A Pale Horse – Excerpt (members only)

Title: A Pale Horse
Author: Keira Marcos
Fandom: SGA
Pairing: McShep
Series: Spartan Chronicles
Rating: R (violence and sexual content)
Status: WIP, No Beta – no nitpicking!

Summary: The life of a Spartan is founded on never-ending sacrifice.

“And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him” – King James Bible

– – – –

“Major Sheppard—your biomodification is complete. You are Spartan 3321. Your field assessment has been complete and it is time, Spartan, to meet your Engineer.”

John nodded and fell into parade rest. His gaze fell on his armor, the first set of armor he would be given within the Spartan Program. He was one of the first Marines in the program to be specifically modified for the Gen4 armor and he would be the first to put the armor on. The others in his group were still several weeks out from finishing as the final stages were staggered on purpose. He knew there was a lot of speculation about how it would interact with his body as a result.

His Engineer. He’d spent a year being modified and trained in order to wear the Spartan armor, to be worthy of an Engineer. Only one out of every ten men and women who entered the program successfully completed it. The accomplishment made his blood rush with excitement and he’d barely been able to contain himself during the last week when he’d received his final neural implants.

“Clear the room.”

The order came from a civilian but it was met without question. John let his head fall forward in relief as the unnecessary people were removed from the room. The Chief Science Officer of the Spartan Program closed the door.

McKay cleared his throat. “Sit Major.”

John sat down on the chair he’d spent most of the morning in during his final psyche evaluation. “Colonel Davis indicated that I was ready to meet my Engineer.”

“Yes.” McKay sat down in the chair in front of him and set a datapad on the table between them. “You scored in the top one percent of your training group, Major. You broke records for endurance, critical thinking, and battle management—records that have been in place since the Spartan Program began. We haven’t had someone perform at your level since they stopped training Spartan’s from childhood.”

John nodded even as he flushed with pleasure at the praise. It was ridiculous how excited and pleased he was. The history of the Spartan Program was no secret to anyone—the outing of the history of the Spartans that had come before him had outraged people. Children taken from foster situations and orphanages and turned into soldiers as early as seven years old. They learned nothing but war from the moment the USNC had gotten ahold of them.

But, no one could deny how effective the Spartans were in the field. Two hundred years later, the Spartan Program only accepted volunteers and while most of them weren’t as effective in the field as those who had been modified before puberty—they still turned the tide of the Goa’uld war.

“I did my best, Doctor.”

McKay nodded and sat back in the chair. “You might have heard that this is my last session as the CSO of the Spartan Program.”

“I heard the rumors, Dr. McKay. It is a loss to the program.”

McKay inclined his head as if he agreed. “I entered the program as a technical and design engineer. After I finished designing the Gen4 armor, I thought I would take a Spartan but it didn’t work out that way. I’ve been with the Spartan Program for five years and I’d begun to think I’d never find a Spartan I was compatiable with. Then someone rather unexpected entered the program. Major, you are nothing like the men who normally come here. Did you know you are one of only five officers to emerge from the Spartan Program field ready?”

John nodded and relaxed. “I knew going in that it would be a challenge but I wanted it. I’ve always wanted it—in fact, I almost turned down OTS because I was concerned that it would ruin my chances of being accepted into the program.”

“Actually, there were those who wanted to refuse you outright because of your educational background. There are some around this place who are under the impression that men like you—officers of your intelligence and career potential are needed else where. It’s men like them that have held the program back for decades—the ones that would welcome harvesting orphaned children as it was done in the past.”

“Then why was I admitted?” John asked.

“I insisted,” McKay answered. “You were categorized as a test case to see if I was right about what the goals of the progam should be. I’m pleased to say that you proved that I’m always right.”

John laughed and relaxed. “That’s good to know, Doctor.”

“We have ten untethered Engineers in the program that are finishing up their training just as you have, Major Sheppard.” McKay picked up the datapad and manipulated it for a few seconds. “I’ve played match maker within the program since I became the Chief Science Officer. Today, however, I find myself in a difficult position.”

“How so?”

“When I accepted the role of Chief Science Officer it was because I thought I’d never find a Spartan I would want to tether myself to for life,” McKay admitted roughly.

John’s whole body tightened in anticipation. There was no Engineer more coveted in the program. The fifteen Spartans he’d trained with – all of them wanted McKay. A Spartan was strong but it was the connection with his Engineer that made him a force to be reckoned with. Engineers, both civilian and military, wore armor but they weren’t trained to be Spartans. Most of their biomodifications were geared towards mental abilities, so their armor was very different, designed more for defense rather than offense. To be tethered to a man like McKay was a very seductive possibility.

“Four Engineers have offered themselves to be tethered to you, Major Sheppard.” McKay picked up a case and set it on the table between them. He opened the thin brief case and revealed four silver nano-discs. The nano-disc was designed to go into the neuro implant in John’s head. It was the first step in the tethering process.

John barely refrained from lifting his hand to touch the link-port that had been implanted at the base of his skull. “Four?”

“Your work within in the program has been excellent,” McKay allowed. “All four are suitable to your biometrics and they are all here waiting.”

“Waiting?” John questioned.

“For you to chose,” McKay explained gently. “Normally, I would make this choice for you but I find myself in a position where I can’t.”

“Why?” John frowned. “I trust you to make the best choice for me, Dr. McKay.”

McKay flushed and sighed. “One of these nano-discs is mine, Major Sheppard. I’m too much of a selfish bastard to make a just choice in this circumstance.”

“You.” John’s gaze widened. “But… why… I thought you were leaving the program.”

“I’m leaving the Spartan Program as the CSO so that I can join Stargate Command. I’m taking a Spartan with me, Major Sheppard.”

“So it’s me or another…” John’s nostrils flared and he looked away from the nano-discs. The last year—he’d spent a great deal of time in McKay’s sphere of influence just like all the other men and women in the program. The idea of him being tethered to another Spartan was a difficult one to wrap his head around.

His emotional desire, however, couldn’t be the deciding factor. His Engineer would be a part of his life as long as he lived—and with biomodifications that could be hundreds of years if he didn’t meet his end in combat. Did he want McKay with him until the end? He let himself focus on the man himself.

His bright, blue eyes had been drawing him since he’d first met the man. McKay had a strong face and a mouth that was often drawn into a frown. John cleared his throat. “I want… what I want probably isn’t less selfish than what you want.”

McKay inclined his head. “Tell me what you’re thinking.”

