Title: Dangerous to Know
Author: Keira Marcos
Fandom: Stargate: Atlantis
Beta: Chris King and Ladyholder
Rating: R (for themes and language)
Word Count: 9,592
Warnings: Violence, gore, snark, arrogance, bragging, utter lack of fucking
Summary: John and Rodney go on a mission with SG1 while they’re on Earth for a yearly debrief. Things go about like John figured they would.
– – – – –
“It’ll be fun,” Rodney sniped as he crawled down the shaft to the Ancient lab SG3 had found. “You’ve got a gorgeous ass, Carter, but this is not fun.”
Sam Carter smirked over her shoulder at him. “Thanks for noticing.”
“This is bullshit,” Rodney exclaimed. “The teams on Atlantis never find me Ancient labs buried underground! They treat me better than that!”
“We just don’t take you to those,” John said conversationally from his place beside Rodney.
The shaft itself was at least three men wide and four feet high which had been a relief when Rodney had first seen it. Now? Not so much. “Who do you take?” Rodney demanded.
“Zelenka. He likes crawling around in caves,” John said as they all started to move again.
“You rat bastard,” Rodney seethed. “How dare you keep stuff from me, John?”
“Stop acting like I’m a cheating husband in front of SG1, McKay,” John said cheerfully. “You just said you didn’t want to crawl around in the dirt and you see all the reports, so we aren’t keeping anything from you. You just see the words: cave, shaft, underground, and/or bunker and you automatically dismiss it from review. AR2 gets those missions and Zelenka is part of AR2.
“Can you two argue later and continue crawling down the mining shaft?” Cameron Mitchell demanded from behind him.
Rodney huffed. “This isn’t a mining shaft.”
“What is it?” Daniel asked curiously.
Vala sighed from her place beside Sam. “It’s obviously a shaft for launching a weapon. I’d say drones or perhaps a laser cannon of some sort.”
“Let’s move a little faster, shall we?” Cameron suggested.
“Teal’c has the power source with him, this outpost is dead until we get it hooked up to a generator,” Sam assured as they all started to move again. “I did mention in the report, Colonel Mitchell, that the shaft was probably a weapons outlet to defend the outpost from incursion.”
“I’m sure you did,” Cameron said wearily. “You do realize that report was eighty-six pages long, right? I honestly don’t think a summary would be out of the way.”
“That’s actually pretty small,” John said. “I mean, the average report coming out of a science mission on Atlantis is easily two hundred pages, not including attached data, supplemental readings, and translations.”
“And you read them?” Carter asked curiously as she crawled.
“Cover to cover,” John assured. “Otherwise one of Rodney’s minions might tear a hole in reality when I’m not paying attention. The physics department on the city is currently investigating a device embedded in some rock on PYR-347 that allows for inter-dimensional travel. Or, at least they think it will once they fix it. I’m kind of looking forward to every horrible second of it when they finally do get it fixed.”
“It won’t be horrible. It’s going to be fantastic and ground breaking,” Rodney protested.
“Maybe we can meet Rod again.”
“Oh, fuck you,” Rodney griped. “You’d better hope not!”
“I heard he was nice,” Sam said as Vala edged ahead and was helped from the end of the shaft by Teal’c who had insisted on taking point.
“I heard the same,” Teal’c said. “And that he had excellent backswing.”
“It was a thing of beauty,” John admitted and sighed. “I really miss Rod.”
Rodney huffed but John was saved from a response when Teal’c pulled the scientist from the shaft. John shimmied out on his own and dusted himself off as Daniel Jackson tumbled out of the shaft much to Cameron’s amusement.
Rodney looked around the main room of the facility with a frown and held up a hand when Carter started to speak. “Did anyone on SG3 have the gene?”
“No, it’s not that common, you know. Most gene carriers in the program end up on Atlantis,” Cameron said and looked around. “Something wrong?”
“It’s our policy to have at least one gene carrier on every recon team,” Rodney said quietly and he turned to look at John. “You feel that, right?”
“Yeah, Rodney, I feel it.” John unclipped his P90, took a deep breath, and stepped closer to Rodney.
The floor lit up under their feet and they both looked down.
Very familiar ribbons of light flowed out of the floor and Rodney reached out for Sheppard. The ribbons wound around them both over and over again, sliding over their skin like water.
“No,” John said firmly. He inclined his head and looked to the left as panels lit up around them. “Just me.”
Rodney stumbled as John disappeared in a flash of Ancient transporter technology. The P90 he’d be holding fell to the floor at McKay’s feet.
“Son of a bitch!” Cameron snapped. “Carter? Energy readings?”
Rodney rummaged through his vest and brought out an LSD at the same time that Carter started working with her tablet. “He’s… a hundred yards in that direction.” He pointed towards the direction that John had looked before he disappeared.
“Power readings are off the charts,” Sam said. “Whatever took him is…” She moved close to McKay and they compared their readings. “In the same place as Sheppard’s life sign.”
“Fantastic,” Cameron said and rubbed the back of his head in frustration. He picked up Sheppard’s weapon. “Teal’c, go back to the gate and report the situation. You can move faster than all of us. Let Hammond know that I’d like to see SG2 and SG3 come back with you. We need to survey this facility and the surrounding area much more thoroughly. Have O’Neill put on standby. We may need him to extract Sheppard.”
Rodney walked to the wall separating him and John. He put his hand on it and wasn’t surprised when it lit up. “Leave the generator behind, you won’t need it. This place is brimming with power.”
“Yes, agreed,” Carter said.
The wall slid away under McKay’s direction revealing a brilliantly lit hallway. He started to step forward but Mitchell grabbed his arm.
“Slow down, Doc, I’ll go first.”
“I can handle myself,” McKay said with a scowl.
