Janus Two Step – 1/2 – Ladyholder

Title: Janus Two Steps
Author: Ladyholder
Fandom: Stargate: Atlantis, Stargate: SG1, Sherlock, The Losers
Genre: Action Adventure, Crossover, Episode Related, First Time, Humor, Slash, Time Travel
Relationship(s): John Sheppard/Rodney McKay
Content Rating: Mature
Warnings: Violence – Canon Typical
Author Notes: Can be found at the end of the story. But… Thank you to everyone who helped put this together. You all are amazing people.
Beta: Jilly and Keira
Word Count: 50,945
Summary: Janus is a pain in the ass, and John wanted to punch him. 
Artist: Syble


Cover Art by Syble





“If you could do the lead-up to the expedition over, what would you change?” Sheppard asked as they walked towards the latest ancient lab to be explored.

“Really? You’re asking this as we head into a Janus lab?” Rodney asked, surprised. He was far too rational to be truly disturbed at the idea, but something in him shivered in unease. If there was any Ancient you were careful of, it was Janus.

Sheppard looked startled for a moment before he shrugged. “Yeah. I mean, the guy messed around with time travel, so it seemed like a logical connection.”

Rodney looked around and sighed. They were alone and still a quarter of a mile from the room. He stopped and seriously considered the question for several heartbeats.

“What would I change?” Rodney asked then rubbed his hands together when Sheppard nodded. “I would bring more practical scientists. Ones who can do the applied portion of their degrees and even repair things, not just theorize how they are put together. I would triple the coffee supply, leave Kavanagh on Earth, and up the number of doctors and nurses in medical. I’d make sure that we had a few more botanists and someone besides Miko who can get into the code of the Ancient computer so we can find out where the snarls are. And, finally, I’d make sure that all my people could use every single gun we brought so no one gets caught short again and dies. There are a thousand more things I would do differently, but those are the ones that are right at the top.”

The look Sheppard gave him was startled, and Rodney scowled. Was it because he had regrets about the deaths of his minions? Or that he was willing to talk about them? “What about you? What would you change if you could?”

“Oh, Jesus. My list of regrets is really long,” Sheppard admitted. “Number one on the list is not reading the charter and the supply lists for this thing. When I did that after Sumner’s death, I wanted to have a very unbecoming fit. We were damn lucky we didn’t starve our first year, and I have to blame Elizabeth for that since she’s the one who put it together. I’d ask for two or three times our original allotment of bullets, some sniper rifles, some ATV’s, a few combat engineers, an explosives officer, a whole raft of support personnel who can do things like cook, and another platoon of Marines. Maybe some nukes, bazookas, or something that we can use as a surface-to-air missile system. And also gear for all seasons because we basically came equipped for sunny and mild conditions.”

Rodney nodded along with Sheppard’s list. “I like the ATV idea. Because, damn, walking sucks, and while the puddle jumpers are great, they are a sure way to ID who has the ATA gene.”

“And that’s another thing,” Sheppard snapped. “I know you got your copy of the gene here, but I think it would have been better if you could have gotten it on Earth. Nothing against Carson, I know he did his best, but the risks of his therapy backfiring were horrifically high. We were beyond lucky that no one rejected the therapy and got sick.”

“No shit,” Rodney agreed. He started walking again, “Even Carson will say that he took some risks with that thing. It’s better now, and being on Atlantis has let him refine the therapy, but yeah. We were flying utterly blind there.”

“Speaking of the therapy, do you need to get boosters? To make sure you can keep using Ancient tech?” Sheppard asked as they rounded a corner before the lab.

“No,” Rodney admitted. “I had most of the gene as it was. I just needed to get the activator sequence to unlock things so I could use everything. I had the understanding, but not the ability. Carson has said that my expression of the gene is at about 85 percent of what yours is and that yours is practically 100 percent Ancient.”

“I know. It’s creepy,” Sheppard admitted. “Makes me wonder exactly how much forking there is in my family tree.”

“Not nearly as much as you want,” Rodney told him. “One of the various things Jackson’s figured out is the ATA gene runs through the Celts at almost 25 percent, either dominant or recessive. You, Carson, and O’Neill all carry it in a dominant form. I had the recessive version.”

“Until the gene therapy,” Sheppard surmised.

“Yes. The changes are permeant,” Rodney agreed.

“That doesn’t explain Miko though,” Sheppard observed.

Rodney shrugged. He hadn’t dug into why the scientist from Japan had such a strong dominant expression of the ATA gene, but she did. All he cared about was that she could use it, and did, to make sure that the city stayed in good shape. They started walking in silence and made their way to the lab his people were going over.

The door to the lab opened, and he took in the room at a glance. His people were carefully downloading the files from the consoles onto isolated laptops for review and then careful integration into the main database they were building. Everything looked good.

“It’s about time you showed up,” the bane of his scientists bitched.

“Dr. Kavanagh, I distinctly remember assigning you to the desalination plant today.” Rodney crossed his arms. He was doing his best not to grab the rat-faced bastard and throw him out of the room. It was taking far more self-control than he wanted to think about to refrain.

“That was a waste of my skills, so I came here,” Kavanagh told him, voice snotty with arrogance.

Rodney winced internally. He could only pray he had never sounded as stuck up as his subordinate, but he was a realist. He had likely sounded worse over far more stupid things. “I wouldn’t have assigned you the job if it wasn’t important, Kavanagh. You should get back to it.”

“Yeah, right, I’m sure.” Kavanagh’s sneer was firmly in place. “But this is where the discoveries are, and I’m not going let you sideline me again!”

“You need to leave. Now, Dr. Kavanagh,” Rodney stepped into the room, and Kavanagh backed up a step. He was right in front of a console, and Rodney noticed there was a computer attached to it. He couldn’t see what was on the screen and had no idea if the computer was still crunching data or not. Kavanagh had the gene but had never had much luck in using it.

Sheppard walked up beside him and cocked his head to the side. “Weren’t the desalination tanks a 911 repair? Otherwise, we won’t have fresh water for the tanks supplying our drinking and cooking needs?”

“Yes,” Rodney agreed before leveling a glare at Kavanagh. “Dr. Kavanagh was just leaving to attend to that.”

“Fine!” Kavanagh huffed before grabbing his computer.

As his fingers grazed the console, it lit up like an Ancient Christmas tree, and Rodney found himself lunging forward, Sheppard at his side. “No!”



Chapter One



Rodney woke himself up with a shout and rolled out of bed. The drop was only six inches, but it was enough to bring him to complete consciousness when he hit the ground. Panting in remembered terror, he tried to get his pulse under control before he opened his eyes.

He wasn’t in his room on Atlantis. Looking around, he thumped his head against the floor under him. He was back in the Ancient Outpost.

“What the actual fuck?” Rodney asked the air around him. Reaching out, he tried to get a status report from the Outpost and then cursed as he wasn’t able to reach beyond his own mind. No dice. Thumping his head on the floor again, he sighed. He didn’t have the active ATA gene. Since he had been using it less than an hour before on Atlantis… He was at the Outpost, and that had to mean Earth and time travel.

“I’m going to kill that stupid bastard,” Rodney muttered as he rolled to his feet and headed for his computers. Flipping open the first one, he checked the date and winced. He really was back in the Outpost and it was the day Carson had almost shot down Sheppard.

“Son of a bitch. This is not what I wanted from that discussion,” Rodney groaned. He didn’t want a Mulligan to use one of the terms Sheppard had used regarding his stupid golf game. His alarm started beeping so he shut that off and stretched before grabbing his shower kit. He had the workarounds in place to let him use the shower, so getting clean was easy. Rodney shrugged into his orange fleece and gave it a nice pet. He had missed it while on Atlantis.

Checking his watch, he saw he had three hours before Sheppard was due. He didn’t have the time he wanted for a full on screaming fit, so he pushed that need to the side. Rodney promised himself one later.

Breathing in, he let the breath out like Teyla had taught him. It galled him that he was going to have to allow Carson to shoot at Sheppard with a drone. But he didn’t have the time to rearrange events to so O’Neill would pull Sheppard down to the Outpost without the possible danger. He would have to trust that the major would take advantage of the insanity to sit down in the chair and start events rolling.

Rodney drew in a deep breath, stepped out of his room, and headed for the temporary café they had set up. He needed food and coffee before he could get anything started. Refueled and caffeinated, he started for the center of the Outpost.

“Carson, you Scottish witch doctor! I need you to sit in the chair so I can run diagnostics,” he called as he made his way past the med lab after his breakfast.

“I am not going to sit in that chair, you daft bastard!” Carson bellowed back.

“Yes you will!” Rodney called before walking into the chair room. It was an automatic habit to try to reach out to the computers to get a status report. Nothing. The feeling that he was missing something grated on him and Rodney counted to ten in Ancient, French, and English. It didn’t help.

Rodney knew exactly what he was missing, and it was driving him mad already. He had spent three years intimately connected to Atlantis and her systems, and he was already missing the connection. He was surrounded by Ancient equipment, and he could use none of it without assistance. He was going to have to make sure Carson gave him the gene therapy sooner rather than later.

Humming softly, Rodney plugged his computer into the chair before settling in to examine the database. It was an effort not to wander in the directions he knew held some of the answers they were looking for. As much as he had a reputation for brilliance, springing answers on everyone without the steps leading to them would be suspicious.

Rodney cycled through the diagnostic screens he had access to and tapped a finger against several readings. He could tell, from the years of future awareness he had, that the Ancient equipment was trying to connect to him, but was stymied by his inactive gene. That meant he needed someone with an active version of it to get him in.

“Carson!” Rodney tipped his head back and bellowed.

It had been years since he had given himself license to be this much of an asshole, and it was actually kind of fun. He would have to be careful, though. There were only a few people he really wanted to make cry. The rest of his minions needed to come through the next few months intact.

“What do you want, you horrible man?” Carson bitched, his Scots’ accent thickening with his irritation.

Rodney waved at the chair in explanation. “I need you to just sit in it and think ‘on.’”

The look Carson gave him was deeply suspicious. “Sure you do. Just think ‘on’ and not get into any of the systems?”

“No, no deep system work right at this moment,” Rodney soothed. “I don’t want you to shoot anything right now. I just need to check out the initiation sequence for the weapons systems.”

“I am not launching anything!” Carson yelped, stopping his descent into the chair.

“And I’m not asking you to!” Rodney told him. And he wasn’t asking. He had just made sure that he had primed the pump the same way he had before, by making Carson aware of the possibility of being able to launch something. He was quite sure the thought would stick. The Scotsman was easy to manipulate that way, and he did feel a small bit of guilt over it.

Rodney walked Carson through the turn-on sequence. Testing that took them a half an hour and, by then, Carson was much more relaxed since they went no further. Only when the man wasn’t looking like he would bolt did Rodney try to get into the more interesting areas.

It was slow going to get Carson to go down the path to get into the weapons database. Rodney knew all the information he was getting into thanks to his years on Atlantis, but the path to the information needed to be officially recorded. Not everyone could be him, so leaving them directions was only to the good.

As he called out the next set of directions, Rodney saw Grodin enter his lab. The Englishman had pulled one of the drones from the storage under the Outpost to dissect. Grodin had just started his project, and the drone was still in one piece.

“Carson. I want you to back out of the database and access the targeting systems. Do not try to fire anything, just access it,” Rodney directed, eyes on his computer as the data changed.

“What?” Carson yelped. “I’m a doctor, not a soldier! I don’t actually do weapons. Why are you making me deal with them?”

“Because those weapons are why we know this place exists, you sheep-loving twit! And you are the only person I have access to with an active ATA gene, Carson,” Rodney snapped. “I don’t want you to fire anything, just access it. Stop being such a lily-livered wuss. Besides yourself, the only other person who can actually get into the more interesting bits is O’Neill, and he’s not here.”

Rodney raised his eyes from the screen to glare at his friend, Carson glared right back. “Glaring at me isn’t going to get me to change my mind,” Rodney assured the Scot.

“Makes me feel better, though,” Carson muttered, his accent thick with irritation. “And calling me names isn’t going to make me want to work with you. All it does is get my back up.”

“Oh, I know. But when I call you those names, you actually push past whatever has made you pause. If only to prove me wrong,” Rodney explained, amused.

Carson groaned at that. “I hate you so damn much.”

On his computer screen, Rodney saw the path Carson was taking as he made his way towards the weapons systems. It was actually fascinating to see how Carson moved through the Ancient computers. The Scot was confident and sure in his movements, right up until he hit the edges of anything warlike. Then he pulled back and tiptoed his way forward.

It was a very different experience to what he remembered of Sheppard’s handling of the same systems.

Rodney had a small window open on his computer showing the airspace around the Outpost and the helicopter carrying O’Neill and Sheppard. The helicopter was on a straight path towards the Outpost. As the aircraft ferrying the two ATA carriers crossed the twenty-five-mile marker, the targeting systems lit up, and Carson yelped.

“What the fuck is that?” Carson demanded.

“A helicopter is coming into the Outpost,” Rodney soothed. “Nothing to worry about.”

“The Outpost is tracking it,” Carson explain, voice distant. He fell silent for several seconds before he drew in a sharp breath. “Oh, bugger.”

“What did you do?” Rodney demanded. Variables in decisions and the effects of the changes in time could mean a very different outcome from what he remembered. In no way, shape, or form did he want to be caviler with Sheppard’s life. Whatever Carson had done, it wasn’t like he had remembered from the first timeline.

“Oh, bugger,” Carson repeated as they both heard Grodin shout in surprise from his lab.

Rodney poked his head out of the arch and watched the golden squid form of an Ancient drone go up the hallway and towards the elevator shaft “Carson, shut that thing down!”

“What thing?” Carson demanded.

Rodney looked over at Carson, absolutely shocked at his friend’s ignorance. “You launched a drone, you Scottish witch doctor! Shut it down!”

“I did?” Carson looked horrified at the thought.

“Yes! Now shut it down!” Rodney repeated as he strode across the room to his computer. A single tap of a key pulled up the Outpost’s intruder alert system. The dot he knew was Sheppard’s helicopter was circled in the amber color the Ancients used for enemies, and the drone was a yellow streak heading for it at top speed.

“Fuck,” Rodney muttered before he strode to the side of the control chair and leaned into Carson’s field of view. “There is a helicopter coming in. The drone you launched is headed directly for it. If you don’t shut it down, right now, you will have killed at least two people. Do you understand, Carson? Shut it down. Now!”

Carson closed his eyes, and his brow furrowed. Rodney glanced at his computer and saw Carson was working his way back to the weapons systems. But he wasn’t sure he would make it.

One hand reached up and brushed his fingers against his bare ear. No comms unit. And he had no way of reaching out to Sheppard.

“Carson, concentrate!” Rodney barked. “Get into the systems that run that drone and turn it off.”

“I can’t!” Carson almost wailed.

“You can!” Rodney insisted. He sure hadn’t come back in time for Sheppard to die in a stupid accident.

Carson moaned softly before his brow scrunched up. Rodney spared a glance at his computer. The drone was slowing down. Maybe Carson was going to come out ahead?

“Someone is taking control of the drone,” Carson yelped.

“Are they shutting the drone down?” Rodney demanded.

“I…” Carson fell silent for several seconds. “Yes! The drone is shutting down now.”

Rodney looked back at the computer and saw the yellow streak of the drone blink out. It was just short of the amber dot. He could only hope Sheppard had shut the damn thing down.

Turning back to Carson, he gazed into the blue eyes of his friend. “Okay. Now make sure you label the helicopter as an allowed vehicle.”

“Right, “Carson murmured before closing his eyes. “I apparently don’t have the authorization? The computers won’t let me change anything.”