“That a man like you is too valuable to go into combat but if you’re going to go—I don’t trust anyone else to take care of you but me,” John returned bluntly. “You’re dating someone, Doctor, how does your woman feel about you taking a Spartan? Does she understand the commitment you’re preparing to make? Will I have to fight for my place in your life if she doesn’t?”

“The tethering means that no matter what else happens, John, you will always come first to your Engineer—until death parts you. When it was first realized that the physical isolation Spartans were experienceing in their armor could be lessened with mental contact with another—the science teams at the time tried many different methods. They linked Spartans together but it increased the instances of PTSD in the program tenfold. Introducing Engineers as they did twenty years ago, alleviated many of the concerns about isolation and since Engineers are more defensive than offensive—the chances that a Spartan would lose their mental partner decreased dramatically. Engineer armor always has the best shields we can provide—the safer your Engineer is the more effective you are in the field.”

John nodded. “Your girlfriend?”

“Is aware of my choice,” McKay replied neutrally. “I had the Engineer implants when I met her Major—she’s always known this day would come.” He pushed the case of nano-discs toward him. “Touch each one—you’ll know your Engineer when you touch him, Major. There will be no doubt.”

“It’s not a matter of fate, Doctor.”

“No, John, it’s a matter of biological compatiblity. All four of the Engineers available to you meet that standard but I’ve always believed that there is a kinetic energy between pairs that work best. There is a reason why the men and women I’ve paired over the years have done so well. The nanobots in your body will respond to the Engineer that is the most suited to you. You’ll enjoy touching his disc the most. It is a quirk of the biomodification that very few people are privy to.” McKay clicked his radio as John reached out and touched the first disc. “Radek, Major Sheppard is ready for you.”

John’s breath caught as he touched the third disc but he forced himself to lift his finger and let it graze over the fourth one. Then he gravitated back to the third one because this Engineer—no matter who he was—was his. “This one.”

Rodney nodded. He picked up a pair of tweezers and plucked it gently from the case just as Radek entered the room. “He has chosen, Radek.”

Dr. Zelenka took the tweezers carefully. “Very well.”

John looked at the disc. “Do you know who it is?”

“Dr. McKay does not,” Zelenka began. “He requested that I place the nano-discs in the case so he couldn’t be tempted to influence your decision, Major.”

“But you know,” John surmised and stared pointedly at Zelenka.

“Yes,” Radek said simply. “Major, you will let your head fall forward and relax, yes? It is best to clear your mind for this part.”

John spared McKay one final glance and found that the man had stood up from the table. He was leaning against the wall—his expression a mixture of anticipation and fear. John’s last thought before he felt his port slide open under Zelenka’s prodding was wrapped how much he wanted McKay—how much he wanted him in every way a man could want another person. Then his world went blank.

– – – –

Rodney reviewed John’s vitals again and pushed a report to the server in the facility. He’d been unconscious for ten hours but that wasn’t uncommon considering that McKay had his implant for nearly six years and there was a lot of communication going on between his bots and the bots that Sheppard had in his body. Intellectually, he knew he couldn’t feel the bots moving around inside him but his whole body felt electrified by the experience.

The door to the private room opened and his girlfriend entered. Dr. Gina Brower was at the top of her field in human biomechanics and an asset to the Spartan Program. Their relationship had caught many off-guard but Rodney had worked hard to make a life with her. They’d been living together for three years and had few secrets from each other as a result.

“How is he?”

“Good, he’s assimulating the new data at a great pace.” Rodney set aside his datapad and held out a hand for her. “I didn’t… I can’t tell you how relieved I was when I felt the tethering begin.”

“I watched,” Gina said with a wry grin. She let him pull her into his lap without any fuss and sighed. “He’s very attractive.”

“Very,” Rodney said with a small laugh. “Mer is pretty pleased with him, too. She can’t wait to connect with his armor.”

“They approved that?” Gina questioned.

“Another test case, yes,” Rodney said dryly. “They weren’t thrilled when I first made an AI copy of myself but she’s proven very valuable over the years. It makes sense that my Spartan would interact with her as much as I do. She is me… basically.”

“She has a nicer ass,” Gina allowed and grinned when Rodney pinched her side gently. “And great tits.”

“Yeah,” Rodney chuckled. “I never should have let her design her own avatar that’s for certain. It can be distracting to say the least.” He sobered and sighed. “You heard his questions?”

“He has every right to be concerned—Engineers rarely marry anyone for a reason. The tethering creates an intimacy I can’t compete with.” She inclined her head and sighed. “I think… there is a Spartan in the second session that I feel like he could be…”

“Yours,” Rodney murmured. “I saw the biometric results—you’re very compatiable with him. It’ll be a good match, one I’ve already recommended to my replacement.”

Gina relaxed against him and sighed. “It’s… probably best if we…”

“Right,” Rodney agreed. “Two territorial Spartans in one household would not work out well for anyone. And Sergeant Aimes isn’t slotted for an Earth based assignment. I could have him reassigned if you wish but he’s been requested for a ship.”

“He wants the ship,” Gina responded. “I think he should have what he wants on that front. They go through so much and sacrifice so much of their humanity to protect us, Rodney, I think they should have what they want as much as possible.”

“You know I agree,” Rodney pressed a kiss against her neck and then prodded her off his lap a little reluctantly. He really did like and enjoy her both as a person and as a lover. “Sergeant Aimes should come out of training in two weeks, so you have that long to prepare yourself for the tethering. Did you want me to stay here until it’s done? I can handle your tethering if you prefer?”

Gina grinned and shook her head. “Probably not—it’s best if you and your Spartan go to Colorado as planned. Aimes is likely to be a little jealous of you to begin with until our tethering is secure.” She glanced towards John. “You be sure to tell him soon that our relationship has ended, Rodney.” She touched John’s hand hesitantly and the Spartan stirred in his sleep. “Don’t let him feel guilty for it either—we both knew this was coming.”

“I won’t,” Rodney promised.

– – – –

John opened his eyes shortly after Dr. Brower left the room. He had to wonder how either one of them thought he’d slept through that. He’d woken up the moment the woman had entered the room. Relief and guilt warred in his gut—he hadn’t wanted to create a situation where McKay would be unhappy but he was also extremely relieved that he wouldn’t have to share his Engineer with another person. At least, he thought wryly, until another woman caught McKay’s eye. He pushed that aside because it didn’t matter—he would endure anything to make sure his Engineer was safe and happy.

He turned his head and found McKay staring at him with bright, amused eyes. “Hey.”

“You should always remember that I’m aware of your physical condition as long as we are within in five miles of each other. I’ll know when you’re hungry, when you’re hurt, and most definitely when you’re not asleep.”