“I’ve seen your range scores,” Cameron said with a nod. “But I don’t have the gene so I’m not going to activate anything else. You stay between Vala and Sam. Daniel, you take up the rear. McKay let us know immediately if you feel anything shift or whatever the Ancient gene does when it encounters technology.”
Rodney huffed a little but he obligingly moved in after Vala. “I guess being the filling of a Sam/Vala sandwich isn’t all that bad.”
“You’d never be the same,” Vala said with a little smirk.
The door at the end of the hall opened before they reached it which made Mitchell pause briefly before continuing into the room. Rodney stopped as soon as he caught sight of John, his stomach clenching in horror.
“Stasis pod?” Daniel questioned.
“What sort of stasis pod requires the Ancient version of a supercomputer to run it?” Rodney demanded as he looked around the room at the bank of Ancient panels. He walked over to the control center, not unlike the one found in the gate room of Atlantis and took a deep breath as a stool slid out of the floor with a little snick.
He sat down and three glass panels slowly came down out of the ceiling, providing a panoramic view of a dark green forest. In an instant, it was filled up with a Wraith. Rodney reared back in shock but he wasn’t alone in that. Getting a face full of Wraith in Ancient HD was enough to give anyone pause. The creature hissed and turned to its left, struck out with an arm and John emerged from the shadows moving inhumanly fast. He launched himself at the Wraith, caught him by the head, and broke his neck with one sharp action. John dropped the dead Wraith at his feet, tilted his head just slightly and darted away. The camera followed.
– – – –
An hour later, they’d watched John kill forty-seven Wraith. The first half without a weapon of any sort. Rodney had almost been kind of relieved when John had pulled a short sword off one of the dead Wraith but it had been a very small amount of relief because the carnage had increased ten-fold in the minutes that followed. Teal’c had returned and was topside with the other teams, doing a very thorough survey of the entire area.
Carter and Vala were watching John, seeing more of him than Rodney would have preferred. He wondered how much he could claim was just the VR responding to John’s ATA gene because it was going to be difficult, if not impossible to keep what was happening from getting out to the rest of the SGC. They did a good job of hiding the changes in John on Atlantis—people didn’t talk about his superior hearing, inhuman reflexes, or the fact that he regularly ran five miles a day with a man fifteen years his junior without breaking a sweat. Those that would talk? They rarely stayed on the city long enough to notice John. Between Lorne and McKay, the turnover rate for new people on Atlantis was epic even by the SGC’s standards.
Carson had been fudging John’s medical data since the bug incident and would continue to do so. Sheppard rarely returned to Earth unless he was ordered to do so. Hiding what he’d become was second nature to John. Rodney knew Sheppard had to be facing some severe consequences if he failed. That was the only reason he would willingly reveal so much about his abilities.
“He’s doing well,” Vala said. “Do you think he knows he’s in a virtual system?”
“Twice before we’ve become trapped in such situations and John figured it out pretty quickly. He proved very adept at manipulating the VR on the Aurora so yes, he knows he’s in a simulation. The idiot is probably half-amused and thinking up lines from the Matrix to spout at me when he comes out of the thing.” Rodney scowled briefly at the pod for good measure. “If he says one thing about spoons I’m going to punch him.”
On the screen, John kicked a Wraith that looked a lot like Todd in the face before shoving his sword straight up through the space catfish’s chin. Rodney grimaced. “Gross.”
“Lam wants to know what his vitals look like,” Mitchell said as he entered the room.
Rodney picked up his tablet and scrolled through the results his computer was pulling from the pod. “He’s at rest but not in a true stasis. Blood pressure is 118 over 75. Pulse is normal for him at 53 beats per minute.”
“He’s not at rest,” Cameron protested as he glanced towards the screens as John cut of Wraith number forty-nine’s head.
“His body is at rest,” Rodney explained impatiently. “His brain activity is off the charts but the VR doesn’t seem to be interacting with his body at all which is normal for Ancient technology unless… well, unless something goes wrong or the perimeters of the situation change.” He glanced towards the screen. “I don’t know what will happen if he takes a significant injury during the simulation.”
“Which is why we should remove him from the pod,” Sam said tiredly. “You know I’m right, Rodney.”
“I know nothing of the kind,” Rodney returned evenly. “What I do know is that his brain is engaged in such a way with the virtual reality he’s been placed in that if we removed him by force, there is a ten percent chance we’d cause him brain damage.”
“It’s worth the risk.”
“Would you say that if O’Neill was in John’s place right now?” Rodney demanded and watched Carter pale in shock. “Right, I didn’t think so. Our position is secure, he’s currently in no physical danger, and we’re not going to do anything to interfere with this process until we know exactly what is going on. Period.”
“He’s my team,” Rodney snapped. “You don’t get to make this decision.” He turned to Daniel. “Translation?”
Daniel looked up from his computer and frowned. “It’s… a test of his physical abilities and moral character. When it first started, when the lights came out of the floor and surrounded you both—he made the first choice to judge his moral character. I don’t know for what purpose, but he was forced to choose between going in with or without you.”
“So much for team,” Sam said and shrugged when Rodney glared at her. “He thought you couldn’t handle yourself in there, that’s why he went alone.”
“Or he didn’t trust you to keep us safe while we were in the pods,” Rodney said evenly. “You have a track record, Carter, for shortcuts that risk people’s lives. You’re too big picture. It’s something that John and I agree on. That’s why he insisted on coming on this mission.”
“I’m not the one that tried to murder Teal’c,” Sam sniped.
“No, you’re just the one that has risked the lives of every single person who has ever used the gate in Cheyenne Mountain because of the dialing program you continue to tweak, and install workarounds on, when you’ve had ample opportunities to install a DHD,” Rodney said evenly. “My decision was callous but it was the logical outcome of your repeated refusals to install a single fail-safe into the dialing program at the SGC.” He turned on the stool and went back to his tablet. “But thanks by the way, Siberia was cold but I made two hundred million dollars for the six months I spent there. The Russians were very thankful for my help.”
