Title: In the Silence
Author: Keira Marcos
Betas: Ladyholder, Chris King, & Jilly James
Fandom: Stargate: Atlantis
Series: Lantean Legacy
Series Order: 2
Pairings: McKay/Sheppard (many secondary pairings)
Genre: Alternate Universe, Romance, Action Adventure
Word Count: 58,118
Warnings: Graphic sex, explicit language, off-screen death of people you don’t know
Summary: Earth makes contact and the SGC is forced to reap the consequences of Landry’s decisions regarding the Atlantis expedition.
* * * *
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”—Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Atlantis this is Stargate Command, please respond.”
Jonas Quinn exchanged a look with Jack O’Neill. It had been three years since Earth had any contact with the Atlantis expedition and it had taken Jack reclaiming his old job at the SGC and a new President to get as far as they had. The new man in the White House had been horrified to learn that his predecessor and the IOA had left the Atlantis expedition on their own without even the most basic support.
It had taken over a week for them to move the ZPM they had left on Earth to the Mountain so they could dial the expedition.
“Atlantis, this is General Jack O’Neill at Stargate Command. Will you respond?” Jack asked as he took Sam’s place at the radio in the gate room.
“We have a data burst coming through,” Sam murmured as she prodded Walter Harriman out of his chair. “It’s McKay’s standard encryption.”
“Download it to a non-networked laptop,” Jack ordered and leaned forward. “Atlantis, this is Stargate Command. Can you respond?”
“I don’t think they are there,” Sam whispered. She looked at O’Neill. “There is a large document and there are a ton of .avi files, sir.”
* * * *
John nuzzled against the back of McKay’s neck and scooted closer—spooning their bodies together. Atlantis had opened the blinds over the large window that made up one wall of their bedroom. With one eye open, he looked out into the too-blue sky of Lantea and then sighed. “Yes, Ally?”
“Earth dialed the gate on the Old World approximately three hours ago and the data burst was sent from the transponder as it was programmed to.”
John sat up abruptly. “What?” Then waved her off when she made like she was going to repeat her statement. “Anything or anyone come through?”
“No, not yet. But I’ve activated a sensor on the satellite I have in orbit so we’ll get real time information if they try again.” Ally moved away from the bed as he slipped from the covers. “You shouldn’t sleep naked, General, what if we need you in the middle of the night?”
“Then everyone would get an eye full of my naked ass,” John retorted as he went in search of a uniform. The large walk-in closet opened for him as he approached and the rack spun around to present him with the all-black uniform that all of the military assets on the city wore.
By the time he was attaching the four silver pips to the short Asian style collar that represented his rank in the Lantean Space Command, McKay had stumbled into their kitchen and was ordering breakfast for them both. John accepted the coffee and sat down at the table with his datapad. “Ally, morning brief please.”
“Major O’Neill returned from PX7-34R last night at 2500 hours as scheduled. His entire team went through medical and was cleared for access to the city by 2730 hours. All six of them are currently asleep but I can wake Nathan if you deem it necessary. Since he is scheduled to go to Tera Base in twenty-six hours I determined his need for sleep more important. Major Bates reports we had two domestic issues in the night—but nothing that involved physical violence. He ordered Dr. Simpson and Dr. Beckett to their separate quarters due to a very heated argument in the genetics lab.
“We had three unscheduled off-world activations but there were no shield impacts and no radio transmissions. I’ve made a note of the originating gate addresses if you would like to recon the planets in question.
“Master Sergeant Mehra is in the medlab with what she insists is the space flu and Major O’Neill has renewed his request for new quarters before going to sleep because he’s tired of listening to Dr. Brown and Dr. Parrish fight and have make-up sex.”
“My schedule?” John asked with a sigh.
“Major Moore has requested a meeting today at your leisure to go over the recruitment list and the training schedule for next month. He wants to set up war games off world. Banks and Bates Jr. have volunteered to help with that.”
Rodney put a plate down in front of him and sat down at the table. “Time on that Earth transmission?”
Rodney stared at her pointedly. “On Earth, Ally.”
The avatar quirked one neat eyebrow. “1400 hours. General Jack O’Neill spoke over the connection personally.”
“And remind me of the political picture on Earth, right now?” Rodney asked as he got up to get more coffee for himself.
“The Stargate program was declassified six months ago as you know, so far the new President of the United States has not said anything about the original expedition to Pegasus or any of you. Five weeks ago, General Hank Landry retired and General O’Neill left Homeworld Security to return to the SGC. Colonel Carter was transferred back to the SGC from Area 51 and Teal’c returned to Earth and brought a man named Jonas Quinn with him. A week ago the ZPM was pulled from my outpost. The outpost is currently running on three Mark II generators.”
Rodney nodded. “Okay, my morning brief?”
“Dr. Zelenka worked twenty-two hours yesterday. You asked me to remind you if he did that again he had to go vacation on the mainland for no less than two weeks. I did remind him several times to go to bed before he started to mutter and curse at me in Czech.” Ally frowned. “I liked it so much better when he treated me like a princess.”
John looked up from his eggs. “You could start wearing the crown again but skip the ball gown please—that’s very distracting.”
“What were Simpson and Beckett arguing about in the lab?” Rodney asked as he started flipping through screens on his datapad.
“Dr. Beckett called Dr. Simpson’s research methods shoddy and she called him a ‘sheep fucking witch doctor’.”
John spit coffee all over the table in front of him. “Jesus!”
“I know, it was very unseemly,” Ally said primly. “They’ve been very mean to each other since they started having sexual intercourse. I don’t think their relationship is at all healthy. I forwarded a copy of their argument to Dr. Heightmeyer for review.”
Rodney snorted. “Won’t that go over well?”
“Everyone is fully aware that they should confine themselves to quarters before engaging in activities they wish to remain private. I’ve always been quite clear on this.” Ally leaned over McKay’s shoulder. “You should review Dr. Zelenka’s calculations on the new hyperspace engine for the puddle jumper 2.0 design. It is thrilling stuff.”
“Which Dr. Zelenka?” Rodney questioned. “Radek or Miko?”
“Miko. Radek spent yesterday hip deep in refuse water from the hydroponics lab.”
“Is that fixed?”
“Close. We’ve closed greenhouse three while we work on the drainage issue. Dr. James from biology doesn’t want me flushing the system again until he can be sure we aren’t putting contaminants into the water. He says that we don’t get to fuck up this planet on his watch.” Ally smirked when Rodney sighed.
“Tree-hugging bastard,” Rodney muttered but then smiled when John shot him a narrow look. “I didn’t say I didn’t agree. But you know, he’s kind of psycho about it. I mean, I’m all about clean water and air – much more than the next guy but he’s like our own Green Peace movement.”
“I find Dr. James’ ideas and principles on the safety of Lantea refreshing. The others were never so concerned about what they left behind or what effect it had on anyone or anything.”
John glanced the avatar’s way but didn’t say anything. He really couldn’t remember when she’d started to refer to the Ancients as the others in that tone of voice but he’d learned over the last year or so that it wasn’t a compliment. She found a lot of faults with the people who previously occupied her and she made no bones about it.
* * * *
Jack O’Neill sat back and rubbed his hand over his face. Having to sit through nearly three hours of people of the Atlantis expedition telling Earth goodbye in a variety of nice or not so nice ways had been one of the most surreal moments of his life. “What was that last bit?”
Jonas cleared his throat. “I think it was the city.”
“Excuse me?” Jack asked with a raised eyebrow.
“She said: I am the Atlantis Collective, designation Primitus Civitas. Dum spiramus tuebimur. Dum tempus habemus, operemur bonum. Dum vivimus, vivamus.” Quinn took a deep breath. “Which essentially translates to: I am the Atlantis Collective, designation First City. While we breathe, we shall defend. While we have the time, let us do good. While we live, let us live.”
“So basically, even the city told us to kiss her ass,” Jack summed up, his voice subdued and his eyes dark with temper.
“How old is it?”
“Two years, three months, six days.” Sam looked up from her computer. “Basically around the time that the Asgard dropped off the shield and the ZPM for us from Atlantis.” She frowned. “Honestly, I can’t believe they bothered to give us a shield and a full ZPM to power it with how they felt about being abandoned out there.”
“It makes them better people than we are,” Jack murmured. “Did they leave us a single clue as to where they went or how they got there? Is the city still there? Did they abandon it?”
“I…” Sam shook her head. “I don’t know. We could try sending through a MALP to see what happens. If it never emerges, that means they have the gate shield up and our only choice will be to send out a ship to investigate.”
“They could all be dead,” Colonel Abraham Ellis offered from his place at the table. “Without supplies and support from us…”
Cameron Mitchell cleared his throat. “So, let’s go find out, sir.”
“I suggest we try calling them again to see if we get a different kind of message,” Jonas murmured. “Obviously, something on the planet or the city is set up to communicate with us.”
* * * *
Ally appeared on John’s left as he entered the gate room. “The gate on Old World has reopened, it is Earth.”
“Can we communicate with them through your relay?” John jogged down the steps to the control deck and raised an eyebrow at Elizabeth who had her own version of Ally trailing along behind her. The two avatars merged as they met up.
“Yes,” Ally answered. “Chuck?”
Chuck’s hands moved over his console confidently and suddenly the gate room was filled with the sound of Jack O’Neill’s voice. It was just bizarre.
“Atlantis, this Major General Jack O’Neill from Stargate Command. We’d very much like to know if you people are alive out there—please respond.”
John shared a glance with Elizabeth who nodded abruptly. He clicked his radio just as Rodney hurried down the stairs to stand at his side. “Stargate Command this is General John Sheppard of the Lantean Space Command. We report alive and mostly awake, despite the very early hour.”
The silence was telling. Maybe they hadn’t really expected an answer, or they hadn’t been prepared for how John would answer.
Jack O’Neill cleared his throat. “General Sheppard, it is a pleasure to hear your voice. We were a bit concerned.”
“Three years too late for me to buy that, General O’Neill.” John leaned against the console. “What can we do for you?”
“We’d like to send out a team to meet with the expedition and determine what we can do for you.”
John frowned, and he looked at Elizabeth who looked pensive and a little furious. “I can’t say that you’d be welcome, General O’Neill. We’ve made our own way, and we don’t need anything from Earth.”
“Can we send a team through the gate to speak with you?” O’Neill questioned.
“We are no longer on the planet Earth left us to die on,” Elizabeth said, her voice tight. “We haven’t been there for a long time, but you wouldn’t know that since you haven’t bothered to check on us in all this time.”
“We’ve made mistakes, Dr. Weir.”
Elizabeth laughed a little, but it was a bitter sound that made John’s heart clench a little. “Mistakes? Really, General O’Neill, I think we’re all way past…” She trailed off and shook her head.
“What Dr. Weir means,” John started and looked at her meaningfully. She only nodded. “Is that we’ve survived despite Earth’s mistakes and we aren’t interested in opening ourselves up to your politics and agendas because we all know you can’t promise us that it won’t be that way.”
“If I send a team through will you meet with them? Do you have the power to return them to Earth once they’ve finished the meeting?” Jack O’Neill asked.
John shared a glance with Rodney and then looked at Elizabeth, who appeared torn but hopeful. The last three years hadn’t been the best, but they hadn’t been bad either. None of them wanted to open their population up to the emotional danger that Earth represented.
He felt the press of thousands on him then—he knew that what was happening in the gate room wasn’t a secret to anyone on the city. The non-Earth humans appeared mostly indifferent or slightly hopeful for the friends they had among the Earth humans. In Pegasus, the value of one’s home world had no price. And the people from Earth were all vainly trying to push down hope.
Earth was no longer home but it was the place of their birth—an ideal they’d all used to ground themselves in the never-ending fight with the Wraith.
“Tell Carter to bring no less than ten different kinds of the best coffee beans she can get her hands on. We’ll only need samples. Send your team through in the morning—0900 hours your time and we’ll meet them on the Old World with a jumper.”
“Anything else?” Jack questioned his tone a little doubtful. “Froot Loops?”
“Not for this visit,” John answered amused. “Just the coffee. The geeks are bored with the stuff we have.”
* * * *
Jack O’Neill watched his people settle down in the conference room and glanced around. “Okay.”
Quinn turned to Sam. “You should definitely get some of those Brazilian Bourbon Santos beans. I think Daniel will really like it, and McKay has a reputation for being a coffee snob.”
Sam nodded and jotted it down on her notepad. “I was thinking Belle Espresso from Ethiopia, the Kona Extra Fancy, Hacienda La Esmeralda, and Organic Sumatra Reserve to start. There is a roastery just down the street from my house.”
Jack cleared his throat. “That really isn’t what I was talking about.”
“Oh.” Sam blushed and put down her pen. “But you are serious about meeting their demands?”
“Yeah, we’ll get McKay’s coffee.” Jack sighed. “I don’t even know where to start with this mess. It is obvious that we need technology and support—something that maybe the people on Atlantis can provide. Our relationship with them isn’t exactly where I want it to be.”
“Landry left them to fend for themselves in a galaxy full of space vampires,” Cameron summed up.
“Right.” Jack took a deep breath. “Yet, they sent us a planetary shield and a ZPM when they didn’t have to—even after we’d ignored them for a year.”
“They certainly wouldn’t have sent us another ZPM if they didn’t have one of their own to power the city.” Sam fiddled with her ink pen. “In fact, I think they would’ve needed three to get the city off the planet and into hyperspace.”
“How can we trust them now?” Jack questioned.
“How can they trust us?” Jonas asked in return. “The SGC did nothing but take from them since the beginning. Really, why should they ever trust Earth again? I’m very familiar with that kind of betrayal, Jack. My people turned their backs on me the moment I stopped being useful to them. If Teal’c hadn’t responded to my plea for help—they’d have probably killed me. Landry sure as hell had no plans to help me.” He flushed and averted his gaze. “It’s just…I know where these people are coming from and they have every right to tell the SGC to kiss their ass.”
Jack looked at Mitchell and then Carter. “Okay, Sam, it’s obvious that Sheppard expects you to step through the gate tomorrow. Quinn, I think your position and your empathetic view on the situation will be valuable. Daniel likes you and will listen to you.” He focused on Cameron Mitchell, his 2IC for the SGC, mostly because Carter couldn’t be bothered with anything outside her own army of geek minions. “Mitchell, it’s your mission. These people—they were part of us so I want to trust them, but treat this like a first-contact mission. Ellis will head for the original planet of the expedition in the Apollo, so if they don’t hold up their end of the bargain—we’ll be able to pick you up in three weeks. Pack accordingly.”
* * * *
“You could stay here.”
Rodney snorted and dropped his ass into the co-pilot’s seat. “Yeah, okay, sure. I’ll just let you flit off to meet SG1 after three years of no contact from Earth. Sounds reasonable.”
“I’m a grown man, McKay. I don’t need a babysitter.”
Ronon snorted from his chair behind Rodney and John shot the big man a glare. “Don’t make me regret bringing you home with me, Chewie.”
Ronon just grinned and casually shot him the bird. “I’m not a stray animal, Sheppard.”
Teyla smacked his hand as she sat down. “The Marines are a very bad influence on you, Ronon. I can’t believe…” She huffed and secured her harness. “Secure yourselves.”
John shrugged on his harness and shot Rodney a glance out of the corner of his eye. “Ever since she got knocked up she’s been a real mom.”
“I know.” Rodney wrinkled his nose. “We should have a talk with Bates. They aren’t even married.”
“You will do well to mind your own business,” Teyla informed them coolly. “I will not have my female power subjugated by primitive marriage customs to suit any of you.”
“Marriage is an honorable institution,” Ronon input. “It helps create family bonds and…” He trailed off when she glared at him.
Teyla looked pointedly at John who was studiously staring at the ceiling of the jumper. “General, I thought you wanted to be in orbit around the planet and cloaked before SG1 arrives?”
John navigated into the gate room without another word and shot through the wormhole. They’d returned to the Old World a few times—to check on the satellite they kept in orbit and on the transponder they’d left for Earth despite the fact that Atlantis monitored both herself.
They were in orbit less than thirty minutes when the gate on the planet activated and Rodney picked up a radio transmission.
“General Sheppard, this is Stargate Command. Please respond.”
John activated the jumper’s radio. “This is Sheppard. We are in orbit around the Old World and your delegation is welcome to come through the gate. We don’t have a shield on it. Be aware if you send a MALP through first that we can’t return it. It won’t fit in the jumper.”
“We’ll be sending a small transponder to confirm the wormhole is viable for travel,” O’Neill said. “The IOA insisted on sending a representative, and the President wasn’t in the position to deny them.”
“Understood.” John rolled his eyes. “I’ll take good care of your people, O’Neill, and return them just as neat and tidy as you sent them out. My word on it.”
“I’ll hold you to it, John,” Jack murmured.
John closed the radio connection and took a deep breath. “Okay. Rodney?”
