Saving Captain Holland – 2/3 – Daisy May

Title: Saving Captain Holland, Chapters 6-10
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
Warnings: Violence-Canon-Level
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.
Artist: PickingupEllen


 

 


 

Chapter Six

Later that evening Jack and Daniel received permission from Dr Fraiser to visit Teal’c.

‘I sometimes feel as though I’m not really in charge here,’ Jack muttered to Daniel as they made their way through the infirmary to their friend.

Daniel laughed.  ‘Of course, you’re not.  General Hammond never dared stand up to Janet.  What makes you think you can?’

‘I meant in charge of the whole damn mountain!’

‘So did I!’

Jack opened his mouth to argue but then shrugged and instead grinned at the sight of Teal’c sitting up in bed wearing a medical gown.  ‘I guess they couldn’t find any scrubs any to fit you, big guy.’

Teal’c raised an eyebrow, the only facial expression he ever gave.  ‘Indeed.’

‘So,’ Daniel began.  ‘How are you feeling, Teal’c?’

‘I am feeling well, Daniel Jackson.  I offer you my thanks for your concern.’

Jack collapsed into a chair at the bedside and swung his feet up onto the bed, only to move them when Daniel slapped his leg.  ‘What?’

‘You know Janet’ll yell at you if she catches you.  Is it really worth it?’

Jack muttered under his breath as he made himself as comfortable as possible in a plastic chair, then fixed his attention on Teal’c.  ‘Is there anything you can tell us about what happened to you?’

‘I was kidnapped from my apartment, O’Neill.’

‘Yeah, we kinda got that.  Do you know who kidnapped you?  And why?  Think of it as a verbal AAR.”

‘I was enjoying a drink with my neighbour, Krista, when my front door was knocked upon by her boyfriend.  I saw him through the door viewer, and I opened it to ask what he wanted.  Four men, whom I had not seen through the viewer as they had concealed themselves to the side of the door, forced their way into my apartment and attempted to disable me utilizing a Zat’nik’tel.  I fought back during which time the table for coffee and several chairs were overturned but I—’

‘Y’know, T man?’ Jack interrupted.  ‘I don’t need the blow by blow report.  Just the highlights will do.’

‘I was kidnapped from my apartment, O’Neill.’

Jack sighed.  ‘Do you know who took you?’

‘I was unable to determine their identities, O’Neill.’

‘Right, okay.  Did…did you hear any names of people or groups of people mentioned?  Anything we can use to find them?’

‘I did not.’

‘Can you tell us anything about what they wanted?’

‘I cannot.’

Jack rubbed his face in frustration.  ‘Is there anything they might have said?  Any clue at all?’

Teal’c’s gaze focussed on the wall behind Jack, as though he was searching his memory and suddenly his eyes met those of Jack.  ‘When I regained consciousness for the first time they did not realise I could hear them as they spoke.  The man who gave orders to the other men spoke of a person, or persons, not present to whom he must give a report.  One of his underlings spoke in derogatory terms of a trust, for which he received a blow to his face.’

‘A trust?  What does—’ Jack began when Daniel interrupted him.

‘Was it trustee. Teal’c?  A group of trustees, perhaps?’

‘No, Daniel Jackson.  The word he used was trust.’

The trust?  Was it a name?  The name of a group?’

‘I do not know, O’Neill.  The word was never again vocalised.’

‘General!’  The angry tone of a woman’s voice startled the three men.  ‘I said you and Daniel could visit for ten minutes.  That was half an hour ago!’  Janet Fraiser put her hands on her hips and glared at them all.  All four feet nothing of her radiated displeasure and Jack and Daniel stumbled to their feet.

‘Sorry, Dr Fraiser.  We didn’t notice the time,’ Jack said, trying his best to give her a confident smile even as he backed away from her.  ‘You know how Teal’c chatters away.  We…We’ll just be going, now.’  He grabbed Daniel and pushed him towards the door furthest from the irate MD.  ‘Nighty night, Teal’c, Janet.  Sleep tight.’  He lowered his voice as he continued to push Daniel.  ‘Will you get a move on?  I don’t want to get caught by her even if you do.’

‘I’m going, I’m going.’

The door slammed behind the two men as they made their escape.

********

Teal’c visited John’s office soon after he was released from confinement the following day.

‘I wish to thank you, Colonel Sheppard, for your help in rescuing me.  I am very grateful for your assistance.’

John shifted in his seat a little uncomfortable.  ‘Don’t mention it, Teal’c.  I’m sorry you got involved in it at all.’

‘I think it is better for everyone if I return to my quarters here rather than live elsewhere after the confinement to the base has been lifted.’

‘If you’re sure, Teal’c.  Now Kendrick’s been transferred perhaps…’  John shrugged not quite knowing how to finish that sentence.  In his opinion it was much safer for all concerned, Teal’c included, if he remained at the SGC, but it wasn’t his decision to make.

‘General O’Neill has offered accommodation in his house should I desire to live off-base, but I prefer to remain at Stargate Command,’ Teal’c told him.

John nodded, relieved with his choice, and offered Teal’c a small smile.  ‘SG-1 has a mission tomorrow morning.  Are you coming with us?’ he asked, changing the subject.

Teal’c bowed slightly.  ‘I should be honoured, Colonel Sheppard.  Will Daniel Jackson be joining us?’

‘Not this time, just Rodney, Jonas and myself.  Lorne’s gone off with SG-10 to look at some rocks they’ve found.  His interest in geology is quite disturbing sometimes.  SG-5 came across some ruins they think may have something to do with the Ancients, so Rodney wants to take a look at them.  A nice easy mission for once.’

Teal’c tilted his head to one side.  ‘I believe you may have cast a jinx upon the mission, Colonel Sheppard.  Such comments are unwise to make.’

He bowed again and left the office.  John frowned to himself and wondered if that had been Teal’c’s attempt at humour.

********

Humour or not, the mission was undoubtedly jinxed, although in a way none of them could have foreseen.

‘And you say it just suddenly vanished?’ Jack demanded.

The two corporals who had been on security duty in the Gateroom swallowed nervously.

‘There was a flash of bright light which blinded us both, I think, sir,’ one of them said, and the other nodded in agreement.  ‘By the time we could see properly again all the alarms were blaring and…the Stargate had disappeared.’

‘Master Sergeant Harriman was in the Control Room,’ the other added.  ‘He looked as shocked as us.’

‘Well, there’s certainly nothing either you or the Master Sergeant could have done to prevent it from happening,’ John told them both.  ‘Go and get some breakfast, then hit your bunks.  You’re both dismissed.’

The pair saluted but paused at the door to allow Rodney and Jonas Quinn to enter the room.  Rodney watched them leave.

‘I hope they’re not in any trouble,’ Rodney said as he and Jonas sat down at the briefing table in John’s office and spread their belongings around themselves.

‘They’re not,’ John told him.  ‘It wasn’t their fault.’  He jerked his chin at the laptop Jonas was setting up.  ‘What’ve you got?’

‘The video footage from the Gateroom.  Take a look at this, Colonel, General.’

Jack and John watched the footage in silence then exchanged glances.

‘That looks suspiciously like—’ Jack began.

‘An Asgard transporter beam,’ Rodney finished for him.  ‘Just what we thought, but it certainly wasn’t the one on the Prometheus.’

‘It’s not exactly unknown for the Asgard to ummm…kidnap someone from the SGC, is it?’ Jonas said carefully.

‘No, but – and I can’t believe I’m saying this – there’s always a good reason why,’ Jack replied with a scowl.  ‘Why would they want to take our Star—’

He was interrupted as Daniel burst in clutching a laptop.

‘You’ve got to see this!’ he told them, pushing aside the papers on the table and pressing a couple of buttons on his computer.  ‘It’s from yesterday morning.’

They watched in silence as the footage showed a man in a white lab coat kneeling at the top of the ramp close to the Stargate.

‘It looks as though he’s fixing something to the gate,’ John said, peering closely at the screen.  ‘Do we know who this is?’

Rodney leaned over and enlarged the image to see it more clearly.  ‘That’s one of the new scientists who joined when Weir was in charge.  I can’t remember his name.’

‘Howard Craven,’ Jonas supplied.  ‘He’s a systems analysis and Miko hates him.’

‘He’s also unemployed as of this very minute!’ Rodney snapped, then turned to look at John and Jack.  ‘If that’s a location beacon, and I think it is, it explains how they took the gate.’

‘Except we still don’t know just who ‘they’ are,’ John argued.  ‘Or why they took it.  I agree with Jack, though. It’s unlikely the Asgard would steal our Stargate.  Why would they?’

‘And as far as we know we’re the only ones in the galaxy who have access to Asgard beaming technology,’ Daniel added.

‘Unfortunately, Daniel Jackson, that is not the case.’  Teal’c, standing behind them, spoke for the first time making them all jump.

Gah!  Don’t do that, T.’  Jack shook himself.  ‘Can’t you cough or something now and then so we remember you’re still here?’

‘I do not have a cough, O’Neill.’

‘Ignore him, Teal’c,’ Daniel said.  ‘He was being facetious.’

Jack stuck the tip of his tongue out at Daniel, and John glared at them both, once again wondering how Rodney could say that they weren’t in a relationship together.  ‘Please continue, Teal’c, and ignore the peanut gallery.’

Teal’c bowed again.  ‘The false god Anubis was able to steal the knowledge of the Asgard from Commander Thor.’

‘And that’d include how to build an Asgard transporter,’ Daniel added, enlightenment dawning on his face.  ‘But that doesn’t explain who stole our Stargate since we’re pretty certain Anubis is gone for good.  At least, there’s been no sight or sound from him since Antarctica.’

‘Indeed.’  Teal’c bowed his head.  ‘However, when last we met, Master Bra’tac suggested that the System Lord Ba’al now controls of much of the former fleet of Anubis, except there was no proof of this, simply rumours of his predations.’

From the corner of his eye, John saw Jack mouth predations and, thankfully, Daniel came to the rescue before he had to admit he didn’t know either.

‘From the Latin praedatio.  The taking of booty or plunder.’

‘Huh,’ Jack said thoughtfully.  ‘Good word. Probably get you a good score in Scrabble.’

John sighed and shook his head at his CO’s comment.  ‘So, if we think Anubis was able to build an Asgard beaming device and now Ba’al’s got hold of it…’

Jack frowned.  ‘Okay, I get that bit, but why would Ba’al need to steal our Stargate?  And what about the Trust Teal’c mentioned?  Agent Barrett and Dr Kusanagi between them were able to confirm it’s the name of a new gang on the block with connections to technology companies.  How do they fit into this?’

‘What if we were wrong yesterday about the Trust having a Stargate on their ship?’ Jonas suddenly said.  ‘They didn’t have one but did have the beaming technology, and now they’ve got our gate and access to the whole galaxy.’

‘But Ba’al wouldn’t just give away technology like that,’ Daniel objected.  ‘Why would he give them an Asgard beaming device?  And I doubt they stole it.  He’d keep it under heavy guard.’

‘And it wouldn’t be easy equipment to dismantle and steal anyway,’ Rodney added.  ‘The Asgard transporter tech on Prometheus is integrated with the hyper-drives.  It’s all powered from the same source.  I would assume one built by Anubis or Ba’al to be similar.’

‘Okay, leaving the Asgard beam aside, how are we going to get in touch with our off-world teams?’ John demanded.  ‘There’re four teams out there at the moment and as well as Lorne.  They all know to make their way to the Alpha site, but without a gate, we can’t get them home, and it’ll take Prometheus several days to reach them.  And if any of them run into problems and need a quick extraction…?’

‘We’ll get them all home one way or another,’ Jack said, grimly.  ‘What really worries me, though, is this Trust group must be better organised and probably better funded than we previously thought.  And if Ba’al is involved with them?  That terrifies me.’

********

Jack sank into the sofa in John’s office and demanded a whisky.

‘I’ve just taken it hard and dry from the President,’ he announced.  ‘I need a drink.’

John tried hard to hide his grin.  ‘At 8 am, sir?’

‘Very hard and very dry.’

‘You’ve told him about losing the Stargate, then?’

Jack glared at him.  ‘We didn’t lose it. It just…’  He made a fist then splayed his fingers.  ‘Vanished.’

‘Yes, sir.  I’ll remember that.  Not lost; it just vanished.’

‘Are you mocking me, Colonel?’

‘Certainly not, sir.  I wouldn’t dare.’

‘I’ve saved the world more times that you’ve…you’ve…’

‘Had Stargates vanish, sir?’

Jack’s eyes narrowed.  ‘Hard and dry, Colonel.  Want me to demonstrate?’

John quickly unlocked his bottom drawer and pulled out a bottle and two glasses.  ‘Shall I make it a large one, sir?’

A few minutes later Rodney burst into John’s office without knocking, as usual.

‘Craven didn’t report for work this morning, so I had Stackhouse and Markham beam into his apartment.  It’s been completely cleared out, down to light fittings and carpets.’

‘McKay, you can’t just order my men around like—’ John began but was interrupted by Jack.

‘Cleared out, huh?  That wasn’t done in a couple of hours.’

‘That’s what I thought.  I’ve got Miko going through Craven’s—  Hang on a minute.’ Rodney reached up and tapped his ear.  ‘Go ahead.  Did he, now? That’s very interesting.  Thanks, Miko.’  He turned back to Jack and John.  ‘Craven had half a million dollars paid into an account in the Cayman Islands last Friday.’

Before Teal’c was framed?’ John asked.

‘Yes.  Why?’

‘Well, it’s puzzled me that you received the phone call and email from the Trust so soon after you got back from Area 51.  I mean, I wasn’t expecting to see you until the following day.’

‘I told you I never stay there longer there than I have to, now.’

‘Mmm, but your return was a surprise.  I thought it was purely coincidence at the time although it niggled at me, but what if someone told them you were back on base, and that Daniel was still away.’

‘I did see Craven when I got back,’ Rodney said slowly, obviously thinking back to his return.  ‘He’d fucked up some code Radek Zelenka needed for the new ship and I went to yell at him.’

‘Daedalus,’ Jack interjected.  ‘Apparently we’re naming her the Daedalus.’

Rodney glared at him.  ‘Who names these things?  First, we had a trickster and a thief who was condemned to eternal torment, and now the father of a kid who flew too close to the sun despite being warned not to.’  He shook his head as if to clear it.  ‘Craven.  Yes, Craven.  He also asked where Daniel was, now I think back.  Very few people knew he and Jack had gone away for a few days, and Craven asked if Daniel was off-world.’

‘And what did you say?’

‘To ask Jonas if it was something urgent, but he said it wasn’t and then said he needed a break and was going for a walk.’

‘Going for a walk where?’

Rodney now glared at John.  ‘How should I know?  I took it that he’d have a wander around the corridors.  It’s too much hassle to go outside through countless checkpoints just for a few minutes.’

John immediately picked up his phone and dialled the primary security for the facility.  He asked the guard who answered to email him a list of everyone who entered and left through the checkpoint between 6am and noon on Monday 28th June.  Barely four minutes later John’s computer pinged as a new email arrived and he quickly scanned the list.

‘Here it is: Howard Craven, signed out at 10.57 hours, signed back in at 11.14 hours.’

‘That’s a long phone conversation,’ Jack said dubiously.

‘He’ll have taken a short walk around as well, just in case anyone was watching,’ John replied.  ‘It’s what I’d do.’

‘And I received their email at 11.21.’  Rodney was scrolling through his emails.  ‘They called me just before it arrived.’

‘But what does this prove?’ Jack asked, looking between the two men.

‘That Craven was far more involved than just putting a locator beacon on the Stargate, for a start,’ John told him.  ‘What’s his background, Rodney?’

’38, MA in computer science from Cornell, one of about a dozen scientists brought into the SGC by Elizabeth Weir, although she took most of them to Atlantis.  No issues with his security clearance.  He’s an average analyst. I wouldn’t have employed him, but Weir insisted on hiring him.  I was going to transfer him to Area 51 to work with Zelenka on the Daedalus, but Radek doesn’t want him.’

‘Okaay,’ John drawled as he thought this through while Jack sipped his whisky.

‘Bit early for that, isn’t it?’ Rodney asked, frowning at the glass in Jack’s hand.

Jack opened his mouth to reply, but John got in first.

‘He’s been on the phone with Hayes explaining about our vanishing gate.  Any ideas on how we get it back?’

‘Jonas is going up to Prometheus shortly to scan for unusual energy signs in our system.  Miko’s written him a programme to use, and I’m going to work with her to extend the scan on Earth.’

‘Why?  I thought we’d decided they were using a ship.’  Jack sounded a little puzzled.

‘We did, but it’s just possible they have a base on the planet too.  After all, Keffler and the men the other day both had bases in warehouses.’

‘And what’s Danny up to?’

‘He’s going through Craven’s computer to see if there’s anything there.’

‘Wouldn’t he have deleted everything or wiped it as the guys in the warehouse did?’

Rodney scowled at him.  ‘It’s impossible to wipe a networked computer as the information isn’t stored on the machine itself, and you know full well nothing is ever really ‘deleted’.  I went through that with you myself, O’Neill.  Please don’t play the stupid card with me.  I know you’re ABD in Astronomy.’

Jack had the grace to flush.  ‘And I asked you to keep that quiet, fucker!’ he muttered.

‘Is there anything we can do?’ John asked, hoping to cool the pair’s tempers.  ‘Anything or anyone you need me to shoot?’

‘And don’t you even get me started!  I know—’

‘McKay, lay off.  You can yell at me after you’ve found my Stargate.  I’ll even put it in my diary if you want, but please, for the love of God, don’t start now.  Go back and let Miko boss you around a bit, or go and bully Bill Lee.  You know you enjoy that.’

Rodney gave them both a death glare and stomped out of the room, slamming the door behind him.

‘Sometimes I wonder how the fuck you put up with him.’  Jack finished his whisky and set the empty glass down on the desk.  ‘And why.’

John closed his eyes, rubbed his face, and took a deep breath.  He was just about to reply when he heard the door between the two offices close quietly.  He opened his eyes and looked around.  He was alone.

*******

For Jack and John, the next couple of days were a nightmare.  They were forced to fly to New York to discuss the missing Stargate with representatives from the IOA who had offices within the United Nations complex in Manhattan.  Several members of the IOA were most unhappy about the loss of the Stargate, despite them having no actual control over the SGC itself, but what they proposed to do about it raised John’s temperature almost to boiling point.