Shit. Rodney could only assume Sheppard and his super!ATA gene had made a long distance impression on the Outpost, and Carson just wasn’t Ancient enough. “Okay, pull out of the system and shut it down.”

Carson flinched and Rodney sighed before he pushed himself up and away from the chair. Carson didn’t need him in his face anymore, and he was sure there would be tons of questions asked. There had been the last time.

“I’m out,” Carson announced before pushing his way out of the Chair. “I’m not doing that again!”

“And who will we get to do diagnostics?” Rodney called as Carson hauled ass back to his lab.

“I don’t bloody care, you great bloody arse!” Carron bellowed over his shoulder before the door to the lab shut with a sharp snap.

“Well fuck,” Rodney muttered. Pushing Carson past his comfort zone was never a smart thing, and he knew that from all the times he had, both past and future.

“Why did we launch a drone, Rodney?” Weir demanded. “I just got news that General O’Neill would be arriving later than expected due to being fired upon!”

“Carson and I were doing diagnostics, and apparently we fired a drone at a helicopter,” Rodney reported. “It’s been brought down with no casualties.”

“You don’t have the gene, Rodney. How could you have been part of firing a drone?” Weir asked, voice showing her disbelief and amusement.

Rodney glanced at her and frowned. Weir had a look on her face that seemed to imply she was amused at something even as she expressed her disbelief. What was amusing about a drone being launched?

“Because Carson and I were mapping the way to the targeting systems,” Rodney explained. He kept an eye on her reaction and almost growled as she smiled at him. It had taken him time, but he had finally learned that she was patronizing him when she gave him that look.

“It bothers you that he has the ATA gene and you don’t, doesn’t it?” she asked, seeming to actually care. He had to remember not to get sucked in at the pretense. It had been a painful lesson to learn that Weir wasn’t emotionally invested in anyone.

Three years of hard-won lessons in Pegasus paid off, and Rodney didn’t let his emotions get the better of him. He wasn’t the same man who had originally allowed himself to be flattered and manipulated into doing what the expedition leader wanted. “I’m only missing the activator gene, Elizabeth,” he reminded her. “And once Carson gets his ATA therapy up and running, we’ll see how long that lasts.”

“But as of right now, you don’t have the full thing,” Weir reminded him. She seemed happy to rub that fact in. “And there’s nothing to say that he’ll get the therapy going anytime soon.”

“No. But that’s not the point right now,” Rodney reminded her. “Based on sensor data, the helicopter landed safely and the drone was deactivated. However, I would like confirmation of that.”

“So would I,” Jackson chimed in.

Rodney glanced over at the archeologist and froze. The normally mild-mannered soft scientist was glaring at him with murder in his eyes. He was reminded, again, that Jackson was not harmless. He was actually as much of a soldier as Sheppard and just as deadly.

“They were fine when I checked, Dr. Jackson,” Weir said. She didn’t even look at the archeologist as she reported the survival of the general and his pilot. “I’m more interested in how the drone was activated.”

“Oh, I’m interested in that, too,” Jackson confirmed. He hadn’t taken his eyes off of Rodney.

“Same,” Rodney admitted. “I haven’t had a chance to check and, unless my computer recorded the changes, we’re going to have to wait until we get an ATA-positive person in the chair to run the correct diagnostics. While I can check with my computers, I might not get all the information.”

“Check your computers,” Jackson ordered.

“I’m in charge of the Outpost, Dr. Jackson,” Weir reminded him. “I give the orders here.”

“I don’t really care, Dr. Weir. Rodney, check why the targeting system went for a helicopter after ignoring them for the last ten months,” Jackson told him.

Weir huffed in annoyance. Jackson was the highest-ranking civilian in the SGC, and Weir wasn’t with them anymore. She was officially with the IOA, and while the Atlantis Expedition was under their aegis, the SGC also had a hand in it too. Thus, Jackson still had a lot of pull when he wanted to use it. Anyone who ignored that did so at their own peril.

Rodney nodded before he moved back into the chair room and picked up his laptop. Glancing at the chair, he took in the very faint blue glow emanating from the panels. It wasn’t because of him and his currently inactive gene, and Weir had no Ancient ancestry at all. That left Jackson.

He couldn’t remember if the archeologist had ever been tested for the ATA gene. Jackson had ascended once and would be again in the future. The whole ascension process changed a person mentally and physically. He just wasn’t certain if ascension gave a person access to Ancient tech.

The results of his query came up, and he signed in relief. The whole thing was just shitty luck. Nothing more sinister than that.

“Nothing sinister or negligent, Dr. Jackson,” Rodney reported. “Just the Outpost had an ATA controller in the chair, a drone was ‘out,’ and there was an unidentified aircraft incoming. The whole thing was a mishap.”

“Uh-huh,” Jackson murmured before moving to stand in front of the chair.

“Well, that’s good to know,” Weir told them. “I’m sure it must burn that you weren’t able to fix this when it happened, Rodney. Shall I ask Carson to test you for the third time?”

“No,” Rodney said, a bit sour. Not having the gene was driving him nuts. More so now than when he had been in this time before because, as far as he was concerned, he’d had it yesterday. Not having it was like missing an essential sensory organ.

Laughing, Weir walked out, heading back to wherever she perched when she wasn’t looking over everyone’s shoulders.

Rodney kept an eye on the archeologist as he closed his computer down and unhooked the leads from the crystal array that constituted the Ancient control system. “What’s on your mind, Dr. Jackson.”

“Does she always talk to you like that?” he asked.

That was not the question he had been expecting. “Yes.”

“Interesting,” Jackson murmured before glancing over his shoulder at the empty archway. “I’m gonna try something. Don’t freak out.”

“What?” Was all Rodney got out before Jackson sat down in the chair.

Two things happened at the same time. The chair lit with a deep blue color, and Jackson lit up with a golden light. Rodney swallowed heavily. The last time he had seen that color gold had been when he had almost ascended.

“If you ascend, O’Neill is going to lose his damn mind,” Rodney growled. He was shooting quick looks at the archway, but no one seemed to notice what Jackson was up to.

“I’m not gonna ascend today, McKay. I have too much keeping me here,” Jackson sounded distracted. “Got it.”

“Got what?”

“I just accessed the gate address for Atlantis and made sure the Outpost won’t shoot down any more of our helicopters,” Jackson reported.

“I thought you were working on the address by going through the database? Or reading some rocks or something?” Rodney asked, confused. Was this how Jackson had done it before?

“This was faster,” Jackson said with a shrug. “Also Jack and a second strong ATA active person are about a mile out. We should go meet them.”

“And when did you get the ATA gene?” Rodney pressed.

“I don’t have it,” Jackson told him blithely. The chair spun on its axis and the archeologist stepped out of it. “I guess ascension gave me a pass.”

“Ascension gave you a pass?” Rodney repeated. “Jackson, are you trying to break the universe by being the epicenter of the weird and unusual happenstances?”

“No, it just seems to come naturally,” Jackson replied, an absent smile on his face.

“You’re a menace,” Rodney announced as he quickly hooked the leads to his computer back into the Ancient crystal array. The boot up for his laptop took longer than he wanted. Three years apparently made a big difference in computer speeds and he officially hated that. As soon as he had access, he checked the Outpost.

There were no errors in the system.

“Nothing’s wrong is there?” Jackson asked.

“You’re an asshole, Jackson,” Rodney snapped, patience strained.

“Takes one to know one, McKay,” Jackson sing-songed softly. “Jack will be down soon and I want to get the information on the board before arrives. Also, frankly, once Jack’s down here, I’m sure he’s going to do his best to avoid the chair. My little jaunt into controlling it may just slip on by.”

The urge to laugh was strong. O’Neill’s expression of the ATA gene was second only to Sheppard. And if the general was as sensitive to Ancient equipment? It was incredibly likely that the whole system would just report all the secrets Jackson wanted to keep quiet.

“I don’t think you’re going to be that lucky,” Rodney confided.

“Given my track record, you’re likely right,” Jackson allowed.

“Get going.” Rodney waved his hand in a dismissive gesture.

Waving his own hand in his own abbreviated good-bye, Jackson took off for the room he had co-opted for his own use.

Scrubbing his hands over his face, Rodney tried to make sense of what had just learned. Jackson was hiding a number of interesting things behind his big blue eyes.

Checking his watch, he nodded. He needed to get some coffee then he needed to wait for Sheppard. He had his mental fingers crossed that the man heading his direction was his Sheppard.

Pushing his mental breakdown to the back of his mind, Rodney disconnected his computer and made sure his coffee cup was in hand as he set out. He didn’t have time to be a drama queen.












Chapter Two


John Sheppard was having an utterly shit day.

Waking up in his old quarters in McMurdo had not been what he was expecting. After an accident on Atlantis, he was used to waking up in the infirmary with Carson and his special brand of mother-henning. McMurdo was not the Ancient base he had called home for three years, and he hated it.

To add insult to injury, he woke up on the same morning he had almost been shot down by a glowing squid. If McKay hadn’t come back with him, John was going to be pissed. Nothing else would do make up for letting himself get shot at.

He’d gone through his morning routine and then inspected his helicopter. For him, it had been years since he had been in one, and he needed the refresher. John patted the side of the craft as he finished looking it over.

“So, I hear you’re my ride, Major?”

John turned to look at O’Neill. The general looked good, less stressed than when he had last seen him. Saluting sharply, John nodded. “Yes, sir, I am.”

O’Neill returned the salute before he looked up at the copter and sighed. “I hate the snow.”

John smiled. “I like it down here. It’s calm.”

“It’s cold,” O’Neill bitched as he climbed into the cockpit.

“Yes, sir, it sure is,” John agreed as he checked the buckles after the general had strapped in.

Making his way around the helicopter, he ran one hand over its metal skin. Flying without the mental component was going to be so weird. But he was confident that he would be able to do it. Once in the pilot’s seat, John got his flight helmet on and started the pre-flights.

It was only after they were up in the air and headed for the Ancient Outpost that John blinked and thought things over. Had he ever introduced himself to the general? He couldn’t remember doing it when he had been through this the first time, and he sure hadn’t today.

“Sir, we are thirty minutes out from our destination. Do you want me to stay on site?” John asked as they neared the Outpost.

He could just barely feel the tingle that meant an active Ancient installation was near. It made something in him relax. John had found that he yearned for the hum of Ancient tech when it was missing from his environment.

From the way O’Neill stiffened and gave the horizon a sharp glance, he was feeling it as well.. “Yeah, you’ll be on site. I’m only going to be there for about six hours.”

“Roger that, sir,” John confirmed. His eyes were scanning the horizon because he remembered when the drone had happened. And…

“Son of a bitch!” O’Neill bit out as John rolled the helicopter into an angled dive that made the engines whine from the stress.

“Yes, sir,” John gritted out between clenched teeth. He had to remember that the helicopter wasn’t going to respond to his thoughts, nor was it capable of the same maneuvers a jumper could pull. The sheer mechanical movements of flying took concentration, especially when you were trying not to die. He could only hope O’Neill was shutting the damn drone down because he was too damn busy to try.

The ancient weapon headed straight for them, and he tilted them to the side. The drone passed just under the left skid and John took a chance and reached out, trying to shut the damn thing off. Nothing. It was like it had been locked.

The drone looped around and John exhaled before dropping them sharply. As soon as the skids hit the compacted snow, he threw the switches to turn the rotors off. If the drone had been coming for them because they were in its airspace, grounding the chopper was the best bet.

John had no idea why the damn thing had launched, and he was kicking himself for not finding out why it had fired the last time. He was going to make certain he knew why there had been a launch this time.

It felt like forever, but his watch was telling him they had been on the ground for only a minute. A minute was a long damn time for an Ancient drone not to kill them. O’Neill was staring out the glass at the empty snow-scape before them. John took a deep breath and pulled on his clueless hat. “Sir? That thing may be gone. Should I warm us back up?”

“No,” O’Neill murmured. “Wait for it.”

John tilted his head, trying to get a sense of the drone. He really hadn’t interacted much with the devices on Atlantis. Most of the time he’d had to use them, he had interfaced with them through a jumper or the command chair. Guiding them through the targeting systems was completely different than dealing with one directly.

“Here it comes!” O’Neill announced before exiting the helicopter.

Given that he didn’t want to deal with freezing cold snow in his flight suit again, John hopped out and beat feet, making sure not to actually dive into the snow this time. The drone burst out of the snow and made a beeline for the general. It felt…eager. Right before the yellow squid world have impacted against O’Neill and killed him, it shut down.

John let out a breath and walked around the nose of his ride to stare at it. “Uhm, that’s weird,” he offered.

“For me? Not as much as you would think,” O’Neill said with a sigh. “Have you got a beacon we can put on this thing?”

“Yes, sir. One locator beacon coming up,“ John said as he opened the rear door to the helicopter. At the assenting sound the general made, he rummaged through the emergency kit until he could grab it. Beacon found, John handed it to the general and watched as he expertly switched it on and planted it on the drone.

“Right. Let’s get moving. I need to find out what the fuck that was,” O’Neill ordered, voice grim. His expression was no better.

“Yes, sir!”

The rest of the flight was quiet, and when they readied the landing pad, John made a point of making a perfect landing.

As the rotors wound down, the general stared at him before nodding once. “Come on, Sheppard. Let’s see what caused that thing to aim for us.”

John nodded back and took a spot behind and to the right of O’Neill as they moved towards the elevator. The trip was long, and John indulged his inner kid and peeked down the length of the elevator shaft. “Holy shit,” he breathed out.

“It’s somewhere close to a mile down,” O’Neill told him with a small smile.

“What in the world is the Air Force doing a mile below the Antarctic ice, sir?” John asked.

Given his genetics, it was basically a sure bet he was going to get back into the SGC, so he was going to ask all the questions he had ignored the last time. Fuck not rocking the boat. Ignorance had not served him well. He was going to be the most well-informed major ever.

“Things that would blow your mind,” O’Neill promised. “When we get down there, don’t touch anything.”

“Touch? Sir?” John tried to look confused.

“Yeah, no matter how much you want to, don’t touch anything. Especially if it’s embedded in a wall,” O’Neill confirmed. “And even if it asks nicely. Maybe especially if it asks nicely.”

“If you say so, sir.”

The cage they were riding in came to a slow halt, and John waited until he could feel the brake engage to open the gate to let the general out. Jackson was waiting in the same place he had been last time and seemed to be genuinely excited to see O’Neill.

John ignored most of their conversation. He was doing his best to keep the Outpost from rolling over and greeting him like a puppy. While most of his attention was on that, he was also looking for McKay.

“Sheppard, don’t touch anything. I’ve got a meeting,” O’Neill called as he was herded down a hallway.

John nodded once but then mentally shrugged. Given how many times the general had repeated himself, John was reasonably certain O’Neill wanted him to touch everything. He just had to make sure to touch the right things. He needed to attract the correct sort of attention after all.

“Radek, I am not sitting in that death trap ever again!” Carson’s brogue cut the silence of the hallway easily. “I can’t be trusted not to make a hash of things, and if Rodney thinks you’ll soften me up, he’s not actually the smartest man on the planet.”

Snorting softly in amusement, John followed the sound to the chair room. Radek had Carson cornered against one wall and was trying to talk him around. John could have told him to save his breath, but he officially knew neither of them.

“Were you the one who launched the squid thing at the general and me?” John asked. He felt a small amount of vindictive satisfaction as Carson paled and then flushed.

“I…” Carson started and then took a deep breath. “We’re working with technology we barely understand from a people who disappeared from this planet almost ten thousand years ago. That we’ve been able to understand anything about them has been a miracle!”

And there was the spew of secrets that led to all sorts of things being revealed. “What? Ten-thousand-year-old tech? I thought we only had the wheel about then?”

“You don’t know?” Carson asked before sharing a pointed look with Radek. “Don’t touch anything. We don’t know what will happen if you do.”

