- Rough Draft
- Work in Progress
- Character Bashing
- No Beta
- Violence - Canon-Level
- Alternate Universe
- Fix It
- Time Travel
John opened his eyes and gasped. Wow! He felt like he’d just run a marathon. He tumbled out of bed and looked around. His bedroom when he was a teenager? Check, if the posters of Hornets, Tomcats and Fighting Falcons were anything to go by. He moved over to the mirror on his dresser and gasped again.
Side parting and hair flopping over the eyes? Check, and check. He remembered his father telling him to get it cut before he bought him an alice band. His mother had smiled serenely, stroked John’s cheek and mentioned how some people used to think wearing oodles of brill cream made them look dashing. He father had glared at her for a moment, then burst out laughing, ruffling John’s hair as he went to hug his wife.
The memory brought a sharp pain to his gut until he realised that his mom was right here, right now. She’d be – he glanced at his alarm clock – she’d be just waking up and having her first cup of tea any moment now. He grinned at the thought and went straight to his bedroom door.
Emma Sheppard looked up at him with the smile that made you think you were the one person she wanted to see right then, placed her cup and saucer on her bedside table, and opened her arms.
Without thinking any further he collapsed into her arms, relishing both her softness and her perfume – the scent he’d always associated with his mother and which would forever remind him of her the moment he ever smelt it.
‘John, sweetheart? What’s wrong?’
His older, adult self scoffed at his emotionalism, but he couldn’t help it. Just a few hours ago he’d walked around Jack O’Neill’s lake and talked with his ascended parent, but the John Sheppard of 2007 couldn’t bring himself to give her more than a brief, perfunctory hug, since he’d closed himself off so much over the years. It had been his only way of surviving the losses he’d suffered: of his mother, his family, his friends, even the loss of his career at one point. That John Sheppard had out shut everyone and everything until he’d heard a voice ask ‘Major, think about where we are in the solar system.’ Even that had brought its own problems, though. He hadn’t known if Dr. Rodney McKay, PhD, PhD, PhD, would return his affection, and even if he did, John’s occupation meant they could do nothing about it.
‘I lost you, Mom,’ he whispered to her, his head buried in her shoulder. ‘You were lost and I was all on my own.’
A firm hand gripped his shoulder and a deeper voice asked, ‘And where was I in all this? Wasn’t I there for you, either?’
John turned his head and, for the first time in many years, he looked into his father’s eyes and saw the love his father had for him.
‘No, Dad, you weren’t. You were lost as well. I’m sorry.’
‘Hey. If I was lost, maybe it’s me who should be sorry. I wouldn’t lose you intentionally, kid. You know that. I’m your dad and it’s my job to be there for you, okay?’
Patrick settled onto the side of the bed and slung an arm around John’s shoulder. John was now pressed between both his parents and it was the most protected he’d felt for years.
‘Meredith? Phone call!’
‘Ooooh. Is it a girl, Meredith? Have you got a girlfriend?’ Jeannie McKay made kissing noises as her brother came down the stairs.
‘Get lost, kid,’ Rodney muttered as he grabbed the phone from his mother. ‘Hello?’
Hi. Wanna take a ride in my jumper?
‘That’s…that’s probably the most inappropriate thing anyone’s ever said to me! No, Jeannie! Go away!’
Your sister’s there? Sorry. I wasn’t quite sure what to say. We didn’t discuss this.
‘No, we didn’t. Just a minute.’ Rodney covered the mouthpiece of the phone and shouted. ‘Mom, can you tell Jeannie to leave me alone? I want to talk to one of my friends.’
‘Friends?’ Jeannie gave a derisive laugh. ‘You don’t have any friends. No one wants to be friends with a loser like you.’
There was no reply. Rodney sighed. He’d forgotten just how annoying his sister was as a child, although she hadn’t been much better as an adult. He’d hoped to have a better relationship with her this time, but it looked as though that was an impossible dream.
’John? Look, give me your number and I’ll call you from a pay phone.’
You sure? Okay.
John rattled off a phone number which Rodney made sure not to repeat. He couldn’t remember if Jeannie’s memory was good enough to recall things she’d heard, but he didn’t want to risk her getting hold of John’s telephone number. He hung up the phone and grabbed his coat, checking he had some coins for the pay phone. What denominations do they take?
