Title: Finding Atlantis
Author: Keira Marcos
Fandom: Stargate: Atlantis
Genre: Kid Fic, First Time, Romance
Warnings: Explicit sex, discussion of murder, discussion of parental loss, and grief
Author Note: Sequel to The Bridge. I borrowed the original character of Chief Cooper from Ladyholder.
Summary: John adjust to fatherhood on the city of the Ancients while his son, Sebastian, develops a connection the city that leaves everyone scrambling to keep up.
John dropped his watch on the nightstand and picked up the buzzing radio, which he slipped into his ear. “This is Sheppard.”
“Good morning, Colonel. AR2 has had a delay and won’t be returning for another two hours. Dr. Parrish is harvesting some sort of potential food crop for analysis.”
John rubbed his face. “Did Lorne sound resigned or infuriated?”
Chuck Campbell laughed in his ear. “Amused, actually. The vegetable in question is apparently quite phallic in appearance.”
He snorted. “Understood. Tell Lorne no second extension if Parrish requests it. They’ve been off-world for fifty-two hours already.”
John clicked off the radio and rolled out of bed. He walked into the closet and looked around. The arrival of his son on Atlantis had also required a move. In fact, everything he’d owned had been moved into an apartment in the main residential tower before he’d even returned to the city with Sebastian. The team had also managed to furnish the place, so they hadn’t come home to a bunch of empty rooms.
He dropped his pajama pants in a basket for cleaning and pulled on a pair of black cargo pants. Socks and boots followed which he did it up properly despite his own preference because he figured he should be a good role model or whatever. John wasn’t entirely sure if the kid even paid attention to that kind of thing, but he figured it couldn’t hurt anything to be a little more professional about his appearance. He was pulling a T-shirt on when he heard his son start to cry.
“I’m here, buddy,” John called out and left his closet. He snagged his radio and watch from the nightstand and crossed the hall to the kid’s room. Sebastian was sitting up in a tangle of blankets.
Sebastian wiped his face with the bottom of his T-shirt and sniffled in a disgusting fashion. John made a face at him as he sat down on the bed, and the kid laughed a little. “Sorry.”
“No apologies—for the nightmare or the snot.” He paused. “Well, maybe the snot.” He reached out and grabbed the box of tissues he’d left on the nightstand beside the bed and wiggled it in Sebastian’s direction. “Same one?”
Sebastian grabbed a few tissues and nodded. “Yeah, I…yeah. The same. I don’t know why I’m dreaming about the accident when I wasn’t even there.”
“It’s not that hard to imagine what happened to your mom,” John murmured. “And you’re not short on imagination. Maybe it’s time we make that appointment with Dr. Heightmeyer.”
Sebastian frowned and shook his head. “No. I…I don’t want to talk to her.”
He swallowed back a sigh. John wasn’t interested in forcing Sebastian into therapy, but he figured if they at least talked about it often enough that his son might get used to the idea of it and consider going. “I’ve gone to see her a few times.”
“When Dr. Weir made you?” Sebastian questioned and raised an eyebrow.
John laughed. “Yeah, something like that, but I still went, and I talked about stuff that bothered me. It helped.”
“I’ll keep thinking about it.” He rubbed his head and yawned. “Oatmeal for breakfast?”
“Sure. I’ll take care of it while you do something to your head that makes it look semi-civilized, so people don’t question my parenting behind my back,” John said as he stood. “And make sure your socks match today.”
“Matching socks really isn’t important,” Sebastian pointed out.
“Tell Dr. Weir that—she mentioned it to me twice on Tuesday when your socks were blue and green respectively,” John muttered as he left the room. His son’s laughter followed him through the apartment almost to the kitchen.
He pulled out the bowl of oatmeal he’d made the night before, dished out some for both of them and tucked them in the microwave. Then poured juice for himself and milk for Sebastian. He had everything on the table and was browsing through their schedule on his tablet when the kid managed to drag himself into the kitchen. His hair was as neat as it was likely to ever be.
“I have to submit a report on your progress to the homeschooling thing for the state of Colorado next week so let’s work on that this week and make sure you’re hitting all the marks to stay in the high school curriculum.”
“I’m ahead on most of it,” Sebastian said as he doctored his oatmeal with a bit too much sugar and some butter. “Well, I’m a bit behind on history since it’s so boring, but I’ll catch up this week.”
“I’ll take leave in about six months, and you’ll have to sit a standardized test in Colorado Springs. Colonel Carter will be setting that up for us,” John said as he shifted screens to his son’s tutoring schedule. The civilian scientists were staging an all-out war amongst themselves to teach his kid, which was both relieving and weird. Apparently, a child genius was genuine star stuff to geeks. “Dr. Kusanagi is your first stop this morning.”
“She’s teaching me how to program in Ancient,” Sebastian said. “You know she’s close to fixing the Ancient database, right? I mean—so close that Dr. McKay offered her a whole case of really expensive coffee in tribute.”
John shook his head. “After Dr. Kusanagi, you’re scheduled for a botany lesson, but Dr. Parrish is currently off-world with AR2. He should be back well before you’re due for the lesson but radio ahead to make sure he’s available and has time for you.”
“And remember the radio protocols, please,” John said and shot his son a look. “It’s not to be used for chit-chat.”
Sebastian made a face. “In my defense, he kept talking back to me. I mean…he really could’ve just stopped at any time.”
“Rodney has no self-control when it comes to bitching about two topics—food and science. But really, the entire city didn’t need to bear witness to the two of you arguing over the composition of a black hole.”
“We weren’t arguing,” Sebastian denied. “We were debating.”
“Right.” John rolled his eyes. “And the whole betting pool? And the T-shirts?” He’d caught four different Marines wearing Team Sebastian T-shirts. “Who even made them?”
Sebastian laughed. “There’s a screen press thing in one of the labs on pier three.” He flicked a hand. “I have no idea where it came from or what they’ve set it up for, but you can get stuff put on shirts if you ask Dr. Kusanagi nice enough since she has the print designer thing on a computer in her lab.”
“Right.” John set that aside because he wasn’t going to pick any sort of fight with a woman who regularly sparred with a sword with Ronon. “I’m going off-world this morning, but it shouldn’t be a long trip. Keep your radio on at all times, and if security orders you to a location, you’re to follow their orders explicitly. Understood?”
“Yep.” Sebastian smiled. “I won’t get into any trouble while you’re gone.”
John eyed him because he wasn’t sure he could take that as gospel. The kid had a habit of wandering off into the city and creating chaos in his wake. At least, short-term chaos. “Please don’t since I’m taking McKay with me.”
“Oh, he’s not going to be happy about that. He has an experiment that is due to finish up this morning. He’s been waiting on the results of the simulation for weeks.”
“He’ll get over it.” The kid shot him a knowing look. “Loudly. He’ll get over it loudly.”
Sebastian laughed. “You should be nicer to Dr. McKay, Daddy.”
“He’d think I’d been taken over by an alien if I were nice to him and I’d end up in the infirmary getting the kind of physical no one wants to ever experience,” John said gravely and grinned when the kid almost laughed himself off of his chair. “Finish your oatmeal so we can get going. And pack some sort of snack in your backpack.”
Fifteen minutes later, John had dropped Sebastian off in Miko Kusanagi’s lab and was in one of the team ready rooms checking over his gear. McKay was seated on a bench near the door, dejectedly poking at his tablet. John was bound and determined to ignore him. He really was.
John glanced toward McKay again and sighed. “McKay.”
The scientist glared at him. “We didn’t have a mission scheduled today. I made sure!”
“Yes, well, things change pretty rapidly around here, and we have to take this meeting for trade if you’d like to have a steady supply of those peach-like things you like.”
Rodney glared. “I do like those peach-like things. But we weren’t part of that trade originally.”
“No, AR3 did the original mission, but Major Teldy is currently laid up in her quarters with a broken leg.”
“Oh, right.” Rodney stowed his tablet in his backpack just as Teyla and Ronon entered. They were already ready.
“Sheppard, tell Teyla that you said I could handle Sebastian’s physical education.”
John opened his mouth to confirm that, and Teyla glared at him. She’d been off-world when he’d returned to the city with Sebastian due to a problem on New Athos. He was kind of surprised that it was just now coming up since it had been over a month since his son’s arrival. “Ronon did call dibs on it.” Her gaze narrowed. “But there’s no reason you couldn’t share it?”
“On Sateda, children were trained by a single master in self-defense,” Ronon said as they left the ready room.
“Amongst my people, the entire village takes part in the education of the children we’re blessed with,” Teyla said. “At his age and size, he should be learning meditation and physical discipline.”
“And simple weapons,” Ronon input.
“Whoa, no weapons,” John admonished as he signaled Chuck to dial the gate. “Seriously.”
Ronon and Teyla exchanged a glance that John didn’t like the look of.
“McKay, no weapons, right? Our kids don’t learn about weapons.”
“Well, our kids don’t live in a galaxy full of space vampires who want to suck the life out of them,” Rodney said tartly and marched through the gate. Ronon smirked and quickly trotted after the scientist.
“Teyla,” John started, “Seriously, no weapons. It’s not appropriate for his age.”
“Relax, John, we’ll be careful.”
* * * *
Sebastian shouldered his backpack as he left Dr. Kusanagi’s lab. There was a transporter not far from her lab, so he entered it. The insides brightened around him, and he picked his destination carefully. Once or twice, since his arrival, he’d accidentally gone places he hadn’t meant to. He couldn’t be sure if the system was ignoring his choices or if he was being influenced by the city somehow.
His dad had told him that the city sometimes prodded him and that it could be disorienting. He’d experienced the prodding a time or two, but for the most part, he pushed that away since he couldn’t make heads or tails of the gibberish the city sometimes threw at his head. It wasn’t Ancient…it wasn’t any language as far as he could tell. He figured that whatever part of the city that could communicate with gene carriers was just as corrupt as the database.
He entered greenhouse three and put his backpack down next to Dr. Parrish’s desk. “Dr. Parrish!”
“I heard you were off-world this morning. Did you find anything cool?”
“Potentially,” David Parrish said with a smile as Sebastian joined him. “We’ll find out soon enough—Katie is currently checking it for consumption and nutritional value. How’d your programming class go this morning?”
“Oh, we were able to write about six hundred lines of code,” Sebastian said as he climbed up onto the stool beside Parrish. “Most of it was hers, but I did two hundred all by myself with no errors, so that was cool. She said I need to work on my keyboarding skills a little, but I’m going to be slower mostly because my hands are small right now.”
“Certainly,” David said with a smile. “I’m prepping six variants of lettuce for hydroponics this afternoon. I saved the herbs for you—basil, mint, and parsley. I’ve ordered rosemary and sage for the next supply delivery.”
“Cool. My mom used to grow rosemary in the kitchen. It always smelled really good.” He shifted the three pots around. “Why so little?”
“Test crop,” David said. “Hydroponics has only been operative for the last six weeks, and we’ve spent most of that time adjusting the water environment to mirror what these plants thrive in on Earth. It’s an ebb and flow system which wouldn’t have been my first choice considering how much space is dedicated to it. The Ancients liked to make things more complicated than they needed to be.”
“A deep water system would be easier to maintain?”
“Right, you did your reading.” David offered him a smile. “Good.”
“You send much less than Dr. McKay,” Sebastian explained. “So, I always read your stuff first.”
David laughed. “Please don’t ever tell him that.” He wiped his hands on his apron. “You get started while I get a pushcart.”
Sebastian nodded. He pulled the mint free from its little pot full of dirt first, cleaned off as much of the soil as he could then washed it gently in the sink like Dr. Parrish had taught him. Then he put the plant in the net pot and filled it with clay pebbles. He was washing the parsley by the time the botanist returned.
“Did I put enough pebbles in the first one?”
“Maybe a few more,” David said as he reviewed the mint. “The clay will give the plant support, but it will also hold nutrients for later consumption.”
Sebastian pulled the pot closer and put in more clay pebbles as Parrish started to load his own work onto the cart. “Are you a gene carrier?”
“Not naturally but the therapy did work for me,” David admitted. “I can handle most things around here when it comes to opening doors and turning on tech. I can even, in a pinch, fly a jumper, but my team leader doesn’t require that from me often since he’s a trained pilot with the Air Force, like your dad.”
Sebastian smiled. “That’s still weird.”
“Having a dad?” David questioned.
“Well, my mom told me about him the first time I asked, so I always knew about him as far back as I can remember. She even gave me pictures and stuff. But having him in my life is weird.”
“And not having your mom is sad.”
“Yeah.” Sebastian frowned as he settled the second plant into the new pot and surrounded it with pebbles. “She’d have been so excited to know all about this place. She was a marine biologist.”
“We would’ve had plenty for her to do,” David said. “I’ve read some of her work, you know.”
“Really?” Sebastian turned to him.
“When we heard you were coming—many of us were curious about your mother,” David said gently. “Dr. McKay found her research papers and articles which he made available for anyone who wanted to read it. She was brilliant.”
“Yeah.” Sebastian felt his cheeks flush with heat, and he cleared his throat. “She really was. I miss her a lot.”
“I miss mine as well,” David said as he continued to load. “I lost her while I was in college. I’m grateful for the years I was given but angry…still…about the years that were taken from me.”