John stepped further into the room as the Scot spoke. He was only a few feet away from his goal. “Why is everyone telling me not to touch anything?”

“The technology I was talking about has a mental component,” Carson told him absently. He was studying John intensely. “You’ve never been briefed? Are you even cleared to be here?”

“Nope,” John made sure to pop the ‘p’. Carson was being a loose-lipped idiot, intent on sinking the SGC’s ship, and he was going to drive that home. Hard. OPSEC was going to be the name of the game as soon as he got any position with the expedition.

John walked over to the chair and stood looking at it. Glancing to either side, he sighed. Neither Carson nor Radek were attempting to keep him out of the chair, so he slid into easily. The Ancient tech welcomed him with open arms, and John tried not to giggle in relief. One thing was still going right.

“Holy shit!” Carson yelped as the chair lit up and started to recline.

Hovno,” Radek muttered before he started to hook a computer into the crystal array. John was certain the Czech was taking readings brought on by a new person sitting in the chair.

“Grodin! Get McKay!” Carson bellowed before turning back to John. “I told you not to touch!”

“I just sat down!” John protested for form. He had to make the protest look real, and it took what little acting skills he had. “Who knew that would lead to this?”

“Major, think about where we are in the galaxy,” McKay’s voice cut through the gathering babble.

And that was different. The image of the sol system slotting into place was easy enough to find and project. While everyone was busy staring up at the hologram, John was looking at McKay.

The scientist was watching him, and he raised one eyebrow at how the Canadian was eyeing him. “What?”

“Who would have thought the fluffy-haired idiot O’Neill brought down was useful?” McKay asked.

John suppressed the urge to sigh in relief. That was McKay’s favorite insult for him, and he was doing his level best not to snark back. He wasn’t alone.

















Chapter Three


It took hours. O’Neill canceled his return trip and filed plans that would keep them in place for two days. Then the general had basically given him to McKay and his minions. John wasn’t sure if he wanted to short sheet the man for that or not. The Outpost liked him a lot; it might let him into O’Neill’s room.

McKay was in a tizzy, and John just sat in the chair and let him go. Most of the faces that cycled in and out of the chair room were familiar, and he had to restrain himself from smiling in welcome. He hadn’t even minded when Carson had come in and played vampire. He was surprised at how pleased he was to see the start of McKay’s science corps.

John wasn’t all that thrilled at being trapped in multiple conversations by Elizabeth Weir. She had started her campaign when he had been ‘discovered’ sitting in the chair and continued it hourly after that. Her heavy-handed tactics were annoying as hell when seen for a second time.

“Dr. Weir. How can I help you?” John asked as she stood and stared at him as he did light switch duty. He had the Outpost ordnance list hanging overhead, and Grodin was taking copious notes.

“I was wondering if you had considered my offer?” she asked. A small smile curved her lips.

John felt slightly uneasy at her expression, and he couldn’t really figure out why. “I’ve been a bit busy, Dr. Weir, so the answer is currently no. Do you have the précis for the mission? I’d like to know what I’m being asked to sign up for.”

Weir’s smile got a bit stiff, and John made a mental note of it. He really needed to talk to McKay. “While I know the general has given the okay for you to sit in the chair, I don’t know if we can do that. It might be above your current security clearance. I’m sure that once you sign on, we can get that updated.”

“Give him the information,” O’Neill broke in from the archway. He was with Jackson and had a cup of steaming coffee in hand. “His clearance has been bumped up, and I’m not comfortable with anyone being ignorant. This mission is strictly voluntary, and I won’t allow you to pressure anyone.”

The look Weir gave O’Neill was vaguely poisonous, and John sighed. He had been an oblivious ass in the last timeline. “If possible, could I get the TOE for the military half? Sir?”

“Why do you need to know about toes?” Weir asked, confused. “What do toes have to do with anything?”

It was only the need to keep his hands on the interface pads that kept John from facepalming. How in the hell did the woman not know the most basic of things about the military arm of the expedition? But it did explain how fucked up everything had been.

“TOE, or the Tables of Organization and Equipment, are the lists of everything concerning a unit. They cover supplies, the capabilities of the troops, mission essential personnel and equipment, and a whole lot more,” O’Neill explained, expression pained as Jackson stole his coffee. “McKay! Do you have a spare tablet for the major?”

John turned his head to look at McKay. He was watching Weir with the same look he gave Wraith tech, disgusted but fascinated. When the general repeated his question, the scientist blinked once before nodding,

“Yes, I can get him one this evening. What do you want it loaded with?” McKay asked.

O’Neill met John’s eyes, and he could see the calculations going on behind his neutral gaze. The general wasn’t stupid, and getting anything by him was going to be hard. “Give him everything. Official, unofficial, and all the shit you’ve hacked. Plus, the mission reports for the SGC and the gossip chains on the servers I’m not supposed to know about.”

“That’s a lot of files, General,” McKay warned. “And, unless his reading speed is in the thousands of words per minute, it will take him weeks to catch up.”

“I’ve got a decent reading speed, McKay,” John protested. And he had read most of the files before. He would basically be skimming them for anything he had missed before. And he needed to know what was going on with the expedition.

“I have faith Sheppard will be able to catch up. Make sure the tablet is secure,” O’Neill directed.

“Are you sure it’s wise to give him that much access?” John heard Jackson murmur to O’Neill, in Ancient. John was glad he had taken the time to learn it.

“Yeah, I am,” O’Neill returned in the same language. “The expedition is stupidly light on officers, and Sheppard will fit in fine. And he may see things that more habituated eyes miss.”

“Cynic,” Jackson observed.

“Yes,” O’Neill agreed. John was doing his best to keep his expression blank, but it was hard. Subterfuge had never been his best skill.

“It will take me about a half hour to get the tablet together,” McKay reported. “Maybe the major could wrap up what he’s doing by then?”

Grodin’s gentle English accent cut through the room at that point. “I’m done. If the major is willing to come back after a meal, we can get into some of the more esoteric systems.”

“Sure thing, doc, if the general doesn’t have something else for me to do,” John agreed. “Hey, can anyone tell me if this is important? It’s been nudging at me for the last few minutes.”

A picture of Atlantis appeared over their heads. John could tell the picture wasn’t real time, since the city was underwater and the one in the image was in sunshine. But it did show his city in all her glory, and he couldn’t wait to get back. He was going to make sure everything was different.

“What’s that?” Weir asked. She sounded fascinated.

“I’ve been getting pinged with the image,” John told her. “The computer is saying something about getting a resupply for Primas Civitatis, Atlantis.”

“First City, Atlantis,” Jackson translated, eyes on the hologram rotating over their heads. “It’s beautiful.”

John glanced away from the hologram and looked at McKay. The scientist was looking at him with a raised eyebrow. John tilted his head to the side and raised an eyebrow back in query. At Jackson’s words, he broke their stare and smiled at the archeologist.

“If Dr. Weir is right, there’s going to be an expedition headed out there. You could join them,” John suggested. He felt his eyes glaze as he got a mass of information on what the city needed. He shunted the information to a corner of the database to be found in the morning.

“If this thing is like what the SGC has gone through, we’ll need someone with tact and the ability to understand the soft sciences,” McKay agreed.

“Not happening,” O’Neill jumped in. He looked faintly alarmed at John’s offer.

Jackson shook his head once. “As much as I want to go, Rodney, something tells me I’m needed here. But it’s beautiful. And I’ll get out there eventually.”

“I’m sure you will,” McKay agreed. “Just don’t try any weird alien tech out and ascend again. I don’t think we’re going to be set up for squid scientists.”

“I’m not planning on ascending, Rodney,” Jackson protested.

“To be fair, you didn’t plan on ascending the first time either,” O’Neill observed. “Don’t touch anything new for a while,” he ordered the archeologist.

“Really? I don’t think that’s going to work, Jack,” Jackson told him, obviously amused.

John’s stomach growled at that point, and he sighed. “I’m hungry. Can we wrap this up?”

“Yes,” O’Neill confirmed. “Get out of the chair.”

“Yes, sir,” John agreed and shut down his access. Getting out of the chair caused a small head rush. He had been sitting in it for hours at that point, and he needed a moment while he got used to the change in position. John stood still and took a deep breath before the room steadied. “Okay. If I am going to be doing that again later, I’m going to be getting out of it every hour. I don’t want to pass out when I try and stand up again.”

“Good call,” O’Neill agreed. “The Ancients did not build that thing for comfort.”

“It’s designed to interact with the greatest number of nerves possible and still provide minimal comfort,” McKay explained. “That’s why it’s got sensors around your head and down the spine.”

“The comfort is less than minimal,” O’Neill chimed in. “My ass falls asleep every time I get into it. A plain rock would be more comfortable.”

“A rock, Jack? The rock doesn’t have as much use as this thing,” Jackson protested.

“Some of yours have, Danny,” O’Neill said before he clapped his hands together and waved them at the archway. “Let’s get moving people.”

John moved into place behind O’Neill and waited until the general had started moving to glance over at McKay. The Outpost had already informed him of where the Canadian’s room was, so he planned on paying the man a visit after hours.

“I’ll meet you in the café with the tablet, Major,” McKay called.

“With me, Major,” O’Neill said.

The trip up to the dome was silent, and John took the time to clear his head. Accessing Ancient tech for too long was like being in the best VR environment ever. He always felt like there was more of himself when he was interfacing with the chair. And returning to his own skin was like donning a too tight flight suit. He had learned to adjust to the sensation, but it was always weird at first.

The mess was standard military with boring, bland food. John accepted a helping of everything that he could identify, plus a bottle of water and took a seat at the table O’Neill directed him to. When Jackson slid into place next to the general, John was surprised to see faint lines of tension in the older man’s face relax. He had to wonder if the rumors he had heard about the two of them were true.

“At least you’ve got something on your tray beyond coffee,” O’Neill observed before pulling the coffee cup out of Jackson’s hands. “Food first, then coffee.”

“You are such a mother hen, Jack,” Jackson muttered before starting in on his meal.

“You forget to eat if you aren’t reminded, Daniel. The coffee will still be there after,” the general muttered back before taking a bite of his meal. From the grimace he gave, it wasn’t that great.

John took a bite of his own meal and mentally sighed. The food sucked. He was really going to have to make sure to find someone who could cook, and cook well, to come on the expedition.

When Weir joined them, the relaxed air between the general and Jackson disappeared. John took another bite of the substandard food and tried to keep his expression bland.

“Major, I think you’ll make an excellent addition to the expedition,” Weir pressed. “I hope you make up your mind quickly. Having someone with your expression of the ATA gene could make all the difference.”

“Dr. Weir, you’ve stated your case. As a matter of fact, you’ve overstated your case,” the general cut in before she could press him further. “He’ll have to make the decision on staying or going without any more undue pressure from you.”

John took another bite. He was staying out of the power play between O’Neill and Weir. It hadn’t served him well at all when he had butted in the last time. Weir’s high-handedness had gotten Sumner’s back up, and he was hoping to avoid that this time.

“Without the major and his gene, things will be much more difficult once we get to Atlantis,” Weir protested. “You’ve seen how the Outpost reacts to him!”

He’s sitting right beside you, Dr. Weir,” Jackson sniped. “And as Jack has reminded you, this mission is volunteer only. Press-ganging people into going is not in the cards.”

Weir reared back as if she had been slapped. John had no sympathy. While he hadn’t exactly been press-ganged in the last timeline, he had been pressured. He had forgiven O’Neill for his part in the whole process. He had learned to live with Weir’s actions.

“But—” she protested.

“Leave it be, Dr. Weir,” O’Neill interjected sharply. “Nagging and pushing isn’t going to get us on your side any faster. If the major wants to go, he’ll make up his mind just like every other military asset. By being fully informed.”

Weir didn’t say anything for several seconds and then nodded before she left the table. John didn’t sigh in relief, but he wanted to. How had he missed her shit the last time?

“She’s a bit pushy,” John commented. “Is this ATA thing really that important?”

The general rolled his eyes as Jackson launched into an explanation of the ATA gene and why it was important. Most of it he already knew, but the news about how the gene affected intelligence and longevity was a surprise. It did explain some things about his family, however.

“Major, your tablet,” McKay told him before dropping his tray on the table where Weir had been. He was a bit gentler with the tablet.

“Thank you, Doctor,” John told him, voice dry. He poked at the little machine and suppressed the urge to pick it up. He was relatively certain McKay had put a password on it, and he wasn’t supposed to be able to guess it.

“Are you going to give him the password so he can get into it?” O’Neill asked as he drank his coffee.

McKay waved one hand as if he was explaining something before he pulled a piece of paper out of a pocket. The numbers and letters making up the password were random looking, and John dutifully worked on memorizing it. It was easy enough. His date of birth and the date they had been thrown back in time from, all converted into the Ancient calendar.

“How much reading do I have ahead of me, Doctor?” John asked, morbidly curious.

“Gigabytes if you read every single thing that’s ever been produced by the SGC. But the important stuff is in a file folder titled ‘Main Timeline’, and that’s just under a gig,” McKay told him after he swallowed. “And that’s not counting the video files.”

“Jesus,” John muttered as he poked at the tablet. McKay had everything ordered by year and John opened the oldest file first. It wasn’t from when he was expecting at all. He had no idea the Stargate program had existed in 1945.

“Don’t get lost in those reports yet, Major,” O’Neill warned.

“Yes, sir,” John said automatically. He pulled his attention away from 1945 back to his current time.

“If you decide to go, it has to be your decision. We have no idea what you will find on the other side of the gate,” O’Neill told him. “If your experience is anything like mine, you’ll find friends, enemies, and enough horror to populate your nightmares for the rest of your life. But to offset that will be sights that are so beautiful you won’t know how you got through your day not having seen them before, cultures that will amaze you, and more fun than you can imagine.”

“That was actually beautiful, Jack,” Jackson complimented him before picking up his coffee cup.

“I can be articulate,” O’Neill protested.

“You hate it when you have to be,” Jackson observed.

“Far be it for me to interrupt your argument there, but the major doesn’t know what a gate is,” McKay cut in.

“Jesus, he doesn’t know.” The general shook his head. “Son, you have so much to catch up on. Did you include that stuff in those files too, McKay?”

“Yeah, he’s got everything I could think of,” McKay said after finishing a bite of his dinner. Weirdly, he seemed to be enjoying it.

“Why haven’t you wigged out yet?” Jackson asked out of the blue.

“Freaking out won’t get me anywhere, Doctor,” John told him seriously. “And honestly? Finding out we aren’t alone in the universe isn’t a surprise. The surprise is finding out the Air Force is running the show.”

“Why?” O’Neill asked.

“Sir, the Air Force doesn’t get plum assignments like this. I would expect it to have gone to the Navy or Marine Corps given the institutional seniority,” John explained. And he really had been surprised the first time he had found out about the SGC.

“We’ve got plenty of Marines on base with a few Navy corpsmen to ride herd on them,” O’Neill admitted. “Most of the troops slated for the Atlantis mission are Marines.”

“Would I be the only Air Force officer?” John asked. He had been the last time, and that had caused all sorts of problems. “And will the Marines have problems taking orders from a Zoomie?”

“They better not have problems taking orders from you, Major,” O’Neill emphasized. “Most of the troops who are slated for this trip are long-term SGC Marines who know the rules and have worked with officers from a multitude of different branches and even countries.”

“Uh-huh,” John muttered, unconvinced.

“We aren’t scheduled to leave for three months,” Jackson broke in. “Why don’t you do a war game or two? Show everyone what they might be up against and give the new people a chance to go through the gate.”

“Will the officer in charge of this have a problem with the black mark on my record?” John asked, eyes on O’Neill.