‘Myself, I do not understand why our suggestion displeases you so much,’ the French representative told Richard Holland, behind whom Jack and John were sitting, quietly fuming.  ‘Since it is you who have lost the Stargate, surely it makes sense that the next one is under the control of another nation.  It is obvious your security is far too lax.’

‘And China will ensure we place it under the tightest of control with access limited to only the necessary personnel,’ Shen Xiaoyi, the Chinese representative, murmured.

‘That decision has not yet been made!’  General Chekov banged his hand on the table.

‘And how do you propose finding this new gate?’  Holland asked pleasantly, looking around the table.  The other members of the IOA looked at him uncertainly.  He shrugged his shoulders.  ‘Earth’s gate has been stolen.  Where will you get a new gate from?’

‘There are many unused Stargates in the galaxy.’  Jean LaPierre dismissed his concerns with a wave of his hand.  ‘We select one.  Ç’est simple.’

‘And how do you get to a planet to select a Stargate, move it, and, not least, how will you get it back to Earth?’

John exchanged a conspiratorial grin with Jack, and they both made themselves comfortable, happy to let Richard Holland make their case.

There was a short silence, then Xiaoyi spoke up again.

‘I am aware Prometheus has been fitted with Asgard beaming technology.  This will make transporting a Stargate a simple matter.’

John stiffened in his seat and saw Jack do the same.  How does she know that?  Prometheus has only been back a week or so.  He noticed Holland hadn’t moved a muscle despite knowing as well as John did that such information was a closely guarded secret.

‘And yet Prometheus carries a US flag on her hull,’ Holland commented, almost casually.

‘Are you saying the US Government will refuse to help us in this matter?’

‘Not at all, Ms Xiaoyi.  I’m simply pointing out that Prometheus is a US ship, crewed by US personnel, and paid for by US tax dollars.’

‘But the Stargate which you lost was scavenged by the Russians, I believe.’

‘And your point, madam?’

‘That you owe the Russian Federation a replacement Stargate!’

Richard gave a throaty chuckle.  ‘I’m afraid your intelligence is inaccurate and, in any case, any arrangement or agreement the US might or might not have with the Russians is none of your concern.’

‘And if we make it our concern?’ interjected LaPierre.

Russell Chapman, the British delegate, gave a dry cough.  ‘I wish to make it quite clear that Her Majesty’s Government has no wish to change the current status quo.  We are perfectly happy with the American modus operandi and fully recognise their position of prima inter pares with regards to the Stargate Programme.’

Richard Holland hid his smile with his hand while John and Jack had no reason to hide their wide grins.  The IOA current Chairman, Canadian Peter Luce, tapped the table to draw everyone’s attention.

‘This argument is getting us nowhere.  May I suggest that we finish for the day and meet back here tomorrow morning?’

Nods and murmurs of agreement met this motion and Luce got to his feet, prompting a general scraping of chairs and muted chatter.  LaPierre and Xiaoyi headed straight for each other while Holland turned to Jack and John.

‘Let’s get out of here,’ he muttered to them.  ‘I need a drink.’

********

Richard Holland led them to a private lounge in the complex where he had to sign the SGC men in.  It was a comfortable looking room with low, strategically placed lighting, and groups of armchairs.  Each group was positioned so no one at a neighbouring table could overhear them, with several groups already occupied by smartly suited men.  It struck John there were no women present.

‘It’s restricted to senior UN personnel,’ Holland explained as they took their seats at one of the groupings of armchairs.  ‘I get in because I was liaison between the Chiefs and the UN and, on paper at least, still am.  None of the IOA can get in without being invited so they won’t disturb us.’

A white-coated steward took their drink orders and disappeared as quietly as he’d arrived.

‘Still, you won’t mind if I make sure no can…disturb us?’ Jack asked, removing a small egg-shaped device from his pocket which glowed once.  He placed it on the table and grinned at them.  ‘A present from my little grey pal.  He gives the best presents.’

John looked around the room.  ‘It looks just like one of the London clubs my grandfather described to me.’

‘It is based on that model,’ Holland told him.  ‘I’ve had the pleasure of dining a couple of times at the Cavalry Club in London, and the similarity is astounding.  But I didn’t bring you here to talk about clubs.  What’s happening about recovering the Stargate, and do you know who stole it yet?  And why?’

Jack and John exchanged glances.

‘I think we need to bring him in,’ Jack said at last, and John nodded.

‘Bring me in to what?’

‘Our confidence about a situation very few outside of the SGC know about,’ Jack told him.  ‘And I’d like it to stay that way, please.’

‘Do I need to cross my heart or sign a pledge or something?’ Richard asked, his voice tinged with amusement.

‘Nah.  A simple promise will do it, although it is a bit cloak and daggery.’

‘Go on.  I promise not to reveal anything to anyone without your permission.’

Jack waited while the steward brought their drinks, then took a deep breath, all humour gone from his visage.  ‘We suspect a new organisation has been formed, probably from the remnants the NID and Committee.  You know about them, do you?’

‘I’ve read the briefing notes.’

‘Did you know Teal’c was kidnapped?’

‘Yes, but you managed to rescue him, though, didn’t you?’

‘We did, but the group behind the kidnap and blackmailing got away.  Richard Kendrick from the OSI was responsible for that cluster-fuck, but that’s by the by.  Two or three other bits of information have come to light because of all that.  This new group, the Trust, may have links to the Goa’uld.  They asked Danny to translate some Ancient writing into Goa’uld and then used Zats – Zat’nik’tel, a sort of stun gun – on him and McKay, then ringed – or at least we assume they ringed – out of the warehouse.  That makes us think they have a ship, somewhere in orbit.  Two, Ba’al has taken over most of Anubis’ former fleet and holdings, which we know includes Asgard technology, probably including—’

‘Asgard beams,’ Richard finished for him.

‘Yes, and, by the way, we need to have a conversation about what Xiaoyi knows about Prometheus at some point but not right now.  The thing is, if Ba’al has Asgard beaming tech, he wouldn’t simply give it away, and McKay assures us it’s difficult to steal, so if he’s given one of his ships, which has the beaming tech, to the Trust, it’s for a specific reason.’

‘And why, exactly, would he want them to steal a Stargate?’

‘That’s the bit we’re unclear about.  We’ve uncovered a Trust mole in the SGC, though, and I’ve got Paul Davies from the Pentagon going through all our personnel to see if there’re any big changes in their circumstances; he’ll take a look at Area 51 next.  We’ve also got Teal’c meeting with everyone on base to check no one’s been snaked, which is a possibility.’

‘Any idea how far this goes?’

Jack pulled a face.  ‘None, and that’s a worry.  We’ve got the geeks working every angle they can but…’  He shrugged.

‘And if you can’t get the gate back?’

‘We do what Xiaoyi suggested,’ John said, speaking for the first time in a while.  ‘But there’s no way we’d hand it over to another country.’

‘Well, we have the support of the British.’  Richard’s mouth twitched. ‘They recognise our prima inter pares, in fact.’

‘Pretentious twat,’ Jack muttered.  ‘First among equals.  If only some of them would pare our expenditure on the Stargate programme…’

‘You know you wouldn’t give them access even if they did,’ John told him.  ‘You refused to have a Russian on SG-1 and won’t even allow Xiaoyi or her minions inside the Mountain.’

‘That’s beside the point.  We might refuse their money, but they could at least offer.’

John opened his mouth to reply to this when Jack’s cell phone suddenly rang.  He pulled it out.

‘Hey, Danny-boy.  Any news?’  He listened for a moment; his eyes screwed up as he concentrated on whatever Daniel was telling him.  ‘Okay, we’ll do that.’  He glanced at his watch.  ‘It’s 1630 now, so we won’t be with you until about 2300, I think.  Do not do anything ’til we get back.  That’s an order!’  He closed his phone, slipped it into his pocket, and stood up.  ‘Richard, I’m afraid we have to go. Danny and McKay have come across some…lost property and we need to get back.  Unfortunately, because we have to have a fully traceable trip, we need to fly back, but at least we have our own plane and don’t have to fly commercial.’

John shuddered.  ‘Thank fuck for that, and it’s my turn to drive this time!’

‘Keep us posted about tomorrow’s meeting, Richard,’ Jack added.  ‘Hopefully, it’ll all be irrelevant by then, but you never know.’

‘I hope so, and you keep me updated as well.  I’m looking forward to telling Xiaoyi to kiss my ass.’  Richard gave them a mischievous grin.  ‘Come on; I can arrange a car to take you to the airport.’

*******

Just for a change, the meeting took place in Jack’s office.  John squeezed himself into a corner by the bookcase behind the General and faced the row of people in front of the desk with a scowl on his face.

‘Dr Jackson, what was the last thing I said to you on the phone earlier today?’ Jack demanded, his voice colder than John had ever heard it when addressing one of his former team.

Daniel mumbled something.

‘Speak up!’

‘You told me not to do anything until you got back.’

‘And what else?’

‘That it was an order, but, Jack—’

‘Daniel, I’m aware you are a civilian, but while you work on this base you are under my command!’  Jack’s voice rose with each word uttered, and Daniel flinched away as though to escape the words.

‘I’m sorry, Jack, but we got the Stargate back so—’

‘We could have replaced the Stargate with another one.  We can’t replace human lives.  As it is, Quinn is in the infirmary along with two of the Marines you took with you.’

‘But—’

‘Silence!’  The word and volume shocked everyone in the room, John included, and he watched as Jack scrubbed his face with his hands.  ‘Major Lorne.’

Jack spoke at a normal level, but anger tinged his tone along with tiredness and…something else, John thought.  Sorrow?  Regret?

Lorne came even more to attention if that were possible.

‘I understand you led this little mutiny?’

‘I…Yes, sir.’

‘But I also understand it was much against your will and that you only agreed because Dr Jackson and Dr McKay were determined to go to the facility Dr Kusanagi had identified as containing the Stargate if you didn’t?’

‘I…’

‘I’ll take that as ‘yes, sir,’ shall I?’  Jack watched him in silence for a long minute.  ‘You can go for the moment, Major, but we shall have words later on today.  Dismissed!’

Lorne flung a salute so sharp John worried he’d cut himself, about turned, and left the room at a quick-march.

‘Teal’c?’  Jack turned to his old friend.  ‘My guess is you went along with this ridiculous plan for the same reason?’

The tall Jaffa raised one eyebrow.   ‘I fear I am unable to answer that question in order to avoid incriminating myself, O’Neill.’

John covered his mouth with his hand to hide the smile he couldn’t help and decided Teal’c had been fully prepared by the other two miscreants, chiefly Daniel Jackson.

‘Ah, I think that only applies to US citizens, T,’ Jack told him, the outright anger now absent.  ‘You can go, as well.’

Teal’c eyed him for a moment then inclined his head and turned away.  From his position, John could see the almost rueful look he gave the two remaining offenders before he, too, left the room.

Jack sank into his chair and heaved a great sigh.  ‘I don’t know what to do with the pair of you.  I can’t fire you since you’re both crucial to the programme although, I suppose I could send you both to Area 51.’

The threat made McKay blanch in a way O’Neill’s anger hadn’t, and he opened his mouth to speak before closing it again as the General continued.

‘What makes me so angry, though, is that you dragged Lorne into your escapade and caused him to violate my direct orders.  That’s a court-martial offence.  Between you, you may have destroyed the career of a damn fine officer, even supposing he stays out of Fort Leavenworth.’

‘Jack!’ Daniel burst out.  ‘You can’t court-martial him!’

‘Daniel, I may not have any choice!’  Jack scrubbed his face again.  ‘The minute you lied to Colonel Pendergast and told him you had my permission to beam the four of you and a bunch of Marines to LA, you condemned Evan Lorne, because he didn’t inform a senior officer of the deception.  Pendergast is hopping mad and is demanding Lorne’s head on a plate since he was, ostensibly, in charge.  It’s out of my hands.’

‘But…we didn’t mean to—’

‘It doesn’t matter if you meant to or not!’  The volume of Jack’s voice increased again.  ‘There are consequences for all your actions, Daniel, and, unfortunately, Major Lorne is the one who’s going to have to pay the price for this one.’

‘But you’ve disobeyed orders hundreds of times!’

‘And each time I did I knew there were possible consequences.  The difference is that I decided to disobey.  Lorne didn’t have a choice.  He was screwed from the moment you and McKay made your little plans.  If he’d told you he wouldn’t go with you, the chances are high you’d’ve found a way of going on your own, and got yourselves killed, and he couldn’t allow that.  He had to go along with you, all the while knowing the probable consequences.’

‘He didn’t say anything about it to us,’ Rodney muttered, speaking for the first time.

Jack slapped his hand on the desk.  ‘Really? That’s your justification for getting Lorne court-martialed?  ‘He didn’t say anything’?’

‘No!  That’s not what I meant!’

John realised Rodney was close to tears but couldn’t, no, wouldn’t, say anything to comfort him.  He, too, needed to learn that actions have consequences.

Jack shook his head and rubbed the bridge of his nose.  ‘Get out.  Get out, the pair of you.’

Daniel opened his mouth to argue again, but Rodney grabbed his arm and dragged him through the door.  John left his spot by the bookcase and settled in the chair in front of the desk while Jack banged his head on its surface.

‘Don’t do that,’ John told him, mildly.  ‘You’ll make a dent in it.’

Jack gave him a wan smile.  ‘It feels good when I stop, though.’

A bark of laughter erupted from John before he could stop it, but he quickly sobered.  ‘What are we going to do about Lorne?’

‘I don’t know.  I wasn’t joking when I said Pendergast is baying for blood.’

‘Colonel Ronson wouldn’t have demanded you court-martial him.’

‘Colonel Ronson is no longer the commander of Prometheus.’  Jack heaved another sigh.  ‘I take your point, though.  Pendergast is a very by-the-book commander.  Much like Marshall Sumner.’

‘The Colonel who led the military side of the expedition?’

‘Yeah.  Don’t get me wrong; they’re both fine men and damn fine soldiers.  They’re just…not as flexible as you sometimes need to be in this programme.’

‘Maybe if Pendergast knew the reasons behind Lorne’s actions?  If he apologises?’

‘Maybe.  I’ll have a word with Pender tomorrow.  Today. It’s almost 0200.  I need to get some sleep and so do you.  It’s been a long day.’

‘And tomorrow will no doubt be equally long.’

 

Chapter Seven

In the days following the unauthorised mission to rescue the Stargate from a warehouse in Los Angeles, tension and emotions ran high in the SGC.  Jack and the President combined managed to talk Pendergast out of convening a court-martial for Lorne but were unable to sway him from insisting on a reprimand being put on his record.  As Pendergast pointed out, junior officers could not be permitted to lie to a senior officer without there being some consequence.  It would mean Lorne’s next promotion board, due in two years, would be put back to five years, at minimum.

‘I can’t do anything more about it,’ Jack confessed over a beer in John’s quarters a few days after the Stargate was returned to the SGC.   ‘I spoke to both George Hammond and Richard Holland about it, and they both agreed it’s unfair, but by that point, the President had been brought in and…’  His voice trailed off.

‘Lorne understands there’s nothing you can do,’ John said in a quiet voice, aware how much Jack regretted the actions he’d been forced to take.  ‘He also  told me, strictly off the record, that he’d do the same thing again if the situation arose, although I told him to keep that thought to himself.’

‘Christ, yes!  Pendergast wasn’t at all happy the President refused a court-martial after I explained Lorne is a damn good officer and has the ATA gene, quite apart from trying to protect Danny and McKay.  He’s refused to have him on board Prometheus again without a more senior officer with him.  His prerogative, but it’s likely to make things difficult for us all in a crisis.  Danny still doesn’t understand what was so wrong about what he and McKay did, and why I can’t just brush it under the carpet.’

‘Rodney understands alright, I made sure of that.’

Jack gave a snort of laughter; the first John had heard from him in several days.  ‘I thought he looked a little subdued.’

‘He’ll get over it, but he won’t forget in a hurry.  In any case, I’ve managed to get clearance for his chum Radek Zelenka to join the SGC.  He’ll be too busy filling him in with what’s happening here to worry about anything else.’

‘I thought Zelenka was overseeing the work on the Daedalus?’

‘He was, but his work on it is pretty much finished now.  He’s a mechanical engineer, strictly speaking, although he has several other degrees as well. Most of our scientists do.  Now the Daedalus has entered the testing phase he’s not required anywhere near as much, and when he is, he can be beamed from the Mountain just as easily as he can from Area 51.’

‘Fair enough.’  Jack took another swig of his beer.  ‘What else have I missed while I’ve been away fighting for Lorne’s career?’

‘Well, we still don’t know why the Stargate was stolen,’ John offered.  ‘Although you missed a treat when several of the IOA descended on us uninvited.’

Jack grinned at him.  ‘I heard a little about it from Richard Holland, but he didn’t have time to tell me the whole story.’

‘Shen Xiaoyi, Jean LaPierre, and Peter Luce turned up on the doorstep two days after we got the Stargate back, but it was pretty clear that Peter Luce didn’t want to be here.  Xiaoyi and LaPierre didn’t believe we’d recovered the gate and demanded access to the Mountain to see it for themselves.  The SFs on the main gate did exactly what they should have done and refused to allow any of them even into the compound without my permission so while I made my way up to the surface, our uninvited guests were forced to wait on the roadside.  They’d taken a cab from the airport, presumably not to tip us off they were coming, but the cab driver took one look at the SFs and made the IOA people get out so he could leave.  They were furious but couldn’t do anything about it.  Xiaoyi was apoplectic with rage at the SFs and kept asking if they knew who she was, but, of course, the SFs hadn’t a clue anything other than her trying to gain unauthorised entry through the gate they were guarding.  By the time I got there, they’d called in reinforcements and six burly Marines had their weapons trained on the three of them.’

John paused and finished the last of his beer, and held the bottle up to his friend.  ‘Want another?’  Jack nodded and John went to his tiny fridge to retrieve a couple more, flicked off the tops and passed one over.  Once he had resettled himself on the bed – Jack was in the only armchair in the room – he took another sip and sighed in pleasure.  ‘Long story cut short, I allowed them into the waiting room on level 1, mainly because Peter Luce was beginning to suffer from the heat.  He’s no spring chicken and waiting over half an hour in the blazing sun had done a number on him, so much so that I called for Doc Fraiser to come and check him out.  He just needed a sit-down and some fluids, but by the time Fraiser had finished with him, Xiaoyi was pretty much climbing the walls and LaPierre not far behind her.

