ Jack laughed at the distaste on John’s face. ‘Just drawings, relax. Well, there might be one or two photos of blockages, usually after the mess has served curry.’
John threw a paperclip at him. ‘Get out of here, sir. You’ll put me off my dinner.’
With mouths agape, John and Rodney looked around at the chaos in what was an orderly gateroom just two days previously.
‘I go away for a weekend, and the whole place goes crazy!’ Rodney muttered.
‘You and me both, buddy,’ John muttered back then raised his voice and called to a Marine struggling with an armful of… ‘Stackhouse, what are you doing with all those toilet rolls?’
‘Dr Jackson forgot them, sir.’
John stared at him, then turned and looked to see if it had made any more sense to Rodney. It hadn’t.
”Scuse me, sir,’ Markham said, and John stepped automatically to one side. Markham squeezed past him to get fully in the gateroom and dropped the contents of his arms on the pile Stackhouse had begun.
‘That’s the last of the toilet supplies,’ Markham told his friend, and John leaned down to read the contents of the box then stood up, quickly.
‘Markham, why is there a crate of Tampax in my gateroom?’
Markham looked around, suddenly a little panicked in case anyone else had heard. ‘Sir, General O’Neill, sir—’
‘Do not tell me General O’Neill ordered a crate of Tampax.’
‘Stackhouse, any help here?’
‘General O’Neill is practising evacuating the SGC through the Stargate, sir,’ Stackhouse replied, cuffing Markham round the head. ‘Last time we forgot toilet rolls and…female…stuff.’
At that very moment, O’Neill strolled past them into the gateroom, eyes fixed firmly on a clipboard. ‘Stackhouse, did you get the—’ He stopped and beamed at his XO. ‘We’re improving, John. We got all the packaged food and drinks through in one dial-out, and most of the personal belongings as well. There’s obviously room for improvement, but that’s what all this is about, isn’t it?’ He grinned happily at John, clearly waiting for his praise.
‘Sir? What are you doing?’ John spoke as gently as he did to frightened and skittish horses.
O’Neill gave him a puzzled look. ‘Evacuation drills. I emailed you about them, didn’t I?’
‘No, sir, you didn’t.’
O’Neill hummed to himself. ‘I could have sworn I did.’ He gave his head a shake as though to clear it and grinned again. ‘Never mind. I thought about it when the Expedition left, how important it is to be able to evacuate quickly and efficiently. If they’d practised, as I suggested, they’d’ve managed to get a fuckton more stuff through the gate. Then, when I was chatting about it to Danny, we realised there was heaps of stuff they didn’t take, which we’d need if we had to evacuate.’ His grin disappeared and he continued in a low voice. ‘If we have to evacuate it means Earth is lost and we might never come back.’
John nodded, knowing the senior officers of the SGC would be the final people through the gate and, as Jack said, if they had to leave it was because there was no hope left. ‘How about we go to my office, sir, and you fill Rodney and me in with what you’ve learned so far? We can catch up on what we’ve missed and maybe get together with the NCOs this afternoon.’
Jack nodded and turned to the personnel in the gateroom. ‘Take a break, gentlemen – and ladies,’ he added catching sight of Dr Fraiser on the opposite side of the room. ‘Team Leaders report to the briefing room at 1400 hours.’
John saw Rodney give the crate of Tampax a baleful glare and grinned to himself while he poked McKay into movement. ‘They won’t hurt you, McKay.’
‘Perhaps they won’t, but I do hope someone remembered to order large amounts of chocolate otherwise the people they’re meant for might hurt me!’
Jack called them through into the briefing room before John and Rodney reached John’s office.
‘There was more room in here to spread out,’ he told them both as they gazed around at the various piles of paper clipped neatly together on the long table, Daniel Jackson in the midst of them.
‘I kept him out of your office,’ Daniel said with a grin. ‘You’re welcome, by the way.’
‘How long have you been planning this?’ Rodney demanded. ‘And why am I only hearing about it now? I should have been involved from the start.’
‘Keep your hair on, McKay! What you have left, at any rate.’ Jack grinned irritatingly at him. ‘It was something I thought about while the Expedition was getting ready to leave and I realised the number of things they hadn’t asked for. I did try to suggest to Dr Weir that some things were missing from their lists, but she wasn’t interested. How were your 48 hours, by the way?’ He waggled his eyebrows suggestively making both John and Rodney flush.
‘It was fine, thank you, sir,’ John replied his face beet red.
‘Leave them alone, Jack, and keep your nose out of their relationship,’ Daniel scolded.
‘I was just—’ O’Neill began before being interrupted by Daniel.
‘When Jack told me the Atlantis Expedition hadn’t taken any seeds to grow their own coffee I started to look into it,’ Daniel explained, talking over the top of his friend. ‘Did you know that it can take six months for a coffee seed to germinate? It’s a further three or four years before the plants begin to form any fruit.’
‘Probably why they didn’t take seeds with them,’ John commented, poking at one of the piles of paper scattered about the table, his colour almost back to normal. ‘Weren’t you hoping to get a ship ready way before then?’
‘Perhaps, but if we were forced to leave Earth and form a new society elsewhere, we’d need to take coffee seeds with us and plant as soon as we could. Maybe take a few actual plants with us as well.’
Jack noticed McKay had gone very pale when Daniel mentioned the amount of time it took coffee to grow. He figured he’d won the Chief of Science over already though Sheppard might take a little more work.
‘Danny suggested that we draw up lists: essentials; things we would like but could live without at a push; and luxury items. I wondered why you hadn’t sent me your lists, John.’
‘Who made up the lists for my departments?’ Rodney asked, reading the top page of one of the piles. ‘These are all essential items for the Engineers.’
‘Miko,’ Daniel replied.
‘She never mentioned it to me.’