From the faint wince, the general was aware of the mark. “He may, but it’s been a policy of the SGC to never leave a man behind if we can help it. Your actions in rescuing those men will be well received. I’ll be briefing Colonel Sumner on you personally.”

“That’s not really all that reassuring, General,” John admitted.

“Eh, it’s not really meant to be. Sumner is a Marine and something of a hardass. He’s going to give you shit, no question. But we have enough time to get everyone used to each other and move him past the initial knee-jerk reaction,” O’Neill told him, obviously going for reassuring, but missing by a fair bit.

“I’m sending my scientists through as well,” McKay announced as he placed his utensils on his cleaned plate. When Jackson raised an inquiring eyebrow at him, McKay shrugged. “How many times has the SGC been invaded? Having someone who is willing to rescue our people, no matter what is a good thing. And since we’re going to a new galaxy, I’m sure that is going to mean new enemies. Hell, you two had been through the gate only once when you made our first enemy. Why should we be any different?”

“Point,” Jackson allowed. “I wonder if I can get some of my new people to go through the test runs with you?”

“No,” O’Neill told him bluntly. “Torturing your departments is not a good thing, Dr. Jackson. That way leads to epic bitching.”

“McKay gets to torture his minions,” Jackson protested.

“They knew what they were getting into when they become my minions,” McKay told him. “And if they haven’t figured out that shit may hit the fan when we get to Atlantis, I need to send them back through the shrinks a few more times to clear the mental cobwebs. Or fire them.”

O’Neill looked at his watch and nodded. “Okay, it’s late, the major needs his beauty sleep, and so do I. I’m certain McKay will have us all up at dawn so he can get more experiments in.”

“I’ll let you have coffee, though,” McKay offered as a smile played around his mouth.

“Bullshit,” Jackson coughed into a hand and then laughed. “Be real, Rodney. There will be a pot for you and maybe one for us, and you’ll begrudge every cup someone else drinks out of it.”

“Tomato, Tahmato,” Rodney said, waving the point away. “I’ll see if I can remember to bring Danishes.”

The general started laughing at that and cleared his spot at the table. “I’ll tell one of the support guys to lay out coffee and danishes at six am.”

“Sounds about right,” McKay agreed with a chuckle.

John watched as the general, and Jackson left together, the distance between them measured only in inches. “So, Dr. McKay, think you can give me a rundown of everything on this tablet you gave me? And a spare set of headphones?”

McKay’s eyes got a bit wide before he nodded. “Sure thing, Major. Come on.”

The walk to McKay’s room was done in silence. John had the tablet out and was exploring the files on the little device. ”How did you manage to stuff everything onto this thing?” John asked as they walked into McKay’s room.

“Second generation compression software, Major,” McKay said with a single eyebrow raised. “It’s got room to spare.”

As soon as the door closed, John directed the Outpost to lock the room down and shield the actions from the belli dux. O’Neill did not need to know what they were up to.

“What the actual fuck, McKay?” John demanded when he was sure they were secure. The urge to hug the man was there, and he suppressed it. He didn’t want to freak McKay out.

His scientist held up one finger and pulled out a sensor he waved around the room. Huffing in anger, he detached two bugs from the area around his desk. Instead of crushing either, he reached for one of his many coffee cups and dropped them in. From the wet ‘plop’ noises, both bugs were immersed in cold coffee. “I’ll look at the remains in the morning. See if I can get anything out them.”

“Now?” John asked.

Rodney scanned the coffee cup and nodded. “All clear. Call me Rodney. After all, we’re all we’ve got.”

“No shit. Now, seriously, what the fuck, Rodney? Since when did Kavanagh have the ATA gene?” John asked. “And you can call me John.”

“He had a really weak version that barely worked on a good day,” McKay told him as he ran a hand over his face. “We were the only other two in the lab with active expressions of the gene.”

John stared at him for a moment before shaking his head. “How were they getting information off the consoles then?”

“Miko initialized the database but didn’t turn on the equipment,” Rodney explained, waving his hands for emphasis. “She knows better than to turn on anything that’s not fully cleared in a Janus lab.”

“Jesus.” John ran his hands through his hair. “Well, it looks like we’re going to have a chance to do some updating.”

“I liked the idea better when it was a thought exercise,” Rodney bitched before sitting on his bed. “What’s your plan for us?”

“Step one, make sure Sumner accepts me again on the mission, without the resentment,” John began. “Once I’m in, I’m gonna have a lot of questions. Because other than guns and bullets, I don’t think Sumner paid much attention to our supplies. It was bullshit.”

The sigh McKay gave out was long. “I know all I cared about last time were my science departments. I left everything else alone.”

“That’s going to have to change for both of us,” John informed him.

“I know.” The glare McKay sent him was enough to warm the room several degrees. “I need to see about getting the ATA therapy soonest. Maybe at the Alpha site…”

“Might work,” John allowed. “Do you think we can do a test run through the gate? Because we sucked at it last time.”

McKay rocked a hand back and forth. “Maybe. Mostly, we’ll need to work around Elizabeth.”

“Isn’t that going to be fun,” John muttered. While he had mostly respected Weir, he had butted heads with her too much to like her. “Was she the one that came up with the supply list?”


John shook his head in remembered frustration. “Seriously, we’re changing it. It sucked, and I don’t need to be that pissed off again.”

“Word,” McKay agreed. “Okay, so tomorrow is gonna be a mind fuck. Grodin will be there along with Radek and myself. In addition to some other assorted people who died last time.”

“It was so crazy to see him,” John swallowed. “We’re going to find that satellite first right? Before we need it so it can be repaired under better conditions?”

McKay nodded once. “Hell yes. And the geothermal station. I want to get it away from that queen and back under the city supplying power.”

“It won’t fill the ZPM’s, will it?” John asked.

“No. That’s a separate thing,” McKay explained. “There’s a massive battery thing under the main tower complex. The geothermal plant is for that. For day-to-day usage, the plant provides more than enough power. The ZedPM’s are for intergalactic stargate travel, the shields, and the stardrive.”

“So, right now, we need to go over our supply list, personnel, and start practicing for our run through the gate.” John ticked off the points on his fingers. “Oh, and make sure you get the gene.”

“And when we get to Atlantis, get rid of that damn energy creature, find the space station, hook up the geothermal plant, rescue or whatever the Athosians, and find Ronon,” McKay added his own points.

“Full plate,” John acknowledged.

“Yeah. But, first, you need to read those things so you can use them to help make your points,” Rodney reminded him.

“Right. Headphones? Because I’ll need them.” John poked at the tablet. “And a charging cord?”

Laughing softly, McKay got off his bed and found the two items for him. “Don’t forget to take down the security features.”

“Will do,” John confirmed before doing just that. While the Outpost wasn’t his city, it still liked him best and quickly returned everything to normal. The urge to hug him was still there, so he headed for the door. “See you in the morning, Rodney.”


Chapter Four


“You had better have coffee,” John murmured in McKay’s ear when he entered the chair room.

When McKay started in surprise, John smiled in amusement. It was a little sadistic of him, but he enjoyed it when he could make someone jump. Especially since he hadn’t been particularly quiet on his way in.

“Coffee is in the carafes,” McKay told him, waving his hand towards a corner.

John hummed once then went to get caffeinated. As the general had promised, there was coffee, Danishes, and coffee condiments. One of the carafes was even labeled for McKay. Laughing softly, John poured himself a cup, snagged a pastry, and settled into the chair.

The Ancient device lit up with its initiation sequence, but John didn’t let himself sit back and relax. Drinking coffee in the position the chair put him in would be impossible. When he didn’t sit back and start the power-up sequence, the chair went dark, and there was a small ping against his mind that felt like a huff of irritation.

“Did the computer just huff at you?” the general asked as he wandered into the room. He looked extremely relaxed and much happier than he had when they had arrived.

“Yeah, it did,” John admitted before taking a bite of his breakfast. It tasted vaguely stale.

“Just how smart is the computer in here?” O’Neill asked McKay as he poured himself a cup of coffee.

“Not as smart as HAL or Skynet were supposed to be, but smart enough,” McKay told him. “It doesn’t have a true personality. But it is programmed to be helpful, even when we aren’t cooperating.”

“So a very smart program, but not truly intelligent?” the general asked after taking a sip of his coffee.

“Correct,” McKay confirmed.

“But it would prefer I use the chair instead of sitting on it like a chair,” John commented.

“Every bit of Ancient tech seems to be that way,” the General agreed. “How much did you read last night?”

John swallowed the last bite of his breakfast and nodded. “Quite a bit, sir. And I have questions. Lots of questions.”

The look O’Neill gave him was speculative, but John didn’t care. Reaching back, he pulled the tablet out of his back waistband and quickly pulled up his list.

“You made a list?” the general asked, amused.

“Yes, sir, I did,” John confirmed. He was ignoring the amused look McKay was giving him as well. While he hated paperwork, he was aware that the military ran on it and coffee. “My first question, sir, is about the breakdown of assets assigned to this mission.”

O’Neill snorted softly before waving a hand. “Lay it on me.”

“I’m wondering why the makeup of the company is so light on true combat assets? And why there are only three officers assigned to it? One of whom got out of Annapolis less than a year ago.” John tapped the tablet casing and tried to figure out how to ask what he needed without putting his foot in it then mentally shrugged. Fuck it. “Is the colonel in charge a Pollyanna-type?”

The spray of coffee O’Neill let loose was unexpected, and John did his best not to smile. McKay wasn’t bothering to hide his amusement and was laughing freely. “Pollyanna-type is not the term I would ever think about regarding Sumner. As a matter of fact, that’s the last term I would use when thinking about Sumner.”

“Still doesn’t answer the question, sir,” John said after several seconds of silence.

“I’ve been kept mostly out of the whole selection process for the Atlantis mission,” O’Neill admitted. “Almost every military asset going has been with the SGG for at least two years and has no fewer than twenty trips through the gate. Due to the nature of our mission, all of them qualify as heavy combat assets, but that’s against the Jaffa and Goa’uld. Against Earth-based troops, things would likely be different.”

John nodded at that. He knew that the SGC was no picnic when it came to combat readiness. Between foothold situations, standard missions, and search and rescue ops, none of the military assets were novices to combat. But that didn’t mean that they had been through all the advanced training that the US military machine had on tap, and that was what he needed in assets for the expedition.

“But not all of them came into the SGC with that designation,” McKay murmured. “And the few I know of aren’t on the list for Atlantis. Which is weird.”

“Huh,” O’Neill muttered before he made grabby hands at McKay. “I need a spare tablet to check something.”

John smiled a little as McKay huffed once before fishing a spare tablet out of his computer bag. He had to wonder how many the scientist actually had. While O’Neill did whatever he was doing, John decided to ask. “Just how many of those do you have anyway, McKay?”

“About a dozen. I haven’t counted recently,” McKay told him absently. His fingers were flying over the keyboard of his computer. “Right now, I have two more in that bag.”

John eyed the bag in question. “Where are they fitting? Is that a Mary Poppins bag?”

“What?” McKay asked. He looked over at John with puzzlement. “Mary what?”

From the way the general was laughing, he got the joke. “Mary Poppins, McKay. Owner of a bag that has more room on the inside than is possible, given its size.”

“I hated that movie, it made no sense!” McKay bitched. “And no. I just don’t put the laptop in the bag while I’m here.”

“Most Disney movies don’t make sense to adults, McKay,” O’Neill said as he put the tablet down. “They’re designed for little kids who haven’t gotten to the point where they’ve developed critical thinking skills. To answer your question, Sheppard, all the true heavy combat assets in the SGC were marked as ineligible before the expedition was opened to volunteers. Sumner was the only colonel to volunteer for the position, and all the captains and majors were disqualified when their applications were received. None of the troops with interesting secondary skill sets were considered. Most of the Marines approved are good men and women, but very basic in their abilities.”

It wasn’t really news to John to have that confirmed. The men and women he had commanded on Atlantis were all good at their jobs, but none of them had been superstars. He needed people who were more than basic troops. There were a few he wanted to take because they had thrived on the city, but most of the unit slated for the trip had been ciphers.

“Why would someone do that?” McKay demanded.

“Control? The Pollyanna complex the major suggested? Or maybe the misguided belief that taking talented officers and enlisted from the SGC would cripple it?” the general offered. “Whatever their thought process was, it was wrong. Sumner has apparently lodged several protests to the IOA, but they’ve been brushing him off. I think I need to stick my foot in this mess and see what I can shake loose.”

“Happy hunting, sir,” John said with a solemn nod.

“Thanks,” O’Neill poked at the tablet in his hands for several seconds. “What else? Because I know that’s not everything.”

“Not even close, sir,” John assured him. “McKay, why do we have a whole bunch of theoretical scientists attached to the civilian side of the mission?”

“Theoretical how?” McKay asked with a frown. “I assure you, Major, that all my scientists are real people.”

John started laughing. “Yeah, McKay, I’m sure they are. But some of them work on theoretical models only and don’t have any experience with the practical applications of their work. I want to know if you think that will be helpful. Given that my introductory material said Atlantis has been abandoned for about ten thousand years. While I obviously don’t know what had to happen to make this place useful, I’m certain that there was some real work with the components of the machines to get things up and running.”

“I…” McKay hesitated and then sighed. John was proud of how he was taking things. He was doing his best to give him the opening he needed to shake up the science corps. “You’re right. We’ve got a lot of application-focused people to go over the Outpost, and we’ll need the same when we reach Atlantis. Theoretical is great for designing systems, but if we need to go in and repair them, theory-based doctorates will be useless.”

“And how many of the science corps are in the theory camp, Doctor?” O’Neill asked.

John wasn’t sure, but he was betting the general was getting a headache. He’d be sorry, but better to deal with all of this now versus later when the casualty figures came in.

“Maybe 80 percent?” McKay admitted. “And that includes the CMO.”

“What the fuck?” John demanded.  He remembered Carson as being somewhat hesitant in the beginning of the expedition, but he had seemed to get his feet under him soon enough.

“Yeah, he’s primarily a genetics researcher and was brought onto the project to find out why General O’Neill was the only person we had who could operate Ancient equipment. It turns out they share a gene sequence called the ATA gene. It’s the reason why the two of them can use everything down here. Carson’s already determined you have the same active gene and, when compared to the one Ancient we have samples for, your gene matches at about 98 percent per his email this morning,” McKay informed him.

“What does that mean?” John pressed.

“It means that on a genetic level, you’re basically an Ancient,” O’Neill informed him. “I’m just under you at 94 percent. I have to wonder how much my family tree forks. I really do.”

“Jesus. That’s disturbing,” John admitted.

“It is,” McKay acknowledged. “Carson slots in at around 89 percent and I’m at around 85, I just don’t have the gene that lets me unlock the ATA programs.”

“You know we can’t give you, or anyone really, the gene therapy he’s putting together while on Earth,” O’Neill reminded him.

“So do the jab at the Alpha site once he’s got a working version,” McKay offered.

O’Neill stared into space for several seconds before he nodded. “The Alpha site isn’t on Earth, and if anyone gives us shit about getting FDA permissions, they can go fuck themselves.”

“Excellent,” McKay said, rubbing his hands together.

“Jack?” Jackson called as he stumbled into the chair room.

“Hey Danny,” O’Neill called. The general passed the archeologist his coffee and winced at how the other man chugged the coffee like it was nothing.

“More please,” Jackson asked, holding the cup out.

“How do you drink that stuff without burning your mouth?” John asked as he watched the second steaming mug of coffee get consumed.

“Practice and this isn’t really hot,” Jackson said as he set the cup down. “I take it you are ready to work?”

“Yeah, we are,” John confirmed. He mostly ignored the way the general was making sure Jackson ate something.

“Hey, Rodney?” Jackson called after he had been bullied into eating a Danish.