“Me, too,” Sebastian admitted. He loosened the basil and started to knock the dirt free. “But having Daddy helps. Sometimes I have nightmares about the car accident.”
“You weren’t in that, right?” David asked with a frown.
“No, I wasn’t…but I saw the car.” He took a deep breath. “I insisted and Mr. Blake, her lawyer, showed me, but I think he regretted that after the fact. He doesn’t have kids—he said he effed up.” He paused. “But he used the real word, ya know.”
“Thank for you not repeating that part,” David said with a wry smile and patted his shoulder. “And I agree, he definitely effed up showing you the car after the fact.”
“Are you dating anyone?” Sebastian asked and raised an eyebrow when the scientist glanced his way in shock. “How does that even work on this place?”
David laughed. “I’m…sort of seeing someone, but I can’t discuss it and wouldn’t even if I could since you’re just ten, no matter how old you think you are.”
Sebastian sniffed like he was insulted. “I’m perfectly aware of my age, Dr. Parrish.”
“Why so nosy?”
“I’m just trying to figure out what kind of social life exists out here,” Sebastian admitted. “Because my Daddy’s not dating anyone and that’s pretty weird since I’ve heard plenty of people talking about how attractive he is and plus he’s a single father now which apparently just adds to his attractiveness which I don’t understand but whatever. He’s still not dating, and I’m wondering if that’s because of me.”
David laughed. “First, it’s not because of you. Your dad is in charge of a large portion of the people on the city who are single as the military leader. Of course, he couldn’t date any of them even if he wasn’t their boss because of military fraternization rules and his rank.”
“That leaves a bunch of civilians though,” Sebastian pointed out. “I evaluated Dr. Weir for it, but she’s a little too…in his face…I think. They’d probably fight a lot if they were to try to date. The way he talks up Dr. Heightmeyer would be great if he weren’t doing it to encourage me to talk to her about my stupid feelings.”
“Talking about your stupid feelings is important for your growth as a person.”
“My growth as a person is right on track,” Sebastian protested. “I’m practically self-actualized over here.”
“You’re too smart for your own good,” David cautioned. “I think your father likes being single. Some people do. Don’t stress it too much, and if it’s really bothering you just ask him.”
“I thought that I’d just make a list of people I find acceptable as a step-parent and give it to him.”
“Oh.” Parrish snorted. “Please let me be close enough to see his face when that happens.”
Sebastian laughed as he washed the roots of the basil. “This smells nice. But not as good as rosemary.”
“Nothing smells as good as rosemary,” David agreed. “Get that settled, and we’ll move to the hydroponic greenhouse for sorting.”
An hour later, Sebastian hightailed it out of botany because Dr. Brown had returned from her lab time, and he wasn’t about to stick around to endure that. She was pretty, but she hovered and tried to mother him in an awkward way, which made him really uncomfortable. Unfortunately, he didn’t think she had the social skills to realize she was making him uncomfortable. It certainly explained her utterly bizarre relationship with Dr. McKay.
He liked Dr. McKay, but it was pretty clear that he had the personality of a velociraptor and Dr. Brown was like a butterfly—how they’d made it as far as they had was a mystery that was baffling quite a few people. Dr. Kusanagi thought it must be physical chemistry and Sebastian had resolved not to think about that stuff. Still, even though he kind of worried that Dr. McKay was going to ruin her life by just being his snarky everyday self, he didn’t like being around her because of the hovering.
The hydroponic greenhouse was on pier four, and that part of the city was easily the prettiest as far as he was concerned. It even had a public park that needed tending, but that was pretty low on botany’s list of things to do. Sebastian wondered if he could talk Dr. Weir into doing some kind of community project for the park—enrichment or some such thing. She was really interested in morale projects all of a sudden and had been talking about instituting a regular day off since there wasn’t one on the city. A rotating Sunday which he figured the whole city needed.
Sebastian felt a little mental push that was so heavy he stumbled and his backpack slid off his shoulder. He pulled it back into place and looked around. There was a door near the elevator that was slightly opened, which was weird because he was pretty sure it had been closed when they’d come out earlier. A little bit of apprehension made him hesitate, and he got another really firm push. Sebastian sighed.
“Okay. I get it.” He glanced around and walked toward the door. It slid open the moment he came close enough, and he grimaced. “Fantastic. I’m gonna get such a lecture for this, ya know? Remember last month when I’d only been here like four days, and you made me touch that place on the wall by Dr. Weir’s office that made a whole console spring right out of the floor on the command deck thing?”
The lights flickered briefly but didn’t come on. On the far wall of the small, empty room a panel was glowing gently.
“Man.” He almost stomped his foot. “This is effed up. Why can’t you point this stuff out to Daddy or Dr. McKay?” He touched his radio when the room lights flickered again and cycled through the channels with little taps until he reached the one for Zelenka and the engineering team. “Dr. Zelenka, this is Sebastian Sheppard. I’m in quadrant four, section six near the transporter. Could you…I found an empty room with a glowing wall panel.”
“This is Zelenka, have you touched anything in the room?”
“I am coming. Do not touch anything, back out of the room, and wait in the hall.”
“Understood.” He turned off the radio and backed entirely out of the room. The city lights winked at him again.
It didn’t take long at all for the transporter to activate and for Zelenka to hurry out with Dr. Simpson in tow.
“It’s not my fault,” he protested immediately.
Zelenka sighed. “I know, kid.”
Sebastian picked a spot by the door inside the room to lean against and watched them remove the panel. He could tell from his place that there were several dark crystals and one that looked broken. Zelenka muttered under his breath in his own language for several moments before activating his radio and requesting replacement crystals from Dr. Porter. After he ended the call, he turned to Sebastian.
“Congratulations, you have much explaining to do.”
Sebastian huffed. “Oh, come on, do we have to tell anyone?”
“That’s really mean, Dr. Simpson.”
She laughed harder.
“I’m really nice to you. I even helped you pilfer candy from Dr. McKay’s desk.” He crossed his arms. “Why do I have to explain things?”
“Because you found the broken power relay we have been searching for since our arrival,” Zelenka said. “We’ve been doing a physical search since diagnostics couldn’t show us what we needed due to the database corruption. Based on our current schedule, we wouldn’t have reached this part of the city for another two years.” He raised an eyebrow. “How did you find it?”
“I got a little…push.” He flicked a hand. “And I tried to ignore it because Daddy says sometimes the city just feels weird because of all the water damage and stuff. But then I got another push so I figured it was actually something important and the door to this room was kind of cracked open. It opened all the way when I walked over to it.” He blew out a breath. “You didn’t request a crystal for that one in the corner.”
“It appears to be redundant, and we’re short on blue ones…” Zelenka trailed off. “Are you getting another push?”
He really didn’t know how to answer that because the city felt distinctly unhappy about the idea that Zelenka didn’t plan to replace all of the malfunctioning crystals. “I think…maybe you should replace it, too?”
He nodded and put in another request for Porter. “Tell the city to leave you alone until McKay comes back—I’m busy.”
Sebastian laughed. “It’s time for me to read trade agreements with Dr. Weir.”
“That is one lesson I’m not sure you need on your schedule,” Zelenka muttered. “Much better to spend your time in the sciences that matter.”
“If we don’t trade for food we end up eating MREs if the Daedalus gets behind,” Simpson protested. “And what I put in my stomach is really important to me.”
“MREs are perfectly serviceable,” Zelenka argued as Sebastian slid out of the room.
He really wasn’t interested in bearing witness to that argument again. Zelenka and McKay both seemed to be allergic to trading missions and anything to do with being nice to other people to get stuff. They were also pretty bitter about being bartered as what Zelenka called slave labor that one time so the city could have flour. Though Sebastian thought that building a clean water system for several hundred people so they wouldn’t get sick was a pretty great trade for the ability to make cookies and cake.
Once in the transporter, he picked the one closest to the mess because he figured he might be able to beg some cookies off of Chief Cooper and Dr. Weir liked the oatmeal ones. The mess was mostly empty, which wasn’t a surprise since it was nearly an hour until the first lunch shift.
He dropped his backpack on a table near the service line. “Good morning, Chief Cooper. I found a broken power relay that the scientists have been looking for since forever and I’m sure to get a lecture about it when Daddy comes back from off-world so I kind of figured I’d earned some cookies.”
Cooper laughed and shook her head. “Well, good job on finding the broken relay and sorry in advance for the lecture. You didn’t touch anything, right?”
“Nope, not even the door.” He raised an eyebrow. “But you know that means nothing when you got a supergene.”
“All right then, Super Boy, what sort of cookies would you like?”
“Chocolate chip for me and oatmeal raisin for Dr. Weir. I have a diplomacy lesson in ten minutes. We’re going to be discussing trade agreements. I think food ones.”
“Well, I love food trade agreements,” Cooper said as she pulled two packages of cookies out of the case. “I sent Dr. Weir a fresh carafe of tea about forty minutes ago. Did you want a drink? Milk, water, or juice?”
“Hmmm… can I have milk and water?”
“Yep.” She put a carton of milk down and went to a different cooler to pull a bottle of water. “Come back for lunch. It’s taco day.”
“I love taco day,” he admitted as he put his loot in his backpack. “Thanks, Chief Cooper.”
“Stay out of trouble on your way to the gate room,” she called after him.
He offered her a grin over his shoulder as he left the mess. It really wasn’t his fault, and that was exactly what he planned to tell his Daddy. Honestly, it was tough to ignore the city when she was busy thumping you in the back of the head.
“How do you think he’s adjusting?”
John shot McKay a look. “Is now the right time to discuss my kid?”
“We’re not doing anything else,” Rodney pointed out reasonably. “They clearly prefer to talk to Teyla over the rest of us.” He inclined his head when Ronon grunted in agreement. “See even Conan agrees.”
“One day, someone is going to show him that movie, and he might kill you.”
“It’s a great movie,” Rodney protested.
John made a face. “I think your childhood nostalgia is betraying you, McKay. Have you ever watched it as an adult?”
“No, why would I ruin that for myself?” Rodney demanded. “Regardless, we have nothing to do but stand here until that guy is finished fawning over Teyla. So, how’s the kid.”
“Still having nightmares,” John said. “He says they’re only about the car accident because of what he saw when the lawyer agreed to let him see what was left of the vehicle.” He exhaled sharply. “But sometimes I think he might be dreaming about other stuff. I don’t know how much he’s figured out about his circumstances on Earth or if he understands what really happened to his mother. I just don’t think he’s old enough to be told that she was murdered.”
“He’s smart,” Ronon said. “He has to wonder why he was allowed to come out here when there are no other children from your world on the city.”
“I told him that I couldn’t leave my posting on the city,” John said roughly. “And if he didn’t want to leave Earth that I would have to place him with my father. I didn’t want to do that, and I don’t think he would’ve been safe, but I felt like he deserved to make some kind of choice.”
“Having some say in your circumstances helps,” Rodney said. “My parents never really let me make any sort of decisions until I forced their hand by getting a full ride to Northwestern at thirteen. They’d have kept me at home until I was eighteen if they’d had any sort of real say but I got a lot of attention after that, and the Canadian government was keen to see me thoroughly educated as a resource. My mother never bothered to try to understand me, and my father was too busy being jealous of what I’d accomplished to see me as a real person.”
John really hated McKay’s father. He hoped he never ran into the man because he wasn’t sure he’d be able to remain civilized. “He didn’t want to stay on Earth, but that was because he really wanted to be with me. I don’t know what I’ll do if he decides he’d prefer not to stay here. O’Neill told me that the only way I’m getting out of the SGC is retirement or a box.”
“I was told something similar about a year ago,” Rodney admitted. “When I was fussing over a contract extension. Getting people who are willing to stay here in Pegasus—they’re hard to come by. The threat of the Wraith is one thing, but our connection with Earth can’t ever be depended on to be a permanent thing. Not with the threat of the Ori and whatever other enemy SG1 has made this month.”
“Don’t tell him his mother was murdered,” Ronon said roughly. “He’ll blame himself when it becomes clear why she was killed. It’s an unfair burden.”
“Or he’ll blame me.”
“You didn’t even know he existed,” Rodney protested. “And he knows that. If his mother hadn’t kept him a secret, then the Trust wouldn’t have thought they could get away with killing her and taking him.” He huffed. “Not that I’m blaming her for her own murder, but out of everyone involved, you’re the least culpable.”
“He’s ten, McKay, and being a genius doesn’t change that. It doesn’t change how irrational grief can be. You know that.”
Rodney made a face. “Yeah.” He checked his watch. “Gah, how much more time is this guy going to spend staring at Teyla’s…” He trailed off when John nudged him. “Come on. He totally is. I’m surprised she hasn’t punched him in the face. She must like those peach things as much as I do. I can’t eat regular peaches, you know, because they contain citric acid. I didn’t even know what I was missing until I had one of those things, and someone said they taste kind of like peaches.”
John remembered since he’d also witnessed Rodney’s brief freak out that he might have an allergic reaction. That had actually only happened once since they’d come to Pegasus and he wasn’t keen to ever experience it again. There had been a few jokes about Rodney’s allergy before he’d turned blue in the face and passed out in the middle of the mess over some lemon in Teyla’s tea. The tea he’d accidentally picked up and drank because he was in the middle of a tirade and not paying attention. No one on their team consumed citrus anywhere near McKay as a result.
