A Priori – Chapters One to Six

Status:
  • Complete
Content Rating:
  • R
Fandom(s):
Stargate: Atlantis, Stargate: SG1

Relationship(s):
Rodney McKay/John Sheppard, Past Jack O'Neill/Daniel Jackson

Warning(s):
  • Violence - Canon-Level
Genre(s):
  • Alternate Universe
  • Canon Divergence
Word Count:
35,885

Author's Note:
Originally written for the Rough Trade Challenge July 2017: 5-15k episodes – Battle of the 5 Fandoms. I've since changed this into a chaptered work. My thanks to HarleyJQuin and Izzy hound, both of whom did Alpha reads for me, and to my Beta and great chum Ed Ronhia. I couldn't have finished this without their help.

Summary:
A Priori - translation: From before. The last couple of years had not been good for Jack O’Neill. Not quite as bad as when Charlie had died, but certainly close. Daniel died and ascended; Ba’al killed him, over and over again; and then he was accused of trying to assassinate Kinsey, the fucker. If Jack had wanted Kinsey dead, he’d be dead, no messing about with ‘trying’ at all. Finally, Anubis threatened to destroy Earth and Jack had to stick his head in an Ancient head-grabber thingy - again. There had to be an easier way of earning a living.


Chapter One

Monday 26th July 2004

‘I’m sorry, sir, but I don’t think I can do it.’

George Hammond stared at his former XO in surprise.  ‘Don’t think you can do it?  But…You’re the best person for the job, Jack.  You’ve been in the programme from the very beginning and you know the SGC and the people in it better than anyone.  Why can’t you do it?’

Newly promoted Brigadier General Jack O’Neill looked around, trying to find the words to explain just how very weary he was.  They were sitting in Hammond’s new office in Washington, DC, less than half a mile from the White House from where they had recently returned following Jack’s promotion ceremony.  The spacious room with cream walls hung with oil paintings and soft carpet underfoot was leagues away from the drab concrete greyness that was Stargate Command.  The only similarity to the cramped and dark office behind the briefing room in the Mountain was the American flag behind the desk, and even that looked brighter in sunlight than the artificial light deep inside the Mountain.

‘I’m aware I was given this promotion so I could head up the SGC,’ he told Hammond, then paused as General Hammond held up his hand.

‘You were promoted because you earned it, Jack.  Through blood, sweat, and sacrifice when necessary.’

Jack gave him a slight smile.  ‘Thank you, sir, but I’m just not sure I can do it right at this moment.’  He shook his head, frustrated with himself for not explaining this properly.

‘But you’ve done it perfectly well when you’ve covered for me, and you were my XO from the moment I joined the programme,’ George protested.  ‘You had to know that you were being groomed as my successor.’

Jack tried to explain again, struggling as much as ever to discuss his feelings.  ‘It’s only a few days since I woke up on Thor’s ship, with no idea where I was or what had happened.  Initially, I couldn’t remember anything from the last couple of years: not Ba’al killing me; the Ancient download; not even sitting in the chair in Antarctica and shooting drones at Anubis’ mothership.  Carter had to fill me in on everything that had happened, and when I asked where Danny was…At first I…I couldn’t even remember he was dead.’  Jack’s voice broke on the last word.

‘Ascended,’ Hammond corrected softly.

‘Ascended, dead. What’s the difference?  He’s not here, is he!’  Jack stumbled to his feet and began to pace.  ‘He’s not here, by my side as he should be!  It was like he died all over again for me and it hurt so much it might have happened just yesterday instead of twenty-six months ago.’  He scrubbed his face with his hands and wiped away any signs of moisture from his eyes – I’m not crying, goddammit!

‘I’m reminded of him each and every day in the Mountain, and when I get home at night, it’s no different.’  He dropped back into his chair with a sigh.  ‘His toothbrush is still in the mug in the bathroom and spare pairs of his specs seem to fall out of every drawer I open.  His PJs are still under his pillow, for Christ’s sake, and every time I change the bed, I put them back because I can’t bear the thought of what throwing them away actually means!  I can’t take charge of the SGC when everything I see or do reminds me of what I’ve lost.  Goddammit, he was the SGC!  It wouldn’t even be there without Daniel.’

Jack scrubbed his face one last time and took a deep breath.  ‘I’d like to retire, sir, and this time I mean to stay retired.  I want to sell our—the house in Colorado Springs and maybe even the cabin, I don’t know yet.  I’m tired, bone-tired, and I don’t know if I’ve got anything left to give.’  The look of sympathy on the General’s face almost broke his heart – again – and Jack squeezed his eyes closed.  ‘I’m sorry, sir.  You know how I feel. I just—’

General Hammond held up a hand almost before he began.  ‘Son, I’d never presume to think I know how you feel,’ Hammond told him.  ‘It’s true I lost my Mary-Anne over ten years ago, but work was my salvation then, not my pain.  I didn’t see reminders of her every time I went on the base, or see the gap she left in my life when I was doing my job.’  He paused for a moment then continued, his brow creased in thought.  ‘Don’t do anything just yet, Jack.  If you really feel you need to retire and make a fresh start somewhere else, I won’t stop you, and God knows you’ve deserved it, but give me a couple of days, and I might be able to work something out.  I’m making no promises, mind, but ask yourself this.  Would Dr Jackson want you to give up the Stargate Programme?’

Jack nodded and got to his feet with a tired smile and almost before he knew it he was walking along the side of the Reflecting Pool, which was oddly bereft of tourists on this late July evening.  It had been one of Danny’s favourite places in DC, a city known more for its hustle and bustle than a place for quiet contemplation, and as Jack walked, he wondered what offer General Hammond could make that would make him change his mind.

*****

When Jack arrived at Andrews Airforce Base the following morning he was surprised to find Major Paul Davis waiting for him on the tarmac near the Gulfstream IV due to return him to Peterson AFB, along with an Air Force Colonel he didn’t recognise.

‘Coming to pay us a visit, Major?  What’s gone wrong now?’ Jack asked as he ran lightly up the steps, returning the salute of the AF Flight attendant waiting to greet him and show him to his seat, although, since he was supposed to be the only passenger, he had his choice of seats.  There are some advantages to having stars on your collar, I suppose.

‘Nothing’s gone wrong, sir,’ Davis replied with a wry smile, following him to the rear of the plane where two seats faced a further two seats across a table already holding bottles of water.  ‘I don’t come only when there’s a problem.’

‘Yeah, you do.  The Marines don’t call you Major Disaster for nothing, y’know.’  Jack looked around for somewhere to dump his bag and glanced at the Colonel who had followed them both to the back without speaking.  ‘Who’s your friend?  Is he for the madhouse as well?’

‘Yes, sir.  This is Colonel John Sheppard, and he’s joining your command.  And congratulations on your promotion, sir.  You deserve it.’

Jack looked at Sheppard with interest as they shook hands, somewhat surprised to see that such a young man had already reached the rank of colonel.  ‘Was I expecting him?’ he asked Davis.

‘No, sir.  He’s only just arrived back stateside, and I think you were…indisposed when we started the programme to find anyone with the…with a skill such as yours,’ Davis explained rather incoherently with a glance at the Flight Attendant following them down the aisle.

‘Special skill, eh?  Is that what we’re calling it now?’ Jack asked with an inward smile at the vocabulary gymnastics Davis was doing to avoid mentioning the Stargate programme.

Davis coloured slightly and fussed with his seat belts, leaving Jack to smile at the new boy seated opposite himself and next to Davis.

‘So, what were you doing before you got press-ganged into joining the…Deep Space Radar Telemetry programme, Sheppard?’

Sheppard gave him a flat look, although his lips twitched, clearly aware of an underlying meaning but not quite understanding what it was.  ‘I’ve been in Afghanistan for the last few months, sir.’

‘Doing…?’

There was just enough of a pause to make Jack give him a sharp look.

‘Mostly flying helicopters, sir.’

‘I see.’  And Jack did see.  He saw pretty much everything Colonel Sheppard didn’t say since he was fairly certain the only O-6s who got to fly helicopters regularly in a war zone were those in special forces, and since thirty-something full birds in special forces were rarer than dodo eggs, he guessed Sheppard’s gene had to be pretty special to take him out of an important arena like Afghanistan.  ‘Good of you to agree to come and play with us, then,’ was all he said as he settled back into his seat and closed his eyes for the four-hour flight.

A car was waiting for them at Peterson AFB with Master Sergeant Siler standing beside it.

‘Congratulations on your promotion, sir,’ Siler said, holding the rear door open for Jack.  ‘Major Davis, Colonel Sheppard,’ he nodded at the other two officers.

‘Who’ve you pissed off to get lumbered with driving duties?’ Jack asked as he climbed into the back of the SUV.

‘I was glad to escape for a while, sir,’ Siler told him.  ‘Dr Lee brought some alien plant thing back from P6J-908 and it’s trying to take over the base.  I thought I’d come and get you all before someone suggested I climb into a ventilation shaft or something.  And Walter told me Major Davis was escorting Colonel Sheppard to us and joining you on your flight.’

‘Alien plant thing,’ Sheppard repeated slowly, looking between Jack and Paul Davis, who was seated in the front seat, and neither of whom had blinked an eye at the news.

‘All part of the rich tapestry which makes up everyday life at Stargate Command,’ Jack told him airily, always amused to see the look on the face of newbies exposed to the SGC for the first time, and he made a mental note to describe to Daniel the swift cycling expressions of astonishment, surprise and puzzlement on Sheppard’s face before he remembered he couldn’t, and he squeezed his eyes closed as the pain washed over him once again.

When he opened them, he caught a brief look of sympathy on Siler’s face in the rearview mirror as the car pulled out of the base towards the mountain.

‘So, is anyone going to explain to me what Stargate Command is?’ Sheppard asked, looking between Davis and Jack again.

When Jack didn’t speak Davis took a deep breath.

‘You’re about to enter the most top-secret facility on Earth,’ he replied, and something in his tone must have alerted Sheppard to the seriousness of the comment.

‘It’s not Deep Space Radar you’re studying here, then.’

Jack forced himself to smile.  ‘No, Sheppard.  It’s really not.’

*****

They left Sheppard staring at the Stargate from the briefing room window, and Jack took the seat behind the desk in the small office for the first time.

‘It feels strange to be sitting on this side,’ he told Davis.  ‘I’m not sure I like it.  Now, I assume there was a reason you escorted Sheppard out here?’

‘Yes, sir.  We had to fight pretty hard to get Colonel Sheppard reassigned to the SGC, so they decided that I’d be his escort and read him into the programme once we got here.  No one was sure when you’d be back on active duty, but now you are here, I’d like to brief you on Dr Weir.’

‘Weir?  I was told she’d taken charge of the Outpost to get everything ready for the Atlantis Expedition – if we ever find out where it is.’

‘Yes, sir, she has.  And Jonas Quinn has now worked out where Atlantis is, but when he informed Dr Weir, she decided she didn’t want to go after all,’ Davis explained, pulling a file from his briefcase and passing it over.

Jack glanced over the first couple of sheets.  ‘What am I looking at here, Paul?  Why doesn’t she want to go and why is Quinn at the Outpost and not here?  Don’t forget, I’ve been out of the loop for a good while.’

‘She ordered Quinn to take all the research materials that might contain any information about Atlantis down to the Outpost a few weeks ago.  She wanted to…oversee the search for the gate address herself.’

‘Most of those research materials belonged to Daniel!’ Jack said, slapping the desk with his hand.  ‘She had no right to have them removed from here, and Quinn had no right to take them.’

‘She knew Quinn could work perfectly well on the gate address from here and I think it was a power grab, plain and simple.  Colonel Reynolds argued with her, but…’  Davis shrugged his shoulders.  ‘She has more influence than Colonel Reynolds, even if the Colonel was acting CO at the time.’

‘And why has she suddenly decided not to go?  She’s been working towards the Expedition for a few months from what I understand.’

‘Quinn worked out that Atlantis is in the Pegasus Galaxy and Dr McKay told her the only way they’d be able to open a wormhole to another galaxy would be by using the power source from Proclarush Taonas.’

Jack circled his index finger.  ‘And, so, therefore?’

‘Since it takes an inordinate amount of power to dial another galaxy compared to the power it needs to dial a gate in our own galaxy, there’s a good chance the Expedition won’t be able to return to Earth unless they find a ZPM in Atlantis so—’

‘Hang on, Paul.  ZPM?  What’s one of those?’

‘It’s the name Dr McKay’s given to the power source you brought back from Proclarush Taonas; Zero Point Energy.  He’s determined that the energy comes from—’

‘Okay, okay,’ Jack held up his hands as though to ward off Davies.  ‘I don’t need details.  It’s a ZPM, fine, although McKay shouldn’t be allowed to name things if that’s the best he can come up with.  Go on.’

‘It’ll take an inordinate amount of power to dial Earth from the Pegasus Galaxy, so unless the Expedition finds a ZPM in Atlantis, or another suitably powerful energy source, they won’t be able to get back home.’

Jack took a moment to digest this.  ‘It’s a one-way trip, then.’

‘Well, I’m not sure that’s quite what I’d call it, but…yes, sir.  It’s essentially a one-way trip, at least until the BC-304 we’re building is completed, but that won’t be before next year at the earliest.’

‘So why bring this to me?  Dr Weir reports directly to the President.  If she’s decided not to go, there’s not much I can do about it.’

‘No, sir, but I thought I should brief you on this myself since it was my office Dr Weir contacted.’

‘And has she told the President yet?  He said nothing to me about it yesterday.’

‘He didn’t know about it before your promotion ceremony, sir.  I only briefed General Hammond about it at the end of last week since my office now comes under the purview of Homeworld Security.  We sat on it for a while hoping she’d change her mind, but she hasn’t.  He was going to speak to the President about it later today as word had started to spread that she wasn’t going.’

Jack nodded.  ‘So, it’s out of our hands.  Now, tell me about Colonel Sheppard.  What’s his story?’

Davis delved into his briefcase again and passed over another manila file.  ‘This is his unredacted jacket, sir. We began testing for the ATA gene as soon as Dr Beckett could—’

‘Whoa there, Major!  What’s an ATA gene?  And who is Dr Beckett?’

‘Dr Carson Beckett is a geneticist who’s been working on isolating the gene that gave you the ability to use Ancient technology.  He calls it the ATA Gene – Ancient Technology Activation.’

‘Who the hell decides who’s allowed to name things around here?’ Jack demanded.  ‘Because they should make some better choices.  Beckett and McKay aren’t allowed to give names to anything again, ever!’

‘I’ll let you tell them that, sir,’ Davis said with a grin.  ‘Anyway, Dr Beckett’s been working on a blood test to determine the presence of the ATA gene and when Colonel Sheppard was tested a few weeks ago as part of a routine blood test his results showed the strongest gene we’ve come across so far.  It’s a couple of percent stronger than yours, even, so we requested he return to the US for transfer here.’

‘Why here and not straight to Antarctica?’ Jack asked, flicking through Sheppard’s jacket and raising his eyebrows at some of the information he spotted.

‘Because the largest collection of small Ancient tech is here in the Mountain.  Colonel Carter had everything moved here from Area 51 a few weeks ago for better security and most of the Ancient tech that can be removed from the Outpost has been brought here as well since there was some disagreement over exactly what constituted a weapon.  Part of the Antarctic Treaty covers weaponry, so to be safe, everything was brought here.  We wouldn’t want to cause any upset after all.’

Jack laughed.  ‘Sneaky, I like it.  So, Sheppard’s here to…?’

‘We need to test his competence with the tech,’ a fresh voice answered.

Jack lifted his eyes to see Lt Colonel Carter slip into the room.  ‘Hey, Carter.  Wondered when you’d show up.’

‘I see congratulations are in order, sir.’  Sam Carter smiled and dropped into the other chair before the desk.  ‘How’d you like stepping into General Hammond’s shoes?’

‘Not sure if I’ve quite decided yet,’ he said vaguely, not wanting to say or do anything before George Hammond spoke to him again.  ‘How’ve you coped with Reynolds as acting CO?’

‘We’ve been okay.  At least he understands the programme.’  She glanced at Paul Davies.  ‘I believe you’ve brought a new gene carrier with you?’

‘Colonel John Sheppard.  He’s out there gazing at the Stargate.  I think he was a little overwhelmed, to be honest, and we’ve only given him an outline of the programme.  We left it for you to fill in the blanks.’

‘Excellent.  Wanna come with me and play with his genes?’ she asked Davis with a wiggle of her eyebrows and a grin.

*****

‘Try this one, sir.’  Sam Carter passed John another Ancient gadget to switch on with his mind.

He turned it over in his hands and thought ‘on’, but it didn’t even flicker.  ‘I think it’s dead,’ he said, passing it back to Carter.  ‘It feels…blind somehow.’

‘That’s what General O’Neill said when we asked him to try it,’ she said as she read the notes on her laptop and quickly added another.  ‘He—’

She was interrupted by a loud voice on the other side of the door expressing its displeasure about something John couldn’t quite make it out, but from the look on Carter’s face, she knew exactly what and who it was.

‘Crap,’ she muttered.  ‘Why didn’t anyone warn me McKay was due back?’

Since she and John were the only ones in the lab at the moment, John decided it must be a rhetorical question and kept quiet, keen to see the person who could ruffle the feathers of the pretty, even-tempered colonel so quickly.

‘Carter!’ the voice bellowed long before the body it belonged to had even opened the door.  ‘You knew I had first dibs on the next gene-carrier we found!’  The man John presumed was McKay stomped fully into the room and came to a halt in front of them both.  His vivid blue eyes narrowed as he took in the box of Ancient gadgets next to Carter’s elbow.  ‘And you even stole my box of tech you…you…hussy!’

John covered his mouth with his hand to hide the smile the insult caused, and he sneaked a glance at the ‘hussy’ next to him.  To his surprise, she was grinning.

‘Gee, McKay, you say the nicest things to a girl,’ she told him, fluttering her eyelashes, and to John’s even greater surprise, McKay grinned back at her.

‘Don’t you try your brazen whiles on me, you Jezebel.’  He pointed a long elegant finger at her.  ‘It’s enough that you’ve tried to seduce my gene-carrier.’

John cleared his throat, making both sets of blue eyes turn their attention to him.  ‘I’m not sure I was seduced, exactly,’ he told them both, seriously. ‘ I’m pretty certain I’d have remembered that.  And if I belong to anyone, I guess it would be the USAF.  At least that’s what it says inside my shorts.’

McKay grinned at John.  ‘Sassy as well as pretty, eh?  Where’d you find this one, Carter?’

John felt his cheeks heat and hoped the artificial lighting inside the lab wouldn’t make it too visible.

‘Paul Davis brought him,’ Carter replied.  ‘They found him through the blood tests they’ve started doing on all military personnel and discovered his gene is pretty strong, so they sent him to us.  Colonel John Sheppard, meet Dr Rodney McKay.’

McKay stuck his hand out and John shook it.  The doctor’s grip was firm and dry.

‘Pleased to meet you, Dr McKay.’

‘Colonel Sheppard.  Would that be light or full bird?’

‘He’s a full bird, Rodney.  The youngest in the Air Force; in any branch as far as I’m aware,’ Carter told him, and John found his cheeks heating again.

I haven’t blushed this much since puberty.

Thankfully, neither of them commented on it, although McKay gave him a look of amusement.

‘What’re you doing here anyway, McKay?’ Carter asked.  ‘I thought you were staying down at the Outpost?’

‘I fully intended to, but Weir was getting on my last nerve.’  McKay’s voice was thick with disdain.  ‘I assume you’ve heard she’s decided not to go to Atlantis?  After dragging poor Quinn down there and the hoops she’s had us all jumping through.’

‘What hoops?’ Carter frowned.  ‘I haven’t heard about this.’

McKay shrugged as he headed over to the coffeepot, picked it up, and sniffed it.  ‘What’s this one? Y’know, don’t bother.  It’s fresh coffee, that’s all that matters.  You should have tasted the crap they were trying to pass off as coffee down at McMurdo.  I swear, if Daniel had been here to try it, he’d have died all over again!’

‘McKay!’ Carter exclaimed, raising her eyes to the ceiling.  ‘You can’t say things like that!  Especially not here.  What if Col—General O’Neill heard you?’

McKay tasted the coffee he’d poured and sighed in happiness.  ‘Yeah, I heard about his promotion.  Good for him, he’s deserved it for years, but as usual, the PTBs couldn’t see any further than the ends of their snouts.  And if Jack heard me, he’d only laugh.  He knows Daniel worshipped at the altar of good coffee and would happily eviscerate anyone who served bad stuff to him.’

‘I’m not sure General O’Neill would laugh at the moment,’ Carter said with a frown.  ‘He’s not been himself since the Asgard…restored him.’

‘Well, I shouldn’t think he would be himself straight away.  He was frozen for three months, for fuck’s sake.’  McKay poured himself a refill and John had never seen a cup of hot coffee swallowed so quickly.

‘Don’t drink it all, you glutton,’ Carter ordered, striding over and grabbing the pot before he could finish it.  ‘Leave some for the rest of us.  And I don’t think it has anything to do with the length of time Col—General O’Neill spent in the life-pod.  When he came round, he’d lost a lot of his memories, initially, at least.  He’d forgotten all about Daniel ascending, and I had to tell him.  He…he seemed to shrink into himself, and it’s like he’s mourning Daniel all over again.  I’m quite worried about him if truth be told.’  She poured a cup of coffee and held it up to John, who nodded.

‘Yes, please.  Black with no sugar.’

‘I’m sorry, sir,’ Carter said as she brought over his drink.  ‘You must think we’re terribly ill-mannered, talking about things you know nothing about and pretty much ignoring you.’

John smiled.  ‘Don’t worry about it.  At least I’ve met one of the people you were talking about and I’ve heard a little about Dr Weir as well.’

‘Lucky you, if the closest you come to her is hearing a bit of gossip,’ McKay muttered.

‘That reminds me, Rodney.  What hoops has she had you jumping through?’ Carter asked.

‘She wanted us to focus on getting as much information on the Ancients as we could from the Outpost database.  All of us, including me and Radek – including pretty much everyone there, in fact.  She wanted us to leave our own research and help her find out everything she could about the Ancients and ascension in particular.  I mean, can you imagine?  Radek, Miko, and I have seventeen hard science degrees between us, and she wanted us translating the fucking database!  And you didn’t help by having all the transportable Ancient tech brought back here, although I understand why you did it.’

‘Yeah, sorry, Rodney.  Jonas and I thought we’d better get what we could moved back here before the other signatories to the Antarctic Treaty could claim any of it.  The ongoing argument about any weapons being there helped.  We used it as the excuse to clear out everything as fast as we could since we know for a fact that some of the tech the Russians acquired has found its way onto the black market.’