‘Mom! Meredith’s going to meet a boy. He’s got a boyfriend! Meredith’s a gay boy!’ she sing songed. ‘John and Meredith sitting in a tree—’
‘Shut up, Jeannie!’
‘Meredith!’ his mother called, and Rodney glared at his sister.
‘Now look what you’ve done!’
‘Meredith! You’re not going to meet anyone. I need you to take Jeannie to the library.’
‘Yeah,’ Jeannie smiled maliciously. ‘You need to take me to the library, not spend hours mooning over your boyfriend!‘
Rodney gritted his teeth. ‘Can’t she go on her own? She’s almost nine now.’
‘No, she can’t! And if you want to go to college in the fall, you’ll do what I tell you!’
He closed his eyes and silently counted up to twenty in English, and then again, in Ancient. He’d sneak out while Jeannie was choosing her books, he told himself.
Of course, Jeannie made sure that she kept him at her side all the time they were out. In the end, it was almost midnight when Rodney was able to sneak out of his bedroom window, onto the flat roof of the kitchen, and down the rose trellis, scratching himself badly as he did so.
Crap! I’ll have to find some way of hiding those tomorrow or she’ll work out my escape route.
The first pay phone he tried had been vandalised and he had to walk over a mile to find one he could use.
‘John?’ he asked when the Sheppard’s phone was answered.
No, it’s Dave. Is this Rodney? John’s been expecting your call.
‘I’m sorry, I couldn’t get away any sooner. Is John there?’
Yeah, I’ll get him. Are you okay, Rodney? Is everything alright?
Rodney paused to think what John might have told his brother. He’d intended to keep the time travel from him, if possible, working on the basis that the fewer people who knew, the better.
Rodney? You still there? Are you alright?
‘Yeah, I’m fine. Just a little tired.’
On the other end of the phone he could hear Dave laugh.
John said he felt as though he’d run a marathon when he woke up this morning. The sort of travel you’ve both done is obviously exhausting.
Well, that cleared that up.
Hang on, Rodney, John’s here.
Rodney? You okay, buddy?
The sound of John’s voice was so reassuring that Rodney almost cried. ‘Yeah, I’m fine,’ he managed to say without bursting into tears. ‘Just a little problem with my sister and my mother. We’re going to need to sort out a way to communicate without using phones or letters since they’re both likely to open anything addressed to me.’
That sucks, Rodney. You gonna build that main frame subsystem you talked about?
‘I’m going to have to, but it’ll take me a few days to get all the stuff for it, especially as… Anyway, it’ll take me a few days.’
That’s not what you were going to say.
‘Yes, it is. I was just thinking about what I’ll need. My Mom and Jeannie are going to be a problem though. Mom’s already using the threat of not to letting me go to college in the fall if I don’t do what she says.’
Rodney, where are you? John asked suddenly.
‘Um, in Canada?’
No, I mean right now. This is a pay phone, isn’t it? Where are you in relation to your home?
‘I’m…I’m just a short way away.’
Rodney, it’s almost 1am. Are you wandering the streets on your own?
‘Sheppard. Don’t worry so much. I’m a…’
No, you’re not. You’re a fourteen year old, pimply faced kid like me. Look, Rodney. My Dad has had a couple of ideas about all this. We’re going to bring my Grandpa in on it. Go home, and wait for my call later on today. Does your family go to church?
‘Go to church? Are you crazy? You know I’m an atheist!’
Not you, idiot! Your folks. Do they go to church?
The penny dropped.
‘Yeah, my Mom sometimes takes Jeannie if she’s in the mood. She stopped making me go years ago when I began arguing with the pastor.’ He laughed. ‘I’d love to have the chance to argue with him now!’
He could hear the grin in John’s voice as he replied:
I just bet you would. Well, see if you can get her in the mood to go tomorrow. What time’s their service?
‘Umm. Ten am, I think.’
We’ll try calling about then, okay?
Rodney. Get yourself home, and stay safe. I’ll speak to you tomorrow.