“I’m not saying I’d like a Wraith dart to appear out of nowhere, but this is boring,” Rodney said, and Ronon nodded then glanced around in the sky hopefully.
“You’re both assholes.”
* * * *
“The agreement seems extremely one-sided,” Sebastian said. “I mean what we’re giving is much more valuable.”
“By Earth standards, yes, but by the people of Rotu find our offered improvements to their society amusing at best. They seek mental enlightenment and care little for material things. Clean water pleases them, medical care soothes them, but construction materials for permanent structures…well. In the past, their villages have been temporary. Currently, they have an Ancient shield protecting them because we repaired it. Fortunately, it’s solar powered, so we didn’t lose a generator to the project, and McKay was able to find plans for the device that he believes we can replicate. Being able to provide such shields in the future to our allies is good relationship building.”
“It’s more of an amusement because they’ve learned to believe everything is temporary—even life,” Sebastian said. “That’s…enlightened, I guess, but it’s also sad. Is it an offshoot of the Ancient’s pursuit of ascension?”
“I think so, yes. There is quite a bit of ancestor worship in this galaxy, and I don’t know that the Ancients ever truly encouraged it but…”
“They benefit from it—like the Ori.”
“Yes, of course, and maybe that contributes to their desire to influence and change the course of events both here and in the Milky Way.” Dr. Weir stood from her desk and retrieved the carafe of tea then refilled her cup. “Did you want more water or some juice? I have both in my mini-fridge.”
Sebastian shook his head. “No, thank you. If the Wraith wipe out this whole galaxy and there won’t be anyone left to worship them. They say they don’t want it—they say they can’t interfere due to their own rules, but they still influence us. They let that lady, Chaya, exist as a goddess on that planet. They ignore the fact that the worship she’s given is distributed to all of them. Moreover, does distance play any part in the exchange of power?”
“I don’t follow,” Elizabeth admitted.
“Do the Ancients here in Pegasus receive power from the Ori’s followers in their home galaxy or the ones popping up in the Milky Way?”
She looked startled. “I honestly don’t know. We’ve not invested much time in researching that aspect of the Ancients nor their relationship with the Ori past or present.” Weir returned to her desk. “When you finish your history reading, let me know if I can help with any of it. World history was my favorite in school.”
Sebastian nodded. “It’s certainly more interesting than American history but honestly not by much. I know we’re supposed to learn from history, so we don’t repeat the mistakes of others, but it’s all really boring to me.”
She laughed. “So says the kid who spent an hour arguing with a man who has two PhDs on the composition of black holes.”
“I just think he shouldn’t be so rigid on the subject,” Sebastian protested. “Our definition of life is actually quite narrow, and if we’re going to be out and about exploring the universe, then we should really take that into consideration and maybe work on expanding the idea of what life is. But he thinks that’s fluffy science.”
“I think you’re good for him,” Elizabeth admitted. “All of them, in fact. Scientists tend to get bogged down in their process over time and forget to stop looking up. You make them look ahead, even if they don’t want to.” She grinned. “Did you want me to run some interference on the whole panel thing from this morning?”
“I didn’t even touch it, Dr. Weir,” Sebastian complained and huffed. “It’s not fair.”
* * * *
Dr. Weir walked him to lunch since she had a working meeting scheduled in the mess hall but let him go at the door. Dr. Zelenka appeared at his side as he was in line.
“Fixing the crystals in that panel completely eradicated the power drain.”
“Cool.” Sebastian grabbed a slice of cake and Zelenka huffed. “I’m a growing boy, Dr. Z. I need cake.”
He grabbed a banana, too, which seemed to placate the scientist. Then he moved to the taco bar and made himself two soft tacos then grabbed a bean burrito for good measure because he was starving. He made a mental note to tell his dad his appetite had increased dramatically after coming to Atlantis. Zelenka carried his tray for him, which he didn’t mind since he had his backpack.
Sebastian ended up tucked between Drs Simpson and Kusanagi. He liked both women, and neither tried to mother him. In fact, they both treated him more like a colleague than even just as a kid.
“Dr. Kusanagi, you’re a natural gene carrier, right?”
“Yes,” she agreed and raised an eyebrow.
“Do you eat more on the city?”
“Quite a lot more,” she said. “I had to increase my caloric intake by 500 to maintain a healthy body weight. Dr. Beckett should’ve told you this at your physical.”
Sebastian pursed his lips. “I didn’t…get a physical. I mean I had a check-up at the SGC, and they tested me to make sure I wasn’t carrying any sort of viruses that I could spread to you guys, and I got a bunch of vaccines, but I haven’t had any appointments in the infirmary since I got here.”
Kusanagi made a face and shared a look with Zelenka. “I’ll send your father an email. It probably hasn’t occurred to him that you didn’t get the ATA gene lecture at the SGC.”
“Dr. Beckett is very busy,” Simpson said. “He probably didn’t mean to forget you.”
“Too busy trying to get a Wraith on the city you mean,” Sebastian pointed out. “I do listen to you guys talk even when you forget I’m in the room.”
Zelenka sighed. “Which I think we do way too often. Don’t worry about the Wraith. Your father is never going to approve having one on the city with you here, and Beckett has no hope of capturing one without the Colonel’s help.”
“What if the people on the Daedalus help him?” Sebastian questioned.
“Colonel Caldwell is even more opposed to the experiment than your father is,” Simpson said. “Because Beckett has already tried to get the whole thing moved to the ship for greater security, which I think is stupid. Giving a Wraith access to one of our ships is just insane.”
Zelenka cleared his throat. “Let’s discuss something else.”
Sebastian grinned. “Sure, let’s pick a kid-friendly topic.” He laughed when the older man huffed at him. “I planted herbs in hydroponics today, and we’re getting some kind of asparagus looking vegetable in a trade deal that has lots of iron and fiber. It’s orange though so Dr. McKay is probably going to complain about it a lot when it hits our plates. It’s pretty funny that he finds the purple potatoes from New Athos so appalling when you can get purple potatoes on Earth.”
“Why are you taking botany lessons?” Simpson asked.
“It’s a good supplement to my science classes from Earth, and it rounds out my curriculum for homeschooling to avoid questions with the Colorado state system since Daddy has to report to them on my progress as a student to avoid them trying to force me into a public school.”
She nodded. “Makes sense—must be boring though.”
“No, not really. My mom had a big garden behind our house, and she liked plants. We had all kinds. We were even considering an air garden for the sun porch before the accident.” He opened up his burrito and doused the inside with hot sauce then folded it back up, took a big bite, and chewed before continuing, “I think I’ll ask Dr. Parrish about some air plants, but since they get most of their nutrition from the air, they might thrive here. They focus entirely on food and medicinal crops in the greenhouses, so it would have to be a small experiment kind of thing.”
“Personal experiments will be good for your school records,” Kusanagi said. “Since you can’t participate in science fairs with your peers.”
Sebastian nodded. “Dr. Weir actually has the most boring job on the whole city.”
Zelenka raised an eyebrow.
“And the worst,” he continued. “Because Dr. Weir has to put up with people complaining both on and off-world plus she has to write trade agreements which suck. The only thing remotely entertaining about her job is getting to meet aliens, which she only gets to do on rare occasions. Plus, she has to deal with politicians from Earth, and I’m not sure even the Wraith are worse than that.”
Simpson laughed. “Please don’t repeat that in front of any of your father’s superiors. They wouldn’t appreciate being compared to a Wraith and found worse.”
“I did meet President Hayes while I was staying with General O’Neill,” Sebastian admitted. “He’s…friendly, I suppose. But he reminds me of some guy you’d see on late night television trying to sell you some kind of only-on-tv product.”
“Please tell us you didn’t say that to him,” Zelenka said in horror.
“Nah, I was on my best behavior the whole time I was in the Oval Office. It was cool to get beamed there though. And I got to get a tour of the Daedalus while it was in orbit, but I didn’t get to meet the Asgard who works on the ship because he was in Nevada when I visited which sucked because General O’Neill said I’d get a kick out of that but wouldn’t explain why.”
Zelenka smiled. “You didn’t meet an Asgard at all, then?”
“No.” Sebastian stared at him. “Why?”
“Well, the ship will be here soon enough. We’ll make sure you get to meet Hermiod,” Miko said and patted his back.
It was, Sebastian thought, a conspiracy.
After lunch, they made their way to the engineering lab, and Sebastian was let loose to work on his naquadah battery project. The plans for the naquadah generators were stupidly complicated, but after he’d studied them, he’d realized that the potential for naquadah could be capitalized on differently. Sebastian had also gotten to examine the power sources from a ZAT and Teal’c staff weapon, both of which were powered by naquadah. He thought one of the things the generator did wrong was to ignore vacuum energy storage which the ZPM clearly used.
“What’s the kid working on?”
He glanced up from his keyboard and saw Peter Kavanagh had entered the lab. The scientist didn’t like him at all. In fact, as far as Sebastian could tell, he didn’t like anyone on the whole city. Kavanagh was staring at the large monitor where Sebastian’s work was displayed. That was McKay’s policy so they could monitor his process and offer corrections as needed.
“A vacuum energy battery,” Zelenka said without looking up from his own work.
Kavanagh glared, and Sebastian shifted on his chair. “Why the hell would McKay give the kid such an important project to work on? If he doesn’t have time for it, he should’ve passed the idea onto a legitimate member of the science department.”
Zelenka sighed and looked up at Sebastian’s work. “That is not McKay’s idea. It is the boy’s—from concept to execution.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Kavanagh protested. “There’s no way a ten-year-old came up with this.” He waved a hand at the screen.
“He is a genius,” Zelenka said flatly. “And the idea is entirely his, Peter. No one cares if you believe it or not. You made it perfectly clear before his arrival that you had no interest in being part of his education program. Don’t act put out now that you haven’t been kept in the loop about his potential or his projects.”
“A genius,” Kavanagh repeated snidely. “After a month, you still think Sheppard’s secret baby is a prodigy?”
“Watch your mouth,” Zelenka snapped.
Sebastian felt his cheeks heat. He figured secret baby was just Kavanagh’s cowardly way of saying bastard. His mom’s ex-boyfriend had called him that once and only once because she’d dumped him right on the spot.
“Sebastian, what’s your IQ?” Kusanagi asked, and everyone in the room focused on her. “It’s in your records, correct? Verified by Colonel Carter?”
His face got hotter. “Yes, ma’am.” He bit down on his lip and averted his gaze when Kavanagh focused on him. “232. Colonel Carter said it’s probably because of my ATA gene. My mom had a really powerful one, too. A theorist at the SGC thinks that especially powerful ATA carriers can be drawn to one another for breeding. My paternal grandparents are both gene carriers as well. Though only my grandfather is alive.”
Kavanagh’s face grew pinched, and he pointed at the big screen. “And this is all your work?”
“With minor corrections by Drs McKay, Kusanagi, and Zelenka, yes,” Sebastian said. “It’s just a…hybrid model of the naquadah generator and ZPM on a small scale.”
“Just a hybrid model,” Kavanagh repeated. “Of two devices the rest of us barely understand. Right.” He turned on his heel and marched out of the room.
“Wow,” Sebastian muttered. “That guy really doesn’t like me.”
“As McKay already explained, he is just jealous of your potential,” Zelenka said. “Don’t worry about him. He’s petrified of your father and would never hurt you.”
“I don’t worry about that kind of thing on Atlantis,” Sebastian said. “But what if he complains to the SGC about me being taught on the city?”
“Everything we’re doing regarding your education has already been approved by the SGC, General O’Neill, the President of the US, and the IOA representatives for the US and Canada. You’re not a burden, Sebastian, so don’t worry about it,” Miko said. “In fact, you’re poised to make a huge contribution to the SGC with your little battery project. Its game-changing since your theoretical model is currently only using materials from Earth.”
“It wouldn’t be beneficial to everyone else if it couldn’t be mass produced on Earth,” Sebastian said and shrugged. “Is it really just jealousy? I mean…”
“Dr. McKay spends a lot of time with you,” Zelenka said. “And yes, there are plenty of scientists on this city who’d like his attention on a mentor level—even Kavanagh who hates him. Because McKay is the preeminent scientist of our generation and in some circles that’s everything. On Earth, Kavanagh could write his own ticket with any military contractor in the U.S. if McKay would endorse him.”
“But he won’t?”
“He thinks Peter is lazy and too busy trying to get ahead to be ahead,” Simpson said. “Kavanagh’s ego is worse than McKay’s ever been, and he doesn’t even have the justification for it.”
* * * *
John had barely had time to store his off-world gear before he was due in a meeting with Weir and Beckett. He’d been dreading the meeting for weeks because he knew no matter what Beckett’s latest proposal was, he was not going to be on board with the research. The very idea of having a Wraith on the city near his son made his heart race. He poured himself some coffee and ignored everyone in the room while he doctored it. Once he felt like his face was neutral enough, he took a seat and inclined his head toward Elizabeth.
“Carson, the floor is yours.”
“I’ve refined the vaccine, and its success rate on samples is one hundred percent. The simulations are also successful. We’re ready for a test subject.” Beckett said and passed packets of information to Weir and John.
John didn’t open his but watched Weir browse through the first few pages, her mouth tight. He knew part of her wanted the experiment to happen, and she wanted it to work.
“Your samples are small,” John said. “How long did it take to work?”
“So long do you estimate it would take to work on an adult Wraith?”
