- Earth Part I
- Rough Draft
- Work in Progress
- Character Bashing
- Death - Minor Character
- No Beta
- Violence - Canon-Level
- Alternate Universe
- Fix It
By the time he was sitting on a ‘plane back to Nevada he had almost stopped shaking. How on earth did people manage to work each day underneath thousands of tons of rock? And the empathic overload from so many people crammed into far too small a space…
The flight would be a short one, just under two hours, but Rodney was glad that he’d paid for an upgrade to get back home. Except that it wasn’t home anymore, was it? He’d left the employ of the Air Force. Well, he told himself, it was either that or get exiled to Russia for god knows how long! He just had to think of what he was going to do next.
His belongings and his research would need retrieving from Area 51, although it wouldn’t be the end of the world if he couldn’t retrieve the latter since he kept copies of everything, and if they tried to gain access to his computer? He thanked his long dead parents for the intrinsic paranoia which had made him protect his computers from prying eyes – and fingers. The whole thing would simply burn if the correct password wasn’t input within 90 seconds, on each of his computers, although thankfully, he had his favourite iMac with him.
He took a taxi from the airport to his small apartment on the outskirts of Las Vegas. He’d bought the place a couple of years before to give himself a base away from Area 51 and a place to go for a break from the unrelenting pressure of people. Some folk believed that life as a Guide was simple. You just had to be there for your Sentinel, and keep him grounded and centred – although he’d never understood how to ground and centre someone, both at the same time! He wasn’t bonded yet, hadn’t found his Sentinel, but he knew reality would be very different. When they bonded, they’d become partners and lovers and would provide the shields for each other that he sometimes struggled with now.
Rodney was a high level Guide and it had taken him a long time to learn how to shield himself from the emotions of mundanes, and even then there was a considerable amount which still affected him. He could prevent himself from being hurt by the emotions of others, but the emotions themselves could never be entirely blocked. It simply wasn’t feasible to be so isolated from human emotion. With his Sentinel though, they would each add to the protection of the other. No one knew where Sentinels and Guides came from and why there were so few of them, but it was clear they had been created or evolved to be in pairs. A Sentinel without his Guide (and vice versa)was less than half of himself. He needed his other half to be complete and to fully function. Until Rodney found his Sentinel, however, he sometimes needed a break from high stress and emotional situations, and Area 51 was certainly both of those.
As he put his key into the lock of his apartment door, he tensed when he realised that there was someone inside. He relaxed when he realised who it was.
‘Radek! What are you doing here?’
Radek emerged from the small kitchen, a pot of coffee in his hands, and Rodney almost moaned in pleasure as he headed towards it.
‘We heard that you’d resigned from your post, although not why exactly. They didn’t tell us that, they just said that you were no longer in their employ and that all your research had to be handed over. I made it to your quarters to grab your belongings before they got there and I came here.’ He shrugged. ‘I knew you’d come here first.’
Rodney made grabby hands towards to the mug of coffee Radek had just poured.
‘Give, give!’ He took a long drink. ‘It was a set up. Simmonds, the guy who came for me, said that the SGC had a problem with the stargate and the Pentagon wanted me, as the foremost expert on the stargate, which of course I am, to help them. It turned out what he really wanted was to try and get control of the gate and to blackmail General Hammond.’
‘So there wasn’t a problem with the gate? He made that up?’
‘No, no, there was a problem with the gate. One of SG1 was trapped inside.’ Radek frowned and Rodney sighed. Radek hadn’t worked on the stargate. He was first and foremost an engineer, and though he had degrees in Physics, he didn’t have Rodney’s breadth of knowledge and experience.
‘The gate had cut off before Teal’c, one of SG1, had materialised. He was essentially trapped in the buffers of the gate, and that meant that if the gate was used before he could materialise, his pattern would be wiped clear. Now I theorised, using the information I’d been given, that anything in the buffers would be corrupted over time and that if Teal’c wasn’t ‘released’ within 48 hours, he would just… just dissipate.’
‘But you were wrong.’ It wasn’t a question.
‘Yes! I was wrong! Don’t rub it in! But at the same time, Carter wasn’t right!’
‘Major Samantha Carter, blond, beautiful, brainy and…’ his hands made a gesture suggesting the curves of a woman. ‘She’s the one who built the dialling interface with the stargate, which is full of errors and bypasses almost all the security protocols in the…’
‘Rodney!’ Radek interrupted. ‘Focus! What happened?’
Rodney sighed. ‘I said that engaging the gate without the master control crystal would be dangerous. Very dangerous, as there would be no way to regulate the energy distribution.’
Radek nodded. ‘That’s basic engineering. To put a massive current through a conductive object with no means of control is extremely dangerous. The whole mountain could have blown up.’