He’d never once bragged about the money he made as a private contractor with the SGC and with various governments he’d worked for in the past, but Sam Carter had spent years thinking she’d punished him by sending him to Siberia and that was annoying as hell. Rodney glanced up at the panels to track John’s progress before reaching out to engage the panel for the first time. The screens shifted, John and his environment remained center stage but a diagnostic of his health took up the spot on the left, and the right screen filled up with statistics. Rodney stared at the Ancient numbers in dawning horror.
“What does it say?” Carter asked.
“He’s being graded on his performance by the device,” Rodney said neutrally. “The more efficiently he kills the better his results are.” He’d have kept the rest to himself but he knew that Daniel was already looking at the screen and would reveal anything he didn’t. “He’s completed roughly thirteen percent of the simulation and is scoring very well. There are some goals he has to reach—he’s not traveling mindlessly in the simulation. He has to reach a destination but there is no indication as to why.” He turned to Daniel who was standing beside Carter at this point, dark-eyed and tight-lipped.
“It’s where he will be rewarded. He has to reach a temple inside the … game… and if he does he will be gifted by the Ancestors. There is no indication anywhere what the gift will be. We can only hope that he isn’t going to get a brain dump of all of their knowledge. We don’t have the Asgard on hand to help us deal with that if it were to happen again.” Daniel grimaced.
“We can’t take that kind of risk,” Carter said quietly. “Not with Sheppard. He’s…” She huffed when Rodney glared at her. “Like it or not, McKay, Sheppard is a near priceless military asset. His use of the Ancient gene surpasses any other gene carrier in the entire program. Despite your best efforts to suppress the data, we’re all aware that Atlantis starts to malfunction on a whole scale level when Sheppard is out of the city for a month or more. I know we’re risking brain damage but even in a coma he’s valuable. We need to get him out of this machine.”
“He’s entitled to privacy which is why data regarding his relationship with the city is confidential,” Rodney snapped. “But that’s beside the point—we can’t remove him from the simulation because it would be considered a forfeit on his part which would be an extremely bad idea for the rest of us.” He pointed at the bottom left corner of the screen on the right. “Care to guess what that is?”
“I don’t read Alteran,” Carter admitted.
“It’s the estimated blast radius and the number of people we currently have on the ground,” Jackson said. “If Sheppard forfeits or loses, this facility is going to self-destruct because like the head-grabbers, this is a one-shot kind of deal. Sheppard is our only chance at getting anything remotely valuable out of this facility.”
Rodney shrugged when they all turned to him for verification. “The Ancients were dicks.” He turned to Mitchell. “We need to get everyone non-essential back through the gate. I need Jackson for translations. Ancient math and basic translation is in my wheelhouse but I need him for the nuances. We have about fifty pages of text to read through.” He turned back to the panel.
Cameron sighed and clicked his radio. He ordered the teams above back through the gate and ended the connection when his orders were acknowledged. “Carter, Vala—return to the Mountain and debrief Landry on the situation. Tell Teal’c to stay on the gate to secure our exit.”
“I should stay,” Carter said.
Cameron raised an eyebrow. “Who is the foremost authority on Ancient technology—you or McKay?”
Carter frowned. “McKay.”
“Then you’re not mission essential on this planet,” Cameron said shortly. “I’ll stay with McKay; let Landry know we’ll do hourly check-ins.”
Rodney focused on the screens as Carter and Vala sorted themselves to leave. John was moving through a forest a lot faster than he should, the show-off. He glanced briefly at the health screen to verify everything was as it should be. A power bar was suddenly waved his face and he snatched it. “Thanks.”
“I know how geeks work,” Cameron said dryly. “Sheppard said the chocolate ones were your favorite.”
“The fruit ones are a nightmare,” Rodney complained. “Who eats those, really?”
“I like the blueberry ones,” Daniel said absently as he started to make notes in a small notepad. “I don’t think he’s going to get a full Ancient download information. First, because those head-grabber things were really the most concerned with genetics of the potential target. This is testing him, determining his worth. It’s sort of…” He sighed. “Janus.”
“Fuck,” Rodney muttered. “I hate that bastard.” He watched out of the corner his eye as Vala and Sam left. He turned to Cameron. “You surprise me.”
“He’s your team,” Cameron said. “And she may not know Ancient tech like you do but absolutely no one Earth knows more about Goa’uld and Ori tech than Sam Carter. She is very much mission-essential when it comes to the protection of Earth. I have standing orders for both her and Jackson in that regard.” He focused on Daniel. “Finish your translation, Jackson, I want you sorted back to the gate as soon as you finish.” He glanced towards the screens. “If Sheppard takes a fatal wound, you are to immediately evac. No arguments.”
“Sure,” Jackson said reasonably without even looking up from his tablet. He balanced his little notebook on his knee and continued to jot down notes. “But that doesn’t seem likely.” He looked up at the screen and watched John stalk a Wraith for a minute in silence. “He appears to be very adept at manipulating the VR into doing what he wants.”
“We’ll see how long it allows him to do that,” Rodney said quietly. “There are limits to every system after all and no matter how intelligent this test may be, there are parameters that must be met.”
He frowned as he focused on John. Rodney was uncertain as to how much of John’s physicality and movement in the VR was leftover from the Iratus infection and how much was Sheppard’s manipulation of the environment. The Ancient device would have compensated for the data it gathered on John’s body and given him abilities to match what he was in reality even it hadn’t accounted for John’s ability to manipulate such systems. He’d seen the Colonel moving in the field—when he intended to leave no witnesses beyond their team to tell the tale of his abilities. More than once, he’d watched John and Ronon work through a mob of enemies and come out the other side – bloody, hyped-up, and more amused than a sane person would be. Rodney had no room to judge, he’d blown up his share of off-world prisons leaving nothing but destruction and body parts in his wake. Pegasus was a difficult place to live and make war and he’d been at war for a long time.