Jack blinked and sat up. Where was he? When they’d finally settled on a date to return to, he’d been unsure just where he’d wake up. He’d spent much of the 1980s on special operations around the world that he’d been worried he might wake up somewhere in the middle of a black op. This wasn’t Iran or Nicaragua, though. This was a bedroom in the type of minuscule apartments given to company grade officers living on base, in Florida, if he had to hazard a guess.
He got out of bed to make himself some coffee and almost fell over as his legs gave way. Otho had warned them they’d be tired when they awoke but Jack hadn’t expected anything quite like this. He ached all over, and the tiredness… He stumbled into the tiny kitchen and filled his kettle, grimacing at the instant coffee on the worktop. Daniel had totally ruined him for cheap coffee, and he couldn’t recall if they’d even had high quality roasted coffee beans easily available in 1985.
He’d just made the discovery that he had no fresh milk when the phone rang. He looked around for it and remembered phones were generally kept in the hallway back then.
‘Daniel.’ They could do this forever if Danny wanted to.
Jack. You okay?
Jack grinned to himself and mentally scored Jack 1 Danny 0. ‘Yeah, I’m fine. Feel as though I’ve run ten miles with the flu, though.’
Me too. Otho didn’t tell us it’d be this bad.
‘You okay for the next bit?’ Jack asked, getting them back on track.
Yeah. I’ve looked through my diary and everything’s as I thought. Have you heard from John?
‘Not yet. It might take him a couple of days to get all his ducks in a row. He’ll call when he’s got everything set up and we’ll sort out flights then. You okay where you are?’
My rent’s paid until the end of next week so, yes. How about you?
‘In my shoebox on base, thank god. I only have instant coffee, though.’
He could hear the grin in Danny’s voice. I need to educate you.
‘You sure do. I’ll look forward to it.’
Hanging up the phone, Jack wandered around the small apartment, trying to establish where he’d been in the last few days and what the 1985 version of himself had been about to do. Thankfully, he found he was due to take a few days leave after several weeks overseas. According to a letter on his bedside table he was due to fly up and meet Sara at her parent’s home in Colorado Springs later that day, which made him sigh. He really didn’t want to go to Colorado just yet, but he owed it to Sara to tell her in person that their relationship was at an end although, if he were honest with himself, he didn’t really want to see her either.
Fortunately, as Otho had explained, he hadn’t fallen back into the memories which would have been fresh back then. He was still Major General Jack O’Neill, Head of Homeworld Security, divorced from Sara O’Neill for almost ten years. Jack was relieved he wouldn’t have to deal with the emotions that he knew he’d felt for her the first time around, although he was under no illusions that his forthcoming conversation with her would be easy.
With a deep sigh, he searched for the flight details he knew must be around somewhere, and found a travel warrant for a seat on a military transport leaving in a few hours to Peterson AFB, which made him scowl. Being a General had ruined him for basic military air travel, but as a simple Captain, he didn’t think he’d get away with demanding a private plane, although the thought of the reactions he’d get to such a demand removed the scowl and made him grin instead.
Several hours later Jack found himself outside the Greene family home, the memories he’d of it all coming back. He stood gazing at the house for so long that eventually the front door opened and Sara came out.
‘Jack? Are you alright? Why aren’t you coming in?’
He looked at her and smiled, more to himself, thankful that the love he’d once felt for her had now gone. She smiled back at him, obviously thinking the smile was for her.
‘Jack. Come on in, Mom’s baked you a chocolate cake. Where’s your bag?’
‘Actually, Sara, can we take a walk? I need to talk to you.’
Sara’s face paled. ‘What is it, Jack? What’s wrong?’
‘Not here, Sara. Can we take a walk?’
‘No. I don’t want to. What’s happened? You look…different.’
That surprised him. Otho had assured them that they’d fall into their June 1985 bodies. All that would be different would be their memories.
‘What do you mean?’ he demanded, and noticed she was looking intently at his eyes, and realised that the events and experiences of the future must be reflected, somehow, in his eyes. He’d heard people talk about someone having ‘old eyes’ and had never really understood what it meant. Now, though, he did.
He moved towards her and held out his hand but Sara stepped back, away from him.
‘Who are you?’ she whispered. ‘You’re not Jack O’Neill.’
He paused, his hand still outstretched, then let it fall to his side.