‘They demanded access to the embarkation room, again, to see for themselves if the Stargate was there, but that was never going to happen, not without your say so, and she demanded I get you on the phone.  I told her you were with the President and couldn’t be disturbed, and she wanted to know why you were with the President, then accused me of lying to them.  Peter Luce was pretty much recovered by this point, and he obviously realised she’d crossed a line, and tried to rein her in but she completely lost it and started ranting about conspiracies and cover-ups.  Then she threatened to tell President Jintao to call President Hayes and have him order us to allow her access to the whole of the base whenever she wanted, and, finally, to turn over the Stargate to the Chinese.’

‘She’d decided we had got it back, then?’

‘To be honest, she was ranting so much it was difficult to work out just what she did believe, and LaPierre had backed so far away from her, presumably to dissociate himself from her, that he’d crammed himself into a corner of the waiting room with the table between them.  It was clear he wanted nothing more than to get away from both the Mountain and her.  The door then opened, and Richard Holland strolled in.  Apparently, Lorne had called him as soon as I left my office, and he’d beamed over from New York.  Neither Xiaoyi nor LaPierre had told him they were coming to the Mountain which protocols said they should, and, furthermore, they’d told Luce they had Richard’s permission.

‘It sort of went to pieces from there as Richard had taken the time to speak to both the French and Chinese Ambassadors to the UN, and they were furious the pair had gone behind their backs; you know how jealously they all guard their authority.  The upshot is that both LaPierre and Xiaoyi have been replaced on the IOA by their respective countries, and while Peter Luce remains the rep for Canada, he’s been forced to step down from the Chairmanship which goes to Russell Chapman.’

‘And do we know who the new reps will be?’

‘Not as yet, so we don’t know if it’ll be a blessing or a curse for us.  Richard Holland went out on a limb and made it clear to the Chinese Ambassador that he expects to be kept in the picture regarding what happens to Xiaoyi.  We might not like her, but none of us wishes her to just disappear like so many in China, and Russia, for that matter, seem to do.’

‘Good for him, although I do wish I’d been there to see her when she lost it.’  Jack picked at the label on his bottle and shot John a grin.  ‘You can’t buy entertainment like that.’

‘In which case, I have some good news for you.’  John reached into his bedside drawer, retrieved a memory stick and handed it over, smirking all the while.  ‘Rodney copied the security footage from the waiting room for you.  Richard has a copy and has promised to show it to the President.’

‘Excellent.  Anything else?’

John thought for a moment.  ‘Prometheus is about to leave on a mission to pick up a couple of unused Stargates, as we discussed.’

‘And the DHDs?’

‘And the DHDs.  Rodney’s keen to install one in our control room in place of the dialling computer, as it’ll then override any other DHD that might be brought to Earth since we have the oldest Stargate, at least, as far as we know.’

Jack nodded.  ‘Good idea. I’m pretty sure China will do its damnedest to get their hands on a Stargate as soon as possible.’

‘That’s what we thought.  Rodney also wants to be able to study the power source in a DHD as he says he has a couple of ideas but wants to discuss it with Zelenka.  Oh, and he’s come up with a storage method for Operation WITSLLEN.’

‘Really?  He said he was working on something a while ago.  Do you know what it is?’

‘Not yet, but I think the business with Lorne has focussed his mind a bit as he’s been concentrating on actual science, as he calls it, rather than firefighting urgent problems.  Having Zelenka to bounce ideas off has proved very fruitful.  The pair of them with Miko are almost unstoppable.’

‘Good to hear.  It’s a pity Daniel hasn’t taken a leaf out of their book.’

John tipped his head to one side and watched his friend.  ‘He’s still not talking to you?’

‘The bare minimum.’

‘But what happened isn’t your fault.  He and McKay are the ones to blame.’

‘Try telling Daniel that.  He still thinks I should have prevented Pendergast from punishing Lorne.’  Jack held up his hands to stop John from replying.  ‘I know, I know.  The trouble is, Danny’s a civilian and has never understood the military mindset.  Never wanted to understand it, and that’s partially my fault as both Carter and I, and George Hammond to some extent, cushioned him from much of what happens here.  The military side of it, at least.  Daniel saw me get away with pretty much everything, up to and including ignoring direct orders, and he can’t understand why I can’t do the same for Lorne.’

‘Want me to have a word with him?’ John asked, a grim look on his face.  ‘I made McKay understand.’

‘Yeah, but then you’re sleeping with McKay.  Might not have the same effect on Daniel.’

‘Fair point.  Should I set McKay on him, then?’

Jack considered this suggestion.  ‘That might work.  Especially as Daniel respects McKay on a professional level.’

‘I’ll speak to him tomorrow.  And now it’s time for all good Generals to be tucked up in bed.’  John glanced at his watch.  ‘Especially as I’m due to dig McKay out from his lab in a few minutes.’

Jack got to his feet and stretched.  ‘I’ll say goodnight then.’

John grinned at him and followed him out of the door.  ‘We need to fix you up with someone.’

His comment made Jack turn around so fast he almost fell over.

‘I’m perfectly capable of finding my own companions, thank you very much.  Buzz off and concentrate on your own love life.’

‘Sir, yes, sir!’

*******

Several days of relative peace passed although SG-7 came back from a planet formerly under the control of the System Lord, Morrigan, to report that Ba’al was consolidating his power over the Milky Way and had recently managed to take over the planet Tartarus, where Anubis had centred his creation of Kull warriors.  Teal’c, Bra’tac, Carter, and Jacob Carter had done their best the previous year to stall Anubis’ production of new Kull Warriors by killing the Goa’uld Queen spawning the symbiotes he used to control them, but they’d seen the thousands of Warriors he’d already created and could nothing about them.  To now discover they were under the control of Ba’al made Jack’s blood run cold.

‘Jacob Carter said there were enough Kull Warriors there to take over the entire galaxy,’ he told John after SG-7 had left the briefing room, scrubbing his hands over his face.

‘But I thought I read that Carter and her father had managed to create a weapon to use against them?’

‘They did.  It fits on the barrel of a gun or can be used by hand if necessary, but we’ve barely enough for ourselves without having to distribute them around the galaxy.  Christ!  What a mess.’

‘We’ve enough to devices to issue to all the teams going off-world, though?’

‘Yes, that’s no problem, but we’re going to have to see about producing some more we can offer to our allies, at least.  Can you imagine the damage a Kull Warrior could do on Cimmeria, for instance?’

John grinned at him.  ‘I should think Gairwyn would put up a pretty good fight even against a Kull.’

Jack laughed, remembering when he’d taken John and introduced him personally to one of his favourite planets in the galaxy.  ‘I don’t disagree.’  He sobered pretty quickly, however.  ‘It makes me wonder what else Ba’al has managed to get his hands on and how he’s going to use it.  None of the Goa’uld would be my choice of a guest at a dinner party, but Ba’al terrifies me.  He’s…’  Jack paused, searching for the right word.

‘Far too human for comfort?’

Jack pointed a finger at John.  ‘That. Exactly.  He’s a megalomaniac Goa’uld with the guile of a human.  It’s a frightening combination.’

‘I can’t disagree.  Changing the subject a little, I’ve been asked by several of the scientists when they can go home again and resume their normal lives.  I said I’d speak to you about it but nothing’s changed since Teal’c was kidnapped, has it?’

‘If you mean are our people still in danger, then, yes, they are.  We’re no closer to discovering why the Stargate was stolen although Barrett has a couple of leads on industrialists he thinks might be members of the Trust.  I asked your aide to pencil in a meeting between you and I later today to discuss it, but we can do it now if you’re free.’

John was silent for a moment.  ‘I have a briefing with SG-4 at 1300 hours.  They’re meeting with the Hak’tyl Resistance to discuss Tretonin production so Fraiser and Teal’c are going with them.  Teal’c’s hoping to persuade them to join the Jaffa Rebellion and not just keep striking out on their own, so Bra’tac’s also going.’

Jack nodded and flicked through one of the folders he’d taken to the debriefing.  He pulled out a sheet of closely typed paper and handed it to John.  ‘Barrett sent me this hidden in an envelope of other papers.  Have a read.’

John took it from him, surprise evident on his face, and spent a few minutes reading through it.  When he got to the end, he read it through again.  Finally, he looked up and met Jack’s eyes.  ‘I…I’m not sure what you want me to say.  As far as I was concerned my father cut me off when I was 18 and I’ve had no contact with either him or my brother since.  I certainly don’t get any money from Sheppard Industries, unless it’s being paid into an account I know nothing about.’

‘That’s what I told Barrett, although, as he pointed out, the company accounts tell a different story.’

‘Is SI one of the companies Barrett believes is involved with the Trust?  Does he suspect me of being a Trust agent?’

Jack gave him a grim smile.  ‘As far as I can tell, the alphabet agencies suspect everyone is guilty of something unless proved otherwise.  Barrett is a little more level-headed than most, though, and he made no accusations against you; he simply sent me a copy of the SI accounts to peruse.’

‘Do you suspect me, General O’Neill?’

Jack reared back in shock.  ‘Jesus, John!  No!  Absolutely not!  I didn’t mean to make any such suggestion.  Barrett thinks your father and brother may be peripherally connected with the Trust and he’s concerned that if his investigations unearth anything further, it might implicate you.  This report was just information to prepare you…us…for any accusations which might be made in the future.  I have complete faith in you, as does George Hammond who also got a copy of this.’

‘So what do you suggest I do?’

‘Speak to your father,’ Jack said promptly.  ‘He’s the only one who can explain why you appear to be a director of SI and hold 24% of SI’s stock without your knowledge.  They must have required your signature at some point over the last sixteen years, and it’ll be interesting to see how they managed that.  The other thing that comes to mind is the IRS.  I don’t understand why they haven’t been beating your door down if you owe them any money, but they haven’t.  Your own financial guy can probably tell you more about that.  It all starts and ends with your father, though.  Speak to him and see what the hell’s happened.’  He sat back in his chair and regarded his subordinate.  Something was tickling at the edge of his mind that wouldn’t show itself as yet.  Maybe some pie would help.  ‘Wanna grab a bite from the mess?  If we go now, we’ll miss the main lunch crowd, especially if you’ve got a briefing at 1300.’

********

‘I’d like to speak to Patrick Sheppard.’

‘Who’s calling?’

‘His son.’

There was a pause on the other end of the phone, a couple of clicks, and a familiar voice.  ‘John?’

‘David?  I asked to speak to Dad.’

‘Dad’s not here.  I run the day to day business of SI now.  What do you want?’

John looked at the phone even as a voice in the back of his head told him he’d never be able to see his brother down a telephone line.  He’d half expected his father to refuse to take his call, but he’d never considered his brother might come on the line.

‘John?  Are you still there?  What do you want?’

‘I…I just wanted to speak to Dad…about…about a couple of things.’

‘Why?’

The direct question threw him.  ‘I…something’s just come to light I wanted to discuss with him.’

‘What sort of something?’

John rubbed the back of his neck as he tried to decide how to word his questions, and Jack appeared in the doorway between their offices still seated in his chair, his raised eyebrows asking the question for him.  ‘Just…company stuff.  SI stuff.’  He flicked the conference call switch so Jack could hear David’s response.

‘What SI stuff?  I can probably answer your questions better than Dad can as I run SI now.’

‘Doesn’t Dad have any involvement in it?’

‘Very little.  He’s too busy with his new wife.’

‘What?  What new wife?  When did this happen?  Why didn’t anyone tell me?’

‘You cut yourself off from us, remember?  Why should you care about what either Dad or I do?  It’s got nothing to do with you.’

‘I…David, look, I know we haven’t spoken for years but…  When did Dad remarry?  Who has he married?’

‘Someone he loves and cares about.’  The ‘more than you’ was apparent in David’s tone.

‘Is…Does he still live at home?’  Even as he asked the question, John realised how ridiculous it sounded.

I suppose you mean the same home.  Yes, they do, but I doubt he wants to hear from you any more than I do.  If you’ve not got anything better to do than ask fatuous questions, I do.  Goodbye.  There was a click, and then the hum of the dialling tone.

John sat for a moment, silent with shock.  Jack remained in the doorway, waiting for John to speak, although his face offered a sympathetic, rueful smile.

‘I…huh.  That’s…not what I expected,’ John eventually said.

‘Is it worth calling your father at home?’

‘I…I suppose so.’

John made no attempt to dial a number, however, and Jack eventually wheeled himself back into his own office leaving John to his confused thoughts.

********

Barely fifteen minutes later Rodney appeared in the doorway.

‘Come on, I’ve had enough for the day and I’m sure you have too.  Let’s go out for a meal.  I want a nice large steak with a huge pile of fries.’

John looked up from whatever he’d been doing which, Rodney decided, hadn’t been much.  Most unusually, papers and open files were scattered across John desk rather than the usual military precision of neat piles and no clutter.  ‘We’re still restricting people from going off-base, remember?’

Rodney dismissed this with a wave of his hand.  ‘Then take a weapon with you; you usually do, anyway.  Take a couple of Marines to stand outside O’Malley’s if you must, but I want to see the sky again.’

‘You saw sky yesterday.’

‘I want to see Earth sky, not on some planet millions of light years away.  Chop chop.’

‘Did Jack put you up to this?’

‘What?  You think I have to be ordered to want to eat a thick juicy steak instead of the swill in the mess?’

‘Rodney, you like the food in the mess.’

John’s voice carried a hint of humour in it, a far cry from his usual bonhomie, but enough to satisfy Rodney that he’d chosen the right approach.  ‘Okay, I’ll give you that, but I also like steak and, right now, I want a steak cooked to my order, a pile of crispy fries, and a glass of good red wine, none of which I can get in the mess.’

Finally, John nodded his agreement and clicked his radio to request a driver.  ‘I want a glass of wine as well.  A large glass.  Should we ask Jack to join us?’

‘Nah.  You kids go and enjoy yourselves,’ Jack told him from the other doorway.  ‘I need to make Danny stop his sulking, anyway, and that’s going to be no fun.’

‘He’s still mad at you about Lorne, then?’ Rodney asked, throwing a glance at John.  ‘I tried to tell him we were entirely to blame but he insists you could have done something if you’d wanted.  He hates being in the wrong.’

‘And you never do, do you?’ John asked, a smile now hovering on his lips.

Rodney flushed and looked down.  ‘I’ve learned my lesson over Lorne and I’ve apologised to him.  It won’t happen again.’

‘I’m sorry; I shouldn’t tease you.’  John locked his drawers and pocketed the key.  ‘I know it won’t happen again.  Come on.  Rogers will be waiting in the car.  Sure you won’t come, Jack?’

‘Certain sure, thanks.  I may follow your lead when I discuss the situation with Danny, though.’

John grinned while Rodney pulled him out of the office, his ears crimson.  ‘What did you tell him?’ he demanded in a low voice.

‘Nothing, you’re fine.’

‘It’d better be nothing.  Some things should stay private between couples, you know.’  Despite his words, Rodney was pleased to see John already looked brighter than he had.  An evening out of the Mountain would do them both good even though they were limited in what they could talk about in public.  Perhaps an evening of neutral topics would also be beneficial.

********

By the time they returned to the Mountain, John was feeling much better about the situation with his family.  He’d been able to discuss his earlier telephone conversation with Rodney and talk about why he was so hurt his father had failed to tell him he’d remarried.

‘Families are the very devil,’ Rodney told him, taking a sip of his wine.  ‘We’re both better off without them.’

‘I can’t disagree.  Why should I be so upset with the fact he’s remarried, though?  I’ve not even thought about them for years but as soon as I get proof they’ve not thought about me either I’m upset.’

‘Are you upset that your father’s remarried, or that he didn’t tell you?’

John thought about this.  ‘I…I think I’m upset he’s remarried, although I know I shouldn’t be.  Mom’s been dead for over twenty years and I’m pretty sure she’d have told him to be happy if he could.  If Mom wouldn’t object, why should I?’

‘I’m afraid I can’t answer that.’  Rodney did sound regretful.  ‘My parents only hated me marginally less than each other.  I know very little about how a proper family acts and feels.’

‘So we’re both family-less, then?’

‘I suspect quite a few people in the Programme are.  O’Neill and Jackson have no family to speak of, and I know almost all of the people who went to At…the other place, have no family back here.  No one to ask awkward questions if they don’t come back.’

‘I thought Carter had family here?’

‘She has a brother she rarely had any contact with, and her father was host to one of the friendly snakes until he passed away last year.  That, ostensibly, was the reason she joined the Expedition.’

‘Ostensibly?’

Rodney sighed.  ‘When I first joined the Programme, I was head over heels in lust with Sam Carter, but she had no time for me at all.  It quickly became clear, to me at least, that she was in love with O’Neill, but he never saw her as anything other than a teammate.  Sometime last year something happened when Prometheus was on a shakedown flight although it was never clear what, but afterwards, Sam began acting differently, especially towards O’Neill.  It was as though she’d suddenly realised that she had no chance at a relationship with him and it…freed her somehow.  I can’t quite explain it.  When Weir began to plan the Expedition, and I’d turned her down flat, Sam requested the post of CSO.  Weir was over the moon as she’d much rather have Carter than me; she just didn’t think Sam would agree to go.’  He smiled at John and shrugged his shoulders.  ‘Voila.  She’s there, and I’m here.’

‘And I’m delighted you are,’ John told him with a soft smile, and for the rest of their meal the conversation continued on similar light topics.

It wasn’t until they were cuddled together in bed after some of the best sex John could remember that he revisited the subject of his family.

‘I still need to find out why I’m listed as a director and shareholder of SI.  I think it’s probably best if I pay my father a visit rather than phone him.’

Rodney lifted his head from John’s shoulder and twisted himself to look up at him.  ‘I thought you didn’t want to see him.’

‘I don’t, particularly.  He’s never wanted any contact with me any more than I have with him.’

‘Why do you want to see him now, then?’

‘Because…’  John thought for a moment then continued.  ‘Something doesn’t feel right. I can’t explain what, it’s just a feeling I have that something’s not quite right.  I want to go and see him at a time when I know Dave will be at his office.’