“As much as twenty-four hours,” Beckett said roughly. “The Wraith will be unconscious.”
“Can you guarantee he’ll be unconscious the entire twenty-four hours? Because the species is telepathic. Can they communicate with each other in a state of unconsciousness? How did the queen I killed wake up the wraith under her command? They were hibernating at the time, Carson. How different would unconsciousness be from hibernating for a drone? A soldier? Do you want a drone or a soldier? Will they even respond the same way to your cure? Their telepathic networks are complicated but also relatively easy to tap into. Teyla did it, and she only has a tiny bit of Wraith in her. Will the vaccine eradicate all of the Wraith genetics permanently?”
Beckett flushed. “No, it’ll have to be administered daily to keep the changes.”
“A daily injection is not a vaccine,” John said flatly. “Is the medication addictive? How will we be able to maintain the schedule for dosage? How long does it take to wear off?”
“I won’t know these answers until I have a test subject,” Beckett returned hotly. “You’re being difficult on purpose, Colonel. I don’t understand. I thought you would welcome a cure for the Wraith.”
“It’s not a cure, Dr. Beckett,” John said evenly. “It’s medical experimentation on an enemy combatant, and that’s illegal.”
“We’re not on Earth.”
“So I should leave my ethics back in Colorado?” John questioned. “Is that where you left yours?”
Weir cleared her throat. “Clearly, this experiment has raised some questions that must be explored in full. I’m not willing to bring a Wraith onto the city due to their telepathic nature. Due to the medical experimentation angle, I have no choice but to give the final decision over to the IOA where I will recommend that if they want the experiment to go forward that it will have to take place off-world far from Atlantis.
“Considering the Colonel’s moral objection, I cannot in good conscience order him to participate in the capturing of a Wraith, Carson. The IOA will have to send a team in from Earth to handle that as well as confinement in whatever off-world facility they decide to use.”
“But…” Becket began then trailed off with a dejected sigh.
“Thanks to the gate bridge,” John began, and they both focused on him, “the security of Atlantis has never been more important. We can’t allow them to find out about it because they might be able to hack it and get access to Earth and their so-called new feeding grounds. I will not allow the Wraith to get a foothold in the Milky Way. There are too many lives at stake.”
“You just don’t want to do the experiment here because of your son,” Beckett snapped.
John blinked in surprise. “For fuck’s sake, Beckett, of course, I don’t want a Wraith anywhere near my ten-year-old.” He huffed when the man’s mouth dropped open. “He’s not safe on Earth thanks to the Trust and our position out here is precarious as hell without intentionally adding to it. I also don’t want a freaking space vampire anywhere near anyone else on the city. I work pretty damn hard on a regular basis to keep this city a Wraith-free zone.” He flicked a hand around as if to encompass the entire city. “Moreover, medical experiments on sapient creatures isn’t exactly the kind of morals lesson I’d like anyone on the city exposed to. The crap on Hoff was bad enough.”
He stood from the table as they both stared at him in shock. “I wrestle with the fact that my mission mandate in Pegasus is essentially genocide. We can’t bargain with the Wraith because it’s immoral to even consider sectioning off this galaxy and telling them who they’re allowed to eat. Our only long-term solution to the mess the Ancients left behind is the eradication of their entire species. I live with it, but I won’t be a part of this kind of experimentation or the psychological torture of a Wraith. Nor will I intentionally put the people who live and work on this city at risk for no damn good reason.”
* * * *
He found his kid in the mess hall as expected. Sebastian was sitting with McKay and Zelenka. From the amount of hand waving and finger pointing, the kid had managed to get up to something while they’d been off-world. He fixed himself a plate and grabbed a couple extra pudding cups because if he didn’t, he wouldn’t get one at all between McKay and the kid.
He slid onto the bench beside his son.
“It wasn’t my fault, Daddy,” Sebastian immediately blurted out. “I just stood there.”
Zelenka snorted. “As I was telling McKay, Colonel, your son managed to stumble upon a damaged power relay in an unused office space in the tower we use for the botany department since it is close to the greenhouses. It was causing the small power drain we’ve been searching for since our arrival.”
John glanced Sebastian’s way, and the kid put the better part of his hamburger in his mouth. “And you didn’t touch anything?”
Sebastian chewed quickly and swallowed. “No, the door even opened by itself.”
“Okay,” John said reasonably. “Tell me how your day went down. Leave nothing out.”
“Well, first, I programmed with Dr. Kusanagi, and I did two hundred lines all by myself with no mistakes. Then I potted plants with Dr. Parrish while Dr. Brown investigated some fruit discovered off-world. Then on my way to Dr. Weir’s office, I saw this door was kind of open, so I walked toward it, and it slid open, and there was a glowing panel in this empty room. I called Dr. Zelenka on the radio who came to repair it. Then I want to Dr. Weir’s office to discuss trade agreements and get a lesson on bartering. After that, I went to Dr. Zelenka’s lab and worked on my battery until dinner, and Dr. Kavanagh hates me.”
John focused on him. “Pardon me?”
“He had a lot to say about my battery project and how I shouldn’t get assigned such an important project, but then he was all weird about it when Dr. Z told him it was my project from start to finish. He thought I was working on one of Dr. McKay’s concepts, which really upset him. I don’t think finding out it was my idea helped at all actually.” The kid shrugged and grabbed two of the pudding cups off John’s tray. He passed one to McKay.
John ignored the pudding shenanigans and focused on Zelenka. “Is this a problem?”
“Only for Kavanagh. He is a very jealous person, and now he has someone new to be jealous of. The boy’s age is a factor but not the biggest one. The measure of one’s intelligence plays heavily into our office politics and…” Zelenka shrugged. “Sebastian is only outmatched by McKay, who is supposedly quite rare. It is like being in the room with Isaac Newton and Da Vinci at the same time—mind-boggling and sometimes infuriating for those who can’t set aside their own ego.”
“It’s just a number,” Sebastian said as he poked at his pudding. “And not even a very good indication of intelligence and potential, in my opinion. My mom told me to never put much stock in it because there are so many ways to measure intelligence and plenty of things impact it—privilege, environment, nutrition, and experience. You can’t measure a fish’s intelligence by asking it to climb a tree.”
John had always struggled with his own projected potential and his parents’ expectations because of it. His father, especially, had plans for him that he didn’t think he could ever meet and that more than anything was the root of their estrangement. Oddly, it was also the cause of his divorce. Nancy had plans for him as well, and she hadn’t been interested in being a career officer’s wife. He was glad that Sebastian didn’t seem all that emotionally invested in his IQ.
He focused on McKay. “Do I need to have a chat with Kavanagh?”
“No, you’d probably give him a stroke. I’ll handle it. But speaking of problems, how’d the meeting go.”
“I made it perfectly clear that I would have no part of the project now or in the future. It’s stupid and dangerous.”
“Beckett’s not much for the big picture,” Kusanagi interjected. “It’s caused problems in the past.”
John agreed with that, but he didn’t want to have a real discussion regarding the CMO in front of Sebastian.
“Speaking of Dr. Beckett,” Sebastian said. “Apparently, I didn’t get information on the ATA gene and diet because he didn’t handle my physical.”
“Oh.” John blew out a surprised breath. He wondered if there was a day in his future when he wouldn’t feel like he was a complete fuck-up as a parent.
“I sent him in the information packet,” Kusanagi said. “At least as far as nutrition goes, but I really think, considering his gene status, that you should carve out some time in your schedule to give an in-depth lesson on Ancient tech and how impacts you, Colonel. No one has a better grasp of it than you.”
John nodded and glanced toward his son who as doing his best to scrape out the last bit of chocolate pudding from the plastic cup.
“I’ll add it to his schedule.”
Sebastian eyed his pudding.
“Go get an apple or something,” John said and moved his cup out of the kid’s reach. “No citrus.”
Sebastian laughed and left the table in search of fruit.
John turned to McKay. “You make sure Kavanagh understands that if he fucks with my kid, I’ll kill him.”
McKay glanced toward the snack bar where Sebastian was chatting with a Marine. “Not if I beat you to it. Relax, John, Peter’s bitchy but harmless.”
John really didn’t think a single adult on the city was harmless, but he nodded. He watched Sebastian walk back to the table and wasn’t surprised to see him return with bowls of sliced peach-like things for both himself and McKay. John hated the texture of the fruit in question, but the two of them could eat their weight in it if given the opportunity.
The kid was unconscious by eight every night. In fact, one of the first things Sebastian had told him was that his mom said his bedtime was at eight except for on special occasions until he was at least twelve then it could be negotiated. John had agreed. Then he’d asked for a list of Karen’s important rules so they could both make sure her wishes were adhered to. It’d seemed like the thing to do.
When the door chime to their quarters sounded, he prodded the door open from his place on the sofa and wasn’t all that surprised when McKay wandered in with his open laptop. He’d sent the CSO a copy of Beckett’s experiment proposal since the doctor hadn’t which was another cause for concern. Beckett had made a habit of going around McKay for a while, and it was really getting on McKay’s nerves.
“He uses my friendship to get away with shit like this,” McKay said and dropped down on the sofa next to John. “I’m trying to figure out if he could’ve talked us into this if we both hadn’t immediately imagined introducing the kid to an altered Wraith.”
John shuddered. “Beckett wants to name his subject Michael.”
“He says in the summary that it’s an alternative to genocide but really? Is it?” Rodney made a face. “Destroying their species identity is a form of genocide—it’s just supposedly gentler but really? I don’t see how we can do something like this and still hold ourselves above the Wraith or even the Goa’uld for that matter. We’d be no better than them. Maybe seeking their extinction is terrible but they eat people, sort of, and that’s…” He sighed.
“It’s kind of horrifying not to be at the top of the food chain,” John said. “The Wraith aren’t a natural species—that’s what I cling, too, in the end. The Ancients made them in an experiment and lost control of them. Their foolish pursuit of ascension brought this entire galaxy to this point, and we can’t let them spread beyond this galaxy.”
“And they could,” Rodney said quietly. “Easily. We don’t have a lot of easy choices out here, but I think coming down on the side of medical experimentation is the wrong choice for everyone, even Carson. He’s blind to the ramifications, and I don’t know why.”
“He wants to make up for the mistakes that were made on Hoff,” John said. “But that can’t be undone, and no matter how we all feel about the situation, in the end, they did it to themselves.”
“Maybe they wouldn’t have gotten there without us.”
“Or maybe they would have with a vaccine even less successful and more than half would’ve died,” John said grimly. “Maybe they would’ve all died in the end. It doesn’t resolve the guilt, but hell, what could?”
“I’m considering suggesting that we replace Carson as CMO. He’s so invested in research that I don’t think he’s doing a very good job of the rest of it.”
“I’ve already made an appointment with Biro for Sebastian,” John said. “I can’t believe…” He huffed. “I’m a terrible parent.”
“You’re doing a great job,” Rodney protested. “His clothes are clean, and he’s not running around like a hoodlum.”
“Low standards there, McKay,” John said and laughed. “I have to finish this report for his homeschooling before the next data burst. He’s only really lagging on history because it bores him silly. But since he’s in high school classes at his age, they’re not really all that concerned about his slow reading regarding World History. He has to sit a standardized test on my next leave—math, language, and reading compression.”
“You should check with Sam and see if she can arrange for him to take the ACT. I’d like to see where he is on that.”
John made a face. “Rodney.”
“He’s already in high school at ten. Let’s not throw up him at college courses just yet.”
“I’m pretty sure he’s humoring you on that whole homeschooling thing,” Rodney admitted. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he could sit and pass the GED today.”
John sighed. “I know that, but there is no need to rush him through childhood, okay?”
“Yeah, okay. How about the PSAT? That’s a test that kids in America get in high school.”
“I’ll ask Carter about the PSAT if Sebastian is interested,” John agreed, but he really didn’t want to. He wondered how Karen dealt with this part of their kid.
The only thing he really knew was that Sebastian had spent six months in a public school at the age of five before Karen removed him for homeschooling. He hadn’t asked Sebastian about that, and he figured he should. He’d been treading carefully on the subject of his mother for various reasons chief among them that talking about her often reduced Sebastian to tears. As much as John knew that his son needed to process his grief, he hated to see him cry. It made him feel helpless and like the worst kind of failure as a father. He really didn’t know how his own father had handled not one but three grieving children when his own mother had died.
“Did you want me to handle any of the summaries?” Rodney questioned.
“Honestly, yes, but I should do it myself.” He frowned at his laptop screen. “We already have to tell a bunch of lies about his circumstances, so I guess I’d like to say I really did do this part.”
Rodney laughed a little. “I get it.” He yawned. “I should go to bed. I have a big day planned for tomorrow.”
John sighed. “Please try to keep him out of as much Ancient tech as you can. I really don’t want the IOA to…” He sighed. “They’re very proprietary over me, and I don’t want that for him.”
“That ship’s probably already sailed, John. The best we can do is make sure he’s savvy enough to make them pay through the nose for his time and attention. Plus, we need to guard his intellectual property rights like dragons. Since he’s a minor, he can’t sign a contract, so his position is precarious.”