John blushed and sighed. “Sorry for eavesdropping on your weirdly civilized break-up with Dr. Brower.”

Rodney inclined his head. “How do you feel?”

“Good.” His gaze flicked to the armor station, where his armor was on display. The trainers had shown him his armor at the sixth month mark and then just a week ago when they’d scanned him for the final fitting.

“Are you ready to put it on?”

John nodded. “What about Mer?”

“She has a special data core built into your helmet but I won’t let her join you until you’re comfortable with the idea.”

“She’s part of you,” John murmured. “I trust her.”

Rodney smiled and picked up the datapad. He put in a few commands and the armor station activated. The armor dissembled and adhered itself in the open position on the station. He put the pad down on the bed as John swung his legs around to put his feet on the floor. “Strip.”

John gamely stood and pulled off the scrubs he’d been put in while he was unconscious. He stripped to the skin without shame and stood in place as McKay pulled a duffel out of the armor station and dropped it beside his datapad. “Have I received my new orders?”

“General O’Neill is expecting us in Colorado in two weeks. In the meantime, we will head to Quantico for a few field training excercises to make sure our armor is syncing.”

“Where is yours?” John questioned.

“It is stored in the station,” Rodney explained. “Once we have you in yours—I’ll activate mine and show it to you. It’s about fifty pounds lighter than yours and my shields are up to date despite the fact that I haven’t any field work in over a year. I’ve kept up the updates and modified my own armor accordingly to make sure I’d be field ready when the day came.”

John nodded. “You’re qualified with all the weapons that the SGC fits their field teams with, correct?”

“Yes,” Rodney assured. “But we’ll both have to qualify once we get there—you’ll be the only Spartan assigned to the SGC at this time, John and we had to fight a minor war with the UNSC to get this. I threatened to leave the program completely if I wasn’t transferred to the SGC with a Spartan of my choice.” He blushed when John laughed. “Well, I like to get my way. Regardless, the UNSC is pretty adament about ship placements and off-planet permenant assignments for Spartans. The SGC has never had a Spartan in their ranks. You can expect a certain amount of curiousity. Many of the men and women you’ll encounter have never seen a Spartan up close much less served with one.”

John nodded and took a deep breath as McKay pulled out an ultra-thin black body stocking. It was the only thing he’d have between him and the armor that would be able to sustain him for up to months at a time with no food or water. “Do I need…”

Rodney chuckled. “No, that was taken care of while you were asleep. I monitored the process and made sure no one touched you inappropriately.”

John could only grimace both relieved to have slept through a colonic and less than thrilled with the idea that people he didn’t know had handled his body. He’d spend two weeks in the suit before he was allowed to come out of it for the first time—it was what his body required to fully adjust wearing the suit. His body would be held, within the suit, in a pseudo-stasis. He would sleep only when he was in the armor station and then for only periods of four hours as his body learned the rhytms of the suit. The colonic wasn’t necessary but when there was time, he figured he would prefer going into the armor as clean as possible.

He reached out for the body stocking but McKay wrapped his hand around his wrist. “When is the last time you were intimate with someone, John?”

John blushed and exhaled sharply. “As you know, we’re encouraged to share racks in the barracks.”

“Yes,” Rodney inclined his head. “But I’d also heard that you rarely allowed the other men training with you that privelege.”

“I was the only officer,” John admitted roughly. “And while I know that meant nothing during the training phase—I didn’t want to make a mistake with one of the enlisted men. Most of them were leery of approaching me as well.”

“There has been no one in a year?” Rodney demanded.

John smiled then. “Well, the word came down last week that I was facing my final evaluation soon. I haven’t found my bed empty since that happened.”

Rodney snorted. “I just bet.”

“It was comforting and not as sexual as you might think,” John admitted. “I’m not going into the armor skin starved.”

“Good,” Rodney inclined his head. “I did—my first stint in the suit was agony. I was worried that I wasn’t going to pass the adjustment phase because of it. I don’t want anything to hold you back, John.” He reached out and wrapped his hand around John’s dog tags. The nanobots had stopped hair production over 95% of John’s body—the body suit adhered to hairless skin more easily. John’s head hair was about a half inch, well within regulation but longer than most Spartans allowed. It wouldn’t matter—his helmet would connect into his skull port.

John bowed his head as McKay pulled the chain over—taking the tags away. There was a compartment in his suit for them so they could be retrieved by other personnel in the event of his death. The Spartan armor couldn’t be opened by anyone in the field but his tethered Engineer—it was a security protocol. The suit itself would throw him into a deep stasis if he was injured severely. Even throughout the war with Covenant and then later with the Goa’uld they’d managed to keep the Spartan technology out of enemies hands with such protocols in place.

Rodney picked up the body stocking and knelt easily at his Spartan’s feet. He tapped John’s ankle and Sheppard obediently lifted his foot. The smooth, silky material slid easily up his foot—the material of the body suit wasn’t alive, but it wasn’t from Earth either. It was made from a silk-like substance from another planet and it had been married with nanobots early on in production. The suit would regulate his body temperature, self-repair if his armor was penetrated and act as a pressure bandage if necessary. All military assets, even those that didn’t wear armor, wore the body stockings under their uniforms.

“This is…” John took a deep breath as Rodney smoothed the material into place over his thighs. “It feels different than what I’ve had before.”

“The body suits that are supplied to the regular military aren’t as refined as the ones you’ll be given for under your armor,” Rodney admitted. “They have to be thinner and stronger to be of any use to you.” He paused and ran his hands down the back of both John’s legs. “What’s wrong?”

“Frankly?” John questioned dryly. “I don’t know why I’m not hard. You on your knees in front of me should be enough.”

Rodney laughed, pleased with his bluntness. “I activated the bots that control your libido. You don’t want to be stuck in this suit for weeks with that to worry about.”

“Oh.” John blushed. “Right.”

“Relax, you can turn them back on yourself. If you do a self-evaluation you’ll see they’ve been enabled. I won’t ever use your nanobots to attempt to control you or your dick,” Rodney murmured as he pulled the stocking over his ass. He stood and raised an eyebrow. “Speaking of your dick…”

John bit down on his bottom lip. “My body is under the purview of my Engineer.”

“Right,” Rodney nodded. “I’m your medical proxy when you can’t speak for yourself and I’m your next of kin in all situations. You are mine, by the way. You’ll make any medical decisions I can’t make for myself and if you survive me—you’ll get final say on what happens to my remains. We belong to each other, John, and that won’t change no matter what else does.”