‘Does Dave still live with your father?’

‘I don’t know.  I just…I’d rather be sure Dad will be alone.’

‘Apart from his new wife.’

‘Well, I suppose so, although for all I know she might work as well.’

‘She might.’  Rodney’s tone expressed how likely he thought that might be.  ‘Will you take Jack with you?’

John peered down at him.  ‘Why?’

‘Because I have a feeling that something’s not quite right, too.  Take Jack with you.  Better still, take Stackhouse and Markham with you as well.  I can trust them with you.’

‘Rodney, I’m going to see my father.  Nothing’s going to happen to me.’

‘Your father who you haven’t seen for sixteen years.  Take Jack, Stackhouse and Markham, please?’

‘I’m pretty sure Jack’ll say he’s got better things to do than hold my hand while I visit my father.’

********

Surprisingly, Jack agreed with Rodney’s suggestions.

‘Barrett has suggested SI is linked to the Trust somehow, although he couldn’t say how other than your brother has been seen with other suspected Trust people once or twice.  I’d rather be safe than sorry, though, so I agree with McKay.  Prometheus can beam all four of us down to somewhere close to your father’s house in Virginia.

‘You don’t think it’s a waste of your time?’

‘I’m certain it’s not a waste of anyone’s time.  You need to find out why you’re listed as a Director of SI, and I want to find out if there’s any truth to Barrett’s concerns.’

Accordingly, two days later saw John standing outside his childhood home, a mixture of emotions churning in his stomach.  Little had changed in the sixteen years since he’d last been here, but he noticed his mother’s rose garden in the centre of the horseshoe drive had been replaced with a stone fountain which didn’t match the red brick of the house.

I suppose rose bushes don’t last forever.

It bothered him, though, that the flower beds where his mother had spent hours pruning and clipping and generally making sure the roses were healthy, had now been covered in concrete.

Once he turned his back on the fountain and faced the house, however, he half expected Isabel Sheppard to come running down the steps to greet him, so little had changed, except…  The house seemed smaller, less significant than in his childhood, almost as though it had shrunk.  Or I’ve grown bigger, maybe?

The double doors to the entrance hall opened and a tall, burly man in jeans and t-shirt with tattoos on both arms appeared.

‘You’re trespassing, all of you.  Fuck off, or I’ll set the dogs on you.’

John caught sight of Jack’s eyebrows disappearing into his hairline and felt his own mirror them.

‘I’m here to see Patrick Sheppard—’ John began.

‘Well, he doesn’t want to see you, now fuck off.’

‘Perhaps you should ask him if he wants to see me.’

‘He won’t, and if you’re not off this property in ten seconds, I’ll set the dogs loose.’

‘Can you actually count up to ten?’ Jack asked, tipping his head to one side and studying the rude doorman.

‘Why, you…’  Rude Doorman clenched his fists and stepped onto the covered porch, but John held up his hand to stop him moving any closer.

‘It might have helped your case if you’d asked who I was.’

‘I don’t care who—’

‘I’m Colonel John Sheppard, Patrick’s younger son.  Now go and tell my father I’m here to see him.’

John had little use for the ‘command voice’ so beloved of some of his former COs, but in this case, he used it to good effect and Rude Doorman halted and looked John over.  John had decided to make the trip in civvies and his companions had done likewise but even the slacks, button-down shirts, and loose jackets they wore couldn’t disguise the fact that all four were fit and capable men, particularly in the case of Stackhouse and Markham, both of whom bore Marine buzz-cuts and a fuck-ton of attitude.

‘Mr Sheppard only has one son.’

‘Is that what Mr Sheppard told you?’

A hint of confusion flickered across RD’s face, and John made the most of it.

‘Go and fetch him.  Now!’

RD turned around and went back into the house almost before he realised what he was doing and John and Jack followed on his heels.  All four SGC men were inside the grand hall with the door closed behind them before RD had time to speak. Jack looked around and whistled.

‘Nice pad.’

John glanced at him and led the way to a passageway running away from the grand double staircase in the middle of the foyer.  ‘My father’s study is down here.  That’s where he’ll probably be.  Come on.’

RD made a move as if to stop John from moving but Stackhouse stepped forward and allowed his jacket to swing open revealing his double gun holster.

‘Let’s allow the Colonel to see his father, shall we?’  Stackhouse’s grin was all teeth as he continued to move forward until he had RD backed against one of the panelled walls.

John nodded to him and led Jack down a deeply carpeted passage with several closed doors leading off from it.  The art on the walls was a mixture of modern and classical scenes, and tables at regular intervals held a range of china and crystal.  John stopped in front of a door much like the others they’d passed except this one was slightly open. He tapped on the door, called out for his father, then pushed it open.  They entered a large room filled with light from the double windows opening onto a terrace, and lined with books.  It was a very masculine room and, for John, hadn’t changed at all, even down to the scent of leather from the furniture and a lingering hint of woodsmoke from the open fire used only in the cold winters experienced in Virginia.

A man was sitting behind the large desk in front of the windows, facing the door, and he raised his head as the two men entered.  His grey hair was longer than John remembered it being and was as unkempt as his unshaven face, and his entire aura spoke of lack of care – from the stains on his open-necked shirt to the broken fingernails on the hand resting on the empty desktop.  It was that which brought John up short.  Never in his entire childhood had he seen his father’s desk be clear of anything, from pens, and letters, and files, to photographs and the silly executive toys his mother had bought for his father every Christmas that John could remember.  They were Isabel’s way of telling her husband not to take himself so seriously and to allow time for a little fun and laughter every day.  Even after her death, the toys had remained, alongside multiple framed photographs of the whole family, together and apart, with the centre place reserved for a black and white studio photograph of a newly-wed Isabel.  Now the files, papers, toys, and photographs were all absent.  Not even a pen lay on the leathered surface, nothing except dust and memories.

Patrick Sheppard narrowed his eyes as though trying to focus them and reached out an arm towards John as if to reach out to him.  ‘Johnny?  John?  Is it really you?  They told me you were dead.’

 

Chapter Eight

Jack took in the situation far quicker than John and while his XO was still staring open-mouthed at his father Jack clicked his radio to connect him to Prometheus.

‘Can you check how many life signs there are in and around the house?’  Thank God for the Asgard sensors.

‘I’ve got three signs in the room you’re in, three close together about a hundred yards from you, two of which have subcus, sir,’ Major Womack returned.

‘Tell me if anyone else appears in or close to the house.’

‘Roger that, sir.’

Jack clicked his radio again to the channel he, John, and the two Marines were using.  ‘Markham, we’ve found Mr Sheppard but he’s in a bad way.  Can you go upstairs and try and find his bedroom and grab whatever of his belongings you can carry.  Stackhouse, Zat your bully boy and tie him up, then hide him away somewhere.  We’re going to get Mr Sheppard out of here.’

‘Roger that, General,’ came from both Marines, and through the radio link Jack could hear the Zat Stackhouse was carrying charge up and fire once.  Both Markham and Stackhouse left their comms open while they hurried to do his bidding and Jack nodded to himself.  They were fine men to have at your back.  He focussed back on John who had moved to his father’s side and was stroking his hand.

‘Don’t worry, Dad; we’re going to get you out of here.’

Patrick smiled at him but it was clear he wasn’t tracking what John was saying.  John turned to look at Jack, a puzzled frown on his face.

‘Has he been drugged?’

‘I…Oh crap!’  Jack clicked his radio again.  ‘Womack?  Beam up Colonel Sheppard and the life-sign he’s standing next to in one minute.  Take them straight to the medical bay and tell Kirkland to explain Nish’ta to them.  N-I-S-H-T-A.’

‘Roger, sir’ Womack replied, but Jack was no longer listening.

‘It’s highly likely they’ve dosed your father with a Goa’uld drug called Nish’ta,’ Jack explained, speaking quickly.  ‘Probably pumped through the air conditioning.  I’m immune to it but you, Stackhouse and Markham aren’t.  I can’t risk that it’s being pumped around the house and not just in here, so you’ll all be beamed up to Prometheus any moment now.’  He paused for a moment and looked around, then shrugged his shoulders.  ‘Now?’

No sooner had he said the words than John and his father disappeared in a beam of light.  Jack sighed and repeated the same thing to the two Marines, then called Womack to beam them up.  ‘And keep an eye on the house.  I don’t want anyone disturbing me while I rummage around.’

‘Packages received, General O’Neill.’

‘Right.  Now, did Markham have you beam any belongings up?’

‘I heard him say he said he was packing a suitcase, but he hadn’t finished before—’

‘Okay, Womack.  I’ll finish it.  Be ready for my call and keep a watch out for me.’

‘Roger that, sir.’

Jack pulled out all the drawers in the desk, but they were empty.  He regarded the desk for a moment then felt underneath the leg well, shifting his fingers around until he found a little knob.  He pressed it but it didn’t move, so he tried pulling, then pushing it from side to side.

‘Bingo,’ he murmured as a panel on the left side of the wall opened.  It wasn’t a large hideyhole but he grabbed the papers it contained and the three memory sticks which fell to the floor as he pulled them out.  He picked them up and slipped them into his pocket and felt for anything else, but it was now empty.  He got to his feet and looked around the walls.  One of the bookcases was just a half case over a double cupboard which turned out to be full of desk toys and photograph frames.  He grabbed them all, piled them into a holdall he found on the bottom shelf and clicked his radio.  ‘Beam up the bag filled with metal items in the middle of the floor.’

He watched it disappear and retraced his steps back to the entrance hall.  He opened a couple of the doors on his way and found three reception rooms and a cloakroom containing the zip tied, lifeless man who’d greeted them to the house.  He checked the ties to make sure they weren’t going to come undone and then ran lightly up the stairs.

He saw a pair of open double doors when he got to the landing and guessed that was where Markham had been, the half-filled suitcase on the bed confirmed his suspicions.  Jack looked curiously around the room, noting it was, again, a very masculine room, and he wondered where the new wife slept.  Markham had begun with packing a selection of suits and shirts, but Jack tipped them out onto the bed and refilled it with casual clothes and the essentials – underpants and socks.  He added several sweaters and all the shoes he could find then disappeared into the bathroom to collect Patrick’s toiletries.  Once he’d packed, he had the suitcase beamed aboard Prometheus and stood, looking around the bedroom.

He pulled a smaller suitcase from the walk-in wardrobe and tipped the contents of each bedside table into it, and then swept everything from the tops of them.  He added the few items on the dressing table and checked all the drawers again, then felt for any hidden catches. Once again he was lucky, and this time he uncovered a large jewellery box.  It was locked but would yield quite easily to a chisel if they didn’t have a key, and he added it to the suitcase and had that beamed away.

Jack then moved on to explore the other rooms on the first floor and asked Womack to connect him to John.

‘What’s happening, sir?’

‘Has Kirkland explained about Nish’ta?  I told him to.’

‘He did, yes, but I don’t think I was affected by it.  I certainly didn’t feel any different.’

‘Let’s not take the chance.  I’ve got as much of your dad’s stuff as I can.  Is there anything else I should look for?’

There was silence on the comm, then John spoke again.  ‘Dave’s room was always the large one at the back.  If he still lives there, that’s where he’d keep anything secret.’

‘I’ve got a room which overlooks the swimming pool.  Is this it?  It doesn’t look as though anyone lives here.’

‘It never did.  Dave’s a neat freak, and that’s coming from someone who’s served in the forces for twelve years.  Is there still a tall set of drawers, about five foot high?’

‘Yeah.  Any particular drawer or should I search them all?’

‘Open the bottom one.  Pull it right out, and you’ll find a hidden compartment underneath it.  That’s where Dave always hid anything he didn’t want anyone to see.’

‘What is it with you Sheppards and secret hideyholes?  And if it was a secret, how come you know about it?’

‘I saw him open it one day.  He didn’t know I was hiding under the bed.’

‘Why were you hiding under the bed?  Oof!  Got it.  Wish I’d thought to bring a torch.’

‘General O’Neill?’  Womack’s voice came over the radio.  ‘A car’s just pulled up outside with two life signs in it.  Shall I beam you out?’

‘Hold on a minute.’  Jack’s voice was muffled as he tried to pull a large box from the secret compartment.  He could barely get his fingers around it to grasp it.

‘Sir, they’ve entered the house.  One is going towards the room I beamed Colonel Sheppard from, and the…the other is coming up the stairs!  Sir!  I need to beam you out!’

‘Just a second.’

‘We don’t have a second, s—’

‘Now, Womack!’  Jack saw the door open, and a man enter just as he was swept away in a beam of light.

********

‘Is there anything we do to bring him out of this?’  John stood, his hands in his pockets, watching his father sitting placidly on a bed in an observation room at the SGC, displaying no interest in his surroundings.  This wasn’t the man he’d known growing up.  This wasn’t even the man he’d argued with over his career choices.

‘He’ll come out of it as soon as we shoot him with a Zat,’ Jack told him, also watching Patrick Sheppard.

‘A Zat?  Then why haven’t you already done it?’

‘Because as soon as your father’s back to himself again, he’s going to have a lot of questions, and I’d like us to be able to answer a few of them.  Until then, he’s perfectly alright.  Fraiser’s keeping him under close observation and you’ll know the minute she’s not satisfied.’  Jack turned away from the viewing window and looked at John.  ‘In the meantime, we need you to go through the papers we brought from Virginia and see if you can shed some light on the whole situation.’

‘I doubt if I can.  I’ve had no contact with him for sixteen years.’

‘I still need you to try.  The fact he was being dosed with Nish’ta is evidence of Goa’uld involvement.  There might be some clue in there as to which snake it is and how far it all goes.  Your brother doesn’t appear to be Nish’ta’ed, but he might well have been snaked, and we’re pretty certain, now, that he’s a member of this Trust.’

‘Why are you certain?’

‘Because as far as I can see the only reason for keeping your father drugged is to make him pliable.  Killing him isn’t an option, or he’d already be dead.  They need him alive for some reason, and we need to find out what it is.’

‘What about this new wife?  Where does she fit into this?’

Jack laughed.  ‘You mean sweet Candy-Ann?  Yes, that’s her name — a caricature of a rich, elderly man’s wife: all blond hair and bosom.  Barrett’s looking into her background as we speak, but it looks as though they married her to your father so she could control him.  Do you recall Francis Haigh?’

‘He’s dad’s best friend – or at least was – and my godfather.  They served together in the Navy.’

‘Paul Davis has gone to speak to him since Barrett discovered he’s been making waves in DC and trying to get someone to look into Patrick’s rather unexpected marriage to Candy-Ann.  Haigh says it’s totally out of character for Patrick to marry her so quickly – he says they can’t have known each other above a week or so before they married.’

‘It certainly doesn’t sound like something Dad would do, although I am sixteen years out of date.’  John watched his father for a moment or two then turned to O’Neill.  ‘This is doing me no good whatsoever.  I’ll go and look at the papers for you.’

Jack patted his shoulder and led the way out into the corridor.  ‘Good man.  I’ve got Miko looking at the memory sticks we recovered and doing a bit of general digging.  Let’s hope something turns up soon.’

********

The papers made interesting reading for John, but he wondered why Jack had insisted he go through them himself since it was a job anyone could have done, then realised O’Neill probably guessed what they contained and wanted John to learn first-hand exactly what his brother had been doing as well as keeping him occupied.  He looked up as the door opened.  He’d told his admin to leave him alone for a couple of hours, but it was only Rodney.  Checking up on me, no doubt.

‘Have you finished?’ Rodney asked, nodding towards the mess of papers and notebooks on his desk.

‘Pretty much.  It appears that—’ he began, only for Rodney to hold up his hand.

‘Wait a moment.  Let’s get the others in here.’

‘What others?’

Rodney gave him a patented ‘too stupid to walk and breathe at the same time’ look, and clicked his radio.  ‘O’Neill?  John’s finished.  Want to call the others in?’

Five minutes later they were joined by O’Neill, Paul Davis and…

‘Francis?  What are you doing here?’

Francis Haigh, a tall, grey-bearded man in his early sixties, smiled at John.  ‘Nice to see you, Johnny.  I’m glad you’re finally helping your father.’

John stumbled to his feet and grasped the outstretched hand.  ‘Good to see you too, sir.  I didn’t realise you were read into the Programme.’

‘Only just happened, son, but it’s all starting to make sense now.’

‘Will you take a seat, Captain Haigh?’ Jack murmured to him, ushering him to the sofa.  Jack sat down beside Haigh, with Paul Davis opposite them, and raised his eyebrows at John and Rodney who dragged over the chairs right in front of John’s desk.

‘I’ve already spoken to both Colonel Davis and Captain Haigh, but I’ll sum up what we’ve discussed for you both,’ Jack told them.  ‘Briefly, out of the blue, two months ago Patrick Sebastian Sheppard married Candy-Ann Fletcher by proxy here in Colorado.’

‘By proxy?  What the hell does that mean?’ John demanded.

‘It means he wasn’t present at the ceremony,’ Rodney explained.

‘I know that and it’s not what I meant!’

‘My guess is either your father wouldn’t have agreed or he was already so doped up they couldn’t risk him appearing in public.’   Rodney’s face expressed precisely what he felt about these people.

‘Just the conclusion we came to,’ Jack nodded.  ‘Plus Colorado is one of the few states which both allows proxy weddings and has no residency or waiting rules.  According to the records Miko was able to find, David Sheppard had a letter saying Patrick was very ill and couldn’t attend in person.’

‘So why marry Dad off?  If they were already drugging him, why force him to marry this…’

‘Candy-Ann,’ Rodney supplied helpfully, earning himself a glare from John.

‘I guess it was some sort of insurance in case your father became too difficult to handle,’ Davis said.

‘Despite your falling out, John, Patrick never stopped hoping you’d come home,’ Haigh said quietly.  ‘And I’m pretty sure he never changed his will, which meant, on his death, his estate was to be divided between yourself and David.’

‘Making us equal partners?  Dave wouldn’t have liked that.’

‘Equal partners, yes, but the way Patrick arranged his will, at least the will I saw, it gave you each 49% of SI’s stock.  I would hold the additional 2%.’

‘So you’d have the casting vote in the event of a disagreement?’ Jack asked.

‘Correct.’

‘And the arrangement at present is that Patrick holds 52% with John and David each holding 24%, right?’