‘Bastards!’ McKay muttered into his third mug of coffee, then turned to John.  ‘So, Colonel.  Are you coming to find Atlantis with us?’

John was startled to have a question suddenly thrown at him.  ‘Umm.  I’ve only just been read into the Stargate programme, so I’m not quite sure what I’m going to be doing.’

‘They wouldn’t be stupid enough to bring the youngest colonel in the Air Force who happens to have a strong ATA gene to the Mountain just to join a gate team,’ McKay scoffed.  ‘Though this is the US military we’re talking about, so maybe they would.’

‘Don’t mind him,’ Carter told John. ‘He’s Canadian.’

‘I thought Canadians were all supposed to be polite.’

‘He’s the exception that proves the rule.’

*****

‘The President will see you now, Mr Vice President.’  The aide held open the door for Robert Kinsey and scowled when Kinsey failed even to acknowledge him.

Henry Hayes sighed at the lack of manners Kinsey seemed to think proved he was an important man – although Hayes knew better than to voice his thoughts.  ‘Robert, take a seat.  Tell me you’ve got good news.’

‘Sorry, Henry.  She’s still refusing to go now we know Atlantis is in another galaxy.’

‘But she can’t do that!’  Hayes slapped the desk in frustration.  ‘We need her in charge of the Atlantis Expedition.  If she doesn’t go, the IOA will try to put one of their own flunkies in charge and everything’ll be ruined.  What about using a…’  He waggled his fingers.

‘We can’t risk it.  Don’t forget Carter can sense the presence of them, as can Telca, or whatever his name is.’  Kinsey made a moue of distaste at the mention of the Jaffa.  ‘Carter’s been down to the Outpost a couple of times.  We can’t risk her sensing one, not yet.’

‘Is there anything we can do to make her change her mind?’ Hayes asked with a frown.  ‘She was the one who pushed me to appoint her as leader of the Expedition originally, so why’s she so bothered about Atlantis being in another galaxy?  Surely it’s no different from going to a planet in the Milky Way?’

‘She’s worried it might be a one-way trip, as they can’t guarantee having enough power in Atlantis to get back.  It needs a—’

‘Yes, yes, I know all that!’  Hayes stood up and began to pace back and forth in frustration.  ‘And we both know that’s an excuse.  What’s her real reason for changing her mind about going?’

‘She claims she can’t leave her sick mother.’  Kinsey helped himself to a drink, making Hayes frown in annoyance at his lack of respect.  Kinsey returned to the sofa and stretched himself out, and while Hayes glared at him, he didn’t dare rebuke him.  He knew exactly who held the power in their relationship.

‘It’s all nonsense, of course,’ Kinsey continued, swirling the whisky around in the glass.  ‘I think she’s more concerned that if she’s away from DC for too long, people will forget about her.  Our Dr Weir is very fond of being the centre of attention, and she has quite high ambitions.  For instance, I’m pretty sure she wants to sit in your chair at some point.’  He looked up and gave Hayes a malicious smirk.  ‘Whereas we know perfectly well that being President doesn’t give you much power at all.’

Hayes turned away, pushing down the anger which threatened to erupt each time he interacted with Kinsey.  Still, it was better than having a snake put in his head, which he knew Kinsey wouldn’t hesitate to do if he became…difficult.  ‘So, what can we do to persuade her?’ he asked, staring absently through the long windows at the formal Rose Garden, but not seeing anything.  ‘Or failing that, how can we make sure we get one of our own in control of Atlantis?’

‘What if we looked at the situation from a different angle?’ Kinsey suggested.  ‘If the Atlantis Expedition really might be a one-way trip, it won’t do us any good even if we had one of our people in charge.  The most important issue at the moment is who controls the Stargate on Earth.’

Hayes turned around to look at Kinsey, who was still sprawled on the sofa holding his drink.  ‘O’Neill’s been given command of the SGC, and while the IOA would rather have someone of their own choosing in charge, as long as we have a suitable US candidate, they can’t argue.  If only Weir didn’t want—Oh.’

‘Exactly.  If Weir doesn’t want Atlantis, she can go back to the SGC.’  Kinsey smirked at him and took a sip of his whisky.

‘But what about Jack O’Neill?  We…I agreed to promote him so he could take over from Hammond.  The Joint Chiefs won’t be happy if we take it away from him now.’

‘A little bird tells me that O’Neill wants to retire.  Says he can’t cope with the SGC now his boyfriend’s dead.’  Kinsey’s lip curled.  ‘Why that idiot before you allowed faggots to serve, I’ll never understand.  And it’s too late now to get that horse back in its stable!’

‘So we let O’Neill retire and put Weir back into the SGC?’  Hayes tried to get Kinsey back on the subject.  ‘He’ll still be a problem, even retired.  We both know that, and what about the IOA?’

‘What about the IOA?  If we suggest they appoint O’Neill to lead the Expedition, the IOA can’t argue as they wanted strong gene carriers for Atlantis.’

‘They’ve already got a strong gene carrier, or so George Hammond told me yesterday.  Some Air Force Colonel who’s been in Special Forces in Afghanistan.’

‘So we send two strong gene carriers.’  Kinsey shrugged.  ‘Who cares as long as we’ve got our own gene carrier no one else knows about.  Or we could send this colonel back to Afghanistan; it doesn’t matter.  The point is the IOA will accept O’Neill as the Expedition leader because they want him out of the way as much as we do, and the Joint Chiefs can’t argue since O’Neill wants to retire, anyway.  If the Expedition does find anything worth having on Atlantis and can get it back to us?  We’ll cross that bridge when we need to.  Meanwhile, we get Weir in control of the SGC and she’ll do as she’s told because she’ll be grateful to us, particularly if we offer to help her with her…ambitions, shall we call them?  And now Carter’s had all the Ancient stuff from Area 51 moved to the mountain, we get control of that as well as the Stargate.  It’s win-win for us all round.’

Hayes found he didn’t have any argument against this plan so he merely shrugged and sat back down.  The Resolute desk gave him an illusion of the authority he knew he didn’t actually have.

Kinsey took a long drink of his whisky and put the glass down.  ‘Right, so it’s agreed.  I’ll get in touch with Weir and make our offer to her.  It’s best if I do it.’  He gave Hayes a wolfish smirk.  ‘There’s less attention and scrutiny on the office of Vice President so I have more freedom.’

The ‘than you’ may have been unspoken, but it was there all the same.

*****

Chapter Two

Friday 30 Jul 2004

Four nights after his return from DC, Jack opened his front door before George Hammond could knock.

‘Come in, sir.  Can I get you a beer?’  He held up his own bottle and wiggled it.

‘Thanks, Jack.  I have a feeling we might need them.’

Jack raised an eyebrow in surprise but gamely led him through to the kitchen and passed him a bottle.

‘Do you still have that little gadget you got from Thor?’ Hammond asked quietly.

Jack’s eyebrows rose even further, but he nodded and motioned to the General to follow him through to the sitting room where he fiddled with a small puzzle box on the coffee table and took out what looked like a small metal bar with grooves on it.  He slid his finger along one of the slots and a little light blinked once.

‘Okay, sir, we can speak freely now.  Is there some problem I should know about?’

‘My aide discovered my newly decorated office had also been decorated with a couple of things we didn’t know about and until the entire room is stripped down, we have no way of knowing if we’ve found them all.’

‘Which is why you wanted to come here,’ Jack surmised.

‘I was coming for the weekend anyway to visit Kayla and Tessa, so I thought I’d drop by.  No one watching would be surprised since I frequently came round when I was based here, but it wouldn’t surprise me if this place weren’t bugged to the limit, especially since it was empty for a few months.’

George took a long drink, then picked at the label on the bottle for a minute.  ‘Until I was posted to the SGC, I never really worried about who was in the White House or the Senate, or even Congress.  They didn’t have much impact on what I did, but after coming to the mountain I became more and more affected by decisions made in DC than I cared to be.  I took the position in Homeworld purely because the appointment of someone from outside the programme could have been disastrous for the men and women of the SGC, even though there were more than a few people who didn’t want me there.’  He paused for a moment.  ‘The bugs in my office are just the start, I believe.’  He settled back into his seat and took another drink.  ‘The current leadership of this country is corrupt, immoral, and unscrupulous, and certainly cannot be trusted.’

Jack stared at him in astonishment.  He’d never heard George Hammond make such a sweeping indictment of anyone, least of all the President of the United States.  ‘Oookay.  I think I understand why you didn’t want this conversation overheard!’

George gave a humourless laugh.  ‘It’s probably the most fucked up situation I’ve ever been in and considering I led the SGC for six years, that’s saying a lot.  And I’ve no doubt it’s going to get a lot worse.’

‘So it’s not the best time for me to retire?  Is that what you’re here to tell me?’ Jack asked, neutrally.

‘I said I might have another option for you and I have.  And I’d really like you to accept it.  I assume Paul Davis told you Dr Weir’s decided not to head up the Expedition to Atlantis?’

Jack nodded.  ‘I’ve also heard it from Rodney McKay.  He arrived back in the Mountain a couple of days ago saying she was driving him insane at the Outpost.’

‘She claims she doesn’t want to leave her elderly mother on what might be a one-way trip, although I can’t see the Expedition not being able to find some way to get back home.  McKay’s heading up a team of some of the brightest men and women on Earth and if there’s a way to contact us from Pegasus, they’ll find it.  I don’t see it as a one-way mission at all, and I have no idea why Weir should make the decision she has.  Still, it’s her choice to make because I won’t order anyone to go.  Each and every Expedition member must make the choice for themselves.’  George took another drink and stared at Jack for a long minute.  ‘I’d like you to take over as leader of the Expedition, Jack.’

There was an equally long silence.

‘Me?  Lead the Expedition to Atlantis?  But…’  Jack’s voice trailed off.

‘It gets you away from the SGC and all the memories there, and it’ll give you a new challenge to focus on.’  George counted the reasons off on his fingers.  ‘In that respect, it’s a better option than retiring, since that would give you a huge amount of spare time for brooding.  You might be tired of your life here, but trust me, not having a purpose or something to get you out of bed in the morning is much worse.  If you were head of the Expedition you’d have plenty of things to focus on.  Besides…’  He paused for a moment, then shook his head.  ‘What the hell!  You need to know.’

‘Need to know what, sir?’

‘I’m not convinced you’d be safe on Earth even if you retired,’ Hammond said bluntly.  ‘Let’s just say there wouldn’t be many tears shed in DC if you met with an accident one day.’

Jack looked more than a little shocked.  ‘I…Okay, sir, but…would the IOA accept me?  I thought they wanted a civilian-led Expedition: that’s why they chose Weir.’

‘The IOA chose Weir because she wanted it and they thought her skills as a diplomat would be useful.  They have a finite list of candidates to choose from, and you happen to be on that list.  Your experience with the Stargate programme makes you an excellent choice; in fact, all the reasons for you being in charge of the SGC apply equally to Atlantis, and it’ll be far safer for you in Pegasus than it is on Earth.  At the present moment, at least.’

‘And the President supports my appointment?’  Jack could see the reasons behind the suggestion: he was just trying to get his head around the fact that he might potentially leave Earth for good.

And then the whole thing slipped suddenly into place.  George was right; it would be a new challenge and a new adventure.  He’d be out of the way of the politics they’d talked about, and all the interference from the IOA, and other self-interested groups, as well as the painful memories the Mountain held.

It was an opportunity to build a new SGC without the problems they’d suffered in the early days, and to be proactive instead of reactively making policies and decisions on the hoof due to unforeseen circumstances.  They’d be able to think through and plan for all situations that might arise and make proper procedures.  In fact, the first thing they needed to do was—

‘I think you’ve made your decision, haven’t you?’ Hammond said with a smile.  ‘And in answer to your earlier question, yes, the President is more than happy to support your appointment.’

‘Then yes, I agree, I accept, I’ll do it.’  Jack grinned abruptly at his former commanding officer and gave a nod of his head.  ‘I’m looking forward to it already.’

*****

After George left, Jack tidied away the empty bottles and went to pick up the metal bar, then paused.  He hadn’t thought to check the house for bugs, something he’d done regularly in the past.  He glanced at the innocuous little device and gave a grim smile. I need to get my head on straight and start thinking like I used to.  He carried the empty bottles into the kitchen but left the metal bar where it was ready for his next visitor.

The doorbell rang just as he finished a bottle of water.

‘Come on in,’ he shouted and went to get two more beers from the fridge.

He took Sheppard back into the sitting room and passed him a beer, resolving to drink this one more slowly as he was out of the habit of having alcohol.

Sheppard accepted it and glanced around the room.  ‘Nice place you’ve got here, sir.’  He settled down on the sofa opposite Jack and took a drink from his bottle.

‘I guess you’ve been wondering why you’re here, haven’t you?’ Jack asked him.

‘Here, here, or here in Colorado Springs?’ Sheppard asked with a smile

‘Both, either?’

‘I’m guessing it’s something to do with this gene McKay’s been obsessing over?’

‘You looked as though you were getting on okay with him.  I know he can be a bit…overwhelming for some folk, but it seemed as though you were coping with him.’

Sheppard smiled.  ‘He’s nothing I can’t handle and he makes me laugh when he starts yelling at people.  That sort of fun never gets old.’

‘I know.  Sometimes I wind him up just to watch, but he’s not everyone’s cup of tea.’ Jack grinned.  ‘Or cup of coffee.  I heard what he said to Carter about Danny, and I agree with every word.’

‘She was quite concerned he’d upset you with being insensitive.’

‘I won’t deny missing Daniel.  I miss him every day, but it’s made harder when people won’t even mention his name in case they upset me.  It just makes us all feel awkward.’  He took a drink of his beer.  ‘McKay doesn’t do that.  He’s an asshole all the time to everyone. No one’s spared, so he treats me no differently now I’m a widower than he did before, and that helps.’

Sheppard nodded, but didn’t speak.

‘Anyway, I didn’t invite you over to discuss our feelings.  As you guessed, it has everything to do with your amazingly rare gene.  I take it you’ve heard about the Expedition that’s being planned to find Atlantis?’

‘I’ve heard about it.  McKay’s talked about it pretty much nonstop, particularly about the fact that the person chosen to lead it has decided not to go.’

‘And is he pleased or upset about that?’

‘I think that’s something you’d have to ask him yourself, sir,’ Sheppard said carefully, and Jack couldn’t fault him for his caution.

‘Yeah, sorry.  I wasn’t trying to trick you.  A diplomat, Dr Elizabeth Weir, was originally selected to lead the Atlantis Expedition, but she’s since decided she needs to remain on Earth so I’ve been asked if I would consider leading it.  I’ve accepted the offer, so it’s up to me to appoint my command staff, although you were always going to be invited to be a part of the Expedition.  That’s what I originally invited you around to discuss as everyone who goes will be a volunteer.  I wanted to give you the chance to refuse and I thought asking you away from the Mountain might make it less of a…command from your superior officer.  You were assigned to the SGC because you have the strongest ATA gene we’ve discovered so far.  That makes you a perfect fit for Atlantis as it’s believed to be a city created by the Ancients, the race who built the Stargates, but the SGC will find plenty of work to occupy you if you decide not to go.  We’re—They’re always seeking good officers to lead a gate team.  Hell, I led one myself for almost seven years.’  He paused and looked at Sheppard, trying to gauge his reaction.

‘May I ask what my position on the Expedition would be?  I know a Military Commander has already been appointed and, with you as head of the Expedition, I doubt you’ll need another high-ranking officer.’

‘I’m sorry, John, I didn’t make myself clear.  You would go on the Expedition as the Military Commander, and McKay is the Chief Scientific Officer.  Marshal Sumner always knew we’d replace him if we found a gene carrier of high enough rank.  I’ll be the head of the whole thing, although, in reality, we’ll probably be more of a triumvirate.  You will make any and all military decisions, although I would hope to be consulted when appropriate.  That’s no more than you’d do with whoever was head of the Expedition.  I may not even be going as a serving member of the Air Force as the IOA may decide it would be better politically if I were a civilian.’

Sheppard wrinkled his nose.  ‘Rather you than me, sir.  I hate politics.’

‘Oh, you’re not alone in that, believe me.  Danny would laugh his head off to know I was trying to be politically aware.’  Jack grinned at the thought.  ‘It’s really to reassure the scientists who are going with us.  We’ll be taking 120 military assets and 80 scientists, and most of the scientists will’ve never worked closely with the military so having a civilian head will, hopefully, be easier for them.’

‘Even if that head is a retired General?’

‘Even then.’  Jack regarded his guest.  Once his position on the Expedition had been clarified, Sheppard had relaxed back on the sofa.  His outward demeanour was casual, but his eyes were bright with excitement.  ‘So, d’you think you’d like to come with us?’

‘Might there be spaceships?’

Jack laughed.  ‘There just might.’

*****

John made meeting the former proposed military leader of the Expedition his priority on Monday morning.  He’d agreed to play light switch for McKay but had called him and said he wouldn’t be available until later.  When McKay asked what was so important, he prevaricated but promised to talk to him over lunch.

He was fortunate that SG-9, the gate team Sumner led, was on the base that day and John made his way to Sumner’s office, grimacing at the thought of working at the SGC full time.  The entire base felt oppressive to him.  As a pilot, he was used to wide open spaces and, more recently, deserts as his place of work.  Being under a mountain felt heavy and confined.

He tapped on the door and opened it to see a grizzled man in his mid to late forties.  ‘Colonel Sumner?’

The man nodded abruptly.

‘I’m John Sheppard.  I wondered if you had a few moments?’

‘Come on in and shut the door, Sheppard.  I thought I might see you at some point.’

John entered the small room and sat on the only spare chair.

‘It’s not much, but as they say, it’s home,’ Sumner told him, reaching out an arm to flip the switch on a small kettle.  ‘Coffee?’

‘Thank you.  Black without.’

Sumner nodded and gave him a slight smile.  ‘I can tell you’ve served overseas.’

John laughed and relaxed a little.  This probably would not be as bad as he’d thought if Sumner was prepared to joke with him.  ‘It’s the first thing you learn, isn’t it?  Have nothing with milk unless you’re very sure what animal it came from.’

‘And don’t eat any meat you don’t recognise unless you don’t mind eating the family pet,’ Sumner grinned.  ‘So what were you doing overseas?  Unless you can’t tell me without having to shoot me.’  He passed John a chipped mug of coffee.

‘I guess you know all about that, having worked here for a while.’

Sumner nodded and sipped at his own chipped mug.  ‘It helps not to have much family who might ask awkward questions.  What about you?  How will you explain leaving the planet for an indefinite amount of time, possibly forever?’

‘Jack O’Neill assures me it won’t be a one-way trip, not with the geeks we’re taking with us.  And McKay’s told me he fully expects to win a Nobel one day and will make certain he’s around to collect it.’

‘McKay’s one of the good ones.  He’s been off-world with us a few times and knows how to look after himself, unlike some other scientists.  He still makes me want to shoot him sometimes, though.’

John grinned at him.  ‘He seems to have that effect on a lot of people.  I’m making weapons training mandatory for any civilian who wants to go off-world.  Depending on what we find out there, we might make it mandatory for all the civilians.’  John took another sip of his surprisingly good coffee.  ‘Does no one drink anything other than the very best coffee in this mountain?’

‘Dr Jackson forced O’Neill to buy decent coffee, and when someone from DC complained about the cost of it, Dr Jackson told him he could explain to the scientists in person why they’d been given cheap coffee.’

John looked at him in puzzlement.  ‘Why did that make him change his mind?’

‘Because Dr Jackson told him he’d be facing them after they’d had a week with no coffee at all.  He folded like a cheap suit, which reminds me, triple the amount of coffee that’s been ordered for the Expedition.  Whatever the amount is, triple it.  At least.  The worst thing that could possibly face you on the other side is an un-caffeinated McKay.’

That made John give one of his belly laughs; the laugh his family told him made him sound like a donkey.  ‘Thank you, that’s good advice.  You’re not upset about being replaced, then?’

Sumner shook his head.  ‘No, I knew if they found a strong high ranking gene carrier I’d be replaced.  I would have been quite happy to be replaced, though, when I thought Dr Weir was leading the Expedition.  She’d have been a nightmare to work with in Atlantis.  It was bad enough when she took over here temporarily.  We lost more than one good officer because of her.’

John must have looked as shocked as he felt since Sumner hurried to correct himself.

‘No, no, she didn’t get them killed, although she might have done, eventually. No, they asked for reassignment because she was so difficult to work with.  Apparently, she was a professional activist after college, trying to get military funding cut or preferably stopped altogether.  Then she became a diplomat and tried to do the same, but from a different direction.  It was madness putting her in somewhere like this.  Some of the decisions she made…Well.  You’re better off without her, believe me.  Have they announced who the new leader will be?’

‘No, I think the IOA are still bickering about who they want,’ – which was the strict truth.  Jack O’Neill wasn’t sure when the announcement about his change of position was to be made so he asked John to keep quiet about it, although Carter and McKay were going to be told as soon as possible.  They both knew how to keep secrets after years of working for the SGC, too.

John stood and held out his hand.  ‘I’m glad there’s no bad feeling, Colonel.’

‘None at all, Sheppard.  I advise you to check some of the civilian choices Weir made, though.  I didn’t like the look of some of them, but I didn’t make a fuss, as I knew it was likely I’d be replaced.  No use in making waves if you don’t need to.’

‘Agreed, and thank you.  I’ll be going over the personnel and supply lists – and I won’t forget the coffee.’

Sumner shook his hand.  ‘Good luck, Sheppard.  I have a feeling you’re going to need it!’

*****

It was a tight fit, having four people in his office, but since he had his side of the desk all to himself, Jack didn’t mind too much.  ‘Right, well, I’ve invited you all here to—’

‘Hang on a minute, Jack.  Is this going to take long?’ McKay demanded.

‘I—’ Jack began, but MacKay steamrollered on.

‘—Because if it is, I need coffee.  We’ll all need coffee.’  McKay folded his arms, his face taking on the stubborn set with which Jack was all too familiar.

They had a silent, glaring match for a moment, but because Jack needed to get on with the rest of his day, he folded first.  ‘Alright, you stubborn son of a—’

This time he was interrupted by the entrance of Walter bearing a tray of four full mugs and two filled pots of coffee.

‘I thought you might need these, sir,’ he said as he put a mug and a pot by McKay’s elbow and passed the others out.

‘Thank you, Walter.  I don’t know what I’d do without you,’ Jack told him gratefully as Walter smiled and left, closing the door quietly behind him.