“Like if you find another girlfriend?” John questioned.

“It’s unlikely as most everyone we will come into contact with will know they don’t stand a chance in hell of being more important than you. You’ll find the same is true for you—neither one of us will have a problem finding a one night stand but relationships… won’t happen, John.”

“I knew that coming in,” John admitted roughly. “It’s the reason that most Spartan’s take their Engineer as lovers within a year of tethering.”

“Right.” Rodney nodded. “Which I’m not opposed to, I’ve had male lovers in the past. Have you been with men beyond what you might have experienced in the barracks?”

“Yeah, a few times,” John admitted as Rodney let his hand rest on his hip. “Go ahead, I’m not going to freak out if you put your hand on my dick. We both need to get used to this…kind of handling.”

Rodney nodded and pulled the body suit into place, he cupped John’s balls and flaccid cock in his hand then tucked them carefully into the genital pouch. “Okay, there.”

“Right.” Amusement drifted throughout John’s reply and Rodney offered him a mild glare before he worked the sleeves into place and then gently turned John so he could finish with the microzipper.

He checked the fit with his hands, looking for pockets of air and prodding them out with gentle fingers. “How does it feel?”

“Fine,” John said and then accepted a pair of black gloves made out of the same material as the body suit. He pulled them on with ease and watched as Rodney attached the zippers in the sleeves of the suit to the gloves and zipped each one with care. “Pretty sexy actually.”

McKay grinned. “I know, perhaps when we know each other better getting you out of this thing might be a little fun.”

John flushed. He really looked forward to it. He’d wanted McKay since he’d set eyes on the man but the training staff were off-limits to the Spartans in training and he’d respected the relationship he’d been in. “My body temperature is regulated and my blood pressure is normal.”

Rodney nodded. “Good. Then it’s time.”

“Will you…” John took a deep breath and looked towards the armor station. “I’m sorry about her, you know. You always seemed really happy with Dr. Brower, whenever I saw you together.”

“You don’t have anything to feel guilty about,” Rodney promised. “I knew exactly what would come if I took a Spartan and so did she. You were listening to us break up after all.”

John nodded. “You’re going to sleep alone tonight.”

Rodney blinked in surprise and then blushed. “Right. Yes, well, it’s something I should go used to again.”

John nodded and tried not to frown as he was lead to the armor station. He turned when Rodney directed and allowed himself to be backed into position. “Tell me what’s happening so I’ll know from now on.”

Rodney nodded. “The station is going to insert a data-rod into your port and it will wed your nanobotics to the armor. From that point forward, no one but you will be able to wear the armor and it will react defensively to anyone else who might try to put it on. It’s important that you make that clear to anyone who might come into contact with your armor when you’re not in it. The security measures are staggered but they are eventually lethal.”

John nodded. “I understand.”

“Once your bots have accepted the armor as part of their system—the armor will encase you for the first time. This is the reason we’ve had you wear helmets during training for the last eight months—to prepare you for the isolation of having your head entirely encased. It can be claustraphobic.”

“I have no phobias,” John murmured as the data-rod pushed into his port. It was probably one of the oddest experiences of his life. “Wow.”

“Creepy, right?” Rodney questioned. He put his hand flat over John’s heart. “Just relax while it works. This is going to take about ten minutes. In the future, you’ll be able to step into the station and don your armor in less than fifteen seconds.”

“The station folds down into a trunk, right?”

“Yes, for travel. We’ll go over the packing procedures when you come out of the armor in fourteen days. We have to be careful with it because the UNSC is not kind about shipping damage. Each Spartan has a budget and that’s something I’ll monitor for you. They expect combat damage but damage to your armor or mine outside of training or combat situations could lead to reprimands in your file.”

John nodded. “Right. Okay. Money makes the world go round.”

“Yes.” Rodney lifted his hand as he heard the station activate. “I’ll be right here, John. Don’t worry.”

“I’m not,” John murmured and his eyes fluttered shut before the station hummed around him and his armor slotted into place all around him.

There was several seconds of panic but it settled quickly—he cleared his mind and let the data input from the suit come to him. The instructors had talked at length about forcing the connection and how painful it could be in the beginning. The lack of physical stimulus was so unnerving at first that it rendered him speechless. He felt… nothing. The station hadn’t released him, which was good because he wasn’t sure he could even make himself walk.

“Easy, John,” McKay murmured. Rodney’s voice filled up his mind instantly. Security and safety followed in his wake. “Your heart rate is a little elevated but your blood pressure is fine. Just relax.”

John opened his eyes and stared at McKay through the mirrored visor of his helmet. The clarity of his visual output was so sharp that it was almost as if McKay was in the armor with him. “Relax, you say?”

Rodney grinned. “Yes, relax. You’re merging beautifully with the armor. Your implants are responding as predicted and your nanobots are almost finished with the merger. The nanites in your bodysuit are also responding to commands from your neural net.”

“Why don’t I…” John took a deep breath. “Why don’t I feel you?”

“It’s coming,” Rodney promised. “We just need to make sure you’re physically prepared for the mental connection. My mental presense in your mind will be feather light and should be completely unintrusive. Within a few days, you’ll forget what it was like to ever be alone. They tried heavier connections in the past but the Human brain just couldn’t handle it—not even with the biomodifications.”

“I understand.”

“You’ll pick up on my emotions, though.” Rodney frowned. “Which might make you hate me because I’m kind of an asshole.”

John grinned. “I really like that about you, actually so that doesn’t sound like much of a detraction.”

Rodney snorted and crossed his arms over his chest. “How do you feel?”

“Can’t you tell?”

“Don’t be flippant,” Rodney pointed at him. “I need you to use your words, Spartan.”

“I have no physical stimulation and it’s just as insane as everyone said it was going to be. I can see how Spartans in the past went so crazy. If you combined this with combat trauma…” John trailed off. “It’s weird. Very weird.”

“Some Spartans have reported feelings of desolation and despair during this part—it can be dehumanizing to an extent. Be honest, how do you feel?”

“Like more machine than man,” John murmured. “I’ve never been so aware of my implants than I am at this very moment. I feel… strong, capable, and… alien. It feels alien.”

“That’s a perfectly normal reaction.” Rodney paused and tilted his head. “You know, no matter the results of this phase—what you might say—you’re a Spartan, John. Never, in the history of this program, has a Spartan had his implants and status stripped from him. You earned this.”