’I am Jack O’Neill,’ he said quietly. ‘Look at me properly. You can see I am.’
She shook her head. ‘No, you’re not. You’re not my Jack.’
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath to steady himself. He hadn’t expected this. He hadn’t realised that Sara knew him so well at this point in their relationship. No battle plan survives contact with the enemy, except Sara isn’t my enemy, not really.
‘How about we sit on the garden wall and talk? That way, you’re close enough to shout for help if you need to, but far enough away to give us some privacy.’
She nodded, not saying a word, and walked over to the small wall surrounding the front garden. ’So, I’m sitting, now, how about you start talking, who ever you are.’
Jack sat down beside her, making sure to leave a decent distance between them. ‘Sara, I am Jack O’Neill. I’m just…not your Jack.’
She nodded again. ‘Whose Jack are you, then? Who are you?’
‘Sara, you know a lot of the work I do I can’t talk to you about?’
‘Well, this is…sort of like that. I can’t give you all the details. Hell, I doubt you’d believe me if I did. I’m sorry. I really am, but…’
‘You’re breaking up with me.’
This time, it was Jack who nodded. ‘I have to. I have a job to do that means I can’t be in a relationship with you, but it is an important job. A very important job.’
‘A ’save the world’ job?’
He smiled at her, remembering the joke they used to share. ‘Yeah,’ he said softly. ‘I’m gonna save the whole world.’
‘Will you ever come back to me?’
No, Sara, I won’t come back. I can’t come back. And you need to be able to find someone else and fall in love and have a big family.’
‘And if I told you I’m already in love?’
He now turned to face her and, slowly, so as not to startle her, he reached out and took her hand. ‘Then, I’d tell you not to waste your love on him. Save it up and give it to someone who really deserves it, deserves you.’
She reached up her other hand and gently stroked his cheek. ’Someone who deserves it, eh?’
Jack smiled and nodded his head. ’Someone very special who is actually worthy of your love.’
Sara folded her hands in her lap. ‘Will I ever see you again?’
’No. No, you won’t. I’m sorry.’
She didn’t speak and when Jack finally looked at her again, he saw the tears spilling down her cheeks.
‘I’m so, so sorry, Sara.’ He stood up, reached out a hand, but pulled back before he was able to touch her. ‘Goodbye, Sara. Take care of yourself, and I hope you have a long and happy life.’
He turned around when he reached the end of the street and saw she hadn’t moved. He raised a hand to wave to her but let it fall to his side instead. He turned away from her and walked out of her life.
Even knowing John was related to a former President hadn’t prepared Rodney for his first view of the Sheppard family home.
‘How many houses does your family have?’ he’d asked John as they’d talked with Jack and Daniel about where to meet up.
‘Rodney,’ John had grumbled, lengthening his name by several syllables.
‘What? I’m not used to people having more than one home, you know. Maybe a cabin or something like O’Neill, but not multiple houses. How many, Sheppard?’
‘Rodney, does it really matter?’
‘Just answer the question, Colonel Trust Fund.’
John had glared at him. ‘Several, okay? The family has several houses, but as far as I know, my Dad and my brother still live in the same house I grew up in, in Virginia. My Grandpa’s house is a few miles away but I guess he still spends a lot of his time in Washington DC where he has an apartment. Satisfied?’
The car that had picked him up at the airport had been nothing particularly special. Certainly not the limousine Rodney had half expected, just an everyday, run of the mill car, albeit one made by Mercedes Benz. The house was a little different. For a start, it was huge. The front was a classic Antebellum design – high white pillars reaching up to the roofline with wrap around verandas on both the ground and first floor – and Rodney could see two two-story wings extending out from the back on each side of the house.
John was standing out front, waiting for him, and one glance at him had Rodney inhaling sharply. His friend had been good looking in his thirties but as a teenage boy, he was stunning. Already tall, with jet black hair, – much longer than Rodney was used to – falling over his forehead, and an easy smile on his face, this fourteen – almost fifteen – year old version of John Sheppard was the epitome of a preppy young American. As the car drew up at the foot of the steps leading up to the veranda, Rodney couldn’t help noticing how different his friend looked without the usual dark circles under his eyes, and the lines and creases long years in the USAF and Atlantis had carved onto his face.