“I’ll fix that,” John said and opened up a fresh email. “Even if I have to sign a contract on his behalf.” He fired off an email to Carter and O’Neill with a CC to McKay and Weir. “This thing with Kavanagh…”
“He’s an American,” Rodney said flatly and sighed. “Look, your government can be real dicks about intellectual property rights and patents when it comes to government contractors. There were incidents at Area 51 where Kavanagh managed to wrench control of a project away from a non-citizen because of his seniority and the fact that he’s American. He took a concept from Zelenka about a year before the expedition and ended up with three patents in his name. Plus he got a quarter of a million dollar bonus from the DOD for it.”
John’s gaze narrowed. “That’s bullshit, McKay.”
“Yes, well, he paid for it after the fact. There isn’t a single scientist at the SGC that will collaborate with him as a result. I won’t let him get anywhere near Sebastian’s work. I never pass him ideas to work on that I don’t have time for—not even ones that are essentially worthless on the money front. I wouldn’t help him build a better mousetrap.” He yawned again.
“Go to bed so you can be alert to keep my kid from blowing a hole in the galaxy tomorrow.”
Rodney scoffed as he stood. “We don’t have the equipment for that on the city.”
John just laughed as the scientist shuffled out of his quarters.
* * * *
Sebastian zipped his backpack and set it on the couch before going back into the kitchen. He put the coffee on and pulled out a steel to-go cup out of the small dishwasher. The coffee pot was from Earth, but the dishwasher was Ancient. It cleaned with an energy stream and required no soap which kind of put him off. He’d read the research on it and the washing machines hoping that knowing how they worked would help him get over the lack of soap thing. He understood the mechanism but he kind of wished his clothes still smelled like Snuggle.
The coffee finished, so he filled the to-go cup and snapped on the lid. Then he put on another pot because if he wanted McKay out of his quarters and heading toward the mess for breakfast, then he needed to be properly medicated. His Dad entered the kitchen, and Sebastian shot up.
“Good morning, Daddy.” He grabbed the cup and left their quarters at a trot. Three doors down he hit the chime for McKay and waited a few moments before it was answered.
McKay glared at him. “It’s not even six.”
Sebastian offered him the cup.
McKay took it with a huff. “Fifteen minutes.”
Sebastian laughed as the door shut, and he headed back to their apartment. Just as he was about to enter their rooms, the door to McKay’s place opened, and Katie Brown left. He made a face at that and prodded their door closed quickly to avoid any sort of interaction with her. In the kitchen, he found his dad drinking a cup of coffee.
“I made that for Dr. McKay.”
John raised an eyebrow. “Don’t encourage his caffeine addiction.”
“It’s too late, Daddy, at his age we’re in a maintenance pattern to keep him out of jail,” Sebastian said earnestly. “Are you going to eat with us in the mess?”
“Yeah, I have a few trips to the mainland to make this afternoon for botany and biology, but my morning is all paperwork. Sit for a minute, I want to talk to you about a few things.”
Sebastian sat but pursed his lips. “It’s McKay Day, Daddy.”
John snorted. “From now on, I don’t want you to work with anyone on anything science related without McKay’s explicit approval. Moreover, give Dr. Kavanagh a wide berth—he has a history of stealing other people’s work. If he asks you questions or invites you to research with him, tell him I said no and direct him my way if he has questions. He won’t.”
“Dr. Zelenka says that Kavanagh is afraid of you,” Sebastian said. “I’ll stay away from him, and I don’t want to work with him anyway. He whines a lot and…” He felt his face flush as he considered how to say what he thought without being an arrogant little brat. “The thing is that he’d just slow me down. I don’t like to waste my time explaining stuff to people. I don’t have to do that with Drs McKay, Zelenka, or Kusanagi when it comes to engineering. Kavanagh is more interested in making money than making science, and it shows. Money is important, I guess, especially if you don’t have it but to put that above discovery is kind of…appalling.”
John nodded as their door chime sounded. “Go let the caffeine fiend in.”
Sebastian trotted off to get the door, and John wasn’t all that surprised to when he heard McKay shout, “Come on, Sheppard, it’s waffle day!”
John stood and picked up his laptop. He figured he’d do his paperwork in the mess where there was a constant source of coffee he didn’t have to make and snacks since he worked best on a personal reward system.
He followed Sebastian and McKay to the transporter.
“You stole my extra coffee.”
John took a sip of the coffee in question. “There’s more in the mess.”
“That’s not even the point. It was made for me.” Rodney waved an empty cup at him. “If I have problems maintaining a cheerful demeanor today, I’m blaming you.”
“Who do you blame other days?” John asked curiously and laughed when Rodney huffed dramatically. “Is there a system? Am I taking turns with someone?”
“Asshole,” Rodney muttered and punched the button for the mess hall. Shortly they were deposited in a transporter in the main tower. “You realize your kid is the only reason I still tolerate you, right?”
“Lucky me,” John said wryly as Sebastian laughed.
“I have it on good authority that single fatherhood has increased his hotness factor,” Sebastian interjected. “So, I’m taking that into account.”
“Account for what?” John asked in shock. “And who said that?”
“Practically every woman on the whole city,” Sebastian said. “I’m a chick magnet, Daddy. The only thing better would probably be a fluffy puppy. Which, you know, I’d like a dog.”
“Pets aren’t currently allowed due to the charter,” Rodney said. “Or I’d have a cat.”
“We need to work on that charter thing then,” Sebastian said as they got in line. “Dr. Weir is focusing on morale lately, and pets are excellent for stress relief.”
“You didn’t answer my question,” John prodded.
“Oh, well,” Sebastian said and bit down on his lip. “I’ve not finished with it.”
John eyed him. “Fine, keep your secret.”
The kid grinned and selected a bowl of strawberries for his waffle. “Okay.”
“I’m going to regret that,” John muttered to McKay.
McKay snorted. “So much. You should just start regretting now so you won’t get behind when it lands.”
He took his time with breakfast, but McKay and Sebastian plowed through all of their food like a pair of Vikings then dashed out of the mess in favor of the lab. John found them more amusing than alarming and just hoped his kid didn’t end up with a stomach ache for his trouble.
He was contemplating a second waffle when Kate Heightmeyer sat down with her own tray.
“John.” She shook her milk gently and opened it. “I saw Sebastian leaving with McKay.”
“Yeah, it’s McKay Day,” John said wryly. “He spends the whole day with McKay being his mini-me.” He grinned when Kate laughed. “I’m pretty sure McKay is a terrible influence on him but separating them would probably be dangerous for the galaxy.”
“Certainly,” she said in amusement. “It’s nice though—to see him connecting with a child like Sebastian. I think they probably have a lot in common on several fronts. Have you spoken to him about making an appointment to talk with me?”
“You know Elizabeth has to order McKay into therapy,” John said.
She huffed. “John.”
“Sebastian doesn’t want to do therapy,” John admitted. “I have discussed it with him, and he’s agreed to think about it, but I believe you and I know that forcing it wouldn’t be helpful at all. He’s a little stubborn.”
“I don’t wonder where he got that,” she said and rolled her eyes when he pretended to be offended. “His nightmares?”
“Consistent,” John said. “Which I guess is better than escalating? He says they’re about the car wreckage, and maybe that’s true, but his circumstances have changed drastically in the last month, and I have to think he’s got some anxiety about living in another galaxy.”
“Certainly and he isn’t alone in that,” Kate said. “I’d be worried if he wasn’t a bit anxious about living on another planet. His grief and the nightmares are normal, John, I just wish he was more open to a conversation with me. Does he talk to you?”
“Sometimes he evades questions, but if I press, he’ll talk. The topic of his mother always makes him cry, and I think it will for a while. I…well. Hell, Kate, I can’t talk about my own mother for any length of time without getting upset, and she’s been dead since I was fourteen.” He cleared his throat. “It’s not something you really get over, you know?”
“I do know,” Kate admitted. “Well, keep me in the loop about his emotional state and watch his temper.”
“He hasn’t any sort of tantrum since we met.”
“Then you’re about due,” she said wryly. “He’s ten, John, and despite his intelligence, his hormones are going to be all over the place due to puberty. You can anticipate a genuine meltdown in your future.”
“Don’t threaten me,” John said in horror and huffed when she laughed. “My child is perfect.”
“Oh, John.” She shook her head and started cutting up her waffle.
* * * *
Sebastian liked to work on the opposite side of the lab from McKay when his own work was under review. Mostly because the man had the most expressive face in existence and watching him frown at his work was nerve-wracking. The CSO always spent the first hour of the day reviewing people’s work that had been submitted to him, and quite a few groans were going around the main lab as email notifications started to ping. He only hesitated a few seconds before opening his own evaluation.
It’s tempting to cut corners because of our extra knowledge, but for a project to fly on Earth on its own, you can’t do that. Earth materials aren’t enough—confine yourself to the concepts as well. Harnessing vacuum energy is theoretical as far as the science community is concerned. Your battery is going to prove that theory. You must be able to talk about it in depth without mentioning the Ancients or anything else off-world that might have inspired you.
This isn’t a huge concern now as the origin and patent for the device will likely be classified until you’re in your 30s or older. But keep these facts in mind for current and future projects – MRM
He frowned but responded back that he understood. Sebastian brought up his project and stared at the schematic. Nothing looked overtly alien in design so far, but he resolved to spend some more time on the aesthetics to make it look more in line with Earth tech. Though something about McKay’s email was bothering him, so he opened it again and read then frowned some more.
“Was he mean?” Zelenka questioned. “He clearly has not had enough coffee.”
“Daddy drank the extra coffee I made him,” Sebastian said absently. “And, no, Dr. McKay is never mean to me. He’s honest, which I appreciate, but he saves the insults for the people who get paid around here.” He exhaled sharply as he read over the email again. “Oh.”
“Oh, what?” Rodney questioned as he joined them at the work table.
Sebastian looked around. “I…would prefer to say in a less crowded circumstance.”
“What the boy genius thinks he’s too good to share his ideas with the whole department?” Kavanagh asked snidely.
“My Daddy told me you were a thief and I shouldn’t talk to you at all,” Sebastian said in Kavanagh’s direction, and the scientist flushed bright red. “And I’m not allowed to discuss my battery project in front of you because you can’t be trusted.”
“It should be given to someone with experience, McKay, and you know it.”
“Given?” McKay questioned. “You want me to steal from a ten-year-old and give it to you? Do you think I’m stupid, Kavanagh? Do you think you’re the only one who’s realized this kind of project could win him a Nobel before he even graduates college?”
“Ugh,” Sebastian uttered. “I have no interest in winning any sort of prizes.” He closed his laptop.
“Why not?” Zelenka asked curiously. “It’s a very prestigious thing.”
“That kind of prestige is useless, really. It does nothing to help anyone. I mean the money would be nice, but the actual Nobel part itself is just a bunch of smart people patting other smart people on the back. They should invest their time in things that really matter—like helping others. Earth is literally brimming with problems—starvation, drought, global warming.” He shrugged. “That’s just my opinion. Can we talk in your office, Dr. McKay?”
“Sure kid,” Rodney said with a small, bemused smile. “Everyone get to work. Kavanagh, you’ve already got your assignments for the day. Why are you even in here?”
“I want to talk to you about the kid’s idea. One of us could finish it twice as fast. It has benefit to the program and needs to be moved—perhaps even to a full team of scientists.”
“That’s a bunch of crap,” Sebastian said flatly, and they all turned to stare at him. “If it were that easy for you to figure out, Dr. Kavanagh, you’d have already done it. Plus, every single one of you is approaching the zero-point energy from the wrong perspective so you couldn’t finish this project in a hundred years.” He turned to McKay. “Which is exactly what I want to talk to you about in your office, please.”
Rodney cleared his throat. “Zelenka, with us, the rest of you get to work.”
Sebastian slid off the stool with his laptop, grabbed his bag, and went to McKay’s office to wait. His stomach knotted as he considered his theory. He knew deep down that he was right, but he wasn’t sure how to say it without being…more insulting than he already had been. McKay and Zelenka stepped into the office, and the door shut. Zelenka joined him in the second visitor’s chair, but McKay came around to lean on the desk instead of sitting at it.
“Talk to me,” Rodney said.
“I.” He bit down on his lip.
McKay squatted down in front of him. “When I was your age, I built a non-working model of a nuclear weapon in my parent’s garage. Well, the only thing it was missing was uranium. They were horrified, and the Canadian government stopped pretending I didn’t exist. My life changed a lot after that and even more so when I started college. It was scary and sometimes disconcerting how seriously adults took me.” He plucked the laptop from Sebastian’s hands and put it on the desk. “Now, you had an epiphany, right? When you were reading my email?”
“Yes.” Sebastian felt his cheeks heat. “You can’t…you can’t harness zero-point energy. The ZPM doesn’t do that. If it did that, then it would never run out of energy, and they do deplete.” He reached his hand out and wrapped it around air. “It captures a bit of it. Not much—just a little bit because too much would destroy the device. Feynman and Wheeler calculated that there’s enough zero point energy in the space of a light bulb to boil all of the oceans on Earth, but I think it would take much less than that. My battery won’t ever run out of energy because it will draw ZPE from its environment every twenty-four hours. The bigger the battery, the more energy it will trap for its needs, but it will do it in discrete packages to prevent overloads. Kind of like how we travel through the stargate in a discrete package of energy to prevent parts of us from getting lost. Which is also how people lose parts if not all of them gets through the event horizon before the gate disengages, right?”
He watched the color drain from McKay’s face even as the man nodded.