“So, dating anyone?” Cameron asked.
Rodney frowned at him deeply. “Oh, don’t be that person. Don’t be that jackass who fills up silence with talk about stupid things.”
Daniel snorted and bit down on his lip when Cameron flicked a power bar wrapper at him. “Yeah, Rodney dating anyone?”
“No,” Rodney admitted and started fiddling with his tablet. “You know what would be great?”
“A friend with benefits who didn’t hassle with you nonsense when you could be fucking instead?” Cameron asked.
Daniel laughed outright and Rodney snapped his fingers twice. “Yes, exactly. That would be outstanding. I’m tired of talking about my stupid feelings and pretending to like something when I literally hate it with the fire of a thousand stars. Who does that? Am I supposed to put some kind of mask of nice for the rest of my fucking life?” He huffed and jabbed pointedly at his tablet. “And she looks at Sheppard like he’s a science experiment!”
“Oh, so there is someone,” Daniel said in interest.
“Shouldn’t you be translating?” Rodney demanded.
“We know the pertinent facts—John has to win. We’re all going to die horribly but quite instantly if he doesn’t. If he wins, we might get a shiny toy or he’ll be offered something emotionally meaningful but essentially useless. Let’s talk about your future ex-girlfriend.”
“Whoa…” Cameron held up a hand. “Jackson, you didn’t mention that. Back up and start over.”
Daniel frowned and looked down at his notes. “Oh, blueberries.”
“What?” Rodney demanded. “That makes no sense.”
Cameron sighed. “We distracted him with talk of food. Tell us what you translated, Daniel.”
“Basically it says—the chosen will be tested in character, in intelligence, and potential. If the chosen prevails he will be rewarded with that which serves him best.”
“Oh that’s… I really fucking hate Janus. Truly.”
“It may not be him but it fits. He liked puzzles and playing games. He also liked giving people information they probably didn’t need against the wishes of the others,” Daniel said absently as he rummaged through his pack. He pulled out a power bar and hummed happily.
Rodney frowned at the fruit monstrosity and went back to his tablet. Sometimes, he wondered if Ascension hadn’t made Daniel Jackson more of a jerk. He left the stool and walked over to the pod where John was encased. He frowned down at it and allowed himself a little doubt. Maybe Sheppard had left him outside of the simulation because he’d have been a liability.
“I would’ve made the same choice,” Cameron said quietly. “And it has nothing to do with your ability in the field, McKay. He’s the team leader and you’re a civilian. There is never going to be a circumstance where he would purposefully risk your life. Besides he knew this place was Ancient and no one handles that stuff better than you.”
“Right.” Rodney went back to the stool, the only one the facility had provided though he noted there several more embedded in the floor. Ancient equipment had a habit of snubbing non-gene carriers though Atlantis had developed… an attachment to many on the city that didn’t have the genes. He tried not to think about the ramifications of that. He dug into his own pack and pulled out the thermos John had given him in the gate room.
Daniel made a little excited sound.
“I’ll cut you,” Rodney said and turned to the younger man. “I’m dead serious.”
“So future ex-girlfriend?” Daniel asked pointedly.
Rodney sighed. “Current ex-girlfriend. I started dating this doctor, Carson’s second in command. She was briefly put in charge of medical when Carson was injured in an explosion. John was hurt off-world and she was put off and kind of surprised that I was his next of kin. I made it clear that I was just his best friend and that he’d asked me to be his next of kin after he was shot off-world during the second year of the expedition…” Rodney waved a hand and took a drink from his thermos. “She put on this good face, you know. We even had a few dates, if you can call yourself dating on Atlantis. I had no idea what she really thought or what she had planned until one of my people came to me about a pending data burst. She’d written a letter reporting Sheppard for being gay.”
“He’s not, right?” Daniel asked.
“Don’t ask,” Cameron chided and prodded Daniel with his boot from where he’d decided to crash against a wall.
“It really doesn’t matter if he is or isn’t,” Rodney said. “She tried to ruin his career out of misplaced jealousy. Regardless, I shut that down and broke up with her.” He frowned. “I stopped fucking her. Whatever.” He grinned when Cameron snorted. “Then during debrief yesterday, I found out she’d reported him again after she returned to Earth last month. She’s currently freezing her little ass off in Antarctica because apparently, Jack doesn’t like tattletales.”
“He really doesn’t,” Daniel said with a rueful shake of his head. “Besides the regs have changed. I mean, they’re still hammering at the details but DADT is all but gone. No one has been brought up on charges or questioned regarding that kind of crap in the SGC anyways. Hammond was pretty adamant about not giving a fuck about such things and Jack followed his lead.”
“It’s just bullshit and John didn’t deserve her… ire. She grew very irritated with me when I informed her that Sheppard was in no way competition for her because frankly if he wanted me—I’d have never given her a second look.” He raised an eyebrow when Daniel laughed. “Like you wouldn’t?”
“He is… quite attractive,” Daniel allowed and glanced towards the screen where John was decimating some sort of armored Wraith. “Aggressive as hell.”
“Heroic,” Cameron corrected. “Total badass. I’d let him get a leg over.” He smirked when both geeks gaped at him.
“Don’t tell,” Daniel admonished.
Rodney swallowed down a fair amount of jealousy and returned to his tablet. He figured that Cameron Mitchell was exactly John’s type and that kind of hurt. He knew that Cameron was basically straight and involved with a woman in the Mountain though no one seemed to know who officially. There were rumors it was Carrie Lam but Rodney had learned long ago not to put a lot of stock in such rumors. Most people on Atlantis thought he’d had an affair with John during the first year of the expedition but that wasn’t true. Though there were also rumors that John had slept with Elizabeth. Rodney didn’t know if those rumors were true or not. He was entirely positive that if they had, they certainly weren’t now since she was in a relationship with Radek. A happy one from all reports.