John, meanwhile, was looking surprised.  ‘How did he know…’

‘We have no idea, and we’ve learned not to ask,’ Carter whispered loudly to John.  ‘Let’s just say there’s more than a passing resemblance to Radar O’Reilly from MASH.’

‘If I may continue now, Dr McKay?’ Jack asked with more than a hint of sarcasm, but Rodney just waved a hand.  The other hand was busy refilling his mug – again.

‘Right.  Where was I?’

‘You’d invited us all here…’ Rodney suggested mischievously, and Jack glared at him.

‘I wanted to share some news with you before I make an official announcement,’ Jack told them, his eyes resting on Carter.  He knew she wasn’t going to take it well.  ‘I’ve been asked to lead the Atlantis Expedition, and I’ve accepted.’

There was a moment of silence before McKay burst out, ‘Well, thank fuck for that!  Maybe the US military isn’t as stupid as I thought after all.’

‘You do realise you’ve just insulted everyone else in this room, don’t you?’ John asked him.

‘And your point is…?’  McKay emptied the last of his coffee pot into his mug and reached out for the other one.

‘Oh no, you don’t!’  John grabbed the full carafe and moved it out of McKay’s grasp.  ‘You’ve drunk your own, leave this one for us!’  At that moment the door opened again and Walter entered the office with another full pot which he silently placed beside McKay, removing the empty one.  McKay gave John a triumphant grin and topped up his mug.  ‘I don’t know why you aren’t bouncing off the walls,’ he told the grinning McKay.

‘Bite me, Colonel!’

Jack was aware of this interplay peripherally, but was focussed on Sam Carter, who had gone pale at his announcement.  He’d been prepared for this and had considered telling her privately, but had decided to tell McKay at the same time.  Now he was regretting it.

Luckily for him, John was aware of the sudden tension.  ‘Hey, McKay, grab your coffee and let’s get out of here,’ John instructed, standing up and picking up his mug.

‘Why?  I thought we were going to—Hey!  Hands off the scientist!  I’ll have you know my brain is precious.’  He rubbed the spot on the back of his head John had gently slapped.

Jack nodded his thanks to the pair as John bundled McKay out of the office, complete with the new pot of coffee.

‘Carter?  Sam?  Are you alright?’

Sam finally focussed on him and nodded her head.  ‘Yes, I’m fine.  It…it was just a bit of a shock, that’s all.’

‘Yeah, I’m sorry.  I shouldn’t have broken the news quite so abruptly.  I apologise.  Can I get anything for you?  Water?  Cup of sweet tea?  I’ve heard that works wonders for someone who’s had a shock.’

Sam smiled weakly.  ‘No, I’ll be fine.  As I said…’  She shrugged.  ‘It was a bit of a shock.’

Jack glanced at his watch.  ‘Look, it’s after five now.  How about we go off base and grab some dinner?  My treat.  We could go to O’Malley’s.  They might have forgotten our last visit by now.’

‘Daniel was so mad when we got thrown out of there.  It was his favourite restaurant in Colorado Springs.’  Sam gave a half-smile at the memory.

‘You know, that’s about the first time you’ve mentioned Danny to me in general conversation,’  Jack told her with a small smile of his own.  ‘You’ve always gone out of your way not to mention him.’.

A look of surprise flashed across her face.  ‘I…I was worried about hurting you.’

Jack nodded.  ‘I know, but really, talking about him helps.  It sort of…keeps his memory alive.  And I have a lot of happy memories of him.  We were together for six years, you know.  Ever since we came back from that first trip to Abydos . Not all my memories are bad ones.  It’s just…This place maybe holds too many memories.  And while you’re still walking on eggshells around me, it makes it even harder to deal with losing him.  The Atlantis Expedition will be a fresh start for me as well as something to get my teeth into, and while I’ll never get over his death, I can make a new normal.  I can’t do that here.  Do you understand?’

Sam nodded, tears welling in her eyes.  ‘I’ll have lost both of you, though.  And Teal’c is away more than he’s here these days.  I’ll be the only one left.  Can’t I come with you to Atlantis?  I’d happily serve under Colonel Sheppard or even under McKay if you wanted me to.’

Jack shook his head.  ‘Sorry, Sam, no.  I need you here.  We all need you here because the other part of my announcement I didn’t get a chance to make is that the President offered the leadership of the SGC to Weir.  General Hammond, me; we need you to stay here and try to keep her from fucking things up completely.’  He glanced down at the small metal bar he’d activated before the three of them came into his office.

‘Is that…Is that the thing Thor gave you?’  Sam looked at it more closely.  ‘The thing that blocks any electronic transmitter?’

‘Yes, and I’ll leave it for you when I go.  Don’t have any confidential conversations without it—especially ones about Weir or the Government.  Hammond will have your back as much as he can, but he’s pretty certain Kinsey, via Hayes, is trying to get control of the SGC through Weir.  And Hayes has some pretty unsavoury acquaintances, including the VP.  Try to keep Weir from getting too many of our people killed or upsetting too many of our allies.’

‘Maybe you should think about staying here yourself if it would keep Weir out of here,’ Sam suggested.

Jack gave her a grim smile.  ‘If I don’t go to Atlantis, they’ll try to get rid of me some other way.  George is pretty certain Hayes had to agree to my promotion because it’s what the Joint Chiefs wanted.  He doesn’t think I’d have lasted long in charge here, although it would have been passed off as an accident.  You’re too valuable to them, especially with McKay in Atlantis.  It’s up to you to keep the SGC safe, Sam.’

She gave him a sad smile.  ‘I’ll do my best, sir.’

*****

Thursday 12th August 2004

‘Goddammit!  How did that woman ever hope to feed everyone?’  Jack threw down another supply list in disgust and grabbed his bottle of beer from the coffee table between the two sofas in his sitting room, his face etched with tiredness.

Ten days had passed since Jack had informed John and the others the IOA had appointed him leader of the Atlantis Expedition, days filled with growing horror at the plans – or lack of plans – Elizabeth Weir had put in place.

‘It’s just as bad with the supplies for the military,’ John told him, aware he probably looked almost as tired as his new CO.  ‘We’ve got ammunition for six weeks at most if we use only a tenth of what the SGC uses in a month.  Her defence when Sumner questioned it was that she didn’t think we’d be making as many enemies in Pegasus as we have in the Milky Way.  My suggestion is to start from scratch.  Let’s make all new lists and start again.’

‘We’ll never be ready for a September 1st departure if we do that,’ Jack argued.

‘We wouldn’t be ready for a September 1st departure even if we didn’t change the supply lists at all.  She removed every single foreign scientist from Rodney’s list and from what I understand she even petitioned the IOA to have Rodney replaced as CSO by some dick called Kavanagh.  At least that’s how Rodney described him.  He’s probably a perfectly decent man.’

Jack sat back and grinned.  ‘I take it you haven’t met the esteemed Dr Kavanagh?’

John shook his head.  ‘No, why?’

‘Because ‘dick’ is a compliment to the man, believe me.  Imagine the most objectionable, whining fuckwit you can and double it.  Maybe even treble it.  The man is a nightmare: a whining, whinging, gutless—’

‘Okay, okay, I get the point.  He’s a dick.  Why on earth did she want him as CSO then?’

‘I suspect a mixture of there not being too many top American scientists to choose from, and that she’d be able to manipulate him to do whatever she wanted.’

‘And you’re happy that she’s taking over command at the SGC?’  John asked a question that had been on his mind for some time.

‘No, I’m not happy at all, but I can’t do anything about it.  Even if I stay, the PTBs will find some way of getting rid of me, probably by making my unfortunate demise look like an accident.’  Jack laughed at his junior’s expression.  ‘Don’t look so horrified, John.  You know this type of thing happens.  I’d decided to resign my commission before they offered me Atlantis, but George Hammond made it very clear he didn’t think I’d be safe even then.  I have too many connections and too much history with the SGC to be allowed to retire quietly.  My only real option was to accept Atlantis.’  He stood and walked towards the kitchen.  ‘Want another beer?  I’m guessing you’re stopping over again?’

John nodded.  He happily accepted Jack’s offer of accommodation on the evenings they spent going over the plans for Atlantis, their days being full of the routine work of the SGC and John’s various trips through the Stargate to get him used to off-world conditions and situations.  A genuine friendship was developing between them, something John hadn’t experienced for a few years because of his previous postings, and never with a senior officer.  It was quite startling just how quickly they’d become so comfortable with each other, although John was very aware of the privilege it was and was trying very hard to neither abuse Jack’s trust in him, nor flaunt it before other people.  ‘So you’re essentially being forced to go on the Expedition?’ he called to Jack who sounded as though he was doing more than opening a couple of bottles of beer.

‘Christ!  No!’ Jack called back.  ‘I’m perfectly happy to go, and I’m excited at the thought.’  He came back into the sitting room with a tray of snacks as well as the beers.  ‘I just didn’t want to stay at the SGC and I thought the only other choice I had was retirement.  I’m not being pressured into this by any means.’

‘Okay, if you’re sure?  It’s going to be a difficult enough mission as it is without having you press-ganged into it, especially as you were at pains to make sure I didn’t feel railroaded into going.’

‘No, I’m fine.  Don’t worry about it.  Let’s worry instead about our departure date.  If we can’t make September 1st, when do you think we’ll be ready?’

‘How about we aim for October 1st and reassess on September 1st?  That gives us just over three weeks to get our ducks in a row, then we’ve got a month to finalise everything.’

‘What does McKay think?’

‘Why should I know what McKay…’  John grinned at the look of comic disbelief on his CO’s face. ‘Yeah, okay.  Rodney and I have discussed it, and before you ask, we’re just friends – at the moment.  Yes, I like him, he makes me laugh.  Do I want anything more with him?  Not at the moment.  We’ve both got far too much happening to get into a relationship right now.  But to answer your question, Rodney was the one to suggest October 1st.’

“Well, if that’s what Rodney suggests, then who am I to argue with Rodney.  October 1st it is.’

‘Fuck you, sir!‘ John told him with a grin and raised his beer bottle in a salute.  ‘October 1st.’

*****

Chapter Three

Friday 1st October 2004 10:00 Earth Standard Time

‘What the actual fuck?!’  John rubbed his eyes, hoping he was imagining what he was seeing.

‘We’re underwater,’ Rodney gasped.  ’The entire city of Atlantis is under water, just like the legends said!’

John gave him a look he hoped said ‘ya think?’ and continued to stare out of the window at the water being held back by what he presumed was a force field.  ‘What’re those flashes and bubbles over there?’  He pointed to an outlying area of the city in which something appeared to be happening.

Rodney narrowed his eyes in an attempt to see better.  ‘The shield is retreating.  Those areas are being flooded.’

‘Why?  What’s making—’

‘Power.  The city’s running out of power and having to shrink the area that’s covered by the shield.’  He looked up at John, eyes wide with urgency.  ‘We need to get everyone back to the gateroom and stop any unnecessary use of power before the shield fails all together.  We—’

‘Hey, Rodney.  You need to come and see this.  I’ve found a hologram room.’

‘Carson!  Get out of there and turn it off,’ Rodney yelled down his radio.

‘But, Rodney.  You need—’

‘Sheppard to Beckett.  The city’s running out of power and if you don’t get back to the gateroom you’re going to die a horrible death.  And that applies to everyone!  Now move!’  John grabbed Rodney’s tac-vest and towed him back towards the gateroom.

‘What do you need, McKay?  Apart from everyone in the gateroom?’

‘I need Radek to find the main power room for the city.  It’s most likely somewhere in this tower.’

‘Fine,’ John told him, still tugging him along.  ‘You get Zelenka on that.  I need to speak to Jack.’

By the time they got back to the gateroom, the marines had almost all the members of the Expedition corralled in the broad area before the Stargate.  More than a few of the scientists were muttering about being pulled away from interesting technology and the highhandedness of the Marines, but Rodney and John ignored them as Rodney headed up to the mezzanine level where Zelenka was busy typing into his laptop, while John went to join Jack on the stairs leading to the upper level.

‘What’s the situation?’ Jack demanded.

‘The city is reducing the extent of the shield.  Some of the outer areas are already flooding,’ John reported.  ‘McKay thinks she’s running out of power and is trying to compensate.  Is everyone back here now?  We should have told them all before we left the SGC that under no circumstances should anyone move from the vicinity of the Stargate.’

‘Hindsight, John,’ Jack said with a grimace.  ‘Everyone should be back here now and Zelenka seems to have found something which shows the position of everyone on the city, some sort of sensor I think.  What do you need?’

‘Rodney and Radek are looking for the main power room to fully assess our situation, but as it stands, we may have to evacuate everyone if they can’t get the naquadah generators connected quickly enough.  We knew power was likely to be a problem, but had no way of knowing Atlantis would be underwater.  Quinn suggested it would be on an island, but it makes sense she’s a floating – or rather sunken – city when you think of the stories about her.’

Jack gave him a sharp look at his use of pronouns, but John figured he was getting the same…emotions from the city he was.

‘Well, we know we can’t get back to Earth,’ Jack reasoned.  ‘We need to see if there’re any gate addresses in the database we know is here, or if there is…an address book of sorts.’

‘Look under E for Emergency Evacuation, you mean?’

‘Have you got a better idea, smartass?’

John grinned at him.  Their lives were in danger, as were those of the entire Expedition for whom they were responsible, but John had a thrill of excitement running through him and a sense of coming home; a sense that was patently ridiculous.

‘Rodney!’ he called out, jogging towards the CSO on the mezzanine level.  ‘We need to find an address book of sorts for a gate address to evacuate to in case we have to leave the city.’

‘Oh, and you don’t think I’ve got enough on my hands keeping us all from drowning?  Pass me a broom, and I’ll shove it up—’

‘McKay! Get one of your minions to do it.  I don’t care who, just sort it!’

Rodney scowled at him briefly, but did as he was told, although the look he gave John promised retribution at a later point.  ‘Grodin!, you’re not entirely useless.  Get up here and do our Overmaster’s bidding,’ he told the English scientist who John had met back at the SGC.  ‘Find Sheppard a gate address from somewhere.  Simpson, find and prepare one of the MALPs we brought with us.’

‘Will we have time to send a MALP through, McKay?’ Jack asked as he joined them.

‘You might be happy to stroll onto an unknown planet, General.  Hell!  You’ve done it enough times before, but I’d rather I know we’re sending our people to somewhere not under water, for instance,’ he told Jack, then grimaced as he realised just how prophetic his words were.

Carson Beckett came running up the stairs to join them.  ‘General, you need to see the hologram I was looking at—’

‘No, he doesn’t!’ McKay told him, his eyes narrowing with irritation while still managing to type into his laptop and point something out to Zelenka.  ‘What part of ‘we have no power and we’re all going to die’ did you not understand?  For all we know, it was your hologram using so much power which made the city begin to withdraw its shields.’

‘You can’t—’

‘Speak to you like that?  Yes, I can, especially if you’re about to get us all killed.  Now shut up and fuck off,’ and he and Zelenka each grabbed their laptops and hurried down the stairs.  ‘Power room, level 3,’ McKay shouted back at John as they left.

John signalled to a couple of Marines to go with them and a couple more to follow with the naquadah generators, then turned to the still-sputtering Beckett.

‘The entire city is in danger of flooding, doc.  We don’t know how long her power will last so we can’t use anything which might drain her faster.’

‘But the hologram was important.  It mentioned a terrible enemy that forced the Ancients to leave Atlantis.  You have to see it—’

‘Calm down, doc.  We will see it, just not now,’ Jack told the visibly trembling man, and he and John exchanged looks.

Weir had initially selected Beckett as Chief Medical Officer, the only non-American she’d permitted, but after Jack and John reviewed his file they agreed they needed someone who had recent hands-on medical experience since Beckett hadn’t treated anyone medically since he graduated from med school in Glasgow over twelve years ago.  Instead, they selected Carolyn Lam, who’d worked at the SGC for some months while their regular CMO, Janet Fraiser, recovered from an injury she suffered off-world.  Fraiser had rejoined the SGC just before Jack had the Ancient database downloaded into his head again and Lam was struggling a little at playing second fiddle now Fraiser was back, and she jumped at the chance of joining the Expedition.

Beckett hadn’t taken his demotion very well at all considering his speciality was genetics and that he wasn’t interested in being CMO, but when Jack had suggested he remain on Earth, he’d pulled himself together.  Now it looked as though he was going to go all emotional on them again and John decided that neither he nor Jack had the time or the patience to baby him.

‘Keller?’ John shouted for the junior medic/geneticist to join him and Jack.  ‘Take care of Beckett for a while, will you?  And do not let him leave the gateroom.’

Jennifer Keller always reminded him of a cross between a cheerleader – with her blond hair and seemingly fixed smile – and a cornered rabbit – due to her almost constantly moving eyes, flicking from side to side as she tried to assess any given situation, almost as though she feared everyone and everything.  For now, she looked almost as upset as Beckett did and John figured they could be frightened together as long as they were both out of the way.

‘Grodin?  How’s the search going for a place to evacuate to?’  Even as he asked the serious question, John was trying to hide a grin at the face Jack was pulling – safely facing away from the crowded gateroom – which expressed his opinion of the pair of timid medics.

‘I’ve found a list of addresses in the database, Colonel.  I’m just looking for any notes that may be attached to them.  There’s a one marked as having been seeded by the Ancients, and they’re an industrially developed planet according to the notes.  At least, they were when the notes were made, although we have no way of knowing how long ago that was.’

‘It could be anything from millions of years to thousands, I suspect,’ Jack told him, walking with John over to the monitor Grodin was using.

John nodded and turned back to face the gateroom.  ‘Ford, Bates, Markham, Stackhouse, gear up for an emergency First-contact mission,’ he called out, leaving the mezzanine level and running down to the gateroom proper.  ‘Dr Simpson?  Is the MALP ready to deploy yet?’

‘Just finishing, Colonel,’ she replied, brushing a strand of hair from her eyes.

‘Dial the gate address you’ve found and send the MALP through as soon as it’s ready,’ he called up to Grodin, including Simpson in his comment, and receiving nods of acknowledgement from both scientists.

Some of the civilians were getting tired and fractious while they waited to know what they’d be doing and where they’d be going, while many of the former SGC hands simply regarded them with a combination of humour and tolerance.  Beckett and Keller began to unpack boxes of medical supplies, but Dr Lam sighed and ordered the pair to leave them be.

‘But what if we need to treat someone?’ Keller asked, sitting back on her heels and scowling at Carolyn.  ‘We’ll be better prepared if we unpack everything and get a proper medical area set up.  They—’ and here she motioned towards the Marines guarding the perimeter of the gateroom, ‘—can’t keep us trapped here forever.’

‘And what do you propose we do if we have to evacuate the city quickly?’ Lam demanded, frowning at her.  ‘Leave all our medical equipment behind in the hope we might be able to return for it?  If there are any injuries that we can’t treat using the standard off-world medical packs which are at hand, we’re going to need a lot more than the specimen jars and bedpans you’ve just unpacked.’

Keller flushed a bright red. Not a good look for her, John decided as he walked over to Carolyn’s side.  ‘And the Marines are keeping you trapped here to protect us all,’ he told her firmly.  ‘So we don’t make the power drain any more than it appears to be doing already.  And furthermore, they’re acting under orders from me.  If you have a problem with that, take it up with me, not them, and at a more convenient time than when we’re busy trying to save the lives of everyone here.  Understand?’

‘Yes,’ she snapped, glancing away from him, her eyes filling with tears John didn’t know were of sorrow or anger.

He shook his head and rolled his eyes at Carolyn, but he wasn’t going to apologise to Keller.  She and everyone else needed to understand the stark situation in which they found themselves.  As he turned away, he heard the Stargate begin to dial.

It was entirely different from the Stargate at the SGC.  Whereas the inner part of the Earth gate turned while dialling an address, this gate had no moving parts at all.  Each chevron, instead, lit up in a circular pattern until the whole address was locked, then the familiar ‘kawoosh,’ as John heard it called at the SGC, of the event horizon burst out and settled into a blue, vertical puddle.  Thankfully, Grodin hadn’t called out each chevron as it dialled, and John ran back up the steps to the Ops Centre as the MALP trundled through the gate and watched on the monitor Grodin had connected as it emerged on the other side.

‘Huh,’ Jack said as they gazed at the footage it was sending back.  ‘It looks like almost every planet we visited in the Milky Way.  Green grass and lots of trees.’

‘What were you expecting to see?’ John asked with a grin.  ‘Blue grass and trees growing upside down?’

‘Maybe?  It’d make a change.  As far as I’m concerned, they all look like British Columbia.’  They walked together to stand on the balcony overlooking the Stargate.  ‘Are you going through with the Marines?’

‘I thought about it, but I think I ought to stay here.  Bates, Stackhouse and Markham have the most experience in terms of gate travel and first contact.  I only had the chance to go on a couple of first contact missions,’ John told him.  ‘What about you?  You’ve had far more first-contacts than any of us have.’

‘That alone tells me you’re new at this,’ Jack grinned.  ‘If you’d ever been on a first contact with me, you’d know I was always instructed not to be the first to open my mouth.  Danny used to say that if I were allowed to be the first to speak, we’d invariably end up in a prison.’

John laughed.  ‘So you’d rather stay here?’

‘I think my knees are past the stage of having to run for my life,’ Jack told him wryly.  ‘I’ll let you youngsters do the first contacts now, although I’m not ruling out any gate travel at all.’

‘I hope there’ll be no running for our lives today or any other day.  We’ve not been here long enough to upset anyone yet.’

‘Oh, believe me, there’s always someone happy to take offence at the most minor of things.’  Jack leaned on the railing encircling the upper level of the gateroom.  ‘Get your men ready, Colonel.  Let’s allow them to take the first steps of the Tau’ri in the Pegasus Galaxy.’

*****

Friday 1st October 2004 08:52 EST

John was already on his way down to the third level of the tower when Rodney radioed him to get himself there asap.  He was hoping they’d find some elevators or something similar before very long, as running up and down fifty odd flights of stairs was going to get old pretty quickly.  He got to level three just as Rodney radioed again to ask him where he was.

‘I’m here,’ John panted, pushing open the door of the power room.

‘What took you so long?’ Rodney demanded, still typing furiously.

‘It’s fifty-six floors to run down, Rodney,’ he gasped.

‘Oh, didn’t we tell you?’  Rodney glanced round briefly from his laptop.  ‘Radek’s found some transporter thingies.  There’s one just outside the gateroom.  Luckily, they use hardly any power at all.  How did you think we got the naquadah generators down here?’