“Are you okay?” Sebastian asked.
“I.” Rodney exhaled and stood. “Give me a minute, I think you just gave me a stroke.” He rubbed his face with a shaking hand. “Radek?”
“If he’s right then we can’t recharge a ZPM,” Radek said. “And we’ve been working toward that goal for years.”
“I think we both know he’s right,” McKay said roughly. “The ZPM doesn’t have a mechanism for recapturing zero point energy, which means we should’ve been searching for a way to capture it ourselves.”
“Except you already have a way,” Sebastian said. “The naquadah generator creates zero point energy as it decays. It does so in a very predictable and controlled fashion—capturing that energy in a vacuum should be the work of nothing.”
“For fuck’s sake,” Zelenka said. “Yes. I see!”
“Great, now he’s having an epiphany,” Rodney said dryly and exhaled slowly. “I sort of kind of promised your father I wouldn’t let you do anything huge to catch the IOA’s attention.”
Sebastian flushed. “Sorry.”
“No, you’ve just…literally advanced your species. No apologies allowed.” Rodney cleared his throat and handed his laptop back to him. “Let’s move your work to my private server.” He focused on Radek. “And we’re not discussing this with anyone until I’ve had a long talk with Elizabeth and John.”
“Agreed,” Zelenka said. “Bring them both liquor for that meeting. They will need it.”
* * * *
Sebastian put his backpack own and settled down on his stomach to stare down into the water. From his position, sprawled on a small dock that shot off pier six, he could touch the water but not much else. He figured that the dock had once been used to moor boats of some sort. Though he couldn’t decide what kind of boat the Ancients would’ve had. Maybe it was a remnant of their original build when the city had been on Earth. He patted the water gently then trailed his fingers through it. The salt content was higher than anything he’d ever experienced on Earth, but that was to their benefit as salt trade off-world was very lucrative.
A full minute passed before the little penguin he’d met weeks before appeared.
The little penguin nooted cheerfully and rubbed his head back and forth over Sebastian’s fingers.
“How goes penguin life?” he questioned. “I totally advanced my species today. It sucks. I mean it’s a great discovery, and it’ll make things easier for the city, but Daddy really isn’t going to be happy about all the attention I’ll get from Earth about it.”
Avery splashed in the water.
“You know what it’s like, huh? To be a little different than everyone else?” Sebastian sighed. “It was harder on Earth to be me than it is here, and that makes me feel guilty. I miss my mom so much but being around Dr. McKay is really opening up my mind in a way that I didn’t expect was possible. Maybe I should’ve let mom enroll me in those classes at Caltech like she wanted.
“Dr. Eppes was nice. Maybe I’ll ask if I can send him an email. Of course, that might mean further interaction with Dr. Fleinhardt, which is…” He sighed. “I’m not much for theory, honestly, and he’s all about that. I think he’d have a great time in the SGC though—but he might get tossed off the planet by Colonel Carter. She doesn’t strike me as the patient sort, and dealing with Dr. Fleinhardt requires all the patience a person can muster.”
He’d enjoyed flying to the mainland too much, and a meeting about the Genii was his punishment. He really didn’t think he’d ever be able to trust them, no matter who was in charge because they were mercenary and unpredictable. Ladon Radim might be less of a problem than Cowen, but a change in leadership did nothing to change the mentality of their society.
“I think they’re more trouble than their worth,” Lorne input and John relaxed in his chair. He liked his XO, especially when he was expressing opinions that they shared.
Weir’s face grew pinched. “I’d hoped that in helping Ladon secure leadership that the situation would be more positive going forward.”
“I’d settle for no hostility,” John said. “But there are elements in the Genii that we can never trust—moreover they’ve demonstrated that in the right circumstances that they could be just as much of a threat to us as the Wraith. The city, as an asset, is unmatched in this galaxy and they’d take her from us if they could. We were fortunate that there wasn’t a single gene carrier among them during the foothold situation—because it could’ve made all the difference.”
“You’ve made a career out of turning enemies into friends,” John continued. “But you can’t replicate that success with alien societies whom we share nothing in common with. Mutually assured destruction goes a long way toward peace on Earth. We’ve already shown the Genii that they can invade us, kill our people, and not be punished for it.”
She flushed. “We weren’t in a position to retaliate at the time, John. You agreed it would be a mistake to attack them after they tried to take over the city.”
“I didn’t want another eager enemy,” John said. “I still don’t. I also don’t think we can trust them any further than we could throw a single one of them. Every society in Pegasus exists in a headspace between the desperate need for survival and an insatiable rage at being considered food for the Wraith. Some of them respond by digging bunkers and building A-bombs. Others try to bargain; they sacrifice their old and hide their children in caves. The Wraith have shaped this galaxy in ways we can’t predict and wouldn’t be able to if we lived here hundreds of years. Pegasus knows nothing but strife, Elizabeth.”
“And yet your mandate concerns you?”
“I wouldn’t consider myself a very good person if genocide didn’t concern me,” John said and exhaled sharply. “Back to Beckett’s experiment, then?”
“He’s very insistent,” Elizabeth admitted. “And presented me with several parts of the expedition charter this morning that grants me the authority not only to conduct the experiment but to order you to participate.”
“You know that part of the expedition charter was voided the moment we regained our connection with Earth,” John said. “And I’d resign entirely and return to Earth before I’d willingly bring a Wraith onto this city unless he’d be content with a corpse. I’ll bring him a corpse.”
“I doubt it,” Elizabeth said.
“I get that you find the idea appealing,” John said. “But it’s a no-go, Elizabeth. I’ve already communicated with both Landry and O’Neill on this subject. If the IOA approves it, then they’re going to have to arrange for it themselves without using the SGC’s resources. Not a single man or woman in uniform is going to participate in this experiment. And if anyone brings a Wraith onto this city—it’ll die in the gate room.”
“The experiment truly serves no purpose as it currently stands,” Lorne input. “Even if it did work on a single Wraith—we don’t have the resources or the ability to dose over a million Wraith daily to keep them in whatever form Beckett has deemed suitable.”
“Unless his next step is a biological contagion,” John said grimly. “And we have to think it is. A Wraith specific plague set loose on Pegasus could mutate horrifically and would probably be dangerous to people like Teyla who’s ancestors were experimented on.”
Elizabeth stood from the table. “I think you’re right—it probably is his next step, and that’s horrifying. At this point, it’s going to end up in front of the IOA one way or another. Are you sure O’Neill and Landry can prevent the SGC’s resources from being used?”
“Yes, I’m sure,” John said. “O’Neill is vehemently opposed to medical experimentation, and any biological weapon talk will probably get Beckett recalled to Earth permanently which is probably for the best. He’s obviously not handling the stress of our situation as well as he should considering his go-to solution to our problems is this.”
* * * *
John entered his quarters, pulled his radio from his ear, and tucked it in his T-shirt pocket. He was done with the day and had already made that clear to Lorne who’d promised nothing short of a Wraith siege would disturb John until morning.
McKay was on the sofa staring at his laptop.
“Already down for the count?”
“Yeah, he almost fell asleep in his elk burger,” Rodney said wryly. “I brought you some pasta back since you don’t like the elk. It’s in the fridge.”
“Thanks,” John stretched and took off his watch. “What’s up with your face? You look exhausted but also half-crazy with anxiety like we’re about to bunker down on a Wraith occupied world.”
McKay laughed weakly. “Get your food, John.” He stood and motioned him toward the kitchen.
So, John went into the kitchen and pulled the box from the fridge and transferred the pasta to a bowl to be heated in the microwave. “Did he discover the meaning of life or something?”
“Better,” Rodney said. “And worse at the same time.”
John sighed. “God, Rodney, I…what did he do?”
“Oh, he just schooled Radek and me on the fact that a ZPM can’t be recharged in the method we’ve been thinking for years because what we really need is a device that can capture zero point energy and place it in the vacuum space.”
John bit down on his lip as that thought raced around his mind. It was interesting and, also, mildly horrifying that no one had considered that before. It made too much sense. He pulled his pasta from the microwave and walked back into the living room to sit on the couch with McKay. “How did he get there?”
“I told him he had to work on explaining how his little battery will harness ZPE and his brain about exploded,” Rodney said dryly. “And that was the result. Only Radek and I were in on the conversation, and I wanted to talk with you about it before we approach Weir with the information. It’s going to put an unreasonable spotlight on him and his research project. Kavanagh has made a very public bid to have the battery taken away from Sebastian for the good of the mission. I’m sure there are people on Earth who would agree.”
“I’ve had his research sequestered to my private server until you can get his legal rights as part of the expedition settled with O’Neill. The IOA doesn’t involve themselves in operations on that level but if we can keep a lid on the bigger picture then by the time it becomes known that your kid solved the ZPM problem he’ll have legal protection.”
“Do you think O’Neill would be okay with Sebastian’s work being taken from him?”
“No, but he answers to other people, and not all of them can be trusted. Everything we can do now to insulate the kid, we should, because this road has no end,” Rodney said in a tone that spoke to experience.
“It makes me want to just disappear through the gate with him.”
“I get it,” Rodney said. “And we’ll certainly keep that as a viable option.”
“We?” John asked and raised an eyebrow. He watched McKay’s cheeks flush a little.
“We’re a team,” the scientist said defensively. “Like Teyla and Ronon would you let stroll around Pegasus without us.”
“What about Brown?”
“She’s not team, and besides I don’t think Sebastian likes her. I don’t think she’d do well on an extended camping trip in Pegasus regardless of her skills as a botanist.”
“He hasn’t mentioned a problem with her,” John said.
“Katie told me that he avoids her like the plague and asked me if she’d offended him somehow. I figured he’d avoid answering the question if I asked, so I’m leaving that to you.”
“I’ll just add it to my growing list,” John muttered under his breath.
“Oh, but I did get a heads up about his little side project,” Rodney said in amusement. “Not intentional on his part, but I overheard him asking several different women over the course of the day if they were seeing someone.”
“Oh, no.” John groaned. “Come on.”
“Yeah—he’s definitely going to try to set you up with someone. Your perpetual bachelorhood has come back to haunt you.”
“Whatever,” John said crossly and slouched in his chair. “Great, I’m going to have to come out to my kid. How weird is that?”
“Pretty weird. I mean, have you ever actually come out to anyone?”
“No, most people just assume I’m gay after a while, especially those who don’t know I have an ex-wife.” John grimaced. “Even you figured it out eventually.”
Rodney huffed. “I’d have caught on earlier if you didn’t make the appearance of being a complete womanizer.”
“Yes, well, I don’t have a choice on that front with DADT in effect. O’Neill told me in confidence that Hayes is going to repeal it by the end of the year.”
“Good, it’s a bullshit policy anyways.” Rodney cleared his throat. “Do you think he’ll have a problem with it?”
“His mother was a bleeding-heart liberal who literally chained herself to trees to protest urban sprawl,” John said. “He hasn’t expressed any opinions that make me think she taught him anything drastically different from her world view when I knew her.”
“Today, he told the entire science department that the pursuit of the Nobel Prize is vain and useless,” Rodney admitted and grinned when John looked at him in shock. “And said that smart people should spend their time helping others and saving the world from global warming instead of patting each other on the back for being smart.”
“Wow.” John laughed. “Yeah, that’s his mother. She inherited her grandfather’s estate about a year before I met her. She sold all of it and gave all the money to Habitat for Humanity. People she barely knew would try to lecture her for it—for throwing away her grandfather’s legacy.”
“Why do you think she kept Sebastian from you?”
“Had I to guess, I would say it’s because she knew I came from money and privilege. She wouldn’t want her child to be raised with a silver spoon in his mouth. Moreover, I was honest with her when I explained that I couldn’t continue the relationship. I really tried, but there came a point where I felt that I owed us both honesty. I’ve never, ever been sexually attracted to a woman in my life.”
Rodney hummed under his breath and waved a hand. “How’d you handle that on the physical front?”
“I’d think about men to get hard and to get off,” John admitted and flushed when McKay gaped at him. “I know it’s horrible.”
“For you,” Rodney interjected hotly. “Jesus, John, why the hell did you ever try to live like that?”
“I was just trying to be what everyone wanted,” John murmured. “It just took me a while to figure out what I wanted was important. You’re bisexual, Rodney, but I’ve never seen you look twice a man on the city. I know you realize how difficult it can be.”
Rodney frowned. “Yes, well, when it comes to other men, I’ve always been careful because of my military contracts. It’s easier at the SGC, of course, but you never know when you’re going to come across some caveman who wants to kick your ass for existing. I had to have more than one Marine at Area 51 reassigned for rabid homophobia.”
“One of those guys tried to volunteer to come out here last year,” John said. “But there was a note in his file from you calling him a homophobic douche. Lorne laughed his ass off. We let Landry know that we couldn’t allow anyone who’d mistreated a civilian at Area 51 to come to the city. It’s just not a good idea.”
“They like to pass their problems around to other people so they can avoid dealing with them. Landry is infamous for it actually—it keeps his statistics clean which keeps his command in good standing with the DOD because they rarely, if ever, really note where problems come from when the shit hits the fan.”
And it certainly would, John thought. He frowned and sighed. “I think Beckett’s end game is a viral contagion.”
“A biological weapon,” Rodney said. “Agreed, it’s the only way to spread his cure and make it any sort of permanent. So what happens when half a hive is infected? The remaining Wraith promptly feed on the cured then they get cured and starve to death on a hive ship with no human food. Problem solved.”