“Transponder came through and transmitting back through the open wormhole. Mostly environmental data. It’s pretty cool. We have the plans for it but Atlantis uses the stargates themselves for environmental diagnostics so we never bothered to make them.” Rodney’s fingers danced over his datapad for several seconds. “Okay, I have six life signs. I’ve created a disruptive field using the gate to hide their subcutaneous transmitters. I’ll take it over personally when we land.”
Cameron Mitchell’s voice flowed over the radio connection. “Stargate Command, this is Mitchell. We’ve arrived. There is no jumper in sight but Sam reports an open radio channel in orbit. I think they’ll mosey on down to meet us once they’ve checked us over. Mitchell out.”
“Understood. O’Neill out.”
* * * *
Jonas knelt at the base of the DHD and brushed dead leaves and dirt off a metal box. With a frown, he pulled it free of the vegetation that had grown up around it and flipped it open. “Oh.”
Sam peeked around his shoulder and her mouth dropped open. She reached into the box and pulled out the small device from the pile of flags and dog tags. “This must be what sent the data burst.” She flipped it over and tried to figure out how to open it.
Cameron looked at the box, his mouth tight. “What else is in it?”
“Flags, mission patches, and dog tags.” Jonas closed it, his throat a little raw suddenly. “What a clusterfuck we made of this.”
“Not us,” Cameron corrected gently. “Most certainly not you. You weren’t even on Earth when it happened.”
Quinn nodded and then tilted his head slightly. His gaze drifted to the sky. “Someone store this box in our gear. I don’t think this is something we want to discuss with them.” He closed it and passed it off to a Marine who stored it quickly in one of the small trunks they had packed. It barely fit.
He glanced towards the IOA rep that had traveled with them. “Mr. Woolsey?”
“I’m…” Richard Woolsey straightened his tie. “The last time I was off world, bugs tried to eat me.”
Sam swallowed a laugh and Cameron rolled his eyes. Jonas however, just grinned. “Hopefully, we can avoid that this time around.” He blinked and cleared his throat. “Wow, they’re here.”
“Huh?” Cameron looked around and motioned to the two Marines to spread out. “Talk to me, Quinn. Are you with us?” he demanded of the dazed scientist.
“It’s not his fault,” John Sheppard said as he stepped out of thin air and cocked one eyebrow at them. “The jumpers we sent back to Earth weren’t connected to Atlantis so this is probably his first real taste of Ancient tech.” He raised one eyebrow at the weapons pointed at him. “Not very friendly.”
Cameron glared. “I’ve reviewed John Sheppard’s file, and frankly, you might have his face but you look about fifteen years younger than you’re supposed to be.” He glanced at Sam who had her gun leveled, too. “Replicators?”
“The original expedition didn’t mention that kind of problem out here,” Sam said.
John grinned. “Oh, we have them. They live on a planet in a different sector. They are isolationists and avoid biologicals. The ATA gene therapy we have repairs cell damage—including the damage done by aging.” He held out his hand and it disappeared then he pulled gently and Dr. Rodney McKay emerged from what must have been a cloaked jumper. “What can we do to convince you we aren’t replicators?”
Sam cleared her throat. “Well, I’ve never seen one that could actually bleed.”
John released McKay’s hand without a word, pulled a combat knife from his boot and sliced open his palm. The blood ran red and quick despite McKay’s shout of no.
“Fuck, John, you idiot.” McKay grabbed his arm and slapped his own hand over the open wound. “I can’t believe you.” He glared at Cameron who had lowered his weapon. “Are you satisfied?”
“Yeah.” Cameron frowned. “Mostly. I mean, I have a ton of questions but the bleeding helps.”
“You can be assured that I will be not giving you a similar demonstration,” Rodney snapped at him and then turned his head. “Teyla.”
“Leave it,” John murmured. He glanced towards the gate and then up into the sky. “We should return to Atlantis. We don’t like to linger on Old World. The Wraith monitor it and have since we left.”
“You left because they knew where you were?”
“We left because we needed a world with better natural resources and our people required more fertile land for planting. We returned to the first planet the Ancients settled on in this galaxy. It’s called Lantea.” John motioned them forward. “I’ll decloak the jumper. Please move quickly. I’d rather not engage the Wraith while you’re on board.”
Jonas blinked when the jumper suddenly appeared. The two Marines they’d brought with them both hissed out little breaths of shock which didn’t surprise him. The jumpers they had on Earth didn’t do that, and in fact, were little more than glorified transport vehicles that only a few people could actually fly.
They loaded up their gear quickly and Quinn prodded Woolsey onto the bench and then hazarded a glance up into the cockpit. Sheppard was sitting in the pilot’s seat and a very young looking McKay was kneeling between his spread legs—carefully cleaning the cut on his hand. The position was intimate and spoke more to their relationship than even the hand holding had. He glanced across the jumper at the two Marines and weren’t surprised to find one of them glaring, clearly disgusted by how casual Sheppard and McKay were with each other.
“I wouldn’t if I were you,” John murmured as he looked up from his hand and focused on the one Marine. “I’m not a Replicator but you shouldn’t think for a second that I’m still human. Your quaint little bigotries will fly like a solid lead balloon on my city. Keep your petty bullshit to yourself Sergeant or I’ll gut you.”
“Teyla, I’m ready for you.” McKay stood up, and with a glare towards the Marine who was red with fury, then sat down in his chair. “We should send him back to Earth as soon as we land in the city. His ignorance will get him killed within the day.”
Jonas cleared his throat. “I’m sure Sergeant Malone knows how to keep his mouth shut.”
The large man sitting behind McKay who hadn’t been introduced leaned back in his chair and regarded the soldier. “It isn’t his mouth that is the problem.”
Quinn frowned at the Marine and then turned to watch the woman he’d read about in reports take McKay’s place between Sheppard’s legs. He blinked as she bowed her head slightly and then covered his open wound with her hand. She cupped it tightly between her own and her skin lit up as if she had a light inside her body.
After a few seconds, she took a deep breath and lifted her head. When she released his hand, blood smeared between them but the wound was gone—leaving healed pink flesh in its place.
“Jesus,” Sam Carter murmured from her place across the aisle from him. “Is that a gift of your people Ms. Emmagan?”
Teyla stood and regained her seat. “After a fashion, yes. You’ll be briefed, Colonel Carter, once we reach the city. I believe Dr. Weir will answer all the questions she can regarding such things.” She fastened her harness and glared pointedly at them. “Fasten yourselves in please.”
Jonas jumped a little as harnesses slid out of the wall and dropped over their shoulders. “Okay, yeah.” He helped Woolsey with his and then fastened his own. “The ones we have don’t do this.”
“Yes they do,” Teyla responded coolly. “But it requires an advanced ATA gene much like the cloak and the weapons systems.”
He shared a glance with Sam who was leaning forward in an effort to see into the cockpit despite her restraint system. The doors between the cockpit and the cargo bay abruptly closed leaving them alone.
Cameron sucked in a breath. “I guess they don’t want us to see anything.”
“No. I guess not.” Sam frowned and sat back against the jumper. “Mr. Woolsey, how do you feel?”
“Fine.” Richard clutched his briefcase to his chest and nodded abruptly. “Just fine. It doesn’t even feel like we are moving.”
Jonas trailed his fingers over the wall of the jumper. “Do you guys feel it talking to you?”
“You have the gene, Quinn.” Sam frowned. “What is it saying to you?”
“Just hi, mostly.” Jonas flushed. “Or maybe, hi again is more accurate, though I’ve never actually been to Atlantis.”
“You have been in the Ancient outpost,” Cameron reminded him.
“The geek seems okay but I don’t like the rest of them,” Ronon said as he stretched his legs out in front of him. “The guy in the weird clothes with the box is so scared he can barely walk and breathe at the same time. The woman has a geek mind but…” He frowned. “Very confusing.”
John nodded at his assessment. “Carter is a scientist and a soldier. But like most of the people you’ll encounter from Earth, Ronon, she’s got an Earth-centric mindset. She’s spent most of her adult life defending our home world in one way or another. It’s shaped her—made her different than what you are used to.”
“Yeah,” Ronon agreed. “The two soldiers might be a problem. Especially the one—the civilian called him Malone.”
“I trust you’ll keep an eye on him,” John said dryly as he navigated the jumper through the second of the ten stargates they were going to utilize on their trip home. “McKay, is Carter running a scanner of any kind?”
“Not that I can detect. We know the Apollo launched this morning—bound for Pegasus—but O’Neill’s report to the President said it was just a precaution because he didn’t want to abandon anyone else in the Pegasus galaxy if we didn’t hold up our end of things.”
John nodded. He’d read through the report that Ally had filed with the senior staff earlier in the morning. In the last year, she hadn’t culled information from Earth on a regular basis—unless one counted the movies, music, and TV shows she regularly pirated for entertainment purposes, and John didn’t. They’d kept up on some basic stuff and knew about the declassification of the Stargate project. The public had responded better than anyone could have hoped.
“You should get the suppression bracelet ready for Quinn.”
Rodney nodded and pulled out a slim silver case. He wasn’t surprised when Ronon unbuckled and moved to follow him into the back of the jumper. Like most of the soldiers under John’s command, the alien viewed it as his duty to watch McKay’s ass pretty much all the time. The doors to the cargo bay slid open as Ronon leaned against the bulkhead near the front of the compartment.
“I need to fit Jonas with an ATA suppression device. We’ve learned since giving Atlantis full power that someone with a natural gene who hasn’t been trained to deal with the technology is actually rather dangerous.”
Jonas shared a glance with Sam who looked curious and Mitchell who had started glaring again. “It won’t hurt?”
Rodney unceremoniously slapped the device on his own wrist and it activated. “It doesn’t hurt and it’s not dangerous. We put this on our children.” He held out his wrist to Sam for it be examined. “Its bond is chemical and there are no nanites involved.”
Sam touched it carefully, and after a few seconds, pulled out her tablet PC and started to run diagnostics. “Yeah, I think it’s okay, Jonas.”
Quinn nodded. “All right then.”
Ronon reached out and removed the bracelet from McKay with a gentle pull. “Only another gene carrier can pull it off of you, so you won’t be able to remove it. It’s designed to fit to the wearer, so it shouldn’t get in your way or hamper your ability to use your weapon or a computer.”
“Right.” Jonas allowed McKay to place the bracelet on him and frowned a little when it was in place. “I can still feel the jumper.”
“It doesn’t prevent technology from communicating with you—that would be dangerous considering most of Atlantis’ security protocols and alarms have a mental component. It just prevents you from interacting with some of our technologies in a dangerous way. You’ll be able to use doors, the transporters, and the bathroom facilities,” Rodney explained.
“Who are you?” Jonas asked looking right at Ronon Dex.
“This is Master Chief of Battle Operations Ronon Dex,” Rodney murmured. “You can call him Master Chief.”
“How did he become the Master Chief of Battle Operations?” Richard Woolsey asked.
“He fought the battalion in single hand-to-hand combat until he was the last one standing,” McKay answered dryly. “Took three weeks of trials.”
“How large is the battalion on Atlantis?” Cameron asked his tone carefully neutral.
“Three thousand twenty-six ground and air support. Our officer core is sixty-three.” McKay closed the silver case and did a scan with the device he pulled out of his pocket. “Okay, if you get any feedback from the bracelet, let one of us know. We occasionally have to recalibrate the device for natural gene carriers so that it works with your unique impression of the ATA gene. At no time should it be uncomfortable physically or mentally—if it is tell one of us immediately.” He put his scanner away, and Ronon opened the doors leading up the cockpit.
“How did you know we’d dialed the original world?” Quinn asked suddenly.
“We have a sensor in orbit that monitors the gate on Old World. We figured Earth might come along eventually to see what had happened to us—we wanted to know when it happened.” Rodney looked at him then. “It’s not your fault, Quinn, so you shouldn’t feel guilty.”
“So, the gene therapy does more than make you look like that?” Jonas asked dryly.
“Yes.” Rodney nodded. “It does. You don’t have any secrets from us—none of you do so you shouldn’t bother with deception.” He looked at Malone and frowned. “Non-Lanteans have minds like open books to us.”
The Marine face darkened with anger, and Ronon shifted towards McKay in way that was all threat and absolutely no pretense. “You always have this guard dog at your side, McKay? Probably a good thing, actually—looks like you’re a still an asshole.”
“Sergeant!” Mitchell snapped, his voice hard. “Shut up.”
Rodney glanced once at Cameron and then motioned Ronon up towards the front of the jumper. “We have another thirty minutes of travel. Please remain harnessed until Teyla tells you otherwise.”
“Why so long and why the restraints—this thing has excellent inertial dampeners,” Sam asked.
“Yeah, when they work,” Ronon muttered over his shoulder. “If we get hit by a Wraith weapon—that’s the first thing to go, followed closely by anti-grav.”
“As for the length of time, we are traveling through a series of space gates to prevent anyone from following us home from the Old World. The Wraith are capable of getting addresses from the standard DHD but the space gates only utilize the DHD from the jumper so they don’t have access to that. Additionally, if they follow through on foot—that first step is a harsh one.” They left the doors open as McKay settled in his seat and refastened his harness.
“What’s the command structure like on Atlantis these days?” Cameron asked, obviously going for a light tone but missing it by a rather large margin.
“We are ruled by an elected government. Elizabeth Weir has been the Premier since we founded our government. We have elections every year for council postings, but the Premier is a ten-year term,” John answered carefully. “I am the military commander; both of the men and women stationed on the city and those on our mainland. We have two off-world facilities. McKay is still the Chief Science Officer. As such, we both have permanent, non-elected positions on the leadership council.”
“How big is the council?” Woolsey asked opening up his briefcase to locate a legal pad.
“There are four elected civilian positions. Two for the population on the mainland and two for the people living on the city; so seven members total.” John glanced back at the IOA representative and just grinned a little when he found the man taking notes. “There are 5,176 citizens on the city and 8,046 on the mainland for a combined population of 13,222 and growing. We have 136 children due to be born on the mainland and within the city in the next solar month. That’s the largest baby boom we’ve had since we settled on Lantea.”
The shock radiating through their passengers was a little amusing but John kept his expression neutral as he talked. “We’re currently in negotiations with one of our allies to allow them to migrate to the mainland of our world. That would increase our population by about 2,000. We haven’t gotten an accurate head count from them, yet. They fear that we’ll tell them no if they give an accurate number so soon in the negotiations. So far they’ve only admitted to about fifteen hundred people.”
“But you’ll take them all?” Jonas asked.
“Of course. We have a great deal of land on Lantea. We’re confident that we can maintain a healthy planet with a population of five hundred thousand, so that is our cut off on migration. It would be hundreds of years before we had that kind of population considering most societies are content to stay on their own worlds.”
“You don’t have a problem feeding your current population?”
“Not at all, Atlantis is capable of replicating most of the food that we need with her complex protein replicators. We harvest vegetation from Lantea and several other abandoned worlds to this end. The mainland also has large, thriving farming communities. Food is really the least of our concerns. What we cannot grow or prefer not to replicate can be traded for off-world. We have trade agreements with over one hundred worlds in Pegasus.”
“As you must know the IOA will be very concerned by the direction the Atlantis Expedition has taken,” Richard started and then paused when Sheppard turned and looked at him. “What you’ve described would have never been approved. You are outnumbered nearly 70 to 1 by natives on the planet. This is unacceptable.”
Rodney frowned at Woolswey. “Everyone who lives and works on Lantea is Lantean. We’ve all taken the Oath of Service to Atlantis; shed ourselves of any burdens or loyalties we might have had to other worlds or other peoples. We are all the same on Lantea. As General Sheppard already explained—we aren’t even what you’d call human anymore.”
“What are you?” Cameron asked.
Teyla turned then and looked at him without blinking. “We are physically no different than the people you call Ancients due to the genetic legacy the city granted us.”
Another bout of shock, followed closely by a bit of denial, filtered through their passengers and John signaled McKay to dial the next gate. “We’re two gates out.”
“Why so many different gates?” Sam questioned.
“Just a security protocol. We’ll go through the Alpha site last. No teams return directly to the city. We have too many people there to allow that—even with IDCs,” Rodney answered as he dialed the gate in front of them. “We take on any security procedures required to keep our population safe.”
“Do you have a planetary shield?” Quinn asked. “We had to declassify the Stargate program because we had to activate our shield seven months ago due to an Ori incursion into our solar system. Fortunately, the shield held so we owe you guys a lot for sending it.”
Rodney turned and looked at him. “It was the moral thing to do and, of course, we have a shield. We’d never allow part of our population to live on the mainland without defense against the Wraith. We also have orbital defenses and stationary surface to space weapons on the ground in case the shield fails.”
“Is that something you’d be willing to share with us?” Sam questioned.
“No.” Rodney snorted. “I hardly think we’re going to give you weapons you can just use on each other, and don’t bother any arguments to the contrary. It isn’t like I’m not from Earth. You can’t have changed that much in the last three years.”
John moved them through the last space gate and accelerated towards their outpost. “Welcome to Tera, ladies and gentlemen.”
“This is your Alpha site?” Sam questioned.