‘If she emailed you it’s probably in your trash,’ John told him. ‘I’ve noticed that if the subject line isn’t immediately obvious to you, you tend to delete it without looking at it.’ He turned to Jack. ‘Who have you got downloading all the music and books we can afford?’
Rodney snorted. ‘We can just steal it if we’re leaving Earth for good.’
‘Rodney.’ John lengthened the name into several syllables. ‘We don’t intend to leave Earth at all. This is all just preparation in case the worst happens, right, sir?’ He looked to Jack for confirmation.
‘Right, and I have a couple of Marines pretty much downloading the entire contents of the Apple Store: music, books, tv shows, films. The lot.’
‘The idea is that we store everything close to the gateroom and update it regularly,’ Daniel explained. ‘Perishables and technology alike. We’re also intending to advise everyone on base to begin keeping a go-bag in their office or rooms if they have accommodation here.’
‘And we’re beginning a list of the people we want to evacuate with us: family, friends, people we need to set up a new society,’ Jack added. ‘The only rule is, we won’t accept any politicians. Not a single one. I dare say the White House has its own list of folk they’d want to evacuate, but they’re not coming with us.’
‘How can you prevent that?’ John asked curiously.
‘Everyone who gets on our list has to be vouched for personally by someone at the SGC.’
‘But what if we don’t have enough, I don’t know, say, plumbers coming with us?’ Rodney asked. ‘And other trades? We’ve got some of the most brilliant minds on Earth here, but most of them wouldn’t know a washer from a wheelbarrow.’
‘That’s another part of Jack’s Great Plan,’ Daniel said, grinning at his friend. ‘We make separate lists of the skills we already have on base and then a further list of those we need. We then begin recruiting those people.’
‘This is more than just an exercise, isn’t it?’ John gave Jack a sharp look.
Jack nodded, suddenly very serious. ‘The whole Anubis thing terrified me. We were so very close to getting our asses handed to us. I’ve also got…’ he sighed ‘not a premonition, as such, more an uneasy feeling in my gut, and no, Danny; it’s not too much pie.’ He sat back in his chair and stretched his legs out. ‘We’re very vulnerable here, both on the planet and at the SGC. The IOA is trying to increase their influence over us, and I don’t trust them to have the best interests of the SGC or even Earth at heart.’
‘I don’t disagree with you,’ Rodney said, surprising Jack a little. ‘I don’t trust the IOA as far as I could kick the bastards, but where do you intend we go? The Alpha and Beta sites are all known to the Pentagon, at least. In fact, there’re precious few places in the Milky Way where we’d be safe, so…Atlantis?’
‘Atlantis,’ Jack agreed. ‘I’ve been very careful to keep the gate address out of any reports. In fact, no one outside of this room knows it, apart from Walter, and I intend to keep it that way. Daniel’s worked out an address in a completely different galaxy which should make a connection if anyone dialled it and we’re each going to memorise it just in case anyone should try and force it out of us.’
‘You think it could come to that?’ John asked.
‘I think it’s best to prepare for any eventuality.’
‘But as soon as anyone sets foot through the Stargate they’ll realise it wasn’t Atlantis,’ John objected.
‘Not necessarily,’ Rodney said slowly. ‘Apart from ourselves and Walter – not you, John, of course – no one else was in the control room and saw what address Walter dialled or what footage came back from the MALP. There’s no reason to suppose the gate address for Atlantis leads directly into the city itself. If someone were to go through the Stargate to the fake address, it could be quite a while before they’d realise it didn’t lead to Atlantis.’
‘And do you think all this is necessary, Rodney?’ John asked.
Rodney paused for a moment. ‘As Jack said, I don’t think it does any harm to prepare,’ he said at length. ‘I’m not convinced the SGC is the best place to store everything, though. Anyone could discover it, and then questions would be asked.’
‘Then where do you suggest?’ Jack asked. ‘It needs to be immediately accessible; otherwise, it defeats the object.’
‘Give me some time to think about it,’ Rodney said finally. ‘I have a couple of ideas, but I need to check one or two things and have a chat with Miko. In the meantime, how are you paying for all of it? There’s no way you can hide all this,’ he waved an arm at the lists, ‘in the SGC accounts.’
‘Jack and I have pooled our finances,’ Daniel explained. ‘I’m pretty well paid for an Archeologist and have very little expenditure.’
‘Then allow me to contribute as well as they pay me even more than you,’ Rodney offered.
Jack watched Sheppard, listening to McKay with only one ear. His XO was clearly thinking something through, and whatever it was made him uncomfortable.
‘Care to share with the rest of the class, Sheppard?’
His voice broke John from his reverie with a start.
‘I… I think I can help with the finances, sir.’
‘Okay, thank you. We’ve opened an account with First National if you want to pay any contribution in there. Danny’s got the details to give to your bank.’
‘No, you don’t understand.’ John looked at the floor. ‘I can pay for pretty much anything we need.’
Jack tipped his head on one side. ‘Ookaay. Want to elaborate?’
John flushed. ‘I don’t talk about my family much,’ he began, then paused.
‘And, so, therefore?’ Jack waved his hand in a ‘go on’ motion.
‘My parents, my father is…’ He paused again.
‘Oh for fuck’s sake, Sheppard,’ Rodney said in exasperation. ‘Your father is Patrick Sheppard of Sheppard Industries, right?’
John paled slightly. ‘How did you…?’
‘He offered me a job years ago,’ Rodney admitted. ‘You reminded me of someone when we first met and then I remembered. He has the same pointy ears as you do. I Googled him and a picture of him with you, much younger, of course, came up.’
‘Why didn’t you say anything?’
‘Because you never speak of him, or your brother. There was obviously a big falling out between you all. I mean, he never even came to visit you in hospital.’ McKay shrugged. ‘I know what it’s like to be at odds with your family. I haven’t spoken to my sister in years.’
‘Not that this isn’t all very interesting,’ Jack interposed. ‘But what does the fact that your father is one of the country’s richest men have to do with our secret evacuation schemes? We can’t ask him to contribute.’