‘Hey, buddy,’ John called, running down the steps to greet him, and to Rodney’s surprise, John hugged him.
Rodney drew back and narrowed his eyes. ‘Who are you and what have you done with Sheppard?’ he demanded. ‘The John Sheppard I know wouldn’t willing touch anyone, let alone hug them.
A gentle slap upside his head convinced Rodney this really was his friend. ‘Hey! Scientist abuse!’
‘John, darling, don’t damage our guest before he’s even set foot in the house,’ a melodious voice admonished, and Rodney turned to see his hostess smiling down at him.
Emma Sheppard held out her arms in greeting, and Rodney found himself leaning into the hug she gave him. It was so different from the cold indifference shown to him by his own mother that he was forced to blink away tears.
‘Welcome to our home, Rodney. I hope you’ll be very happy here,’ she said, and pressed a kiss to his forehead.
‘Grandpa’s started the legal process to have you made a ward of court,’ John explained as Rodney wolfed down a very late lunch. ‘He contacted your mother on your behalf, to tell her where you were, and she was more upset that you weren’t there to look after your sister for the rest of spring break than she was about the fact you’d essentially run away from home. Lucky you already had a passport, by the way. That’s something we hadn’t thought about.’
‘Actually, I had,’ Rodney said through a mouthful of sandwich. ‘But since I knew I’d had a passport for a holiday we once took, I didn’t bother to bring it up.’
‘Anyway, it helps that your paternal grandmother was born in the US, Grandpa said, although I’m not quite sure why. He says he doesn’t think there’ll be too much trouble getting hold of the trust fund your grandpa left for your education as you can easily prove your mother tried to keep the information from you.’
‘That’s fantastic news.’ Rodney closed his eyes and leaned back in relief. The first time around he’d been unaware of a bequest he’d been left on the condition he went to a Canadian University. He’d happily applied to MIT and was accepted as an undergraduate at the age of 15, little knowing that this would invalidate the trust fund left to him. Since the conditions of the trust had been broken, Mrs McKay had been able to request that the monies be transferred to Jeannie for her education, explaining that ‘Meredith’ had insisted on going to MIT despite being told he’d lose the trust fund. Understandably, Rodney had been furious about this but was unable to prove his mother was lying. Since she also refused to pay for his living costs, as she’d promised to – his MIT bursary only covering the educational aspects of his degree – he’d been left to raise money to live on in any way he could.
‘Rodney?’ John asked quietly. ‘Just how bad was it first time round?’
Rodney kept his eyes closed. He couldn’t tell John just how bad it had been. Of the sorts of things he’d been forced to do in order to feed himself. ‘It wasn’t good,’ was all he could manage, and he felt John’s hand squeeze his shoulder in sympathy.
Meeting the rest of John’s family that evening was… interesting, Rodney decided. They were obviously a close and happy family at this point. The death of John’s mother must have had a devastating effect for the remaining members to treat each other as they had in the previous timeline.
‘Grandpa, this is Rodney McKay,’ John announced. ‘Rodney, my grandfather, John Sheppard Senior.’ Rodney was forced to swallow the gasp he almost made since ‘Grandpa’ was the spitting image of the John he’d seen, aged prematurely by Todd the Wraith, just a few months earlier in the past. Future. Whatever.
‘I’m pleased to meet you, sir,’ he said, shaking the elderly gentleman’s hand.
‘And I to meet you,’ John Sheppard Senior told him. ‘I understand that you’ve saved the world a few times in the past, or should it be future?’
Rodney grinned and threw a glance in John’s direction. ‘We need a copy of Dr. Dan Streetmentioner’s Time Traveler’s Handbook of 1001 Tense Formations.’
John grinned back at him, understanding the reference and to Rodney’s surprise, ‘Grandpa’ also grinned.
‘Tell me there’s another book in that series,’ he demanded.
‘There is, Grandpa, but you’ll have to wait a few years,’ John told him.
‘I might not live that long!’ he protested. ‘Why couldn’t you bring a copy back with you?’
‘Now that would be against the laws and regulations of time travel,’ Rodney said with a smile. ‘Imagine if a copy of it got left somewhere and someone found it. All hell would break loose.’