“Tera Civitas,” Rodney answered. “Essentially our second city. It is utilized for pure scientific research and is quite small actually. It’s roughly the size of Cheyenne Mountain and it is submerged.”
“Is there a stargate on the planet as well or just the one in orbit?”
“Yes, that’s how our teams go home to Atlantis. jumpers must come through the space gate first unless they have a medical emergency,” John murmured. “Atlantis communicates continuously with it.” He activated his radio. “Tera Base, this is Phoenix, please respond.”
“We receive you, Phoenix. Your IDC has been confirmed and we are ready for your arrival.”
“Is that…” Sam trailed off and traded a look with Cameron Mitchell.
John laughed. “Yes, that was the voice of Major Nathan O’Neill. We’ve promoted him as fast as we can—however, his obvious youth makes it difficult as we have men who have decades of experience, and he looks all of nineteen. Most understand that he’s actually quite a bit older but…” John shrugged. “It’s something we all have to work with because of the gene therapy.”
“Yep, he looks like jail bait,” Rodney murmured and then grinned when Jonas laughed. “I’m totally serious. You think we look young? Wow—some of the young guys that came from the SGC in the second wave barely look old enough to drive. It works pretty well in the field though because they aren’t really viewed as the threats they should be viewed as.”
“Is there a lot of hostility in the field?” Cameron asked. “I would think people would welcome you with open arms if you are actively fighting the Wraith.”
“You’d be surprised,” Teyla murmured. “Some view the Lanteans as more of a threat than the Wraith and others view us as something that should be controlled or subjugated to their will. Additionally, there are those who worship the Wraith and view us as nothing more than heretics and murderers. We’ve discovered in the last year that there are many very primitive worlds in this galaxy that treat the Wraith as gods and willingly sacrifice themselves to be fed on as if it is some honor.”
“Welcome to the Pegasus Galaxy where every day we have three wars to fight and two hundred unique and horrible ways to die,” John murmured as he pushed the jumper into the atmosphere of Tera and quickly towards the surface of a strangely teal blue ocean. “I can close the doors if this is going to make you all nervous.”
“I don’t know about anyone else but I’d prefer to be able to see what’s coming rather than be surprised when something messed up happens,” Cameron answered for everyone and John just nodded.
The transition from space to air and then finally into water went very smoothly and John felt his passengers relax behind him. He didn’t blame them for being a little on edge considering the newness of the experience. “The jumpers can handle up to about three thousand feet of pressure without it putting any kind of stress on the engines or the shield. The outpost is roughly two thousand feet under the surface of the ocean.”
“Do we need to worry about the bends?” Cameron asked.
“No, not at all. The stargate compensates on the outpost for that. We worried at first but it didn’t take more than a few trips through the gate to the outpost to figure out that stargate sort of resets the human body in some ways. Unfortunately, it doesn’t repair injuries—because that would be pretty slick.” John navigated as confidently in the water as he had in space or in the air and quickly they descended. He motioned out the windshield. “As you can see, it’s really quite small compared to Atlantis. It does have the ability to dock one Ancient warship but we don’t have anything docked here currently.”
“Ships?” Sam asked wide eyed. “You have Ancient warships?”
“Yes, three and there is a fourth in construction.” John answered off-hand. “Artemis is on a peace-keeping mission in sector six but is slotted to return tomorrow. Atlas is actually dry docked for a few upgrades, and Athena is on a recon mission and should be back within the next seven solar hours. Ares will come out of construction in forty-six days.”
“What’s with the names?” Cameron asked.
“Atlantis names her children and we weren’t consulted on the name of the new ship. Like the city, the ships are sentient and are made of the same materials that Atlantis herself is built with.”
“She can regrow the material she gives over to construction?” Woolsey asked, lifting his gaze from his note pad. “Or is it more like an amputation?”
“She can regrow.” John grimaced at the man’s terminology. “Besides, the material she gives over to a new project isn’t visible to the naked eye it is so miniscule.”
“She could build these ships for Earth easily?” Woolsey questioned.
“Not in a million years,” Rodney answered. “First and foremost, Ancient ships require an advanced ATA gene carrier to even function properly. Second, the warships are children to Atlantis and she would never allow one to be taken back to the Milky Way galaxy for an indefinite period of time.”
“The situation back home with the Ori is difficult and we could use technology like you’ve been hoarding out here,” Woolsey protested.
“Hoarding?” John questioned. “Really, Mr. Woolsey?” He felt the tremor of shock that he knew the name of a man he hadn’t been introduced to. “Earth left us out here to die and I really don’t even know why. Landry abandoned us. He ordered us to destroy the city and we know for a fact he never actually sent a ship to that planet we were to evacuate to.”
He landed the jumper and the back hatch started to open. “You’ll have to go through a medical check here to make sure you aren’t carrying any diseases or contagions that are dangerous to us. Most of our population has been inoculated for such things as measles and chicken pox, but we can’t be too careful considering how many children we have on the city.”
John exited the jumper first. “Tera.”
A female avatar immediately appeared at his side and walked with him as he moved towards a pair of large double doors at the end of the bay. She was wearing the Lantean military uniform and her dark blond hair was up in a braided bun. Tera didn’t have her mother’s flair, and John wondered if that was a result of being alone so long or if she’d born such a serious little thing. “Yes, General Sheppard?”
“Colonel Lorne reports Athena is on time and Colonel Teldy requested an additional six solar hours for recon. Dr. Weir gave her permission to continue unless you disagree.”
“No, that’s fine.” John accepted a datapad from a soldier as he exited the bay and glanced back only briefly to make sure his passengers were following. They all looked a little shell shocked. Jonas Quinn was running his fingers along one wall as they walked. “Stop molesting the walls, Mr. Quinn, before Tera decides to keep you. She’s a greedy girl.”
Jonas glanced towards the avatar who smirked when he blushed. “Sorry.”
“It’s quite alright, Mr. Quinn.” Tera refocused her attention on John. “Mother reports no Wraith activity in her sector and the city is prepared for your arrival. Dr. Biro is in my medlab waiting to check over your guests personally. Major O’Neill requests permission to meet with the guests before they depart for Atlantis.”
“He can return to Atlantis to meet with them. Let Colonel Moore know you’ll need his presence on base to take Major O’Neill’s place.”
“Yes, sir.” The avatar vanished abruptly as they turned down a new hallway and entered a large medical facility.
“Dr. Biro, we have a few people for you to check out.”
Alyssa Biro offered them a reserved smile—not the bright, friendly one she normally gave out freely to her patients. “Of course, General.” She focused on Richard Woolsey. “Mr. Woolsey, we’ll start with you.”
Richard jerked a little. “I wasn’t…have we met?”
“No.” Alyssa raised one eyebrow. “We have not. I’m a telepath, Mr. Woolsey. You have few secrets from me.”
“You don’t consider that a breach of ethics?” Richard asked as he sat down on the bed she motioned to.
“You are not Lantean,” Alyssa murmured. “And you’ve yet to prove yourself an ally. Only our own and friends enjoy privacy, Mr. Woolsey.” She picked up a scanner and started. “This might feel a bit funny but it won’t hurt.”
“What’s it doing?”
“Right now, it’s taking a basic health reading. Your blood pressure is elevated and the prescription medication your doctor prescribed really isn’t cutting it.” She pursed her lips as she went over the diagnostics. “Your subcutaneous transmitter will be have to be deactivated before we can allow you to travel to Atlantis.”
“That’s against our procedures, Doc.” Cameron Mitchell stepped forward. “Mr. Woolsey is my responsibility so I need to be able to track him.”
“The Wraith are unfortunately familiar with the subcutaneous transmitters from Earth and as a result we no longer use them.” Alyssa inclined her head. “They can track them over the entire galaxy. Currently, Dr. McKay is providing a dampening field to keep them from being picked up but we can’t expect him to maintain that for you the length for your stay.”
Cameron turned to look at John. “How did that happen?”
“They captured a group of us in our first year. They never approached the city itself but they started showing up wherever we had teams stationed. To test it, we threw a few transmitters through to a gate and sure enough the Wraith arrived within hours.” John’s mouth tightened.
“Did you get our people back?” Carter asked as she took Woolsey’s place on the infirmary bed.
“We managed to retrieve one body. After that we deactivated and removed the tech from Earth.” John handed the datapad off to a waiting soldier and the soldier turned on his heel without even looking towards Carter or Mitchell.
“I knew him from the SGC.” Sam frowned as she watched the man leave the medlab. “He didn’t even look at me.”
“Don’t expect my men to salute you, Colonel Carter—you’ll just be disappointed.” John inclined his head as Quinn took his place for scanning. “In fact, most of the people from Earth aren’t going to be willing to interact with you. The wounds are still a bit raw for most of them. The anger died down after the first year—but we’re all a bit bitter over being left out here.”
“From what we have learned in the past hour, you could have returned home at any time after the second year,” Woolsey said pointedly. “It’s not really appropriate, Mr. Sheppard, to act like the wounded party.”
“General,” Teyla offered him in correction. Her tone was neutral but her eyes had darkened with anger. “You’re to address him as General Sheppard, Mr. Woolsey. I assure you, he’s earned it.”
“The IOA has not formally recognized the government the expedition has set up on Atlantis and, at present, I really don’t believe they will. As far as we’re concerned, John Sheppard is a citizen of the United States who resigned his Air Force commission and as a result should be returned to Earth for processing. He’s certainly in no position to represent Earth in this galaxy.”
John grinned. “I don’t represent Earth, Mr. Woolsey, and you aren’t in the position to force me back to Earth. Additionally, we don’t require the IOA to recognize anything about our situation out here. You and your petty little committees don’t concern us at all.”
Alyssa presented John with a datapad. “They are clear of any contagious pathogens, General, but I should inoculate them against a few things they have no immunity to, including the Pegraviridae.”
“What is that?” Sam asked with a frown as she hopped down off the bed.
“The Pegasus equivalent of the Ebola virus.”
Sam hopped right back up on the bed. “I’ll go first.”
Alyssa nodded. “I thought you might. We’ll package up the data on it and the cure we found. It won’t combat the strain on Earth but your researchers might find the answers to their own questions in the research we’ve already done.”
Sam just grinned. “I don’t suppose you’ve cured cancer, huh?”
Alyssa paused and then carefully put the pressure syringe to the skin of Sam’s exposed bicep. “I took note of your condition. When were you diagnosed and why are you in the field if you already know how ill you are?”
“Three weeks ago. I’m still considering my treatment options but things don’t look great,” Sam admitted and didn’t meet anyone’s gaze as Alyssa stepped away. “It doesn’t appear to be operable and the treatments might as well be a death sentence.”
“Ovarian?” John asked with a frown.
“That’s where they found it first,” Sam bit down on her bottom lip when she met Jonas’ gaze. “Don’t look at me like that, Jonas. I haven’t even told General O’Neill, yet.”
“We haven’t found a cure for cancer,” Rodney finally said. “But we can help you once we get to Atlantis.”
“We already tried the Goa’uld hand device,” Sam said. “The Tok’ra offered me a symbiote when I visited my father last week. It’s one of my choices.”
“We aren’t talking about technology, Samantha.” Rodney crossed his arms, obviously upset. “Hurry up, Biro.”
Jonas really didn’t want to get back in the jumper but he followed along with everyone else and wondered if what he was feeling on Tera would only be more pronounced once they were on Atlantis. “This outpost…it was built like Atlantis?”
“No, Tera is a living breathing organism—just like her parents. Atlantis essentially birthed her.”
“The outpost on Earth doesn’t have any kind of holographic interface,” Sam announced as she buckled her harness. “Right?”
“The outpost on Earth was built, not born, and isn’t organic.”
“And your second outpost?” Jonas questioned. “You said you had two off-world facilities.”
“Right, we do.” John just offered him a smile. “You won’t be seeing it this trip.”
“Is it a scientific research center as well?” Sam questioned.
“No. The Zephyrus Cingere is not a portable research lab by any stretch of the imagination,” John answered as they were lowered into the gate room.
Sam looked at Quinn. “Jonas?”
“Its name basically means ‘weapon of war’,” he murmured. “Is it fully functional, General Sheppard?”
“Actually, no. He was only recently discovered and we are still working on repairs. Once he is ready for hyperspace travel, Zephyrus will be used to patrol and guard Lantean Space. We have three planets within our solar system in the life zone that we can colonize. Once we are confident we can protect the planets, we’ll be putting stargates on them and opening them up for refugees.”
“That sounds ambitious,” Mitchell muttered. “Plan to save this whole galaxy, General?”
“Do you do any less when you pick a fight, Colonel Mitchell?” John asked. “We woke the Wraith and we have a responsibility to the people of this galaxy to see this fight to the end.”
“Well, it isn’t like we made them,” Woolsey muttered.
“No,” John conceded. “The Ancients did that. It’s just one more mess they left us to clean up.”
John glanced back at his passengers and then to the Marine who hadn’t said a single word since they’d met up with them. “Yes, Sergeant Moore, your brother is on the city and he is doing very well. If you would like to see him—I can make sure he meets us when we land.”
Moore cleared his throat. “That would be great, sir. Thank you, sir.”
John nodded. “Very well.”
The final trip through to Atlantis was done in absolute radio silence. If it was unusual, Jonas didn’t notice any of the Lanteans being uncomfortable about it. He gasped a little in shock as they cleared the event horizon and the city hit his mind.
It was almost like a physical blow, and he jerked against his harness briefly and then everything went white.
John Sheppard was standing in front of him, both hands on his shoulders when he became aware again. “Relax, Mr. Quinn, and take a few breaths for me. The first time is always the roughest. Your ability to speak Ancient surprised her and she went further than she intended. The city regrets the distress she unwittingly caused you.”
“I didn’t exactly protest,” Jonas murmured. “I don’t…how long?”
“About twenty minutes. She was afraid to withdraw too quickly because that can be just as damaging as creating too strong a connection.”
Quinn nodded and looked around the jumper to find it empty. “Where is everyone?”
“We are out here, Jonas.” Sam appeared at the ramp of the jumper. “We figured you might need some space when you came out of it.”
“Right.” Jonas nodded. “Wow.”
John leaned in as he helped Quinn unbuckle his harness. “Welcome to Atlantis.”
He blinked at the whispered words but then nodded. “Thank you, General.”
John offered him a half smile and helped him stand. “You earned yourself a full scan in the infirmary, Mr. Quinn. We need to make sure she didn’t cause you any harm while she was doing the twist in your head.”
“Sure, sure, and you guys can fix Sam while we’re there.” Jonas flushed when his knees buckled briefly. Sheppard caught him easily. “Sweep many anthropologists off their feet, General Sheppard?”
“No, I normally confine myself to astrophysicists with really nice asses. But, you’re pretty hot.” John winked at him and ignored McKay’s snort as they exited the jumper. Rodney immediately moved to his other side to help him.
“Thanks Rodney,” Jonas murmured. “It is a very nice ass, I’ve always thought so.”
Rodney laughed. “I don’t remember the city making me this punch drunk.”
“Well, we had a gradual wake up to the city and all of her little mind games,” John returned.
They met Nathan O’Neill in the hallway, obviously on his way to the jumper bay. “Major, I believe you’ve met most of these folks.”
Jonas grinned. “Jack, gods, you really do look like jail bait.” He abandoned Sheppard and McKay to happily hug the younger man, and Nathan actually blushed. “Oh, I forgot. You don’t go by Jack.” He patted him. “Sorry. I’ll do better.”
“Quite alright, Jonas, you seem a little high right now.” Nathan tightened his grip on the scientist when Quinn tipped a little to the left.
“Atlantis did a few rounds in his head,” John explained.
“Great, so I’ll take him to the infirmary, sir?” Nathan questioned with a raised eyebrow.
“Yep,” Jonas exclaimed. “I am to be scanned and probed. Don’t let them do anything unnatural to me, Jack.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Nathan returned with a lot of amused affection. He looked at Carter then and took a deep breath. “Sam, you look beautiful. Want to come along? I heard from Biro that you’ll be spending some time in the infirmary this morning.” He glanced at Sheppard. “General?”
“Yeah, sounds good. Don’t let them do anything untoward to Mr. Quinn while he’s like this. You know how excited they get.” John rolled his eyes. “Carter will be getting a full scan to see how we can help her with a little problem. I’ll take Woolsey, Mitchell, and Malone upstairs to meet with Elizabeth. The other Marine with the party is off with Colonel Moore. He promised to bring him back in a few hours. Do you know if the full council is assembled?”
“Dr. Zelenka requested to observe the meeting from his lab, but everyone else sort of considers this Earth business and they aren’t inclined to interact with them at this point. If a formal meeting is required—they’re all on standby and can return to the city.”
John watched the indecision flick over Cameron’s face as he considered being separated from his team but before he could respond, O’Neill did.
“Relax, Colonel Mitchell, these two were my responsibility before they were ever yours. I won’t let anything happen to them.” Nathan frowned at him and then led Quinn and Carter away.
Cameron took a deep breath. “Well, that was weird.”
“What?” John asked.