‘We don’t need to,’ John said, switching his attention from Rodney to Jack. ‘I have a trust fund which I’ve never touched.’
‘Never touched?’ Daniel repeated. ‘Why?’
John shuffled uncomfortably and rubbed the back of his neck. ‘My father had my life all planned out for me: Harvard, maybe an internship somewhere high profile, then join the family business. The trouble is, he never asked me what I wanted, and I wanted to fly. He told me I could fly one of the company planes but that wasn’t what I meant. I refused to go to Harvard and went instead to Stanford to read Applied Mathematics. When I left home he seemed quite resigned to my plans, maybe he thought I’d grow out of it, I don’t know. Then after a couple of weeks or so he wrote to me to say that if I wanted to strike out on my own, then I should do it alone. He’d already paid the fees for my first term, but my accommodation was paid monthly so I needed to find some way of paying for it as I couldn’t touch my trust fund until I was 25.’ He shrugged. ‘I’m not the first person, nor the last, who had to pay their own way through college. I got a job bussing tables and moved into cheaper digs, then took out a loan to pay for the immediate costs and applied for a couple of scholarships. I’d already joined the ROTC; maybe it was that which pushed my father into cutting me off, I don’t know. I tried to call him, but his secretary said he was ‘unavailable’, and he didn’t call me back. I tried a second time and got the same response, so I never bothered trying again. I’ve not spoken to either my father or my brother for almost sixteen years.’
‘And your mother?’ Jack asked quietly.
”She died when I was 12. Cancer.’
‘And your trust fund?’
‘I never touched it. By the time I was old enough to access it I was in the Air Force and didn’t need large amounts of money. Anything I wanted that I couldn’t afford, I saved up for. It became a principle not to touch it and make my own way in life. I appointed my own financial advisor as soon as I could, mostly to get it out of the purview of my father, but I’ve spent most of my career overseas in war zones where I couldn’t spend anything even if I wanted to. I don’t intend ever to spend it, so I’m happy to donate it to Operation get the hell off Earth.’
‘WITSLLEN,’ Daniel said suddenly.
‘Wit-what?’ Jack gave him a suspicious look. ‘You alright there, Space Monkey?’
‘WITSLLEN. We’re In The Shit Let’s Leave Earth Now’
The others laughed, relieving the tension caused by John’s confession.
‘WITSLLEN. I like it,’ Jack nodded. ‘The WITSLLEN plan it is.’
The WITSLLEN plan – or Operation Dynamo, officially called after the Dunkirk evacuations in 1940 – carried on as an undercurrent to the SGC’s usual schedule of missions and exploration. Master Sergeants Harriman and Siler joined the cabal of O’Neill, Sheppard, Jackson and McKay, mostly because very little happened at the SGC without their knowledge or, in the case of Siler, without his assistance. Rodney was investigating a means of storing and transporting their goods and John transferred half of his trust fund into the relevant bank account, Jack refusing to accept any more than that. Daniel was attempting to make a list of any family or friends of SGC personnel to evacuate with them, all done secretly and without revealing what their plans actually were.
SG-1 had several off-world missions to introduce John to various allies as Jack’s replacement which went off peacefully enough.
‘It worries me,’ John admitted quietly to Jack one evening over a meal in the mess when Rodney was paying one of his periodic visits to Area 51. ‘From what I’ve read and heard about the SGC these periods of calm are usually the precursor to new and even more fucked up periods of mayhem.’
“What can I tell you?’ Jack shrugged. ‘You’re not wrong, but in my experience, it’s best to make the most of these times and sleep with a gun under your pillow. And wear pyjamas,’ he added. ‘When the worst does happen it’s often in the middle of the night, and I’ve learned the hard way; don’t sleep naked, wear pyjamas.’
John nodded, suppressing the snort of laughter which wanted to emerge and changed the subject. ‘How’s Teal’c getting on out in the big bad world? I’ve not seen much of him for a couple of weeks.’
Jack pulled a wry face and waggled his hand from side to side. ‘So-so. He managed to get himself embroiled in a neighbourhood fight when he first moved into his flat and I got a phone call from that asshat Kendrick from Special Investigations. Said he was concerned T might be a threat to SGC secrecy.’
‘And I told him to piss off. It’s bad enough it’s taken eight years for T to get permission to live off base without the OSI sticking their nose into his every movement. Teal’c would no more risk our security than he would shake hands with Anubis. He’s done nothing but give when it comes to this planet.’ Jack put down his fork and scrubbed his face with his hands. ‘I’m getting tired of all the crap that gets thrown at us. Maybe I’m getting old, but it didn’t use to be like this. Sure, we had our problems off-world, some bigger than others, but there seems to be a…an undercurrent now that wasn’t there before.
‘Everyone wants their bit of the SGC; the Russians and Chinese especially, but the French aren’t far behind, demanding access to our top secret projects as though it’s some god-given right, yet refusing to hand over a single cent to our running costs. And that right there,’ he stabbed the table with a finger, ‘is one of my major problems. I never used to worry about how much it costs to run this place; I just got on with my job. Now I’m poring over account sheets every day of the fucking week.’
John gave him a look of concern. ‘Perhaps you need a break, Jack? When was the last time you had a weekend at your cabin and did some fishing?’
‘I can’t even remember.’
‘Rodney and I had a weekend away not long ago. Why don’t you take 48 hours and go up there? Prometheus is in orbit; she’s back from the Othala galaxy with her brand new Asgard refit so they can always beam you back quickly if you’re needed urgently, especially with our shiny new subcutaneous locator chips. Maybe Daniel would go with you.’
Jack gave a short laugh. ‘He hates fishing. Still, he might be ready for a break as well.’
‘Go and have a word with him now,’ John urged. ‘Get Prometheus to beam you there directly. There’s nothing in the diary for the next couple of days.’