‘Then there’s the reason they kept Patrick alive,’ Rodney said, with a glance at John.  ‘As it stands, John’s brother can control the company with his 24% and their father’s 52%.  The marriage was a back up in case someone began asking too many questions.  They’d have a pretty good chance of the bimbo being granted at least a share of the estate, especially if David agreed, and then he could carry on controlling the company.’

‘That was the conclusion we came to,’ Paul Davis said, glancing at Haigh.

‘So what do we do now?’ John looked around at the men in his office.  ‘Can we get the marriage annulled?’

‘I’ve got our lawyers looking into it right now,’ Davis told him.  ‘They’re also tracking down the Doctor who wrote the letter saying your father was ill.  If we can get him to admit they coerced him or paid him to write it there’s a good chance we can get it annulled.’

‘Wouldn’t that leave him open to questions of competency, at the very least?’ Jack asked.

Paul Davis shrugged.  ‘Perhaps, but we could probably negotiate a deal for him if he’s willing to help us.’

John shifted in his seat, keen to get back to what he saw as the point of the meeting.  ‘Can we bring Dad around, now?’

‘Not yet.’  Jack looked a little uncomfortable.  ‘There’s something else.  Captain Haigh?’

Haigh nodded, took a deep breath and focussed on John.  ‘Were you aware that David and yourself don’t have the same mother?’

John nodded.  ‘Yes. Dave’s mother died when he was a couple of years old, I think.  I don’t know many details; no one spoke about it. Mom, my mother, that is, never made any distinction between us.  We were both her sons as far as she was concerned.  Why?  What’s that got to do with this?’  He waved his hand around.

Haigh glanced at the other men.  ‘Forgive me, gentlemen, but I’m about to give John some family history.’  He focused back on John.  ‘Back when Patrick and I were training to be Naval Aviators, we attended a party with several other would-be pilots on Pensacola Beach in late March 1964.  We were young and stupid, and most of us had far too much to drink, Patrick included.  He’d been dancing with a local girl, I didn’t find out her name until later, and they disappeared at one point but I barely noticed, I was having far too good a time.  Anyway, a couple of weeks later Patrick was called into our CO’s office and…Well, let’s just say he was about to pay for being young and stupid.  They were married a few weeks later and David was born in December, quite a healthy baby considering he was a few weeks early.

‘I’m pretty certain Lynne, David’s mother, had expected a very different life to the one she ended up with as she was forever moaning about something: being left alone with the baby, the tiny flat they lived in, and pretty much anything else she could find fault with.  She’d obviously thought she’d be living in the lap of luxury but discovered that wealthy family aside, Patrick lived like any other Junior Grade in the Navy and spent most of his time working, not socialising, and Lynne didn’t like that.  After we were posted away from Pensacola for further training, Lynne moved back home with her parents and Patrick spent most of his time away from her and he admitted, to me at least, that he’d made a huge mistake in marrying her.  Anyway, long story short, we were both posted to Vietnam in ’66 – before the war there really kicked off – and she made one hell of a fuss, even though she’d known since she met him that it was almost certain Patrick would serve overseas at some point.  Anyway, in June ’67 Patrick was badly injured and, for a while, the medics thought he’d never walk again.’

John nodded, aware that his father had been gravely injured and given a medical discharge with the thanks of a grateful nation etc. etc.  Little had changed in the military, in that respect at least.  An injured man was no use to any branch of the military, and especially not an injured aviator.  ‘That’s when Mom met Dad, isn’t it?  Wasn’t she his physical therapist?  I thought Dave’s mother was already dead, though.’

Haigh shook his head.  ‘No, but she was certainly off the scene.  After the doctors told her it was likely Patrick’d spend the rest of life in a wheelchair, she left a note and disappeared, leaving David with her parents.  Patrick’s parents, your grandparents, were understandably furious and took custody of him and paid for the very best care available for your father.  A quiet divorce was arranged, on the grounds of abandonment and a year later Isabel and Patrick were married.  Your father walked her down the aisle unaided and I was his best man.  He took his place in Sheppard Industries, and you arrived in 1970.’

‘So what happened to Lynne?’

Francis gave John a grim smile.  ‘That’s where the story gets interesting.  As you’ve no doubt realised, she wasn’t dead at all, and in fact, when she realised Patrick had fully recovered, she tried to come back to him, saying it was all a mistake and she realised she still loved him.  Unsurprisingly, Patrick would have no truck with her, especially, as he told me later, when she never even asked how David was.’  A smile appeared on Haigh’s face.  ‘You were the perfect little family and Isabel adored both her sons and their father.  It was a huge shock to everyone when she developed cancer in 1982 and passed away.  I think if she’d been alive when you and Patrick had the big argument when you were 18 she’d have talked him round and there’d never have been the falling out there was.’

‘I did try to talk to him, you know,’ John admitted, a shadow falling across his face.  ‘I tried to call him a couple of times but he’d left orders with his secretary not to put me through, and when I tried to call him at home Dave told me to leave it awhile as Dad was still angry.’  He shrugged his shoulders.  ‘I was angry too, and…well, before I knew it, several years had passed and…’  He gave Francis a wan smile.

‘And if I told you Patrick hadn’t told his secretary to deny you?’

John looked at him in confusion.  ‘What?

‘Patrick admitted to me he’d made a mistake with you soon after you left home and he tried his hardest to contact you.  Eventually, David told him you didn’t want to talk to him ever again.’

David?  Why would…Oh.’  The penny dropped and John scrubbed his face with his hands.  ‘David told the same tale to us both, right?’

Francis nodded.   ‘I didn’t realise it until today when the pieces fell into place.  David’s the one who kept you apart and—’

‘Why?’ John demanded.  ‘Why would he do that?’

‘If you’ll let me finish?’

John flushed and nodded.  ‘Sorry, sir. Go on.’

‘It would appear that David is in contact with his birth mother, again.  I don’t know how or when they made contact, but, according to Agent Barrett, David has been seen meeting with her on several occasions.  He’s also making payments to her through Sheppard Industries, items which appear as ‘Consultancy Fees’ in both her bank account in Los Angeles and SI accounts.  One can only assume why she’s being given money, but none of it points to anything beneficial to either SI or Patrick.’

‘This…This is incredible,’ John said, rubbing the back of his neck until Rodney put his hand on John’s shoulder.  John gave Rodney a weak smile and clenched his fists on his thighs.

‘It gets worse,’ Jack added, grimly.  ‘Miko’s been able to dig out phone records which show Candy-whatsit is, well, at the very least known to Ms West – she’s gone back to her maiden name.  We don’t know the full extent of West’s involvement with the Trust if she’s involved at all, but she’s certainly of interest to us, as the police say.’

‘If,’ Haigh continued, ‘as we suspect, Patrick has been married off to Candy-Ann without his knowledge or, indeed, his consent, then we can have the police look into the whole affair and—’  He broke off as Paul Davis coughed.

‘Sorry, sir, but I don’t think the police or any other agency will be brought into this.  Not if the President has anything to say about it as it could, potentially, put the entire Stargate Programme at risk.’

Haigh frowned.  ‘Then how will we be able to get the marriage annulled and get at least some justice for Patrick?’

‘The security of the Stargate Programme comes above almost anything in the US, Captain Haigh,’ Jack explained carefully.  ‘Declassification is many years away, if it’s ever declassified, and for good reason.  The world’s not ready to learn that we have regular interaction with other planets and are fighting a war with them.’

‘But what has that to do with getting justice for Patrick Sheppard?’

‘If the Pentagon decides that Candy-May, or whatever her name is, and the West woman are a threat to the Programme, they’ll quietly disappear.  Oh, they won’t be killed,’ Jack added, seeing the expression of horror on Haigh’s face.  ‘They’ll probably be held in a secure unit somewhere off the grid.’

‘But that’s…’

‘You really have swallowed the red pill, sir,’ John told him with a grin.  ‘You’ve entered a completely different world to the one you knew yesterday.’

‘And we have to play with very different rules,’ Davis added.  ‘We can get Mr Sheppard his annulment if that’s what he wants, and we can even impose our own brand of justice on the perpetrators, as long as it’s in the interests of the Programme.  My concern, however, is that Mr David Sheppard is almost certainly a member of the Trust and if we make a move on his associates it might tip them off.’

‘So we just let them go?  And what about Patrick?  Won’t they be concerned that he’s disappeared?’

‘I vanished from the Sheppard home in a flash of light,’ Jack told him.  ‘That, coupled with the fact Patrick’s disappeared and one of their operatives was tied up and left in a cupboard, will give them a pretty good idea of what’s happened.  They already know we’ve got him and they might also be expecting him to get his marriage annulled.  What they can’t be sure of, however, is that we know about West.  They may expect us to make a move against David Sheppard, but in reality, there’s little we can do.  If we cut off one snake’s head, another will appear; we can be certain about that.’

‘So what do we do now?’ Haigh asked in frustration.

‘The first thing to do is bring Patrick back to himself.  Then, if we’re right in our assumptions about his marriage, we can begin to have it annulled.  The rest will depend on Patrick himself.  If he wants to take back control of Sheppard Industries we can help him, or arrange someone to help him, but it might work out better if Patrick stays away from SI and we keep an eye on them to find out what their long term plans are.  That’s the only way we can bring them down: find out how far their tentacles have spread and what it is they actually want.’

*******

John decided that watching a potentially lethal weapon be used on your own father was disturbing, to say the least.  He’d been Zatted enough times to know the pain of the pins and needles which wracked a body when it regained consciousness and he wanted to spare his father from that, if at all possible, but it was the quickest way to bring Patrick out from his drugged stupor.  Jack explained Patrick wouldn’t be affected in the usual way, but John wasn’t entirely convinced until he saw his father twitch and look around in puzzlement.

John moved to stand in front of him.  ‘Dad?  How…How are you feeling?’

‘John?  What are you doing here?  What am I doing here?  And where is here?’ he asked, looking around at the concrete walls and artificial lighting.  ‘Why am I in bed?’

Jack stepped forward to stand by John.  ‘Mr Sheppard?  I’m Brigadier General Jack O’Neill, John’s commanding officer.  Can you tell me the last thing you remember?’

‘I…I’m not sure.  Everything’s very hazy.  What date is it?’

‘It’s the 20th July 2004,’ John said gently.  ‘Does that make sense?’

‘No.  No, it doesn’t.  I remember going to a meeting with Miles Blackwood, a Virginian Senator, on the 10th of May.  He wanted to talk about our plans for expanding one of the R&D plants.  We met at his office in Richmond and…I don’t remember much more.’

‘Mr Sheppard, you’ve been drugged with…well, we can go into details later,’ Jack explained.  ‘For now, all that matters is that you’ve been under the influence of a narcotic for over two months and certain things have happened which will take some time to explain.  I can see our Base Doctor is frowning at me.  She wants to check you over and make sure the drug hasn’t caused any problems.  Will you allow her to examine you?  We can meet again afterwards and I can explain things a little better.  Is that alright?’

Patrick looked a little dazed by all the information thrown at him but he nodded.  ‘I…Yes, that’s fine. I’ll…I’ll see you later will I, John?’

‘I’ll be here as soon as the Doc says I can come in.  Francis is here with us as well.’

‘Francis?  Francis Haigh?  What’s he doing here?’

‘He’s been trying to find out what happened to you and was making a few waves in DC,’ Jack answered.  ‘We brought him here for his own protection as much as anything.  He’s been helping us work out what happened to you.’

‘Where’s David?’ Patrick asked suddenly.  ‘Is he here too?’

Jack and John exchanged glances that didn’t go unnoticed by Patrick.

‘Is he in some sort of trouble?  He’s not been quite himself for…Well, I noticed something wasn’t right not long before I went to see Blackwood.  In fact, David’s the one who set up the meeting.’

‘We’ll explain it all later, Dad.  For the moment, Dr Fraiser is glaring at me, and I’m scared of her.  We’ll leave you in her capable hands, okay?’

‘I don’t think I’ve got much choice, have I?’ Patrick replied, a little sarcastically, making John grin.

And there’s the dad I remember.

********

Forty-five minutes later Patrick was escorted to ‘Colonel Sheppard’s Office’.  He tried not to let the shock at his son’s rank show to the young Corporal who led him there, simply thanking him as he entered the large and comfortable room.

‘How long have you been a Colonel, son?  And is it light or full bird?’

‘Full bird, Dad, and since the first of May.  I’m the Second in Command of this facility.’

‘And just what is this facility?  And where is it?’

‘You’re at Stargate Command in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado,’ Jack O’Neill said, mischief dancing in his eyes.

‘I’m where?’

‘You’re down the rabbit hole, Patrick.  Welcome to the club,’ a familiar voice told him.

‘Francis.  Are you part of this madhouse as well?’

‘Hey!’ John protested.  ‘Not all of us are mad.  Not as yet, that is.’

‘So, son, explain to me just what Stargate Command is and how you came to be a part of it.’

‘I’m afraid that’s a long story and best kept for another time’ John told his father.  ‘We need to discuss you right at this moment.  Take a seat and I’ll have some coffee brought, and we can all have a nice chat.’

As he listened to the tale of how he came to be at Stargate Command where his son was XO to Jack O’Neill, Patrick realised that John had changed.  Sixteen years was a long time but John hadn’t just grown up, he’d become a soldier and earned every bit of his rank, as far as Patrick could see.  He clearly got on well with his CO; theirs was more of a friendship than a simple working relationship, something which had eluded John in the past, he knew.  John might not have wanted any contact with his family but Patrick had kept an eye on his career regardless.  He was aware there had been one or two instances in Afghanistan where John had skirted very close to a reprimand, and friendship with a CO was about as far away from reality as little green men.

‘Wait,’ he said suddenly, bringing his full attention back to O’Neill.  ‘Married?  You say I’m married?’

‘So you weren’t aware of it,’ Francis said, with a relief Patrick didn’t quite understand.

‘The only marriages I’ve had have been with Lynne West,’ he couldn’t help the contempt with which he said her name,  ‘and with Isabel Grantly.’

‘David arranged a proxy marriage for you with some bimbo from LA,’ John told him, distaste colouring his tone.

‘Candy-May, or maybe it was Candy-Ann,’ Jack supplied helpfully.

‘It could be bloody Candy-striped for all I care.  I did not agree to such a marriage.  And you say David arranged it?’

‘He was the proxy,’ Francis told him, smirking at Patrick’s comment.

‘Okay, there’s obviously been some mixed up shit happening and I need the full story.  Not little bits here and there, I need to know everything that’s hap—’

He was interrupted by a brief knock at the door followed by it flying open and the entrance of two excited men.

‘I’ve done—’

We’ve done it, you mean, hajzl.’

‘Shut up you Czech—’

John gave a loud whistle, shocking everyone into silence.  ‘I’ve told you before, one at a time.  And Radek?  Don’t call Rodney a bastard.’

Radek and Rodney stared at him agape.

‘How do you know what—’

‘I made it my business to know.  Rodney?  Don’t do things that make him call you a bastard.  Now, why are the pair of you barging into my office uninvited?’

‘I didn’t know I needed an invitation to…’ Rodney glanced around the room and took in the man with Francis Haigh and Jack.  ‘Ah. Your father’s back in the land of the living?’

‘It certainly looks like it, doesn’t it.  Now, what do you want?’

‘I’ve—’

We have!’

‘Alright, alright, keep your Czech panties on.  We have worked out how to create a mini ZPM.’

 

Chapter Nine

‘C’mon, McKay.  Time for all good little scientists to be in bed.’  John lounged against the doorjamb of Rodney’s lab and surveyed his partner.

‘There’s so much wrong with that sentence I don’t quite know where to start.  I don’t want to go to bed.  I’ve far too much to do.’

‘I’m hurt.  Mortally wounded that you don’t want to come to bed with me, especially as I’ve been stuck in meetings all day with the Vice Chief of Staff.’

‘You didn’t tell them about my Mini-ZPM, did you?’

‘No, Rodney.  I didn’t.  Jack and I both told you we’d rather keep it up our sleeves for the moment.’

‘Yes, yes, I know you did, but considering they’ve been interrogating you for the last eight hours I was worried you might have let it slip.’

‘All the officers and NCOs at the SGC have undergone advanced SERE training, and many of the lower ranks as well.  You know that.’

‘Yes, but pitting your wits against the enemy is very different to pitting them against the Pentagon.’

‘Not so much, to be honest.  I swear there’s little to choose between some of them and the Goa’uld.’

‘Wow.  That’s a damning indictment against the US Military.’  Rodney took a proper look at his partner and noted the dark rings under his eyes and the slightest hint of grey hair on his temples.  ‘Give me a minute, then, and I’m done. Radek, Miko and I’ve been testing the integrity of the storage crystals we’re using for the WITSLLEN stuff.  Miko’s grown some new crystals she thinks will be better for long term storage.  If she’s right, and I think she is, we’ll transfer everything over into them.  They have a larger capacity than the ones we’re using at present, as well.’

‘Are they the ones she showed to Dad?’

‘Yes.  He’s asked to licence the process from her.  She’ll retain ownership of the patent but will allow SI to market them on her behalf – if we’re ever allowed to market such things and he takes back control from your brother.  Having your Dad here has made a big difference, though.  He’s already managed to get some of the minor technology we’ve developed out into the world through various people he knows.  It promises to bring in a good income for the SGC as well, so Jack’s happy.’

Following his debrief regarding the actions of his eldest son and the suspicions of the SGC, Patrick had decided to remain in Cheyenne Mountain at the invitation of Jack O’Neill.  David Sheppard was aware the SGC had rescued his father, and they had aided him in having his marriage to Candy-Ann Fletcher annulled, but Patrick refrained from pursuing legal action against either her or David and take back full control of Sheppard Industries on the advice of Paul Davis.  According to Miko and Malcolm Barrett, who were covertly following David’s movements and conversations, this decision had surprised the Trust and knocked them off-kilter.  It also, as far as Barrett could tell, halted their advancement within the US for the moment although Barrett was concerned they were continuing their spread around the rest of the world.

Jack and John’s current meeting with senior military from the Pentagon concerned everyone at the SGC.  The order for the meeting appeared to come out of nowhere, according to Paul Davis who was part of the Pentagon contingent, and purported to be nothing more than a six-month review of Jack’s first command at a one-star rank.  What was of concern, however, was General Hammond, to whom, on paper, at least, Jack reported, was excluded from the review, and when Jack questioned this, it was brushed aside.Another point of concern was the fact that General Hammond, the man to whom Jack reported (at least on paper), was excluded from the review and when Jack questioned this, the issue was brushed aside.