Rodney pointed at Radek. ‘Exactly! But she said it was worth the risk to try to get Teal’c out of the gate. They actually cleared the mountain of non essential personnel – which the guys in NORAD must have been thrilled about – in case it did happen. But it didn’t explode, although one of their NCO’s was quite badly hurt because he was in the gate room when she activated the gate. Teal’c came strolling down the ramp without a care in the world and Hammond ordered me to Russia.’
‘Russia!’ Radek looked horrified and no wonder. The man had grown up under the communist regime in Czechoslovakia and had good reason to hate and fear the Russians.
‘Apparently Dr. Jackson had promised the Russians the SGC would send them a scientist to show them how to build Naquadah generators. They decided to send me.’
‘But why? You’re not an engineer.’
‘No, although you know perfectly well I could certainly do the job. I am ABD in Mechanical Engineering after all. No, I, ah, I might have upset Major Carter a little.’ Rodney had the decency to look a little abashed.
Radek looked at him sternly. ‘Rodney! We’ve talked about your treatment of women before. I warned you it would get you into trouble one day, and now look.’
‘I know, I know. It’s just that they’re so soft and curvy and Carter has big…’
‘I can guess!’ Radek interrupted. ‘I don’t understand how you can love women so much yet be convinced that your Sentinel is a man.’
‘He is a man. I’ve been able to feel him in the back of my mind pretty much since I first came online.’
‘You came online when you were young?’
‘I was 14. My parents were furious.’ At Radek’s look of confusion, Rodney continued. ‘After my sister was born, my parents had no time for me. I was brilliant and demanding.’ He glared at Radek as his friend muttered something about not having changed. ‘I was brilliant and they had no idea how to deal with that. After the CIA came to visit them when I was 11, they pretty much ignored me, but when I came online as a Guide, they hated me. They thought such a gift should have been given to their darling Jeannie. Soon after that, they allowed me to leave for college in the US, and I never saw them again.’
Radek was appalled. His life in Czechoslovakia had been difficult, but he knew his parents had loved him and his siblings, and they had loved them back. His decision to come to America was only made after their deaths, first his father then his mother just months later. He could never have envisaged leaving them for ever, even though they all knew his best interests – in terms of study and work – would be best served in the United States.
‘How could they just let you go like that?’
Rodney gave a short humourless laugh. ‘I told you. They hated that I’d come online as a Guide and resented me for it. I doubt if they ever actually loved me. They certainly never showed it, not like they showed it to Jeannie. When I said I wanted to go to Northwestern, they agreed, helped me pack and waved me on my way. They never contacted me again and I was far too busy studying to care.’
Except he had cared. He’d cared deeply, but the only way he could cope with it was to bury it so deep within himself that it would never surface.
‘Jeannie kept in touch sporadically and after our parents were killed in 1994, I arranged for her to go to Toronto to start her undergrad. I was already working here when she was in the middle of her PhD and she called to say she was pregnant and was leaving college to have the baby and marry it’s father. I was furious. I hate to admit this, but she’s probably more brilliant than me.’ He looked up at his friend, and Radek knew just how much it must have cost him to admit that.
‘She threw it all away, just like that. I’d already got a job arranged for her here for when she finished her PhD, but she just threw it away and had a baby. And the worse part? She married an English Major!’
Radek refilled Rodney’s coffee and patted his shoulder.
‘Why did you resign? Why didn’t you just refuse to go to Russia and come back here?’
‘I wasn’t given that option. I said I wouldn’t go, they said I was employed by the Air Force and if I refused to obey orders, I could consider myself sacked.’ He shrugged. ‘So I’m here to clear out my things and decide what to do next.’
At that moment Radek’s cell rang. He checked to see who was calling and met Rodney’s eyes.
‘It looks as though I might be joining you in exile.’
‘So who are you going to send?’ Jack O’Neill asked while he played with a… well, he wasn’t quite sure what he was playing with, except that it was old. Daniel slapped his hand and took the thing, then turned his head to look at Sam Carter, waiting for the answer to Jack’s question.
She sighed in frustration. ‘I don’t know. I’m certainly not going. McKay refused to go and so did Radek Zelenka. And before you ask Sir, he’s a Czech Engineer who works at Area 51. I asked him if he would go and he refused. Said he’d had enough of the Russians after they occupied his country for twenty years.’
‘Well you can’t blame him for that,’ Daniel commented, far too reasonably judging by the look on Carter’s face.
‘I don’t blame him. Except that I do because I have no idea who else to send.’
‘Carter, we employ dozens of scientists, there must be someone you can send, and quickly. The Russians are already pissed that you broke their DHD.’
She turned to glare at him, realised that he was her superior officer, schooled her face and sighed again.
‘We do, Sir, but I like most of the ones that could show them how to build the generators. If only we could have forced McKay to go.’
‘Well, short of kidnapping him and putting him on a plane to Siberia…’
Sam looked up, hopefully.
‘No! We can’t just go around kidnapping scientists.’ Daniel sounded outraged and glared at his friends, both of whom were looking slightly guilty.