‘Will you manage on your own?’
‘Of course, I will, and I can reach you through Prometheus if I need to. Go.’ He made shooing motions at his CO who nodded and stood up.
‘I will. I’ll go see Danny right away.’
John watched him walk away and took note of the bowed head and shoulders. Jack had aged in the few months he’d known him, and he made a mental note to call General Hammond in DC the following day and see how he had coped with the stresses of running the SGC.
By 10am the following morning John was beginning to regret persuading Jack to take a break. By 10.30 am it was full-blown grief. He scrubbed his fingers through his hair once again, making it stand even more on end, and glared at Richard Kendrick.
‘You say you received an anonymous call telling you Teal’c had attacked this man,’ he glanced at his blotter, ‘Doug McNair, and so you called the police. Don’t you think it at all suspicious the call was made to you?’
Kendrick shrugged dismissively. ‘Why should I? The Jaffa was heard threatening to kill a man who was later assaulted. It’s obvious he did it.’
John shook his head. ‘No, it’s not obvious, and his name is Teal’c. He’s a valued member of the SGC not just ‘the Jaffa’. You’ll do well to mind your manners in this facility, Lieutenant Colonel.’
Kendrick flushed but held his ground. ‘The police are confident they’re looking for the right man. Teal’c had both means and motive and is now on the run. I warned General O’Neill what would come of allowing him to have freedom of movement and to live off-base, and I’ve been proved right.’
‘And that’s what you care about, eh? Being right? Not that our trusted ally and, yes, friend, has gone missing. Just that you think you can now say you told us so. You disgust me!’
A muscle under Kendrick’s eye twitched. ‘Colonel Sheppard, I realise he might be your friend, but the man’s a killer. He was First Prime to Apophis, and he killed people every single day. It was his job.’
‘Just as it was my job at one time,’ John told him, watching him through narrowed eyes. ‘And the General’s job. He and I were both in Special Forces, Kendrick. We were trained by the US of A to kill their enemies. Teal’c did no more than many of us here in the SGC have done in our own careers. I don’t expect a desk jockey like yourself to understand that, but I followed orders just as Teal’c did.’
‘And yet he’s known as ‘shol’va‘, isn’t he? A word that translates as traitor?’
John stood, forcing Kendrick to get to his feet. ‘Teal’c is loyal to the US and the SGC, Kendrick. He’s also an essential member of my command. Now, as I understand it, your job is to provide professional investigative services to me, and so I am ordering you to investigate the circumstances behind Teal’c’s disappearance and the anonymous telephone call you so helpfully received. Dismissed!‘
Rodney was waiting in view outside John’s office as Kendrick departed. He watched Kendrick stride down the corridor to the lift for a moment, then stepped fully into the room.
‘What’s got his knickers in a twist?’
John sat down, tipped his chair back, and surveyed the concrete ceiling. ‘Teal’c’s gone missing. He’s allegedly attacked a civilian and put him in hospital, and is now on the run. Or so Kendrick claims. O’Neill’s going to have a fit when he gets back tomorrow unless I recall him today.’ He shook his head. ‘I’m doing everything I can but…’
‘I might have something that will help,’ Rodney told him, waving a sheet of paper.
‘What? How do you even know about it?’ John brought his chair back up. ‘And I thought you were still at Area 51?’
‘I was. I got back an hour or so ago. I don’t stay there any longer than I have to now although it’s better since Kavanagh went to Atlantis.’
‘Okay, but how do you know about Teal’c? I only found out a couple of hours ago when Kendrick called me to say Teal’c was missing.’
‘Oh, it’s probably all around the base by now. Gossip spreads faster than an STD here, you know.’ He waved the paper again. ‘I was sent this.’ He held it out for John to take and read.
‘What’s it say?’ John asked, frowning and looking at the unfamiliar letters. ‘Wait, is this Ancient?’
‘Full marks, go to the top of the class etcetera etcetera. It is Ancient. I received it by email about ten minutes ago, but I received a telephone call first.’
John gave him a blank look. ‘I don’t follow.’
‘Apparently, I wasn’t the original recipient of the message, Jackson was; but since he’s away and hadn’t opened his email, the sender chose me in his stead. I got a telephone call telling me to open my email, which I did, and found this. They, whoever ‘they’ might be, want me to translate it into Goa’uld in exchange for which they’ll give me proof Teal’c is innocent.’
‘How do they know…Can you translate it?’
‘Probably, given enough time, but my Ancient and Goa’uld are by no means fluent. Certainly nowhere near Jackson’s level.’
‘And you have no idea who sent it?’
‘Nope. The phone call was made from a cell phone, probably disposable. I certainly can’t trace it, neither can Miko and she’s about the best there is. Likewise, the email was just a Hotmail address and though Miko tried to trace that she lost it somewhere in a cyber cafe in Bangkok.’
‘So we have no way of knowing who these people are?’
‘They’re going to email me a location to meet them at in…’ he glanced at his watch ‘…about 50 minutes.’
John bent forwards and banged his head on his desk a couple of times. Rodney reached over and caught his shoulders.
‘Stop it, idiot. It won’t help.’
‘I need to recall Jack and Daniel.’
‘I think so. Apart from the message itself, Jack is very close to Teal’c and would want to be here for him.’
‘I kinda hoped they might manage a couple of days break together.’
Rodney tilted his head on one side. ‘You do know they’re not ‘together’, don’t you?’
‘Together. Like we’re ‘together’.’
‘They’re not? But…’
‘They’re friends, John. Just good friends. Have been since the first trip through the Stargate. Daniel is one hundred per cent straight. I’m not so sure about Jack, I admit. He was married, but I suspect he’s bisexual at the very least. Most of the gene carriers we’ve come across are bisexual at the minimum.’
‘I knew that. I read Fraiser’s report. I just thought Jack and Daniel…Huh.’