Fortunately for McKay, John was too out of breath to yell at him.  ‘What’s happening?’ he demanded instead.

‘Well, we’ve bought ourselves a bit of time by connecting the generators, but we can’t find the command to get the city to rise to the surface,’ Rodney replied over his shoulder.

‘I still say there must be a failsafe of some kind to permit the city to rise when the power reaches a low enough level,’ Zelenka argued, pushing his specs up his nose.  ‘Connecting the generators may be a waste of time and energy since we don’t know if naquadah is to be found in Pegasus.’

‘So what do you suggest, then?’ Rodney demanded.  ‘Wait until we’re all about to drown in the hope the city just rises to the surface?  Oh, that’s a good idea.  Let’s try that, shall we?’

‘McKay!  You are an irritating—’

‘What do you think would be the best course of action, Dr Zelenka?’ John asked, interrupting him.

Radek regarded him thoughtfully.  John didn’t know him very well as he’d been down at the Outpost, only returning to Cheyenne Mountain a few days before embarkation, but what he knew of him, he liked, and it amused him to hear Radek and Rodney bickering and bouncing ideas off of each other.

‘I don’t know what course of action to suggest, as Rodney is correct that waiting until the city reaches the lowest rate of power necessary to trigger the failsafe I believe is present and raise it to surface, may be too late for people still here if it cannot rise,’ Radek explained, and sighed when John frowned, trying to parse the sentence.  ‘We might all drown if the city doesn’t rise to the surface.’

Rodney snorted.  ‘Which is what I said about half an hour ago.  The bottom line, Colonel, is that if we can’t evacuate soon, we might all die.’

‘Yeah, Rodney, I got that.  Is there anything you have to do down here that you can’t do in the gateroom now you’ve connected all the generators?  And will we have enough power to dial the gate?’

‘No, and yes,’ Rodney told him, gathering up his equipment. ‘ This Stargate actually takes very little power, or it may be getting its power from elsewhere.  We can’t tell at the moment.’

‘Then let’s get ourselves to the gateroom as it’s much higher than here if the tower should begin to flood.’

Being able to use the transporters made getting back up to the gateroom a simple process.  They stood in what appeared at first glance to be a small closet, closed the door, then pressed the image of a Stargate on a console and, as if by magic, the door opened a second or two later on the corridor just outside the gateroom.

‘They’re very similar to the transporter beams on Asgard ships,’ Rodney told him as they jogged up the staircase to the control level of the gateroom.  ‘The Asgard may have got the technology from the Ancients in the first place.  Or vice versa, I suppose.’

They were explaining their predicament to Jack when the gate began to dial.

‘I just hope they’ve found somewhere safe for us to evacuate to,’ Jack muttered to John as they watched four men emerge from the wormhole.  ‘Gentlemen.’  He nodded as the Marines came up to join them. ‘Please give me some good news.’

After glancing at the other three men, Ford cleared his throat and stepped forward.

‘The planet we gated to is known as Athos and its inhabitants, the Athosians.  They appear to be a semi-nomadic tribe of around 150 with almost no technology at all, certainly not industrially advanced as Dr Grodin suggested they might be, although we saw the remains of what looked like an Ancient city a reasonable distance away from the Stargate across a river.

‘We met with a woman, Teyla Emmagan, who is apparently their leader, and while she didn’t exactly greet us with open arms, she was perfectly polite.  However ,when we —’

‘Ford, can you just skip to the part where they invited us to go and stay with them?’ Jack asked, a little impatiently.  ‘We’re on a ticking clock here.’

‘Yes, sir,’ Ford said with a small frown.  ‘The bottom line is that we can evacuate to Athos, although they can’t even hope to supply us with anything more than water.’

‘We may have a lot of water of our own before too long,’ McKay muttered, having listened in while Ford gave his report.

‘Then let’s get moving.’  Jack turned to look at the two scientists.  ‘McKay?  How long can we hold the gate open for?  The full 38 minutes?’

‘In terms of power usage, yes.  The gate draws almost no power from the primary power supply and must get it from elsewhere, and—’

‘That’s a yes then.’  Jack cut him off and turned towards the gateroom floor and raised his voice.  ‘We’ve found a planet to evacuate to, people.  Let’s load up and get out of here.  Take the food and medical supplies, and the few tents we brought with us.  Major Lorne, can you come up here, please?  Grodin, dial the gate.  Let’s move out, everyone.’

He turned to John.  ‘What do you want to do, John?’ he asked quietly.  ‘Ordinarily, one of us needs to stay here, and one of us goes, but this situation is very much out of the ordinary.  Worst-case scenario is we lose Atlantis and get stranded in Pegasus, and some of us die here trying to get her to the surface.  I won’t order anyone to stay or go, but we need to be sure we’re prepared for what might happen next.’

John replied immediately, needing no time to decide.  ‘I’m staying here.  I have the strongest gene if we need it, and Lorne is more than capable of leading the men if he has to.’

Jack gazed at him intently, then nodded.  ’Sure you’re staying for the right reasons?’ he asked in a neutral tone, glancing towards the two scientists, and John felt his cheeks heat a little.

While he and Rodney had become close during the two months they’d been preparing for the Expedition, he knew he wasn’t staying just for Rodney’s sake, despite what his CO might think.  ’Sure, sir.  I have a stronger expression of the gene than you have.’

Jack nodded again and John was relieved to see he accepted John’s word without further questioning. He turned to Evan Lorne, who’d run up the steps to join them.  ‘Major, you’re in charge of our people while you’re on Athos.  Make sure they’re all on their best behaviour and they remember they’re guests of the Athosians.  We’ll do our best to get the city to the surface, but in case we don’t, you’ll need to find some way to get a message to Earth telling them where you are.  There must be some people in Pegasus that have access to advanced technology.  You’ll need to find who they are and approach them.’

‘Neither of you are coming with us then, sirs?’ Lorne asked, looking between Jack and John, his concern apparent.

‘No, Major,’ Jack responded.  ‘I’m the captain of this ship, and the Colonel has the strongest gene.  It’s in all our best interests that we stay here and try to save her.  If it looks like we can’t, we’ll do our best to dial Athos and send through the rest of our equipment, and then go through ourselves.’

‘Yes, sir,’ Lorne said and gave both Jack and John a precise salute.

‘Stable wormhole established, sir,’ Grodin announced.

‘Then, Atlantis Mission, you have a go.  God speed,’ Jack called out and watched as, for the second time in only a few hours, the Atlantis Expedition stepped through the wormhole onto a strange new world.

*****

Rodney was also watching as most of the Expedition evacuated the city.  Only himself and Radek, Jack and John remained, and he’d tried to persuade Radek to leave with the others.  Radek – stubborn to the end, Rodney decided – informed him there was no possibility of raising the city without his brilliance, to which Rodney replied with a rude noise.

The city was still closing down the outer areas and allowing them to flood despite there now being three naquadah generators providing auxiliary power.  They determined the gateroom would be the last place the shield would hold, which made sense, and was why John had made them retreat here, but they still couldn’t discover how to make the city rise to the surface.

‘Jack, John, come over here and try to make sense of the files we’ve been able to pull up,’ Rodney ordered.  ‘It appears to be a ‘How To’ guide to the city.  I need to work with Zelenka on the coding to the power systems,’ and he scooted his chair over to where Radek was glaring at a screen of code.

‘This is completely nonsensical,’ Radek exclaimed in frustration, pushing his specs up his nose again.  ‘Why?  Why would they write such ridiculous code?’

‘Yes, yes, the Ancients were idiots, but we need to find something to do or we’re all going to die a horrible and painful death,’ McKay told him and pushed his friend out of the way to better see the troublesome code.  He looked carefully at row after row of letters and symbols, but couldn’t see anything that might relate to a failsafe.  He rubbed his eyes wearily and wondered if he had time to eat something.  The last thing he needed was for his blood-sugar to fall and cause him to suffer a hypoglycaemic attack, but they were rapidly reaching the point where it wouldn’t matter if he did.

‘The shield has shrunk almost to the central part of the city only,’ Radek announced quietly, but the three other men all heard him.

‘Wait!’ John suddenly called out, his finger pointing to something on his screen.  ‘Rodney!  What’s this?’

Rodney scooted back to Jack and John and peered at the screen.  ‘Arseholes!  Fucking Radek was right!  We need to disconnect the generators.  John!  Come on!’  He jumped to his feet and ran down the steps towards the corridor containing the transporter, Sheppard on his heels.  ‘Radek!  Look at John’s screen!  You’ll know what to do!’ he called back, and they both ran towards the transporter.

‘What?’ John demanded, even as he followed Rodney into the transporter, which deposited them a few steps from the power room.

‘We need to disconnect the generators as quickly as possible.  The failsafe should have kicked in when the shield withdrew to the central part of the city,’ Rodney gasped as he sank to his knees, beginning to uncouple the generator closest to him.  ‘Watch what I’m doing, then do the same over there,’ he ordered, motioning with his head.  ‘We’ve only got a couple of minutes until the shield fails entirely, but if we don’t disconnect these bad boys properly, we could blow ourselves up before we manage to drown ourselves.’

He managed to unhook the first generator just as water began to trickle along the corridor, which ran under several other buildings at the centre of the city.  ‘Hurry!’ he yelled to John, who slid over to one of the two remaining generators in a movement a good quarterback would recognise.

More and more water was now pouring into the room.  The two men struggled to uncouple the generators while being careful not to trigger the naquadah.  Both radios were buzzing with shouts from Radek and Jack, who could see the shield shrinking closer and closer to the central tower.  Rodney’s hands were beginning to shake, but whether in fear or hypo, he wasn’t sure.  In his head, his big brain counted down the mere seconds they had until the shield shrank to nothing.

Rodney managed to get the last wire out of the way when the city gave a huge lurch.  He realised their attempt had been in vain.  He fell onto his side and the now uncoupled generator smashed against him, making him shout in pain.  A corresponding cry came from John, who managed by some feat to grab Rodney’s arm and tug him close to his chest.  The pair clung to each other in terror as the city lurched back and forth while water cascaded over them both.  A flash of regret raced through Rodney as he realised they wouldn’t have the time to explore and develop this new intimacy together as they each struggled to breathe through the rush of water.

Within seconds, though, the city stabilised. The water began to pour away from them, and Rodney, still clinging to John, realised that the shouts coming over his radio had turned into exclamations of wonder.

*****

Chapter Four

Friday 1st October 2004 09:47 EST

When John and Rodney got back to the gateroom, both soaked to the skin, blood covering most of John’s face, and with Rodney cradling his left arm, it was to find equipment, bags and boxes strewn haphazardly across the floor and no sign of either Jack or Radek.

‘I heard them both over my radio not five minutes ago,’ Rodney told John, staring at the devastation around the gateroom.  ‘Christ!  It’s going to take hours to get this lot cleaned up.  Sadly, I won’t be able to help because of this,’ and he raised his left arm to show John the blood seeping from a cut on his arm, which was already bruising and swelling.

‘You’re such a brave little toaster, aren’t you?’  John patted him gently on the shoulder and gazed around the seemingly empty room.  ‘Where the fuck have they gone?’

They limped up the stairs which had lit so welcomely when they’d first arrived on the city, gazing up at the sun streaming through the numerous windows, many filled with coloured glass which made shifting patterns on the stairs and floors.

‘So you finally decided to join us.’  Jack’s voice came from outside and they made their way over to the open doors which allowed the pleasant aroma of salt water to drift inside on a gentle breeze, looking around at the parts of the massive room that had been hidden while Atlantis was under water.

‘Wow!’ was all Rodney could manage as they stepped onto the open balcony and took in the expanse of ocean all around.  ‘It really is a floating city.’

‘You’d better believe it,’ Jack said lightly as all four of them leaned on the balustrade and looked down at the city towers spread out beneath them.

‘Do we have to call the rest of them back?’ Rodney asked wistfully, thinking how beautiful and peaceful it was at the moment.

‘Unless you’re prepared to unpack all our equipment and clean up everywhere yourself,’ John told him with a nudge to his shoulder, ‘yes, we do.  Although it’s probably worth waiting until she’s finished drying herself out,’ he added as they watched windows and doors open automatically all over the city.

‘Where is all the power coming from?’ Rodney muttered to himself, looking around.  ‘These are obviously automatic procedures which makes me think the city was built allowing it to flood when necessary, but it was apparent down in the power room that the ZPM’s were all out of juice and that we only exacerbated the situation by connecting the naquadah generators.’

‘Yes,’ Radek agreed.  ‘And do not think for one moment I shall allow you to forget I was right about the power, and you admitted it in front of witnesses.’

‘You’re never going to let that drop, are you, you messy haired, four-eyed oomph—’

‘I think we’ll let Radek have his moment of glory, shall we?’ John asked, his hand firmly over Rodney’s mouth.

‘And what about me?’ Rodney demanded, squirming away from John’s hand.  ‘I saved you all from a watery grave.  Don’t I get any glory?’

‘All three of you can have as much glory as you want,’ Jack said firmly.  ‘After we’ve got our people back safe and sound.  And I don’t know about you lot, but I’m starving.  Does anyone know which box might have some food in it?’

‘You sent all the packs of food through the gate to Athos,’ Rodney reminded him.  ‘I knew I should have brought some sandwiches.’

John, meanwhile, had disappeared back inside and emerged with a rucksack in his hand.  ‘I brought enough to share, don’t worry,’ he told them with a grin and passed out carefully wrapped packages.  ‘And before you ask, Rodney, I made sure the kitchen knew they were for you, so there’s no citrus anywhere.’

*****

A drink and a bite to eat later – and a change of clothes and emergency patching up for John and Rodney –  Radek dialled the gate address for Athos, but the wormhole wouldn’t connect.

‘Is that the equivalent of an engaged tone?’ Jack asked the two scientists, who were now bent together over the Atlantis version of the Dial Home Device.  They each gave him a non-verbal reply with a finger, which made him grin, but after the wormhole failed to establish on the fifth attempt, he became serious.

‘What if something’s happened to them?’ Radek asked, the concern evident in his voice.  ‘We’ve no way of reaching the planet they went to.’

‘That’s not strictly true,’ Rodney said slowly, his attention on the screen in front of him.  ‘Colonel, will you go up to the level above here?  I need you to check what’s there.’

‘What is there?’ John and Jack asked simultaneously, and Rodney glared at them.

‘Seriously?  What am I, some sort of psychic?  Or maybe you think I can see through walls.  Honestly, I—’

‘Rodney!’  John cut off his rant before he could get properly started.  ‘You obviously think something’s there or you wouldn’t be asking me to go.  What do you think is there?’

‘If I’m reading this correctly, and of course I am, after all I’m—’

‘Rodney?’ John growled, lengthening the name into several syllables.

‘Okay, okay.  I think there may be some sort of…of vehicle there.  Possibly the sort that flies.  Possibly, I said!  Possibly!’ he yelled after them, but Jack and John had already left the room at a run.

‘I’m calling first dibs if it’s something that flies,’ John told Jack as they ran up the stairs together.

‘I outrank you,’ Jack panted, falling a little behind his friend, so out of shape as he was after recently spending three months in a stasis pod.

‘Bite me!’ came the reply as John disappeared through a set of double doors.

‘Bastard!’ muttered Jack to himself as he reached the doors himself and skidded to a halt next to his friend.

They both stood openmouthed at the sight before them.  Row upon row of grey-green vehicles filled the room, each with a window at what they presumed was the front.  They stepped towards one of the craft together and it lit up as they approached.  They exchanged looks of sheer joy and each of them breathed one word.  ‘Spaceships!’

*****

A good while later, Rodney gave up on reaching either of them on their radios and, leaving Radek behind to monitor the Stargate, stomped up the stairs to see what they might have found.  To his surprise, two small ships were flying around the enormous hangar in what appeared to be a game of tag.

‘Oh, for the love of…’ he muttered to himself and tried to think of a way to get their attention.

Eventually one of them – he couldn’t see which – spotted him waving his one good arm around and they each brought their ships down to the floor.  The backs of each ship lowered to the ground and John emerged from the first one to pick him up and swing him round.

‘Rodney, look!  Spaceships!’

‘Yes, yes, Colonel Five-Years-Old.  Spaceships.  Aren’t you a clever boy?  Well done,’ he told him, only to be captured from behind by Jack and swung around again, although this time his captor stumbled and let him go before completing the swing.

‘Christ, McKay!  How much do you weigh?  I nearly gave myself a hernia!’

‘I’ve been a little too busy recently to keep up my fitness regime, I’ll have you know, and—’ He paused and shook his head.  ‘Why am I telling you this?  You’re big kids, the pair of you!  Our people are trapped on another planet and you two infants are busy playing with your toys!’

‘But, McKay,’ Jack whined.  ‘They’re spaceships.  Real honest-to-god spaceships.’

‘Yes, yes, I can see that.  All you need now are a couple of plasma guns and a Wookie and you’ll be proper space cowboys.  Now get yourselves back downstairs and let’s make some plans to rescue our people,’ he told them and pushed them both towards the doors, all the while muttering to himself under his breath about delinquent Air Force Officers.

‘Right,’ Rodney said when they were all back in the gateroom.  ‘We’ve established that we’ve got spaceships.  Now let’s see if we can establish a wormhole to our people, otherwise we’re going to have to think of a way to get to them.  I doubt ships as small as those will have hyper-drive capabilities, but we might be able to gate to a nearby planet or something.  Radek, try dialling the Athos gate again.’

This time the wormhole established on the second attempt and a more sober Jack clicked his radio.

‘Lorne?  This is…’ he paused for a moment, then continued.  ‘This is Command.  Can you hear me?’

There was a crackle and a pause, and then Lorne’s voice came through.

‘General?  Thank God.  We’ve been attacked and about thirty of our people have been taken!  We need to gate home immediately before the Wraith can return.’

The four men on Atlantis stared at each other.

‘Lorne?  This is Sheppard.  Who are the Wraith?  Who attacked you, and why have our people been taken?  Who took them?’  John fired the questions at his XO but Jack shook his head at John and laid a hand on his arm.

‘Lorne, dial back, send an IDC and we’ll let you through.  How many people do you have left with you?’

‘About 150 of our own and about 130 Athosians.  We can’t leave them here in case the Wraith come back.’

John opened his mouth to ask another question, but Jack shook his head again.  The gate closed down, but thankfully, quickly dialled back.

‘IDC received,’ Radek said quietly.

‘Lorne, bring our people home,’ Jack ordered.

*****

Friday 1st October 2004 13:32 EST

People began flooding into the gateroom, a mixture of Expedition members and Athosians in homespun clothing clutching hastily wrapped belongings and towing frightened children, white-faced and strangely silent.  Lt Ford came through first and began directing the new arrivals to either side, out of the way of the multitude still pouring through the gate.  The Athosians looked around in wonder at the bright sunlit room, occasionally stumbling over the strewn supplies Ford was now ordering the Marines to clear out of the way.

‘Everybody pick up at least two pieces of equipment or packs and move out of the main area,’ he ordered, and the Marines quickly followed his instructions, moving everything away from the path of those arriving through the gate.

John and Jack spotted Lorne at the same moment and ran down the stairs towards him.  John pulled him out of the way of the people still flooding through the event horizon while Rodney and Radek joined Ford in organising the new arrivals.

‘What happened, Major?’ Jack demanded.  ‘Who took our people?’

‘The Wraith, sir,’ Evan answered, gratefully accepting a bottle of water from a box one of the Marines brought over.  ‘Some sort of humanoid creature who feed on humans.  They came—’

‘Wait.’  Jack held his hand up to stop him from continuing.  ‘These Wraith eat people?  What the actual fuck!?’

‘They’re not cannibals, sir,’ Lorne assured him, but John wasn’t at all relieved by this information.  Creatures who eat humans?  What the fuck?

‘They sound more like some sort of…vampire,’ Lorne explained.  ‘Toran, one of the Athosians, described it as sucking out a human’s life force through their hands, although I’m not sure—’

‘Oh, well, that’s alright then,’ Jack said caustically.  ‘If they’re not cannibals, just vampires, that’s entirely different.’

‘Lorne.’  John snapped his fingers a couple of times in his deputy’s face and shot a glare at Jack.  ‘Focus.  What happened when you took everyone through the gate?’

Lorne nodded and took a deep drink.  ‘Yessir.  We got our people settled to the side of the Athosians’ camp and their leader, Teyla Emmagan, came over to speak with us and had a couple of her people make a sort of herbal tea for us all.  Some of the other Athosians came over to chat and the kids in particular were really interested in our guns and started asking questions about where we were from and suchlike.  Everything was fine and most of our people were starting to relax when Miss Emmagan suddenly froze and shouted, ‘Wraith!’.

‘We obviously had no idea what it meant,’ Lorne continued, ‘but the Athosians grabbed anything they could and ran away from the campsite and towards a small wooded area.  Miss Emmagan told us to get moving and follow them, but most of our people, particularly the scientists, ignored her and stayed where they were.  I could tell she was really serious about whatever it was, and I tried to get them all moving.’  He paused and took another drink and Ford, who’d joined them at the side of the gateroom, took over the tale.

‘Major Lorne ordered our men to get the scientists up and get them moving, and Miss Emmagan tried really hard to get us to hurry, while trying to tell us about these Wraith and how they’d eat us.  We finally got most of our people to run, but a few of the scientists just refused and said they’d done enough moving for one day and they’d stay where they were.  Miss Emmagan was still shouting at everyone to hurry when we heard a high-pitched whining noise and we suddenly saw a couple of tiny sort of fighter planes she called darts.  They flew towards us and a light shone from underneath and we realised it was a beam of some sort that just scooped people up.  Most of us got into the trees and followed the Athosians as we realised they were going somewhere to hide, but the beams kept on sweeping over us, scooping up more people with each pass it made and the people were just…gone.’  He gulped and looked close to tears.

Lorne squeezed Ford’s shoulder and continued the tale.  ‘Ford and I did our best to round our people up and keep them moving, but we lost about thirty of them and the Athosians lost about twenty, including Miss Emmagan.  We finally made it to some caves which apparently have a natural kind of shielding which the beams can’t penetrate, and a couple of the Athosians explained a little more about the Wraith and how they use their hands to suck out a human’s life force from their chest.’

John frowned.  ‘Do they eat…sorry, suck people to death straight away, or have our people been taken somewhere else?  If their darts are so small, they wouldn’t have much room for many people.  Do we know where they went when they left?’