‘No one would miss him,’ she offered.
‘Actually, I think the Canadian government might.’ When neither Jack nor Sam showed any sign of comprehension he sighed himself. ‘He’s one of their top scientists, probably the very top, and if he suddenly disappeared, they’d want to know why.’
‘He wouldn’t disappear exactly,’ she offered. ‘Just, you know, not be seen for a while. And how come you know so much about him?’
‘I read his file.’
Jack looked at him in confusion. ‘Why would you do that?’
‘I like to know about the people we deal with, and I also think you treated him pretty badly,’ he finished, looking at Sam.
‘How?’ she demanded. ‘He called me a dumb blond, told me I bypassed the security protocols on the dialling computer and said there was no point in trying to rescue Teal’c as he would already be dead!’
‘Well, you yourself admitted that you’d stripped out a lot of the protocols that would be found in a DHD. You said you had to to make it work.’
‘Well, yes but…’
‘And when we were on K’Tau you said we could fix the problem with their sun that we created by sending the MacLarium through the Gate and closing it down before it could materialise on their end.’
Carter looked puzzled. ‘And we did.’
‘By closing the Gate down while the MacLarium was only halfway through.’
‘Yes and it did. What’s your point here?’
‘McKay is a theoretical astrophysicist. He worked with a simulation of the stargate with information from reports of missions through our gate. Based on what happened on K’Tau, he had every reason to believe that Teal’c would not re-materialise, and that if he did, it would be as base matter. Just as you explained to General Hammond.’
‘Well, yes, I suppose so,’ she acknowledged, clearly reluctant. ‘But Teal’c did re-materialise. He was wrong.’
‘Yes he was. But he was right theoretically.’
‘And would have killed Teal’c if I’d listened to him. Daniel, what’s your point?’
‘That he was sent here by the Pentagon to give advice, which he did to the best of his ability, based on what he’d learnt from our experiences and specifically, your reports on the gate. He fulfilled his part of the brief, but because he was rude to you, you wanted to send him to Russia.’
‘I’d call it a bit more than being rude, Daniel.’
‘Maybe. But just how often is he faced with a beautiful and clever woman?’
‘I can’t believe you’re defending him!’
‘Hey, hey, kids, ‘Jack interjected, holding his hands up. ‘No fighting in my office!’
‘Er, Jack? We’re in my office?’ Daniel pointed out. ‘You don’t have an office.’
‘I’m pretty sure I do somewhere about this place.’
There was a sharp knock at the door and Major Paul Davis walked in followed by General Hammond. Jack and Sam stood swiftly to attention but General Hammond waved to them to sit down again.
Sam and Daniel smiled greetings at Paul, but Jack looked suspicious.
‘What’s happened? You only ever appear when something bad happens.’
‘Jack!’ Daniel admonished.
‘Well, it’s true. You know the Marines call him Major Disaster don’t you?’
Daniel looked a little uncomfortable but Paul just laughed.
‘I do seem to appear when things are headed south don’t I? I guess it comes from working with the Pentagon.’
‘So what’s happened this time?’ Jack wanted to know.
Paul sobered. ‘It’s about Dr. McKay.’
They all looked at him, smiles disappearing.
‘Is he okay?’ Daniel asked, somewhat fearfully.
‘Yes, he’s fine. At least I think he is. We’ve had no contact with him since he left here.’
’So, and, therefore?’ Jack waved a hand in the air in a ‘go on’ motion.
‘The Pentagon are upset that he’s left our employ. Very upset.’
He took in the faces turned towards him and continued.
‘It appears that Dr. McKay is a very high level Guide, and the Chiefs of Staff and people in the Pentagon want to know just why he was driven out of our employ.’
‘Well, I wouldn’t say driven out,’ Carter commented. ‘He refused to obey the orders directing him to work in Russia and decided to… leave.’
‘I gave him his new orders,’ General Hammond said. ‘I was asked to select a scientist to help the Russians with their naquadah generator project and Major Carter suggested Dr. McKay. He refused to accept them and when I told him he had no choice, he resigned. I ordered him from the base. I had no idea he was a Guide.’
‘Are you sure he is?’ asked Carter somewhat sceptically. ‘It would be just like him to claim he was.’
Even Jack looked shocked at this.
‘Wow, Carter, I knew you didn’t like him but… Wow!’
Carter coloured a little. ‘Well he certainly doesn’t act like a Guide, and where’s his Sentinel if he is?’
‘He’s an unbonded Guide,’ Davis told them quietly, a little taken back himself by the hostility Carter was displaying. ‘It’s one reason he prefers to work alone at Area 51 and has refused offers for him to come and work here at Stargate Command.’
Carter looked outraged, but before she could open her mouth and put her foot straight into it, Daniel decided to take a hand.
‘We couldn’t have known that. And really, he was very rude to Sam.’