‘That’s my line,’ Rodney told him with a grin. ‘But, yeah. They’re not together as a couple, just as friends. And yes, you do need to recall them. I’m going to get another email or call in about 45 minutes now, so we need to start making some plans.’
Prometheus beamed Jack and Daniel directly into John’s office. Jack glared at John.
‘I leave for less than 24 hours, and Teal’c goes missing?’
‘It’s not John’s fault,’ Rodney began, but Jack turned and pointed a finger at him.
‘Shut up, McKay! You’re exchanging correspondence with the people who set Teal’c up.’
‘Jack.’ Daniel laid a hand on his friend’s shoulder. ‘It’s not their fault. Rodney only got the email because I was away. If I’d been here, I’d have been the one who opened it, and you’d’ve been the one to see Kendrick.’
Jack dropped down on the sofa and scrubbed his face with his hands. ‘I know, I’m sorry.’ He heaved a great sigh and looked up at the three men watching him. ‘What do we know?’
‘According to Kendrick, Teal’c attacked the boyfriend of a neighbour in the apartment block where he’s living. Several people admit to hearing him threaten this guy yesterday, then this morning the boyfriend was found in a stairwell badly beaten. Teal’c is missing and hasn’t been seen by anyone since last night.’
‘And how is Kendick involved?’
John gave a bark of laughter. ‘Kendrick, although I admit Kendick suits him better. He received an anonymous tip that Teal’c attacked McNair, and took off in fear.’
‘In fear?’ Jack repeated. ‘I can’t see Teal’c doing anything ‘in fear’.’
‘No, neither can I. I’ve sent Lorne and a couple of Marines to make a full search of his apartment. Maybe they’ll see something Kendick didn’t. Meanwhile, McKay received this email and a phone call from persons unknown, so there’s obviously more to this than meets the eye.’
‘I agree,’ Jack nodded and turned to Jackson. ‘Danny, can you translate the information sent to Rodney? It might give us a clue where to start looking for who or what’s behind all this. Very few people have access to written Ancient. Before today, in fact, I’d have said no one outside of the SGC.’
‘Maybe Area 51?’ Rodney suggested. ‘Though they have minimal access.’
‘The NID are the most likely candidates for blackmail,’ Daniel pointed out.
‘We thought the same,’ John admitted. ‘I put in a call to Malcolm Barrett, and he’s on his way here.’ He glanced at his watch. ‘Should be here soon, in fact.’
‘Okay,’ Jack nodded again. ‘I’ll go call General Hammond. He needs to know what’s happening, and you need to get that translation done, Danny. Give me a call if Barrett turns up, John. And don’t worry.’ He offered both John and Rodney a wan smile. ‘I don’t blame you. I was just letting off steam.’
Fifteen minutes later they met again in John’s office, where Malcolm Barrett and two pots of coffee were waiting. Rodney made grabby hands as soon as he saw the coffee.
‘Oh, you angel,’ he muttered into his cup, and it wasn’t clear if he was talking to John or his coffee.
‘Agent Barrett, will you bring us all up to date, please?’ John requested.
Barrett nodded and consulted his notes. ‘First of all, the police have no evidence that Teal’c attacked McNair whatsoever. He’s a low-level drug dealer and well known to the police. Even with the verbal evidence that Teal’c threatened him yesterday after seeing him hit his girlfriend, the police weren’t interested in him until Kendrick called them to report an anonymous call he’d received and, unsurprisingly, they can’t follow up the call as it was made from an unregistered cell phone.’
‘The same one used to call Rodney?’ Daniel asked.
‘There’s no way of knowing, Dr Jackson, but it’s possible.’
‘If there was an anonymous call at all,’ John mused. ‘I don’t like Kendrick one bit. He’s a racist fucker, and that doesn’t sit well with me.’
‘I agree,’ Barrett nodded. ‘But we have no reason to connect him to the attack and disappearance. He would probably argue that since his office gave Teal’c permission to live off-base in the first place, they’re on his side, and only want to find Teal’c to help him. Now, Dr Jackson, I understand you’ve been able to make the requested translation?’
‘Yes, and it concerns me.’ Daniel fumbled through the papers he’d brought with him and finally pulled out a sheet covered in his tiny handwriting. ‘It’s the details of how to construct a drone.’
There was a stunned silence, finally broken by an exclamation from Rodney.
‘What! We have no idea how to construct a drone! I wish we did because from what I was able to see from the short visit I made to the Outpost, we’re running low down there, although, of course, we don’t have a power source to connect to the Control Chair to fire them, so the whole thing’s irrelevant at the moment though I’m—’
‘Rodney!’ John put a hand on Rodney’s shoulder. ‘Breath!’ He watched while his partner took a couple of deep breaths then turned back to Daniel. ‘Are you sure they’re instructions on building a drone?’
‘As sure as I can be although I’d like Rodney to take a look at it.’ Daniel passed the sheet of paper across the table and they all watched as Rodney scanned it.
After a couple of minutes, he looked up. ‘Daniel’s right. These’re instructions on how to build a drone or at least part of the instructions. I suspect there’s a large chunk missing as well as the blueprints I’d expect to see but even so, it’s far more than we’ve ever known before. I wanted to take a drone to pieces to see if we could work out how to make them, but since the Outpost is now under the purview of the IOA, I wasn’t allowed.’ He shot a glare at Jack who lifted his hands as though to ward him off.
‘Hey, not guilty. Blame those fuckers, not me.’
John cleared his throat to draw everyone’s attention back to the matter at hand. ‘Do you think they deliberately left off part of the instructions or is that all they have. Daniel? Rodney?’
‘I think it’s all they have,’ Rodney replied, looking through the notes again. ‘If I were in their position I wouldn’t have included the last couple of lines as they’re the most important; in fact, I suspect I could build a drone just from this information although I’d like to bring in Radek Zelenka from Area 51 to check it over with me. He’s an engineer, a good one, and I’d like his input, but he doesn’t have clearance for the SGC.’