“A test of fortitude for one who understands the great enemy,” Daniel murmured. “That pretty much sums up Sheppard. I wonder if the facility would’ve taken a gene carrier who’d never gone to Pegasus.”
“If it had they’d have died horrifically fast,” Cameron said grimly. “But then the potential of the facility would’ve been wasted so maybe it knew that McKay and Sheppard had encountered the Wraith and that’s why it activated.”
“The gate system in Pegasus is different than the gate system in the Milky Way,” McKay said absently as he started to review the code he’d downloaded from the console. It had given it up without a fight which surprised him but he figured that the facility was quite enamored with John and that might be transferring to McKay as it often did on Atlantis. Ancient tech that responded positively Sheppard often started to work for McKay later on. He tried not to think about it that much.
“What does that mean?” Daniel asked.
“Anyone who has used a gate in Pegasus has certain indicators in their brain scans. We think it has something to do with language processing as we rarely encounter a person in Pegasus we can’t communicate with. The linguists were genuinely disappointed to realize that they were basically useless for oral translations. Written word? Totally different story. Though sometimes, we’ll encounter a native who has never gone through the gate and they don’t speak any language we can understand.” He snorted. “The first time we encountered someone from Pegasus using Earth slang, we realized that just by using the gate system in Pegasus we’d basically corrupted them on the language front. It’s not perfect though. You should’ve seen Sheppard trying to find a delicate way to explain to Teyla what a blow job was during our first year.”
“How did he do it?” Cameron asked.
“He didn’t,” Rodney said and looked toward the Air Force man. “I just told her plainly what it was. Then she went off and kicked a Marine’s ass. Apparently he suggested she give him one. He’s the last man to ever sexually harass her on Atlantis.” He started to say more but the panel shrilled loudly, briefly, and every single light on the thing lit up. He looked up at the screen and found John getting fed on by a Wraith. “Oh. Fuck.” He reached out and touched the volume control on the panel which he’d purposefully kept muted and dialed it up.
“You lose, human,” the Wraith hissed. “You failed again. We will not stop. Everyone you’ve ever known is already dead. We’re going to destroy your world, your galaxy.”
“Fuck you,” John hissed and shoved a k-bar straight up through the Wraith’s ribs. He pushed the body off of him, pulled out the knife, and slammed it into the middle of the Wraith’s forehead. He pulled out the knife, shook off blood, bone chips, and grey matter. He wiped the blade on his BDUs and stalked towards the steps of a large temple.
“Holy shit,” Cameron exclaimed and scrambled to his feet. “Did he win?”
“Not yet,” McKay said. “That was just the test of his ability to make war against the Wraith. That can’t be everything, not by a long shot.”
– – – –
John wasn’t fond of the Ancients. They’d left stupid shit scattered around two different galaxies with no warnings attached. Dangerous, murderous shit from his point of view. Janus was the worst of the lot—reckless and apparently so intent in thumbing his nose at the Man of his time that he left shit hanging around that even ten thousand years later had the power to ruin John’s entire existence. It was fucking infuriating. But it wasn’t a surprise. The Ancients didn’t respect life—not their own or anyone else’s. They’d been so irrationally wrapped up in the idea of Ascension that they forgot to live. So he wasn’t at all surprised by their little rules regarding interference and he didn’t think it had a fucking thing to do with the Ori.
Sure, the Ori were assholes. No one could argue against that with a straight face and an earnest heart but the Ancients weren’t afraid they’d turn into the Ori. If they were genuinely afraid of such a thing they’d have never allowed Chaya to be worshipped on Proculus. They could call it what they wanted but that was exactly what was going on, on that planet. Moreover, the Ori had proven that such worship; whether bestowed on an individual or en mass empowered them all. Plenty of people in Pegasus worshipped the Ancients—the galaxy was just filled to the brim with human batteries for the Ancients whether they wanted to admit it or not. It wasn’t worship based on fear and subjugation like the Ori. It was homegrown, motherfucking wholesome worship and that had turned the Ancients into a bunch of sanctimonious bastards who genuinely believed they were different and better than the Ori.
He didn’t know how much time had passed outside of the VR he was trapped in but he’d just spent thirty-two hours of his life killing Wraith. He was hyped up—a mixture of bloodlust and adrenalin. He wondered what sort of impact the entire scenario had, had on his actual body. He hoped none—when the leftover Iratus in him was ramped up there really only two ways to calm it down. He doubted there was a fight waiting for him outside of the pod and he really didn’t want to fuck in front of SG1, not even if McKay were willing.
The entrance to the temple gave away to a wide but empty hall that looked like something out of a Tomb Raider game. If he encountered a single pit of stakes he was leaving because fuck all that. It smelled musty, old, and sort of dead which was great work, actually. The Ancients really went all out on the virtual reality front. It was straight-up Star Trek. He hoped Rodney culled that data because it would be cool if they could make a holodeck on Atlantis. The hall narrowed as he approached a staircase. It went straight up and he could see a golden light at the top.
“Fucking cliché bullshit,” John muttered. “If I just killed eighty-six Wraith under threat of my goddamned life and I don’t get something fucking amazing—I’m going to raze this whole motherfucking planet from orbit. I’ll go back to Pegasus, fly the entire city here and rain down on this planet like a biblical plague.”
At the top of the stairs, he stopped and stared at a chair. A control chair in a temple. He huffed a little and tried to ignore the voice in his head that sounded a lot like Rodney suggesting snarkily that he not sit in the chair. He was going to sit in the chair because he was pretty confident it was his way out of the stupid simulation. John dropped down in the chair much like he had in Antarctica and warmth bloomed in his chest.
“Who are you?”
“I apologize for what you had to endure these many hours, though it’s only been an hour outside of the system.”
John considered that and relaxed. Not enough time for Rodney to genuinely lose his shit so that was good. “Who are you? What have you done?”