“Getting that—‘do what you’re told’ look from a version of my CO that looks all of eighteen.” Cameron rubbed the back of his neck. “Must be odd having him here.”
“Not really. I was never under O’Neill’s command officially and, to be honest, by the time we got everything settled it was hard to look at Nathan and see Jack O’Neill. They aren’t the same man—there are about thirteen years of experiences separating them now and it shows. They might share DNA and about fifty years of memories but they diverged into two different people.” John motioned them to follow him. “Ally.”
“Yes, General Sheppard?” the city avatar asked as she appeared at his side.
“Have quarters been assigned for Mr. Woolsey and Colonel Mitchell?”
“Yes. Captain Vega has taken care of all the guest quarters assignments,” Ally reported. “We set up one of the suites for them. Four bedrooms. Mr. Woolsey and Colonel Carter will have their own space but the others will have to share.”
Mitchell nodded. “That works, thank you.”
“You’re welcome, Colonel Mitchell.” Ally disappeared abruptly and as they entered the transporter.
“Does she pop in and out like that a lot?”
“Yes.” John sighed. “Including times like when I’m in the shower or occasionally, if there is an emergency, during sex.”
Cameron laughed. “Wow.”
“Yeah, she has no shame at all and doesn’t understand why we consider some things private, although she has taken to lecturing me every morning for sleeping naked. Apparently, she feels I should sleep in uniform with my gun strapped on just in case.” John closed the doors to the transporter and punched in their destination. The transport was almost instantaneous but John noticed that Mitchell and Woolsey both started when they reappeared. “Sorry, I assumed you realized you were about be beamed.”
“That was an Asgard beam,” Cameron murmured.
“Yes, it’s one of the things the Asgard helped us with before they left.”
Woolsey sputtered. “Their agreement with us does not cover repairs or upgrades to Atlantis.”
“The treaty the Asgard have with the city predates the one they have with Earth by thousands of years, Mr. Woolsey. Besides, Atlantis solved their cloning problem. They also helped build the city a better stardrive.”
“You guys were the old friends who fixed them?” Cameron asked, shocked.
“Heimdall and the city working together fixed the problem, and when it was done, the Asgard told Ally she could have anything she wanted for being the savior of their race. She requested upgrades for her beaming technologies, stardrive, and protein replication processes. They agreed.”
“Question,” Cameron started. “If you guys made them new bodies—why do they basically look the same?”
Ally appeared at Cameron’s side. “We did not wish to strip the Asgard of their cultural identity, Colonel Mitchell. It was important to them to maintain as much as of their past as possible while giving them a future. They are a meter taller than they used to be. Additionally, they have stronger bones and a far more robust physiology.”
Cameron raised an eyebrow. “They still don’t have genitals.”
“Oh but they do.” Ally smiled brightly. “They are sheathed within their body and untuck for sexual…”
“Whoa, whoa!” Cameron covered his ears. “Make her stop, Sheppard.”
“Ally, stop creeping out the Earthling with talk of alien sexual copulation,” John admonished, highly amused. “You’ll make his genitals tuck.”
Ally smirked and blinked away again.
* * * *
“Okay, lass, just relax for us.” Carson helped Sam Carter lie down in the scanner, his large, warm hand cupping her head carefully. “Ally, I’ll need Colonel Carter’s medical records.”
Ally appeared at his side. “They’ve already been downloaded onto your datapad, Dr. Beckett. She had her appendix removed fifteen years ago so we’ll have to make sure not to utilize Lt. Markham in the healing. He has a habit of regrowing that organ by accident.”
Carson nodded. “Aye, lass. Put the General, Dr. McKay, Administrator Emmagan, and Dr. Weir on twenty-eight hour stand by for healing.”
Sam’s hand wrapped suddenly around Carson’s wrist. “Dr. Beckett.”
“Aye, Colonel?” Carson leaned down so he could see her face.
“Sam,” she corrected with a small smile.
“What…what do you think you can do to fight my cancer?”
“We aren’t able to prevent cancer from happening or curing it with any of the equipment we have. Our medpods can repair the body—repair cell damage—but it can’t fix corrupted cells. However, there are those within the city who are very gifted when it comes to healing the body of injuries and diseases. We’re going to scan your body to determine how wide-spread the cancer is and then we’ll make a plan for healing you. After that, you’ll go in a medical pod for six hours.”
She relaxed on the bed. “I won’t die.”
“Not from cancer, not on my watch.” Carson patted her arm. “We’ll finish up the scan and then I’ll release you for your meeting upstairs. It’ll be tomorrow before we can complete a healing plan and I like to plan when we don’t have an emergency—it prevents the healing team from wearing themselves out.”
* * * *
“Mr. Woolsey,” Elizabeth Weir said with a reserved smile as they entered the conference room. “I was surprised when it was reported you’d come through the wormhole with SG1.”
“The IOA is concerned about the events that have led us to the current circumstances.” Richard Woolsey pushed his glasses up on his nose. “We have much to discuss, Dr. Weir.”
Elizabeth quirked an eyebrow at him. “Do we?”
“As far as we are concerned, this is still an expedition from Earth.”
She motioned him to sit. “Then, yes, we have much to discuss.” She clicked her radio. “Dr. Grodin, please bring Mr. Woolsey the tablet PC I requested you prepare for him.”
John watched the two politicians get settled at the table. His spouse slid into a chair beside him with coffee for them both. Sergeant Malone was hovering to the left of Mitchell, his hand tight on his P-90. He wondered if either one of the military men were curious as to why they’d been allowed to keep their weapons. Two of his own people had shadowed them from the jumper bay and were standing not far from Malone.
Elizabeth turned to Rodney. “Dr. McKay?”
“Upon their arrival on Old World, I created a disruptor field to hide their subcutaneous transmitters, I’ve done a thorough scan of their persons and they have no weapons beyond what is obvious. Jonas Quinn had a digital recorder but it wasn’t turned on. I assume he uses it for field notes. Dr. Carter has some fairly standard Earth equipment but didn’t do any serious scanning beyond checking out the ATA suppression device we put on Quinn on the jumper. Dr. Biro deactivated their transmitters before we left Tera.”
She turned to John. “General?”
“Sergeant Malone is profoundly and violently homophobic. Colonel Mitchell is suspicious but not so much so that it would prevent him from making sound decisions. The second Marine, a Sergeant Casey Moore, is going to request permission to stay with his brother. He begged O’Neill to come through the gate on the off chance he could connect with his older brother—whom he hasn’t seen in nearly five years and believed dead until recently. He has no intention of going back to Earth unless we throw him off the city bodily.” He smirked when Cameron’s mouth dropped open. “Colonel Carter has cancer—that’s why she’s in the medlab. It’s pretty advanced. Biro did a minimal health scan on Tera. She sent the results to Carson. Mr. Quinn is in a medical pod recovering from an Ancient mind meld with the city.”
John then turned and focused on Richard Woolsey. “Mr. Woolsey has orders from the IOA to do whatever is necessary to bring us to heel and he’s been authorized to promise us basically anything we want for access to technology—especially additional ZPMs. He is here to determine how much fire power from Earth it would take for them to take the city away from us but he doesn’t agree with that course of action. That being said, he has never in his past allowed his personal opinions to interfere with his job performance.”
Elizabeth sat back in her chair with her tea cup and nodded. “Very well, since John put all of your cards on the table for you—I should do the same for us. We are not an expedition of Earth. We are not your colony, and the city of the Ancients isn’t your property. We are a society of scientists, soldiers, hunters, and farmers. We provide for and protect each other and for our allies with equal tenacity. We have three Ancient warships, three ultra-mobile Ancient defense systems, and a fourth warship in construction. None of the ships you have on Earth are a match for us.”
“The members of the IOA view your resignations and unauthorized departure from the world this city was on—as acts of treason. Every single member of the expedition has been charged with and will be convicted of treason by their own individual governments.” Richard cleared his throat noisily and fiddled with his legal pad. He studiously ignored the computer that Peter Grodin had placed on the table beside him. “The American President is willing to listen and negotiate but he is the only one—the others are quite adamant that force is the best solution.”
“None of the ships from Earth stand a chance against us,” John murmured. “And the Asgard would likely interfere. As I said, Atlantis has enjoyed a treaty and a friendship with the Asgard for thousands of years and they are enamored with her because she fixed their cloning problems. The city saved their entire race from extinction.”
Woolsey nodded. “Of course, the people on Earth are unaware of that. But, I must warn you that many of the people within the IOA are arrogant and full of themselves because we’ve been so successful in the past against powerful foes. The Goa’uld and even our rather limited successes with the Ori make them think they can handle just about anything.”
“They are fools,” McKay snapped. “Look, I like Earth. I really do. I’d hate to have to come there and kick all of your asses back the Stone Age but don’t think we won’t do it. We have an obligation to Atlantis and to the people we have brought here that we fully intend to honor to the fullest degree.”
“And your obligations to Earth?” Cameron Mitchell asked. “What about those, Rodney?”
McKay stared at Mitchell for a few seconds, assessing him. “We gave you the planetary shield to protect you. Nearly half the advancements you’ve enjoyed from the Asgard in the last five years actually came from us—because while Earth turned its back on us we never turned our back on you.”
“Yet, you won’t give us access to the city, to the ships that would turn the Ori war,” Woolsey pressed.
McKay snorted. “You aren’t going to defeat the Ori with ships and you damn well know it. The Ori are nothing like the Goa’uld or even the Replicators. You can fight the people on the ground for the next ten years and they’ll keep finding new followers—keep sending ships to the Milky Way galaxy to kick your ass and it won’t change the fact that you’re fighting the wrong war.”
“I don’t understand,” Woolsey murmured. “Can you explain that?”
“This should wait until Carter and Quinn can join us.” John Sheppard stood and stretched. “In the meantime, Colonel Mitchell—we can dial Earth and you can report into General O’Neill. Also, you can send Malone back through the gate before one of my men kills him.”
Cameron sighed. “He hasn’t said a single word since we got on the city, Sheppard.”
John leaned forward a little. “Every single man and woman in my officer ranks and thirty percent of the ground troops on this base are telepathic, Mitchell. As the Master Chief said on the jumper—it isn’t his mouth that is the problem, and, frankly, out of all the things I have to put up with around here—his bullshit in my own home isn’t one of them.”
* * * *
“Do you have the content of the data burst that Woolsey sent?”
Rodney rolled his eyes. “Of course. Sam encrypted it for him but it wasn’t hard to break. Additionally, it went through Atlantis’ buffer to prevent any kind of feedback from the SGC. You already know what he thinks.”
“Yeah, we’re spoiled children and a very viable threat to the security of Earth.” John tapped his finger on his desk. “When I think how many times the Wraith have come close to figuring out where Earth was—what we’ve sacrificed to protect them from that—it makes me want to push them all back through the gate and tell them to stay the fuck out of our galaxy.”
Rodney nodded. “Yeah, I know but thankfully force is off the table. Once he understood our relationship with the Asgard, he started evaluating everything from the perspective of preserving Earth’s friendship with them.” He rubbed the bridge of his nose with two fingers. “I don’t want to hurt them, John. Ally certainly doesn’t want to hurt them—she says that there are others on Earth she’d like to bring here. You know how she feels about those she considers family. Her seeker programs crawl Earth everyday seeking out the best and most amazing people—people she would welcome with everything she has if given half the chance.”
“Maybe one day we’ll be able to do that,” John murmured. “It’s…a dream, Rodney but not an impossible one. With the SGC declassified…maybe the Atlantis project will be revealed. Then, we can invite all of those beautiful minds out here to play with you and Ally.” He grinned when Rodney blushed. “That’s not ever going to get old.” He inclined his head and scooted back from the desk. “Come here.”
Rodney scoffed and blushed darker. “I’m not going to sit on your lap.”
“Come on.” He patted his knee and wet his bottom lip. “We’ve got a few minutes.”
McKay slanted a glance his spouse’s way and sighed. “Why do you have to look like that?”
“Great genes,” John explained with a grin as McKay divested himself of the two datapads he’d had in hand and walked around the desk. He sucked in a breath as his favorite person in the universe slid astride his lap and settled.
John clenched his hands on Rodney’s hips and pulled him closer. “I’m such a lucky bastard.”
“Yeah?” Rodney asked softly.
“So lucky,” John murmured as he pulled him tight against his groin. He loved the science uniforms. Dark blue and cut similarly to the military uniforms—the pants were made of a deceptively sturdy material that stretched and moved with the body. For once, the pockets of McKay’s cargo style pants were mostly empty. “I love you beyond all reason.”
“I know,” Rodney whispered against his mouth. “You fill up my mind with it every single time you touch me.” Their lips brushed together in a series of intimate kisses that heated their bodies just a little. Neither of them were particularly interested in sex at the moment but the stress relief a few kisses provided certainly hit the spot.
“Oh, for cryin’ out loud, General, you promised me the office was a make-out free zone,” Nathan O’Neill complained with both hands slapped over his face. Carter, Quinn, and Mitchell were behind him doing their best not to snicker.
John lifted his head and just grinned at McKay who was blood red with embarrassment. “I made no such promises.”
“Well, you should!” O’Neill returned.
Sheppard let McKay scramble off his lap and just grinned. “What fun would that be? Besides, being the boss around here should have a few perks.”
“I’m not a perk,” Rodney snapped as he straightened his shirt and glared at Carter who snorted.
“That’s right.” John smiled, amused and affectionate. The combination made him look beyond beautiful. “You’re the goddamned love of my life.”
Rodney pointed one finger at him. “Exactly.”
John watched McKay get settled in the chair again and then looked at their guests. He narrowed his gaze on Nathan. “So, I suppose you interrupted my cuddle-time for something important? Foothold in the gate room? Wraith hive? Giant man-eating dinosaur suddenly evolve on the mainland?”
“Nah, nothing so fun. Elizabeth agreed to give Mr. Woolsey a tour and sent these three down for you to babysit. She thought they might like a different kind of tour than what Woolsey will be getting.” O’Neill leaned against the doorway. “And I got drafted into making a run to the mainland for Teyla who is finished with her meetings.”
John nodded. “Sounds good. I’ll babysit. Let Teyla know about the afternoon meeting schedule.” He looked at Cameron Mitchell after O’Neill made his goodbyes and left quickly. “Send Malone on home?”
“Yeah.” Cameron nodded. “Dr. Weir had a diplomatic pouch to send back as well for the IOA so I pushed him through with it. Woolsey is all atwitter about all of this. I think he really thought he could come out here and bully you guys back into the fold.”
“Must be a shock for him,” John murmured. “But not so much for you?”
“No, you guys were pretty clear in your kiss-off videos,” Jonas answered cheerfully. “So, can we look around?”
“Yeah.” John stood and checked his watch. “Should be interesting. We have a few platoons on maneuvers on the East Pier and we’ve got a ship coming down in about three hours. Artemis was on a recon mission but Colonel Teldy is on time for her return despite concerns that she might need longer than scheduled. We thought you might take a look at one and we weren’t able to accelerate Atlas’ refit in the NCL.”
“NCL?” Carter asked as they left John’s office.
John looked back once to make sure his spouse was following along. Rodney lingered behind the group with one datapad and a two-man military escort. McKay went nowhere without security when there were strangers in the city.
“Nanite Construction Lab.”
Carter and Cameron stopped in mid-stride causing McKay to bump into the back of Mitchell. One of John’s men immediately stepped forward and caught him before he landed on the floor.
“Thanks, Corporal Daos,” Rodney muttered and frowned at them. “What’s up with the stoppage?”
Carter glared at him. “Hello! Nanites? Really? You’re building technology with fucking nanites?”
Daos was in front of Rodney in the blink of a second. He pointed to Carter with one finger. “You will not speak to Dr. McKay that way.”
Sam blinked and cleared her throat as Rodney prodded the man to the side. “Sorry, McKay.”
“No.” Rodney rolled his eyes. “No need. These guys don’t make a distinction between shocked incredulity and anger.” He pushed Daos back with his finger and the soldier backed off with a growl. “It’s his job to watch my ass when we have the strangers in the city. He takes it seriously.”
“It’s an honor to be trusted with the life of the General’s mate,” Daos said as he crossed his arms over his chest. “The Master Chief is very particular about who has such assignments.”
Rodney blushed and Sam grinned. “So, nanites?”
“Yeah, nanites. All Ancient technology is built with nanites—even Atlantis is maintained with nanites. Ally will close down sections of the city for repairs, erect a force field and activate the nanites in the damaged area to make repairs. She doesn’t allow biologicals of any kind to interact with nanites and she has complete control of her construction units at all times. It’s nothing to worry about and nothing like what you’ve dealt with in the past.”
“Yeah, okay.” Sam nodded.
“Let’s go then before you guys make Daos nervous.” John winked at the soldier who relaxed at the gentle tease and they all started moving again.
“Mate?” Quinn asked with a little laugh.