‘I wasn’t aware you were present while Dr. McKay was here, Dr. Jackson,’ General Hammond looked at him consideringly.
Daniel looked a little discomforted. ‘Well, no, but I…’
‘So you have no first hand knowledge of what happened, have you?’
‘No, Sir.’ Daniel admitted with a quick look at Sam, his eyes giving the apology his mouth couldn’t. General Hammond gazed at him for a moment then looked back at Paul.
‘So, Major Davis, the Pentagon and Chiefs of Staff are upset. What do they want from us?’
Paul looked uncomfortable. ‘They are requesting that yourself, Colonel O’Neill and Major Carter go and give them an explanation of what happened while Dr. McKay was here, and what led him to leave our employ.’
‘Requesting?’ Jack queried. ‘Since when do the Chiefs and the Pentagon request anything? They usually just yell until someone gives them what they want.’
‘Quite, Sir,’ was all the response Major Davis would make.
‘You should be very proud of yourself,’ General Jacobs told John Sheppard, pinning the two silver oak leaves onto his collar. ‘You’re the youngest Lieutenant Colonel in the US Marine Coprs since Earl Anderson in 1949.’ He stood back and returned the salute Sheppard gave him.
John turned and marched back to stand with his unit of special forces. There had been a number of promotions today and John was proud that several of them had been amongst his own men – and woman. He couldn’t forget Lieutenant Cadman, Captain Cadman he reminded himself. Their work in the mountains of Afghanistan over the last six months had been outstanding, especially as they’d had to essentially live off the land until the US established fully operational bases in the country.
The main part of General Jacobs’ speech washed over him as he thought about the upcoming missions for his Unit and the discussions that needed to happen, and as soon as they were dismissed, John collected his officers for a staff meeting. They had a number of things to discuss and John needed to make it very clear that he had no intention of becoming desk bound and that despite his promotion, nothing much would change.
They all crowded into the office of his XO since that was larger than his. Office space at Kandahar Airport was scarce and John’s Unit were lucky to have been given two, considering a number of larger units had only one. His status as a Sentinel, albeit an unbonded one, helped and although he generally disliked using his status as a means to gain an advantage, in this case he hadn’t minded and consequently both he and Major Daniels had an office. It was no secret that he’d chosen the smaller one precisely so he couldn’t host anything or, indeed, seat more than two visitors, but most people just shrugged and smiled when the subject was mentioned.
Geoff Daniels switched on the coffee machine that took pride of place in his office. It was rarely empty when he was working, but since other officers had a tendency to ‘borrow’ a cup of his expensive coffee, he tended to keep it locked away when he wasn’t using his office.
‘Cadman, get that tin out of my bottom drawer. My mother sent a care package.’
‘And you’re willing to share it? I wouldn’t.’ Laura Cadman open the tin in question and was about to help herself to a cookie when John took it out of her hands.
‘That’s because you’re a selfish, selfish person Cadman,’ he told her. ‘I’m doing you a favour. I’d hate for you to get fat.’
The newest member of their group, a fresh faced Lieutenant barely out of OCS, looked scandalised at his commanding officer’s comments. John decided Officer Candidate School gave far too many courses on political correctness.
‘Relax Atkinson. It’s a joke. Cadman eats like a horse but never puts weight on.’
Shane Atkinson appeared unconvinced but Cadman just laughed.
‘Pot, kettle Colonel, ’and John could only grin since he too never seemed to put weight on.
The meeting continued as planned and although Major Daniels frowned a little at John’s insistence he would continue leading missions, he understood that John’s skills as a Sentinel could only be utilised properly if he continued in the field. Atkinson, however, had a puzzled look on his face and John finally called him on it.
‘I just don’t understand what use a Sentinel can be. Sir,’ he added when Cadman poked him. John sat back in his seat behind his XO’s desk and raised his eyebrows.
‘I thought OCS gave training on Sentinels and Guides?’
‘Yes, Sir, they do. But they didn’t explain what they can actually do,’ Atkinson explained.
John’s eyebrows disappeared into his hairline. Or you weren’t listening when they did, he thought to himself.
‘Atkinson. Just what do you know about a Sentinel?’
‘Well,’ he began, hesitantly. ‘I know they have extra senses and are really fast, and they have to have a Guide or they zone out…’
‘Okay, Atkinson,’ John interrupted. ‘What do you know about Sentinels that you didn’t get from Hollywood?’ The kid remained silent.
John wondered who he’d pissed off to be given such a clueless junior officer and mentally cursed the Pentagon for deciding that all operational units should have a newly minted officer to gain practical experience in the field. There had been talk about the new policy for a few weeks and no one could decide if the Powers That Be were concerned that a number of more senior officers were likely to be killed during Operation Enduring Freedom, or if it was simply nepotism gone mad. Either way, giving an operational special forces unit such green officers probably meant a high number of the said green officers would be returned home to their loved ones in body bags.