‘Zelenka?’ Jack repeated. ‘Is he American?’
‘Czech, which is why he doesn’t have clearance. The US doesn’t like having foreign scientists in their top-secret programmes, myself being one of the few exceptions.’
‘I’ll speak to General Hammond about getting him clearance,’ Jack told him. ‘He’ll have had a pretty stringent background check for Area 51.’
Rodney nodded. ‘If you can, I’d like to have him reassigned here. He’s almost as clever as me though I’d never tell him to his face.’
John grinned. ‘Of course, you wouldn’t. Now, what about Daniel’s translation? Do we send it or hold it back? They’re due to contact Rodney again shortly.’
‘What have they threatened to do if they don’t get it?’ Jack asked, tilting his head to one side.
‘Nothing as yet,’ John replied. ‘But if they’re the ones who tipped off Kendrick about Teal’c in the first place, then we have to think they either have fabricated evidence which proves Teal’c is guilty—’
‘Which he isn’t!’ Jack snapped.
‘No, of course not, but if the police are given solid evidence unless we can disprove it, there’s little we can do.’
‘Damnit, John! Teal’c’s done nothing but give to Earth and the SGC. He even gave up his family for us, for chrissakes! We can’t let him be used as a pawn by the dicks in the NID.’
‘And we won’t,’ John assured his CO while Barrett shifted uncomfortably. ‘What I was about to say is that it’s possible they physically have Teal’c. Actually have him.’ John waited while the others digested his comment. ‘Think about it. Teal’c, allegedly, attacks someone and then disappears. We know he wouldn’t run away in fear as Kendrick is suggesting, but the only other explanation is that someone – probably the same someone who made the call to OSI – has kidnapped him and is holding him pending our co-operation with regards to the Ancient text.’
‘And we can’t tell the police about the blackmail,’ Daniel added thoughtfully. ‘It’d reveal far too much about the SGC to far too many people, for a start.’
‘Which is what they’re banking on probably,’ John agreed. ‘If we refuse to co-operate, they’ll reveal Teal’c is an alien and out the whole Stargate programme. Agent Barrett, is there anything more you can suggest we do?’
‘Find the group behind the phone call and email,’ Barrett said promptly. ‘Eighteen months ago I’d have said the same as General O’Neill – that it was the rogue NID or the Committee – but we took them down, and I’m as certain as I can be that the NID is now clean. I’ve kept a very close eye on the personnel.’
‘But you can’t be certain you arrested all the rogue members, can you?’ Daniel pointed out. ‘After all, just a few months ago we discovered Dr Keffler had escaped detection. Who’s to say there aren’t more groups like his?’
‘I don’t disagree with you, Dr Jackson, but just as Keffler’s group came to light eventually, I’m pretty sure something would have cropped up before now if there were still hostile elements within the NID. After all, we’d been looking for Keffler for over a year. If this is a group outside the NID, well, it could be anyone or anywhere.’
‘Any suggestions on who they might be?’ John asked the room generally. ‘If it is, indeed, a new group.’
‘Someone with access to Ancient technology, or a good information source at the very least,’ Rodney said promptly. ‘The data they sent us came from somewhere. We have a little material we were able to download from the Outpost before the Atlantis Expedition left, but we’ve never found any other actual written information apart from bits and pieces on the actual technology.’
‘Like the time device on P4X-639,’ Jack added, pulling a face.
John grinned, having heard details of that event from Jack one evening over a few beers, then sobered. ‘If it is a new group formed from the remnants of the NID or the Committee they’re likely to be a threat to the whole SGC, not just Teal’c.’
‘Agreed,’ Barrett said. ‘But I don’t know how to go about finding them.’
‘Well, it’s almost certain they have a Stargate,’ Daniel pointed out. ‘If they want access to alien artefacts, which was their primary goal, that’s the most certain way of acquiring them.’
‘But if it was on Earth wouldn’t we able to trace it?’ John asked. ‘Sam Carter was able to find the second gate once before. Can’t we use the same method?’
‘Already being done,’ Rodney told him. ‘We’ve kept a watch out for any signs of a second gate being used on or near Earth since I became CSO. It’s a programme measuring energy spikes and needs little supervision, but it means we can quickly see if one’s in use. I’ve also got Miko keeping an eye on what happens close to us in space; after all, the Goa’uld often have Stargates on their Motherships. If a ship holding a Stargate comes close to Earth, we’ll know about it.’
John placed his hands flat on his desk. ‘Right. Hopefully, Lorne’s back by now and may have some additional information for us. In the meantime, I suggest Agent Barrett puts out a few feelers to his contacts to see if there’s any chatter about Teal’c, and I’m also waiting for Kendrick to report back. Rodney, get Miko to do some of her deep diving into the dark-web to see if she can pick up anything interesting, and I want you to stall these guys when they call. Say you need to wait for Jackson to get back to help with the translation or something. We need to buy ourselves a little time to try and find out more about the whole situation.’
‘Although, you’ll probably have to go and meet them face to face at some point,’ Jack added, and sighed at the look of puzzlement on Daniel’s face. ‘Danny, you can’t just email them the translation and hope they’ll release T back into the wild. There’ll need to be a proper handover, and since they’ve already instructed McKay not to tell anyone about this, you and he will need to meet with them. McKay can tell them he needed your help with the email.’
Daniel nodded a little sceptically.
‘Don’t worry,’ John told him, including McKay in his words. ‘Jack and I’ll be on board Prometheus with a few Marines when you have your meeting, and we’ll keep a lock on your subcutaneous locators at all times and be ready to beam down the minute you need help. The beaming tech is a closely guarded secret as yet, so they won’t be expecting back-up to appear, and you’ll both be armed to the teeth as well. Make sure you’ve both got the new miniature radios fitted. Unless they give you a thorough search, they hopefully won’t spot them, and it means we can listen in to your conversation. Are you both okay with that?’