“What?” McKay answered. His scientist was under one of the consoles, wires going every which way.

“I took a shower this morning and was wondering where the wastewater goes? It’s not being sent out into the ice, is it?” Jackson asked.

John shared an arrested look with the general before they both turned to look at where McKay was stuffed under a console. It was a good question. Atlantis had processed their solid waste into a dry fertilizer the Athosians had used on their fields. Water had been easy to obtain, and the desalinization process had churned out salt by the to, and much of that had gone to trade. There had even been small but useable amounts of trace minerals building up too. But the Outpost was buried under a mile of ice, and he didn’t remember anyone ferrying water in or waste out.

“The Ancient system incinerates much of the physical waste the Outpost generates and uses the heat to run a turbine while also heating the water for use after it’s cleaned,” McKay told them absently. “It’s not quite a closed system, but it comes close. Very efficient, and I’ve sent the plans back to the SGC for future use.”

Jackson nodded once before walking over to where John was sitting. John raised one eyebrow at the archeologist in question and grinned when Jackson laughed. “So, still taking things well?”

“Mostly,” John admitted. “I’ve already discussed my initial questions with the general, but anything more will have to wait until Colonel Sumner has a chance to accept me or not.”

“He’d be a fool not to,” Jackson said, a frown crossing his face. “But then he is rather rigid.”

“Rigid, how?” O’Neill asked as he topped off Jackson’s coffee cup after filling a new one of his own.

“He’s very much a career soldier, Jack. He barely listens to any of the scientists at the SGC and treats most of us like toddlers.”

“Some of your people do act like toddlers, Danny,” O’Neill reminded him.

“Not the ones on the teams, Jack. And, yes, Sumner has given me the same ‘humoring’ look he gives everyone else who isn’t military,” Jackson protested. “He is really not a fan of getting information from a civilian.”

“I’ll look into it, Danny,” O’Neill promised. He turned to look at John and waved. “Any more questions?”

“Yeah, I do have one more for now,” John admitted. When O’Neill waved at him to continue, he shrugged. “Why aren’t there support staff included in the list of troops?”

“Say what?” O’Neill asked before crossing the room to pick up the tablet he had been using. His fingers moved over the screen quickly before he stilled. “Son of a bitch.”


“There aren’t any of the service MOS’s included. No one to handle the paperwork, run the mess, supply, none of it,” O’Neill explained as he read through the information he was pulling up. “Looks like they’ve got no one to man the armory either.”

“Seriously?” Jackson walked over to read, as well. “That’s just stupid. How many of those guys know how to cook?”

John waved a hand before sliding back into the embrace of the chair. “I can barbeque, and that’s about it.”

“Jack’s the same way,” Jackson agreed.

“Don’t even look at me,” McKay protested “I tend to eat power bars, MREs, or the mess. More of the first two than the last because of my allergies. Dying because someone can’t be bothered to label food correctly isn’t on my list of things to do.”

“You’ve got an EpiPen, right?” John asked. McKay’s allergies were nothing to make light of, and the one time they had been triggered, the whole expedition had learned exactly how bad they were.

“Yeah, I do,” McKay assured him, patting what looked like an inner breast pocket. He was busy hooking the wires hanging over his head together in some complicated pattern that John couldn’t make heads nor tails of.

“McKay, just how bad are your allergies?” O’Neill demanded.

“I have fatal level allergies to citrus, and I break out in hives when exposed to most nuts, why?” McKay told him.

O’Neill ran his hands over his face then nodded once. “Shit. None of us knew your allergies were that bad. Wrap up your tests with the major and the Outpost. I’m going to inform Weir that we’re all headed back to the SGC early because I need to have a meeting with all the department heads assigned to this mess.”

John rolled his head to look at McKay, who raised one eyebrow at him in question. He really hadn’t expected this big of a change. From the way McKay shrugged, neither had he.

“I have maybe three hours’ worth of testing to do, then we can pack up to leave. Do you want me to bring the rest of my people with us?” McKay asked as he slid out from under the console and then sighed. “General, come turn this on, please.”

”You’re looking forward to getting the ATA gene, aren’t you?” O’Neill commented as he looked at the console and it lit up, coming alive for the first time in ten thousand years.

“Yes!” McKay admitted. “Major, pull up the drone targeting program. I want to make sure the adjustments I’ve done are right.”

John settled in and found the targeting program. He had brushed up against it when he had sat in the chair the day before, but he hadn’t investigated it. “There’s a firmware patch designating all helicopters with USAF IFF transponders as friendly?”

“Yeah, I didn’t want to have any more helicopters possibly shot down,” McKay admitted. “Your targeting reach should also extend further into the solar system. We don’t have to have battles right overhead again.”

“Good idea, McKay,” O’Neill admitted. “Come on Danny. Let’s get you packed up.”

“It’s not going to take three hours, Jack,” Jackson said with a sigh.

O’Neill snorted once in disbelief. “Maybe. But arguing with Weir is gonna take time. And I need to make sure my jet is ready once when we get back to McMurdo.”

“Won’t that be fun,” Jackson muttered as he walked out of the room. “I’m going to need some Kona to make up for this, Jack.”

“You are such a coffee snob, Jackson,” the general called. “Three hours, gentlemen.”

“Yes, sir,” John agreed. Nudging the Outpost computer, he set a reminder.

“Smart ass,” O’Neill told him before he turned to follow Jackson.

John waited until he was gone then slid back into the chair. Once he was in the systems, he used the chair to scan for nearby life signs. At seven am, the surrounding spaces were empty. “Okay, that did not go like I expected.”

“O’Neill has always been sharper than he’s wanted anyone to know,” McKay reminded him. “After all, he keeps up with Jackson and Carter regularly.”

“True. And that’s not easy,” John acknowledged. It sometimes took all he had to keep up with Rodney, and he had a doctorate in applied mathematics with a master’s in engineering.

“The Outpost gave me a list of things that the city needs,” John informed the scientist after several minutes.

“Really?” Rodney looked up at him, eyes sharp.

“Yeah, it really did,” John assured. He prodded the computer to pull the file up and transfer it to Rodney’s laptop.

“This is new information,” Rodney admitted. He opened the file and hummed. “This is very important information.”

“How so?” John asked. He had a hunch but needed Rodney to sign off on it. “Will this help us when it comes to our supply lists?”

“And my final lists for personnel,” McKay agreed. “Because if this is correct, Atlantis is going to need a lot of repair work, and that will give me an excuse to remove several people.”

“Sounds daunting,” John mused as he wandered through different directories. “There’s something that looks like an inventory on here too.”

“An inventory for what, Sheppard?” General O’Neill asked as he poked his head back into the chair room.

“An inventory for the Outpost, sir,” John reported promptly. “I don’t understand all the things on the list, but the computer is being kind and giving me pictures.”

“Pictures? Sheppard, exactly how deep are you in the systems?” O’Neill asked, voice betraying his concern.

“Uhm… The Outpost likes me a lot, sir.” John offered. How in the hell was he going to explain what was happening? “And it seems willing to work with me so that I understand what it’s trying to say.”

“I’m sure,” O’Neill allowed. “Now show me the list.”

John let the Outpost obey the general’s request. The inventory appeared overhead, and John asked for the pictures to appear as well. There were far more drones than he had thought there would be along with two puddle jumpers. But from what he could see, there was no way to get to them, they were buried in the ice.

“Well, isn’t that interesting,” O’Neill mused. He walked over to the list and poked at the display. “I’ve seen mention of one of those before. A flying ship that fits through the gate.”

“Can we access it?” Rodney asked.

“Not really,” O’Neill prodded the computer, and a diagram appeared with the puddle jumpers marked on it. The chair room was lit up as a marker with a path detailed to the craft. The path led straight into the surrounding ice. “Well, that’s depressing.”

“Isn’t it just,” Rodney bitched as he stared at the ice hiding the tech he obviously wanted. “We have as much open as we can safely get at. It’s been mentioned that there has to be more of the Outpost than we’ve got access to, but trying to get into the other areas hasn’t been a priority.”

“That’s gonna change,” O’Neill muttered as he worked his way through the list. “We’re going to need the drones, sure as death and taxes, so we need to get a start on our access to them. The little ships are likely useful too. Sheppard, is there any reason why the outpost hasn’t let us into those areas?”

John pressed against the computer, and the map floating over their heads highlighted an area in amber, the Ancients preferred danger color. “It looks like this area has been sliced by something. Given that we’re at the bottom of a glacier, and they carry boulders, it might have been a rock or two.”

“Is it repairable?” O’Neill asked as he stared up at the map.

“No idea,” John admitted.

“We won’t know for sure until we get into that area, General. And no, I’m not going to try right now. We have just under three hours to get everything tied up, and packed so we can fly out of here, remember?” McKay reminded him as his hands moved over his computer keyboard at full speed. “I’ve already started the process of adding these two discoveries to the research docket. I’m certain they will be taken care of as soon as possible.”

“Right. Time to go beard Weir in her lair and then push Daniel out of his,” O’Neil muttered before staring at John. “If you find anything else, let me know.”

“Yes, sir,” John was tempted to salute, but well…chair.

O’Neill snorted once before ducking out. John shared a look with McKay and then shrugged. Seemed like they had their orders.



Chapter Five


As was his habit, John ran his hands over the skin of his copter as he finished his inspection. The aircraft was good to fly. McKay trudged his way through the snow with the computer bag and a suitcase in tow.

Following behind him were Carson and Elizabeth. Both of them had had bags as well, and John sighed. The copter wasn’t huge, and he would be carrying six. Cargo space was at a premium.

“Due to my limited cargo space, I’m going to ask everyone to hold their laptop bags with them,” John announced as everyone stopped at the passenger compartment door.

McKay nodded once and broke his luggage down, so it was one smooth unit. Carson followed his example and climbed into the passenger compartment without a fuss. Weir dropped her computer bag on top of her luggage and started for the copilot’s seat.

By will alone, John suppressed the urge to pinch the bridge of his nose. “Dr. Weir, the general will be taking that seat, and you need to hold your computer bag.”

“But…” she started to say before Carson cut her off.

“Elizabeth, do not irritate the person flying us out of here,” the doctor advised. “It won’t hurt you to sit back here.”

Weir turned on her heel at that and grabbed her bag with a huff before climbing into the helicopter. He was going to ignore the way she seemed to be angry at being thwarted, John decided.

Loading the three small suitcases took only moments then he leaned into the passenger compartment. “Please make sure you are securely and snuggly strapped in. Any give in your harnesses could mean injury if we need to do any evasive maneuvering.”

“Is that actually likely, Major?” Weir asked with a small smile on her face. It seemed like she was going to ignore her own bad behavior and expected him to follow suit.

John suppressed the urge to rub his chest. Elizabeth Weir should not remind him of a Wraith Queen, damn it. “Well before my last flight I wouldn’t have thought so, but better safe than sorry,” he reminded her.

The flush that crawled up her face was surprising. “Yes, I suppose that’s a good reason to be careful.”

The arrival of the general and Dr. Jackson broke the quiet, and John quickly got his last two passengers loaded. Pre-flights were done, so John fired up the engines and slipped on his ear protection slash comms unit. When the general slipped on a pair, he shrugged. O’Neill was a general. If he wanted to hear the chatter between him and McMurdo, he could.

“So, I took the time to pull your record and read more than the summary,” O’Neill announced after a quick glance at the passenger compartment

“I figured you did, sir,” John acknowledged.

“Want to tell me more about that black mark of yours?” O’Neill asked. “The report is sparse.”

If he had really been eighteen months out of Afghanistan, he would likely have hesitated. But three years in a brutal combat zone had cured him of most of his chronic emotional constipation. He still hated talking about emotional shit, but he could do it.

“I got the news that one of the helicopters on my base had been shot down with a full crew aboard. I was six miles out and let command know I could be there soonest for a bugout. I had been ferrying a helicopter full of supplies from one base to another, so it was just me in it. The colonel in charge ordered me back to base and to ignore any maydays coming from the other craft.”

John took a deep breath and pushed on. “I ignored him and went to rescue the crew. When I landed, there were four survivors and two dead. We got everyone loaded, including the dead, and took off. I fired one missile at the downed bird to destroy it so it wouldn’t fall into enemy hands and then hauled ass back to base. My craft was hit and behaving badly, but I managed to land us safely. Three days later, I’m was told that the only reason I wasn’t court-martialed was I actually brought everyone home. Since he couldn’t court-martial me, he found the least hospitable place to send me.” John shrugged. “As much as it’s cold and white down here, it’s given me a chance to calm down.”

“If you were any calmer I’d be checking to see if you had a pulse,” O’Neill told him, voice wry. “So basically, your CO made a shitty decision, you pulled off a miracle that could have been expensive in material and personnel, and brought everyone home. Have I got that right?”

John shrugged. “Sounds about right,” he confirmed. Most of his attention was on moving over the mountains separating McMurdo from the Outpost. They weren’t technically all that high, but the temperature differentials among them brought out some wicked winds.

“How the fuck didn’t we find you before now?” O’Neill asked, and John shrugged again. Not like he had any idea.

The rest of the trip was silent as John got them back to base. The landing pad for his craft was clear, and there was a very sleek jet on the flight line. John eyed it carefully. He was rated to fly it, but flying out of Antarctica wasn’t a short trip. If the general wanted him in the pilot’s seat, he was going to need a nap at least once during the flight.

Once down, John quickly got his passengers deplaned then looked to the general for orders.

“Get your gear packed, and I’ll clear things with your current CO,” O’Neill directed. John nodded once before saluting. Once he got the return gesture, he headed out. The general’s voice was faint but distinct as he called for Dr. Jackson and told him the plane had coffee.

“Hey, Sheppard, where you been, man?” one of the military scientists stationed at McMurdo called as he headed for his room.

“Got stranded out at the military outpost we keep shuttling people out to,” John called. It felt weird to have to physically unlock his door, but he managed it without too much fumbling.

“Have you got any idea what they do out there?” she asked, eager for news.

John could sympathize. The internet was great, but McMurdo was on the ass end of the planet and always got news last. Fresh news was exciting.

“Not a damn clue,” John told her. Not like he could really share. “I basically camped out, ate bland military food, and came back. I did seem to impress the general in charge, though, so I need to be headed out.”

“Well, lucky you!” she congratulated him before moving off. “Good luck!”

John stuck his head out his door and called out his thanks before he started packing. He was deeply grateful that he had been able to end the conversation quickly because he couldn’t remember the woman’s name, and that was just embarrassing.

Two very full duffels and a laptop bag later, and John was ready to leave. Grabbing his bags, he headed out.

O’Neill gave him a raised eyebrow when he arrived at his now former CO’s office. “Sir. Reporting as ordered.”

Snorting softly, O’Neill waved at him to unburden himself. “You have paperwork to sign, and I need to rescue McMurdo’s coffee supply from Danny and McKay.”

“Yes, sir,” John agreed. McKay damn near mainlined the stuff, and it wasn’t wise to try to deny him. From the rumors he had overheard about Dr. Jackson, the man was much worse. Neither he nor his now former CO said a word until O’Neill was out of the office.

“I have no idea what you did to impress that man,” Colonel Hunt started as soon as O’Neill’s footsteps faded, “but you did. Don’t screw this up, Sheppard.”

“Not gonna try, sir. I know exactly how lucky I am,” John told him.

“Right. Then let’s get you processed out, and you can head out to meet the general at his plane,” Hunt directed.

Fifteen minutes later and he was officially transferred out of McMurdo and into Project Blue Book. Tapping the name on his paperwork, he looked at Hunt. “Got any ideas about my new duty station, sir?”

“Not really,” Hunt said before leaning back in his chair. “Just that they take the best. Don’t fuck up that reputation, Sheppard.”