“John and I are married—that word means different things to different people,” Rodney admitted roughly as he paused in front of a blank wall. The wall split and separated silently revealing a computer console. He slid one datapad into an empty slot and the console spit out another. He continued walking a few feet behind them but quickly caught up since John had slowed when he’d stopped. “Our two-year anniversary is just a few weeks away actually.”
“And that isn’t a problem for anyone?” Cameron asked. “Not even any of the men that came from Earth?”
“Attitudes like Sergeant Malone’s get people removed from the city,” Rodney admitted. “Atlantis does not tolerate bigotry in any form. She finds it counterproductive, and homophobia has a great deal of potential for violence. There are too many different kinds of people on Lantea to allow anyone who is intolerant of those different from them to remain here. We just can’t do it.”
“That’s kind of utopian—at least in theory. But how successful are you at keeping people who can hate like that for no reason out?” Jonas asked.
“Every single person on Lantea over the age of eighteen must go through the CIC to become a citizen. The Citizen Induction Center tests each person for a strong moral character and they are taught our laws at the same time. If the person cannot honestly make the Oath of Service to Atlantis and to the Lantean government they aren’t allowed to stay on the planet.”
“How many people get rejected?” Sam asked.
“Three hundred in the last six months.”
“Does everyone get the genetic legacy of the Ancients?”
“No, not everyone is physically able to get it. Those who can take it physically, and can pass through the CIC in honesty, are given one of two versions of the legacy. Atlantis makes that determination. Only those with the legacy are allowed to live in the city. The rest are given living space on the mainland.”
“So, the advanced gene Peter Pan therapy isn’t going to be available for trade to Earth?” Cameron questioned.
Ally appeared abruptly at his side—dressed just like Tinker Bell. “No, I’m afraid not, Colonel Mitchell.”
Cameron looked her over. “Cute.” She just grinned and sprinkled a little holographic fairy dust his way before disappearing with a tittering of tiny bells. “She always that playful and dramatic?”
John shrugged. “She can be serious when the situation calls for it but she has a rather wicked sense of humor, a mean streak as wide as McKay’s, and all the attitude of a fourteen-year-old girl when it suits her. You have to remember that Atlantis is far more than a machine, far more than a computer program.”
“What is she then?” Cameron asked as the exited out onto a large balcony.
John waved his hand out over the city of the Ancients, beautiful dark blue spires reaching up into the sky. “She is a living, breathing, thinking, learning synergy of organic metal and artificial intelligence. She can feel pain, remorse, grief, happiness, and love. As her maker said, if we respect her there is nothing she won’t do for us as long as she is able.”
“Anger, hatred?” Jonas questioned.
“Certainly. She hates the Wraith, and when she’s treated disrespectfully she can get very angry. She isn’t, however, vengeful. If anything, Ally is rather pragmatic, and she has never taken the life of a human being except on my order. She kills Wraith at will if they breach our defenses but even in the past when humans have invaded us, she’s only done it at my direction.”
“Who else has the ability to tell her to kill?” Sam asked.
“Weir, McKay, Zelenka, Teyla, and myself. If I fall—my command level falls to Colonel Lorne who’s the next available person in my command. But, any two of us together can override any one person if that person comes under some influence or if they just lose it. No one has absolute power on Atlantis outside of Ally herself. Thirteen months ago we were all taken in by this asshole off-world who talked us into bringing him home with us. He was using this drug that made his body produce these chemicals that allowed him to control us.”
“What happened?” Jonas asked wide-eyed.
“Atlantis knocked us all out and threw him out of the city. She kept us confined until the effects of the drug wore off.” John grinned. “We aren’t allowed to play with that guy anymore.”
Sam laughed softly. “I bet.”
“It’s amazing that he got past you considering the gifts you’ve demonstrated when it comes to telepathy,” Cameron offered.
“The drug,” John murmured ruefully. “Fortunately, we’ve all been inoculated against it—so no one can use it against us again. No one is perfect, Colonel.”
“No. I guess not.” Cameron leaned on the balcony and looked over the city. “Beautiful place—but it seems kind of cold to me.”
“The gene makes all the difference,” John admitted. “It’s like slipping into a hot bath for your mind. It was like coming home when I stepped through the gate for the first time.”
“And that doesn’t bother you?” Sam asked. “Don’t you wonder if the city is manipulating all of you?”
John glanced towards her and took note of the genuine worry she was projecting. “No. She provides for us; we provide for her. She sheltered and protected us when no one else could or would. The city just does what she was built to do and that’s all. She isn’t without her own goals and she can be devious about things if she wants something but she never asks for anything that isn’t her due.
“Occasionally, she plays games and we don’t always call her on it because frankly it can be a little entertaining. Sometimes she looks like Tinker Bell, and on one very memorable occasion, she did a little tap dance on the big table in the mess hall in a very short sailor dress and serenaded the entire battalion with ‘I wanna be loved by you’ like a 1930’s torch singer.”
Sam laughed abruptly and then swallowed it. “Necessary?”
“Well, they needed a laugh that was for certain.” John rubbed the back of his neck. “She scoots the scientists off to bed when they work too long, cuts off their coffee supply before they start to shake, makes sure none of the children on the city go anywhere remotely dangerous, and basically mothers us all on a daily basis. We fight the Wraith, set up relationships with the people who will allow it—and most of all we keep them from finding Earth.” John sighed. “We’ve stopped two hives in the black in the last year alone.”
“The black?” Jonas questioned with a frown.
“The space between Pegasus and the Milky Way galaxies,” Rodney explained. He folded his datapad down and dropped it into one of the pockets in his pants. “The last one was just a week from Earth when we finally caught up with it. The only good thing about the Wraith is they aren’t organized and they aren’t big on sharing.”
“How did they find out about Earth?”
“Well, they all know about the new feeding ground because the Keeper I killed told them as she died but they don’t all know where it is. The last one—picked up a transmission from a subspace relay the SGC laid out for intelligence gathering. We assumed it was for the Ori war.” John glanced at Sam, who only nodded. “We’re doing everything we can to keep them corralled in this galaxy while we systematically destroy them at the same time. We’ve taken out fifteen hive ships in the last two years.”
“How many are left, you think?” Cameron asked his voice a little hoarse with shock.
“Hundreds,” John murmured. “There are hundreds, Cameron, and every day we track them—figure out which ones are getting too close and who is a real threat. It’s not an easy life out here but we make the most of it.”
“And if they organized again, like they did when they fought the Ancients?” Jonas asked.
“Oh, we’d all be fucked,” John answered. He sucked in a deep breath. “But we also do our part to make sure that doesn’t happen. They are a paranoid and matriarchal species. It isn’t hard turn the Queens against each other and they fight themselves as much as they fight us.” He pushed back from the balcony. “Hey, babe, wanna start them on the labs?”
Rodney nodded absently and motioned them to follow him. “I told you not to call me babe unless we’re having sex, General.”
John laughed. “Did not—you outlawed baby, sweetheart, and darling, but not babe.”
“Consider it added to the list,” Rodney sniped over his shoulder.
“So, McKay?” Cameron asked with a raised eyebrow. “Everyone I know on Earth told me he was an arrogant asshole.”
John grinned. “He totally is. I mean, really. But he’s also the smartest man you’ll ever meet in your life so he’s kind of entitled to the arrogance.” John tilted back in his chair. “He’s a handful on the best of days but I wouldn’t trade what we have for anything or anyone else I’ve ever known. Because even the days when the whole universe is trying to fucking kill us—it’s amazing to have him right beside me giving the universe the one finger salute.”
Cameron snorted in his coffee and sighed as John tossed him a napkin. “Thanks.” He leaned forward a little. “I know that we’re something of a mystery to most of your people, John, but I hope you know we can be trusted.”
“I trust that your current intentions are honorable,” John murmured.
“Then what’s up with McKay’s military escort?” Cameron asked with a frown.
“McKay is mission essential around this place and it is policy that he have security whenever there are non-Lanteans on the city; it doesn’t matter who they are.” John kept his tone neutral but his eyes darkened. “I made the mistake once of trusting an outsider with his safety, Cameron, and I almost lost him. Of all the places he isn’t safe in this galaxy; I figure his home shouldn’t be one of them.”
“Religious zealot hiding amongst a group of traders. We’d been trading with the Torlians for months and they’d found a large cache of Ancient tech which they happily turned over to us for some of our staple trade goods. We were making the exchange on the city and one of them slipped out of the gate room. Rodney was busy; distracted by all the new toys he’d been given and didn’t even notice the man until he had an eight-inch knife in his back.”
John’s mouth tightened into a thin line. “I lost my fucking mind. I killed that bastard with my bare hands in front of half the city before my men could stop me. Though to be honest, they didn’t even try until I had half of his throat dripping in my hand and he was drowning in his own blood on the floor.”
Cameron paled. “Yeah, okay. Jesus, John.”
“Not a good day,” John murmured. “Half the civilians on the city had nightmares about it for a month.” He stared at his cup for a long minute and then took a deep breath. “So, McKay has personal security when there are non-Lanteans on the city and my focus is split. I prefer to handle his safety myself but I’m not arrogant enough to think I don’t sometimes need a second or third pair of eyes in the room.”
“Did you face any kind of charges?”
“I faced a review,” John quirked an eyebrow at him. “But honestly, no one really blamed me for my reaction—it was visceral and if it hadn’t been me, it would’ve been one of my men. That man would have never made it off this city alive after attacking McKay. It’s just…everyone understands how important McKay is and Atlantis was so furious over the attack the entire city shook with it. She trembled for hours. In fact, she didn’t stop until he came out of the medpod healed.”
“If he had died?”
“I don’t know. She would have mourned him—in some ways he is like her father. She woke after ten thousand years in his hands, he knows her more intimately than anyone else here. As I said, she can feel physical pain—so even when she is the most damaged she doesn’t keep McKay from fixing her—even if the repair is just as painful as the problem itself.” John chuckled then. “I did have to go to therapy.”
Cameron snorted. “Well there goes my idea that this place was sort of perfect.”
“I needed it. I thought…I thought he was dead and for a few seconds I didn’t know what was more important—killing the person who did it or just laying down and dying with him.” John flushed and shook his head. “We’re so closely linked now—even when he sleeps his mind brushes against mine. Having it jerked away from me so abruptly and violently—it was like having my arm cut off.”
“I’m going to ask a really personal question.”
“Shoot,” John said, suddenly very amused.
“Yeah, I have no fucking clue how I got as far as I did without anyone noticing.” John smirked. “It’s stunning how many times I almost got caught. My last CO—he knew but he didn’t have proof which is how I got shipped down to Antarctica. Maybe he thought the subzero temperatures would break my dick and I wouldn’t be gay anymore.”
Cameron groaned and then laughed reluctantly. “I hate the fucking cold.”
“Yeah, me too.”
* * * *
Woolsey had exchanged data bursts with Earth three times before he was ready to meet with them again and while they already knew exactly what the man was thinking they had all decided to allow him them illusion that he had some mental privacy on the city.
“The IOA has agreed to tentatively accept the government you’ve established on Lantea but they would like to review it and make some changes to how leadership is decided.”
Elizabeth laughed. “Absolutely not.”
Woolsey flushed. “Dr. Weir, we are trying to work with you here.”
“No, you’re trying to maneuver us so you can put someone in charge out here who you think you can control and it’s not going to happen. We aren’t going to surrender our autonomy to Earth—it’s not going to happen. We are a free and independent society and frankly we need nothing from Earth to survive. We have technology you want so if you expect us to trade with you—I would suggest you come to the table with something we’ll actually find interesting.”
Woolsey cleared his throat. “Some of you left family back on Earth—we’d be willing to arrange visits for any of your family that would like to come to Atlantis to see you. Beyond that, Dr. Weir, I don’t know what we could offer you.”
“Iron ore and a few other minerals are in short supply in this galaxy,” Elizabeth admitted. “The Asgard have supplied us with it in the past and but not at any substantial quantity. It’s a place for us to start.”
“And what are you prepared to offer us in return?”
“Shields for your ships like the one we gave for Earth.”
“We’ve tried that,” Sam murmured. “We don’t have the power to support them on the ships.”
Elizabeth shared a look with McKay, who had rushed into the meeting just as the doors were closing. “We can provide you with power sources for the shields to be utilized on the ships. A ZPM isn’t an ideal match for the shielding Atlantis designed for our ships but we do have a renewable power source that the Science Department calls the mini-ZPM that Ally believes would work well with your ships. It has a few Asgard qualities that would make meshing the technology fairly seamless.”
“Ancient weapons, no.” Rodney shook his head. “We’d never put you in a position to threaten us. That being said, we could arm you in such a way that really nothing the Ori could throw at you would be a threat. At least, not as long as the ascended Ori stay in their own galaxy. If they cross over into the Milky Way, the war will be out of your hands anyway.”
“That’s what you meant about us fighting the wrong war,” Richard murmured. “We can’t fight the ascended, Dr. McKay.”
“No, but you can kill them,” Rodney returned evenly. “There are a few weapons that will do it. Your best bet would be to start with Adria.”
“There are weapons that can kill the Ori,” Cameron said. “Is that what you’re saying?”
“Well, there are weapons that can kill people who have ascended regardless of their religious beliefs. It would be centralized so if you let it lose in their galaxy— it wouldn’t kill the Ancients because there are none there.” Rodney tilted his head. “Ally, tell them.”
Ally appeared at the head of the room, dressed in the all black Lantean military uniform, complete with a side arm strapped to her thigh. Her hair was in pig tails which sort of ruined her badassery but her combat boots were very shiny.
“I’m preparing a tablet PC for Colonel Carter with all the necessary information on the Ancient known as Merlin. He, out of all of my former people, dedicated himself to searching for ways to destroy the Ori. He was eventually asked to leave because of his radical ideas—but it was believed that he continued to work on ways to fight and defeat them. There were rumors that he created a device that would kill ascended beings but the others never found any proof of that. Daniel Jackson did find him at one point but he died before the device he was building could be finished.”
“You can help us complete the device?”
Atlantis inclined her head. “Yes, I can.”
A shimmer of light drifted over the avatar and John stood. “Artemis has entered orbit and is waiting to be sorted for landing.”
“South Pier work for you?”
“Yes, General.” Ally disappeared abruptly.
* * * *
John paused ten meters from the landing zone and watched Artemis land gently on the deck as if she didn’t weigh twenty thousand tons. Mooring clamps clicked into place and the ship settled in minute degrees until all movement ceased completely. A flash of bright white light and Colonel Anne Teldy appeared before him.
“Colonel.” John indicated with a nod that she come to him.
She stepped forward and relaxed under his hands as he cupped her shoulders. They pressed their foreheads together and both trembled slightly.
“What the fuck?” Cameron muttered.
Rodney nudged him. “All of John’s command level officers are advanced telepaths. Right now, she’s reviewing her entire mission for him.”
“So he’s in her head?”
“No, it’s more like she’s showing him a really fast paced movie with a side dish of emotional and physical experiences. There will be a mission report but this allows him to see all the nuances and experience everything she did during her mission.” Rodney pulled out his datapad. “Additionally, Artemis is downloading a complete audio/video record of the mission and each member of the crew will submit a report.”
“This doesn’t make you jealous?” Sam asked.
“No, John is utterly gay and completely devoted.” Rodney smirked when she laughed. “Besides, they’re all afraid of me. He’d have to go off planet to get some strange and even then—it might prove difficult.”
“Do you do this with your staff?” Jonas asked.
“Yeah, sometimes if I have someone who has a hard time making their words truly match their idea. Zelenka and I spend a lot of time mentally communicating though it doesn’t require touch unless it’s an in-depth situation like this. She’s been gone for a week.”
“Doesn’t allow for much privacy,” Cameron murmured.
“Privacy is a luxury and we all knew exactly what we were getting into,” Elizabeth murmured. “Ally fully informed us of the ramifications of accepting her gifts and absolutely no one went into it blind.” She inclined her head. “Ally, how is our big girl?”
Ally appeared at her side. “Artemis reports that she had no problems during the mission and has lodged a formal complaint that she was not given the first new stardrive. She’s of the opinion since she does more recon work that she should’ve received the first new drive.”
Elizabeth’s lips twitched. “Whatever shall we do, Ally?”
“I promised her new laser cannons,” Ally sighed. “She seems satisfied with that as long as she gets them first. I never should’ve made boys—the girls are always so jealous over them.”
“I wonder how they’ll react to Ares.”
“So, far they all seem fairly excited to be getting a new little brother.” Ally tucked her hands behind her back and rocked on her feet. “Atlas says we should make Ares’ call letters BAMF.”
Elizabeth lifted an eyebrow in question. “Why? What does it mean?”
Rodney snorted. “Bad ass mother fucker.”
Elizabeth choked on her laughter. “Absolutely not.”
Ally just grinned. “Well, Ares is very bad ass.”
John lifted his head and took a deep breath. “He certainly is. My astrophysicist does nothing by half.” He lifted his hands off Anne Teldy’s shoulders when he was sure she was steady on her feet. “Excellent work, Colonel. Sort your crew for post-mission medical and get everyone settled. Formal reports due from everyone in sixteen hours.”