Rodney and Daniel exchanged glances and nodded while Jack clapped his hands.
‘I’ll go see Siler about my radio. Have you got yours, John?’
John tapped his ear. ‘Already in place, and, all being well, very few people know about them either. Let’s hope we can keep it that way.’
Lorne was waiting outside John’s office as Barrett, McKay, and Jackson filed out, and John called him in.
‘Find anything, Evan?’
Jack paused to listen and leaned on the doorframe between their offices.
‘There were obvious signs of a struggle,’ Lorne began, turning his head between the two senior officers. ‘Overturned chairs and tables, and there was a burnt patch on one of the walls which looked suspiciously like a blast from a staff weapon. I can’t think why Colonel Kendrick would think Teal’c had just run off. My guess is the intruders, whoever they were, got him to open the door as there was no sign of forced entry and zatted him once inside. It’s also possible that Teal’c wasn’t alone as there were a couple of used wine glasses on the floor near the coffee table, and one of them smells as though it had contained white wine suggesting it might have been a female visitor.’
‘Well done, Lorne,’ Jack told him. ‘Since T doesn’t drink alcohol it couldn’t have belonged to him.’
‘No, sir. I made enquiries of the other apartments on Teal’c’s floor, and two people mentioned his friendship with his immediate neighbour, a girl called Krista, who happened to be the ex-girlfriend of the man Teal’c supposedly attacked, McNair. One neighbour also said he hadn’t seen Krista since last night either. She works in a local diner but hadn’t turned up for work today. There’s one other thing, too.’ He paused and looked between the two other men. ‘Dr Fraiser heard about Teal’c being missing, and she asked me to check for his Tretonin injections. The wallet he keeps them in was in his bedside table.’
‘So he doesn’t have his Tretonin with him,’ Jack murmured. ‘Then our rescue mission just became more urgent since he needs a daily injection.’
‘How long can he go without one?’ John demanded.
Jack sighed in frustration. ‘After about a day without he’ll start getting weaker and weaker. You’ll need to check with Janet Fraiser, but I think his body finds it can’t fight infection and begins to shut down. It’s a helluva thing: can’t be free with a symbiote, can’t live without one, so Jaffa become dependent on Tretonin to keep them alive.’
‘And he’s now been missing for about fourteen hours, possibly more. When would he have taken his last dose?’
‘First thing in the morning, I think.’ Jack screwed up his face. ‘Unless he’s changed his routine.’
‘So he’s got a few more hours until it starts to get critical.’ John clicked his radio. ‘Rodney? We don’t think Teal’c’s got his Tretonin with him, so our timescale just got moved up. Have they contacted you yet?
‘No, but it should be any time now.’
‘Then you need to get a face to face with them ASAP. We need to get to Teal’c in the next few hours or else…’ He broke off, not sure how to continue.
‘We might not be in time. Understood. I’ll let you know as soon as they call.’
John clicked off his radio and turned back to his CO. ‘All we can do now is wait.’
Jack had barely sat down in his chair and picked up some of his hated paperwork when the door between his and Sheppard’s office flew open.
‘We’re up! Rodney and Daniel are meeting these guys in forty minutes in Flanagan Park in Colorado Springs.’
Jack jumped up and together they made their way down to the Armoury and Ready Room on level 28. ‘Who’s driving? I don’t trust either of them behind the wheel.’
‘Ha! Neither do I. Stackhouse and Markham are going with them but will stay well back. They all have the new radios and will stay in touch with us aboard Prometheus. Rodney and Daniel also have one of our normal radios each. Hopefully, if someone searches them, they’ll find those and not look too closely for the new ones.’
‘Hopefully,’ Jack muttered.
Lorne and the Marines were waiting in the Ready Room already kitted out and fully armed with both Zats and P90s, and they watched as Jack and John geared up. Jack felt himself miss the quiet presence of Teal’c at his side even as he nodded to John to move out to the main staging area from where they’d all be transported up to Prometheus.
The group of nine appeared in one of the large bays on the ship where Peter Kirkland greeted John enthusiastically.
‘Are you sure you don’t need an extra man? I’m perfectly willing to put myself under your command, John.’
‘I’m in charge here,’ Jack protested. ‘I’m the senior officer. And the most experienced at jailbreaks if need be.’
‘See what I have to put up with?’ John said to his friend, his smile belying his complaint. ‘And shouldn’t you be on the bridge?’
‘I’m here to guide you up there.’
Jack and John exchanged glances, and both raised their eyebrows at Peter Kirkland, who laughed.
‘Yeah, okay,’ he admitted. ‘You know your way around as well as I do. I was just hoping you might need extra help as I’m off duty at the moment.’
‘We’ll put you top of the list for back-up,’ John promised and swept his arm out. ‘Lead on, No 2. Take us to your leader.’
The group from the SGC followed Kirkland up to the bridge where Jack and John greeted Colonel Pendergast, and the rest of the party gathered together at one side, ready to be transported down if necessary, but out of the way of the ship personnel. Pendergast ordered Gant to let them all hear Markham’s commentary on their progress through Colorado Springs to the rendezvous point twenty minutes away from the SGC and the situation when they arrived.
‘We have a clear sight on the two Doctors making their way to the bench, but there’s no one else in sight as yet. Stacks is with the SUV round the corner and— Hang on, we have movement. A van has pulled up about eighty yards away, much closer to the bench then we dared get and…yes! Two men are going to the bench, but there’s no sign of Teal’c.’
Jack swore to himself and touched John’s arm. They moved over to join Lorne and the Marines, all of them prepared for action the second they were transported.
‘They’ve reached the Doctors and— Fuck! Deploy! Deploy!’
They met in the briefing room for the debrief, and the purposeful way Jack seated himself and placed his hands on the table displayed his, admittedly rare, anger and frustration. He fixed his gaze, initially, on Richard Kendrick sitting at the other end of the long table.