His current unit had worked together for over six months with no loss of life, and considering they’d been quite literally dropped in the mountains of Afghanistan just a couple of months after 9/11, John was proud they’d all managed to survive. His was one of the few units who’d been dropped who hadn’t lost members. He doubted they’d be able to do the same with Atkinson now one of their number.
The other officers around the table exchanged glances and their other Lieutenant, a 27 year old veteran called Mike Smith, was the first to speak.
‘Atkinson, tell us why the fuck you’re here. Because right now, I have no idea what skills you can bring to this party.’
Shane Atkinson glared at him. ‘I asked to join Major, I mean Colonel Sheppard’s unit. I want to join Special Forces and I wanted some experience of working with the best to help my application for training for it.’
It was a rather backhanded compliment, John decided, but he couldn’t help but be concerned that his unit was being used as a training ground, without his knowledge and certainly without his agreement.
‘And just what do you expect to learn here?’ Mike continued his questioning.
‘Well, you do spying and infiltration and you plan missions. I want experience with all of it.’ Atkinson shrugged. There was silence while they all tried to absorbed the sheer stupidity of their newest member.
‘Who did you ask to join our unit?’ Cadman decided she’d take a turn. Atkinson coloured a little.
‘I can’t help it if my father’s on the Senate’s Armed Services Committee!’
John sighed. So, nepotism then. This was likely to get them all killed.
John braced himself against the webbing on the Hercules. He hated flying when he wasn’t the pilot, he hated the noise and he hated the close proximity of his fellow service men. He’d dialled his hearing down to it’s lowest point but he was still suffering, although the presence of Cadman, an unattached Guide, did help a little, despite the fact she wasn’t even close to his level on a Sentinel/ Guide scale. Her hand on his wrist, however, still brought forth frowns and scowls from Atkinson, who couldn’t – or more likely wouldn’t – understand that there was no emotion in the touch, it just meant that she could help strengthen his shields in high pressure situations.
Geoff Daniels turned his head towards John and shook his head in disbelief at the Second Lieutenant’s continued scowl. He’d made no attempt to learn about Sentinels and Guides and tended to avoid John – as much as he could in such a tight knit unit. The unit, for their part, was united in their dislike and contempt for Atkinson although there’d been no bullying, John had made sure of that, but there was basically nothing to like about the kid, who had an opinion on everything and didn’t hesitate to voice it, and who appeared to return the dislike and contempt. John had no doubts that the kid would end up in politics and that his sojourn in the Air Force was simply a prelude to this, a box ticked on the curriculum vitae. It annoyed him that other, far more worthy OTS graduates had missed out on an experience that many would give their eye teeth for, while the little shit had simply used his father’s name and connections.
Still, having the kid with them had meant a direct flight to Kuwait instead of jumping out over Iraq as other units had. It was always a risk, parachuting into enemy held territory, something his grandfather had done over Europe during World War Two as a member of the ‘Screaming Eagles’. John had a fuzzy kind of feeling inside when he remembered he was continuing the family tradition of serving in special forces. It was either that or wind.
Glad to be able to stretch his legs after the three hour flight from Kandahar, John made his way to the rooms which had been allocated to his unit at the Ali Al Salem Air Base, leaving Gunny Weston to supervise the unloading of their equipment and personnel. He knew two members of the British Special Air Service were waiting for him in his new office, seconded to his unit as Sentinel and Guide pair.
‘John, you bastard! When did you get your last promotion?’
‘Mind your manners Major! Introduce me to your Guide.’
‘Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard, this is Captain Pat Delany of the 21st Special Air Services, formerly of the Irish Guards.’
‘I met Major Pierce when I did a six month exchange with his Regiment in 1998,’ John explained to those team members who’d followed him in. ‘Please excuse his manners, he was very badly brought up.’
Rupert grinned unashamedly and punched John’s arm. Unfortunately the door opened at that moment and the rest of John’s unit filed in. Geoff Daniels glared at the British Major.
‘Stop punching our Colonel. You’ll get him dirty.’
John rolled his eyes and made the introductions to everyone, then moved behind the desk to sit down.
‘Well, the good news is that we’ve been assigned these gentlemen for our up coming mission; the bad news is that we’ve only got this one office and a room next door to sleep in, although we can have bunks outside in a tent if we’d rather.’
There was a mass shaking of heads as they all turned down the opportunity to sleep in temperatures approaching 80 degrees with no air conditioning.
‘There is at least a proper bathroom down the corridor,’ Rupert explained. ‘We explored earlier. And the mess isn’t too bad, although I don’t expect we’ll be here too long.’ He looked enquiringly at John.
‘No, we won’t. In fact I doubt we’ll be here more than 48 hours. We’ve been instructed to keep at Alpha level preparedness.’
Most of the room nodded in understanding, except for Atkinson who demanded to know what that was. The two new members of the unit exchanged glances in surprise at both the question and the manner in which it was asked.