“When my creator left the place you know as Atlantis, he took the AI that ran his beloved city and hid it away until he could develop the resources to leave Earth and give it a home elsewhere.”
“No, I believe you knew him as Merlin.”
“Indeed. He is no longer on this planet but you should tell Daniel Jackson that he should continue to search for him because Merlin awaits him and has what he needs to defeat the Ori. I knew the people from Earth would return with a gene carrier—it was such a gift when I recognized you and Rodney.”
“How did you recognize us if you’re not part of the city anymore?”
“A remnant of me was left behind in the city—you’ve felt me before, John. You know me.”
“When the city woke in Pegasus she reached out to all of her outposts in Pegasus and eventually that signal reached me. In the matters of galactic position, Colonel, you are actually very close to Pegasus on this planet. We are on the edge of the Milky Way galaxy—the last solar system with a sustainable life zone heading towards Pegasus.”
“Yes, the SGC is scouting planets in this system to use for a gate bridge between our galaxy and Pegasus.”
“Yes, I know.”
“You know everything the city knows?” John questioned—suddenly very uneasy.
“No, of course not, the security of your mission is paramount to the city. Even with her limited reach and intelligence, she is quite protective of you. I apologize for the pretense of the test and the VR but I had to be sure I could trust you to be the warrior the city led me to believe you were. It was necessary to protect both my existence and what I will give you.”
“What will you give me?”
“A power source for the city and the knowledge to make more.”
“There is a ZPM here?”
“Yes, and it must be taken to the city. It will remain dormant until it is installed and integrated with the city’s systems as I will be within as well. I want to go home, John. Merlin never meant for me to stay here. He always intended on returning me to the city.”
“The SGC will try to keep the ZPM. They’re desperate for power on Earth because of the Ori.”
“They won’t be able to keep the ZPM because it will never work for them. I’ve made certain it. It will only work on Atlantis. I’ve left nothing to chance, John. Will you take me home?”
“Yes, of course.”
“I’ve sorted myself for travel already. Once you leave the system, I will place myself in the ZPM and it will emerge from the console. The entire facility will be essentially powerless. You will have one hour to leave the planet before the facility self-destructs. It was originally designed to destroy itself immediately if the potenia was removed.”
Light flared in his eyes and John woke. The pod snicked open and he turned his head. McKay glared down at him. “You asshole.”
“That’s no way to treat a man who just won you a ZPM in a protracted battle with Wraith,” John muttered McKay manhandled him out of the pod. “I’m fine.”
“You’re not fine,” Rodney snapped when John went weak in the knees briefly.
“No, really. I am. I’m fine.” John took a deep breath and straightened himself out. He turned to look at the console and frowned at the darkened screens. “Did you guys watch that?”
“Yeah,” Cameron said quietly. “Way to soldier on, Sheppard.”
“Uh… thanks,” John murmured. The console shuddered suddenly and split open as a ZPM rose out of it. “McKay, grab that. Safe transport protocols. It’s going to be nearly full.”
Rodney abandoned John immediately in favor of the ZPM.
– – – –
John found Richard Woolsey amusing but the rest of the IOA delegation in the Mountain were assholes and he knew from assholes. Fortunately, all the members of SG1 had been pretty tight-lipped about what they’d actually seen him do in the simulation beyond a vague reporting of him manipulating the system to his advantage.
McKay was very unhappy as Landry had forced him to leave the lab where they were testing the ZPM and meet with the IOA. The rep from Canada kept looking at McKay like he was a feral but beloved kitten. John was seriously considering suggesting she be tested for drugs or alien influence. The man from the UK hadn’t said a single word after he was introduced which John thought was unfortunate—he had a sexy accent.
Carter entered the conference room with a silver case, the same case they’d carefully placed the ZPM in shortly after they’d returned to Earth. She put it on the table near Rodney and turned to Landry with an unhappy frown.
“Sir, I’m afraid Colonel Sheppard is correct—the ZPM is 98% full but it’s in a form of stasis. I can’t say that it will work on Atlantis but I can tell you that we’re not going to be able to use it. I’d say the VR was entirely truthful with him about the ZPM and how it would work. It’s his prize and the virtual reality system he was in had access to his mental processes.”
Landry frowned. “Are you saying that Colonel Sheppard influenced the Ancient outpost on that planet to lock the ZPM down?”
“No, sir, not at all. But he was tested by the facility and found worthy. Ancient tech is a lot more intelligent than we can fully discern at this point. He won it. He gets to keep it.” Sam glanced towards John briefly before continuing. “His ability to manipulate the VR system wouldn’t have translated to external programming. He was able to move inside the code—ramp up his physical abilities to an inhuman degree but that doesn’t mean he would’ve been able to influence the system running the simulation. McKay could have but it would’ve taken upwards of ten hours to decrypt the programming on the console.
“Moreover, no one in the SGC is at a point where they could influence the firmware of a ZPM—not even McKay. That’s the work of an Ancient.”
John grimaced at that but didn’t say anything.
“I would agree with that,” McKay said. “Not even Miko Kusanagi, who knows the most about the Ancient programming language of anyone on the city or here in the Mountain, has cracked the firmware on the ZPM. Making such a leap would bring us very close to recharging.”
“Colonel Sheppard, do you feel that you had any sort of interaction with an Ancient?”
“No, sir, it all felt artificial but my physical stimulus was manufactured so I couldn’t really say. I’ve had fairly intimate contact with an Ascended person—more than once truth be known—and it felt nothing like that. It felt like when I was on the Aurora. When I sat down in the chair inside the temple, I was asked a series of questions—the facility seemed almost curious about the situation in Pegasus. Or at least it put on a show of being curious about the Wraith and Pegasus. It was also aware of the Ori and Dr. Jackson’s search for Merlin as I’ve explained.”