“I won’t, sir,” John promised. “And thanks.”

He quickly stuffed his copies of his transfer paperwork in with his laptop and headed out. He was met at the plane by two Airmen who relieved him of his duffels and directed him up the stairway to the cabin. Apparently, O’Neill had his own pilots.

Stepping into the sleek Learjet, John saw he was the last to arrive. The two Airmen followed him and closed everything up before taking seats. Settling into place by McKay, John nudged his laptop under the seat in front of him and belted in.

“You get everything settled, Sheppard?” the general called.

“Yes, sir! I’m officially assigned to Project Blue Book now,” John confirmed.

“Good. Now try to relax. The flight should be smooth,” O’Neill promised.

As promised, the ride north was calm. John was grateful for that because he hated to fly with people who were shit pilots. An undisturbed ride was a good reward for not giving in to his inner control freak. It also let him get further into his reading list. The SGC was insane, he decided somewhere over South America, and the proof of that insanity was in every report he was reading.

The landing at Peterson was just as easy, and John put away the legal pad he had begged from McKay. It was filled with lists, questions, and observations. He was sure McKay had something similar, and he really needed to get with his scientist so they could compare.

One of his lists was for people he wanted to get folded into the SGC. If he did things right, he would be able to get at least two of the best Spec Ops soldiers he knew. He wasn’t sure if he could get the third. He needed to check ranks and assignments.

He had also ignored every conversation Weir had started, trying to draw him out. While he was with the SGC, he still hadn’t formally signed onto the Atlantis mission. If he had legitimately been coming at the situation cold, John was sure he would have been quietly freaking out, but time travel was an advantage in this case.

“Major, you’re with me,” O’Neill called as they made their way off the tarmac. “Danny, there’s coffee at the Mountain.”

“Seriously, Jack, I don’t drink that much coffee,” Jackson protested as he finished the cup in his hand.

McKay snorted once. “Bullshit, Jackson. You drink as much as I do. You’re just nicer about it.”

“No, he’s really not. Get a move on, people!” O’Neill called over his shoulder.

Ten minutes later, they were sitting in a very nice SUV heading for Cheyenne Mountain. The civilians, other than Jackson, were in the SUV behind them, and the general was giving him a very serious look from his spot in the passenger seat.

“So, do you have more questions?” he asked.

“Oh, loads,” John confirmed. “Some about previous missions, some about the Atlantis mission, and some about the people you recruit.”

“Let’s take that last one first. What do you want to know about our recruitment policies?” O’Neill asked.

“On paper, the SGC seems to have people from all branches of service, but you seem rather light on Spec Ops Teams. Why is that?” John questioned.

“Most Spec Ops Teams are assigned as distinct units. Getting one or two soldiers transferred out of a standard unit is normal and rarely causes waves. Getting four to six Spec Ops soldiers assigned to a Deep Space telemetry project? Waves. Huge, tsunami-style waves,” O’Neill explained. “Why?”

“Because I’ve transported a large number of Teams over the years, and there are a few I trust,” Sheppard shared. “If I am to go on this trip, I want to see if I can get some of them included.”

“Who?” the general pressed.

“The Losers. Specifically, Alvarez, Jensen, and Porteous,” John said.

“I know that group. I don’t think the Army would be happy to break up one of their best assets.” O’Neill sounded thoughtful. “Why Not Clay or Roque?”

“Because I’m not sure if the Army would give them up. Reassigning two lieutenants and a sergeant has to be easier than moving a captain and whatever Clay is,” John explained.

“Last I knew, he was a lieutenant colonel,” O’Neill mused. “He’s not thrilled at people poaching his team.”

John shrugged. He truly wanted Jensen and Alvarez. A computer genius and a sniper/medic/explosives expert would be useful on Atlantis. Porteous would be a bonus that he wouldn’t bother to expect given the man had a family.

“You’re a general, Jack, doesn’t that mean you can order them transferred, right?” Jackson asked.

“Clay and his group have some serious backers,” O’Neill explained. “They’ve been seconded to the CIA several times that I know of.”

John cooked an eyebrow at that. The general knew an awful lot about one team. “I’m guessing you’ve tried to recruit them before.”

“Oh, once or twice,” the general acknowledged with a wave of his hand. “Anyone else?”

John pulled his list out and handed it over. Some of the names on there were people he served with, and others were ones he knew due to future knowledge. “All those people are excellent at their jobs, and I think they would do well in your organization.”

“You don’t have any opinions on the civilian side?” Jackson asked from his place by the general. The archeologist was driving, and since the general seemed relaxed, he was trying to be.

“Doctor, the last time I served closely with any civilians was when I was assigned to the Pentagon,” John explained. “And I certainly don’t want to be out in the back of beyond with any of those people.”

“There’s maybe two people in the Pentagon I would want to go on a long-term mission with and neither of them are civilians,” the general admitted. He was reading John’s list.

“I’m not sure Paul would want to be stranded at an isolated station with you,” Jackson muttered as he concentrated on his driving.

“Eh, he’d survive,” O’Neill griped before turning his attention back to John. “I know some of these names and can research others. Are you sure?”

“Yeah, I’m sure, sir,” John confirmed.

“I’ll get my admin looking into them, and then we’ll see who we can get released. Once they’re part of the SGC, they can make a decision on going for Atlantis,” O’Neill said after several moments of contemplation.

John sat back as they entered the final stretch on the approach to Cheyenne Mountain. He tried to relax, but he had no idea if Sumner was there or not. He was running on caffeine and stubbornness right then and needed some sleep.

“Still awake back there, Sheppard?” the general called after several minutes.

“Yes, sir,” John said around a yawn.

“Hold on a bit longer. Once we get on base, we’ll get a room assigned to you so you can get some sleep,” O’Neill reassured him.

“Yes, sir,” John agreed with a nod.

His check in to Cheyenne Mountain was infinitely smoother than his first time. The general was true to his word and got him a room, and an Airman directed him to it. John managed to get undressed and then passed out for the next eight hours.

When he finally crawled out of bed, John felt better than he had in ages. McMurdo tried, but it was cold there all the time. While he didn’t mind the quiet or the white, he wasn’t fond of the cold. Being warm when he woke up was amazing.

The room the general had gotten him had its own en suite, and John stumbled his way through clean-up with his eyes mostly closed. Scrubbing his hands through his hair, he contemplated a haircut. He was just outside regs on it and had only gotten away with it because, well, Antarctica.

He was tying his boots when there was a knock on his door. John thought at the door to open it and then sighed. He wasn’t on Atlantis yet, so he needed to physically open the door. “How can I hel—”

“You look good for a guy who’s spent the last eighteen months at the bottom of the world,” Cameron announced cheerfully.

“And you look good for a guy who got sucked into a super-secret program that goes to other planets,” John snapped. Sighing, he waved a hand in apology. “Coffee?”

Cam laughed softly before waving down the hall. “I know you’re not human without coffee, and I’m sure you haven’t had anything really decent in ages.”

“Ha, you would think,” John answered around a yawn. “I got some very nice coffee in that glass pimple you lot have down south.”

“The scientists shared their sacred coffee stashes?” Cam asked in shock.

“Yup,” John confirmed with a smug smile. “I got coffee with McKay and Jackson in the same room.” John picked up his work folder and tablet before stepping out of his room.

“Huh, amazing.” Cam mused for several seconds before snapping out of his distraction. “Come on, let’s get breakfast.”

Breakfast was excellent. But John hadn’t expected anything less from the SGC. Every time he had even been at Cheyenne Mountain, the service departments had been top notch.

“Major Sheppard, the general would like to see you in his office now,” an Airman announced from a spot just behind Cam.

John raised an eyebrow at Cam and, at his nod, drained his coffee cup and stood up. “After you, Airman. And Cam? McKay’s coffee was better.”

He walked out to the sound of Cam protesting the honor of the coffee he had been served. The amusement of that carried him all the way to the general’s office. It wasn’t until he was in front of the man’s door that he felt any unease.

The Airman peeled off, and John was left waiting. Taking a deep breath, he knocked on the door three times then waited for the general to call him in.

“General O’Neill, reporting as requested,” John said as he entered.

O’Neill was in his office with Sumner. John gave O’Neill a crisp salute. The shock of seeing Sumner again was harsher than he had expected.

“Have a seat, Sheppard,” O’Neill directed.

John sat down, resting his folder and tablet on his knees. He felt rather like he was being called in front of the principal, or maybe his dad.

“Relax, Sheppard, you’re not in trouble,” O’Neill tried to reassure him.

“Yes, sir,” John agreed in with a nod.

“The general made me read the after-action report you filed, Sheppard, along with the ones from the crew you rescued,” Sumner announced. He looked much more accepting this time than he had last time. The colonel’s next words confirmed it. “No one is left behind here, and I’m glad to see you have that attitude already.”

It took all John had not to slump in relief. He had needed to hear those words more than he had known. “Thank you, sir.”

“As much as can be said, you’re welcome. Now I understand from the general that you had some questions about the military half of the expedition?” Sumner asked.

“Yes, sir, I do,” John took a deep breath and pulled his lists out of his folder. Time to get to work.

Chapter Six



Rodney looked up to see Carter staring down at him. Reflexively, he checked his shirt for stains. All clean. Looking back up, he raised an eyebrow at her. “Carter.”

“Why aren’t you in Antarctica?” she asked.

“Did you hear we found a new ATA gene carrier?” Rodney asked first.

He had never found out if she and Sheppard knew each other from the Air Force Academy, but his vague recollections said that they might have. Maybe they were a few years apart?

“No, who is it?” Carter said as she pulled the chair opposite him out and sat down.

“Major John Sheppard, USAF,” Rodney told her. Carter had an admirable poker face, but her eyes got slightly wider at John’s name. “Carson ran the genetics test, and he scored higher than O’Neill.”

“John Sheppard has the ATA gene?” Carter repeated. “Weirdly, that makes sense.”

“Wanna explain?” Rodney prodded after she fell silent. Reaching out, he snagged a clean coffee cup off the table next to them and poured her some from his carafe. Since he was in the mess that catered to the scientists at the SGC, individual carafes of coffee or tea services were the norm.

“For background, all three of the confirmed ATA carriers we had before he was found, are all extraordinary in one way or another,” Carter started to explain before taking a sip of the coffee. Grimacing slightly, she added a spoonful of sugar and stirred. “The general is a genius at small, team level tactics, he got his doctorate in astronomy while serving as the team lead of SG-1 and the 2IC of this base, plus has several undergrad degrees in whatever grabbed his attention last.

“Carson is a superstar regarding genetics,” Carter continued after another drink of her coffee. She grimaced again. “The coffee in here is shit compared to Daniel’s. Anyway. Carson managed to untangle the genetic samples we look from the Ancient, Ayiana, and confirm exactly what parts of it are responsible for allowing people to use the ATA gene. He’s also been working on our Tretonin manufacturing process and has managed to increase production by roughly 30 percent while still maintaining the quality needed to keep the Jaffa healthy.”

“Okay, yeah, they are both good at their jobs,” Rodney allowed. “And Jackson has some of the best coffee that money can buy. The SGC isn’t willing to spring for that in here. The third?”

“She’s one of your people. Miko Kusanagi. Top notch programmer, has doctorates in computer science and engineering, not to mention the numerous undergrad degrees she’s collected,” Carter explained. “Since she got here, our rate of leaked information has gone down by at least half, and I’ve heard rumors of some server farms going up in flames due to a virus she set on them.”

“That was very nice of her,” Rodney said with a vindictive smile. Anyone who tried to hack the SGC deserved what they got. And if the lesson was expensive? So be it.

“Wasn’t it just?” Carter agreed. “Anyway. All three active ATA carriers we have are some of the best in their respective fields. I saw the list of everyone who carries the gene as a recessive and all the names listed are superstars of their own fields. But then, you know this. Sheppard was a standout while in the Academy, and when I knew him, he could fly anything that could get in the air.”

“Carson did mention that the ATA gene seemed to have a positive effect on those genes that have been identified as influencing intelligence,” Rodney confirmed.

“You and Daniel top the list on your expressions of the recessive gene,” Carter shared. “No one could call either of you stupid. Or under degreed.”

“True. Carson thinks he can get a successful gene therapy going thanks to Sheppard’s gene,” Rodney told her quietly.

“Huh. Getting it past the FDA is gonna be a bitch,” Carter mused with an arrested expression.

“The Alpha site,” Rodney offered.

“Is controlled by the US and thus, still subject to the rules and regulations thereof,” Carter informed him with a frown.

“What about Langara?”

Carter rocked a hand in a maybe motion. “While Jonas still likes us, his government is run by a bunch of assholes. I think the Land of Light might be better.”

“And their gate is basically isolated so the doses could be administered without issue. Then we could wait for twelve hours to make sure it takes and then come back,” Rodney leaned back to think that over. At her raised eyebrow, he shrugged. “Russia was boring and cold. I read everything I could get my hands on, and I haven’t stopped.”

“When do you sleep?” Carter asked seriously.

“About the same times you do,” Rodney said. “My love of coffee isn’t just because it tastes good. I hope Atlantis is on a planet with a longer day.”

“That just gives your minions more chances to get into trouble,” Carter said with a sour expression.

Given some of the people Rodney knew were at the SGC, he was sure she was speaking from experience. Some of the scientists under her were dangerously stupid in how little common sense they had.

“Maybe I’ll be able to lock them in their rooms when I’m busy?” Rodney offered with a sigh.

Carter just laughed at that, like she knew something he didn’t.

“Damn it,” Rodney cursed.

Rodney made his way into the main conference room with his laptop, two legal pads, pens, and an industrial-sized mug of coffee.

“Do you have any idea why we were called here?” Weir asked from her spot at the table.

“Maybe,” Rodney allowed. Since there were no set places for anyone to sit, other than the general’s seat, he settled in. Once he was comfortable, he looked up and found Weir staring at him. “What?”

“What do you think this meeting is about?” Weir asked, voice bleeding impatience.

“The major was looking over the various supply and personnel lists associated with the expedition on the flight up, and he had a number of questions,” Rodney told her with a shrug. He felt safe enough informing her of that tidbit. After all, they had talked about that in the chair room at the Outpost, and that was public as all get out.

“Why was he looking at that in the first place?” she asked, bewildered

“Because there’s no way I’m going to go on a possibly one-way mission without reading all the fine print,” John called as he entered from the general’s office.

“It isn’t a one-way trip,” Weir protested.

“And you know this how?” John questioned as he sat down at the conference table. He seemed settled in a way Rodney had never seen and comfortable with Sumner, which was amazing. Confidence looked good on the man, he decided.

“Because General O’Neill wouldn’t leave us out there on our own,” Weir snapped. “And the SGC is building ships.”

Sumner snorted once before shaking his head. “While I have every faith in the general, he’s not the only one in command here. The President has a say, as does the IOA, Dr. Weir. In addition, the SGC is fighting a war. And wars never go as planned. There’s no guarantee those ships will be available to reach us when they are done.”

“Fine, I understand that,” Weir agreed. “But that doesn’t explain why you are looking at the lists.”

John raised one eyebrow at her, and Rodney sat back to watch the show. If nothing else, it was bound to be entertaining. John had three years of irritation to vent.

“Well, Dr. Weir, if I’m going to be a part of the expedition, I want to know the men and women I’ll be heading out with,” John started before turning to Sumner and O’Neill. “By your leave, sirs.”

“Go right ahead, Major,” O’Neill told him. The intelligence the man normally hid behind jokes and misdirection was plain on his face, and Rodney suppressed a wince. Not a good sign.