Daniel, consequently, paid a visit to DC to visit the Smithsonian on an urgent matter and invited General Hammond to dine with him while he was there.  They ate in a small Italian restaurant recommended by and known to Patrick Sheppard, where Daniel was able to use Jack’s little gift from Thor.  George Hammond hadn’t been informed about the upcoming visit and, at first, expressed his intention of demanding an answer from the Pentagon but Daniel managed to persuade him against it, citing their need to keep Davis’ support of the SGC to themselves although he did promise to keep Hammond advised as to what happened.

‘It may be the start of a campaign to get one of their own people into the Mountain,’ Hammond suggested to Daniel.  ‘They have no grounds for doing so though, and, for the moment at least, the President supports Jack so they’ll have great difficulty shifting him.’

This was all duly reported back to SG-1, Jack, and Patrick Sheppard, a body which had become what amounted to a steering group for the SGC, in terms of fighting the Trust, at least.

For now, though, Rodney saw how tired John looked and made a mental note not to get too tied up in his work to notice how hard John was pushing himself.  Running the Mountain was a tremendous job and while, technically, Jack was in charge, most of the day to day organisation fell on John’s shoulders while Jack dealt with the broader concerns of the Stargate Programme.  The military side was undoubtedly John’s Company along with the SG and off-world teams, while the science department all knew their security and well being was in the Colonel’s hands; Rodney made sure of that.  It was a lot to cope with, especially given that just a year ago John had been a Major flying helicopters in Afghanistan.

‘Do you ever regret rescuing your friend, Captain Holland?’ Rodney asked suddenly.

‘What?  No! Of course not.  Where’s that come from?’

Rodney closed down his last computer, collected his two laptops and pushed John out of the door, flicking off the lights behind them.  ‘I don’t know.  I just remembered that was how you came to be involved with the Stargate Programme and I…I wondered if you were sorry you did.’

After a glance around, John slung his arm around Rodney’s shoulders and pulled him in for a kiss.  He leaned his forehead against Rodney’s and Rodney could feel John’s warm breath on his face.

‘If I hadn’t joined the Programme, I’d’ve never met you, and I could never regret that.’

A sharp spike of emotion shot through Rodney at his words.  Neither of them was particularly demonstrative, especially in public, and neither were prone to gushing romantic platitudes on each other.  ‘I…You know I feel the same way, don’t you?  As though I’ve waited my whole life for you to come along.’

John gave him a soft smile.  ‘I’ve always thought actions speak much louder than words, so come on and let me show you how much I love you.’

Rodney couldn’t help the start he gave and his slight movement banged their heads together.  ‘Ow, ow, ow. Sorry, sorry, you just made me jump, that’s all. I wasn’t—’

‘Rodney, breathe.’  John halted his babbling with just two words, and Rodney took a couple of deep breaths.

‘Sorry, but you surprised me.  I wasn’t prepared for the L word.’

‘Not prepared or not wanting to hear it?’

‘Christ, John!  Not prepared!  You might think I’m turning into a big girl but…well…I…I love you too, y’know.’

‘I do know, and I think you’re far from being a big girl.’

A gentle kiss thankfully prevented Rodney from making an inappropriate quip and, instead, he kissed John back then pulled away.

‘I think you said something about showing me?’

John grinned and caught hold of Rodney’s free hand.  ‘Good plan.  You really are a genius.’

********

John faced the meeting with the Pentagon brass in a much better mood the following morning and noticed his father was seated next to Jack at the briefing table.  The pair had been spending an excessive amount of time together and a comment Rodney had made suddenly came to mind. He tipped his head on one side and watched them surreptitiously as he filled his cup with coffee, filing the information away to discuss with Rodney later.

Brigadier General Kovach, the man who’d taken Richard Holland’s place as Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, frowned at Patrick as he took his seat at the opposite end of the table to Jack.

‘Why is Mr Sheppard here?  Who invited him?’

‘I did.’  Richard Holland slipped into the room and nodded as everyone, Patrick included, got to their feet.  ‘As you were, people.’

‘Why?’ Kovach demanded.  ‘And why are you here?’

‘Because, as the US representative on the IOA, anything which concerns the SGC concerns me,’ Richard told him, taking the seat next to Jack which John had quickly vacated.  ‘As for why Dr Sheppard is here… as an industrial mogul and special consultant to the SGC, I wanted him to be present if we were discussing the future of the Stargate Programme.’

‘Who told you we were discussing the future of the Programme?’

Holland gave him a sad smile.  ‘Really, James.  I do sometimes question how you manage to walk and breathe at the same time.’

John swallowed a snort of laughter and kept his face as straight as he could, something Jack didn’t even bother trying to do.

‘He’s got you there, Jimmy.  Multi-tasking was never your forte.’

‘Now, now, Jack, don’t be unkind.  James can’t help being an idiot.’

‘I…you…I…’ Kovach blustered while Richard shook his head.

‘Take a deep breath, James, and try to remember that both Jack and I outrank you.’

Kovach scowled at him.  ‘General Maynard is concerned about the security and integrity of Stargate Command, especially in light of one of the aliens here attacking a member of the public and the Stargate itself going missing.’

John noted the swift glance and minute nod Jack gave to Richard Holland and wasn’t surprised when Richard took the lead in answering.

‘Teal’c was cleared of any involvement in the attack in June and I object to the tone of your remarks.  As has been made clear on numerous occasions, and by the President himself, Teal’c is both a valued ally of the United States and an important member of the SGC.  Furthermore, he is also recognised by the US Government as the accredited Ambassador of our close allies, the Free Jaffa, and, as such, enjoys the same rights and privileges as any other diplomat to the United States of America.’

Jack smirked at Kovach.  ‘Just in case you didn’t understand all those long words, Jimmy, it means Teal’c’s off limits to you and all your little friends.’

Kovach flushed.  ‘That’s ridiculous.  I don’t believe a word of it and the Pentagon certainly hasn’t been informed of any such status given to the Jaffa.’

John felt as though he was watching a tennis match as he turned his head between Kovach and Richard Holland, and as he twisted his head to watch Holland’s next volley, he saw Richard pull a cell phone from his pocket.  Richard pressed a couple of buttons, and John could hear the faint sound of a stored number on speed dial ringing.  He heard someone answer but couldn’t quite make out the voice on the other end.

‘Good morning, sir,’ Richard began.  ‘I apologise for disturbing you but I’m with Brigadier General Kovach at the SGC and he’s having difficulty understanding the diplomatic status of Teal’c.’

A tinny voice replied, and while John couldn’t make out the words, he did see the colour drain from Kovach’s face as he took in the significance of the call.

‘I’ll hand you over now, sir,’ Richard told the voice on the other end of his call, and he held the phone out for Kovach to come and take.  ‘Hurry up, James.  Don’t keep our Commander-in-Chief waiting.’

Kovach scuttled over to take the phone, and while John still couldn’t hear what was said, he could see the effect they were having on Kovach.

‘Yes, sir…Yes, sir…I…Yes, sir…Certainly, sir.’

He handed the phone back to Richard and looked away.  Richard listened to the President for a while then answered with a simple, ‘At once, sir,’ and clicked the phone off.  He sat back in his chair and watched Kovach gather his many files together – files he’d had no opportunity to open – and then turned to John, smirk fixed firmly on his face.

‘Perhaps you’d arrange a car for General Kovach, John.  I understand he’s taking a C130 back to DC.’

Once again John tried to keep his face as straight as possible while inside he was doubled over in laughter.  ‘Certainly, sir.’

He managed until he was almost at the lift, well out of the hearing range of the briefing room, and burst into laughter which had him leaning against the wall in an effort not to fall down.  He finally got himself under control and doubled back to the control room where Walter was on the phone.

‘The car will be ready in just a few minutes, sir,’ Walter told him as he set down the receiver.  ‘Shall I have an escort take General Kovach to the surface?’

John nodded then, on impulse, asked the question he’d wanted to ask since he first arrived at the SGC.  ‘How do you do it, Walter?’

‘Do what, sir?’

‘How do you always know what any of us want, or need you to do?’

‘I don’t know what you mean, sir.’

John nodded again, aware he’d never get an answer to his question.  In any case, it was probably best not to know.

********

John made his way back to the briefing room via Rodney’s lab on level 19 where he described the confrontation between the two Generals.

‘I’ve not laughed so much in weeks.’

‘How come I only ever get to go to meetings where everything ends in shouting, not laughter?’ Rodney demanded.  ‘I wish I’d seen it. I’ve come across that Kovach fuckwit before.  He came to a meeting here about two years ago when Jonas Quinn first came to the SGC.  He wanted to have him held at Area 51 so they could investigate his eidetic memory.  Kovach was convinced the Kelownans had developed technology to create it and argued  we should hand him over for research, especially as Jonas was responsible, so Kovach claimed, for the death of a major US asset.’

‘Well, no less a person than the President put him firmly in his place and ordered him back to Washington on a C130, the most uncomfortable aeroplane to be built in the history of the world.’

Rodney laughed at this.  ‘Glad to see you take your pleasure in the little things.’

‘It’s the little things that count, McKay.’

‘If you make some smutty remark now, so help me, I’ll put IcyHot in your shorts.  Now, get back to your meeting and stop disturbing me. Some of us have work to do.’  He softened his words by pressing a quick kiss to John’s lips and pushed him on his way, scowling at Radek and Miko who were openly watching their interactions.

John waved a hand.  ‘Later, people,’ he called as he left the lab, grinning at the sound of Rodney berating his colleagues for voyeurism.

********

‘Did you lose your way?’ Jack enquired politely when John – finally – got back to the briefing room.  ‘Sit down.  Richard says he’s got some disturbing news for us but wanted to tell us all together.’

‘I have good reason to believe some members of the IOA have become Goa’uld hosts.’  Having made his pronouncement, Richard Holland sat back and watched the reactions of his colleagues.  They didn’t fail to entertain him.

‘What the fuck?’ came from Jack.

A decidedly inelegant ‘Huh?’ from John, while his father reacted most constructively.

‘What makes you think that and what can we do about it?’

Richard nodded to Patrick.  ‘Two good questions which cut right to the heart of the matter without any superfluous prattle.’

Jack eyed Richard narrowly.  ‘Is that your way of calling John and me windbags?’

‘Not at all,’ Richard replied with an innocent look.  ‘I wouldn’t dream of it.  I was simply interested in your reactions to my news.’

‘Then the IOA hasn’t been snaked?’

‘Oh, yes, I’m almost positive two members have been, as you say, snaked.’

‘China and France,’ Jack guessed.  ‘Do you want to take Teal’c back to New York with you?  He’ll be able to confirm if they have.’

‘No, I don’t think so.  There’s nothing we can do if they’ve become hosts, not without causing a diplomatic incident.’

‘And your answer to my questions?’ Patrick reminded him.

‘I’ve answered the second one: there’s very little we can do and, indeed, it’s probably best for all of us if I appear to be unaware.  I’m pretty sure Peter Luce and Russell Chapman are still free of unwanted passengers.  I’m not so sure about General Chekov.’

‘It’s a real shame if he has,’ Jack remarked.  ‘Alexei Chekov is one of the few honest men left in the Russian Federation and I know he’d rather die than be controlled by a snake.  Why do you think Luce and Chapman are still free?’

‘For the same reason I am.  They don’t think we’re worth bothering with.  Canada and Britain wield very little real power in the world today, despite what their governments might think.’

‘But the US does.  Why wouldn’t they want to snake you?’ Jack pressed.

Holland grinned at him.  ‘Because I’m a Johnny-come-late on the IOA and very few people know much about me.  They probably see me as just another grunt, albeit one with three stars on his shoulder.  I would suggest, though, that you either scan people who visit the SGC, or have Teal’c meet with those who’d take offence at being scanned.’

Jack nodded.  ‘Good point. I’ll see to it.’

‘What about SGC personnel who’ve been off-base at all?’ John asked.  ‘Several of the scientists have moved back home despite us asking them to remain here.  When nothing bad happened a number of them requested permission to go home and we couldn’t force them to stay.  I told them we still advised against it although both they and I knew that we’d do everything we could to help them if something did happen to them.  We were all thinking of possible kidnapping, though, especially after Teal’c’s experience.  None of us was prepared for snaked members of staff.’

‘Teal’c can’t spend all his time checking everyone who sets foot out of the Mountain,’ Jack protested and rubbed his face with his hands.  ‘Christ!  What a mess.  We check everyone who goes off-world.  I never thought we’d have to check people on Earth.’

Richard saw John’s hand move to his ear and listen intently.  Despite replying to a radio message, John nodded.  ‘Understood.  Bring them down, Major, and call the rest of SG-1 as well.  We might as well have you all in on this.’  He focussed on the others.  ‘Barrett and Paul Davis have just arrived with news for us.  Lorne’s bringing them and the rest of SG-1 down.’

‘Now what!’  Jack shook his head.  ‘I’m beginning to regret getting out of bed this morning!’

Richard caught the barest hint of a reaction from Patrick Sheppard he would have missed if he hadn’t been paying close attention to him and Jack.  Lays the wind in that direction?

Within ten minutes the four men were joined by SG-1, and Barrett and Davis.  Hot on their heels came Walter Harriman with fresh coffee and a plate of pastries, along with a slice of apple pie for Jack O’Neill.

‘Walter, you are truly beyond the price of rubies,’ Jack announced, much to Walter’s surprise, falling upon the pie as though he hadn’t eaten for days.

‘Umm.  Thank you, sir.  I think.’

Rodney, for his part, took ownership of one of the carafes of coffee and looked around.  ‘Well?  Why have I been dragged away from my vital work?’

I asked Lorne to drag you away,’ John told him.  ‘Behave!’

Rodney scowled at him but did subside and sank into his usual chair next to John’s.

‘I’m afraid we have disquieting news for you,’ Paul Davis began in his usual reserved and formal manner.  ‘As you all know, Agent Barrett and I, along with Dr Kusanagi, have been keeping a watch on some of the largest companies in the USA.  We’ve also kept an eye on other large corporations around the world, knowing the leaders of such businesses are of likely to be of interest to the Trust if not actual Trust members.  Dr Kusanagi has been particularly helpful with some of her…’ he paused for a moment searching for a word.  ‘Shall we call them her less ethical talents?’

‘She’s been hacking their computers,’ Rodney stated baldly.  ‘Call it what it is, Colonel Davis.  We’re dealing with alien lifeforms who want to take over our planet.’

‘And are they succeeding?’ Patrick asked.  ‘I’m aware I’m new to your deliberations, gentlemen, but I have what might be termed a personal interest in the subject as my eldest son has almost certainly become host to one of these alien lifeforms.’

Seeing the exchange of looks between Davis and Barrett made Richard’s heart sink like a stone.  ‘I’ve just advised Jack, John, and Patrick that I suspect the two new IOA reps from France and China have become hosts,’ he told the two men.  ‘I’m pretty certain the two former reps, LaPierre and Xiaoyi have also been ‘snaked’, as Jack calls it, as well.’

‘I suppose it explains their determination to get into the SGC back in July,’ John commented.

‘I believe – we believe, that the contagion if I might term it so, has spread into several foreign corporations and conglomerates,’ Davis admitted, a grim look on his face.  ‘Furthermore, we suspect several people at Area 51 have become hosts, too.’

There was silence in the briefing room while the other men digested this information.

‘It would also explain how Xiaoyi knew about the Asgard improvements to Prometheus.’  Jonas Quinn spoke for the first time.

‘Scientists or military?’ Rodney asked suddenly.

‘Both, Dr McKay.’

‘Teal’c, have you been near Radek Zelenka since he arrived here?’ Rodney asked.

‘I have not, Dr McKay.’

Rodney tapped his radio.  ‘McKay to Zelenka. Can you come up to the briefing room, Radek?  Something’s come up.’  He listened for a moment.  ‘No, you fuzzy haired Czech, now!  Walter’s brought some of the speciality coffee in and I’ve reserved a carafe for myself I might be willing to share.’  He tapped his radio again and looked around at the men watching him.  ‘What?  I know the way to a scientist’s heart.  And if they’ve snaked Zelenka…  Well.  I’ll be very cross.’

They had to wait barely five minutes, minutes passed in silence, although John did leave the room for a moment, returning with a Zat’nik’tel in his hand, and he and Teal’c stationed themselves at either side of the doorway.  There was a tap on the door which then opened, and Radek entered carrying a large mug.  He hardly spared a glance for John and Teal’c but hurried to the table and held out his cup to Rodney.

‘First, the coffee, then we will discuss the problem which you need me to solve.’

The other men turned to look at Teal’c who shook his head.  There were a series of sighs of relief.

Radek looked at them curiously.  ‘Has something happened?’

Rodney stumbled to his feet and, much to Radek’s surprise, hugged him.  ‘No, you Czech bastard, nothing’s happened.’

Radek patted Rodney’s shoulder and freed himself from his friend’s arms.  ‘I am fond of you, Rodney, but not in the manner of Colonel Sheppard.  Now, fill my cup and tell me how I might help you.’

‘I’m sorry to alarm you, Radek,’ John began, retaking his seat and laying the Zat on the table in front of him.  ‘Colonel Davis has just informed us that several people at Area 51 have been implanted with symbiotes.  We were concerned you might be amongst them.’

Shock flickered across Radek’s face and he gripped the back of Rodney’s chair.  ‘Do you know who?’

‘Colonel Davis was about to tell us, but I needed to check on you, first,’ Rodney told him and glanced at Jack.  ‘Can Radek join us, General?  He knows the people at Area 51 far better than anyone else here.’

‘Take a seat, Dr Zelenka, and join us with pleasure.  I don’t have to remind you that everything said in this room is strictly confidential?’

‘I lived on the other side of the Iron Curtain until 1994, General O’Neill.  I am more than capable of keeping dangerous secrets.’

‘How did you come to leave the Czech Republic?’ Patrick asked while Zelenka made himself comfortable.

‘I was helped to escape by a courageous man, Dr Sheppard, since my government wished to keep me to work only for their behalf.  After my mother died in early 1994, they ceased to have any hold over me and I was able to leave.  That same man arranged for me to take a postgraduate degree at Oxford University, thus enabling me to work in the West.’