‘The darts are tiny, sir,’ Lorne explained.  ‘Miss Emmagan said she’s seen one which crashed and they have room for just one ma—Wraith, so it sounds like they’re put in some kind of storage.  They then take them back to their ships, Hives, Toran called them, which makes them sound like insects.’  Lorne’s face was etched in horror as he described the process.  ‘As to where they went, Ford ran back to the gate to see what address they dialled to leave.  The gate’s kept open from the other side while they’re culling, then it closes down and the darts dial again to leave.’

‘Which is why we couldn’t get a wormhole established,’ Rodney surmised, having joined them just in time to hear Lorne’s description of where the darts went.  ‘Did you manage to see the whole gate address, Ford?’ he demanded of the Lieutenant.  ‘If you did, we might be able to go and rescue our people.’

‘But, Doc,’ Lorne began.  ‘They could be miles away from their Stargate by now, even if they returned to their own planet directly.  We’d never be able to search an entire planet on foot, and if they’re in space, then we’ll have no chance of finding them.’

John gave his deputy a grim smile, the best he could manage under the circumstances.  ‘That’s where you’re wrong, Major.  Come and see what we found.’

*****

It took a fierce argument, a lot of sighing, and finally a game of rock, paper, scissors between himself and Jack to determine who stayed behind to mind the shop – something Lorne watched with a mixture of fascination and concern – before John grinned triumphantly, then quickly moderated his features as he remembered just why he and Lorne needed to pilot the small crafts.  They loaded each ship with a dozen heavily armed Marines, each and every one of them filled with a determination to rescue their people, and make war on those who took them.

None of the Athosians could tell them what to expect on a wraith ship—Hive, John corrected – as no one had ever returned from a culling to describe their experience.  All they knew about them came from second and third-hand accounts describing egg-shaped ships of massive proportion.  Indeed, the Athosians were shocked the Expedition were intending to try and rescue their people at all, and one or two of them had tried to talk them out of going altogether.  John and Jack simply ignored the naysayers after trying to explain the Tau’ri didn’t leave any of their people behind, and concentrated on finding the best equipment, weapons, and explosives for John and Lorne to take along with the rescue party.

Carolyn Lam appeared in the hanger just before John was about to leave, a large medical pack in hand, and she simply pushed her way through the Marines to the seat next to John and sat herself down without saying a single word.  John looked at her, then shrugged and nodded to Staff Sergeants Stackhouse and Markham, who slipped into the seats behind them.  Ford and Bates joined Major Lorne in the cockpit of the second ship while the cargo areas of both ships held the Marines they were taking with them.  It would be a tight fit on the homeward journey, but they’d manage.

Ford gave a little wave to John through the windshield.  ‘Gateships One and Two ready to go,’ he announced through his radio and grinned at John’s expression of distaste.

‘Gateship?  A little puddle jumper like this?’ John demanded.

‘It’s a ship that goes through the gate, sir.  Gateship.’

‘Oh, no, no, no, that’s all wrong.’

‘I agree,’ O’Neill said through the radio.

‘Dr McKay thought it was cool,’ Ford replied with a frown at John.

‘Oh, okay, well, it’s official.  You and McKay don’t get to name anything, ever.’  John took a deep breath.  ‘General O’Neill?  This is…Puddle Jumpers One and Two.  We’re go for launch.’

‘Puddle Jumpers One and Two, you’re cleared to launch.  God speed.  Colonel?  Major?  Bring our people home,’ Jack ordered.

*****

Friday 1st October 2004 13:45 EST

They emerged from the Stargate into the dark of space seen from the MALP they’d sent through earlier, Rodney complaining that he now needed to build one they could retrieve if orbital gates were common in Pegasus.  John and Lorne immediately engaged the cloaks he and Jack had discovered when they were playing with the puddle jumpers.

I’m flying an invisible spaceship with my mind, John thought to himself. How cool is that?

Another thought brought up a map of the planet on the HUD, and when he tried to think about their people, it focussed in on a dark mass actually on the planet with a number of dots within it.  A small hand-held device popped out of a hidden side pocket at the same time and John glanced at it, then passed it to Dr Lam, a gene carrier like himself, and tapped his radio to contact Lorne.  ‘Think about our people down on the planet, Lorne.  I’ve just been gifted a little machine like a Tricorder.’

‘Got it, sir,‘ Lorne replied after a few seconds.  ‘I’m guessing it’s a mobile version of what’s on the HUD,’ he suggested as they flew down towards the planet and closer to the dark mass.  The dots grew bigger and clearly showed one large grouping with a couple of other dots moving around a clearly outlined mass.

‘What is that?’ John heard Ford ask.

‘I think…I think the ship’s actually on the planet,’ John replied, frowning as he examined the image the HUD was giving him.

‘And I suspect the larger group of dots is our people and the Athosians.  It’s detecting their life signs,‘ Lorne added.  ‘The other dots that’re moving or on their own are probably the Wraith and they’ve kept all the humans together somewhere.  I don’t understand why there appears to be so few Wraith, though.  Teyla described the Hive she once saw as massive and said other accounts matched hers.  If the whole  of the darker area is the ship, then it looks big, but where are all the Wraith?  Surely there aren’t enough of them to run a ship of that size.’

‘Won’t our people be trying to escape, though?’ Ford asked.  ‘Especially if there aren’t many guards and they’re on the ground.’

‘They might not know they’re on the ground and you’re forgetting about the orbital ‘gate,’ John told him.  ‘There’s no way to get off the planet even if they did escape.’

‘And you have to remember that most of our people are scientists and aren’t SERE trained,’ Lorne pointed out.

‘And they might not know anything about where they are,’ Stackhouse said, loud enough for Lorne and Ford to hear.  ‘We’ve no idea what happened to them after they were beamed up.’

They landed close enough to the mass for easy access but, hopefully, far enough away for them not to be heard or seen.  Another small device popped out of a pocket, this one with only a couple of buttons on it.

‘Lorne?  Have you got a second device?’ John asked.  ‘I think it’s like a car key and will close the ramp and lock the Jumper.  There has to be a way to secure them from the outside.’

‘Got it, sir.’

John waited until Stackhouse and Markham followed the other Marines out of the Puddle Jumper, and turned to Carolyn Lam.  ‘You’re staying here with the Jumpers, Doc.’

‘What?  No!  I need to be able to treat any injuries they might have sustained.’

‘There’s not going to be time to treat anyone for anything.  It’ll be a quick in and out, hopefully without them even knowing we’re here.’

‘You still need me with you,’ Carolyn argued stubbornly.

’I don’t think you quite understand our position here, Dr Lam.’  John turned in his seat to face her directly.  ‘These Wraith eat people.  It’s bad enough they have thirty of our people as well as an unknown number of Athosians.  I’m certainly not going to allow a civilian to put themselves in danger needlessly.’

He regarded the stubborn look on her face, which Jack said was just like the one her father wore almost continually, and he sighed.  ‘Carolyn, I need to focus fully on the rescue mission and not on keeping you safe.’

‘I can look after myself, Colonel.’

‘I’m sure you can, but just humour me, will you?  This is an entirely new galaxy, and we were barely here five minutes before we made a new enemy.  We’re all feeling our way here, so, please, stay here with the Jumpers until we get back, and I promise you we’ll set up proper protocols for medical staff off-world when we get back to Atlantis.’

She watched him for a moment, her back stiff and her chin thrust out defiantly, then visibly relaxed, some of the tension leaving her.  ‘I’ll stay here with the Jumpers, Colonel, but we will have that discussion, and sooner rather than later.’

He gave her an affirmative nod and left her sitting in the cockpit while he handed over the two keys, which did indeed control the rear ramps and cloaks, to the two Marines he ordered to guard the Jumpers and the good doctor while the rest of them made their way carefully towards the mass showing on the…Okay, I’m going with Tricorder for the moment.

There was a full moon that night, giving John and his men a clear view of a wooded hillside, although their helmets were equipped with night-vision goggles in case they needed them.  They gathered in a group in a small copse a little distance away from…

‘I…I think the Wraith base is inside the hillside,’ Lorne said in confusion.  ’It’s not a ship at all.  Teyla didn’t mention them having ground bases, just spaceships.  Hives.’

‘The Tricorder’s still showing a group of people together, and other single or double dots,’ John replied, his eyes switching between the hillside and the gadget.  ‘I agree, Lorne.  The base is inside the hill, which makes placing explosives a little more difficult.’

‘We could set them around that lit area over there,’ Ford suggested, gesturing towards the base.  ‘That looks like the entrance.  If we set them there, they’ll bury it.  It’ll slow them down at any rate.’

‘They’ll have other entrances and exits, I’m sure,’ John said, frowning at the screen.  ‘For ventilation if nothing else, but I agree, Ford.  Set the charges up around this area while we go inside.  Markham, you have explosives training, don’t you?’

‘Yessir, but why are there no guards anywhere?’ Markham asked, looking around.  ‘We’ve been here for several minutes and there’s been no sign of anyone at all.’

‘There’s no need,’ Lorne replied in a low voice.  ‘From what Teyla said, no one in Pegasus would even dream of entering a Wraith Hive.’

‘Then why the fuck are we?’ a second Marine muttered.

‘Because we don’t leave our people behind,’ John answered sharply, making a mental note of the man’s name.  Haley.  He’ll bear watching.  He gazed at the Tricorder, trying to work out how to get to the large group of dots they assumed were their people, when the screen changed to show a plan of the interior of the base.

‘Holy fuck!’ he muttered.  ‘Here, Lorne, look.  It’s showing us exactly where to go.  Can yours do that?’

Lorne stared at his Tricorder for a moment and the screen changed to show the interior of the base, just like John’s, except…’Several of the dots showing our group are marked with a star, sir,’ Lorne said in confusion.  ‘Why…’

Stackhouse and Markham exchanged glances and stepped away from the group crowding around the two senior officers.  ‘How about now, sir?’ Stackhouse asked.

‘Two have moved away.  That must be you two, but—’

‘—ATA gene, sir,’ Markham interrupted.  ‘The stars must denote gene-carriers.’

Lorne nodded, his attention still fixed on the gadget.  ‘Useful to know,’ he murmured, then held out the Tricorder to John.  ‘Look here, sir.  It looks as though it’s labelled some areas and I think this one is for power or energy.  Dr Jackson gave a few teams a crash course in Ancient in case we came across any of their technology in the Milky Way.  Why would a Wraith base have a power plant?’

‘Lights?’ suggested Ford, pointing to the faint glow of the entrance to the base.

Lorne shook his head.  ‘If I’m right about this label, then it’s far more power than’s needed for lights.’

‘We’ll see what we can find once we’re inside,’ John told him and glanced around the group of men.  ‘Myers, Sanchez, you two stay here and guard the entrance, and stay in radio contact with Lieutenant Ford and Sergeant Markham.  I want to know if a blade of grass moves. Got it?’

‘Yes, sir,’ Myers nodded.  They each flipped down their night-vision goggles and stepped away from the group, disappearing into the darkness provided by the copse, while Ford and Markham began to climb a little way up the hill above the entrance to lay pockets of C4 and detonators.

John took a last glance around his men and nodded.  ‘Take point, Stacks, with the Tricorder, and Bates, join him.  You cover our six with your Tricorder, Lorne.  The rest of you keep your eyes peeled for anything hinky and everyone activate your body cams.  General O’Neill will want to review the footage and we’ll need to begin an intelligence file on the Wraith.  Stay frosty, everyone.  Let’s go!’

*****

John looked around in confusion.  The larger than expected entrance led into what looked like a hanger filled with small aircraft – darts, his memory supplied.

‘There must be several hundred of them,’ he muttered to himself, ‘but why—’

‘All clear, sir,‘ Bates informed him through his radio, and he looked up to find the two Sergeants standing on a higher level close to what looked like a door leading to what he presumed was the rest of the base, the other Marines spread out over the four levels.

‘It doesn’t make sense,’ Lorne murmured to him, appearing at his side, still with the Tricorder in his hand.  ‘Why would the main entrance be through the dart hanger?’

John’s brain was working overtime, and he took the Tricorder from Lorne’s hand and examined the plan of the base again.  ‘It isn’t the entrance, that’s why.’

‘But—’

‘This isn’t a ground base, it’s a ship – a Hive.’

‘But there’re trees growing on the hillside,’ Lorne protested.

‘I can’t explain why, but I’m pretty certain I’m right,’ John told him, still looking at the Tricorder.  ‘It’d explain the power room.’

Lorne gave him an uncertain glance, then nodded.  ‘Okay, sir.  I’ll buy it for the moment, but shouldn’t we concentrate on getting our people back?’

‘Of course, but we need all the intelligence we can get from this mission.  I’ll take Bates and see what we can discover while you lead the rescue party.  Keep radio silence as much as you can and tap Morse ‘Complete’ when you’ve got them clear and we’ll meet you back in the copse. ‘

‘And if you’re not there?’

‘Give us 30 minutes after you signal, and…’  John glanced at his watch.  ‘It’s almost 14:00, so if we’re not back by 15:00, don’t blow the ship unless you have to, and take everyone back to Atlantis.  We’ll get out if we can and go to ground as close to where we left the Jumpers as possible.  Send a Jumper back to look for us as soon as you can.  You’ll know my position because of the ATA gene being marked.’

Lorne frowned at him.  ‘I can’t leave you behind, sir!’

‘You might have to,’ John said, frowning back at him.  ‘Our first responsibility is to our civilians, you know that.  I’ll appreciate it if you don’t blow the ship up while we’re still in it, but you know your duty, Major.’

Lorne drew himself up to an ‘attention’ position and nodded.  ‘Just get back as soon as you can, sir.  I’d hate to have to explain to General O’Neill I’ve lost my CO.’

John grinned at him.  ‘It certainly wouldn’t be the best start to your time on Atlantis, I agree.  I’ll be there, though, me and Bates, so don’t fret!’

Lorne gave a single nod and gathered his rescue team with a glance, most of them having listened unashamedly to the conversation between the two senior officers.  Bates appeared at John’s side and raised his eyebrows.

‘Where to, sir?’

‘The power room.  I want to know if my hunch is right,’ John replied.  ‘Stay frosty, Gunny, and keep your gun up.’

Bates gave him what might be termed an ‘old-fashioned look’, making John grin again, then fell into place just behind him.  ‘Lead on, Macduff,’ he muttered, not quite under his breath.

*****

The passages within the ship followed no apparent pattern as far as John could tell, but appeared to meander any which way, a mist hovering just above ground level as they walked.  The walls of the passage were uneven and thick rope-like material ran along them almost like—

‘They look like veins,’ Bates said softly, tracing the outlines with a finger, which he snatched back suddenly.  ‘Fuck!  I think they are!  This whole fucking base is alive!’

John looked a little closer, shining the light of his P90 onto the wall, and swallowed hard.  ‘I think you’re right, Gunney.  The walls are membrane covered with mucus, not damp as I first thought.’ He wiped his hand on his BDUs and looked around uneasily, the mist still circulating around his feet.  ‘Come on, I want to get out of here asap!’

Bates lingered for a moment, studying the walls—membrane – carefully.  ‘I’ve still got some C4 in my vest.  If this is organic, it’ll blow pretty easily, won’t it?’

John gave him a wolfish smile.  ‘I like your thinking, Gunny.  If we can rig the power plant when we get there…’

‘It’ll blow this fucker to kingdom come,’ Bates finished.  ‘Lead on, Colonel.’

They continued along the passage, openings into empty rooms or other passages appearing at random intervals with no signs of life whatsoever.

‘It’s like the fucking Mary Celeste,’ Bates muttered as they came to a deserted intersection.  ‘How can a base—ship this big have so few people?’

John ignored him, holding up a fist to signal stop, and peering closely at the Tricorder, relying on Bates to keep a lookout for any unfriendlies as he worked out where to go next and how long they’d need for egress, particularly if they laid charges and a timed detonator.  He glanced at his watch and made a decision.

‘We won’t have time to get to the Power Plant and out again,’ he told Bates, who nodded his agreement.  John reached into his tac vest and pulled out a couple of plastic bags.  ‘Grab some of the…wall and bag it for the geeks while I lay some charges.’

Bates took the bags and looked at them distastefully.  ’Sir.’

The passage they’d come down had several pillars supporting what resembled computer consoles so John packed the C4 around one in the hope it might do some damage to the Wraith systems as well as the ship itself, but he’d barely begun when an alarm sounded causing him to drop the explosive in shock.  Thank fuck it’s a stable composition, he told himself, scrabbling on the floor to find it in the swirling mist.

It took mere seconds but felt like a lifetime before the explosive was set with a detonator cut to give them ten minutes to escape, and, exchanging a glance with Bates, they set off at a run, both holding their weapons in the ready position.  They were fortunate, however, that they didn’t meet any unfriendlies on their way back to the dart hanger, leaving both men puzzled about the absence of any Wraith.

The two men slowed as they approached the end of the passage where it led into the highest level of the hangar, the passage leading to the prisoners beginning at a lower one.  They could hear the sound of energy and automatic weapons exchanging fire from below, and John nodded to Bates to move left while he moved to the right to provide additional fire-power to help Lorne and his companions.  Once again, the platform they stepped onto was bereft of enemy combatants and they could move soundlessly into a better firing position unhindered.

This changed, of course, the moment they opened fire, but their initial volley took down several of the Wraith who appeared to have masks covering their faces, giving Stackhouse time to get the prisoners out of the ship and, presumably, back to the Jumpers while Lorne and the Marines with him could now concentrate on firing at the Wraith.  No other Wraith appeared to give support to their brethren in the hangar, and John and Bates were able to make their way down to the exit level while Lorne gave covering fire.

A sudden blast from within the ship caught the attention of the Wraith still on their feet, though John was shocked to see the Wraith he knew he’d shot get back up with no apparent injury.  What the fuck?  He shook his head to dispel the thought and used the momentary distraction of the Wraith to hustle his men out of the ship to where Lorne and his men, and a tiny woman dressed in homespun cloth and leather, were waiting.

Lorne held out his arm, indicating the woman. ‘This is Miss Teyla Emmagan, sir.  The leader of the Athosians.’

‘Not the time or place for social niceties, Major,’ John snapped, nodding at Miss Emmagan, who tilted her head slightly in acknowledgement.  ‘Move out!’

He’d just got them all hurrying along the path back to the Jumpers, the Athosian leader at his side, when she suddenly spun around and kicked out, causing a grunt and a thud.  John turned in time to see a second masked Wraith fall to the ground next to the first, and he brought up his P90 and emptied the cartridge into the pair, Bates joining him after the first few shots.

Teyla caught his arm.  ‘We must hurry.  They will quickly recover from their injuries.’

John frowned, but accepted her superior knowledge.  ‘Move!’ he ordered, the urgency in his voice causing his men to run, and for a few moments, all that could be heard was the thudding of feet and heavy breathing.

They were almost back at the copse where they’d parked the Jumpers when an almighty series of explosions rent the darkness and Ford and Markham materialised out of the trees, both grinning widely.

‘I’m celebrating my Independence Day,’ Markham announced, causing a ripple of laughter and releasing some of the tension amongst them.  Stackhouse strode forward and slapped the back of his partner’s head, causing more laughter, before hugging the man briefly and pushing him forward towards the waiting Jumpers.

Within five minutes John and Lorne had them all back in the air, each of the two jumpers filled to capacity with their fifty or so rescuees, and just as Carolyn dialled the Atlantis gate address a final, enormous explosion down on the planet blew the hive and all it contained to high heaven.

*****

Friday 1st October 2004 17:45 EST

It wasn’t exactly a celebration when they returned to Atlantis.  Two Athosians and one of their own scientists had been taken from the chamber the captives were held in.  Lorne had wanted to rescue them, but Teyla explained it was futile.

‘They wanted to know who you people were,’ she explained, a soft sympathy in her eyes.  ‘They knew you were newly come to our galaxy and wanted to know where you came from.  We heard the screams of those taken as they were fed upon and there is no way back from a Wraith feeding.  As soon as those people were taken, they were dead.’

‘How did they know we were newly arrived?’ Jack asked her, tapping his pen on the conference room table where the debrief was being held.  ‘How do you know?’

‘Some of your people who came to Athos for refuge were discussing the planet you have recently left and their worry of being trapped here in…Pegasus,’ she explained, carefully repeating the Tau’ri name for their new galaxy.

‘Who heard them discussing it and how would the Wraith know?’ John asked.  ‘Why did the Wraith attack when they did if they’re all sleeping as you told us?’

‘The Wraith can sleep for hundreds of years as they do now, but while most sleep, some still cull regularly in much smaller numbers to feed those who guard the ones who sleep.  As to why they would come now?  Only the Ancestors can tell us that.’

‘But how would they know who we are?’  John repeated his question, exchanging glances with Jack and making a mental note – as he was sure Jack was doing – to impress on all their people that some things should not be discussed in public.

Teyla shrugged.  ‘I do not know.  The Wraith have telepathic abilities and can communicate over long distances.  Perhaps they can also read minds, although I have never heard so.  Still, it is possible.’

Jack and John nodded.  This was something they’d have to delve into at a later date.  For now, though, they all needed some food and some sleep.

‘Miss Emmagan, I’ve had rooms prepared for you and your people,’ Jack told her.  ‘Things are very basic at the moment, but you’re all safe here for now.  Tomorrow we can get together and decide what to do since we can’t feed you all for very long. For now, though, we all need to get some rest.  I’ll have someone take you to where your people are staying.’

Teyla understood the dismissal for what it was and stood up.  She moved over to stand in front of John, reached up to put her hands on his shoulders and bowed her head.  After a panicked look at O’Neill, John bent his head to touch hers, then they each stepped back.  ‘General, Colonel, Major, I am very grateful to you and your people for rescuing us.  I have known no one to return from a culling before, and I thank you.  You have earned the friendship of myself and all my people and we will be happy to help you make other friends in Pegasus.’

*****

Jack paused to speak quietly to one of the younger Marines John didn’t recognise from behind, then came up the steps to join John and Rodney on the balcony overlooking the gateroom.

‘A successful end to a truly awful day,’ he told them with a wry smile.  ‘Let’s not repeat it: I’m not sure my heart could stand it.’

They stood in silence for a while, watching people milling around below; the numbers dwindling as more and more people went to seek their beds, eventually leaving only the men John had designated as the gateroom Security Forces.

‘Do I have anywhere to sleep?’ John suddenly asked, aware that almost all the supplies had been removed from the gateroom and stored somewhere while he’d been gone.

‘We’re doubling up where we can,’ Jack told him with a tired smile.  ‘We can look at accommodation properly tomorrow.  For the moment, rooms just off the gateroom have been cleared for us and someone found a bunch of mattresses we’ve distributed among them.’

‘Ten thousand year old mattresses?’  Rodney screwed his nose up.  ‘Really?’

‘If you don’t like them, McKay, there’s always the floor.’