“Thank you, sir.” Anne glanced briefly at the people behind him, and with a brief nod in Sam Carter’s direction, clicked her radio and disappeared in a flash of light.
“Anything interesting, John?” Elizabeth question.
“The Travelers are moving around again but nothing drastic or advanced at this point. The three hives we are tracking just outside of our space appear to be nearing a hibernation cycle. If that’s the case, I figure I might go out there and blow them the fuck up.” John rubbed the back of his neck as he looked at Artemis.
“Sounds like a plan.” Elizabeth glanced towards Woolsey who was staring at the ship with shock and awe warring over his face. “You need to make sure that everyone understands, Mr. Woolsey, that we can’t be forced to give you anything.”
“Yes, that’s clear.” Woolsey cleared his throat. “So our shield on Earth?”
“We have the same shield around this planet and this ship passed right through it,” Rodney answered.
* * * *
Anne Teldy took a deep breath as she exited the medlab. Thankfully being in command had a few privileges including getting to go first on post mission medical exams. She came to an abrupt stop when Samantha Carter hopped up out of the chair she was sitting in.
“Colonel.” Anne glanced over Carter’s rank insignia and then looked at the Lantean soldier who was standing nearby. “Are you her guard?”
“I can transfer custody to you, Colonel, but you’ll have to escort her back up.”
“Not a problem.” Anne waved him off. “Have you had your fourth meal for today?”
Sam grimaced. “How did you know?”
“I was briefed to be included in the healing team. Carson thinks it’ll be a good experience for me—he wants to include as many women as he can so we can learn what cancer in females feels like when we touch each other. Ovarian cancer is rare among Pegasus females so we haven’t had many chances to detect it.”
“You can detect illnesses in people by touching them?” Sam asked.
“Yeah, everything from the flu to cancer. We found that out by accident when Colonel Lorne and Major Harris came to the medlab complaining about a problem they were having. Every time they touched, Chase would get distracted by this ‘bad feeling’ and they hadn’t had sex in weeks as a result.”
“And the bad feeling?” Sam asked, unwillingly curious.
“Evan Lorne had the beginnings of stomach cancer. Every time Chase touched him, the disease teased at the back of his mind. I mean, it was so small we barely found it on the scanners. Now, whenever we encounter someone with something unusual, at least for our currently limited population, we all try to get a touch in so we’ll know what it feels like.”
“Is Colonel Lorne okay?”
“Yes, it was nothing to heal once we found it. Just finding it so early saved him a great deal of discomfort and it wasn’t a difficult healing. Carson has already warned everyone on the healing team that we’ll probably spend some time in the infirmary after your healing.”
Sam paused in the hallway. “It’ll hurt you?”
“No, not exactly, but it will be taxing. Apparently your illness is pretty advanced.” Anne grimaced. “Why are you even working, Colonel?”
“Call me Sam,” Carter admonished. “You used to.”
“Yeah, and then you got promoted.”
“And so did you.” Sam grinned. “Granted, your uniform is slicker and you’ve got a command. I mean…an awesome Ancient ship who talks to you and stuff. That’s amazing.”
“Yeah,” Anne agreed. “More than I would ever been able to earn for myself on Earth.”
Sam took a deep breath. “Is that why it was so easy to stay out here?”
“Partly. I don’t have family on Earth and fighting the Wraith is a good, necessary fight. The people in this galaxy have suffered enough in their hands. Someone has to make a stand and it might as well be us.” Anne maneuvered her into the mess hall with minimal effort. “How do you feel?”
“Good, I actually haven’t had any problems at all. The diagnosis was a complete surprise because…” Sam sighed. “Well, I just didn’t see it coming at all and I should have because it isn’t like I haven’t been exposed to a hundred things that could have done this to me in the last ten years. I can’t believe I was so foolish.”
Anne piled up her food tray for both of them, aware that the Air Force Colonel wasn’t even trying to get food for herself. “Why did O’Neill send you on this mission in your condition?”
“He doesn’t know. I didn’t…” Sam sighed. “I haven’t told him and Carolyn Lam hasn’t reported it to him, yet. She gave me a few weeks to get some things settled and we’d hoped that the Tok’ra would help me. Unfortunately they couldn’t without making me a host and I wasn’t sure I was ready to take that kind of step. It would have changed everything for me.”
“Like dying wouldn’t have?” Anne asked as she prodded Sam to a table. “Sit here, and eat some of this while I get us some tea.”
* * * *
John sat down in the main control chair and it spun gently into place. He relaxed and Theseus brushed against his mind—a gentle, affection touch.
“Yes,” Theseus agreed. “The people from Earth are greedy and immature. They seek war for no other reason than wealth. I do pay attention to the data that Ally collects for you, John. In many ways, your world remains very primitive. They do not respect life—not as they should.”
“There are good people on Earth,” John murmured.
“Yes, of course there are. But far too many corrupt are in power. It makes me fear for our world and for my children.”
“You know that I will protect your children as if they were my own.”
“Yes, I do know that, John. I do not doubt your loyalty to our world and to me. We serve a higher purpose together—you and I. We protect those that we love most from the Wraith.”
“Yes.” John sighed and let his mind shift around the system. “Looks like you’ve got a relay that needs replaced.”
“Ally has added it to Radek’s maintenance report. You have family on Earth. Do you wish to bring them here? They are welcome. All of the families you left behind are welcome. I will have Atlas bring them here if they want to join us.”
John laughed. “We can’t just kidnap people from Earth.”
“I believe you’ll find that I can,” Theseus corrected and laughed gently when John sighed. “But I would not—unless you agreed. I would like to meet your father, John. You have fond memories of him before you argued.”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
“I would prefer that the people from Earth not know about me. They’ve met Ally and that is enough.”
“They are at war with the Ori, John. They are the greatest enemy my kind ever knew and additionally, I would not wish for them to search for more of my species. If there are any remaining in Altera—they don’t deserve to be lured to Earth to make war for them.”
“I’ll make sure you aren’t mentioned in the meetings. There has been no discussion regarding how the city was created and you haven’t been mentioned by name. At most they believe that the Ancients created a living metal and that is what they will continue to believe until we have no other choice.”
* * * *
Major Chase Harris’ foot, which had been bouncing along with the Run DMC Ally had been blasting for him in the hangar bay, stopped mid-bounce and he slid out from underneath the craft his guys had nicknamed Hell Fighter despite Ally’s protests. He rolled to his feet and stood at what passed for attention on Atlantis. “General.”
John glanced around the deck. “Why do you have one of the A-400s in pieces? Is there a problem? I was led to believe these things just came out of the NCL.”
Chase wiped glowing blue lubricant onto his overalls with a sigh. “No problem, sir, I was just checking out the upgrades. I always take one apart after we get them out of the NCL to see what Ally did to them.”
John turned to Cameron. “This is why it sucks having a man with a PhD in aeronautical engineering as a flight commander. He’s always taking our pretty space ships apart.”
Chase flushed. “It won’t be any problem to put it back together, sir.”
“I know.” John shoved his hands into his pockets. “Colonel Mitchell wanted to get a good look at the redesign you and Ally did on the X-302.”
Chase pulled a cloth out of his pocket and wiped his hands. “Wanna take a ride, sir?”
Cameron Mitchell looked around the room and took in the fifteen fighters with a deep breath. “Oh yeah. I was already informed I wouldn’t be able to fly them.”
“No, sir, it requires the gene.” Chase tapped his radio. “Lt. Connors, report to Hell Bay, flight ready in ten minutes.” He tapped his radio again and pulled a datapad out of one of his pockets which he unfolded and started to work with. “Connors drives like an old lady which is good because we throw people off the pier if they get sick in the Hell Fighter.” He paused and looked at John. “Unless you’d like to take it yourself, sir?”
“Does Connors need the flight time?” John asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Yeah, he’s three hours short on atmosphere and four on space for the quarter because he spent three weeks off world.”
* * * *
John tossed the towel he’d brought out to the Northeast pier over his shoulder and looked toward Elizabeth Weir with the most innocent face he could muster. “Dr. Weir?”
“Can you tell me why your men just threw Colonel Mitchell off the pier?” she demanded her voice hard with shock.
John took note of the fact that she was holding her elbow which was definitely a sign of much doom to come. “Oh, he got sick in the Hell Fighter. To be fair, he was warned in advanced what would happen if he got sick.”
Elizabeth bit down on her lip and looked at Richard Woolsey who was pale and shaking a little from the exertion it had taken for them to jog down the pier. “I see.” She sighed as Cameron Mitchell was beamed dripping onto the pier in front of John. “I had assumed our guests would be exempt from the rule.”
“We did warn him,” John repeated and then just grinned.
Cameron laughed and rolled to his feet. “That was the best ride ever!” He wiped one hand down his face and took the towel from Sheppard with a grin. “Can I go up again?”
“Yeah, but only after you’ve mastered your stomach. Connors is pissed about his seats.” John looped an arm around his shoulders. “The visuals probably won’t make you sick a second time.”
“John!” Cameron grinned. “I went nearly the speed of light outside of subspace. That’s like the most fantastic thing ever.”
“Colonel Mitchell, are you alright?” Woolsey asked, tensely.
“Oh yeah, I’m fantastic.” Cameron cheerfully rubbed his head with the towel. “I need to go back to guest quarters and change for the afternoon meeting but that shouldn’t take long.”
* * * *
Cameron Mitchell really didn’t understand why Woolsey felt the need to skulk around the city like they had any ability to have secrets from anyone but he just quirked one eyebrow at the man as he followed him into the rooms they’d been assigned.
“I fail to see what this afternoon has accomplished for you, Colonel.”
“Well, I got to ride in a really cool space ship and I also learned a great deal about that particular space ship while I was doing it. They might have started out as X-302s but they are really nothing like anything I’ve ever sat my ass down in, ever.” Cameron pulled of his boots and hid a smirk when Woolsey made a startled sound like he was surprised that he was actually going to change clothes in front of him. He rubbed his face. “Did you get word to O’Neill about the subcutaneous transmitters? The last thing we need is for the Apollo to enter this galaxy with a ship full of them.”
“Yes, the Apollo is due to check in via the last gate connection going out of the galaxy. O’Neill is going to station them there while their implants are disabled and leave them on standby to retrieve us if necessary.”
Cameron nodded and shimmied his hips a little as he came out of his BDUs. “The water felt great—but I hate being in wet clothes.”
Ally appeared abruptly next to the wall near the bathroom. “Colonel Mitchell, if you put your clothes and boots in the dryer in the bathroom—they’ll be dried for you.”
Cameron pulled off his shirt. “Cool. I don’t need the gene for that?”
“To use it on your own, yes, but since you are my guest…I’ve allotted some of my resources to act as your concierge during your time on the city.”
“We were speaking privately, Atlantis,” Richard Woolsey said and fidgeted with his glasses.
“As I’m sure you’re very aware, Mr. Woolsey, you do not enjoy any privacy within my structures. I even monitored you while you showered this morning to make sure you didn’t fall and break your neck.” Ally gaze narrowed on him. “You should exercise more and decrease your body mass—it’s bad for your health.”
Cameron swallowed back laughter as Woolsey sputtered. “Show me the dryer thing?”
“Of course.” Ally motioned towards the bathroom with one haughty look in Woolsey’s direction.
* * * *
Jack O’Neill decided that he hated meetings and allowing himself to be promoted to General had been the worst decision of his life. He propped his chin up on one hand and shared a look with the new president. Hayes had a lot of potential if you overlooked his used car salesman smile.
“I believe force is the best option.”
Jack sighed loudly enough that everyone in the room stopped talking and turned to look at him. “Really? I think Woolsey has been fairly blunt in his assessment of the situation he’s been exposed to out there. They’ve made their own way, as General Sheppard stated, and I don’t doubt for a minute that the Asgard would come down on their side.”
“The Asgard has been our ally for years,” the IOA rep from China reminded snidely, as if Jack was likely to ever forget the circumstances that had led him to forge a relationship with the Asgard.
Jack scrunched up his nose as Thor appeared, complete with really cool Asgard chair, at the head of the table. “Hey, buddy.”
“O’Neill. President Hayes. Thank you for inviting us to this conversation.” Thor looked around the room. “And for allowing me to listen before joining you. I’ve learned a great deal this morning.” He cleared his throat. “The Asgard have been the friend of Atlantis and her people for more two million Earth years.” He inclined his head. “It would be an unfortunate circumstance but should you come to a military solution with regards to the Lantean situation—you would find yourself at odds with the Asgard.”
O’Neill and Hayes exchanged looks while the reps from the IOA in the room adjusted to the presence of the alien and his unfortunate news. Thor had never mucked around with anything resembling subtle. Jack figured that’s why the Asgard liked him and Rodney McKay so much—he freely admitted to having a faulty self-editor and McKay’s mouth was a thing of legend.
“Regardless of your relationship with the city itself, Commander Thor, our people have…acted and continue to act against the interests of our entire planet. We have no choice but to address the situation concerning our own people in the way that best suits our needs as a people and a planet.” The rep from Great Britain was a Grade A asshole as far as Jack was concerned.
“Any action you take against the people that originally came from Earth would upset the city greatly,” Thor cautioned.
The man flushed. “Neither the Asgard nor the city has any say in how we maintain order with our own people.”
Jack hated that guy and wondered silently why the rest of the committee had elected him as their speaker. “Mr. Binder, I think what Thor is trying to say is that what the city of the bloody Ancients wants, she gets.”
Thor inclined his head. “Yes, exactly that.” He squinted slightly and his little mouth pursed in what most would have considered a frown of displeasure. “Atlantis is a unique and beautiful entity born out of vision and the most amazing kind of creativity. Nothing my people have ever found even comes close. She is a living sentient life form and the Asgard would view any act against her as a prelude to war. The Tau’ri, as a whole, have a great deal of potential. It would be unfortunate if our relationship was severed due to your cavalier treatment of Atlantis and the people she has claimed as her own.”
Carl Binder brightened with anger and openly glared at the Asgard commander. “So you’re saying you’d break with us—after all the help we gave you during the Replicator war—you’d break with us and protect what is for all intents and purposes a sentient machine.”
Jack blinked when Thor actually glared back at him. “Whoa, let’s take a break and calm down.”
“I need no such thing, O’Neill,” Thor murmured. “The answer to that inappropriate question is—yes, of course we would. The Tau’ri may have helped us during the Replicator war but Atlantis saved our species from extinction.”
“I agree,” Hayes broke in. “I can’t imagine any greater debt that could be owed, and, of course, your friendship with Atlantis and her people will be honored and protected by Earth. We would never seek to cause any hard feelings between us and the Asgard.”
The members of the IOA seemed to shrink back in their seats as Hayes finished speaking and Jack watched Thor relax on his little throne. The Asgard were a difficult species to get a read on but he was pretty sure that Hayes had done his part to soothe him.
“So,” Jack started pointedly, “what can we do for Atlantis and her people?”
“If they are willing open trade and relations with you despite your ignorance and abandonment of them in a war zone…” Thor focused on him entirely. “I would expect you to deal with them fairly as you would any other ally. I would be happy to help in the treaty proceedings if that is necessary. I don’t know that they’d be willing to bring one of their own ships due to the Wraith threat they face and fight off on your behalf so I’m willing to act as their transport home if needed. If they are willing to come through the gate to meet with you—I’ll see to their safety personally.”
“And our relationship with the Asgard?” Hayes asked carefully.
“We will honor our agreements with Earth for as long as the Tau’ri conduct themselves with the honor and courage we’ve come to know you for.” Thor punched several buttons on his chair. “This means, of course, our continued support in your fight with the Ori. We are still rebuilding many of our resources in the wake of the Replicator war but expect to have at least three ships ready within the next year.”
Jack watched him continue to work with his chair and wondered what the little guy was up to. “So, we can dial Pegasus and invite a delegation here to discuss our situation?”
“The people you have on Atlantis aren’t going to be able to finalize any kind of agreement—so yes, it would be advisable.”
* * * *
If Jack O’Neill was surprised when five truly vicious looking sons of bitches stepped through his gate directly after his former team and in front of John Sheppard and Rodney McKay, he hid it well. The gate behind them shut off and someone cleared their throat a little noisily.
John walked down the ramp as the men parted to make way for him. He nodded briefly at the biggest of the men. “Master Chief Dex, don’t point your gun at General O’Neill.”
“It’s set to stun,” Ronon responded dryly and holstered his weapon.
Jack laughed a little. “It’s good to see you, Sheppard, McKay.” He nodded at the scientist who had stayed at the top of the ramp. “Carter tells me congratulations are in order?” He offered his hand to John. “Or maybe condolences—neither one of you can be a picnic to be married to.”
Rodney glared slightly as John shook O’Neill’s hand. He came down the ramp then. “I liked you better when you were in that pod in Antarctica. It was like having a man statue—not exactly classic but pretty enough to be mildly entertaining when I walked by you.”