‘So, tell me, Lieutenant Colonel,’ he began conversationally. ‘Whose side are you on? Ours, or theirs?’
Kendrick flushed and turned his head as though to ward off a blow. ‘Your— our side, of course, sir. I didn’t mean…it was an accident…I…’ He trailed off.
‘Do you ever check your facts before you go barging into a situation?’ Jack’s gaze on Kendrick never wavered. ‘Do you always implicitly trust whatever an anonymous caller tells you? You claimed Teal’c assaulted a known drug dealer and said he’d gone on the run when there was absolutely no evidence to support such an idea. You didn’t even bother to check his flat when one glance would have told you there’d been a struggle as well as the use of at least one alien weapon. How many people in Colorado Springs do you know with access to a staff weapon?’
Kendrick gave a minute shake of his head and gulped. ‘None, sir.’
‘None, sir,’ Jack repeated, his gaze still fixed firmly on Kendrick. ‘You barge into the middle of an operation because someone told you Doctors Jackson and McKay were there selling secrets to an enemy of the US. A single telephone call to the SGC would have given you enough information to know you should back off. Instead, you lead a raid on a position under my close surveillance, almost getting my scientists killed, and allowing the people who were actually guilty not only to get away but time to wipe the computer drives of their equipment before they did. Equipment they had no business in having and which might have contained valuable information to their personnel and location. This is all down to you!’ His increasing volume as he catalogued Kendrick’s crimes ended at a shout while Kendrick himself cowered in his seat.
John decided it was time he took a role in this melodrama, not least to prevent Jack from having a stroke. ‘I’ve already spoken to the Secretary of the Air Force, Kendrick, and he’s agreed that you’ll be replaced as an advisor to the SGC.’ John’s tone was clipped and ice-cold. ‘I have no idea where they’ll post you now and, quite frankly, I don’t care. You’ve endangered the lives of my men, have exhibited extreme racism and prejudice and are, all in all, a thoroughly nasty human being. Get the fuck out of my mountain and don’t even think of breathing a word about the Programme to anyone, ever. Understood?’ He called to the Marine standing guard outside the door. ‘Sergeant Banks? Please escort Colonel Kendrick out of this facility. Make sure he gets a thorough search to ensure he has nothing hidden on him, anywhere.’
Banks nodded smartly. ‘It’ll be my pleasure, sir. Colonel Kendrick? If you’ll come this way, please?’
Kendrick stood and glared at John. ‘I’ll have my own report to make about my treatment in this…this—’
‘Get him out of here, Sergeant, with extreme prejudice!’
The men around the briefing table watched with satisfaction as Kendrick was manhandled out of the room, still shouting threats at them.
Rodney cleared his throat, and they turned their attention to him. ‘Now we’ve got rid of that fucker, can someone tell me what happened after we got zatted?’ He waved a hand between himself and Daniel Jackson.
‘Markham gave the signal for us to transport down as soon as he saw the men who approached you had Zats,’ Jack explained. ‘Unfortunately, we didn’t have a clear shot at them, and they got you and Danny into the van before we could do anything. We beamed back up to Prometheus while Stacks and Markham followed the van, but it managed to lose them. Fortunately, Prometheus could track you to the warehouse complex they took you to, but we had to beam down outside since we had no idea what might be inside it.’
‘And Kendrick and his little gang got in before we did,’ John added, his anger still evident. ‘By the time we got to you there were just the fuckers from the OSI, and you two and Teal’c, all trussed up and out cold.’
Rodney gave a wry grin. ‘I wish I’d been able to see Kendrick’s face when you appeared in the warehouse.’
‘So do I,’ Daniel agreed. ‘I hate being stunned. Still, at least we have Teal’c back and Tretonined up, even if he does have to spend a day or two in the infirmary. And whoever kidnapped us didn’t manage to get the translation, either.’
‘We’re not out of the woods yet,’ Jack cautioned. ‘They’ll probably try again, in one way or another. Perhaps we should restrict everyone to the Mountain for the time being?’
‘Do we have room to bring in all the wives and families?’ John asked. ‘That’s probably impossible, but if they can get hold of Teal’c, everyone’s in danger. Rodney, can you ask as many of your people as possible to stay here for the time being? And as many families as we can manage. Lorne, can we get SFs for anyone who has to leave the Mountain?’
Lorne looked at Rodney. ‘How many people is that, doc?’
Rodney threw up his hands. ‘As if I know that! Ask Dr Kusanagi; she’s probably got a list of everyone.’
Lorne moved away from the table and tapped his radio, presumably to speak to Miko Kusanagi.
‘In the meantime,’ Jack began, ‘Barrett, can you go through what we did manage to retrieve from the warehouse and see if you can pick up any clues on who these people are, or who they work for?’
‘We know they have access to Goa’uld weapons,’ John pointed out. ‘That’s got to limit our field.’
‘And points even more to the Committee or a variant of it,’ Jack added.
‘What if they’ve managed to get hold of a Goa’uld ship?’ Daniel suggested. ‘That would give them access to any weapons it carried. And since they didn’t vanish into thin air, we can assume they ringed away, which also points to it.’
‘There is one scenario we haven’t discussed,’ Jack said, worry suddenly etched on his face. ‘What if these people are working with the Goa’uld? Spaceships don’t just grow on trees. Plus, access to a Stargate on a Ha’tak or Al’kesh would also give them access to alien technology, which we know the Committee and NID wanted. Maybe these guys want the same and are happy to do a deal with the devil if it gives them what they want.’
John closed his eyes as though in pain. ‘I do wish you hadn’t suggested that sir because I can see just how plausible it is.’
‘And it’s easy to see the natural progression of that line of thinking,’ Rodney said in an unnaturally quiet tone. ‘If the Goa’uld are involved, how likely is it they’ve snaked at least some of the members of the group?’