– – – –

Admiral Patrick Sheppard crossed his arms and watched his oldest son work through his fifth virtual training mission for the day. He didn’t like it. He hadn’t fucking liked it at all when John had told he’d wanted into the Spartan Program and he’d held out some hope that he’d be rejected. He hadn’t interfered—Patrick wasn’t the kind of man that stood in the way of his sons dreams.

“Tell me about his Engineer.”

“Dr. Rodney McKay. Thirty-two. He received his Engineer implants eight years ago but didn’t make a connection with a Spartan as the UNSC hoped. He’s brilliant and the progenitor of the Gen4 armor. He served as the Chief Science Officer for the Spartan Program for the last few years and most expected he’d never tether himself to a Spartan. Then last year, shortly after your son, John, was admitted into the program McKay re-filed his tethering application. He passed his evaluations without a problem and was put back into the pool of available Engineers. It was obvious to everyone that McKay wanted John to be his Spartan but he never once interacted with him on a personal level during training. In fact, when the time came to chose John’s Engineer—McKay ignored the fact that he was a perfect biometric match for John and let your son chose his Engineer.”

Patrick nodded. He’d read the report. “I don’t doubt his behavior, Randolph. I just want… to know the man that is going to be a part of my son’s life until one or both of them is dead.”

“He was born in Canada and has one younger sister. He is estranged from both his parents and the sister for reasons he has steadfast refused to discuss with anyone. His parents were questioned during the security check phase of his hiring process and while they acknowledged that they birthed and raised the man until he was fourteen—they actually told our investigators that they’d prefer to never see him again.”

“Did he… what they hell?” Patrick frowned. “They disowned him at fourteen?”

“No, they disowned him when he was sixteen. They sent him to college at fourteen and he refused to return to them even for holiday or summer breaks after that. His mother is a psychiatrist and his father is a lawyer. McKay finished undergrad in two years and went straight into grad school. During that first year of gradschool, his father visited him. We were able to learn that much due to financial records. What was said or done during that visit is a mystery—but there after, Michael and Susan McKay haven’t had any contact with their oldest child.” Randolph Rampart sighed and shrugged when Patrick shook his head in shock. “Right, I can’t imagine what a sixteen year old genius could do to warrant that. He finally left school with three PhDs. Physics, Mechanical Engineering, and Biomechanics respectively. He’s been part of the UNSC as a civilian contractor since he was twenty-two years old.”

“What about his personality?”

“He’s a snarky, vicious bastard with a legendary temper and a streak of loyalty so broad I could park a deep space carrier on it. He doesn’t believe in failure and he is completely intolerant of stupid people. Your son and McKay have a 98% compatiability rating on personality.”

Patrick snorted his amusement. John’s dark sense of humor and intolerance of most social niceties would have held him back career was if he wasn’t a complete badass in the field. Men like Rampart and even himself, if Patrick were going to be entirely honest, tend to let men as successful as John get away with a lot as long as they performed well in the field.

“John broke records in the Spartan Program that have been in place for over a hundred years. He’s going to be…” Randolph sighed. “McKay was right about our policy about holding men like John back from the program. People are paying attention to them both now—the news that John tethered to McKay spread like wild fire. He was the single most coveted Engineer to come out of the program and years and he paired… with the kind of combat asset that men like me have wet dreams over. Jack O’Neill had a hell of a fight on his hands this morning but it helped that keeping McKay happy is a priority for the USNC. An unhappy Rodney McKay is a dangerous Rodney McKay as the saying has gone for going on ten years.”

– – – –

“Set your foot.”

John took a deep breath and then closed his eyes briefly before bracing his foot. His blood was already rushing, implants supplying him with levels adrenaline that would have killed an unmodified man. “How much room do I need to give myself to stop?”

“You should be able to stop within an inch of your goal within five seconds of your decision to stop,” Rodney responded. He shifted slightly to the left. “The established land speed record for a Spartan is forty-six seconds per mile. If you can beat that record… you’d probably make everyone here have an orgasm.”

John laughed softly, relieved that their internal communication system was so encrypted that no one, not even other Spartans had a chance of hearing McKay talk to him. “You’d think that would be hot… but it really isn’t.”

“No,” Rodney inclined his head—the afternoon sun glinted off his visor. “I heard your father was in the building watching our VR missions.”

Sheppard stilled briefly and then he sighed. “He’s not thrilled with my accomplishment, you know. I’m sure he’s proud but… he didn’t want me to do it at all.”

“The life of a Spartan is founded on never-ending sacrifice,” Rodney murmured. He inclined his head. “Show these assholes what you got, Major. I’ll be waiting.”

John disappeared in a burst of speed and Rodney turned to monitor his trip around the track. He knew that Sheppard was probably blurring for most everyone on the field—only someone wearing armor would have the clarity of vision to actually see him moving. He came to a stop in front of McKay forty-six seconds later. “I could do better.”

“Perhaps,” Rodney allowed. “But you won’t.”

“Do you know why?”

“At first I didn’t and I was kind of pissed off that all of you were performing under capacity on purpose but… then I realized who held the record and I understood. It’s the only official record that we track for Spartan’s that hasn’t been beaten since his… since he went off the grid.”

John nodded. “It’ll stay that way.”

“You’re related to him.”

John shrugged. “My grandmother was civilian contractor and though she never said one way or another—there were rumors that she was romatically involved with the man known by most as Spartan 117. My grandmother left the space for the father blank on my mother’s birth certificate on purpose but my mother insisted on calling me John.”

“I wasn’t asking, John,” Rodney said quietly. “I’m telling you that you’re Spartan 117’s grandson. I reviewed the DNA results myself and then I personally sealed the file. I don’t know if your father was told but the Chancelor of the United Nations put his seal on top of mine at my request.”

John blinked rapidly and took a deep breath and then he took another. “I had a… poster of him on my wall when I was a kid. Do you know anything about him?”

“Not much. His first name was John. He was taken from an orphanage from one of the colonies when he was very young and indoctrined into the program. The fact that he… took a lover outside the Spartan Program is not unexpected considering he was raised with the Spartans he served with—they were more like brothers and sisters than anything else. Did you know your grandmother was the creator of the AI who went offline with him?”

“My grandmother’s name was Cora,” John said then. “Cortana was her creation—yes—we were aware of it.”

“I used a lot of her original programming codes when I made Mer,” Rodney admitted. “She was a brilliant woman.”

“Making a copy of a sentient conscience was illegal back then.”

“Yes, it’s a grey area even now. I think if I wasn’t so awesome and brilliant they would have probably made me a very unhappy person as punishment for creating Mer.”