Jack grinned. “I’m better in live action, McKay, I promise.” He shook Rodney’s hand and motioned toward the men they’d brought with them. “Is Dr. Weir worried we won’t send you back?”
“No, we’re very aware that Commander Thor is in orbit and we trust him to see to our transportation home if it becomes necessary.” John looked around the gate room and then at his men. “This is McKay’s security team. One of them is on his six every minute of our time here; it’s not negotiable.”
“Why?” Jack asked before he could help himself. “You don’t trust us?”
“I don’t trust myself,” John returned evenly. “I’d hate to butcher half the people on this base because McKay stubbed his toe three floors away from me. Because when he’s in pain—he doesn’t communicate well at all.”
Rodney shoved his hands into his pockets and finally looked at Carter. “You were going to show me something in your lab?”
“Yeah,” Carter nodded. “Wanna pick your guards for the trip?”
Rodney just laughed. “Daos and Dex, John.”
Sheppard nodded. “You heard the man, gentlemen.”
Jack watched the man John had called Master Chief and one of the other men separate from the group and tuck in around McKay—one in front and one in back. They all left with Carter leaving him alone in the gate room with Mitchell and the rest of the people from Atlantis. “Those two weren’t part of the expedition, right?”
“No, Ronon Dex and Tyre Daos are both from a planet called Sateda. The Wraith routed them about eight years ago. We found those two on a planet being hunted by a Wraith Hive for sport. We rescued them and they sort of—swore their fealty, honor, swords, lives, etc. to McKay because he blew up the Hive that had been keeping them as pets. Since I wouldn’t let him keep them, McKay suggested they join the Lantean military if they qualified for the gene therapy.”
“And they did?”
“Atlantis loves them both—she doted on them for weeks after we brought them home. Even altered their living quarters—gravity and air mixture to be more like their home world.” John nodded his head towards the three men that remained. “You may remember Stackhouse, Markham, and Jones.”
“I do.” Jack looked them over the three former Marines. “Though, I don’t remember them looking so mean when I saw them last.” All three men just grinned at him, but the smiles were kind of wild and amused at the same time.
“Pegasus is a mean-ass place to make life and war, General.” John inclined his head.
“I was hoping to see Daniel,” O’Neill admitted.
“Unfortunately, Dr. Jackson and his wife are on an extended research mission and we could not communicate with them regarding the situation. They are seventeen days by jumper from the space gate they used to travel to their location.” John paused. “But I’m sure he’ll be interested in reconnecting with Earth, General. He’s missed his former team very much. The IOA?”
“We have reps from Great Britain, China, Canada, and Russia on base. Australia, France, and Germany are due to be beamed in within the hour. They’re in the middle of discussing declassifying the Atlantis project.”
“So they are trying to figure out how to admit they sent a bunch of people from Earth to a different galaxy and basically did everything they could to forget we existed?”
“Not all of us,” Jack snapped. He took a calming breath when Jonas cleared his throat. “Not all of us by a long shot but yeah that’s the thrust of their discussion. They have plenty of excuses people will buy—most of the planet is horrified by the threat of the Ori so that’s going to work in their favor. Additionally, a lot of the people who had key roles in keeping you guys out there without back up are no longer in power—so the new leaderships in several countries can claim ignorance and promise to do better without losing a lot of face on the subject.” Jack sighed. “So, I have something of a personal situation brewing for you John.”
John frowned. “What?”
“Your father.” Jack sighed. “He’s on the Pentagon’s SGC resources committee and has seen the files on the Atlantis mission. He’s also aware that you agreed to gate back to Earth today.”
John felt his stomach clench. “Did you…”
“Yeah, he saw your goodbye message. Did you know the two of you have the same smile?” Jack shoved his hands into his pockets. “He wants to meet with you and I’m not the kind of a man who can deny another man his son. I hope you understand that.”
“Yes, I understand.”
* * * *
Three people from the Pentagon beamed in with his father. The conference room O’Neill had led him to wasn’t meant for the IOA but for a discreet meeting with the US Military and one John Sheppard. John had expected to be debriefed—he could only hope for their sakes that they kept things civil. He wasn’t exactly thrilled with them as it was.
Jack set a coffee cup in front of John and then sat down with his own. “Carter says this is Kona and it’s bliss. I drink gas station coffee regularly so I have to trust her judgment.”
John shook his head. “Never admit that in front of Rodney, he’d have a hissy and while those are entertaining—they aren’t good for his blood pressure.”
Jack laughed a little. “John, I believe you know Admiral Patrick Sheppard, to his left is General Frank Harris. Admiral Diane Foster. General Joseph Knowles.” Jack inclined his head towards Caldwell and Mitchell. “For those new to the SGC—Colonel Cameron Mitchell is my second in command here at the SGC, and Colonel Steven Caldwell is in command of the Antarctic base.” He focused on John. “And our guest—General John Sheppard, Lantean Space Command.”
John watched the men and the single woman in the room adjust and settle around the table. “Hey, Dad.”
Patrick stared at his son. “John, you always said you didn’t want a command.”
John’s gaze darkened a little. “I didn’t have a lot of choice when it first happened but I find I thrive at the top of the dog pile.”
The only Marine in the room put a bottle of water on the table with a thud. “I’ve read a summary on the mission where Colonel Sumner was lost—but I’d like to hear the story from you.” Knowles sat back in his chair and stared.
John nodded, he’d expected it. “Three months into our mission in Pegasus, we’d made several valuable relationships with the people there—our first priority had been food and friends. One of the first friends we made were the people of Athos. They were culled but a few managed to escape and request help from us. Sumner went on the rescue mission personally. I waited two hours after he was due to check in and followed. I managed to infiltrate the hive that was still in orbit around Athos with a few marines and we found the two rescue jumpers. Eventually, we located what was left of the Athosians and our men.”
“But not Sumner?”
“No, Sumner was being questioned by the Queen of the Hive. We didn’t know much about the Wraith—in fact, it was our first encounter with them because it was believed that most of their population was asleep.” John took a deep breath. “She was extracting information from him about Earth and he couldn’t stop her, no matter how he tried. Queens are powerful telepaths and even with the advanced ATA gene therapy, I have a hard time fighting off one’s mental attack. She started feeding on him to weaken him so she could get more out of him—coordinates for the galaxy where we came from specifically. She was already calling it the ‘new feeding grounds’. I tucked into an alcove above them and Sumner saw me. I shot her first but she just sucked more life out of him to heal herself.”
John took a drink of his coffee and focused on the wall above Jack O’Neill’s head. “He screamed my name and then the words ‘take the shot, goddamnit’.”
“So you did,” Knowles said.
“I did. Bates and Ford saved my ass from her drones, because after I killed Sumner, I went down there and gutted her.” John exhaled sharply. “And I brought him home. We cremated him but we can return his ashes if his son wants them buried at Arlington.”
“You kept them?” Jack questioned.
“Everyone on the expedition left instructions on what they’d like done with their remains in the event they could be brought back to Atlantis. Some requested burial on the mainland and others requested cremation. A few burials at sea and others wanted shoved through a spacegate and into a star. We did our best to honor their wishes. We have a memorial room on the city for those who were cremated.” John twisted his wedding ring around on his finger, unwittingly drawing attention to it. The dark grey metal glowed against his skin slightly as he moved it.
John stood abruptly and went to retrieve a bottle of water from a refreshment table near the front of the room. He took a long swallow and answered the question none of them were going to ask. “Head shot. It’s not in the official autopsy report because I knew Sumner had a son in the Marines. I didn’t want him to see a detail like that written down about his father. Marshall would have never wanted him to know that. He really wouldn’t want Shawn to even known how he died.”
Knowles shook his head. “No, he wouldn’t. Shawn knows his father died in action while assigned to the SGC. As far as I’m concerned, he doesn’t need to know more than that.”
“Speaking of sons,” General Harris started. “You have mine, General, and I’d like him back.”
John snorted. “Over my Wraith-drained dead body.” He looked the old Army general over with a frown. “I mean, seriously, no.”
“John,” Patrick began with a frown, “the man has a right to see his child.”
“The man likes to hit women and children—so no, he doesn’t have a right to see Chase. Additionally, I could never get Chase off Lantea without the man he married—and Evan Lorne would like to kill the General. That wouldn’t be good for our burgeoning relationship with Earth.” John glared at his father when he started to speak again. “If you want me to continue speaking to you—you won’t bother defending him.”
“My son married another man?” Hank Harris demanded, his voice hoarse with shock. “He…that was just a phase.”
Jack O’Neill laughed. “Jesus, really? You thought that?”
John just sighed sadly and dropped back down into the seat. “Let’s talk about something less fucked up—like the Wraith.” He reached down and pulled a datapad out his mission pack. “I’ve prepared a few reports for you on the subject because you’ll need to start keeping an eye on the black.”
“The black?” Jack O’Neill asked and watched curiously as Cameron retrieved a laptop from one of the tables and turned it on.
“The space between this galaxy and Pegasus. We’ve taken out three hives that have made it that far in their mission to find the new ‘feeding grounds’ – two in the last year.” John unfolded the datapad and a holographic interface popped up. He manipulated it with a few elegant hand motions and brushed several images onto walls around the room with his fingers. Hive ships, cruisers, and images of the Wraith themselves flipped through in a cycle. “We estimate that there are at least five hundred active Hives in Pegasus right now, each Hive can host up to four cruisers and contain no less than a thousand Wraith. To say they are desperate would be an understatement—they are feeding planets to extinction on a weekly basis. They can hibernate for thousands of years and are basically ageless. We’ve encountered Wraith that were easily ten to fifteen thousand years old. The older they are—the more insane and categorically evil they are.”
“Are they all hunting for us?” Jack asked his tone neutral.
“A few months after we lost Sumner we learned that the Queen I killed was actually what the Wraith call a Keeper. When she died—their entire population woke up and despite the fact that I blew that Hive to hell and back—they all know what she learned about the new feeding grounds. It wasn’t much, in the scope of things, but it was enough. Unfortunately, the Milky Way is a very noisy galaxy. Radio signals are leaking out of it from literally thousands of worlds and now the Wraith know that we use that kind of technology to communicate—they hunt for it. But space isn’t the best medium for broadcast and without subspace relays and boosters the signals are often degraded and unusable.” John pushed through several holographic panels and then started to type into the screen of the datapad. “Cam, if I send these reports to you?”
“I’ll get them to Walter and get them printed out,” Cameron answered. “What have you done already to safeguard us against the Wraith?”
“We have listening stations set up in the black. Additionally, we have equipment that scrambles and deflects as much radio traffic as possible just in case the Wraith or anyone else in Pegasus has their own version of SETI running,” John admitted. “It’s the best we can do—and since it went active, there hasn’t been any Hive activity in that area. We don’t know how long that will last, so it’s best if you start preparing on your end.”
Admiral Diane Foster pressed both her hands against the table. “They can’t be bargained with? A treaty is impossible?”
John stared at her for a few seconds and frowned. “Do you negotiate with your dinner, Admiral Foster? Does it ever cross your mind to stop and listen to see if the carrots on your plate are begging you not to eat them?”
The woman flushed and she looked at one of the images on the wall. “It’s just…”
“We’re cattle, Ma’am.” John pulled the images down with a few practiced moves, ending all of the holograms at the same time. The interface he’d been using blinked away. “In fact, over the last year we’ve found evidence that the Wraith have started to try to breed us like domesticated animals. We’ve freed people from two different experiments.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t have,” Harris said, his voice cool and calculated. “If you left them to find their food in Pegasus, maybe they’d stop searching for a new feeding ground.”
John did a mental check of the others in the room and was relieved when no one else shared that horrific point of view. “What kind of man are you, General Harris?”
“The native people of Pegasus aren’t our problem, Sheppard; we have our own issues here. You and your men should be in this galaxy defending us against the Ori.” Harris glared at him. “You abandoned your country and your planet.”
“No.” John looked right at O’Neill. “My planet and my country abandoned me and my people.”
“I’ve read the reports Woolsey has filed. You could have brought Atlantis to Earth at any time in the last three or more years. You have a duty to us,” Harris returned.
John glared at him. “I woke the Wraith, General Harris, and I’ll spend the rest of my life killing them. I don’t care how long it takes or what I have to do—I’ll take them all out if I get half a chance.”
“That’s genocide,” Foster protested.
“So is calling the pest control man and getting your house fumigated but I don’t see anyone hauling you in front of the UN on war crime charges.”
“You can’t compare insects to a sentient life form,” the woman protested.
John laughed bitterly and flicked his fingers over the device in front of him. His datapad leapt to life and a video hit the wall complete with audio. He didn’t dare look at his father as everyone in the room was forced to watch him get fed on by the Wraith he would eventually name Todd. He didn’t even flinch when the video image of himself just started to scream.
“Jesus, fuck, turn it off, John!” Cameron snapped as he pushed back from the table. “We get it.”
The video snapped off and silence filled the room. John looked at his father, took in the shock and the fury that warred on the face so like his own. “I hope you all get it—because these things don’t know mercy and they don’t play our politics. Every single one of them is a sociopath with absolutely no respect for life, not even the lives of their own kind. They fight and kill each other in power struggles over feeding rights—and we are nothing but food.”
The door of the conference room snapped open suddenly and McKay strode in with his entire security team on his heels. “What the hell are you doing in here?”
John raised one eyebrow. “I was briefing them on the Wraith.”
“Really?” Rodney questioned snidely.
“Really,” John promised. “I thought you were doing the King Geek thing with Carter and her minions.”
“We took a break because I couldn’t concentrate,” McKay answered with a pointed glare. “You showed them that feeding video, didn’t you? I really should delete it so you can’t show people.”
“How did you know that?” Cameron asked.
“Because whenever he plays it, normally at new recruit orientations on Atlantis, he gets all blank so I won’t know how it felt.” McKay glared at John and turned on his heel to leave. “Carter let me get on the Internet and look at animal shelters in the area. I found a cat I want. She said she’d send some grunt after him.”
John shrugged. “You have to make peace with you know who to get it back to Atlantis. You know he isn’t fond of animals.”
Rodney paused in the door way. “I already talked to him. We agreed to put him in stasis for the trip home—less trauma for everyone. Also, I found a little Boston terrier for Elizabeth. Carson says she needs the stress relief.”
“Make sure both animals are fixed or you’ll get grief from exobiology for corrupting the Pegasus galaxy,” John reminded as his scientist left the room.
“If I’m going to corrupt an entire galaxy I’ll do it with gay porn, not a little snotty dog named Diva,” Rodney called over his shoulder leaving his guard detail to hurry after him.
“So,” Patrick cleared his throat. “Your spouse?”
John laughed. “You heard about that, huh?”
“Mr. Woolsey files very thorough reports,” Cameron whispered loudly. “Very thorough. There could be pictures—I mean I didn’t check the man for hidden cameras or anything.”
Great. John thought. “Yeah, my spouse. We’ve been married two years but together pretty much since we accepted Atlantis’ offer of the Lantean genetic legacy and all of the responsibilities that came with it. In fact, McKay is the Second Citizen, which is an honored place among our people.”
“And you’re the First Citizen,” Patrick murmured. “You never intended on coming home, did you?”
John had to push back the emotional pain his father was unwittingly projecting in order to actually respond verbally. “I had a few choices—I didn’t chose the easiest one, but from my point of view, it was the most honorable. It isn’t often that men like us can choose to fight a truly just war.”
“Agreed,” Knowles said then. “I couldn’t agree more. Would you be willing to host a military contingent from Earth on Atlantis? The Marine Corps would like to aid in your fight in any way you’d allow.”
John shook his head. “I can’t have men in my city who aren’t under my authority, and Atlantis would never stand for it. Only Ally decides who lives and sleeps on her and she rarely takes anyone else’s opinion into account. Besides, anyone she did agree to let live on the city would be utterly seduced by her within the month and then you’d just lose more men to my people.”
“Is that what happened to you?” Patrick asked. “Seducing by alien machine?”
“No. Even when she barely had enough power to function properly….” John trailed off. “It was like coming home for me the moment I set foot in Atlantis and that was when the AI was basically dormant due to power problems. I can’t say she didn’t seduce others—especially those who didn’t have any kind of impression of the ATA gene but it was never done maliciously or forced in any way. No one is a prisoner on Atlantis and may leave at any time.”
“Have you tried?” Jack O’Neill asked.
John blinked. “I’m here. This is the furthest I’ve been from Ally since she woke and let me assure you, she could have prevented McKay and me from leaving if she’d wanted to.” He laughed then. “Though if you keep us, she’d probably send her children after us—at least to make sure we weren’t being forced to stay on here.”
“Her children?” General Harris asked with a frown.
“The sentient warships she builds. They are her children.”
“I understand from Mr. Woolsey’s report you have three of those and a fourth in construction.” Admiral Foster raised one eyebrow. “And Atlantis has refused to build any for Earth?”