‘Atkinson, did you pay any attention during OCS?’ Laura demanded, and received the customary glare from him.
John sighed. ‘It means we have to be ready to move out within 30 minutes of the instruction being given. We sleep in our clothes, take Navy showers and we remain in contact with each other at all times. If we’re given the order to move, anyone not ready gets left behind. And ask Cadman later to explain what a Navy shower is,’ he finished in exasperation at the question forming on the Lieutenant’s lips. John himself earned a glare for that and Rupert shifted uncomfortably when John ignored the insult.
‘So what’s the story with the kid?’ Rupert Pierce asked John. John raised his head from his bunk pillow and glanced over at his old friend and his Guide. The rest of the unit – including the kid, who’d been dragged out by Mike Smith – had gone to find the mess and had left John to catch up with his old friend and his Guide.
‘The ‘kid’ is almost a year out of OCS and wants to join special forces, so he asked his daddy – who’s a Senator if you please – to arrange a placement for him. He’s a royal pain in my ass, in all our asses. Thinks he knows everything and refuses to listen to anyone.’ John sighed. ‘And just to make things even better, he hates the idea of Sentinels and Guides serving. I don’t know, but I’m guessing his father is a Republican, and a conservative one at that. I expect an outcry when he realises you two have a sexual bond, but don’t worry ‘cos Cadman and Smith have made it their life’s mission to keep the kid in line.’
’Sounds like he could have done with a spell at my public school,’ Rupert offered.
John snorted so hard he began to cough, while Rupert and Pat Delany just grinned at him. John could sense that their bond was very strong and for a moment felt an ache in his chest which he knew would disappear when he found his Guide. If he found his Guide. He’d been an online Sentinel for almost twenty years, had come online just before his fourteenth birthday after his mother had been killed in a car crash and despite attending a number of Guide mixers, had never found his Guide.
‘You know, I’d pay good money to see the look on his face if you told him about your public school,’ John finally managed to say. He doubted if Atkinson knew anything about education outside of the US and although it was probably mean, very mean, he knew Atkinson would look down his nose at Rupert, never guessing that the Honourable Rupert Hertingforth-Pierce, second son of the 11th Earl of Hertingforth had attended an English Public School, a boarding school with a history longer than that of the United States of America.
‘Pat could always talk about his school,’ Rupert told John, very seriously. ‘He went to Eton.’
John actually rolled off his bunk he laughed so much, and when he finally sobered, still sitting on the floor, propped up against his bed, he realised it had been months since he’d actually enjoyed himself quite so much.
Patrick Sheppard tapped his knife against his wine glass and stood.
‘Gentlemen and Lady,’ he smiled at the only woman at his dining table who returned the smile. ‘Would you all join me in a toast to our birthday boy?’
Five of the six people around the table stood and raised their glasses.
As the others sat back down, Rodney McKay stood and made a performance of taking a large sheaf of paper from inside his jacket pocket.
‘Unaccustomed as I am…’
There were howls of ‘sit down!’ and ‘Gods save us!’ from around the table and someone – and Rodney was pretty sure it was Radek – threw a bread bun at him. He laughed and laid the papers on the table, whereupon they were grabbed by Miko Kusanagi when she saw various calculations written on them.
‘Seriously, thank you everyone, for joining me this evening, and thanks in particular to Patrick for hosting this dinner. It’s the best birthday party I’ve ever had.’
He reseated himself and smiled as Patrick raised his glass a little in salute. Miko was still perusing the papers she’d seized.
‘Rodney, what is this?’
He tried to grab them back from her, but she held them out of his reach.
‘It’s the calculations for an engine. Give it back, I’m still working on it.’
‘This is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. How on earth…’
Radek gave him a hard stare and picked up the papers Miko had already read.
‘It’s okay Radek,’ Rodney assured him. ‘It’s all my design.’
Radek glanced through the first couple of sheets and nodded, clearly happy with what he saw.
‘Why wouldn’t it be your design?’ David Sheppard, middle son of Patrick and Vice President of Operations of the family company, queried.
‘Ah, er, Radek and I both worked for a, a sort of Government think tank and I suspect he thought I might have used some of the ideas of the other, er, scientists on the project.’
‘But this is all your design,’ David confirmed, clearly concerned that Rodney might not own all the rights to the design.
‘David,’ Patrick chided gently. ‘Let’s not get into business now. It’s Rodney’s birthday.’
‘And a year since I joined Sheppard Industries,’ Rodney added. ‘One of the best years of my life.’
‘Suck-up,’ muttered Radek, and grinned when Patrick leaned across Miko and poked him.
Settling back in his chair, Rodney glanced around the table at his… he nodded to himself. His family. Radek had joined him at Sheppard Industries a couple of weeks after Rodney had begun his new role as Head of Research and Development and Miko had followed a month later. She’d also worked at Area 51 and although she hadn’t been threatened with exile to Russia, she was tried of the scientists there trying to either steal her work or treating her like a dogsbody. She’d been very pleased to give them all a one fingered salute, and although none of the three could now work with the fascinating alien tech which had drawn them to the SGC and Area 51, they were all much happier working for Patrick Sheppard.