John snorted. “For fuck’s sake, Rodney.”
“Worse, the cured will probably be essentially defenseless. Did you read that part of Beckett’s proposal? He theorizes that the cured Wraith will lose the memories of their life before the so-called vaccine is administered due to the physiological changes. Their brains are going to be so different that they won’t be able to process the memories of being a Wraith. I mean, at least until they revert back because this solution isn’t strong enough or the dosing schedule is off by even a half hour. Then we’ll have a bigger, uglier problem on our hands when they figure out what happened to them and who’s responsible.”
“Every time I learn something new about this experiment, the more horrified I am,” John confided. “The worse part is that plenty of people on this city and on Earth will be all for it because it looks like a solution on the surface. They don’t see the ramifications of such an experiment. They won’t even consider all the ways the thing could get out of our control and what the consequences of that would be. The Wraith view us as the enemy because we interfere with their ability to feed. How they would feel about us if we started attacking their very existence? Altering their kind against their will? I’d rather not have a bunch of Wraith carry a personal grudge against us.”
“It’s a fine line, isn’t it? I mean the one we’re walking. Carson’s version of genocide is so much worse than ours?”
John flushed. “I have to draw that fine line somewhere, Rodney.”
“I’m not accusing you of anything,” Rodney said. “Given an opportunity, I’d wipe the Wraith out and not lose a single night of sleep. Carson, in his own way, is trying to save them from themselves.”
“Not a single one would thank him for it,” he murmured. “There are no easy answers here, Rodney, but I have to think that in their place, I’d rather die quickly than be medically experimented on by an alien.”
“Oh.” Rodney sighed. “We’re the aliens to them.”
“So weird.” He grimaced then and touched his radio. “This is McKay.” John watched several emotions drift over his friend’s face, and none of them were particularly pleasant—irritation, frustration, and finally resignation. “Yes, fine, I’ll be there shortly.” He ended the call. “Katie wants to watch a movie. It’ll be some terrible chick flick, and I won’t even be able to make fun of it like when Ronon makes us watch them. Remember when he found out there was a sequel to Legally Blonde?”
John frowned. “I hate that little dog.”
He watched Rodney stand and close his laptop. “Thanks for handling dinner and everything so I could meet with Weir and Lorne.”
Rodney just waved as he left.
John finished his food, put the bowl in the dishwasher, and went to take a shower. He’d had a long ass day while his son was advancing mankind with his big brain. When he’d first arrived on Atlantis, he’d let the city boss him around a little too much, and it had made him push back hard. He was starting to regret that. She obviously had needs that weren’t being met, and she was using Sebastian to get things taken care of. He didn’t know if she was influencing him mentally or not. John didn’t doubt Sebastian’s intelligence at all, but he was intimately aware of how Ancient technology could make your mind race.
He learned faster on Atlantis, but that wasn’t something he shared with anyone, not even McKay. He didn’t know how the other gene carriers were impacted by the city, but he found concentrating easier, learning new skills almost effortless, and sometimes his intuition…well. It was hard to ignore what happened when the Genii invaded the city during the superstorm. He’d killed a lot of them—hunted, evaded, and killed. He’d been taught those skills on Earth, but on Atlantis, it had all bloomed in his mind that night, and he understood what he’d been trained for on a new level. John had been able to anticipate the Genii soldiers at almost every single turn—they’d stood no chance against him no matter their numbers.
After his shower, he pulled on a pair of boxers, walked down the hall a bit to check on Sebastian then dropped into his own bed. He was exhausted but also kind of bored since McKay had left to spend time with his girlfriend. He didn’t resent Katie Brown at all. In fact, John was actually a little stunned that the relationship had lasted as long as it had, and he was starting to worry about Brown’s mental health. Rodney was his best friend, but John knew from assholes and McKay was a Grade A asshole. He made a mental note to ask Sebastian why he didn’t like Katie since he was mostly curious.
His radio vibrated on the nightstand, and John picked it up with a sigh. It was the private channel he shared with McKay. “Hey.”
“I…hmmm.” Rodney sighed. “Katie got pissy with me because I didn’t want to watch some stupid movie called 27 Dresses. She said I was selfish because she’d watched Star Trek for me and kicked me out of her room.”
“It is pretty selfish,” John admitted in amusement. “But watching Star Trek isn’t a hardship.”
“I was irritated before we even started picking out a movie because she told me that I spend too much time with you and Sebastian. She said I acted more like a parent than a mentor, and I shouldn’t be tasked with babysitting your kid.” He paused. “By the way, Kavanagh called him a secret-baby which I’m pretty sure is his cowardly way of saying bastard.”
“Gah, why did we let that asshole come back?”
“I tried to veto his assignment, but Landry overruled me,” Rodney admitted darkly. “Like I said, the DOD uses him to do an end-round regarding foreign contractors intellectual property. He’s been playing this game for years which is why he fully expected to be made the CSO of the expedition. I heard he threw an epic fit when Weir picked me.”
John cleared his throat. “I appreciate your help with Sebastian, and he loves spending the whole day with you but if it’s causing issues…or gossip, we can figure something else out.”
“He’s not a problem for me, and I don’t care about gossip. Katie’s just being ugly about it because he avoids her in a pronounced manner. I mean, even Simpson noticed and she barely remembers to get fully dressed before leaving her quarters. Sometimes one of us has to send her back to get her shoes or change them because she’s so deep in theory that putting on matching ones isn’t even a concern. When she was working on the firmware for the gate bridge, she came to the lab twice without pants. Thank the Asgard for granny panties.”
John snorted. “The Asgard?”
“I know they exist,” Rodney said peevishly. “Also, Katie invited me to church again. I’ve told her repeatedly that I’m not religious and she just keeps trying to get…bah. What are you doing?”
“I was going to try to sleep until some inconsiderate asshole called me.”
“As my best friend, you’re required to console me when my girlfriend kicks me out of her quarters.”
“You didn’t even get laid first,” John said with a laugh.
McKay sputtered and hung up.
John plucked the radio from his ear and dropped it on the bedside table again.
He looked up and found Sebastian standing in the doorway of his room. “Hey buddy, did I wake you up?” John sat up and started to push back the covers, but Sebastian came fully into the room and crawled up on the end of the bed.
“No, I had to use the bathroom. Sleep’s most profound enemy is a full bladder.” He grinned when John laughed. “Did Dr. McKay tell you about today?”
“What do you think?” Sebastian bit down on his lip. “I mean…I was wondering if we could just not tell anyone that’s my idea or whatever.”
John frowned. “You know, being altruistic is one thing, but allowing yourself to be taken advantage of is another. I don’t want you to ever be afraid to lay claim to your own theories or work.”
“I’m not supposed to get too much attention from the IOA.”
“It’s my preference, yes, but I’d never want you to deny yourself what you are due because of that. I have quite a bit of leverage in my own way, and I’m not above using it.” John shifted his pillows around and rested against the headboard. “McKay says you don’t like Dr. Brown.”
Sebastian frowned. “Well, she’s nice enough, and I’m pretty sure that Dr. McKay is going to ruin her life just by being himself because he’s a man-eating dinosaur and Dr. Brown is like some delicate hothouse flower. I don’t get their deal at all, but I don’t dislike her because of it.”
“Then why do you avoid her?”
“Oh. Well.” Sebastian sprawled out on the bed and stared at the ceiling. “She keeps trying to mother me, and it makes me feel gross. I don’t want a replacement mom, and most of the ladies on the city get it. She doesn’t get it, and I don’t want to be rude, so I just avoid her. I guess I’ve been rude anyways. Should I apologize?”
“No, you were right to avoid her. If someone makes you uncomfortable, you’re not obligated to socialize with them. I’ll take care of it.”
“Okay.” He sighed. “I have a thing.”
“Yeah. I mean.” Sebastian sat up and turned to face him. “My mom was cremated. I had most of her ashes put in the creeptastic family mausoleum her great-grandparents bought. It was the last spot left, thank goodness, because I didn’t want to feel guilty about not getting my remains stuck there eventually. Anyways, I kept some of the ashes. They’re in a little urn that Mr. Blake got for me. I’ve been thinking about what I’d like to do with them, and I thought we could do something together for her, here.”
“I don’t know yet. I think Mom would like it here—even with all the dangerous parts. Atlantis is amazing, you know?”
“I do know,” John murmured and cleared his throat. “You mentioned the public park a few weeks back. The one that botany hasn’t fixed. We could bring a few trees from the mainland—I’m sure the Ancients have records of what sort of trees or plants they put there originally. We could plant a tree for your mom.”
“Mom loved trees,” Sebastian said. “We’d just planted one in the backyard when…the accident happened. Mr. Blake is keeping the house for me. He’s acting as my estate manager, but you know that. He loved her, I think, but she was determined to be single forever. She said that marriage was for people who were done with actual living.”
John laughed. “That doesn’t surprise me at all.”
“I’ll ask Dr. Weir about the park in our next lesson. It would be a good community project.” Sebastian slid off the bed and stretched. “Are you sure I shouldn’t just let McKay front the big part of the ZPE stuff?”
“He wouldn’t agree, and you know that already,” John said. “And no, I don’t want you to hide. I’ll make sure you never have to, one way or another. We’re going to keep it private for now while I work with some people on Earth regarding a contract for your work.”
“Okay, goodnight Daddy.”
“Goodnight,” John said and took a deep breath as his son left this room. He wished life had an instant replay because he’d really like to go over that whole conversation again so he could figure out if he’d fucked up anything or not.
“I’ve got a small issue.”
Ronon raised an eyebrow and put what John was coming to know as his “get on with it” face on. “Okay.”
“We’re here to help, of course, John.” Teyla took a seat in his visitor chair, and Rodney frowned at him intensely.
“How small is this issue?” McKay asked. “I mean—if it’s a body we can probably move it around the city without getting caught after hours, and those shark fish are always lingering around the pier three.”
Ronon nodded, and Teyla bit down on her lip.
John sighed. “It’s not a body.” He rubbed his head. “Well, actually, it is kind of part of a body.”
Teyla’s mouth dropped open. “Pardon me?”
“Sebastian brought a small urn of his mother’s ashes with him to Atlantis,” John clarified, and Teyla relaxed slightly in her chair. “He’d like to have some sort of memorial for her on the city, and I think it would help his grief process a lot. But I’m at a loss as to what to do, really, because he’s already done the funeral thing on Earth and I’d rather not have him regress. He’s come so far already in processing her death.”
“Oh.” Rodney frowned. “I…have no idea. I mean…I’ll participate in whatever he needs, but I haven’t the first clue what would make him happy on this front.”
“I suggested that we plant a tree in the city’s park which is currently utterly barren because botany hasn’t had the time to make it even some sort of hobby. But I figured as a team, we could clean up the place.”
“Among my people, we are often forced to memorialize our losses without a body,” Teyla said. “We have various ceremonies depending on the needs of the family and also our circumstances.”
“We held feasts to honor the dead,” Ronon said. “We also cremated the bodies if we had them.”
“His mother loved parks, forests, and had a huge garden that she took care of herself,” John said. “So I thought we could plant some sort of tree for him. I don’t know if he’d want to spread her ashes or not. I’ll leave that up to him.”
“We can look on the mainland for a young tree to transplant,” Rodney suggested. “Something that will grow well. I’m sure Parrish would help pick something out that will work. He’s fond of Sebastian.”
“Great.” John exhaled and sat back in his chair. “I didn’t know he had the ashes until last night. I don’t know why he didn’t bring it up before. Maybe he just wasn’t ready to talk about it. Though he has mentioned the empty park a few times. I guess it bothers him that it’s dead.”
“We’ll need soil from the mainland,” Ronon said. “All of the plant areas in the park are empty. Some are deep enough for trees, but they’re empty. It has built-in irrigation, but it might need maintenance.”
“I’ll take care of that. It would be fed by the same system that feeds hydroponics so it wouldn’t be any increase in power usage. There are probably some food crops that botany or Chief Cooper would be interested in growing. I’ll get with them both about that,” Rodney murmured. “We should include him in the planning process.”
“I think he’s going to propose to Weir that we create a community garden in the park, so that’ll work. He needs some kind of community enrichment project on his homeschooling report. It’ll look good for the review,” John explained as he picked up a pen and flicked it through his fingers. “I haven’t told him about the physical education options we’ve been discussing, but I’ve cleared an hour or so every other day starting tomorrow for you get him out of the lab, Ronon.” He paused. “And you can send him Teyla’s way for lessons as well depending on what the two of you have planned.”
“We need to go off-world for some things,” Ronon said. “We’ll go this morning and be back for the mission. Unless we’re needed for body disposal.”
“There really isn’t a body,” John said roughly. “Unless Kavanagh continues to be a pain in the ass, then there will definitely be a body.”
“We can go to New Athos first,” Teyla said. “And perhaps one of the trading markets next if we can’t get what need from my people.”
“I’ll get my coat,” Ronon said and left.
“And your sword,” Teyla called after him. “We can get it sharpened.” She stood. “If there is nothing else?”
“Well, I wouldn’t say no to some of that bread Halling makes if he has any for trade,” John said.
“I’ll see. We’ll be back before the afternoon mission.”