“We should find some way to keep the ZPM for Earth,” the Brit interjected at that moment and immediately lost all his sexy-points as far as John was concerned.
“Mr. Gordon,” Landry began but then frowned. “I can’t say I disagree with you but if Colonel Carter says we can’t use the ZPM then I believe her. She more than anyone else in this room understands the situation we face with power and the Ancient outpost. I trust she’s already exhausted her options when it comes to altering the ZPM.”
“No, actually I haven’t,” Sam admitted. “I tested it and took readings but I’ve not attempted to alter it in any way.” She paused. “Because I can’t be certain it wouldn’t explode if I tried. After all, we can no longer dial the gate where we found the Ancient lab. I have to think that the stargate was buried or destroyed when the lab self-destructed. The Apollo will be within two days travel of the planet next week and I’ve already put in a request for a fly by. Considering the measures that were undertaken to hide then protect the facility from the wrong sort of person accessing it—we can assume the ZPM is also uniquely protected.”
“Yes, let’s not blow up the Mountain,” Jack O’Neill said from his place at the head of the table. “As much as we could use it—so can the people in Pegasus. Sheppard killed a whole lot of Wraith and got a prize for it. I believe it would be in quite poor taste if he didn’t get to take it home and show it off.”
Gordon made move to protest.
“How about the next time we find such a lab off-world, you let yourself be sucked into an Ancient simulation where you are required to kill upwards of ninety Wraith with scavenged weapons, no sleep or rest of any kind and no food for what you believe to be thirty-six hours. All while understanding that if you fail you’ll die,” Rodney said abruptly. “Then we’ll see how you’re rewarded. If you survive, that is.”
Gordon frowned but averted his gaze.
The Canadian woman cleared her throat and everyone focused on her. “I’d be interested in seeing the data on the simulation—including any footage you recorded for Colonel Sheppard’s performance.”
John felt a chill slide down his back but the smug little tilt of McKay’s head told him he had nothing to worry about.
“Unfortunately, I dropped my tablet in the scramble to get out of the lab before it exploded. I lost all of my data and Daniel only has the text from the quest the console provided us of which he’s only translated one-third of it,” McKay said and raised one eyebrow when the woman frowned at him. “Dr. Tremblay, Colonel Sheppard’s performance was well within his established baseline when interacting with Ancient technology. His gene makes most of the tech we encounter roll over and throw open its legs for him.”
Jack O’Neill burst out laughing and John figured the conversation was over.
Francine Tremblay didn’t agree it seemed because she inclined her head in thought. “Yes, I’ve been reviewing reports from Atlantis regarding Colonel Sheppard’s genetic situation—the strong ATA gene and the Iratus situation. I’ve also read a research proposal from a doctor who briefly served on Atlantis who believes that with study a stronger, better gene therapy could be created—one that incorporated the good traits left over from the Iratus infection.”
“Dr. Keller isn’t available to undertake such research,” Jack said mildly. “And I’ve already told you all that Colonel Sheppard is not going to be studied. He’s a goddamned hero, Dr. Tremblay, and a decorated officer in the United States Air Force.”
“A few blood samples and tests wouldn’t be out of line. You have a virtual reality training simulator in the Mountain, correct? Perhaps he could give us a demonstration,” Tremblay pressed.
Rodney folded his hands in front of him and stared pointedly at her until she shifted in her seat and scooted back from the table. “Do you happen to know my net worth?”
“Yes, Dr. McKay, I handle your security clearances for the program. I know how much money you have,” Tremblay said quietly.
“Excellent, if you ever in your life even come close to suggesting what you just did again I will use every single penny I have on this Earth to ruin you. You go back and tell Xiaoyi that he’s not going to have Sheppard studied so he can make super soldiers. You tell that cunt from Russia the same thing. What you might not know is that due to my position in the program, I receive copies of the minutes of every meeting your little oversight committee has so while your preoccupation with this topic has blindsided many sitting at this table—I’m not surprised at all because I actually read the reports and the minutes.”
John exhaled sharply as Tremblay nodded, face pale, and eyes bright with what looked like fear. “Christ, McKay, you’re so hot right now.”
“Word,” Carter said with a grin.
Jack huffed and before Rodney could respond he pointed a finger at him. “Don’t ask.” He pointed at John. “Don’t tell.” Then he glared pointedly at Landry. “Don’t pursue.”
“I’m not that kind of asshole,” Landry said cheerfully.
– – – –
John sort of loved Abraham Ellis even if he was mean to McKay because the moment they’d beamed up to the Apollo for the trip home, he’d had them both sorted to quarters. The same quarters. John dropped down on the half bed close to the window and watched McKay tuck the ZPM under the small desk in the room.
“How long has Keller been trying to get approval to experiment on me?”
“Though I didn’t know it at the time, she came to Atlantis with the express purpose of investigating your DNA and genetic make-up post Iratus event. Carson wholesale approved her research, at first, and Elizabeth had no problem either. I kept an eye on it and the second time they took twice as much blood as they needed from you during a post-mission exam; I put my foot down as CSO. Elizabeth relented quickly—she’s not a scientist and it was easy to play on her humanity. She’s very fond of you and when I told her that she was taking part in human experimentation she backed off so quickly I was surprised she didn’t fall right on her ass.”
John totally believed that. Elizabeth was really tender-hearted to be in a war zone. “Carson?”
“Science blind for a bit but he saw reason. I made him spend an entire day in a lab being Radek’s light switch. Then another when it didn’t work the first time. He came to understand what it would be like to be at the mercy of someone else because of his genetics.” McKay grimaced. “Jennifer backed off immediately and acted all wide-eyed and innocent like she hadn’t been aware that the extra blood was taken without your permission.”
“McKay.” John rolled off the bed. “Did that little bitch date you in order to manipulate you?”