John nodded. “Did my grandmother… was Cortana…”

“Yes, she was but I’d never admit it to anyone else. Your grandmother gave her Spartan the only thing she could—a shipboard AI that as much of her as she could possibly come,” Rodney murmured. “She even used her own voice and physical appearance as much as she could get away with which in retrospect was a lot. I suppose most people just thought her… vain for it. They had no idea what she’d done but it speaks to why he was so successful in the field.”

“Why wasn’t I told this earlier?”

“These records are sealed at the highest level and they aren’t discussed, John. Spartan 117 and Cortana are so… sacred that they aren’t discussed at the Center. No one questions how she came to exist nor do they ever compare our current Spartans with him. He saved the entire galaxy and nothing can frankly top that.”

“Agreed,” John cleared his throat. “Okay.”

– – – –

Patrick pause at the entry way of the Spartan Lab and stared at his son. John was in the armor station—unmoving and he assumed offline. It was the goddamnedest thing he’d ever experienced. He knew John couldn’t come out of the armor for another twelve days for the first time. He cleared his throat and McKay lifted his head—the Engineer had shed his armor and it was in the second slot of the armor station.

“Good afternoon, sir.” McKay stood. He was dressed in the black nuSilk combat body suit with a pair of BDUs clinging to slim hips. Body modification for Engineers was in some ways just as intrusive as it was for Spartans so Patrick wasn’t surprised by McKay’s trim, muscular form. He offered his hand and Patrick took it. “It’s a pleasure to meet you Admiral Sheppard. He’s scheduled to be down for another two hours but I can bring him up if you’d like to speak with him.”

Patrick shook his head. “No, they’ll be reviewing all of his diagnostics during his trial period and I don’t want any anamolies we can avoid.”

Rodney nodded. “Okay then.”

“Tell me…” Patrick sighed. “Tell me how my son is, Dr. McKay.”

“Call me, Rodney. He’s doing extremely well. John has scored consistently in the top two percent on all of his training scenarnos and in several cases broke time records. He’s emotionally and mentally stable but he has admitted to feeling… like a machine. It’s a common reaction and his adapting very well. Currently he’s in a dreamless state and completely at rest.” Rodney glanced towards his Spartan. “He’s worried about his trial period but his stress levels are well within normal.”

“Is there anything he needs?” Patrick questioned and didn’t miss when McKay’s gaze narrowed. “I’m not questioning your ability to take care of your Spartan, Rodney. I’m asking you—as a father if my son needs anything.”

He watched McKay relax minutely. “When he comes out of his armor for the first time—it would be good if he could see you and his brothers. I realize the year of isolation we require of Spartans during training is difficult on families—especially families as close as yours are rumored to be. I have to go to Colorado immediately but John has five days of leave.”

“Will seperation that soon after tethering be an issue?”

“No. We’ve completed the tethering process and he’ll be fine outside his armor. It would do him a world of good to reconnect with you before he’s pushed into the mission rotation at the SGC. I can see us spending a lot of time off-world. O’Neill is keen on proving how useful Spartans would be to him and his command.”

“I know,” Patrick nodded. He walked to stand in front of the armor station. “It’s horrific to see him this way.”

“I know it’s difficult,” Rodney allowed. “But he is safe and resting well in the armor station. He will always—until he goes offline permanently—rest very well in the station. John isn’t the kind of Spartan that will live 24/7 in his armor when he’s not in the field, Admiral. He’s not as anti-social as some of the men and women in the program.”

“I heard he was pretty standoffish with the other people in the program with him.”

“He was the only Officer and it made him uncomfortable asking for intimacy with them but he did admit to accepting physical attention when it was offered in what he felt were sincere circumstances.” Rodney slid a datapad into a slot in the station and diagonistics continued to run. A beautiful female avatar appeared on the widescreen above John’s head. “Meet Mer, she is John’s personal AI. I designed and contributed to every aspect of her.”

“She’s a digital copy of you,” Patrick said softly. “I was told.”

Rodney inclined his head but finally nodded. That wasn’t a well-known piece of information but he wasn’t surprised that John’s father had gotten access to the data on Mer. “As much as it is possible, yes, but she has developed her own unique personality due to her circumstances and experiences. We often even disagree on fundamental issues these days. At her heart, however, she is me. She will be just as invested in your son as I am.”

Mer turned on the screen and focused on John’s father. “Admiral Patrick Sheppard, 63 solar years, joined the UNSC at eighteen, holds degrees in combat engineering, aeronautical engineering, and astral studies. Widowed. Father of three—John Sebastian Sheppard, 29. David Neal Sheppard, 27. Patrick Matthew Sheppard, Jr., 24. You have co-habitated with eight women and three men since the death of your wife but show no signs of interest in remarrying. No grandchildren.”

Patrick lifted one eyebrow. “What did I have for breakfast this morning?”

Rodney snorted. “Don’t challenge her. She’ll hack into your house and check out your kitchen computer to get the information.”

Mer offered him a grin and winked at him. “Your son David is currently in route to your family home in Virginia. Would you like to know where Matthew spent the night?”

Patrick laughed. “I could have used you when they were much younger.”

“I’d like to take scans of your current nano-archetecture, Admiral. It would help John locate you in the event of an emergency. I’d like to do it for all of your family—it will make him feel more secure in his ability to protect his family.”

Rodney hadn’t anticipated that request but he saw the logic of it. All active duty military personel had nanotech in them—it slowed aging, helped with healing, and maintained their health in the field. It was nowhere near as advanced as what John had gone through—John had implants in him that essentially replaced organs at least in function. He still had what he’d been born with but several organic organs—including his heart and kidneys had become more like back-ups. Many people that thought part of the Spartan infastructure to be entirely barbaric but it helped them survive in the field in situations where regular soldiers could not.

“I don’t have a problem with that,” Patrick murmured. “John can take the scans when he visits after his trial period. Matt and David both will be home to visit with him. I’ve arranged leave for both of them to coincide with his.”

– – – –

John leaned back against the passenger door of the SUV that he’d been transported in. He frowned at the house he’d grown up in—it was the first time he’d ever come home when he’d actually been unsure of his welcome. To say the discussions about his plans to join the Spartan Program had been difficult would be an understatement. His younger brother had supported him but David had found the entire idea morally repugnant. He’d taken over the family business—a research and development company that their mother had founded shortly after Matthew’s birth and as a result had never served in the military.

“Everything alright, sir?”

“Yes,” John answered. His gaze flicked to the lance corporal who had picked him up from the airport. The young man had been almost irreverant when he’d introduced himself. “I need a minute or two.”