‘You must be very grateful to your benefactor.  Do you still have contact with him?’

Radek grinned at Patrick.  ‘As little as possible physical contact, since I am afraid of your son, but yes, I am grateful to him although to tell him would only make his head grow larger.’

Patrick’s eyebrows disappeared into his hairline and he opened his mouth to speak when Rodney butted in.

‘Yes, yes, we all know you barely escaped with your life.  Stop trying to be the centre of attention, Radek, and listen to what Colonel Davis has to say.’

‘Thank you, Dr McKay.  I was about to explain that we don’t have any firm information on numbers.  The only reason we know about Area 51 is an ME known to Homeworld Security did an autopsy on a Marine who died in a car crash in suspicious circumstances in Los Angeles.  The LA Operations Director of the Agency for whom he works is read into the Programme, and she contacted General Hammond when the ME found inexplicable wounds on the Marine’s neck, caused after his death.’

‘I assume you’re talking about Hetty Lange?’ Jack asked, doodling on his notepad.  ‘Was Ducky Mallard the ME?’

‘Yes, sir.  Miss Lange and Dr Mallard were able to prevent anyone else from learning that the Marine in question, based at Area 51, had become host to a symbiote.  Homeworld made a few discrete enquiries and, as I said, we think a number of personnel from there have been implanted, but we have no way of confirming how many and how far up the chain of command it goes.’

‘When was the autopsy performed?’

‘Two days ago.’

‘Is there any reason to suspect the crew of Prometheus might be affected?’ John asked.

Jack closed his eyes as though in pain.  ‘Jesus!  I hope not.  Do I need to get Teal’c to go check them out?  He’s the only one of us safe from being snaked.’

‘Wouldn’t that put him somewhat at risk, sir?’ Davis asked.  ‘We know from experience the Goa’uld are particularly dangerous when threatened, and it would also alert them to our suspicions.’

‘Damn it, Paul!  We can’t just let our friends and colleagues become hosts without trying to do something.‘  Jack banged the table with his fist.

‘What if I invited Peter Kirkland out for a drink?’ John suggested, spinning a pencil between his fingers.  ‘It’s something we did occasionally when I was a member of the crew.  As long as Teal’c can clear him, we can explain our concerns and warn him to keep a watch.  And maybe also warn Colonel Pendergast to keep away from Area 51 for a while.  At least until we can confirm it’s clear of Goa’uld.’

‘I’m not sure if we’re going to be able to clear Area 51,’ Malcolm Barrett said quietly.  ‘Not if some of the more senior people have been affected.’

‘But you said yourself you didn’t know how far up it goes,’ Jack said, sharply.

‘Dr Zelenka?’ Richard asked.  ‘Do you have any thoughts on this?’

Radek frowned as he pondered the question.  ‘Within the scientists, I can bring to mind only two people who acted a little…out of character: Dr Martin Tusk from the Genetics Laboratory, and Dr Claire Rayne from Engineering with whom I worked quite closely until I came here.’

‘Claire Rayne?’  Rodney frowned.  ‘I recruited her. She worked here for a while but wasn’t comfortable being so far underground so I sent her to Nevada.  How was she acting?’

‘She became very…personal.  Asked me to have dinner with her which I should usually enjoy but…there was something uncomfortable about her request.’

‘I should think there was!  She’s been in a relationship with Dr Ann Porter for as long as I’ve known her.  They moved out to Nevada together.’

‘Then I think it’s safe to suggest that either one or both of them have been snaked,’ Jack said.  ‘Damn them all to fucking hell!’

‘Then I had, perhaps, a fortunate escape?’ Radek asked, shifting uncomfortably.  ‘Since I worked with her I should have seen how different she was, yes?’

‘Don’t blame yourself, Dr Z,’ Jack told him.  ‘If you didn’t know to look out for someone being snaked, you couldn’t have helped her.  They’re crafty bastards, all of them.’

‘What about Martin Tusk?’ Jonas asked.  ‘I don’t ever recall meeting him when I’ve visited Area 51.’

‘He was quiet man but friendly, except he has now become very curt and also often angry. Very much different to before.’

‘Sounds like another key candidate,’ John commented.   ‘Do we have any idea about the military out there?’

‘Well, given that Hank Landry heads up Area 51 I should think they’d be hard pressed to notice if he’d been snaked,’ Jack observed wryly.  ‘He’s always been a bastard as far as I know.’

This comment elicited the first humour in the briefing room for quite a while and relaxed the atmosphere a little.

‘I…’ Jonas paused, clearing searching for the way to say something.  ‘Am I the only who thinks this is all escalating very quickly?  It’s barely two months since Teal’c went missing and we first heard about the Trust.  Now we know two, possibly more, IOA members have been taken as hosts, and that several people at Area 51 are also affected, as well as David Sheppard and who knows how many other industrialists.  It’s spreading like a virus and I’m not sure we can contain it.  The best we can do is firebreak it.’  He paused as the other men looked at him.  ‘What?  Is ‘firebreak’ wrong?’

‘It’s actually a perfect analogy,’ Richard said quietly.  ‘I’m just not sure anyone here was ready to hear our problem laid out quite so clearly.  I know I wasn’t.’

‘We’d probably use ‘firefight’ rather than ‘firebreak’,’ Daniel suggested.  ‘But, as General Holland said, ‘firebreak’ is a very good analogy.  We can’t save the ones who’ve become hosts, but we can do our best to protect the others.’

‘Our main problem with that, as far as I can see,’ Rodney said slowly and deliberately, ‘is that we can’t protect six billion people.’

********

John duly invited Peter Kirkland to meet him for a drink, taking Teal’c, a cap pulled down firmly over his forehead, with him, along with Jack’s gift from Thor.  Kirkland looked at it curiously as John placed it next to his glass in the busy Lincoln, Nebraska bar they’d chosen to meet in.

‘Are you going to tell me what it is?  And why we’ve come to Nebraska of all places for a drink?’

‘Same reason for both of them, as well as why Teal’c’s joined us.  The Trust.’  John watched his friend closely for any reaction to the name of the group causing them so much trouble.

‘Trust?  Should I know what that is?’

‘Hopefully not, but you do know, Peter, that you can come to me about anything, don’t you?’

Kirkland sat back against the cushioned booth seat.  ‘Yeees?  Although I can’t think of anything that’d make you say that.  Am I under suspicion about something?’

‘No, leastways I hope not.  Do you remember the conversation we had when I first joined Prometheus?  About why the F-302 pilots are called the Snakeskinners?’

‘Not really, and I don’t know why they’re called Snakeskinners.  Only that General O’Neill named them.’

All John’s instincts told him Peter Kirkland could be trusted.  ‘Have you heard of the Goa’uld?’

‘Heard of them, yes.  Know exactly what they are?  No, I don’t.  Wasn’t Anubis a Goold?’

‘Goa’uld, yes.  They’re an alien parasitic, sentient species, much like a snake except for having a mouth which opens in four directions.  They take over a human body as a host and wrap themselves around the spine and nervous system with tendrils which go directly in to the brain.  They can then control both the thoughts and actions of the host.’

Peter’s face had screwed up increasingly as John spoke.  ‘Jesus, Sheppard!  Is this what you have to deal with at the SGC?  Thank Christ I’m on Prometheus!’

‘Shh.  Keep your voice down.  Our concern is that they’re spreading around Earth.  More and more people are becoming hosts and they’re difficult for humans to detect without special equipment unless they reveal themselves, like making a hosts’ eyes glow.  Teal’c here used to carry an immature symbiote in his…within him.  The Goa’uld use the Jaffa like a sort of…incubation chamber until the symbiote is developed enough to take a host.  He doesn’t carry one now but has retained his ability to sense them in other people.’

‘And you thought I might have become a Gooauld?’

‘Have become a host, yes.  It was a possibility.’

‘And you’re sure I’m not?’

‘Quite sure, Colonel Kirkland,’ Teal’c told him in his deep voice.

‘The same might not be quite so true of the rest of Prometheus’ crew, though,’ John explained.  ‘Any one of them might have been ‘snaked’ as Jack O’Neill calls it.’

‘Hence the Snakeskinners, I suppose.’

‘You were right with that, Peter.  He does have a bizarre sense of humour.’

‘Indeed.’

Peter glanced at Teal’c as he spoke.  ‘So, you want Teal’c to come onboard and check everyone?’

‘No, we can’t risk it.  They’re ruthless bastards and’ll kill or torture anyone in the blink of an eye if they suspect them of being a threat.  The SGC has a scanner the medics use to scan everyone who’s been off-world, and we want to give one to the infirmary onboard Prometheus.  Isn’t Dr Lam your new chief medic?’

‘Mmm.  She joined us a few weeks ago.  Her father’s the boss of Area 51 but they don’t get on.  Caroline hated being under his command so requested a move as soon as one became vacant.  She wanted the SGC really, but, with her qualifications, she wanted a senior post so she accepted Colonel Pendergast’s invitation to join us.’

‘I’ll make sure that she gets the scanner and knows how to use it,’ John promised, filing away his friend’s use of Lam’s first name.  ‘In the meantime, keep an eye out for anyone acting out of character, being aggressive, or argumentative.  If you see something, contact me, and we’ll meet up for another drink.’

‘Contact you and not Colonel Pendergast?’

John gave him a grim smile.  ‘Colonel Pendergast is as much at risk as anyone is, yourself included.  We know they’ve infiltrated Area 51, although not how deep. Jack – General O’Neill will be contacting Pendergast personally to warn him to keep away from Area 51 if at all possible, and to limit contact with people there if you do have to land.’

‘Jesus!  Just how far have the Goaald spread?’

‘We don’t know.  Far enough to worry us.  Some of the IOA for certain, a few businessmen.  We just don’t know how far they’ve gone, and it’s a major problem for us.  Your help will be invaluable; I promise you.’

 

Chapter Ten

‘You’ve got a mission in on Monday.’

John looked up to see Jack leaning in his usual position when disturbing him, against the doorjamb between their offices.  ‘Yes, to P2R 997.  Daniel worked out the address from one of the books Catherine Langford left him.’

Jack pressed his lips together.  ‘She was a huge part of the Programme in the early days.  Daniel – we all, thought a lot of her.  She’ll be sadly missed.’

‘I never met her.’

‘I think she’d’ve liked you.  She had a thing for good looking young men.’

John laughed.  ‘I’d debate the good looking part, and I certainly don’t feel particularly young some days.  Decidedly old, in fact.’

‘Tell me about it.  Anyhoo, I wanted to suggest Patrick and I join you on your mission.  I want to introduce him to the galaxy.’

‘Dad?  Is he ready to go off-world?’

‘I suspect what you really mean is do you want the responsibility of taking him off-world.  I would be there as well, don’t forget.  And, yes, you would still be in charge.  Patrick and I just want to go along for the ride.’

‘I don’t want anything to happen to either of you, but what about the SGC?’

‘What about it?  It’ll still be here when we get back.’

‘First of all, that’s probably doomed everyone and everything, and secondly, you, me, Daniel, Lorne, and McKay all off-world together?’

‘Good point.  We’ll leave Lorne behind.  Maybe McKay as well.’

‘That’s not gonna work.  Daniel thinks there might be Ancient ruins on P2R 997.  McKay’s never going to agree to be left behind.’

‘Then we leave Lorne and Quinn.  They could run the Mountain between them if push came to shove.’

‘I’m not sure the President would agree with you but I guess that’d work.  You and Dad have to agree to obey orders, though.’

‘Sir, yes, sir,’ Jack grinned, his expression similar to McKay’s when given a  new gadget with which to play.  ‘What time do we leave?’

‘1400.  Should be just after dawn according to Daniel.  Will you tell him the good news or shall I?’

‘Let me tell him, will you?  It’ll be just like old times.  The band’s back together.’  Jack disappeared back into his own office, whistling merrily.

********

Lorne didn’t look happy at being told he was to remain at base, but John suspected it was more to with the prospect of responsibility rather than annoyance at being left behind.

‘Lorne…Evan, if we don’t come back, it’s up to you to keep the SGC safe, understand?’

‘I’ll do my best, sir…John, but there’s a limit to what I can do.  I don’t have the rank.’

The ‘and aren’t likely to have it any time soon’ went unsaid between them.

‘General Hammond has written instructions from General O’Neill in case anything happens to him, even if I’m still here.  I have implicit trust in him to do the right thing for the programme, so don’t worry about that.  Besides, if I lose both my CO and the CSO on the same mission, you’ll no doubt see another person in my seat, to say nothing of what my father might say.’

Lorne grinned – John’s primary objective.  ‘Is it true, then, what people are saying?’

John grinned at him.  ‘Oh, no, I’m not going there.  My father and I had an agreement as soon as I came of dating age.  He wouldn’t ask me awkward questions about who I was seeing if I afforded him the same respect.  What goes on in his bedroom is strictly his business.’

‘Fair enough.  I’d probably be the same; besides, it’s a well-known fact: parents don’t have sex, ever.’

John threw a paperclip at him.  ‘Get out of here, Major, and take your filthy mind with you.’

‘Sir, yes, sir.’  Lorne gave a jaunty wave as he closed the door behind himself.

Christ!  Does everyone think my father’s…Urgh.  I need some brain bleach.

********

P2R 997 was much like Earth, with both similar gravity and similar light levels.  The remnants of SG-1, SG6, and their extras fanned out as they stepped down from the Stargate plinth.

‘Keep a lookout, everyone,’ John called.  ‘We don’t know who might live here or who might see it as their territory.  Stackhouse, keep guard here near the gate when we move out although I want Marsh with us.  Regular check-ins every twenty minutes.’

‘Twenty minutes?’ Jack asked with raised eyebrows.

‘Sir, Dr Jackson described you as a trouble-magnet the first time I met him.  Check-ins every twenty minutes.’

Stackhouse grinned.  ‘Don’t worry, sir, you can count on us.’

‘I’m getting an energy sign from the east,’ Rodney called.

‘How do you know which way is east?’ Patrick asked, looking around in interest.

‘Unless we know otherwise, due north is always in the direction we exit the Stargate,’ Daniel explained to him.  ‘We had to make an arbitrary decision soon after we began exploring the galaxy.  It has the added benefit of confusing anyone else monitoring our comms, as the Goa’uld are wont to do on occasion.’

‘A lot of them have worked out what we mean by now, though,’ Jack added, joining Patrick and Daniel while still looking around.  ‘I’d forgotten what I buzz I get from exploring off-world.  Must make sure to keep my hand in, in future.’

‘Let’s get this mission safely over with before you go making any plans,’ John told him, coming towards them.  ‘McKay, get over here and tell us where we need to go.’

‘I’ve already told you.  East of the Stargate.’

‘How far?’

Rodney tilted his head on one side.  ‘Bout two miles?’

‘Teal’c?  Anything we should be concerned about?’

‘I can see no traces of anyone having visited here recently, Colonel Sheppard, and no signs of large animals.’

‘Okay then.  I’ll take point, Rodney, you come behind me, then Daniel, then Dad and General O’Neill.  Teal’c, cover our six will you?’

Teal’c inclined his head and raised his staff weapon to waist level.  Both Jack and Patrick had been equipped with MP7 submachine guns and P14 pistols, like the others, although Jack was heard to lament the P90 he used to carry.  Both had also been ordered by John to ensure they could pass the Marine weapons qualification before he’d agree to take them off-world and, even though Jack grumbled on principal, he’d privately admitted to Patrick that he approved the instruction.  It was several months since he’d regularly gone off-world and in a tight situation it made sense that everyone could protect themselves, and the others, if necessary.

‘Do the scientists have to pass the same test?’ Patrick called to Rodney as they walked along.

‘Yes, to Marksmanship level at least,’ Rodney replied, dropping back to walk with Patrick.  ‘They’re all taught to take apart, clean, and reassemble their weapon too, and they’re not allowed off-world until they can pass the requirements of the test.  I think me being able to pass it made a few decide they could do it as well.  Never underestimate the importance of rivalry within an academic community, although you’ll have had some experience of that yourself, won’t you, Dr Sheppard?’

‘John has worked hard to raise the weapons competency of the scientists since he joined us,’ Jack added as Patrick scowled at McKay.  ‘They’ve both cursed and thanked him when they’ve been off-planet, though, Janet Fraiser in particular.  If she hadn’t been forced to take the course John created, under great protest, I might add, she might have been badly injured, or worse, on one particular occasion when treating someone off-planet.  The course doesn’t just teach them how to fire and look after a gun, but to anticipate dangerous situations and how to act in them.’

‘Isn’t Dr Fraiser Air Force, though?’ Patrick asked curiously.  ‘I would have thought she’d have had to pass such a test as part of her training.’

‘Air Force medics don’t have to take the weapons part unless they’re due to be posted overseas.  Since Janet has always worked within the borders of the US, she hadn’t had to qualify.  John argued that off-planet was as dangerous, if not more so, than a posting to Iraq or Afghanistan, hence she was forced to qualify if she wanted to be allowed off the base in a combat situation.’

‘Let’s pick the pace up, people,’ John called back, the tips of his ears coloured red, confirming Patrick’s suspicion that he’d overheard much of their conversation.  ‘Less talk, more forward motion.’

‘Sir, yes, sir,’ Patrick muttered, making Jack laugh.

They reached the place Rodney was looking for within twenty-five minutes, and Rodney pulled out his scanner to pinpoint the energy signal.  Patrick, who was very interested in the scanner, in a commercial sense at least, watched him for a moment then looked around. They’d come to a sudden outcrop of rock that appeared a little incongruous given the trees and meadows they’d passed through to reach this point.  John obviously shared his thoughts.

‘The one time we could have used Lorne’s geology degree, and we’ve left him at home.’

Rodney mumbled something under his breath which Patrick couldn’t make out, but which caused John to cuff the back of his head lightly.

‘Hey.  Quit with the insults, especially as Lorne’s not here to defend himself.’

‘First of all, ow,’ Rodney complained, rubbing the back of his head, ‘and secondly, geology is a soft science.  There’re no real experiments to make or hypotheses to test.  Rock either is or isn’t.  There’s no middle ground.’

‘And while I hate to agree with McKay, on principle, I think he’s right,’ Jack commented, surveying the outcrop of rock.  ‘And my geological conclusion is that this rock isn’t.’