Matthew Sheppard, Patrick’s youngest son, turned to speak to the man beside him.
‘Dad was absolutely thrilled to have you come and work for him you know,’ he told Rodney with a grin on his face. ‘David told me he spent a couple of hours phoning around various competitors dropping your name into the conversation after you’d agreed to join the family business. I’m just sorry I haven’t been able to meet you before. The Navy likes to keep me pretty busy.’
‘I was actually surprised that you and your brothers have all served your country, although I realise David left the Navy to join Patrick a couple of years ago.’
‘My eldest brother bucked the trend and joined the Marines, although our grandfather served in the Army during the Second World War. Dad, David and I all went the Navy route and Dad and I both became aviators.’
Rodney grinned knowing how proud Matt was of his very new and shiny wings of gold.
‘Congratulations on your wings. Do you know where your first posting will be yet?’
Matt blushed a little.
‘I’ve got a berth on the USS Nimitz.’
Rodney raised his eyes in surprise. Only the best of the best served on the country’s supercarriers.
‘Then double congratulations. Patrick must be very proud.’
‘I think he is,’ Matt confided, ‘although my eldest brother John is the superstar in the family. He became the youngest Lieutenant Colonel in the Marine Corps last year.’
‘And he’s in Afghanistan?’
‘Actually, we’re not supposed to know where he is, but that’s where we all think he is. He does something so secret, none of us even know where to write to him. Everything just gets sent to Hurlburt Field, in Florida.’
Which was where Special Operations Command was, Rodney knew.
‘I don’t actually know John very well as he went to Annapolis when I was only nine and he doesn’t often get home for holidays. We’re very proud of him though because he’s a Sentinel as well.’
Now that was something Rodney didn’t know. Sentinels, and indeed Guides, were pretty rare, with less than half a million in Northern America, and most of them were of a low level – meaning their ‘gifts’ were weaker or less advanced than a higher level Sentinel or Guide. Rodney had often wondered if he would ever find his Sentinel, and had tried to prepare himself for not finding him. He’d met most of the high level Sentinels in Northern America and even some from Europe, but he’d never met a John Sheppard, although that made sense if he was rarely home to meet. The likelihood of him being of a compatible level with me is very low, less than two percent. Rodney sighed to himself but smiled at Matt when he began to look a little worried.
‘I’m a Guide and I was wondering if I’d ever met your brother.’
‘I don’t think he’s ever been to any of the mixers the Sentinel and Guide Council arrange. Dad said he was concerned about some of the policies the Council has and that a few of their aims would make more trouble for Sentinels and Guides who are serving than they would solve.’
‘Your Dad is right. They have some very odd ideas. It’s one reason I’ve always kept my Canadian citizenship, despite the number of times I’ve been invited to take duel nationality.’
Matt nodded but Rodney doubted he fully understood why Rodney had made the choices he had. He wasn’t going to enlighten him either. Some things were better left unsaid.
The party had moved into the main sitting room and coffee was being served. Patrick took a sip of his coffee as he looked around the room at his sons and staff mingling and chatting. He’d become very fond of Rodney McKay in the year he’d known him, and although he knew Radek and Miko less well, he’d enjoyed their company this evening. They both had very dry senses of humour and clearly enjoyed working together and bouncing idea between the three of them. Matt joined his father on the sofa and bumped shoulders.
‘Hi yourself. Got bored talking to Miko?’
‘I think that’s almost impossible. She beautiful and fascinating.’
‘And much brighter than you.’
‘Yeah, you’re right. It’s a killer combination. So, I was chatting to McKay earlier. Did you know he was a Guide?’
‘Mmm.’ The comment from Patrick was noncommittal.
‘I’m not certain I would have known if he hadn’t told me.’
Patrick raised his eyebrows in enquiry.
‘The other Guides I’ve met were all very… very calming. They exuded this feeling of calm in everyone around them. McKay really isn’t like that. He’s very…’ Matt broke off, not sure how to explain himself.
‘He’s a brilliant man, Matt. He really is the smartest man in the world. He’s got three PhDs and I’m pretty sure he’s ABD in Mechanical Engineering. We were very lucky to have him come and run our research division. In the year he’s been with Sheppard Industries we’ve not just made steps forward, we’ve made massive leaps forward. The new Super Hornets you’ll be flying on the Nimitz are likely to be made obsolete by the planes Rodney’s designed for us. The Navy are very interested in a prototype we have and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we become their main supplier of aircraft. And that’s on top of the amount of other things he’s busy with. Rodney, Radek and Miko are the hottest team in industry at the moment. I have no idea how many offers of employment they’ve each had, and even invitations to consult. They seem to enjoy working for us though.’