Rodney gave him one of his best glares, then turned.  ‘ Come along, Colonel.  Time for all good little heroes to be tucked up in bed,’ he said, giving John’s arm a slight tug.

‘Where am I sleeping?’ John asked again as Rodney towed him away.

‘Oh, did I forget to tell you?’ Jack asked innocently.  ‘I’ve put you in with McKay!’

*****

Chapter Five

Monday 14th October 2004 16:24 Atlantis Standard Time

‘Well, it’s certainly not a coincidence,’ John told Jack in a low voice as they leaned against the balustrade on the balcony overlooking the gateroom.  ‘Three missions to three different planets and the Wraith show up each time?  That’s a pattern, not an accident.’

‘And you’re sure it’s got nothing to do with Teyla?’  Jack tried to keep his voice neutral, but John still swung round and glared at him.  ‘Okay, okay, but there’s something going on. You’ve just said so yourself.’

‘Yeah, I know.  But I’m almost certain it’s got nothing to do with Teyla.  One of the Wraith would have fed on her today if McKay hadn’t managed to shoot him enough times to get his attention while Teyla got away.’

‘McKay shot him, eh?  Good for him. He’s obviously been practising.  First time I took him off-world he couldn’t hit the side of a mothership.’

‘He’s told me about the messes you used to drag him into,’ John said with a grin, then sobered.  `I just wish some of the other scientists we brought with us had off-world experience.’

Jack nodded.  ‘Most of the scientists who came out here were either recruited especially for the Expedition or came from Area 51, like Radek, and Miko Kusanagi.  Some, like Peter Grodin, came from countries who are part of the IOA.’

‘Well, we need to get some of them trained up to join off-world teams and we also need to decide on a list of priorities, both on and off-world.  I’ve had a couple of ideas, but I want to bring McKay in to discuss it.  He obviously knows his people better than we do.’

‘No time like the present.  You got time now?’

John grinned.  ‘Yeah, because if I go back to my office, I just know Lorne’s gonna want to talk paperwork, although why we still have so many forms to fill out beats me.’

‘Preaching to the converted here, John.  I wanted to get most of them ditched, but George and the IOA overruled me.  Come on, call McKay.  He might agree if you ask him,’ Jack added slyly, eliciting a glare from Sheppard who, nonetheless, stepped away and clicked his radio.

Jack wandered over to Chuck Campbell, the admin clerk who doubled as a gate technician since Jack had declared he didn’t have – nor wanted – enough admin to warrant a clerk, and asked him to arrange for some coffee for them.  As he settled himself behind his desk, he wondered – for almost the first time since they arrived two weeks ago, he realised – how Walter and the rest of the SGC were managing with Elizabeth Weir in charge.

Rodney’s presence was heralded a few minutes later by his strident tones verbally chastising a member of his staff over his radio.  ‘What part of ‘don’t touch the Jumpers’ are you struggling with?  Because if you break another one, you fuckwit, I’m going to let the Colonel break you, and I’ll hand out popcorn to anyone who wants to watch!’

‘Who’s broken one of my Jumpers, McKay?’ John growled as Rodney joined them in Jack’s office.

‘Oh, who do you think?’ Rodney snapped as he sank into a chair.  ‘Three guesses.’

‘Kavanagh, Kavanagh, Kavanagh,’ Jack said with a sigh.  ‘What’s the idiot done now?

‘Radek’s been working on one of the Jumpers trying to see what powers and charges it.  He left it while he went to get some lunch and when he came back, Kavanagh had managed not only to wreck the experiment Radek was running, but did something to the Jumper which has made it stop working altogether.’

‘Can you fix it?’

‘Radek’s not managed to yet.  He needs one of you to go and sit in it and see if you can find anything through the neural interface.’  Rodney heaved a great sigh.  ‘The sooner Beckett can get his gene therapy working, the better for all of us.’

Jack grimaced.  ‘Yeah, about that.  Carolyn came to see me earlier, while you were all off-world, and told me Beckett thinks he’s got a workable vaccine, but she wasn’t happy with either his methods or his testing procedures.  He says it’s ready to use, but she wants him to go back and do some more work on it.’

‘He thinks he got a workable vaccine already?’ John asked with a frown.  ‘How?  We’ve only been here a couple of weeks and most of that was spent either running for our lives or sorting out the chaos that results from almost four hundred people living in a place with supplies for only two hundred.’

‘Carolyn’s pretty sure Beckett completed his work on the gene therapy while we were back on Earth but didn’t say anything because it would have had – legally – to go through a number of medical panels before we could administer it.  It’s not particularly unusual.  We moved a few projects off-world to get around the various legalities connected with the FDA, but that was mostly due to the secrecy of the Stargate Programme rather than an issue with the drug itself.  All the projects concerned had gone through rigorous testing and review.  Carolyn’s concerned that the protocols Beckett should have followed have largely been ignored and she wants to set up a panel to peer review the work of both Beckett and Keller.’  Jack ran his hands through his hair in frustration.  ‘I get the feeling she doesn’t trust either of them and wants a panel to make an independent opinion rather than her relying on her own gut reaction.  She’s going to email you about it, Rodney.’

‘Is that why you wanted me up here?’  Rodney frowned.  ‘I can’t help much as I don’t know anything about Keller at all, bar her CV.  She arrived at the Outpost only a couple of days before I left.’

‘No, it wasn’t why we wanted you.  We need to talk about increasing the number of off-world teams and training up a few scientists to join them,’ Jack explained.  ‘At the moment yours is the only team with a scientist and while the other two are negotiating useful trade agreements, especially with the two Athosians Teyla suggested as guides, we came to Pegasus to explore and discover technology for which we need teams with scientists.  John’s had a few ideas but we wanted you here to discuss them.’

Rodney turned his raised brows to John and waved his hand in a ‘go on’ motion.

‘I’m of a mind to create three different types of teams,’ John began, reaching for the coffee Jack had just poured for him.  ‘Off-world, City, and Training, if you like.  At the moment, you, Rodney, are the only scientist qualified to go off-world.  If Jack and I had been in charge from the very beginning, we would have insisted on all the scientists having some level of weapons training, but by the time we took over, there simply wasn’t time.’

Rodney scowled.  ‘I told Elizabeth Weir that’s what we needed, but she tried to remove me as CSO before I could do anything about it.  Bitch.  She’s the reason we had to bring Kavanagh with us.  The IOA wouldn’t support her when she tried to get him appointed as CSO, but they insisted we bring him out here.  Personally, I think they just wanted to get rid of him.’  He shook his head in disgust.  ‘What was the question again?’

‘There wasn’t a question, Rodney. I was simply saying you’re the only scientist who’s actually got any weapons qualification,’ John told him with a sigh of impatience.  ‘This is why I’m suggesting three different types of science teams.  The off-world teams, obviously, will be the ones with scientists who’ve passed my weapons test which at the moment is just you, although it won’t take much to get Radek qualified since he served the mandatory four years in the Czech Army.’

‘Did he?’  Jack sounded surprised.  ‘I thought he would’ve been exempt.’

‘No one was exempt from what he’s told me,’ Rodney said, adding his three penn’orth.  ‘It’s why he’s only got the one PhD, although I suspect he just needs to defend on at least one other.  I agree with John, though.  He could probably pass the test John’s devised tomorrow, and I know he’s quite keen to go off-world, as is Miko.  As are several of the scientists, in fact.  They just never got the opportunity before.’

‘Why not?’ Jack asked, with a puzzled frown.  ‘I thought all the scientists working for the SGC were given the choice to go off-world if they wanted. Very few appeared to want to, though.’

‘Landry was very reluctant to allow any of the Area 51 scientists to even go to the SGC, let alone volunteer to go off-world,’ Rodney explained.  ‘It’s amazing how many of their requests never got passed on.  Sam and I did what we could, but…’  He shrugged.  ‘It’s all ancient history now.  The fact is, almost all of the scientists need some degree of weapons training if you want them to go off-world, and that’s going to take time.’

‘Which is why I’m proposing we have two other types of science team,’ John said.  ‘One type will go through a sort of Geek Bootcamp, while the other will start exploring the city.  The scientists won’t need any arms training for that and they’ll be accompanied by Marines to protect them and, hopefully, prevent them from getting injured or causing accidents by over-enthusiastic touching.’

Jack and Rodney grinned at this.  Both had been guilty of doing this while off-world in the Milky Way, and was why Jack had originally had an Ancient database downloaded into his brain.

‘I propose that the teams alternate what they do, training and exploring, so none of them get bored or discouraged, and so all the scientists get to discover exciting shiny things,’ John continued, then laughed when Rodney’s face fell.

I want to discover exciting shiny things on the city,’ Rodney pouted, but both Jack and John could see the crinkle at the corners of his eyes.

‘You’ll get to discover shiny things off-world.’  John reached over and patted his hand.  ‘And you won’t have to share most of them.’

‘Sounds like a good plan to me,’ Jack agreed.

‘It also means we can rotate a few Marines around to give them experience in herding scientists and see who works well within teams with a view to sending them off-world together,’ John added.

‘I wouldn’t mind doing some city exploration myself,’ Jack admitted.  ‘At least I wouldn’t have to do too much running for my life.’

‘You do know you’ve just jinxed the whole thing, don’t you?’  Rodney rolled his eyes.  ‘But I have to agree it’s a good idea.  I’ll get together with Radek and we’ll work out who wants to go off-world and is prepared to do the required training.  We’ll probably find that some scientists will be happy just to explore the city, although I think it’s a good idea to give training to as many as we can.’

‘Teyla has offered to do some hand-to-hand training with the Marines so she might be willing to extend that to the scientists, or to recommend another one of the Athosians who’ll do it,’ John suggested, and Rodney nodded.

‘I’ll add that to our list.  If Teyla doesn’t have anyone willing, maybe one or two of the Marines with hand-to-hand knowledge will be willing to teach a class or two?’

‘Which brings me back to what we were talking about earlier, John,’ Jack reminded him, and Rodney looked up from the notes he was making.

‘What was that?’

‘The fact we’ve met the Wraith on each of our missions so far,’ John told him grimly.  ‘Jack and I agree that it’s no longer a coincidence.’

Rodney scowled.  ‘Surely you don’t think Teyla—’

‘No, especially after the mission today,’ John interrupted.  ‘But there’s something going on. I’m just not sure what it is.  Nor how we go about finding out.’

‘Neither do I,’ Jack admitted, ‘but we’ve got almost two hundred extra people on the city at the moment and I think it’s safe to say that our answer probably lies amongst them.  And we must also decide what to do with the Athosians.  We simply don’t have the supplies to feed all of us and they were able to bring very little with them when they escaped.’

‘And we lost a lot of the supplies taken to Athos to keep them from being destroyed if we’d lost the city,’ Rodney added.

The three men sat in silence for a while, each sipping coffee and chasing thoughts and theories through their minds, until Rodney suddenly sat upright and snapped his fingers several times.

‘I may have an idea that would help with the Athosians.’

*****

Friday 15th October 2004 07:45 AST

Rodney was struggling to keep a straight face over breakfast the next morning as he watched his two friends have a silent eyebrow battle over who was going to help him execute his idea from the day before.  He found it highly amusing that a USAF General and a USAF Colonel could each be reduced to the age of five – possibly six – over who got to fly the Puddle Jumper.  They’d finally resorted – after the battle of eyebrows and glares had ended in a draw – to rock, paper, scissors, when Rodney made the suggestion he’d been holding onto for this precise moment.

‘Hey, here’s an idea.  Why don’t we take two Jumpers and Teyla with us as well?  She’s going to want to see any place we find we think is suitable for the Athosians in any case, so let’s just take her with us.’

Perhaps his innocent air of ‘oh, look what I’ve just this minute thought of’ was a little overdone, but he was fairly sure it didn’t warrant the almost murderous looks on his companions’ faces.

‘And you couldn’t suggest this half an hour ago?’ John growled, narrowing his eyes.

‘What?  If you two had bothered to use the brains I’m pretty sure you have…’ Rodney began, then decided he’d better make a run for it, still laughing as he entered his lab a short while later, thus shocking the scientists within.

He and Teyla met up with Jack and John about an hour later.  Thankfully, there’d been no argument about who flew which Puddle Jumper as they each had their own favourite.

‘How did you know there’d be a roof opening?’ Jack asked when Rodney demonstrated his discovery, which made the whole exercise possible.

‘There had to be one.  There was no other way to get the Jumpers in and out of the tower.’

‘Yeah, but how’d you find it?’ Jack persisted.

‘In the city plans Radek discovered.  Does it matter?’

‘Nah, just wonderin’.’  Jack grinned and sauntered over to his own favourite, Puddle Jumper three.

Rodney shook his head and went to sit at the front of Jumper one, John’s favourite.  There’d been no argument over the division of labour.  Jack seemed to be positively encouraging John and Rodney to pair up and they were more than happy to indulge him in his rather obvious matchmaking efforts.

‘All set?’ John asked him as he took his seat.  ‘Sergeant Smith’s provided us with a picnic lunch, so we don’t need to rush back.  We might find a deserted beach to have it on.’

Rodney looked at John curiously.  ‘Are you taking me on a date?’

John’s face coloured slightly.  ‘Maybe?  Would you object if I was?’

Rodney gave him a shy smile.  ‘Not at all. In fact, I think I’d quite like it.  Though it might be a good idea to keep it quiet for a while.  There’s a lot happening at the moment and we’re all under quite a lot of pressure.’

John focussed on finishing his pre-flight checks before he replied.  ‘Fair enough.  We’ll keep it low key for a while.  It’ll give us a chance to get to know each other properly while we’re not running for our lives.’

‘Okay, we can do that,’ Rodney agreed.  ‘Have you worked out a course yet?’

‘Jack and I worked out a grid pattern survey for the entire planet,’ John replied, his attention on the HUD.  ‘We’ll do half each, then meet up and see what we’ve got.  If there are any suitable land masses, we’ll go and investigate them in greater detail afterwards.’

‘That makes much more sense than just fixing on the first land we see.  Good plan.’

‘Glad you agree,’ came Jack’s voice through the Jumper console speaker.  ‘Teyla and I will make sure you’re not disturbed while you’re on your date.’

‘You keep your mind on your own business, General Eavesdropper,’ Rodney told him crossly and turned to his companion.  ‘How did we not know there was a radio of some sort built into the Jumper systems?  Or that it was open?’

‘Guess you were too busy making lovey-dovey eyes at each other.’

John just shook his head, even though Jack couldn’t see him.  ‘You’re not going to let up on this now, are you, sir?’

‘Nope.’

‘Flight, this is Jumper One requesting permission to launch,’ Rodney said into his radio, deciding simply to ignore Jack, although he had little hope the subject would be dropped quite so easily.

‘Love Machine, you’re cleared for launch,’ came back Radek’s cheerful reply while John and Rodney exchanged looks of resignation.

*****

A couple of hours into their survey, the Tricorder bleeped and a message from O’Neill flashed up on the HUD.  He’d spotted a secluded bay during his survey and sent the coordinates to John via the Tricorder which acted as a subspace transmitter within the same atmosphere around a planet, and also sent a copy to the city – something John considered could be very useful.  ‘It’s like our own version of a cell phone,’ he told Rodney, who glared at him.

‘It’s not remotely like a cell phone.  It uses—’

‘It’s close enough for our purposes,’ John interrupted.

McKay gave him a considered look.  ‘If I agree it’s close enough to a mobile phone, will you stop calling that‘ and here he pointed to the Tricorder – a ‘Tricorder’?’

John considered this for a moment.  ‘What do you want to call it?  Because, y’know, you’re crap at naming stuff, McKay.  I mean, GHD anyone?’

‘A Go Home Device.  What’s wrong with that?’

‘Okay, what about GDO?’

A pale pink covered Rodney’s cheeks.  ‘I’ll give you that one, but I didn’t name it.  That was done way before I joined the SGC.’

‘And they couldn’t come up with anything better than Garage Door Opener?’

‘Evidently not, but calling this a Tricorder is equally wrong.’  Rodney pointed to the device laying on the dashboard.

’So what do you want to call it?’

‘How about…Life Signs Detector?’

‘LSD?  Really?’

‘Well, what would you call it!?’ Rodney demanded.

‘I liked Tricorder.’

‘But it isn’t a Tricorder.  For a start, it doesn’t gather, analyse, or record.’

‘That we know as yet.  We may find it does all of those things.’

‘It’s a Life Signs Detector and, arguably, a navigation system.’

While John was enjoying the back and forth with Rodney, he was aware this wasn’t something he could push too far – not as yet, anyway.  ‘Okay, okay, I give in.  Life Signs Detector it is, although what the SGC and IOA will make of us all talking about using LSD when we finally get in touch with them, I’m not sure.  I can see us all ending up in therapy.’

Rodney gave him a flat look.  ‘What makes you think we’re not all going to end up in therapy, anyway?  We brought three of them with us, remember?  There is no escape!’

Jack and Teyla were already stretched out on the golden sand, their picnic basket at their side, when John landed his Puddle Jumper on the upper part of the beach.  Jack looked up as they walked towards him and waved his hand.

‘Nice of you to join us, or were you looking for your own more private beach?’

‘This one’s good enough for us,’ John told him, dropping the packs he carried and sinking onto the blanket, untying his boots.  ‘Been for a paddle yet?’

Teyla tipped her head on one side.  ‘I do not understand ‘paddle’.  It is not translating for me.’

‘It means to walk in shallow water, for pleasure,’ Rodney explained, spreading out a second blanket next to Jack and Teyla’s and seating himself.  ‘It’s usually children who paddle, though, not full grown Colonels and Generals.’  He gave the two men a look of exasperation as Jack began to untie his own boots.  ‘Really?  Who knows what’s in the water waiting to grab you?  Shouldn’t you at least wait until the water’s been tested to make sure it’s safe?’

‘It has been tested,’ Jack retorted.  ‘I got the results from you, remember?  The marine biologists tested the water surrounding the city.  This is the same sea, you know.’

Rodney sighed and shook his head.  ‘Fine.  Just don’t come running to me when you get your toes nibbled off by creatures which exist in the shallows.’

The two soldiers grinned at him and raced each other down to the sea, their antics making Teyla smile.

‘I have a question, please, Dr McKay.’  She turned to face him directly.

‘We’re members of the same gate team. I think you can call me Rodney, especially as I’ve been calling you Teyla since we first met.’

Teyla bowed her head to him.  ‘Then, Rodney, may I ask about something which has been puzzling me?’

‘Go ahead.’

She paused for a moment, tilting her head to one side as she thought.  ’The relationship between the General and Colonel Sheppard.  There are times when Colonel Sheppard speaks formally to him, and times when he is very familiar with General O’Neill.  I understand General O’Neill is the leader of the—the Tau’ri.’  She stumbled a little over the unfamiliar word.  ‘And that Colonel Sheppard is the leader of the military, but who is senior, and why does Colonel Sheppard behave so differently with him at times?’

Rodney took a breath and leaned back on his elbows, watching the two men splash each other in the water.  ‘That’s a good question, and probably one other folk are asking as well.  Right now they’re nothing more than two big kids playing in the sea and there’ll be tears before bedtime, I’ll warrant.’  He glanced at Teyla and grinned as she gave an inelegant snort of laughter, rolling over onto his stomach to give her his full attention.  ’They’ve only known each other for a few months, but quickly settled into a genuine friendship.  I know John spent several nights at Jack’s house while they were busy planning for the expedition.  In the spare room,’ he added hastily as Teyla raised an eyebrow.

‘Jack’s partner died a couple of years ago, and he hasn’t really got over losing Daniel.  He’s kept very much to himself since then, although he was more open with his gate team and me, as I often went off-world with them, and Daniel was my friend too.  Since John joined the SGC, though, Jack’s relaxed much more, and certainly since we left Earth he’s coped better.’  He paused for a moment and looked at Teyla.  ‘I don’t need to tell you this is all confidential, do I?’

’No, Rodney.  I understand what you are telling me is only for me.  I will not break your trust.’

‘It’s just…they’re both very private men and—argh!’  He yelped as cold, wet hands slid around his neck.

‘Who’re private men, McKay?’ John asked, grabbing a towel from his pack.  ’Not gossiping, are you?’

Rodney was aware by John’s tone he’d heard more than just the last few words he’d spoken to Teyla, and he hastened to reassure him.  ‘Teyla was asking about your relationship with Jack.  She’s a little confused by the chain of command.’

‘You could have come directly to me, Teyla,’ John told her, dropping down beside Rodney.  ‘I won’t bite.’

Teyla bowed her head.  ‘I apologise if I have offended you, Colonel.  And you, General O’Neill.’  She glanced over at Jack, who had remained silent while drying himself.

‘What are you wanting to know?’ he asked her.

‘I am—all of my people are confused by your positions in the city of the Ancestors, and the different ways you behave to each other.  However, we do not wish to cause offence to anyone, not when you have been so kind and generous to us.’  She paused for a moment.

‘Go on.’  John waved a hand.

‘There are times when you treat the General as a friend and times when you treat him as your superior.  It confuses me and those who have volunteered to act as guides for your gate teams.  Both Kevork and Bohden have asked me the question I asked D—Rodney.  He called it the chain of c—’

‘Command.  Chain of command,’ Rodney finished for her.  ‘I was just giving Teyla a bit of background information.’

‘Yes, and I am sorry for your loss, General O’Neill.  I know what it is to lose those we love.  Few people in Pegasus exist who have not suffered such loss, living as we do with the Wraith.  And I can assure you all that I would never repeat anything told to me in confidence, and only wish to explain to my people in the broadest of terms.’

‘Thank you, Teyla.’  Jack smiled at her.  ‘As Rodney was saying, my partner died two years ago, and I accepted the post of leader of the expedition in order to move away from all the things which continually reminded me of Daniel.’

‘You wish to forget him?’  Teyla raised both eyebrows.

‘No, not forget him.  I never want to forget him, but I was struggling with daily reminders of what I’d lost at the SGC.  I wanted a new challenge, and to get away from what was familiar.’

‘And you’ve certainly done that,’ John added with a grin.  ‘I can’t think of a bigger challenge than fighting space-vampires.’

Jack gave a bark of laughter.  ‘As to our familiarity and the chain of command, John is head of the military and has the last word on what they do, but I am available for consultation should he need it.  On the city, though, both John and Rodney – as head of the scientists – report to me as leader of the expedition.  In reality, we act as more of a triumvirate – a group of three holding power – although I have the casting vote, as it were.  Does that make sense?’

Teyla frowned as she absorbed this information.  ‘I think so, but why does Colonel Sheppard sometimes treat you as a friend, and at other times, treat you formally?’