“When I examined the list of military assets for this trip, it struck me that they were predominantly junior officers and junior enlisted. Colonel Sumner is the only senior officer designated and Gunnery Sergeant Bates is the senior enlisted member. Also, we have a dearth of the service MOS’s such as admins and even mess cooks. Given that you are the one on record as refusing the applications of anyone above a lieutenant’s pay grade or above E7, I want to know why,” John informed her, green eyes level and trained on her like she was a target.

Rodney suppressed a wince at that sight. The last time he had seen John looking this upset, he was sitting across from the Genii. The negotiations hadn’t gone well for the Nazi Amish bastards.

“The SGC would be short staffed if we took so many of the senior military members,” Weir threw out to start.

“Eh, no,” O’Neill waved a hand in denial. “I have access to the whole of the US military to plug holes left by people going to Atlantis, so that’s not actually a viable excuse. Try again.”

The look Weir gave him was constipated, and Rodney watched her reach for another explanation. “Fine. I didn’t think we needed so many senior military members on a civilian-led mission. We already have enough clashes between the civilians and the military that I thought it wise to minimize their footprint. It’s not like we’re going to be starting wars out there.”

If Rodney actually believed in gods anymore, the sheer stupid she had just displayed would have him calling on every deity in the known universe. Because what. The. Fuck.

“You arranged it so members of the SGC, who were qualified and wanted to go, didn’t get a chance based on their rank?” O’Neill asked, face still and set. “Because you thought they weren’t needed.”

Weir shrugged. “Yes. Not like we’ll need them. And with the limits on how many military members we’re bringing, we can add more scientists. I’m sure Dr. McKay would agree that a maximum of seventy-five military members is more than enough.”

“Actually, no, I don’t,” Rodney cut in. “A good number of those senior military men and women you cut do double duty in the labs, so they count as actual hands there. That’s not counting them doing the job of keeping us safe. Do you want my people doing patrols, cooking food, and cleaning the common spaces all while going through the gate? What about if there’s a foothold situation? I don’t have any shrinking violets, but we aren’t trained in that.”

“I’m sure you have people who know how to cook and clean,” Dr. Weir told him, a condescending smile on her face. “And the rest can be done be by the military.”

“I have people I wouldn’t trust to boil water, Dr. Weir,” Rodney informed her, voice cutting. “And, yes, my people already know how to clean up after themselves, but we don’t know how to clean up if there’s a fatality due to a foothold. We don’t know how to cook to feed two hundred and fifty people and have it come out edible. And I want to know how you think seventy-five military men and women will be able to do any of the rest of their jobs?”

The shrug Weir gave was callous. “That’s for the colonel to figure out. My job is to find the technology we need to defeat the Goa’uld, the Replicators, and anyone else who attacks Earth.”

“I’m going to leave that mess alone for a moment,” the general said after several moments of silence. “McKay, how many of the scientists currently listed for the mission do you really want to take?”

“Besides myself? Four,” Rodney told him.

“Jesus, that’s it?” O’Neill asked. “Who?”

“Zelenka, Kusanagi, Grodin, and Parrish,” Rodney confirmed with a smile. “That’s not a good average,” O’Neill said. “You’ve got a lot more than that on the rolls.”

“I know. But they all serve some use even if I think they are dumber than a box of rocks,” Rodney shot back. “They may be morons, but they are my morons. And while they are my morons, I will do my best to make sure they live to a ripe old age. If that means we need more troops to protect us, I’ll do my best to get them. If that means that I think they would be better served to stay on Earth? Well, we’ll be taking a closer look at skills to determine that too. As the major reminded me, I need to bring practical scientists, not theoretical.”

“Well at least you’re reasonable,” Sumner observed before taking a sip of his coffee. “How many of your current people are gate team ready?”

“None of us really are,” Rodney informed him. And in this time and place, he wasn’t. Not to say that he wouldn’t be able to get certified quickly, but he needed to start jogging to actually get in shape.

“Well, we need to fix that,” John told him, eyes serious. “How many of your people do you think would want to be on a gate team?”

“Oh, me for sure,” Rodney told him. “There’s a few that could do the job, but will likely need some training to make sure they can mesh with the team assigned.”

“You’re the CSO, McKay! You’re too valuable to risk,” Weir protested. “I doubt Colonel Sumner would want you on a gate team anyway given your medical conditions.”

“Gee, thank you for your support, Dr. Weir,” Rodney bit out. He honestly wasn’t surprised at Weir’s comment because he had heard something similar in the first timeline when he had volunteered to go out on AR-1.

“And I certainly would have Dr. McKay on a gate team,” Sumner told Weir, voice even. “He’s the foremost expert we have with Ancient tech, and if any is found, we would need to know what we were dealing with. Do not presume to know what I would or would not do, Dr. Weir.”

Sumner’s announcement seemed to throw Weir off her stride, and Rodney seized the moment. “After reviewing my selections for the expedition, I’ve determined that I want to make some changes. Especially in light of having been down at the Outpost and the information we received about Atlantis. We did far more practical repair work than we did theoretical science. If Atlantis is even remotely like that, we’ll need people who have practical skills to go with their degrees. Too many of the people currently listed are theoretical scientists and, as we discussed at the Outpost, some of them will be staying because they won’t be useful for a first wave.”

“Doesn’t that leave you out, Dr. McKay?” Weir asked snidely.

“No,” Rodney snapped back. “But it sure leaves out a good portion of the people you want on the expedition. And I will happily leave them here on Earth where they can’t kill us because they’re too stupid to learn the skills they need.”

Weir just stared at him then huffed before sitting back. Rodney ignored her bad mood. He had started going through the lists of scientists and changing his selections. He was going to be staffing them for the horror that had been their first year. He needed people with real skills and the depth of learning to be on Atlantis. Dreamers and theorists need not apply.

“Getting back to the point of this meeting,” John cut in before Rodney could get into another spat with Weir. “The general has graciously allowed us to reset the application period for our military members. With that reset has come permission to increase our numbers, and we’ll be taking a full company.”

“Low or high range company?” Rodney asked as he made notes on his laptop.

“Just over mid-range or about a hundred or so,” John confirmed. “We’ll also have a full kitchen service because I, for one, can’t cook outside of a bar-b-que, and I don’t think that counts.”

“It counts, Major. But a burnt steak is a travesty. Having people who can cook well is a must,” O’Neill cut in.

“It sure is,” Sumner agreed. “So the major will be my XO, and I’ll need a few more officers to round things out. Plus the senior enlisted necessary to make the whole thing run right.”

“But we’re going to be a scientific mission! Why do we need a military presence?” Weir asked, obviously appalled at the changes.

“The SGC does science, but they certainly need the military,” Rodney said. He was sick of Weir’s Pollyanna crap, but he was holding onto his temper for all he was worth. “We are going to a brand-new galaxy with new planets, including the possibility of new friends, enemies, and dangers. It would be terminally stupid not to do all we can to ensure our survival. And if that means an increased military presence, I am all for it. Stop trying to kill us with your pacifism.”

Weir opened her mouth to reply then shut it before sitting back to sulk. Rodney ignored her to concentrate on John. He was certain Sheppard had more planned than had so far been revealed.

“What else?” he asked, eyebrow raised.

“Carson Beckett,” Sumner announced. He was glaring at Weir now, all traces of his earlier amusement gone. “Were you aware that he’s not a practicing physician, Dr. Weir? While he’s a talented geneticist, he hasn’t treated an actual patient in several years. Not even in Antarctica.”

The shrug Weir gave was indifferent. “He would be running the medical department, so I don’t see the problem.”

“Are you being willfully blind?” O’Neill asked, voice hard.

“What?” Weir seemed startled at the question.

“You were in command of the SGC when we fought Anubis, so you are aware that casualties happen outside of actual combat. There were a series of accidents here at the SGC that resulted in injuries. Having a medical doctor who is basically useless is dead weight you don’t need,” O’Neill snapped. “Theoretical is only good when you never leave a lab.”

Weir huffed again, and Rodney gave in and tried to rub away the tension headache he had developed. What a cluster fuck. And the meeting wasn’t over.

Chapter Seven


“I can’t believe you didn’t support me in there!” Weir bitched at him.

Rodney ignored her. The meeting from hell was paused, and he had taken advantage of the break to get updates on what his minions were doing. Radek was going through the lists of scientists and trimming out the fluffy useless cases. Miko had been sending him hate mail for hours due to the disruptions to her well-ordered plans.

“Are you even listening to me?” Weir demanded.

“No,” Rodney admitted. “I’ve got a job to do. I’m not going to hold your hand while you get slapped down for overreaching yourself.”

“I am the leader of this expedition,” Weir reminded him. “I get to pick who will be coming along with me.”

Rodney stopped what he was doing and turned to stare at her. “Are you high? Or just so arrogant that you are ignoring what you sound like? You get to pick? Dr. Weir, you have a degree in political science. I wouldn’t trust you to pick out toilet paper. Which, by the way, was not included in your oh so comprehensive list of supplies.”

Weir waved his point away as if it was immaterial, and Rodney tried not to growl. All the anger from three years under her inept rule was bubbling to the surface, and he needed to be careful not to go too far.

“I’ll add some,” Weir said with a huff. She was using her placating voice, and Rodney hated it. It was the voice that had led to the fatal delay with Sumner, to Aiden being lost, to the Wraith being bargained with, to Michael and all his fucked-up drama. No more. “Do you really want your choice of minions to be decided upon by a bunch of ignorant soldiers?”

“Ignorant soldiers? Who are you talking about?” Rodney demanded.

“O’Neill, Sumner, and Sheppard,” Weir said with a hiss.

Shaking his head, Rodney sat down on the stool at his workstation. “Wow. Just wow. You do know O’Neill has a doctorate in astronomy and Sheppard has one in applied mathematics, right? Sumner has two masters’ degrees, one in civil engineering and another in military history. None of them are ‘ignorant’. Also, your prejudices are appalling.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Weir told him with a glare. “The logical end of their actions is that they’ll take over the expedition, and we won’t be able to do any of the science we agreed to do. I don’t get how you can’t see what they are planning on doing!”

“I don’t know where you got that out of three men making sure that my scientists will be able to safely explore a new environment, but you need to drop it,” Rodney said after several moments of silence. “Now do me a favor and leave. I don’t have time to cater to you and your drama.”

Weir stared at him for several moments before flouncing off. Rodney closed his eyes and tried to figure out if she had always been such a bitch. He could only conclude that, yes, she had been, but he had been too blinded by science and exploration to notice.

Opening an email, Rodney fired a message off to Radek to warn him of what Weir was up to. He wouldn’t put it past her to go behind his back to get the people she wanted on the expedition rolls.

He made a mental note to check out the supplies slated for the hard sciences after he was finished with his personnel. When he had lived through this the first time, he had been very cautious in his smuggling. There was no reason to be now, and he was going to try for everything he had only contemplated before. Being underprepared had sucked.

“Dr. McKay, could I have a moment of your time?” Sumner called from the door.

Eyebrow raised, Rodney hit send on his message before turning to look at the colonel. “Colonel Sumner, to what do I owe this honor?”

“I was hoping to talk to you about Major Sheppard,” Sumner said with a wave in the general direction of the conference room. “You seemed comfortable with him; do you think you could work with him as my 2IC?”

Rodney frowned and crossed his arms as he looked at the other man. He was trying to push his original opinions of the man aside and take him as he was now. It was harder than he would like to admit. “I honestly don’t know what to say, Colonel. Why are you asking me about your staffing issues?”

The sigh Sumner gave out sounded rather long-suffering. “It’s been pointed out to me that I’ve been rather hands-off regarding this whole thing. Plus letting my ignorance of how you and your scientists work color my interactions with you. Also, it seems that letting Weir handle the supply and personnel lists for the military was a stupid oversight. I’m not a fan of being told I’m stupid, so I’m fixing myself.”

Rodney nodded once. “Okay, I get that. And I’m facing the same thing. I can work with the major. We spent a day and a half together at the Outpost without issue. And he seemed more amused than upset when we went science mad.”

“Well that’s good to know,” Sumner muttered before taking a turn around the conference room. “Given that you’ve been with the program for a while, I’m sure you have figured out ways to get what you want with a minimum of oversight.”

Head cocked to one side, Rodney tried to decode that sentence. “Are you asking if the sciences were planning on smuggling anything?”

“Maybe,” Sumner said, amusement gleaming in his eyes. “If you were to do something like that, I would hope whatever was brought would be useful goods that could be used by the whole expedition.”

“If we were to do such a thing,” Rodney acknowledged with a grin.

“If you were,” Sumner agreed. “I need to go start interviewing people for the expanded places on the roster. See you around, Dr. McKay.”

Rodney watched the colonel walk out of his office and shook his head in wonder. That had honestly been the longest conversation he had ever had with the man. And the weirdest.

John finished dialing the string of numbers that would hopefully connect him to the man he wanted as CMO. The general had agreed after looking at Watson’s record, and Sumner had just shrugged. Tapping his fingers on the table, he waited as the phone rang several times before being picked up.


“Hello, is this John Watson?” John asked. The voice sounded right, but it had been three years for him since he had heard the man’s actual voice, so he had to be sure.

Yes? Who is this?” Watson asked his English accent crisp with suspicion.

“This is Major John Sheppard, USAF,” John said. Given the amount of time, he wasn’t sure if Watson would remember him. “We did a brief tour together in Afghanistan?”

“Oh yes, I remember. You’re the pilot with the math degrees and the wicked good luck in avoiding enemy fire,” Watson stated after several moments of silence. “What can I do for you, Major?”

“I’m putting together a broad, multiple country unit and was given authorization to pick good officers from where I could find them. One of the positions I need to fill is CMO,” John explained. “I need someone with iron ethics, the ability to defend his patients, and a sincerely broken give a fuck. Naturally, I thought of you.”

Uh-huh,” Watson was silent for several seconds before his English tenacity pushed through. “What’s the catch?

“The catch is we’ll be out of contact for most of a year, at an isolated duty station with over two hundred people,” John told him. “You would be in charge of the medical department with a mix of military and civilian assets and a severely limited supply chain. To add to the fun, we aren’t sure how many friends or foes we will be in contact with.”

“Sounds like fun,” Watson admitted. “Where? Because the last I heard, you were being shipped south to cool off.”

“I was indeed shipped south, but the new posting came out of that. Currently, we’re out of the old NORAD facility,” he told his friend. “Project Blue Book.”

Blue Book? You got involved in that?” Watson asked, suddenly sounding much more interested.

John froze for a moment before he drew in a deep breath. “If you know even that much, you know I can’t get into things over the phone, John.”

“Oh, bugger that,” Watson snapped, obviously irritated at John’s lack of details. “Get someone to cut me orders so I can head out to this mystery assignment. Just make sure I can make a stop in London to pick up some things. Out of contact for a year? I am not going without supplies.”

The laughter that bubbled up was unexpected, but welcome. Captain John Watson was totally unique, and John was grateful for it. “You should have the orders soon, and I’ll make sure you go through London for your shopping pleasure.”

“Good,” Watson told him, satisfied. “I’ll want a longer explanation once I’m there. Gotta go, still need to finish my shift. Ta.”

The dial tone wasn’t a surprise, and John hung up with a smile. “Hey, Walter?”

“I have Captain Watson’s orders cut, and he has seventy-two hours in London before he’s due to fly out here,” O’Neill’s aide called from his spot in front of the general’s office.

Clenching his jaw to keep it from dropping, John peeked around the conference room door to stare at Walter. “Either you have ears like a bat, or you’re related to Radar O’Reilly.”

“He’s my idol, sir,” Walter told him straight-faced. “And I was able to find Captain Watson on the list of personnel submitted by the British Army last year. He was cleared for future recruitment, so it was easy enough to cut orders.”

“Good to know he was already preapproved then,” John said. “Would you be the one I go to in order to find two Special Forces Army personnel?”