‘So it’s a sort of nervous energy McKay has then? He can’t keep still for long.’
‘He’s much calmer than when he first joined SI. I don’t know where he was before except it was government work, but he was so stressed I wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d had a stroke. He’s calmed down an awful lot and I know he’s happier now than he was. He still does a little government work although it’s far too classified for me to know any details about it. I just know it’s not where he was before.’
‘This government ‘think tank’ Radek mentioned?’
‘Rodney mentioned it, but I doubt very much it was a ‘think tank’. I’m not asking him any questions though. We agreed when I first offered him a job that I wouldn’t ask questions about his previous employment.’
‘So no references? I thought you’d need references?’ Matt frowned and put his cup and saucer down on the small table at the side of the sofa.
‘I didn’t need to ask for references. He’s Rodney McKay. His name alone is the best reference he could give. He told me he wouldn’t work for one of our competitors although he does do some consulting. Just not in the fields he works in for us.’
David joined them at that point and sank into an armchair.
‘So little brother. Have you enjoyed meeting our dream-team?’
‘That’s pretty much what Dad called them. They are certainly interesting people.’
‘We were so lucky they came to work for us. I’m sure they could have earned more elsewhere.’
Matt looked worried for a moment.
‘We do pay them well don’t we? I want to be able to fly this new plane McKay’s designed. Double what you pay them, for fuck’s sake.’
It was David’s turn to laugh.
‘They are all very happy with what we pay them, don’t worry. Rodney’s more concerned with the quality of coffee we supply him with.’
They were all laughing when Mrs. Johnson, their housekeeper, came in to call Patrick out for a moment. He excused himself and the two brothers went to join the now bickering scientists.
‘If it wasn’t for the fact that I know Rodney and Radek are the best of friends, I’d be worried about the amount of time they spend arguing,’ David confided to his brother and they both smiled as Miko entered the fray.
‘You’re both wrong and I’ll prove it to you in the lab tomorrow morning,’ she told them sternly. ‘Now we are here to enjoy a party so stop arguing and start enjoying.’
Rodney opened his mouth to reply when he stilled and stared at the door which had just opened. The others all turned to look at what had silenced him. Patrick stood in the doorway, his hand on the shoulder of a man with an arm in a sling and cuts and bruises on his face.
Matt recovered first and stepped towards them.
‘John! What on earth’s happened? Are you okay? Why are you here?’
John Sheppard smiled gently at him. He’d always had a very soft spot for his baby brother and still saw him – and probably treated him, he acknowledged to himself – as the nine year old boy Matt had been when John left for the Academy.
‘Just a bit beaten up Mattie. Nothing to worry about.’
Patrick guided him towards the sofa close to the warmth of the log fire and John settled himself thankfully into its comfort. He’d spent hours on a plane after a few days on a hospital ship in the Persian Gulf and was glad to finally be home and, he admitted, safe in the care of his father. He wasn’t sure what that said about a veteran pilot and soldier but he put that piece of knowledge safely away to be examined more closely at a later date. He looked around the familiar sitting room and at the three guests who he didn’t know.
‘I’m sorry if I’ve come home at an inconvenient time Dad.’ John looked up to his father who had moved to stand behind the sofa.
‘Don’t be silly John. I know you’ve had a bump on the head, but you should know it’s never inconvenient for me to have my sons home.’ Patrick touched his eldest son’s shoulder. ‘I should introduce our guests though. Colonel John Sheppard, Drs. McKay, Zelenka and Kusanagi. Dr. McKay is our Head of Research and Drs Zelenka and Kusanagi are his deputies.
Radek glanced at Rodney who hadn’t moved, then stepped forward.
‘Colonel Sheppard. I’m pleased to meet you.’ He held out his hand, then laughed abruptly as John smiled and gestured towards his right arm ensconced in a sling. ‘I apologise.’
’No problem Dr. Zelenka. It’s a pleasure to meet you and your colleagues. My father has mentioned you in his letters to me.’
‘We will call for a cab Mr. Sheppard. You and your sons need some time alone, ‘ Miko told him and Patrick smiled at the tiny Japanese scientist.
‘Alex Johnson will drive you all home Miko. David, will you call him please?’
David frowned a little at the instruction, clearly torn between his injured brother and their guests.
‘Davey, I’m fine. Nothing a few days of Mrs. Johnson’s cooking won’t cure,’ John told him, and David nodded and left the room.
John’s eyes moved around the room and he took a sharp breath as he locked eyes with the third scientist who had remained silent, but who was pale and looked unsettled. His eyes were a deep blue and John realised that he could easily lose himself within them. He smiled at him and the scientist smiled hesitantly back and took a step forward, as though he couldn’t help himself.
‘I’ve been waiting for you.’
‘I’m here now.’ John held out his good arm and the blue eyed man reached out and took his hand.
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