Jack shrugged his shoulders.  ‘I can’t really…’  He shook his head.  ‘We became real friends almost from the get-go and apart from Daniel, I’ve never met anyone I felt so comfortable with so quickly.’

‘Same,’ John agreed.  ‘Aside from knowing Daniel, of course.  But thank you for raising it, and we will make an effort to follow procedure so we don’t confuse anyone else.  I don’t think either of us realised we behaved differently at times and I can see how confusing it would be to people.’

‘Now we’ve got that sorted, can we please have lunch?’ Rodney demanded.  ‘I’m starving.’

*****

Wednesday 20th October 2004 11:37 AST

‘Okay then, I think we’re pretty much done.’  Jack smiled happily at the people crowded around the conference table for their first departmental staff meeting, most of whom smiled back at him.  ‘Thank you for your patience and forbearance while we got everything settled.  Now, is there anything else anyone wants to bring up before we all go and get lunch?  Sergeant Smith told me earlier there’s apple pie on the menu with the last of the apples we brought from Earth and I don’t intend to miss second helpings of that.’  He rubbed his hands together in anticipation.

‘I am still not happy with the laboratory space McKay allocated me,’ Calvin Kavanagh began.  ‘I still say—’

‘Oh, for fuck’s sake, Kavanagh, enough already,’ McKay told him, throwing down his pen.  ‘We’ve been over this.  It’s the only lab available at the moment until we have the time to get some more cleared.  Stop griping.’

‘There is a large laboratory on the West Pier that I think—’

‘What were you doing in any lab on the West Pier?’ John demanded, his eyes narrowing.  ‘That area hasn’t been cleared yet and you know perfectly well it’s off limits for the moment and for good reason.’

‘If your men worked more efficiently, it would have been cleared and be available for use.’  Kavanagh’s chin jutted up.  ‘Instead, you waste your time taking pleasure trips with your boyfriend and—’  He spluttered to a halt as Jack slammed his hand down on the table.

‘That’s enough!  You concern yourself with your own affairs, Dr Kavanagh, and leave the organising of anything else to the senior staff.’

‘But I—’

‘Enough.

‘I’m not the only one who—’

‘I said shut up!’

‘Keller and Beckett are equally dissatisfied!’ Kavanagh managed to say without being interrupted.

‘If Dr Keller and Dr Beckett have any complaints, they should bring them to me,’ Carolyn Lam said in a crisp tone that promised pain to anyone who crossed her.  Jack could only imagine the size of needles such a tone might herald and it appeared Kavanagh did too from the way he pressed his lips together to prevent himself from saying anything more.

‘And on that note, I think we’ll finish,’ Jack told them all and, to circumvent any further pointless interruptions, he stood up, thereby forcing both John and Evan Lorne to follow suit.  His ruse had fooled no one though, but he grinned cheerfully and headed the exodus to the mess.  Just occasionally, being a General is worth its weight in…pie?  He nodded to himself, satisfied with his own personalised idiom.

*****

Thursday 21st October 2004 14:17 AST

‘Unscheduled off-world activation,’ Chuck bellowed.

Jack came running out of his office and looked around, as if trying to see what might be causing it.  The pounding of footsteps on the stairs heralded the arrival of both John and Evan Lorne.

‘Any IDC?’ Jack demanded.  ‘How many teams are off-world at the moment?’

John raised a single eyebrow.  ‘Sir?  We only have three gate teams at the moment, and as Lorne and I are standing here with you…’  He waved one hand between them for Jack to make the connection while Lorne hid a smile behind his hand.

‘I knew that,’ Jack mumbled.

‘It’s Sergeant Stackhouse’s IDC,’ Chuck announced and Jack pretended he hadn’t heard Sheppard’s muttered ‘Imagine the surprise!’ and gave the order for Chuck to take down the shield.

Four men tumbled through the Stargate, all four of them firing back through the open wormhole.

‘Raise the shield,’ both Stackhouse and Markham yelled, and Chuck hit the switch as fast as he could manage.

The sound of energy blasts hit the invisible shield and the event horizon shimmered for a moment then blinked out.  Markham made it to his feet first and offered a helping hand to Corporal Brown and Bohdan, the Athosian Trader and guide.

‘I’ll just lay here, shall I?’ Stackhouse muttered and scrambled upright while his teammates grinned at him.

‘Staff?’ Jack called out.  ‘Problem?’

‘Wraith, sir,’ Stackhouse called back, brushing himself down one handed, his other hand still gripping his P90.  ‘Nothing we couldn’t handle.’

‘Okay, go and let Dr Lam stick needles in you, then debrief in an hour,’ Jack told them and turned to Sheppard and Lorne and raised his eyebrows.

‘That’s the first time they’ve come across Wraith that I’m aware of,’ John said in a low voice.

Jack nodded.  ‘Fancy a coffee, gentlemen?  We can talk in the mess hall,’ he added quietly, then patted Chuck on the shoulder.  ‘Well done, Campbell.  If I closed my eyes, I could have sworn it was Walter sitting there.’  Chuck gave him a cheery grin in reply.

As they made their way down the stairs, McKay stumbled into the gateroom, panting.

‘I was on the East Pier and the transporter out there isn’t working.’  He bent over and rested his hands on his knees while he tried to catch his breath.  ‘What’s happened?  Is everyone alright?’

‘Wraith attacked Stackhouse’s team,’ Jack explained while John helped Rodney stand upright.

‘Yeah, you’re definitely coming running with me in the mornings.  We can start tomorrow,’ John informed him.

‘Oh, that’s right,’ McKay grumbled, still wheezing.  ‘I run all this way in case you need my expertise and you mock me.’

‘S’not mocking, McKay.  You need to be fit if you go off-world, the amount of running for our lives we do.  Come on, we’re going to get coffee.’

‘I won’t argue with getting coffee, but don’t you think we should talk about this?  The Wraith—’  His comment was cut off suddenly by John’s hand over his mouth.

‘We’re gonna sit in the mess and drink coffee and no one’s going to think there’s a problem, alright?’ John told him quietly, tugging him along by his jacket.  ‘We don’t want to worry everyone by rushing into Jack’s office and talking in secret.’

‘Which we do, what, almost every day because, hello!  Wraith keep appearing whenever any of us go off-world!’ Rodney said in what Jack thought he honestly believed was a whisper.

John didn’t answer, but simply firmed his grip on Rodney’s jacket and towed him a little faster, so he had to trot to keep up with him.

‘Okay, okay, I get it.  You can let go now, Colonel Tugboat!’

Jack and Lorne both held back a little to watch the comedy.

‘Are they always like this together?’ Lorne asked quietly.

‘Nah.  Sometimes all they do is just bicker, bicker, bicker.’

By the time Jack and Lorne arrived in the mess hall, John and Rodney were already sitting at a table out on the balcony with four mugs and two carafes of coffee.  It was a perfect place to sit, Jack thought to himself.  They could be very private while looking as though they were simply enjoying the view.

‘So, what’s this?  Out of eight off-world missions, six of them have involved meeting up with the Wraith?’ John commented, pouring creamer into his coffee.

‘It’s the first time Wraith have shown up on a mission led by Stackhouse,’ Lorne said, accepting the creamer from John.  ‘My team’ve come across them twice.  Only you have a hundred percent record, sir,’ he told John with a small smile.

‘Yes,’ Jack said thoughtfully, ‘but if I remember correctly, Major, you said the Wraith made no attempt to feed from any of you.  They merely stunned Davis and du Pres and would have stunned you if Kevork hadn’t pulled you out of the way, and they left him alone entirely.’

‘Yes, sir, but Kevork did explain that the ones with a sort of mask over their faces are drones.  They appear to be pretty expendable and only do what the commanders tell them to.  Both times we were attacked, it was by drones,’ Lorne explained.  ‘And they, according to Kevork, rarely feed on a captive but instead capture them and take them back to their ships.’

‘Wraith takeout?’ John suggested with a smile, then winced as Rodney flicked him.  ‘McKay,’ he growled, making the name several syllables long.  ‘Cut it out!’

‘The attacks on your team, John.  Were they by drones or commanders?’ Jack asked, ignoring the byplay.

‘A mixture of both, I think.’  John screwed his eyes up as he thought back.  ‘But they definitely tried to feed on Teyla on our last mission.  The couple of times before, I’m not sure about.  We were too busy running for our lives.’

‘It’s a major concern, the gate teams’ frequent brushes with the Wraith,’ Jack sighed.  ‘We’re going to have a few more teams ready to go shortly, but if the attacks continue each time our people set foot off-world we might need to think again.’

‘The thing which confuses me is that Teyla said the Wraith are in a hibernation cycle,’ John said, ignoring Rodney’s muttered ‘Only one thing?’  ‘There shouldn’t be all that many Wraith around as this is when they…allow their food crop to recover from the previous cycle of cullings,’ he finished, wrinkling his nose in distaste.

‘Kevork said a similar thing,’ Lorne agreed.  ‘The majority of them should be in hibernation for another fifty years or so, yet judging by the number of attacks we’ve suffered in such a short period of time, it’s as though they’ve all woken up early or something.’

‘We need more intel on this,’ Jack said, sipping his coffee.  ‘If something out of the ordinary’s happened since we arrived, we need more details.  We need to cultivate some allies in Pegasus to give us regular information.’

‘Well, we’ve concentrated primarily on food so far, with only, what?  Two science missions thus far?’ Lorne looked towards McKay for confirmation.

‘Two,’ Rodney agreed.  ‘And both of them were a bust as we came across Wraith on each of them.  Now the Athosians are on the mainland and trying to be self-sufficient, though, we should be able to have a few more science missions, shouldn’t we?’  He looked at Jack for confirmation, who frowned.

‘We won’t be able to give up on the number of trade missions.  We used a lot of our long-term food and other supplies while the Athosians were here.  I’ve already had a long list from Sergeant Smith regarding the stuff we need.  I sent the food list to the biologists who are working with Teyla to see what Pegasus can provide as substitutes, and she also has the list of replacement clothing, but there’s no urgency for them.  I’m so glad she stayed on the city rather than settle on the mainland with most of the other Athosians.’  He took a drink of coffee and glanced at Rodney.  ‘But in answer to your question, McKay, yes, we’ll get a couple more science teams through the gate as soon as the scientists pass John’s test.  And the frequency you all seem to stumble across the Wraith off-world proves it’s not a wasted effort in training the scientists to shoot straight.’

‘Radek’s good to go now,’ John told Jack.  ‘And I think Miko’s about ready to pass, isn’t she, Lorne?’

‘Yes, sir.  I emailed Dr Zelenka’s scores to you this morning, and Dr Kusanagi has her test on Saturday morning.’

‘So by the start of next week, we should have at least two new off-world science teams,’ Jack said thoughtfully.  ‘Maybe we should look at having a couple of new first contact gate teams who’ll work on finding us a few allies to tap for intel.’

‘And how does that work?’ Rodney asked, his forehead creasing in a frown.  ‘They march into a village and announce they want information from the inhabitants?  We come in peace. Now tell us what you know about everything?‘

Jack rolled his eyes.  ‘No, McKay, we use the two anthropologists who came with us.  They’re trained in that sort of thing.’

‘Huh.  I did wonder why we brought them with us.’

‘You appointed them!’  John shook his head in disbelief.

‘Well yeah, but only because Sam said they’d be useful.’  McKay shrugged.  ‘I didn’t actually talk to them about what they do.’

Jack glanced at his watch, which he was still wearing despite the days on the planet being longer than Earth days.  He wondered if the science department could adjust it somehow, but decided he didn’t want to get into a discussion with McKay at the moment.  ‘I’m debriefing Stackhouse’s team shortly, but you’re welcome to join us.’  He glanced around the table, including them all in his invitation.

‘I should get back to Zelenka out on the East Pier,’ Rodney sighed.  ‘I told him I wouldn’t be long.’

‘And we’ve got some paperwork to look at,’ Lorne said with a glare at Sheppard.

‘Guess I’m doing paperwork,’ John said with a wry smile.  ‘Unless you need me, sir?’ he asked Jack hopefully.

‘Nah, I can manage on my own, I think.  I’d hate to get between you and your paperwork.’  Jack stood up and stretched, then noticed someone who’d just walked into the mess.  ‘I’ll see you all later.  I just want a word…’  He flapped his hand vaguely and strolled back inside.

‘See you for dinner?’ John asked Rodney, his eyes flicking to Jack, who had paused to speak to one of the Marines.

‘Mmm.  Usual time?’ Rodney agreed as he concentrated on his tablet computer.

John turned back to Lorne.  ‘So.  Paperwork.  Are you sure you need me?’

‘Quite sure, sir.  Don’t make me drag you down there.’

*****

Chapter Six

Friday 29th October 2004 15:30 AST

Two more missions for AT1, two more meetings with the Wraith.

‘Right, it has to be something we’ve got with us,’ John told Jack when he and his team met for a debrief after their latest mission ended with yet another confrontation with the Wraith.  ‘None of the other teams have been attacked since Stackhouse’s team last week.’  He turned to his teammates.  ‘You three, go get all the stuff you had with you when we went through the gate.  Everything you had with you and everything you wore.  Rodney?  Will you bring my things as well as yours, please?  I’ll go and get the weapons we were all carrying.’

‘How have we had the chance to pick up anything that might attract the Wraith?’ Ford asked.  ‘We’ve been here less than a month.’

‘Five off-world missions and five meetings with the Wraith aren’t a coincidence, Lieutenant,’ Jack said quietly.  ‘I agree with Colonel Sheppard.  Go get everything you had with you today, dirty skivvies included.  Bring it all into the conference room.  There’s more space there and I don’t particularly want my office stinking to high heaven with your smelly socks, Ford.’

Ford gave him a cheery grin, not in the least bit abashed.

‘I’ll get Radek to bring up a radio frequency scanner,’ Rodney said, heading out of the door.

‘You think it’s a transmitter of some sort?’ Jack asked, and Rodney came to a halt and spun around, while Teyla and Ford stopped to listen.

‘It’s the only thing that makes sense, unless there’s someone on the city using a subspace communicator.’

Teyla frowned.  ‘I do not know what that is.’

‘It’s a means of…of speaking to someone, or sending a message, by radio using a number of…satellites which bounce the message between them until it reaches the person or thing they want to communicate with,’ John informed her, but his explanation made Rodney frown.

‘No, it isn’t.  That’s a—’

‘It’s a good enough explanation without going into a depth of physics none of us would understand,’ John interrupted, getting a grumpy ‘hrmph’ in response.

‘Thank you, John.’  Teyla bowed her head.  ‘This person on the city, then, would have to have a communication device to use?  And may they do this at any time or only when the Stargate is opened?’

‘Either, I think,’ John said, raising his eyebrows questioningly at Rodney, who scowled at him, but nodded in agreement.  ‘Have you seen anyone using such a device amongst your people?’

‘No.’  She shook her head.  ‘While my people were once large in number and advanced in terms of technology, we were forced to abandon our city many generations ago and now live a more primitive life to avoid the attention of the Wraith.  They will allow no one in Pegasus to advance to a level that might threaten their existence.’

‘Has anyone ever been able to advance far enough to threaten them?’ Jack asked curiously.

‘In my lifetime, only Sateda, as far as I am aware.  Their planet was attacked several years ago and their cities were completely destroyed.  A very few managed to escape and now live on other planets, but the majority of their people were culled or simply killed as a warning to other societies.  I have heard tell of planets in the past that were destroyed when they became sufficiently advanced to be a threat to the Wraith.  To my knowledge, you are now the only people who might be a danger to them.  If they discover where you are, they will most assuredly attack you.’

‘Oh, joy,’ muttered Rodney.  ‘That’s something to look forward to,’ and he stomped off to collect his and John’s belongings.

*****

By the time John got back to the conference room loaded down with weapons, Radek was busy scanning the items Ford and Rodney had brought back.

‘Is it likely to be anything connected to the weapons?’ Ford asked as John spread them out on the table.

‘Not likely, no,’ Radek replied, looking up from the small screen on his scanner.  ‘But it’s sensible to check them since the Wraith have extremely advanced technology and may have developed miniaturised transmitters which could easily be overlooked.’

‘Really?  They didn’t look very advanced to me when we rescued Teyla and her people from the Wraith ship.’

‘And are their ships so very different from the ships we have on Earth?’

‘We only have Prometheus,’ Ford retorted, then paused.  ‘Oh.’

‘Exactly.’  Rodney pointed a finger at him.  ‘Earth only has Prometheus, which looks more like a monkey wrench than a spaceship while the Wraith have been whizzing around Pegasus for over ten thousand years.  You stick to what you know, Ford, and let Dr Zelenka do his job.’

The younger man flushed and opened his mouth to reply when Teyla came in and spread out her belongings.  Radek ran his scanner over everything and shook his head.

‘Nothing.’

‘May I see?’  Teyla stepped closer to him to look at the tiny screen on the scanner, but as she did, it began to beep.  She looked up quickly.  ‘What is it?’

‘It’s…’  Radek frowned.  ‘Rodney, come and look.’

Rodney peered over his shoulder, then pushed the scanner towards Teyla.  It started beeping much faster.

‘Gentlemen?’ Jack asked.  ‘Would someone like to tell me what’s happening?’

Rodney grabbed the scanner from his friend and moved it up and down Teyla’s body.  The beeping was fastest the closer to her head it moved.  ‘Teyla, would you mind removing your necklace, please?’

She gave him a puzzled look and unhooked it, passing it to him.  The scanner’s beeping was now an almost continuous sound.

Radek took it from him and examined it closely.  ‘Here,’ he said and pointed to the stone in the centre.

‘Teyla, where did you get this from?’ Rodney asked.

‘My father gave it to me many years ago, but I lost it.  I found it again only a few months ago.  Is it this which has brought the Wraith upon us?’

‘I suspect the stone contains a small transmitter.’  Radek peered at it then laid it on the table.  ‘The only way to confirm it is to smash the stone which will ruin the necklace.’

‘Then please do so,’ Teyla told him, stepping away from the table as though to disassociate herself from her pretty necklace.  ‘If it is this which attracts the Wraith, I want nothing more of it.’

Radek pulled a screwdriver from his pocket and brought the handle down sharply on the stone, which split, revealing a tiny object.

‘I guess that proves they can make a miniaturised transmitter,’ Rodney said dryly.  ‘Where did you find it?  And after you found it again, did you notice the Wraith appearing every time you went off-world?’

‘I found it amongst my belongings.  I must have missed it when I searched for it originally.  I rarely wore it as I was afraid of losing it again.  It was precious since it was a gift from my father and I began to wear it after we left Athos as a way of reminding myself from where we came.  To remember our home in some way.’

‘For sentimental reasons,’ John offered.  ‘I can understand that, but it doesn’t explain why it only suddenly began attracting the Wraith.’

‘I need to examine it under a microscope,’ Rodney said, turning it over in his hands, ‘but I suspect there’s some sort of switch on it.’

When Ford opened his mouth to ask a question, Rodney glanced at him.  ‘Don’t be an idiot, Ford.  Nothing like a light switch, just a…a…’

‘Mode of operation,’ Radek finished for him and Rodney nodded.

‘Yes, exactly, and which means someone somewhere was able to turn it on.  So although we’ve discovered what’s been attracting the Wraith to our position, we have no way of knowing if it was accidental or on purpose and it doesn’t explain why Lorne and Stackhouse’s teams were attacked.’

*****

Saturday 13th November 2004 18:23 AST

‘So the city’s essentially using kinetic energy via the sea to produce enough power to operate all the systems that don’t require a ZPM?’ John clarified as Rodney explained the most recent discoveries of the science department to him.

‘At the moment, yes.  We think there’s also a geothermal drilling platform that used to be connected to the city, but it broke off sometime in the last ten thousand years.’  Rodney shovelled a large forkful of food into his mouth.  ‘What’s this called?’ he asked thickly, poking his knife into a mound of purple-coloured vegetables that tasted like potato.

‘We call it grefol,’ Teyla told him.  ‘We mash it and add oil to it, if we have any.’

‘S’lovely.’

‘Can we reconnect the geothermal platform?’ John asked, getting Rodney back on subject.

‘Prob’ly, but we’ll need to use the Jumpers to get to it.’

‘Use the Jumpers to get to what?’ Jack asked, setting his tray down at their table.  ‘If it’s anything that uses a Jumper, I’m in.’

John grinned at him.  ‘McKay says there’s an underwater power plant that’s gotten disconnected.  We’ll need to go down to the seafloor to have a look at it.’

‘I’m in,’ Jack repeated.  ‘When are we going?’

‘Probably not for a while as there’re more urgent repairs to make,’ Rodney told him, his mouth now empty of food.  ‘I was explaining to Teyla and Sheppard that I’ve discovered what’s powering many of the city’s systems.  It makes me wonder just what the ZPMs are used for as we’ve isolated—’  He broke off when he saw Jack had stopped listening to him and was concentrating on his meal.  ‘Who thought it was a good idea to make you leader of the Expedition, O’Neill?  You’ve got the attention span of a gnat!’

‘Hey, that’s gnatist, that is,’ Jack retorted.  ‘So, you folks ready for your next mission tomorrow?’

‘Ooh, yes, a trade mission.  I can hardly wait,’ Rodney grumbled but subsided when he saw the look on Teyla’s face, which promised him a large amount of pain if he continued.

‘Room for two little ones?’ a sickly-sweet voice asked.

They looked up to see Doctors Keller and Beckett holding trays and waiting for their answer.  Rodney opened his mouth to say there wasn’t enough room with the four of them there already when Teyla shuffled closer to him and moved both their trays over to give them enough space.  Keller gave a bright smile – which didn’t quite reach her eyes, he noticed – and motioned for Beckett to pull up another chair.

An uneasy silence fell over the crowded table.  Keller finally broke it.  ‘Are you finally satisfied that Carson and I have followed regulations with the gene therapy, General O’Neill?’

Rodney was taken aback that she would bring up the subject quite so brazenly – and aggressively – and saw that the others were similarly affected.  Even Teyla’s usually serene demeanour appeared ruffled by the impertinent question.

‘I don’t think this is an appropriate place to discuss such matters,’ Jack told them both quietly, his tone probably the coldest Rodney had heard him use.  There was no doubt this was Brigadier-General O’Neill. ‘Jack’ had definitely left the building.  ‘If you wish to continue this discussion, I suggest you make an appointment with myself, Dr McKay, and Dr Lam.’

Keller glared at him angrily.  ‘I want—’ she began, but Rodney interrupted her, keeping his voice low.

‘Are you deaf as well as stupid?  General O’Neill told you to shut up, and I’m repeating it!’