Walter pursed his lips and then nodded. “Yes, sir, I would be. Who are you looking for?”

“Lieutenants Jacob Jensen and Carlos Alvarez,” John told him, eyes cautious.

Walter went still for several moments before nodding. “Their names aren’t familiar, but I’m sure I’ll be able to find them.”

“Good,” John said with a smile. He passed over the paper with their information. “Here’s what I have on their current duty stations.”

“Thank you, sir,” Walter said with a smile as he took the note. “I’ll get right on that.”

“Why Watson?” the general asked as he sat down across from where John was seated at the conference room table.

John looked up from his lists of supplies and blinked once, trying to pull his mind out of the haze of munitions. “Uhm… Sir?”

O’Neill tapped one finger on the table and repeated his question. “Why Watson?”

“Because he has iron ethics, is an amazing doctor, will protect his patients with his life, and can handle difficult personalities without a blink,” John explained. “Also, he’s worked in a war zone for over five years, so he has the experience to handle both combat injuries and normal everyday ones. Plus, he knows exactly what’s needed in case we find an enemy out there.”

“Are you planning on making enemies?” O’Neill asked. He had one of John’s supply lists in his hands and was reading it over.

“I hope not, sir,” John admitted. He wanted to avoid the Wraith for as long as possible. No need to kick that hornets’ nest if he didn’t have to. “But I’ve also been reading the AARs for the SGC, and it seems wise to go prepared for the worst, not the best. Besides, the Atlantis repair list we got from the Outpost didn’t seem like normal wear and tear. Some of the damage looked to be from weapons.”

“Good point,” O’Neill allowed. “I would double the amount of coffee and tea you are bringing. The science teams aren’t the only caffeine hounds around.”

“Oh, I know,” John agreed. “That list should also have the caffeine pills on it.”

“Smart, but still doesn’t fully answer my question. Why Watson?” the general pressed.

John was silent for several moments before he drew in a deep breath and slowly let it out. “I don’t trust Weir to make sure the men and women under my command are taken care of like they need to be if we do find an enemy. While I’m certain Beckett would try, I can’t be sure he’s going to be able to blow the dust off of his skills in time to be useful as a doctor. For normal, everyday stuff, he might be good, but normal isn’t in the SGC’s wheelhouse. Plus, Weir’s response, when questioned about Beckett didn’t thrill me, sir.”

“She didn’t thrill me either, Sheppard,” O’Neill told him frankly. “Okay, so that explains why you want Watson. Now explain Jensen and Alvarez.”

“I really don’t know if I can fully explain those two,” John admitted. “Jensen is ABD in computer science with several master’s degrees in various subjects related to computer science. He’s smart, vicious, and an excellent hacker who has managed to get into and out of most of the secure networks on the planet. While I don’t know if he’s tried the SGC, I wouldn’t be surprised if he hasn’t bumped up against it. As a sniper, Alvarez is currently ranked fourth in the US after Ian Edgerton, and he’s a whiz at explosives too. That plus the degrees in math and a natural gift for languages, I figure he’ll more than pull his weight.”

“So basically, you want back up for Kusanagi and have someone who can snipe as needed,” Sumner summed up as he settled into place next to the general. John didn’t say anything when the colonel snitched the papers he had been reading out of his hands.

“Mostly,” John confirmed. “Kusanagi is apparently the master hacker, but it never hurts to have more than one. And while I am good with a gun, I’m no sniper. None of the men we’re taking are either. I figure having one along would be good. And I know there’s always a spot for a linguist.”

“So multiple reasons to have them, then,” O’Neill observed.

“Yeah,” John said with a shrug.

“Who else are you looking for?” O’Neill asked, reaching for another list.

John looked over at the list of people who had volunteered for the Atlantis mission. Each of the prospects had filled out a form with lists of skills, hobbies, and interests that were outside their declared jobs.

The breadth and depth of skills in the SGC was amazing. Blacksmithing, leatherworking, shipwright skills, food preservation, tracking…

“Sir, do you have any preferences for the MWR department?” John asked Sumner.

The colonel looked up from the lists he had grabbed and blinked once before his gaze sharpened. “There’s someone on the list that has Morale, Welfare, and Recreation experience?”

John nodded. “Chief Cooper. She has a note that her whole shift would go with her too.”

“Ah, shit. Cooper wants to go?” O’Neill asked.

“Yes, sir,” John confirmed as he pulled her profile out of the mass of paper before him. “She’s got some amazing skill sets, and her people have even more. What’s the problem, sir? They seem perfect on paper.”

“Oh, they are,” O’Neill confirmed before leaning back in his chair and running a hand over his face. “Cooper got sucked into the SGC because of our first meeting with the Replicators. She was assigned to ride herd on Danny through that whole mess and did it with a minimum of fuss or drama and managed to get him to actually eat food, despite how tense the whole situation was. By the end of the whole cluster fuck, I had a whole bunch of new nightmares, the SGC had a new crew to man the Alpha shift mess, and Daniel had someone who could get him to eat no matter what.”

“Cooper sounds like an awesome resource,” Sumner reached across the table to snitch the bio sheet from under John’s fingers. “She likes making beer? And gardening? Not the usual hobbies of a squid.”

“That’s the least of her talents,” O’Neill muttered before pinching the bridge of his nose. “So, Cooper and her group will be invaluable to you on Atlantis. I know from experience that her group has all the skills to keep your lot alive and fed for however long you’re out there. She and her group are total yeses in my book.”

“Mine too,” Sumner agreed. “She’s manned the Alpha shift in the officer’s mess, right?”

“Yeah. And as far as MWR goes, the two years she got stuck with it here were pretty great for us. She managed to keep everyone entertained and morale up,” O’Neill reported. “If that’s actually a consideration, she was good at it.”

“Do we have anyone else who can do either job?” Sumner asked as he peered over the paper in his hands.

“No one that I saw, sir,” John reported. He shifted through the lists for several moments then shrugged. “No one else listed MWR experience on their applications.”

“Can we pull her up here? We need to update our food supplies, and if Cooper is willing to join the expedition, she should have a hand in our ordering process,” Sumner asked, looking at the general.

O’Neill was gazing at his watch and nodded. “She should be available at this time of day. Walter!”

“Chief Cooper is on her way up, sir,” Walter called from his desk.

“Seriously, sir, what is it with him?” John asked, confused at how prescient the sergeant was.

“He’s very in touch with the universe,” O’Neill told them with a straight face.


The wait for the chief wasn’t uncomfortable, and John marveled in the change. He had worked out a professional relationship with O’Neill in the previous timeline, but it had never been this easy. And the less said about his relationship with Sumner in the other timeline, the better. Things were much better with this one, and he was adult enough to acknowledge that he had fucked up before.

Since they were going to have someone who actually cooked for a living, they set the food supply lists to the side and turned to their ordnance levels. John had strong feelings about this because he had been caught unawares by how lightly they were supplied before, and he wasn’t facing that now.

“Sirs, I’ve been reading our TOE, and I have a few questions,” John started his opening gambit win with what was fast becoming his favorite set of words.

The groan Sumner let out was long and mostly amused. O’Neill just grinned and rested his chin on one hand. “Do tell, Major.”

“Yes, sir,” John said before clearing his throat. “I was looking over the number of bullets we’re planning on bringing and the types of guns we have on order, and I had was wondering at the choices.”

“What’s got your attention, Major?” Sumner asked.

John handed both men a copy of the original TOE. “As you can see, the supply list that was originally decided on was light even for the smaller number of troops. Also, the types of guns seem rather lightweight for going to a completely unknown galaxy.”

“P90s, Berettas, one Colt AR-15 rifle, a few M4s…” O’Neill read his way down the list and sighed. “Seems rather standard.”

“And in at least three different calibers,” Sumner observed as he pursued the list. “And you’ve bitched about how light the P90s are before, General. After all, Jaffa can take an unholy number of P90 hits before going down.”

“True,” O’Neill muttered before looking the ordnance list over again. “What are you wanting, Major?”

The list of high-powered weapons he had chosen was in a folder, and he pulled it out. “Here sir, I have a list,” John told him promptly. “Most if not all of these guns are in the various armories here in the SGC. I confirmed this. And that means we would be bringing four different types of ammunition plus any reloading gear we can get through. And, yes, I checked, you can reload the shotgun shells, but that takes a special rig.”

“Reloading? Would that be wise?” Sumner asked after nodding at John’s choices. “Good guns by the way. Why no sniper rifles or crew served weapons?”

“Oh, I would love to get at least a dozen or more 8MWs added, but I don’t know how we’ll manage that,” John admitted. “As for why I have no sniper rifles on my list? If we get Lieutenant Alvarez included, he can pick out the ones he wants. I’m decent, but he’s a few orders above decent. I’m leaning towards an M700P Lapua Magnum or even the Barrett M98B, also in Lapua. But I’ll leave that to the expert.

“And the reloading rigs are because I have no idea how long we’ll be out there, and saving our MIL-SPEC in case we do make enemies is a good idea. Training and target practice can be on reloads. None of the guns I chose are intolerant of reloaded bullets, so long as they are within specs. I checked the P90, and it hates reloads to the point where there were recommendations against,” John finished.

Sumner tilted his head to the side as he listened, and John had to wonder what the man was thinking. Since the only experience he had with him equaled to less than a week’s worth of time under his command, he had no idea what the colonel would do to John basically taking over the whole supply issue. Then again, John was his 2IC, so maybe he was relieved? The uncertainty was enough to eat at him.

“Okay, I can get behind all of that. Now the important question… How many of each?” Sumner asked before turning to O’Neill. “General?”

“Hmm?” O’Neill hummed as he stared at John. “Oh. How many guns can you have? Well, first, we need to make sure everyone gets qualified with something. For those that are totally useless, we can see about getting you some intars. A few of those on high will knock anyone out.”

“I’ve heard tales about a ‘zat’?” John offered carefully. He really wanted a brace of the little weapons. The Wraith had nothing like them, and he had no problem using them to kill the creepy bastards.

“Zat’nik’tels, to use the proper name,” O’Neill explained. “And most of the ones we have are because we picked them up from various battlefields, I honestly don’t know where they are manufactured, but they are very uniform throughout the Goa’uld empire. We can send some of the teams to abandoned strongholds to see what can be scavenged. It would also let us check to see who’s visited them. Not a bad idea…”

“Can we revisit the issue on the zats until after that review?” John asked.

“Yeah. Best not to count our destructive weapons before we get them in hand,” O’Neill agreed. “Speaking of going through the gate, you were right. It’s stupid to have a bunch of greenies go through the gate on the day the whole expedition leaves Earth. I think that we need to send everyone through a few times to get them used to the sensation.”

“I’m game,” John volunteered immediately. There was a rush to going through a gate that he was missing. And, frankly, facing an intergalactic gate trip as his first one was just insane. “When can I go?”

“Do you like roller coasters, Major?” Sumner asked.

“They’re a lot of fun, but I honestly like Ferris wheels more,” John told him.

“Well, the stargate is an annoying roller coaster that spits you out half-frozen on a brand new world. At least the first few times. After about the fifth trip, your body adapts and no more freezing,” O’Neill informed him.

“You would think with something that rips you apart at a molecular level then reassembles you would overheat you, not freeze you,” Sumner mused.

“Ancient safety procedures,” O’Neill told him. “I asked Carter and got a shrug, so when I was in the chair last, I researched it. It’s better to be a bit cold than cooked.”

“I’ll take cold too. Jesus what a mess that would be,” Sumner agreed.

“Agreed,” John said with a nod. Minor chill versus cooked? Well, he liked the cold well enough to tolerate the acclimation process.

Their discussion was interrupted by three brisk knocks against the outer door of the conference room, and the general directed the knocker to enter. A woman in plain BDUs entered and stopped just short of the table and saluted smartly. “Chief Cooper, reporting as ordered.”

“Thanks, Chief.” O’Neill waved her to a chair after returning the salute. “We’re putting together the military supply side of the expedition and thought you should weigh in on the subject. Given that supply is part of your mandate and all.”

The look Cooper flashed his way was caustic, but she didn’t say anything, just held out her hand for the list. As soon as O’Neill handed it to her, she started reading it over. When Walter dropped a tablet computer off at her elbow, she didn’t even twitch. It took her twenty minutes to go through the revised lists, and John couldn’t read her expression at all.

When Cooper turned the last page over she folded her hands over them and looked at the three of them. “Respectfully, sirs, but what in the hell was that?”

John shared a look with Sumner before turning back to the woman before him. He had heard that Navy Chiefs were a breed unto their own, but still. And the general seemed okay with how he was being talked to.

“That, Chief, was what Weir came up with, and we added what we thought would work to the supply list,” O’Neill told her.

“It won’t work, sirs. What’s the time period for this thing?” Cooper asked as she turned the tablet computer on with one hand and grabbed paper and pen with the other.

“Minimum is a year, Cooper,” Sumner told her. “But I figure that eighteen months is more realistic.”

Cooper looked at the documents in front of her again and shook her head. “Those supplies would have lasted six months at the outside. And that’s with rationing. Also, there are no vitamins in there to make up for any deficiencies.”

John hid a flinch. They had actually only made it to four months due to the additional mouths of the Athosians. Not that he begrudged them anything. But the expedition had worked hard to stay fed, and there was no way he was going to do that again if he could manage it.

“What do you recommend?” Sumner asked after several uncomfortable moments of silence.

“Do I have a free hand?” Cooper asked seriously.

“I vote yes, but I’m not going on the mission,” O’Neill told her.

“But you and Administrator Weir will be paying for everything I order, sir, and supplying two hundred plus people for eighteen months won’t be cheap. The Navy doesn’t do this anymore. Neither do the other services,” Cooper reminded him. “And it won’t just be food. It’s all the other things we’ll need too, up to and including the things to cook on and in. We’re going to need to bucket brigade our supplies, and I’m not sure 38 minutes will be enough. Certainly, the current ramp to the gate will make things more difficult than needed.”

“Point,” O’Neill cocked his head to the side at that then nodded. “Let me look into something. Make your lists, Cooper. I’ll sign off on everything.”

Cooper raised one eyebrow at him then nodded. “Aye aye, sir.”


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I've been in fandom for over 15 years now. I write in a number of different universes and they can be found on my site. I'm coming up on middle age, I'm not nearly as nice as most people think and I hang out with a bunch of bitches. We have a lot of fun.


  1. I adore you!

  2. You wrote the squeaky wheel John story! I so wanted a squeaky wheel John story! This is fantastic! And with Cooper getting to write her own supply list, too. Excellent taps fingertips together

  3. I love you. This is fantastic.

  4. I love well thought out logistics. It’s deeply satisfying. The expedition really needed a do-over! Cooper is a great catalyst for change. These boys desperately need her.

  5. I love the artwork! This is honestly so satisfying, seeing all the gaps filled up with awesome Jack, Danny, and Sumner’s assistance. I love John’s new relationship with Sumner this time around. And the building relationship b/w Rodney and John has me all a-bibble. Partners in time-crime!

  6. This is very intriguing so far. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Wonderful story. Loved the changes you made to the expedition.
    Thank you.

  8. Lol. Yes, the damn ramp. That’s a terrific point.

  9. So many great rethinkings in here — do-over stories are fun! Three cheers for genuine preparedness.
    I’m wondering about John’s adjustment if he keeps Summer alive, and thus isn’t in charge (for better and worse).
    Watson as CMO? I love it!!! Definitely a good fit. (Though poor Sherlock, maybe never getting to meet his doctor?)
    I enjoy your OC Cooper’s blunt sense.
    I don’t actually know The Losers, though I’ve read a couple other crossovers.
    Sheppard and McKay had better be careful, or the smart folks around them will get suspicious that something’s up.
    Okay, enough flailing and jabbering, I want to read the rest!

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