“She’d never allow her children to be that far from her for an extended period of time. Additionally, the ships require an advanced ATA gene—no natural gene carrier on Earth would be powerful enough to command one of them. In my natural state, I wouldn’t have stood a chance in hell. They don’t even speak to people who don’t have the gene.” He activated his datapad and threw up several images of the ships. “Nothing in the ship will function without the full ATA genome. While most of the people who crew the ships just have the basic ATA genome from Atlantis—a full genome is required in the command chair of the ship.”
He put up a picture. “This is Atlas. He’s mine. Athena is under Evan Lorne’s command. Anne Teldy commands Artemis and Chase Harris will be getting our first battle cruiser—Ally is calling him Ares.” John paused the slide show on the mockup of the Ares.
“What did my son do to earn his own command?” General Harris asked roughly.
“Well, he earns his place among our people on a daily basis but Ares chose him out of all of the full genome carriers I have in my officer ranks. I wasn’t surprised, the moment Chase set foot on the city, Ally fell a little in love with him and that affection transferred to the first ship she’s built in ten thousand years. He’s a gifted pilot and the Ares isn’t like anything else we have commissioned. He’s fast, wicked, and probably just this side of feral. Chase says sitting in the command chair of Ares is like riding a bull while it’s ‘sunfishing’. I have no idea what that means?”
Harris frowned. “It’s a rodeo term in bull riding. It’s a hard ride, but worth it if you can stay on the full eight seconds. Chase did the circuit to pay for college before he was recruited by the Air Force.”
John blinked, because that certainly explained the ‘saddle up’ references that Lorne made to Harris on a damn nearly daily basis—that John had been positive meant something sexual. “Huh.”
“Let’s discuss your personnel,” Jack said then.
John nodded. He’d considered telling them nothing but he wasn’t worried about anything that Earth had in the game. They were just not a threat. “I have just over two thousand men and women in the standing armed forces on and off planet. Their duties range from off-world missions to solar system security. Our current fleet consists of three Ancient warships, one battle cruiser, twenty-eight jumpers, and thirty-six Hell Fighters.” John threw up images of each ship as he spoke. “The Ares is currently in the NCL but will be battle ready within the solar month—about thirty-six Earth days.”
“You have reserves among your population?” Jack asked as he took notes.
“Yes, of course, anyone over the age of fourteen on the mainland can handle a weapon but our civilian militia is around two thousand volunteers.”
“Fourteen?” Foster demanded. “You have children…” She trailed off when he glared at her.
“No, they can’t join our armed forces until they’re eighteen. But, the Wraith like to cull children first. In the past, they’ve always left enough children to keep the populations going but children are considered a delicacy to the Wraith. The life force in them is richer, more satisfying and the fear they can induce in a child—I was told by a Queen—is just delicious.” John’s jaw tightened. “Then she fed on a twelve-year-old girl right in front of me. So, yes I arm them. Every kid on the mainland and in the city gets a stun weapon from me and McKay for their fourteenth birthday. It’s become something of a tradition. McKay and Ally designed them especially for our children—they are keyed to their individual DNA so no can ever use their own weapon against them.”
“That’s just…” She colored and shook her head. “I have a fourteen-year-old daughter. Her biggest concern is getting her nose pierced.”
“In Pegasus, the monsters don’t hide in the closet, Admiral Foster. They come down out of the sky in ships and suck the very life right out of their chests.”
* * * *
John was resting on his back in the middle of a king sized bed, watching McKay pace around their VIP quarters at the SGC when he felt a twinge of alarm run up his back and knew, right down to his bones that one of his men was in trouble. He rolled to his feet in an instant and McKay followed him as he hit a set of stairs at a dead run—leaving their posted SGC guards in the dust. It took him all of forty-five seconds to get to the mess hall, and people were staring at him gobsmacked for several seconds before he grabbed Daos and flipped the man over on his back with what looked like absolutely no effort.
“Corporal Daos, I thought I told you not to break any of the humans this trip.”
Daos didn’t struggle or fight against John, but relaxed completely under his hand. “Your orders did not include me not hitting back.”
John glanced around the mess hall. It was nearly midnight but it was quite full. Six Marines were sprawled on the floor. “Where is Dex?”
“Bunked down with the rest, I was sent on a food run.”
John grimaced. He was going to have a big talk with the rest of them. His gaze shifted to the door and found the rest of his men hurrying in. “Lt. Stackhouse, care to explain to me why you sent the man with the shortest fuse to the mess hall to fill your belly?”
Stackhouse flushed. “Sir. He drew the short straw.”
John’s gaze darkened. “If that’s the kind of process the lot of you put into your fucking command decisions, you’ll all be getting a refresher course on Critical Thinking—with the geeks. McKay is teaching the next session.” He lifted his hand off Daos when they all shivered in horror and then sighed when O’Neill rushed in with his father in tow. “I haven’t gotten the story out of them, yet.”
Jack looked from the Marines picking themselves up to Daos. “He did that all by himself?”
“Yeah.” John frowned. “You’re lucky they’re all still breathing, to be frank. It isn’t like him to pull his punches.” That statement caused mouths to drop all over the room because all of the marines were bleeding and more than a little broken. “Talk, Corporal.”
Daos cleared his throat, and suddenly looked all of his twenty-two years. John felt a little guilty for the nervousness he could feel rolling off the man. None of the men in his command were as fiercely loyal to McKay as Tyre Daos was and John could barely stand the idea of punishing him.
John looked at the Marines again and noticed Malone among them. “Now, Daos!”
“They asked to see my gun but you told me I couldn’t let any of the Earth people play with it, so I told them I had orders from you not to let any of them handle the weapons we’d brought with us. The one who was on Atlantis,” Daos paused and looked pointedly at Malone, “he implied that the Master Chief and I were only here to be utilized for sex. Like a slave.”
John blinked at that. Sex wasn’t really a taboo subject in Pegasus, they’d rarely encountered a culture that even approached prudish but being put into slavery was right up there with being offered to a Wraith by a worshipper. “His exact words, Tyre?” John asked, switching to the man’s tribal name to ease the larger man a little. To let him know that he wasn’t angry with him.
“Malone said that I wouldn’t disobey you because I was your ‘harem boy’.”
Yeah, sex slave. And didn’t that turn of phrase translate so well. Joking or just a snide comment, it was a severe insult. John glared at O’Neill. “And your response?”
“I called him a whore’s son and suggested politely that he go fuck himself.”
Jack O’Neill snorted and McKay coughed to cover up his own amusement.
“And he hit you?”
“And then you kicked the shit out of him and all of his friends.”
“Excellent.” John clapped his hands together. “Stackhouse, you can pick up the food Daos came to collect and all of you are confined to quarters until 0600 hours, Earth time.” He patted Daos on the arm as he led the alien away. “When we get back to Atlantis—you make sure to add these jackasses to the list of people you kicked the shit out of without breaking a sweat.”
He waited until his men were gone and then he gave everyone in the room a demonstration on what it meant to have the full ATA genome. He jerked Malone out of his slump and across the room with a single thought. John snatched him out of the air, and slammed him down in the same place he’d held Daos.
“Let me tell you about that man, Sergeant Malone. The Wraith decided that Sateda, his home world, was too advanced—too much of a threat so they came in Hives. To this day, we can’t even guess how many Hives there were in orbit during the final culling of Sateda. What we do know is that in a matter of hours they culled two hundred thousand people and less than thousand escaped through the gate during that time. Tyre Daos was just about fourteen years old—not old enough among his people to have even earned his warrior markings.”
“John,” Rodney murmured, “you’re pressing too hard—he doesn’t have our bone density…”
“I’m well aware of what I’m doing to him, McKay,” John returned evenly. “The Wraith destroyed his whole world, Malone, left it in ruins like we might expect on Earth if every single country engaged in a nuclear war. The people that didn’t get culled were bombed from space.” He pressed harder on Malone’s chest and the man’s sternum flexed under his hand. “He spent six goddamned years being hunted for sport by the Wraith—by the time he was fifteen, he’d killed over one hundred of them and learned more about war and death and killing than you’ll ever know in your whole miserable fucking life.”
Malone scrambled against the pressure. “Let me go…”
“I’m not finished,” John snapped his voice sharp with fury. “Tyre Daos is just twenty-two years old, Malone. He’s killed three thousand forty-six Wraith and, for the record, you could empty a P-90 into one and by the time you could reload your weapon the damn thing will have its hand buried in your chest sucking out your life. Your snide little dig about me keeping him around to fuck is the kind of insult that would get your head cut off on his world. Being made a slave is a soul death on his planet—worse than anything else that can happen to them—including being raped or murdered. You’re just lucky we managed to civilize him enough that he just insulted you back instead. Otherwise, I’d have come down here and found him painting himself with your fucking blood.” He shoved the Marine off the table and Malone hit the floor with a sharp smack. “You don’t ever speak to him or anyone else under my command again.”
Malone rubbed his chest, his face dark with pain and anger. “And if I do?”
“I’ll make good on the promise I already made you.” John turned on his bare heel and stalked away at the door way of the large room he paused. “McKay.”
Rodney started. “Yes, John.” He shot O’Neill a look and shook his head when both he and the man he’d brought with him started to follow. That was when McKay got a damn good look at the Navy man and realized just who the hell he was. “John Sebastian Sheppard!”
“Not now, Rodney, you can meet the stubborn ass that spawned me tomorrow.”
Rodney huffed out a breath and started to follow when he caught Malone out of the corner of his eye, rolling to his feet with a knife in his hand. Before anyone else in the room could respond, Rodney threw out a hand and jerked the Marine right off his feet and roughly six feet up into the air. Malone’s scream and the sharp impact of a knife being imbedded into concrete filled the otherwise silent room.
“Did you think, Sergeant Malone, that John was unique among our kind?” Rodney asked the dangling Marine with a frown. “Really?”
John looked from the knife and then to his spouse with an amused smile playing on his lips. “Let the asshole down, McKay. I’m sure O’Neill will find something useful for him to do elsewhere if you do.”
“You betcha,” Jack promised, his gaze intent on McKay. “If you kill him that will make more paperwork than I’d like. Those asshats in the IOA already consider the Lanteans to be a credible threat to us—don’t give them fuel for their fire, McKay.”
Malone hit the floor with enough force to break a few bones and even O’Neill winced a little at the ominous cracking sounds that immediately sounded. “Very well.” McKay looked around the room. “I don’t travel with a military escort to protect me, you stupid assholes, I travel with one to protect you.”
* * * *
Rodney had three datapads spread around him on a gym mat about fifty feet away from where John was sparing with Tyre Daos. They were both lithe, strong fighting machines and it pretty much showed all over. John didn’t have to hold back with the men he’d brought with him the Earth—they were all full genome carriers—trained in the most intensive combat situations Ally could provide in the simulators and in combat scenarios with the Wraith.
Sam Carter sat down beside him, her gaze flicking hungrily over the holographic displays that he had running. Rodney looked her over and then carefully reached out and wrapped one hand around her wrist. He inclined his head as he mentally swept through her body seeking out the places they had healed the day before they’d all returned to Earth. He let her go after a few minutes and went back to his calculations. “Eaten already?”
“Yep.” Sam leaned in. “I’ve been starving. I eat constantly.”
“It’s a burn off of the healing process. Just imagine how hungry you would have been if we hadn’t fed you four large meals the day before.” He pushed aside a panel that was running a simulation for him and it moved over and then up above the panel to his immediate right. “I’ve been working on a few things for you actually. I’d like to put the Apollo and the Daedalus into our NCL. They’ll each be dry docked for about a month.”
“Not at the same time?”
“No, of course not.” Rodney flicked a panel her way. “And that is the ship we’re going to build you.”
“All for me?” Sam grinned. “You smooth talker, McKay.”
Rodney just laughed. “It’s about twice as fast as what you’ve currently got commissioned, with Lantean shields, and a variety of weapons on board that will give some of the people around here spontaneous orgasms. We’ll need a lot of material for construction since it can’t be built like we build our own ships. She’ll need naquadah, and a list of exotic metals that will make your eyes cross. We’ll be able to harvest some of the material from Pegasus but we’ll need iron, nickel, titanium, and copper. Additionally, we’ll be growing crystals for the central processor so we’ll need platinum and limestone. We’ve found that platinum allows for the best conductivity and data transfer. We can’t give you a genuine AI but we can make the ship very smart.”
She reached out and touched the hologram and grinned when it blinked at her and showed her an in-depth diagram of the section of the ship she had touched. “You did that for me, huh?”
“Yeah, afraid so. These datapads won’t respond to you.” Rodney leaned back on his hands and watched her for a few seconds before looking towards John. “Ready, General?”
“Yeah.” John tossed aside the towel he’d been using on his head. “Give me all you got, McKay.”
Rodney grinned. “Always.” He rolled to his feet and walked to one of the duffle bags they’d brought to the gym with them. He plucked two cylinders from it and went to the far end of the room. “Daos throw up a barrier so I don’t hit Colonel Carter by accident.”
Daos moved down the gym and nodded. “On it.”
He regarded the man with narrow blue eyes. “One hit on her pretty little head…”
Daos grinned. “I got it, Doc.”
He opened both containers and set them down on the floor at his feet. Fifty little silver balls swirled out of the containers, twisting like little metal tornadoes.
“What is he doing?”
Tyre glanced towards the human scientist. “This is what the General calls the Matrix exercise. Dr. McKay will start out slow—throwing the balls at the General with varying degrees of speed and intensity. The General has to stop them with his mind.”
Sam stared. “So he can learn to deflect bullets in the field?”
“He has deflected bullets in the field due to this exercise. All of the full genome carriers can. It’s one of the first things we learn to do. We can shift bullets and basically any other projectile—arrows, spears—as long as we see it. Dr. McKay is what the other scientists call a technopath. I’ve seen him break down laser weapons while they are being fired at him—Wraith stunners just fall to pieces in their hands, Darts drop out of the sky due to engine failure. Also, because telekinesis is his strongest gift, he can use almost anything in his environment as a weapon. Those balls are made of naquadah. He carries one of those containers with him everywhere—he can throw one with enough force that it will puncture the flesh like a bullet.”
“Like rocks,” Sam murmured. “He could kill someone with pebbles.”
“Yes, and has in the field.”
“How much weight can he lift?”
Daos shifted, suddenly uncomfortable and then sighed. “At least a ton, maybe more. We had an accident in the Hell Bay a few months back—Harris was under an A-400 and it collapsed on top of him. Before we even realized it, Dr. McKay had lifted it off of him. Harris was in the medpod for nearly three weeks.”
* * * *
Patrick Sheppard leaned against the window in a small observation deck above the gym where his son was practicing deflecting some kind of ball with his mind. “I’ve never seen anything like that.”
“No,” Jack murmured. “I haven’t seen much like it myself and I’ve met my share of really cool aliens. I’m just the glad the IOA idiots rarely leave the top levels of the facility—I’d hate to see their reaction to something like this.”
Patrick nodded. “The rep from Britain suggested to me over breakfast this morning that I should try to manipulate John into coming home to Earth. I just don’t think they get that he can read their minds.”
Jack laughed. “No, and he was really too polite yesterday; especially after we had to postpone the big meeting because the asshole from China had an emergency at home.” He took a long drink of coffee. “Last night was something else. I saw some of the security footage—John and McKay were moving so fast that they disappeared on the security videos. So did his men. I don’t know if Daos mentally requested assistance or if John just knew one of his men was brawling in the mess hall.”
Patrick watched the men in the gym pack away the variety of weapons and objects they’d been using for sparring and training and then leave. “McKay is a surprise.”
“I told you in advance he was married to a man,” Jack reminded.
“No, I mean—I always knew John as gay. It was one of the reasons why we fought so badly that last time.” Patrick sighed. “His CO in Afghanistan came within minutes of reporting him for homosexual activity but he didn’t have proof. I talked the man into stationing him in Antarctica—I figured it would give John the space he needed to recover from losing his unit and it would get Taggert to back off. An out of sight, out of mind sort of thing. John was pissed at me for interfering but he’d gotten so self-destructive after losing so many men that I told him I couldn’t trust him not to get himself killed. Then I made some snide, truly uncalled for comment about fucking men and being stupid enough to get caught.”
Jack winced. “Not good I take it.”
“Yeah, he pretty much told me to eat shit and die.” Patrick laughed then, a little bitter and a lot sad. “Then he trots off on a one-way mission to Pegasus and I don’t even know about it until I get drafted into the SGC committee at the Pentagon. He hadn’t answered my letters in a few years but I figured he’d calm down—I had no fucking clue he wasn’t getting them at all because he wasn’t even on the planet.”
“Suppose I should apologize for that.”
Patrick shook his head. “It isn’t like I even tried to see him. He’s a grown man—I figured he’d come home when he was ready. My youngest gave me a lot of grief about it but he didn’t try to see John either. If either one of us had made a few waves about him not being available—I imagine I’d have ended up in your office sooner rather than later.”
“Granted. Still, I should have made sure you knew.” Jack sighed. “Well, let’s go see what the politicians are cooking up. Also, why is McKay a surprise?”
“Because he’s not a soldier.”
Jack snorted. “I think you’ll find you’re very wrong about that.”