‘Now, Rodney, ye canna speak to the lassie that way.  She was only—’

‘She was trying to force a discussion she knows should be private, in a public place,’ John told him coldly.

‘You don’t want me to say anything in here because then everyone would know you’re just being unfair,’ Keller retorted in a shrill voice that gained the attention of people at the surrounding tables.  ‘You’re all being racist and sexist.’

‘So, not gnatist, then at least,’ Jack said in an undertone to John, who burst out with a braying laugh which made Keller colour up.

‘Oh, don’t be so childish,’ Rodney told her, the slight upward tilt of his crooked smile and his quick glance at John proving that he, too, had heard Jack’s comment.

Keller, however, took it personally and flew into a rage.  Only Teyla’s hand on her arm prevented her from throwing a cup of water over one, or possibly all, of the senior staff.

‘I suggest you remove yourself from the mess and attempt to cool your temper before you make your apologies to us all,’ she said to Keller in her quiet, measured tones.  ‘You bring embarrassment only upon yourself.’

Keller stumbled to her feet and glared at the entire table, then turned and ran out of the room, sobbing as she went.  Excited conversations, which had stopped while everyone watched the floor show, started up again, no doubt discussing the exit of the young doctor.

Beckett looked around the table in shock.  ‘I didn’t know she was going to do that,’ he told them, anxiety writ large upon his face.  ‘She said we should have a quiet word with the General, not…’  He trailed off.

‘Just how much input did she have into the gene therapy?’ Rodney asked quietly.

‘Not very much,’ Beckett admitted.  ‘It was almost finished when she came to the Outpost.  Dr Weir wanted her on the expedition and I agreed because…’  He turned his head slightly away.

‘Because you were fucking Weir,’ Rodney finished baldly.  ‘Don’t look so shocked.  It’s the only thing that makes sense of Weir wanting you as Chief Medical Officer.’

Beckett flushed.  ‘I am qualified—’

‘You might be qualified on paper,’ John interrupted.  ‘But you’ve not actually treated anyone for years.  How’d you think you’d have coped with two hundred people to look after, even with Keller and Biro as assistants?  Especially as the majority of the Expedition are military and get more injuries than civilians, and that’s without anything strange that might happen off-world.’

‘Dr Weir didn’t intend there to be such a large military contingent,’ he said in annoyance.  ‘That only happened after General O’Neill took over.’

‘And yet you made a huge fuss about being removed from the post of CSM,’ Jack said, leaning back in his chair but keeping his voice low.

‘I would have managed perfectly well,’ Beckett said angrily.  ‘Instead, you—’

‘I do not think this is an appropriate place to have this discussion, either,’ Teyla interrupted quietly, almost echoing Jack’s earlier words.

‘I agree.’  Rodney got to his feet and picked up his tray of half eaten food.  ‘And thanks for ruining my dinner, Beckett.  I was enjoying that.’  He turned and went to stack his tray.

‘He’s been so busy today he only had time for a power bar earlier,’ John told a pale-faced Beckett in a low voice.  ‘In future, keep any complaints to yourself until an appropriate time, and if I can offer a piece of advice?  Don’t let Keller lead you around by your dick!’  He stood and followed Rodney, leaving Teyla and Jack with the miserable doctor.

‘He…Rodney always uses my first name.’  Beckett was almost in tears.  ‘I thought he was my friend.’

‘I find friends do not usually try to make a person uncomfortable merely to prove a point,’ Teyla told him, her voice cold as ice.  ‘I suggest you think of a way to apologise to him.’

Jack got to his feet and loaded his tray with his barely touched dinner.  ‘I’m taking this back to my office.  Teyla?  You’re welcome to join me.’

Teyla bowed her head.  ‘Thank you, General, I will.  The mess hall has become a most uncomfortable environment in which to eat dinner.’

*****

Monday 15th November 2004

Rodney got to his feet and stretched, looking over the systems in the room adjacent to the ZPM room he and Radek had been working on since early morning.

‘What’s next on the list?  I’ve got Kavanagh checking the solar cells on a couple of the towers we’ve cleared.  He can’t really do any damage and he might even get them working again.’

‘Miko is looking at the sensors in the control room General O’Neill asked about.  She’s trying to configure the long range sensors since he’s concerned the Wraith may have determined our position before we could destroy the transmitter.  I don’t believe there’re any other outstanding serious problems.  We may even manage to work on our own projects for a while,’ Radek suggested with a wry smile.

Rodney pulled a face.  ‘I’m going off-world on a mission later.  Teyla’s taking us to meet a farming community who she thinks might trade with us.  I’ve told both Jack and John that I’m useless on first contact missions, or any trade mission at all.  I’m a scientist, not a biologist or…or—’

‘You are, however, very experienced at eating food,’ Radek interrupted slyly.  ‘For that alone, you are a perfect choice.’

‘He’s not wrong, McKay,’ John drawled, and Rodney turned to see him leaning in the doorway, a wide grin on his face.

‘Don’t you have anything better to do than slink about the city—’

‘Off-world mission, remember?’

‘That’s not until 14:00.’

And it’s 13:30 now.  You’ve got half an hour to gear up before we go – and don’t think we’ll leave you behind if you dawdle.’  John pointed a finger at Rodney.  ‘We won’t, but we will find new and unusual ways to punish you if you make us late.  Now, get a move on!’

Rodney glared at him, but it was mostly for show.  He enjoyed being a regular member of a gate team rather than a stand-in for someone who couldn’t go as he had been at the SGC.  Not that he hadn’t enjoyed his infrequent forays off-world in the Milky Way, mostly with SG1, because he had.  Having a team of his own, though, was entirely different, particularly considering his developing relationship with John Sheppard.

For the moment, however, he began tidying up his tools while giving Radek instructions on keeping the other scientists busy.  ‘I don’t want to come back and find they’ve broken the plumbing or anything.  And don’t let—’

‘Rodney.  I will watch them as a mother-hen watches her chicks,’ Radek interrupted.  ‘Now go!  Make new trade agreements to keep us all fed and happy.’

‘Yes, but—’

‘C’mon, McKay.’  John grabbed hold of his shoulder and steered him towards the doorway.  ‘Let’s go before Teyla starts to get angry.’

Rodney snorted at John’s comment, but allowed himself to be pushed gently out of the room.  ‘I’ve never seen Teyla be anything other than calm and collected, not even when Keller interrupted our dinner the other night.’

‘Let’s not let this be the first time, eh?’ John replied, squeezing Rodney’s shoulder.  ‘I bruise easily.’

*****

Monday 15th November 2004 18:30 AST

‘No problems, then?’ Jack asked when AT1 arrived in the conference room for their post mission debrief.

‘Not a single Wraith to be seen anywhere,’ John told him in a cheerful voice.  ‘No Wraith, no running for our lives, just a shipment of grefol to be collected in about a week’s time.  Quite boring really.’

‘And Carolyn found nothing wrong with any of you?’  Jack frowned.  ‘I’m kinda waiting for the other shoe to drop now.’

‘Nope, nothing, nada,’ John assured him.  ‘Nice community of mostly farmers who say they’ve not heard of any more Wraith around than usual.  They’re happy to do business with us in exchange for some help when it comes to planting and harvesting and will let us have the grefol on account, as it were.  They’ve a harvest of tava beans due in a month or so and would appreciate the help a dozen Marines can give them in exchange for a few sacks.’

‘Their leader, Petrov, was good enough to say if the Marines can help his people plant and harvest the crops for next year, they will give us what we want as their help is so valuable,’ Teyla explained.

Once again, Jack was thankful Teyla had offered them her assistance in making trading partners.  They’d brought a pallet of things they hoped might make good trading items, such as cloth and some electronics – he’d nixed McKay’s suggestion of beads and bibles – but when Teyla had seen them she’d suggested that manpower would be a better trading currency in Pegasus, particularly in exchange for food items, as so many worlds had such small populations because of the Wraith.

‘Great,’ Jack said happily.  ‘Perhaps our luck is finally changing.’

‘Unscheduled off-world activation,’ they heard Chuck call out, and Jack groaned.

‘Fucking karma!’

The group from the conference room headed out to the control room.

‘What’ve y’got, Chuck?’ Jack called to him.

‘Major Lorne’s IDC, sir.’

‘We’re coming in hot!’ yelled Lorne’s voice through Chuck’s console radio.  ‘Prepare to raise the shield when we’re all through and get a med team.’

Kevork, AT2’s Athosian guide, came running through first, carrying a body over his shoulder, rapidly followed by Lorne and Private du Pres, both firing their M4’s back through the ‘gate.

‘Close the shield,’ they shouted at the same time as Jack gave the order to Chuck, and when the two members of AT2 turned around, the crowd in the control room could see their faces were covered with small cuts and already darkening bruises.

Before anyone had time to ask any questions, Carolyn Lam and Carson Beckett ran into the gateroom, followed closely by two corpsmen carrying stretchers.  Carson went straight to Clare Davis, who Kevork had laid gently on the floor, while Carolyn checked over Lorne and du Pres.  That her hand lingered slightly longer on Lorne’s battered face wasn’t missed by either Jack or John, who looked at each other with raised eyebrows then turned to run down the stairs to the gateroom, followed closely by Teyla, Rodney, and Ford.

‘Major?’ John called out.  ‘What happened?  Did you come across the Wraith again?’

‘Not…exactly, sir,’ Lorne replied with a quick glance at du Pres.

‘Ooookay,’ Jack drawled.  ‘How’s Lieutenant Davis doing, Dr Beckett?  Is she in any danger?’

‘I don’t…She has a gunshot wound to her shoulder, and it looks like another shot grazed the side of her head,’ Carson told him, still bent over the girl.  ‘We’ll know more when we get her to the infirmary.   Lift her carefully, lads,’ he told the two corpsmen who put her gently onto a stretcher and carried her out of the gateroom.  Carson followed her after a nod to Jack and John.

Carolyn chivvied the other members of AT2 out, presumably towards the infirmary, and left Jack and AT1 looking at each other.

‘So, not the Wraith but probably connected to them,’ John summarised.  ‘Not much we can do until Dr Lam releases them.’

‘Then, can I get back to the labs?’ McKay asked plaintively.  ‘I’ve got a lot of important things to look at before I go to bed.’

Jack waved him away and, after a nod from John, Ford and Teyla left them alone as well.

‘Was it my imagination, or did Beckett stop himself from saying something to you when you asked him about Davis?’ John asked quietly as they made their way across the bridge to Jack’s office.

‘I think he did and he was also quite pleasant to me when we were both in the queue for breakfast this morning.’

‘Maybe what was said yesterday had some effect on him after all.’

‘I hope so.  I’ve had Carolyn bending my ear about him and Keller being thick as thieves and upsetting most of the infirmary staff.  Apparently Keller was some sort of Doogie Howser who passed her medical exams at thirteen or something and has very poor social skills because her parents kept her away from other kids.’  Jack sank down into his chair with a sigh.  ‘Weir insisted she be brought into the programme, but Carolyn describes her as dead weight.  She’s terrible with patients and the other staff, most of whom are refusing to work with her.  Carolyn’s keeping her out of the infirmary as much as possible, but to be honest, she doesn’t know what to do with her.  If Beckett has begun to shake himself free of her, good for him.  He’s a decent enough guy when he’s not being led around by the nose or the dick!’

‘McKay says much the same thing.  They were friends before Weir, then Keller, got their claws into him and twisted his worldview into one where everyone has it in for him,’ John commented.  ‘Anyway.  I wanted to talk to you about arranging a few exercises on the mainland.  Some of the Marines are getting a little stir crazy even though we’ve set up a couple of running routes through the city now.  They need to go and let off steam somewhere, preferably where they won’t do too much damage.

‘Maybe we could arrange some hunting trips for them as well,’ Jack mused.  ‘I’m sure we’ve got some folk here with hunting experience and the kitchen staff would welcome the meat, I’m sure.’

They spent a good hour going over the various ideas they had for keeping bored Marines busy, Jack having had his share of experience with the Marines in the SGC while John had worked closely with both the Marine Corps and the Army in Afghanistan and Iraq.  They were busy sharing the most outrageous thing they’d seen Jarheads do – John won with his description of the chair race he’d come across in Afghanistan when the Marines on his base took all the wheeled chairs they could find and used them to race down a hill near Shindand Air Base.  Although they’d had the sense to wear helmets, the chairs had  no breaks and no steering – when Major Lorne knocked on the open door and peered around it.

’Sirs?’ he enquired.  ‘Am I disturbing you?’

As both Jack and John had tears streaming down their faces from laughing, he could have been excused for the decidedly odd look he gave them, but Jack waved him in.

‘Just discussing the antics Marines get up to when they’re bored,’ he told the concerned-looking man, whose face instantly cleared.

‘Ah, well.  That makes sense.  I have a few tales from my time with the SGC, but I’ve come to debrief on our last mission.’

Jack nodded, and both he and Sheppard tried to compose themselves.

‘How is Lt. Davis?’

‘Through and through in her shoulder and a bullet graze on her right temple.  She’s come round now, but Carson’s keeping her in the infirmary as she’s likely concussed.  She tried to dodge the shots fired and tripped over a rock and banged herself up,’ Lorn explained.  ‘Du Pres and I just have scratches and bruises and Kevork wasn’t hurt as the villagers recognised him.’

‘Want to start at the beginning, Major?’ John asked.  ‘Who was shooting at you and why?’

’Sorry, sir.’  Lorne took a deep breath.  ‘This was our first visit to Rangova, although Kervork’s traded with them for several years…’

The story was an uncomfortable one to hear.  Stories of the Tau’ri – as they’d agreed to describe themselves to the people of the Pegasus Galaxy – had begun to spread, as had the regularity of the appearance of Wraith on most of their journeys off-world.  As obviously happens throughout the Universe, the story had changed as it was told and passed on, and the Rangovians believed the Tau’ri to be Wraith Worshippers.

‘What’s a Wraith Worshipper?’ Jack asked with a frown.

Lorne paused for a moment.  ‘It’s someone who…worships the Wraith.’  Jack’s frown deepened, and he quickly continued.  ‘Apparently there are some groups of people who travel around looking for pockets of population for the Wraith to cull.’

‘What?’ both Jack and John demanded.

‘Kevork explained it to me,’ Lorne told them, his distaste evident in his down-turned mouth.  ’These worshippers are usually connected to one hive or one queen who controls several hives and they serve the Wraith for some reason.  Kevork couldn’t explain that bit because he’s never actually met a Wraith Worshipper, he’s just heard the stories about them.  Perhaps Teyla could tell you a bit more, I don’t know.  But the Rangovians thought we were Wraith Worshippers and that we’ve been reporting to the Wraith about the worlds we’ve visited.

‘We hadn’t even entered the village when a group of people began shouting at us and before we knew what was happening, people started throwing rocks at us.  We hightailed it out as fast as we could, but some of the Rangovians had guns and began shooting.  Davis got hit in the shoulder and another bullet grazed her head and then she tripped and fell.  We stopped to pick her up and some of the crowd got close enough to start throwing punches, which is when du Pres and I got most of our injuries.  Kevork tried to tell them we weren’t Wraith Worshippers, but they were so busy attacking us they didn’t hear him so he picked up Davis and we all ran back to the gate.’

There was silence after Lorne finished speaking.

’So how do we convince people we’re not Wraith Worshippers?’ Jack asked.

‘I don’t know, sir.  Teyla is probably the best person to talk to.’  Lorne rubbed his face with his hands, then flinched as he pressed a little too hard on a couple of his bruises.  ‘We need to find some way of spreading the word that we…’

‘Come in peace?’ John suggested with a grim smile, then he turned to Jack.  ‘I’ve been loath to suggest it so far, but maybe we could begin offering medical services as a trade item?  Perhaps some of the engineers to fix stuff folk are using the Ancients might have left?  Inhada, the place we visited this morning, has an irrigation system that’s been there for generations and they have a hard time fixing it when it goes wrong.  McKay offered to have a look at it if it breaks again.  We could ask the Athosians if they know of places like that.  Buy ourselves some goodwill?’

‘Not a bad idea,’ Jack nodded.  ‘We brought extra medical supplies to trade if we had to, but so far we’ve been able to trade manpower.  I’ll have a chat with Carolyn and see what she thinks.  It might solve her problem with Keller as well if we can send her off-world.’

‘Agreed.  A twofer, if you like,’ John replied.  ‘We need Teyla here now.’

‘You call Teyla, John, and maybe you’d give Carolyn a shout, Major?’ Jack said slyly.

John coughed into his hand, and Jack could have sworn he heard the word ‘Yenta’ in there.

*****

Monday 22nd November 2004 15:26 AST

‘Unscheduled off-world activation!’ Chuck shouted, a week after Lorne’s team was attacked by the Wraith Worshippers.

‘Fucking hell!  Now what?’ Jack demanded, stomping out of his office where he’d been immersed in paperwork.

‘It’s Colonel Sheppard’s IDC.’  Chuck waited for a moment, his hand to his ear, then he clicked the radio on his console.  ‘Putting him on speaker, sir.’

‘General O’Neill?’ came the tinny voice through the radio. ‘We have a…situation here.  I’d like Dr Lam to come through the gate with a jumper and a medical kit.’

‘Colonel?’ Jack asked.  ‘Is anyone injured?’

There was a pause, then John spoke again.  ‘Not exactly.  We’ve come across a man who the Wraith are chasing.  Teyla called him a Runner.  Apparently the Wraith captured him, stuck a tracking device in his back, then let him loose.  They train their…people by chasing him down, then they let him go again.’

‘What the fuck?’ Jack demanded.  ‘No, no, don’t answer that.  Can’t you bring him back to the city?’

Not until we remove the tracker from his back.  That’s what I want Carolyn for, but the Wraith may arrive any moment, so we need a jumper we can cloak for her to operate in.’

‘I’m not sure she’s going to want to operate in a jumper,’ Jack replied uncertainly.

‘We’ve got no choice, sir.  We can’t bring him back to the city with a tracker in him and I don’t want to risk the Alpha site, not when we’ve only just got it up and running.  Get Lorne to bring her in a jumper, but hurry because the Wraith could be here at any moment.’

‘Okay.  Are you staying near the gate?  I’ll radio you when we’re ready to send the jumper through.’

‘I’ll keep the gate open as long as I can to keep the Wraith from coming through, unless Miko’s finished that programme she was talking about.  The one Carter wrote to rapid-dial the Milky Way gates?’

‘I’ll ask her.  O’Neill out.’

Not quite ten minutes later, Lorne was ready with Carolyn Lam to join AT1 on P45-294, along with six Marines.

‘John?’  Jack spoke into Chuck’s radio.  ‘Miko says she’s not finished converting the programme to dial the Pegasus gates, but she’ll make sure it’s done as soon as possible.  Lorne is ready to come through so close the gate from your side.  Is there anywhere for you to take cover?’

‘Affirmative.  Closing the gate down now.  Sheppard out.’

As soon as the event horizon winked out, Chuck began to dial the address.  Jack was certain he wasn’t the only one holding his breath until the gate connected.

‘Jumper three, you’re go for launch,’ Chuck instructed Lorne while Jack turned aside and clicked his radio.  ‘John?  Lorne’s on his way.’

‘Tell him to stop and pick me up.  The team’s about four klicks from the gate.’

Jack couldn’t settle back to his paperwork and paced around the control room until Chuck politely suggested he might want to go and get a coffee.

‘You’ll call me—’

‘—just as soon as Colonel Sheppard makes contact, yes, sir,’ Chuck assured him.  ‘I’ll redial the gate as soon as the 38 minutes are up if I can, and I’ll let you know.’

Jack was beginning to realise how difficult it had been for George Hammond to watch his people go through the gate to face goodness knew what for so many years.  ‘No wonder his hair had all fallen out,’ he muttered to himself, getting a very odd look from one of the scientists he passed.

The mess hall was almost empty as it usually was in the mid-afternoon.  Too early for the dinner rush and too late for those who’d missed the main lunch period but, as always, there was coffee and a few cakes and savouries on a table near the door – brain fuel for the scientists and just straightforward fuel for the military members of the expedition.  The new trade deals they’d struck, along with what the hunting teams brought back, now provided over half of their food requirements, although both the biologists and the kitchen staff had enjoyed themselves testing and experimenting with alternative sources of carbohydrates, protein and vitamins.  Sergeant Smith, their head cook – Jack just couldn’t get used to thinking of her as a ‘food service specialist’ – had informed him she wanted cows and chickens – or rather their Pegasus equivalent – to be kept on the mainland with the Athosians to provide them with regular fresh milk and eggs, so now Jack had firstly to find such creatures, and secondly, work out how to bring them back to the city, and then look after them.

I wonder if George had ever had such a problem pass across his desk at the SGC?

He settled himself down with a cup of coffee and a muffin made with a purple fruit which wasn’t a blueberry, but which tasted okay, and he watched the world go by – or at least the members of the Expedition and the occasional Athosian guide who called in for drinks and snacks.

Meeting the Athosians had been their biggest stroke of luck since they arrived in Pegasus, if you didn’t count getting Atlantis up off the bottom of the sea.  Teyla was invaluable in her own right as guide, diplomat and general ‘fixer’ of all things Pegasean, but others were also acting as guides to the new arrivals, and the majority of the Athosian population who’d settled on the mainland were doing their own part in helping the Expedition by growing crops and taking part in hunts to help feed both their own people and those on the city a few miles away on the ocean.

Jack realised with a start which made him spill his coffee that he hadn’t had a chance to miss Daniel since they’d arrived and for a brief moment was angry with himself for forgetting to mourn the man he’d loved so much.  He then gave himself a mental shake and instead thought about how much Danny would have loved Atlantis, which brought a soft smile to his lips.  Danny would have adored meeting Teyla and the other Athosians and would have been insatiably curious about the Wraith and how they came about as a species.  Then it registered that if Danny had been alive, it was highly unlikely the two of them would have come to Pegasus with the Expedition or, indeed, at all.  And I’d have missed out on all this.  Huh.

The buzz of his radio brought him back to the moment.

‘General?’ Chuck’s voice said in his ear.  ‘Colonel Sheppard has just radioed and they’re about to come through the gate.’

‘I’m on my way,’ Jack told him and finished his coffee in one huge swallow.  Danny, I miss you like crazy, but I think I’m just about ready to get on with my life instead of wasting it by wanting something I can’t have.

*****

- - - -

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About Daisy May

A menopausal woman writing fanfiction as a way to delay encroaching old age, grey hair, and wrinkles

2 Comments

  1. I love your writing. I love the new lease on life you gave Jack. This is such a better path for him.
    Thank you.

  2. Great Story

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