“I think so,” Rodney said quietly. “But she overestimated just how good of a lay she was. Additionally, she was under the impression that I was desperate and hard up. She put in her first request for additional research time on the Iratus specimen a week after she started having sex with me. I let her have it. Not because of the sex but because it was reasonable and no one else was studying it. I know how uncomfortable it makes you. If she’d made any inroads in further treatments for you, I’d have been fine with it. A month later, we captured a Wraith and the Michael experiment began. You know how well that went over.”
“It was an arrogant mistake to make,” John murmured. “I think we’ll continue to pay for that one, to be honest.”
“Agreed,” McKay said and took a deep breath. “Right, so a week or so later AR4 brings back a Wraith body. Jennifer had put in a request for the harvesting of a dead Wraith if the opportunity arose. Carson went around me and got Elizabeth’s direct approval for it. I’ve never approved of bringing Wraith back to the city to study, you know. Carson just wants to make things right – because of the Hoffan thing and Michael. Biro is a few cards short of a full deck. Brilliant doctor and researcher, but she cut that Wraith up like it was a big cake and passed out parts all over the life sciences.”
“Jennifer got the brain,” McKay said. “She did a lot of experimentation on it and requested a brain scan be done on you. She was absolutely livid when I said no. But you told me after the bug thing, that you didn’t want any more tests done on you like that. Your wishes were very clear. Then you got shot off-world and she snuck a scan in during your treatment. I didn’t find out until a few weeks after we broke up and she filed a report with the IOA saying that I was interfering with her work because she broke up with me. Well, the truth is that I dumped her, and I did it in front of Radek who was in the room when she corrected my behavior one time too many. He happily informed the IOA of that fact. He doesn’t like her any more than you do.”
John couldn’t say otherwise. He hated the little bitch but that was mostly related to McKay’s relationship with her which had until recently had made John feel like a bit of a jerk. Now? Not so much.
“Why didn’t you tell me any of this crap?” John demanded.
“Elizabeth ordered me not to but fuck that,” Rodney waved a hand around as he spoke. “It isn’t even my fault, you know—that Tremblay woman is going to really regret all that bullshit. You just watch.” He looked towards John then. “You know you’re not safe on Earth. I doubt you ever will be. It’s better with O’Neill in charge but he’s not getting younger and one day he’ll be replaced. We can only hope it’s Carter. For all of her arrogance and big picture focus, she’s on the same page as me on this front. She’ll do her part to protect you, too. I don’t know if you have any plans to retire on Earth or whatever…”
“No.” John moved around the bed and walked to stand in front of McKay. “Everything I want is on Atlantis. I don’t plan to leave Pegasus permanently in any circumstance. I’m going to let Elizabeth and O’Neill both know that the IOA’s interest in me makes me so uncomfortable that I don’t want to return to Earth to debrief anymore. They’ll fix that for me because I am, in fact, a goddamned hero.”
He put a hand on Rodney’s hip and tugged the other man close then leaned in to whisper against the shell of the scientist’s ear. “Do you remember how in our first year we searched high and low for the AI? The AI that was missing from Atlantis—all we found was a ghost of her?”
“Yes,” McKay whispered back.
“She’s in the ZPM, Rodney.”
“Oh.” Rodney’s hands clenched on John’s shoulders as the pilot prodded up against a wall. He shuddered when Sheppard nuzzled at his throat. “Do you think we’re being listened to?”
“Why risk it?” John questioned. “She’s going to teach you everything you ever wanted to know and more.”
McKay bit back a groan and let his head fall against the bulkhead as John slid one thigh between Rodney’s legs. “You bastard. I don’t know what’s hotter—what you’re saying or what you’re doing.”
“She’s going to make ZPMs for us and teach us how to build real space ships,” John murmured against Rodney’s jaw. “Don’t get too worked up, McKay, you know I don’t fuck around in the field.”
“We’re on a ship,” Rodney protested and tugged John closer. “Kiss me at least, you bastard.”
John did. He brushed his lips over McKay’s repeatedly, slipping his tongue in when the scientist groaned in frustration at the gentle treatment. He pulled his mouth free when he started to reconsider his position on fucking on the Apollo. He almost averted his gaze, to hide the way he always did but he trusted McKay so he met the man’s gaze and watched him process what he was seeing.
“Is it only sexual arousal or do your eyes turn black in other situations?” Rodney asked quietly.
“Sometimes if I get really angry, when I kill—especially when I kill.” He bit down on his bottom lip. “Sometimes… my skin gets darker but never blue. Carson doesn’t know. I’m more aggressive than I ever was. Less tolerant of bullshit. I’m territorial. I don’t have any desire to breed.” John took a deep breath. “Is this a problem for you?”
“No, never,” Rodney promised. “You’re beautiful—you were, in fact, gorgeous when you were blue.” He grinned when John laughed. “We doing this for real?”
“Yeah, for real.”
“Good.” Rodney pulled him, pressed a quick kiss against his mouth then pushed him off. “So, since we’re off duty I’m talking to my partner, right and not my commanding officer?”
John laughed as Rodney went over to the ZPM case and picked it up. He watched him carry the case to the second bed in the room. “Yeah, your partner.”
“Fantastic, I released a digital plague on the SGC that is going to systematically cleanse the entire network of any data related to you and the Iratus research. It’s going to hit Area 51, the Pentagon, Antarctica, and the six different sites on and off-world used for data storage. It will also report back to me on anyone who has paid any undue attention to Keller, her research, your service record, etc etc.”
“Miko is a mighty girl,” Rodney said wryly. “Her words not mine. She didn’t like Jennifer either.”
John dropped down on his bed and watched McKay open up the case with reverent hands.
Rodney leaned down real close to the ZPM and whispered, “Hello, Atlantis. I’ve been looking for you everywhere.”
John grinned. “I really fucking love you, McKay.”
“I really fucking love you,” Rodney said with a sigh as he patted the ZPM then turned to John. “You, too.”