‘Isn’t what?’ Daniel asked.  ‘Be a bit more specific, Jack.’

‘Isn’t rock.  At least not all of it is, and I doubt it’s a natural outcrop.  I’m getting a…a tickle in the back of my mind.’

‘Me too,’ John agreed and stepped closer to the outcrop and began poking at it.  Jack did the same in a different area.

Patrick watched them for a moment, a frown on his face as he examined what he was feeling in his own mind, then he moved around the outcrop and ran his fingers over a particular section.  Much to his shock, a doorway appeared and slowly opened.  ‘What the…’

‘Dad?  Are you alright?’  John appeared around the side quickly followed by the others.  ‘You’ve found the entrance!  How did you do that?’

Patrick had stepped back from the doorway and was observing it.  ‘I don’t know how I did it.  Something just seemed to…call to me.’

‘We are all complete idiots,’ Rodney suddenly announced.  ‘Nobody ever thought to check Dr Sheppard for the ATA gene, did they?  And given John’s particularly strong gene, we should have thought to test his father.’

‘Test?  Test what?’ Patrick demanded.  ‘What’s an ATA gene and why has John got a strong one?’

‘One of our geneticists discovered a particular strand in DNA which allows someone to activate Ancient technology,’ Daniel explained to Patrick.  ‘John’s expression of the gene is especially strong and, as Rodney says, we should have thought to test you.’

‘The Ancients are the Gate Builders, right?’ Patrick asked.

‘Yes, and the notes I found in one of Catherine Langford’s books suggested that we might find Ancient remains on this planet.’

‘We went over this at the briefing, Dr Sheppard,’ Rodney pointed out.  ‘Don’t you…Ah.  You missed the briefing didn’t you?’

‘I was taking my weapons test.  And Rodney, please, call me Patrick.  I rarely use my title, and you are John’s partner in any case.’

Rodney nodded and gave him a quick smile, then turned back to the doorway.  ‘Can we go in now?’

‘No, Rodney, you know the rules,’ John told him.  ‘You wait outside until we’ve checked it out.’

‘Nobody’s been near this planet for hundreds of years, maybe thousands.’

‘We can’t be sure about that.  Wait here with the others while Teal’c and I check it out.’

‘This is such a waste of time,’ Rodney muttered quietly.

‘The rules are there for a purpose, McKay,’ Jack advised him.  ‘Tried and tested, you know that.’

Rodney glared at him but stayed where he was as John and Teal’c disappeared inside the structure.

‘Are many Ancient remains camouflaged like this?’ Patrick asked.

‘Most of the ones we’ve found so far in this galaxy,’ Daniel replied.  ‘Apart from vast complexes like the Outpost on Earth and Proclarush Taonas.’

‘Always makes me think of Procol Harum,’ Jack commented idly, looking around, hands firmly on his MP7.

‘Procol Harum?’ Daniel repeated.  ‘What does that mean?’

”S a band from the sixties.  Whiter Shade of Pale?’

‘Jack, what are you talking about?  What’s a whiter shade of pale?  It doesn’t even make sense.’

Patrick grinned as Jack rolled his eyes.  It was a long time since he’d been around people who made him laugh and have fun.  In fact, despite his eldest son being taken over by a parasitic snake – or similar – and taking over his company, he’d not enjoyed himself so much for years.  Being an Industrial Mogul wasn’t all it was cracked up to be and he wasn’t missing SI and the business world at all. His thoughts were brought back to the present by the reappearance of his younger son and Teal’c.

‘All clear,’ John announced.  ‘Air’s a bit stale but some sort of air circulation’s come on and it’s getting better.  Keep an eye on the air quality with your gadget, though, Rodney.  Corporal Marsh, you’re to remain on watch here in case our radios don’t work in the facility.  Keep in contact with Stackhouse and let us know the moment there’s any trouble.’

‘Expecting trouble?’ Patrick murmured.

‘If there’s one thing we’ve learned about travelling off-world,’ Jack told him, ‘it’s that there’s always trouble, no matter the circumstances.’

Patrick raised his eyebrows at this but didn’t say anything and just fell into line as they entered the Ancient facility.  The corridor they entered sloped downhill for a hundred yards or so until they came to a second door, now standing open.  One by one the men entered a large room with a bank of slightly tilted machines to one side which reminded Patrick of a number of pinball games – without the balls and targets.  Rodney was already trying to connect his laptop to the machines, swearing softly to himself.  Eventually, he opened one of the panels underneath it and called John to come and help connect a cable.

‘Your skinny ass will fit in that tight space.  The Ancients must all have been pigmy bean-sticks going on what I’ve seen of their equipment in the few short hours I was able to spend at the Outpost,’ he said, with a scowl at Jack.

Jack rolled his eyes in reply.

‘What’s all this do?’ Patrick asked, nodding towards the metal walls covered in strange, geometric designs.

‘The Ancient Outpost is filled with similar wall engravings,’ Daniel explained.  ‘They were a race very invested in creating beautiful, as well as functional equipment.  The control chair is a stunning mixture of Remy Macintosh and Arts and Crafts design, with a little alienness thrown in.’

Jack overheard Daniel’s description and came over.  ‘Alienness?  Is that a style of its own?’

Daniel glared at him.  ‘I’ve not missed going off-world with you, Jack.  There’s been far less of my time spent in jail or fighting in general since you were promoted.’

‘Hey!’ Jack protested.  ‘I always made sure we escaped or were rescued.  Eventually.’

‘You neglected to mention that part to me, O’Neill,’ Patrick told him.  ‘Should I prepare myself to be imprisoned?’

Jack grinned at him.  ‘I had to leave somethings for you to find out for yourself.  It’s no fun if I tell you everything.’

‘Fun!’ Daniel repeated.  ‘Being beaten up and then locked up?  If that’s your definition of a good time, Jack…’  He shook his head and went to examine the engravings closer.

John squeezed out from the depths of the Ancient computer terminal and glanced over at him.  ‘You okay, Daniel?’

‘Mmmm,’ he replied, running his fingers over the engravings.  ‘John?  Can you come over here and feel this?’

Patrick saw Jack open his mouth to make some comment and nudged him, shaking his head.  He had a pretty good idea of what was irritating the good Doctor Jackson but had no idea how to deal with it.  He’d been led to understand that Daniel was well and truly straight, in sexual terms at least, but what was coming off him in waves was pure jealousy.  Patrick mentally shrugged his shoulders and went to look at what Jackson was showing John.  Maybe something would occur to him later, but in the meantime, he needed to stop Jack from teasing Daniel.

‘What am I looking for?’ John asked, peering closely at the wall.

‘I think…I think these engravings mean something.  Look at this spiral here.’ Daniel pointed to a mass of swirls and circles.  ‘They seem to lead into this set of triangles.’

‘Looks like a kid’s got loose with a—Ow!’  Jack glared at Patrick.  ‘That was my foot!’

‘So sorry.  I didn’t see it there.’

Jack gave him a considering look and, thankfully, kept quiet.  Patrick resolved to drop a hint to him later on.  If something was happening between them, he didn’t want Jack to alienate any of his former team.  From the sound of things, Carter had already left Earth because Jack was a blind, clueless idiot.  Luckily, I happen to like blind, clueless idiots.

John was watching their interactions carefully and Patrick grinned at him.  Nothing to see here, move along, kid.

He looked at the area Daniel was indicating and tipped his head to one side.  ‘They’re not leading to the triangles, Dr Jackson.  They’re leading over here.’  He traced a particular line towards a swirling mass and stopped.  ‘There’s a tiny lump here.  John!  Come and feel it!’

John wandered over and put his hand over his father’s and rubbed gently.  ‘There is something here.  Rodney!  Get over here and look at this.’

‘Busy!’ Rodney called in a sing-song voice.  ‘I’ve got into the main files and…Holy Crap!’

They all swung round in an instant and John hurried over to him.  ‘What’s happened?  What is it?’

‘Huh?  No, no, no, no, nothing’s wrong.  Quite the opposite, in fact.’  He looked up, his eyes shining.  ‘This is a research outpost.’

‘Yeees?  What of it?’

‘No, no, you don’t understand.  This is a research outpost for studying power.’  Rodney waited, clearly expecting some response from them, then sighed and shook his head.  ‘Am I the only one with a brain today?’

‘Hey!’ John began, but Rodney carried on talking over him.

‘It’s for researching power.  Power sources?’  He looked around for a reaction which clearly wasn’t coming.  ‘ZPM research?  Remember? The pretty crystal units with the power strength of over a hundred nuclear reactors?’

Their reactions were now everything for which he could have hoped.

‘It’ll tell you how to make a ZPM?’ John demanded.

‘I think so, yes.’

‘Think?’ questioned O’Neill.  ‘You’re not sure?’

‘I’ve only just got into the system so forgive me if I haven’t instantly learned everything there is to know about ZPMs, but, yes, I think the instructions of how to make them will be in here.’  He gave a mega-watt sized grin of pure happiness.  ‘We need to get Miko and Zelenka out here.  We need to get a whole team out here to go over everything it can tell us, in fact.’  He gave a sudden smirk.  ‘Carter will be so pissed that she wasn’t here for this!  I can’t wait to tell her.’  He rubbed his hands together in glee, then froze.  ‘We can dial the gate for Atlantis now! We can rescue them if they need rescuing.  We can—’

‘Hold on.’  Jack held up a hand.  ‘I thought we could dial the gate with one of your mini-ZPMs?’

Rodney glared at him, again.  ‘Do you ever listen to what I tell you?  Both Zelenka and I explained they’d only power an intergalactic gate once.  They’re three or four times the power of a naquadah generator but nowhere near the power of a real honest-to-goodness ZPM.’

‘Then why call them mini-ZPMs?’

‘Because they follow the same maths,’ Patrick cut in unexpectedly.  ‘Rodney explained it to me, and, given sufficient time, he and Zelenka will be able to create their own ZPMs.’

‘Given time.  How much time?’

I don’t know,’ Rodney snapped.  ‘Years, probably, but it doesn’t matter now.’

‘No, wait, wait.’  Jack was frowning.  ‘I thought the mini-ZPM was supposed to be an amazing accomplishment.  Now you’re saying it’s just a tiny step towards a ZPM?’

‘Jack.’  Patrick focused on him.  ‘It is an amazing accomplishment.  If Rodney and Radek were allowed to publish their findings, they’d most certainly win a Nobel for it.  There’s no doubt about that whatsoever, but they were very clear.  It’s not a ZPM, although the work they’ve done will lead to making a ZPM in time.  I can only follow the basics of it, and I have a doctorate in Maths.  Don’t ever think your scientists aren’t worth every cent you pay them because they are.  I would pay millions of dollars for just a day of their time for Sheppard Industries if I ever take back control of it.’

‘I might hold you to that,’ Rodney told him, a glimmer of a smile on his face, then turned back to O’Neill.  ‘With the information, and probably the equipment here, we won’t have to wait years.  We can create our own ZPMs as soon as we’ve got this place up and running.  We’ll probably be able to recharge the empty ones here, too.  Now, do you understand?’

‘I understand we’re going to need to keep tight security here,’ Jack returned.  ‘Only your most trusted people here, and a whole platoon of Marines to guard them at all times.  News of this must not leak out to anyone.  Imagine if the IOA discovered we could create ZPMs.  Christ! It doesn’t bear thinking about.’

‘What do you need, Rodney?’ John asked, ever practical.  ‘Can you copy any of the information now?’

‘I’ll copy what I can, but there’s years of work here.  It’ll take months to go through the index alone, never mind the details.’

‘Then do that just in case we can’t get back here.’

‘What do you mean not get back?’  Rodney’s face expressed the panic he was undoubtedly feeling.  ‘John!  This is the biggest find the SGC has ever made!  Probably the biggest find ever after the existence of the Stargates.  We can’t not come back.’

‘That’s not what I’m saying.  I’m just suggesting you copy as much as you can in case someone else finds this place.’

‘I don’t think that’ll happen,’ Daniel told him.  ‘I think this place has been forgotten about for hundreds, maybe thousands of years.  I doubt anyone else knows about it.’

Someone did.  Enough to write down the gate address in a book,’ Jack pointed out.

‘Catherine’s books were hundreds of years old.  Whoever wrote them is long gone.  We’re perfectly safe.’  Daniel looked around at the chorus of groans which greeted his comment.  ‘What?’

‘You have cast a jinx upon us all, Daniel Jackson.’

********

After a quick discussion, Marsh was sent back to the gate to radio the SGC for Zelenka and Miko to come to the planet, along with two dozen Marines.

‘Don’t forget to tell Radek to bring all the memory sticks he can find,’ Rodney shouted as John went to give Marsh his instructions.

‘I’ll come and keep guard outside with you, John,’ Jack offered, following him.  ‘Our radios don’t work down here.  Teal’c?  You guard the three doctors, right?  You’re our last line of defence for the moment.’

‘I shall guard them with my life, O’Neill.’

Patrick watched Jack and John leave the large room and Teal’c position himself by the inner door.

‘Don’t worry,’ Daniel told him.  ‘They’ll be perfectly safe.  As I said, no one’s been here for hundreds of years.’

‘Tell me some more about the Ancients, will you?’ Patrick asked him.  ‘How come John and I have the ATA gene?’

Daniel began to give a long explanation about the Ancients leaving the Milky Way to go to Pegasus and then returning which Patrick listened to with only a part of his brain.  The other part was busy working out how to broach the subject of his and Jack’s burgeoning friendship with Daniel, and he gave a start when his other son was mentioned.

‘Sorry, I missed that.  What did you say about David?’

‘I said it would be interesting to see if David has the gene too,’ Daniel repeated, giving Patrick an odd look.

Patrick gave him a wry smile.  ‘I doubt that’ll happen soon.’

‘Aren’t you interested in getting your company back.’

‘I…Huh.  I’m pretty sure I’d’ve said like a shot just after I was rescued, but now, I’m not so sure.  Regardless of the whole being drugged and married without my consent stuff, I’ve not enjoyed myself as much as I am now, for…well, for a long time.’

‘Didn’t you enjoy Sheppard Industries?’

‘Not for a while now, I suspect.’

‘Why?’

Why?  Good question.

‘I…I think it stopped being fun after John left.  And despite discovering that David lied to both of us, and played us off against each other, the original argument was all my fault.  I didn’t want John to go into the military.’

‘Why not?  You did.’

‘Because…You know what?  I’m not sure anymore.  All he wanted to do was fly.  From being six years old all he ever wanted to do was fly, so it wasn’t news to me.  I’d known for years.  I wanted him to join David and me in SI though.  I had his career all planned out but never once stopped to ask him what he wanted, even though he told me, numerous times.  As did his Godfather, Francis Haigh.  You’ve met him, I think.’

‘Just after you were rescued, briefly.  I had a mission with SG-9 to examine some ruins they’d found so wasn’t at the meeting with him.  John appears fond of him, though.’

‘It’s reciprocated, I know.  In fact, Francis stayed in touch with him while John and I were estranged.  John asked him not to discuss him with me, though, so he refused to answer any of the questions I asked, and eventually, we stopped seeing much of each other.  I lost both my son and my best friend.’

‘But things are okay now?’

‘With John or with Francis?’

‘Both?  Either?’

‘Francis and I are fine.  I always understood he needed to keep John’s trust.  I thought it meant John always had someone to depend on; I didn’t know they’d fallen out of touch after John was posted to Afghanistan.’

‘And you and Jack?’  Daniel grinned at the look of shock on Patrick’s face.  ‘I’m fine with it, you know.’

‘I wasn’t sure if you were.’

‘I never saw Jack as a potential partner, if that’s what you’re worried about. In fact, I’m glad if that’s the direction the pair of you are heading in.  I might be a little jealous over the time you spend together, time he and I used to spend together but I’ll get over it.  He deserves someone of his own.’

‘It’s in the very, early stages as yet.  It might go nowhere.’

‘But at least you’ll have tried, right?

The reappearance of John and Jack saved Patrick from answering, but he made a mental note to remind Jack not to forget his former team.  Teal’c probably missed spending time with him as well.

‘Are Miko and Radek coming?’ Rodney demanded.

‘As soon as they’re geared up and’ve collected everything you want,’ John replied.  ‘Along with a whole platoon of Marines, but remember, they’re here to guard you, not fetch and carry for you.’

Rodney mumbled something Patrick couldn’t quite make out.

‘And you’re going to need to decide who else can come here from the Sciences.  You three can’t do it all yourselves.’

‘Why not?  Radek and Miko are the only ones I trust not to screw something up.’

‘Rodney, you can’t keep all the toys for yourself, and you can’t stay out here for weeks, or even for days on end.  The Marines are bringing equipment for overnight, but everyone gets rotated out after forty-eight hours, understand?’

‘Forty-eight hours!  Who decided that?’

‘I did.  It’s long enough to be somewhere with no toilets or running water.’

‘Pfft.  I don’t need toilets or running water, and if the Marines do…well, they’re weaker than I thought.  What happened to days and even weeks in a war zone?’

‘This isn’t a war zone, McKay,’ Jack cut in.  ‘I agree with John.  Forty-eight hours here followed by twenty-four back at the SGC.  Take it or leave it.’

‘What?  I’m the only person that can probably understand this information.’  He waved a hand at the bank of Ancient computers.

‘Forty-eight hours here and twenty-four at home,’ John ordered.  ‘Or I’ll send Bill Lee out here to take charge and come and drag you home myself.’

Patrick was sure the squawk this elicited could be heard back on Earth.

 


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Daisy May

I'm a fifty-something woman and live in the North of England in what's known as God's Own Country - Yorkshire. I've written all my life - both fiction and as a historian but have only come to fan-fic in the last few years. I have an excellent Beta and best-fandom-friend in Ed Ronhia and have to admit that she deserves much of the credit for my Quantum Bang as she's encouraged me, helped me dig myself out of plot-holes, and wrangled my comma addiction as well as waving her pom-poms for me.

2 Comments:

  1. It’s getting better and better! This is an amazing story, and I’m loving every line of it!

  2. Stupid work has been crazy lately and keeping me from reading this fic, which is all I want to do. I’m blown away by the plot you’ve created here, and the interesting relationships. I love Jack/Patrick and I really like Patrick as a character. He’s thoughtful and kind.

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