The young marine gave an abrupt nod and stepped away from him. He averted his gaze and focused on the house while John stood there.

With a frown John activated the internal communicator and connected directly with his Engineer. “I’m here.”

Rodney snorted, the sound resonated across John’s eardrum with the kind of sound quality that made their physical seperation seem inconsequintial. “Standing in front of the house staring at it doesn’t qualify as ‘there’, John.”

John scowled, his gaze flicking upwards briefly. “Stop spying on me with satelittes, McKay.”

“I’m not spying on you. Mer is and she ignored me when I suggested she had better things to do. She’s already prepped a back door into your father’s home network, by the way.”

John smirked. He and Mer had merged seven days earlier. McKay had taken the event with the calm that was expected but something told John that he was a little jealous of the intimacy Mer had with him. Granted, when they were out of the armor—they’d been sharing a bed platonically but it wasn’t the intimacy that the tether that pulled them together wanted.

“I’m sure she’ll be giving you regular reports.”

“Of course. Go in the house, John, you’re a SPARTAN for fuck’s sake.” Rodney cut the connection with a hint of unnecessary and fake static.

John winced and sighed. “Okay, Corporal Janus, I’m ready.”

“Sir, yes, sir.” Janus moved around the SUV and opened the back. “I take it I won’t be able to touch your armor case?”

“You could touch it but unless you can easily lift and carry seven hundred and fifty pounds—you wouldn’t be able to carry it.” John admitted. He picked up the body case, the size of the average large suitcase, by the reinforced handle and pulled it out of the back of the vehicle with the appearance of ease. “No matter their rank, Corporal, a Spartan is never going to ask you carry their armor—well unless they are so severely damaged that they have no choice.”

“Yes, sir.” The marine picked up the ruck sack that Sheppard had put in the back of the vehicle. “Is it…”

“Strange? Weird? So alien that I’d have nightmares if I hadn’t been psychologically conditioned to handle it?” John laughed. “Yes, to all of those questions. It is also a rush like no fucking other I’ve ever had. Are you a volunteer?”

“I’m on the waiting list, sir. I’ve passed all of the initial mental and physical tests—just waiting for my training slot. My father was a Spartan but I have no real memories of him.”

“How short is your wait?”

“They said six months, sir. I’ve gotten a preferential placement due to the fact that I’m second generation. It probably isn’t fair.”

“It is the least the Program can do for a man who lost his father to our service,” John murmured. “No Spartan will begrudge you that small favor and any trainee who does won’t make it the end. Being a Spartan is about honor and sacrifice, Janus. There is no room for vanity, jealousy, or ambition.”

“Yes, sir.” Janus followed him to the sidewalk. “If it is alright with your father, sir, I’d like to check the property before I leave. I have no doubts about your abilities… but you’re newly tethered and your Engineer is in Colorado.”

John nodded. “It’s fine, Corporal, follow your orders. My father is Navy as you must know, he won’t begrudge you your duty any more than I would.” The door opened the moment he set foot on the porch.

“Well, hell, John!” Matthew Sheppard stared, shocked at his brother for a few seconds before he grinned and pulled him into a hug. “You look great—like something off a recruitment poster.”

John laughed and inclined his head towards the enlisted man on his left. “This is Lance Corporal Mark Janus, he’s going to check the property and then abandon you all to my clutches for five days.”

Matt laughed and reached out for the ruck sack. “Thank you for bringing the Major home, Corporal. Our internal security will fully engage when I close this door but feel free to test any of the entrances for security purposes. There are four of us in the house at this time, including John.”

“Thank you, sir.” Janus offered John a precise salute which John returned. Then he dismissed the younger man with a firm nod. “I’ll see you in five days, Corporal.”

John watched the young marine leave the porch and march off around the side of the house with a click of the weapon strapped on his field vest.

“You Marines are a serious lot,” Matthew said amused. “Come on in—Dad and David are in the kitchen.”

John followed him into the house. The door snicked shut behind him and the tell-tale ding of the security activating was followed by a rush of energy over his infrastructure that was so familiar that John jerked in surprise. “What the fuck was that?”

Matthew snorted. “Her main interface is apparently in the kitchen. She’s put Dad on a diet by the way and ordered him to report to medical for upgrade on his nanotech. She also did background checks on all of the house hold staff, fired two security guards, and the cook for being underqualified.”

John made a sound halfway between a laugh and a groan. “Mer.” He entered the kitchen and found the face of his avatar taking up the a screen built into the wall over in front of the kitchen table. “What are you doing?”

Mer frowned at him. “Taking care of you—it’s our job. Rodney said I could make changes necessary to insure you were comfortable here and your Father agreed.”

John lifted an eyebrow at his father.

Patrick Sheppard shrugged. “Apparently the cook has ties to one of those anti-technology groups. Her brother is a member. I can’t have someone like that in my house. The two guards were taking extra long breaks which meant holes in my security. I do a lot of work at home—she made sense.”

John sighed and stared pointedly at Mer. “I thought you were supposed to be at the SGC prepping for the construction of Midway Station.”

“I am,” Mer said simply. “I can be in up to four on-planet locations at any given time with no strain on my resources. As you know I’m not a single entity—but multiple programs that merge and combine data every twenty-two seconds unless there is a program off-world. Then that program is absorbed the moment she returns to Earth.” She preened a little at the shock on David Sheppard’s face. “I’m complicated.”

“You certainly are,” John muttered. “Take off for a while. I feel like an experiment with you hovering.” Mer sniffed like she was offended and with a wink the screen went blank and the monitor completely disengaged. “Sorry about that.”

“She can’t help it,” Patrick murmured. “Your safety is her primary concern—I’m aware of her initial development, John. I don’t mind the… intrusion as it were considering the circumstances.”

John nodded. He wasn’t exactly surprised that his father had full disclosure concerning Mer and probably even McKay but it was a bit disconcerting. It felt like an invasion of his privacy to put a fine point on it—Mer and Rodney both belonged to him.

David cleared his throat. “Can you tell us about your assignment? Ship or some colony assignment?”

“Actually, I’ll be based on Earth out of Stargate Command in Colorado. Rodney, my Engineer, accepted a job there is their chief scientist. He’s replacing an Air Force officer who just requested and immediately earned a slot in the Engineering section of the Spartan Program. They’re pretty excited to have her from what I understand and the current CO at the SGC is having kittens to get McKay.” John smiled then and inclined his head. “You want to see it, right?”

David snorted. “Of course, I do. Can you put it on right now?”