At that moment Emma Sheppard came into the room with two visitors at whom Rodney glanced and turned away from, then swung back round again.
‘Jack? Daniel?’ The forenames came so much easier when faced with the younger versions of their time travelling companions. Rodney was sure that they too would see a massive difference in he and John, but seeing Daniel in round Harry Potter-like specs – although Harry Potter was unknown to the people of 1985 – and Jack without his grey/white hair was utterly astounding.
‘Boy, are you two young,’ grinned Jack, then, catching sight of Grandpa John, he brought himself to attention. ‘Sir!’ he barked out, wide eyed.
‘At ease, son,’ Grandpa John told him with a smile. ‘You must be Jack O’Neill.’ He stretched out his right hand and Jack, hesitating only briefly, shook it.
It was understandable, Rodney supposed. This was the man under whose authority Jack was first commissioned, even though his oath as an enlisted Airman had been to a different President. On top of that, even though Jack, as a General, had met frequently with a US President of the future, meeting the man who was responsible for withdrawing US troops from Vietnam was pretty awe inspiring.
‘We’re going to eat first,’ Emma explained, ‘then we’ll have a family meeting and discuss your plans, boys.’
Jack looked a little startled to be called a boy by someone only a few years older than the 1985 version of himself, as indeed was Rodney himself. John just grinned and nudged him, his pride in his mother clear for anyone to see. Rodney found himself grinning back, in complete agreement that Emma Sheppard was a mother of whom any son would be proud.
‘So what are our priorities?’ Grandpa John asked as they settled around the now cleared dining room table, notebooks and pencils in front of them, although John could see Rodney was itching for an electronic version of them sadly, at this point in time, unavailable.
The four Ts (as Emma had collectively named them) looked at each other and Jack cleared his throat. As the senior member of their group, both in age and in military rank, he’d been elected spokesman, although both Jack and John were aware that keeping the other two quiet was an almost impossible task.
‘We thought we should bring George Hammond into our conclave as soon as possible. He becomes, or maybe became, the head of Stargate Command,’ Jack explained. ‘But I don’t think any of us realised just how difficult it would be to find and contact him. I can’t just ring up a senior officer and tell him to meet me, and I have no idea what his rank even is at this point. I didn’t meet him until 1997 when the SGC began and he was already a Major General.’
David Sheppard laughed. ‘I can’t tell you how funny it is to listen to you all mixing up your tenses like this. None of you know whether to say is, or will be, or even might be.’
This earned him a few glares and he laughed even harder.
‘No, no. I’m not being rude, trust me. It’s just so much fun being on this side of the convoluted conversation.’
Patrick Sheppard grinned as well. ‘He’s right, you know. I’m aware just how serious all this is, and that our very future is at stake, but please, all of you, take a moment to just think how and why we’re all sitting here.’
The small undercurrent of tension which no one had even really been aware of bled out and they all relaxed and began to smile.
‘I suppose it is amusing when you think of it,’ Rodney allowed. ‘But, I tell you, I never thought I’d have to go through puberty again.’
That made the older members of the group burst out laughing and pretty soon they’d all joined in.
‘I think I needed that,’ John admitted, wiping his eyes and grinning at his friends, and he was suddenly struck by this fact. Rodney, Jack, and Daniel were all his friends, and as someone who’d spent half his other life trying to keep anyone from getting too close to him emotionally, this was an enormous realisation, and he began to see them in a new light. A light touch on his arm made him look at his mother and he knew she understood what had just struck him.
‘Let’s try that again, shall we?’ Grandpa John smiled at his newly extended family.
‘George Hammond is a Lieutenant Colonel and, fortunately for us, is based at the Pentagon,’ Patrick announced, returning from the telephone in his study. ‘My secretary, Clare, knows of him so it was easy enough to find out. She’ll have his contact details ready for me tomorrow and she’s going to sort out a meeting between he and I. Fortunately, we do a fair amount of work with the USAF so he’ll hopefully assume that’s what the meeting’s about. Is there anything you can think of that will convince him to hear me out and not run away screaming?’
Jack looked thoughtful but Daniel snapped his fingers in a McKayesque manner.
‘Yes, yes, there is. Jack, remember when we went back to 1969? We—’
‘Wait!’ David interrupted. ‘What? You’ve done this time travel thing before?’
Daniel looked anywhere but at David. ‘Well, yes, sort of.’
’Sort of? Either you have or you haven’t.’
Jack sighed and sent a quick glare in Daniel’s direction. ’SG1 got sent back to 1969 when a solar flare did something to the wormhole we were using and—’
‘Did something?’ Rodney repeated. ‘For fuck’s sake, O’Neill, you promised not to be stupid this time round and…’ He trailed off as Grandpa coughed.
‘Rodney?’ said the venerable gentleman. ‘We don’t use words like that in this house. Especially in front of ladies.’
Rodney squirmed a little. ‘I’m…I’m sorry, sir. Mrs Sheppard. I…ah…I apologise.’
Both Grandpa and Emma nodded their acceptance of his apology, but as Rodney’s head drooped, he saw Patrick give him a quick wink, probably unseen by the others at the table except for John, who bumped his shoulder sympathetically.
Daniel took up the story. ‘We got sent back to 1969, by some accident, and while we were at Cheyenne Mountain – it obviously wasn’t the SGC then although it would be, at some point – we met a young soldier who happened to be General Hammond who helped us work out how to get back to our own time,’ he finished with a happy smile that faded as he looked around the table at the confused faces.
‘Aaand that’s why I’m doin’ the talking, Danny boy,’ Jack told him, shaking his head. ‘General Hammond passed a note to my colleague just before we left on a mission through the gate. He’d recognised a cut on her hand as one he’d seen on some people who claimed to be time travellers back in 1969 when he was a young Lieutenant.. If you mention the note to him, he’ll no doubt recall it, and the fact he loaned me $100. He’s aware time travel exists so might not be as surprised as you think.’
‘Okay, that should work,’ Patrick nodded. ‘And I’ll arrange for him to come here for a chat, shall I?’
‘Is there anything else we need to discuss now, or should we wait for Colonel Hammond to join us?’ Grandpa asked the table generally.
‘How much leave do you have, Jack?’ John asked suddenly. ‘You didn’t tell us.’
‘Until next Friday. I have to be back on base by 0900 on Friday morning.’
‘And you next assignment?’ Patrick asked. ‘If you can tell us, that is?’
Jack screwed up his face. ‘I can’t remember. I don’t think I’ve been given orders for my next posting but I expect it’ll be back to the Middle East, at least in the short term. That’s where I was for most of the eighties last time.’
Grandpa John spread his hands on the table prior to standing up. ‘If that’s all then—’
‘Actually, Grandpa, there is something,’ John interrupted, a flush rising on his face. He looked around the table and hesitated a moment then spoke softly, his eyes fixed on the table. ‘I know I explained that I joined the Air Force last time but…’ He hesitated again then looked up, straight into Patrick’s eyes. ‘I just wanted to fly, Dad, so I went ROTC at Stanford and joined when I graduated.’ His eyes fell again. ‘The thing is… I’m sorry, but I saw joining the Air Force as a massive ‘fuck you’ directed straight at you, Dad, and… it wasn’t the best reason for joining and it…it stayed with me the whole of my career.’
He saw, from the corner of his eye, his mother open her mouth to say something but she closed it again when Patrick gripped her arm. He looked up at Patrick again.
‘I was a crap officer, Dad. I was always right on the edge of insubordination, fell into it at times, and I treated orders as though they were optional for me. I was lazy as well. I hated paperwork and would anything to avoid it.’ He paused as his father, grandfather, and Jack all laughed sympathetically, and he gave them a small smile. ‘Yeah, I know. Who doesn’t hate paperwork, but it was worse with me. I didn’t even know the names of some of my men on Atlantis, knew next to nothing about anything that didn’t directly concern their roles on Atlantis, and… I didn’t really deserve their respect. I certainly didn’t deserve their admiration, but they gave it anyway. And a number of them died.’
He felt Rodney fumble for his hand then felt his fingers squeeze his and he threw a grateful look his way. It gave him the courage to continue.