“I can put the armor on without my Engineer but it is my preference not to outside of a combat situation. Rodney is too far away to properly ground me and I just spent two weeks in it.” John murmured. “But I can show you.” He frowned before standing up from the table and then paused and shoved his hands into his pockets. “You know, Dave, I’m not… fuck, I can practically smell your… anxiety.”

David glared. “I’m not afraid of you, John.”

“I didn’t say fear,” John returned evenly. “I said anxiety. I have near perfect recall, you know, it isn’t like I’ve forgotten the content of the twenty-seven arguments we had about this before I left.” He took a deep breath. “You’ve never seen an intact Spartan out of their armor have you? I know the company helps with implants and even artificial limbs for combat assets.”

“I”ve seen two personally,” David admitted roughly. “One had an artificial arm and half of her skull was metal. The second was even less human than her—both legs and his left arm were artificial, his organic heart and lungs had been removed. He could barely function outside of his armor and frankly only left it twice while at the facility—both times it was to receive additional implants.”

“I’m whole—just enhanced.”

“For now,” David snapped.

“Frankly,” John said in a low voice. “The Spartans you had in your facility were probably close to four hundred years old. By the time they start replacing parts on me—I’ll have buried all three of you and maybe even if a few of your kids if you have any.”

Matt lurched from the table and barely managed to make it to a small trash can before throwing up.

Patrick glared at both of his older sons before getting up to wet a towel for his youngest. “This is an unacceptable conversation, gentlemen!”

John shot his older brother a resentful look and then sighed. “Sorry, Mattie, that was completely uncalled for.”

Matt wiped his mouth and closed his eyes. He leaned against the counter. “I’m… you did so well in the Program John that… hell, I think my application was approved within seconds of my submitting.”

“Your application?” John asked softly. “Mattie, you didn’t… you’re a pilot… you’re not…”

“I’m really no different than you,” Matt snapped. “And my skill set is extremely valuable no matter where I go. The Navy doesn’t give many to the Spartan Program—but at least five SEALS a year are offered training slots. Most of them make it.”

“You’re not a SEAL.”

“No,” Matt agreed. He paused and looked at his father who was staring at the floor. “But I am Special Operations, John. I have been since I came out of OTS three years ago. There isn’t anything built or off this planet that I can’t fly.”

John glared at his father. “What the fuck? Special Ops? After the hissy fit you threw at me about that very thing? You let your baby boy do it?”

Patrick glared at him in return. “Yes, well, I couldn’t very well tell him no, John. I didn’t ever interfere in what you wanted no matter how much I wanted because if I had you would have never made it into the Spartan Program. And you would have never known I was the one that stood in your way. Your mother… she told me just after your twenty-third birthday, when you told us you’d applied for the Spartan Program… she told me that they’d take you. I think you know why.”

John nodded. “It was two-fold actually. McKay shoved my application down their throats to prove a point about officer candidates in the program.” He looked at David and Matt. “And the other reason… well… the other is Spartan 117.”

David blinked. “What?”

“He was our grandfather, David. My Engineer reviewed the DNA personally. I don’t know how many people know but it’s been labeled Eyes Only by the highest government office on the planet. Between our genetic legacy and my performance in training—it’s a wonder they didn’t come to Matt on bended knee.”

Matt laughed weakly. He pulled a bottle of water out of the cooling unit and used it to cool his forehead before opening it. “Two hundred men on the last ship I was assigned volunteered for the Program. I was the only one to get a yes—a few thought it was because of my Daddy.” He shot Patrick a look who was glaring at the floor again. “They were quite surprised when I told then that he wouldn’t approve of my actions.”

“I’m…” Patrick paused. “I couldn’t be prouder of three of you—each of you does more for this planet every single day that most people do in their lifetimes. You all contribute differently and I don’t have a problem with that—do I wish that you’d taken that fancy education I offered to pay for and stayed the hell away from anything military? Hell, yes, I do. I know what it costs to serve. I spent so much time making sure that David understood how important his mother’s legacy was that I didn’t pay attention to the fact that my other two sons were busily looking right at me.”

John laughed. He walked over to the armor case. He pushed against a blank wall, pressed his palm on the side sensor, and then input a manual twenty-five digit sequence. “Major John Sheppard, UNMC, Spartan 3321.”

“Voice imprint confirmed. Mode?”

“Inspection.” He stood up and watched the case expand, adhere to the wall.

“What are the different modes?” Matt asked.

“Retrieval, combat, inspection, and maintenance. Only Rodney can call for maintenance. I don’t have the mechanical engineering skills to take care of it anyway—I don’t think any Spartan does. I can do basic repairs while I’m wearing the armor if needed but that’s about it.”

David cleared his throat as he stared at the armor. “I haven’t seen this… this is new right?”

“Gen4. I’m the first to be enhanced specifically for this generation of armor and the first to receive it. Assets already in the field will be recalled individually to get upgrades.”

“Right.” David frowned. “And your Engineer? He was trained for this specific armor or is he learning as he goes on that front?”

“McKay designed this armor, David.”

David eyes widened briefly. “Rodney McKay. Dr. Rodney McKay. I didn’t the connection. Congratulations on tethering yourself to most unforgiving son of a bitch I’ve ever had to work with.”

John laughed before he could even muster up a glare at his older brother. “What did you do to piss him off?”

“Oh,” David began with a dull red blush. “The thing is… well… he’s extremely smart and companies all over the planet have tried to pull him into the private sector for years. Sheppard Industries has several government contracts—and we were the distributor on a series of parts for Gen3 armor. There was a serious failure in a part in the field. The Engineer wearing the faulty heat shield nearly died in an low orbit dive. The Spartan pretty much lost it due to his Engineer’s state… I don’t have any details.”

“He butchered one hundred and forty Ori to get to his Engineer. They landed miles a part because his Engineer wasn’t conscious and couldn’t direct his landing. They were recalled to Earth and haven’t been out in the field in over a year. They both may end up…” John trailed off. “We’re responsible for that?”

David shook his head. “Not directly. The government sidelined the production of that part to another company but it was brought to our facility. We tested the first hundred heat shields we received but some committee decided the testing was slowing down things down. They forced us to stop. McKay tore people to pieces on four different continents and then he apparently went off planet and kicked some more ass. People are still in corners muttering to themselves about how horrible he was. Not to mention, he fined the manufactor of the production forty-two million credits.”

John nodded. “That’s the actual cost of outfitting, educating, and training an Engineer. Be fortunate he didn’t charge for the Spartan’s damages—I’m worth a cool sixty-five million.”

David snorted. “Like you needed another reason for a big head.”

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