‘I let you down, Dad. You, and Grandpa, and every Sheppard who’s ever served. I certainly let myself down, but I’d like to do better this time. I’d like to be the sort of officer you and Grandpa were. The sort who cares and does his job properly. I screwed up big time, Dad, and I want to do better. Will you help me?’
Emma was now crying unashamedly but John only had eyes for his father who also looked a little damp eyed.
’Son?’ his father said. ‘I’d be proud to.’
‘Well, you’re about ten years younger than when I last saw you,’ Lieutenant Colonel Hammond told Jack, who grinned.
‘And you’re about fifteen years older, and you now outrank me, sir.’
‘Shall we sit?’ Patrick suggested, and the other two men joined him at the small table in the private room of a small DC restaurant Patrick frequently used for business meetings.
‘I thought it would be best to meet here rather than at the house, certainly at first. If you agree to join us, Colonel Hammond, my wife and I will be happy to put you up for a couple of days, or there a good hotel locally we sometimes use for clients. I want to keep everything above board, if possible.’
‘Please, call me George,’ Colonel Hammond told Patrick as he sat down.
‘Then I’m Patrick, and Jack, here, I think you’ve met before.’
‘Indeed I have, although I didn’t quite believe it until you spoke to me yesterday. I’ve always wondered if I’d dreamed the whole thing, except all the cash I’d had on me had disappeared when I came round after you shot me with that ray gun, young man.’ He gave Jack a glare, but Jack could see his lips twitching.
‘I am sorry about that, sir, but I had to do it otherwise…’
‘I might have been court martialled for letting four prisoners escape, yes, so you said just before you shot me.’
‘A ray gun?’ Patrick repeated looking interested. ‘You have ray guns in the future?’
‘Not really,’ Jack told him. ‘It’s a weapon we got from some enemies we made off world. We—’ He broke off as a waiter tapped lightly on the door and came in.
Patrick looked at him expectantly after the waiter had taken their order and gone. ‘So. Ray guns?’
‘We made a few enemies off world and one of them used the weapon we used on Gen— Colonel Hammond. It is pretty cool, though.’ He grinned at the memory. ‘The first shot knocks stuns, the second kills and the third disintegrates whatever you aimed it at.’
‘That’s…a very dangerous weapon.’ Patrick looked a little stunned himself.
‘Which is why we couldn’t leave them in the hands of the military in 1969,’ Jack told him grimly. ‘In the future, we guard them very carefully but some still slipped through our hands and created mayhem when they were used in various nefarious ways.’ He was very pleased with his use of ‘nefarious’. It had been word of the day on a calendar Danny had bought him in the future.
‘And I become a General in the future and am head of the…what did you call it? SC…’
‘SGC, sir. Stargate Commend. It’s located in Cheyenne Mountain under NORAD, where my team was first found in 1969.’
Hammond shook his head. ‘It’s difficult to get my head around it, even with what happened back in ’69. And you want me to join you in planning for the future? Won’t that create some sort of… problems?’
Jack nodded, then shook his head and then laughed. ‘We hope to only make the changes that’ll help us save Earth in the future, although we’ll no doubt make some mistakes along the way.’
‘And that doesn’t bother you?’ Hammond asked carefully.
‘That we’ll make mistakes? Yes, it does, but we have to try otherwise the whole world will be destroyed.’
Patrick steered their conversation into less dangerous waters until their meal had been served.
‘So, what is it you want from me?’ Hammond asked, dabbing his lips with his napkin. ‘What can I do?’
‘A Major General W West headed up the Stargate programme when it first began,’ Jack explained. ‘Do you know him?’
Hammond shook his head.
‘Well, it was called Project Giza to start with. After the first mission to Abydos, he retired and you took over at Cheyenne Mountain just before you were due to retire, since it had become pretty much a storage place for the gate since we didn’t really know how to use it. After it was activated by…an enemy off world, you headed up what became the SGC.’ Jack paused to take a drink of water. ‘We’d really like to get you into the Mountain before the first mission to Abydos.’
‘And how do you expect me to do that? I can’t just waltz into the Chief of the Air Force and demand the position. For a start, I’d have to explain how I knew about it.’
‘That’s where I come in,’ Patrick cut in. The boys have a rather novel idea for getting over any difficulties. They want me to become President of the USA.’