Rodney slid into the chair as Teyla left, the door slid shut at John’s mental prod. “Is he upset?”
“No, just opening up a little, I guess,” John said. “He didn’t have a nightmare last night, and he ate normally at breakfast. He was pretty eager to go to his diplomacy lesson, so I think he’ll be all-in on getting Elizabeth on board with the community garden thing.”
Rodney nodded. “My mother died of cancer when I was working on my second doctorate. My parents had already divorced at that point, and Jeannie was just starting school. I barely remember the funeral, and that’s probably terrible.”
“I don’t remember much about my mom’s funeral either,” John admitted. “I was fourteen—mostly, I remember being angry, and I felt like my Dad had failed us because he didn’t save her. She died of a brain aneurysm, so it wasn’t like he had any ability to fight that, but I blamed him anyway.”
“Yes, well grief is irrational, and teenagers are irrational, so I can see how it would’ve sort of snowballed on you,” Rodney said. “I doubt your father resents you for it.”
“No, he resents me for a ton of other reasons,” John said and shrugged when Rodney raised an eyebrow. “I didn’t join his company, I didn’t stay married to the perfect corporate wife that he didn’t pick out but certainly would’ve given the opportunity, I joined the Air Force instead of the Navy, I got a degree in math instead of engineering, etc. I’m sure there are other things that I’ve either forgotten or wasn’t around to be told about.”
“Have you told him about Sebastian?”
“No, but I probably should since…well, I just should.”
“He’s your next of kin, right?”
“No, I mean, I don’t have anyone listed.” That was probably deeply irresponsible considering his new circumstances. “I don’t have a will either. I feel like an idiot.”
“Yes, well, Weir can notarize a will for you,” Rodney said. “I have one on file.”
John nodded and frowned. He knew, deep in his bones, that Sebastian wasn’t safe on Earth as a minor and maybe not even as an adult. If he died, his father or one of his brothers would automatically get custody, but because of the program, they’d probably never be told about the real danger to his son.
“There are will templates on the staff server,” Rodney prodded.
“Would you…” John cleared his throat and focused on McKay. “Listen, I’m going to ask a big favor of you.”
“Sure.” Rodney raised an eyebrow. “Are you sure there isn’t a body?”
John laughed. “Seriously. It’s big, and you can say no, I won’t resent you for it. I promise.” He paused, and Rodney waved him on. “I’d like to name you as Sebastian’s guardian if I were to be killed in action.”
McKay’s mouth dropped open. “John.”
“He likes you a lot, and I know you’d take care of him. You’d also be able to keep him here on Atlantis because he’s not safe on Earth, McKay. I trust you to protect him and his rights.” John took a deep breath. “It’s big…so I get it if you ask to talk to Katie about it and think about it for a bit.”
“No, I mean…” Rodney huffed. “Of course, I’ll keep your kid if something happened to you. And no, I don’t need to ask Katie about it.” He rolled his eyes. “I’m honored and stuff though I’ll probably curse you a lot if you get killed in action, John. That’s not fair at all, and it certainly isn’t in my forty-year plan. Who’s gonna retire with me and bitch about stuff on my front porch if not you?”
“Whomever you end up married to?” John questioned with a laugh.
Rodney frowned at him like he’d said something really horrible. “You’re not allowed to die, Sheppard. We’re going to grow old and terrible then when we’re finished with that, we’re going to ascend so we can keep an eye on your kid and whatever grandkids he gives you. If the Ancients don’t like it, we’ll kick their asses.”
“Sounds like a plan, buddy.”
“Plus Teyla and Ronon will probably have children with whomever they end up with, and we’ll have to keep an eye on them as well. Because we’re team, and that’s what team does.” He pointed a finger at him. “I’m going to go send David Parrish an email about harvesting stupid trees from the mainland for Sebastian.”
“Wait,” John said as McKay started to stand. “I probably need to name you my next of kin officially—are you cool with that? So you can make decisions if I’m injured and be in charge of my kid if I’m in the infirmary.”
“Sure, I’ll make you my next of kin then,” Rodney said. “It’s currently Jeannie, but that would be crazy if I actually needed emergency surgery or something.”
Rodney stood and walked to the door then turned to point at John again. “Forty-year plan!”
“Forty years,” John repeated with a laugh. “Here’s hoping whomever you marry doesn’t hate my guts.”
“I’d never marry someone who hates my best friend’s guts,” Rodney declared and left.
John exhaled sharply and closed the door with a thought. He rubbed his face with both hands and repeated forty-year plan under his breath. The fact was, he wasn’t all that put off about growing old with McKay. Their friendship hadn’t been all roses, but McKay was loyal, and John took great comfort in that.
He opened up his laptop and retrieved all the documents he’d need to get the ball rolling on making some kind of legal family with McKay. It didn’t feel weird at all.
* * * *
The third time Dr. Weir told someone she couldn’t meet with them because she was having a class with him, Sebastian realized she was using him as a geek-block. He didn’t know whether to be really amused or offended since he was pretty much a geek himself. His dad was probably going to laugh a lot about it. McKay probably didn’t need to know since he’d probably get really snarky and send Dr. Weir an email about monopolizing his time.
“A community enrichment project would look good on your report for the state,” Weir mused. “And a public garden would be good for morale, so it’s a twofer.”
“Cool. I…drew up some plans. I was going to show them to Dr. Parrish this afternoon.”
“Email them to me,” she said and picked up her tablet. “Did you make room for food as well as flowers?”
“Mostly food and decorative options around the outside. Plus some trees. If we can get some fruit-bearing trees from the mainland that would be good. They’ll smell and look nice as well as provide supplemental food sources for the mess.” He paused. “Daddy said if you agreed that maybe we could plant a tree for my mom. In her memory.”
“I’d be really honored to be a part of that,” Elizabeth said. “Would she like something that flowered? What was her favorite color?”
“She had some pink dogwoods in our garden—she liked them a lot. I wonder if there’s something similar on the mainland?”
“We’ll ask Dr. Parrish,” Elizabeth assured. “I’m not sure we could get away with planting a flowering tree from Earth even on the city. The sciences are serious about not contaminating the native environment of this planet with our own plants.”
“Seed contamination shouldn’t be too much of an issue this far out to sea but maybe birds…” He trailed off. “Not that I see many birds on the city—mostly sea-fowl. I mean there is that penguin looking thing that keeps trying to climb up on pier six. I’ve been considering helping him.”
Elizabeth laughed. “No.”
“He’s really serious about checking us out,” Sebastian said. “Curiosity should be rewarded.”
“Not for wild creatures it shouldn’t.”
“Maybe we can talk to biology about helping him,” Sebastian suggested.
“I’m pretty sure they’re the reason he keeps leaving his colony and traveling to that pier,” she said wryly. “They feed him.”
“He is interesting—penguins on Earth don’t have gills. He’s clearly capable of breathing on land and under the water. I’m not allowed to have a dog, so I think a little penguin creature might be just the best I can do on the pet front.” He shot her a look, and she grinned at him. “What do you think Daddy would do?”
“Lecture you a lot,” she said with a laugh. “Then probably get you a bed for it.”
“He’s not very big—probably only about three pounds,” Sebastian said. “He’s like fairy penguin size. I saw some of those in a zoo in Australia once.”
“What’s his name?” she asked wearily.
“Well. I wasn’t sure if he was actually really a ‘he’ so I went with something gender neutral.” He paused and flushed. “Avery. I call him Avery.”
She rubbed her face. “Please don’t tell your father I approved of this.”
He laughed. “Oh, come on. He’s adorable.”
“He really is,” Dr. Weir admitted with a sigh.
“And besides you’re the boss of Daddy, and I’ve been geek-blocking for you all morning. I feel like you owe me a favor.”
Dr. Weir gave him a look but laughed. “Good luck with Operation Penguin-like Creature Pet.” She checked her watch. “I was going to keep you through your lesson with Dr. Parrish to avoid Dr. Beckett, but I think you should pitch him your community garden project. I’ll email him my approval now so you guys can work on planning it.”
“Cool.” He gathered up his stuff and packed his backpack. “You could come with me and avoid Dr. Beckett by not being in your office.”
“He’d just follow us both. There’s no need for everyone to suffer. It’s lunchtime, though, so eat before you go to botany.”
He shouldered his bag and passed Beckett on the stairs. The man looked really irritated, so Sebastian just headed toward the transporter without a greeting. He wasn’t sure what to think about Beckett, but he knew he was a source of stress for both Dr. Weir and his daddy which meant he was probably up to something dangerous or dumb or both. Probably both.
In the mess, he picked pizza for lunch and stocked a few fruit options for snacking later. When he went to sit, he was waved over to a table where Dr. Porter was having lunch with Major Teldy. Teldy had her broken leg up across the bench one side, so he sat down next to Dr. Porter.
“I heard you told Kavanagh off,” Porter said as soon as he got settled.
“I…that’s not how I remember it,” he said and flushed when she laughed. “I just told him that I’m not allowed to work with him because he’s a thief.”
“Wow,” Teldy said. “Is he?”
“Yeah,” Porter murmured. “At Area 51 he was known for it. None of us will work on him on personal research projects as a result. It’s a pain in the butt as far as scheduling goes since McKay doesn’t force us to work with Peter at all. He often ends up working alone, which means he’s unsupervised and that isn’t great because he’s also lazy.”
“I’d never want to work with him anyway,” Sebastian admitted. “I’d have to spend half my time explaining things to him, and I don’t get paid to educate people.” He paused and shook his head. “I don’t get paid at all.”
Anne laughed. “Sometimes, it doesn’t feel like any of us do.”
“Because you can’t spend the money out here,” Sebastian said. “It’s weird, right? Living in a bartering community. I think we spend a lot of time on Earth learning the value of money versus the value of people and their actual effort.”
“Your dad’s off-world this afternoon, who’s your schedule keeper?” Allison asked.
“Officially, Dr. Weir,” Sebastian said. “I’m to go to botany after lunch. Daddy will pick me up after that since he isn’t supposed to be gone long. But Dr. Kusanagi will collect me if the mission runs long and make sure I get dinner. I won’t even have time to find some weird panel today.”
Allison laughed. “That weird panel you found earlier in the week has already solved a lot of issues we were having with energy loss. You easily added another five years to the ZPM we currently have in place just by finding that.”
“I rewarded myself with cookies,” Sebastian said. “I probably should get more cookies.”
“Definitely,” Anne said. “Five years of operation is worth a lot of cookies.”
“Or pie,” Allison interjected. “They have apple pie up there.”
“Ha, sold.” Sebastian shot up and trotted off to get pie.
* * * *
Dr. Brown didn’t like the idea of devoting any time to the city park, which was disappointing, but Dr. Parrish was thrilled and had already responded several times to Dr. Weir’s single email. They’d worked on the plans most of the afternoon, but Sebastian was getting distracted. His daddy was more than an hour late, and in another thirty minutes, it would be time for dinner.
“Did you want me to call the gate room? Get an update on the mission?”
Sebastian blushed. “No, I mean. I don’t want anyone to think I’m a whiner or whatever.”
“Being concerned isn’t whining,” David said mildly and looked up as the door to his office opened. “Ah, Teyla, here to rescue him from my clutches?”
“Yes,” Teyla said with a smile.
Sebastian grabbed his bag and tried to ignore the way his stomach was knotting. Teyla had never retrieved him at the end of the day. She was really busy with her people and working with Dr. Weir so he didn’t see much of her at all, which was disappointing since she was cool. She offered him her hand, and he took it.
“Is something wrong?”
“Your father is in the infirmary,” Teyla said as she led him to the transporter. “He has a very minor injury, but it is a stab wound, so those have to be treated quickly and thoroughly due to the possibility of infection and alien germs.”
“Right.” Sebastian swallowed hard. “Minor, you said?”
“It was a small blade,” Teyla assured. “We have healing devices—he won’t even have stitches. He’s more irritated than anything since the blade punctured his body armor and we were told that was impossible. We kept the blade so we can determine the composition. We’ll need to file a report regarding the equipment failure with the SGC.”
“Some government contractor is going to be utterly baffled by that,” Sebastian said as they exited the transporter next to the infirmary.
“Ronon was injured as well,” Teyla explained. “He took an arrow in the thigh, so he’s quite cross.”
Sebastian frowned. “I thought this was supposed to be a trading mission.”
“It was, unfortunately, we chose to trade with a group of people who are in a very hostile conflict with another tribe on their planet. A tribe we didn’t know about until they attacked the village. We defended our new friends, of course, and that sealed a lucrative trade deal for the city.”
“Is Dr. McKay hurt?”
“No, we were both deeper into the village when the attack began, and the village leader compelled us to shelter with him.”
“Compelled?” Sebastian questioned.
“Yes, Dr. McKay called him a pansy.”
Sebastian snorted. “Wow.”
They entered the infirmary, and she guided him through the large room right to the bed where his Dad was. Dr. Biro was using some kind of Ancient healing wand on a small puncture wound in his Dad’s side.
Sebastian frowned. “Does it hurt?”
“It did,” John admitted. “But now I’m mostly just pissed off. Did you have a good day?”
“Dr. Weir said we can do the garden thing,” Sebastian leaned forward slightly. “It didn’t hit your kidney?”
“No, buddy, the blade wasn’t long enough. It barely made it past my TAC vest.”
John watched his son’s face while Biro did the healing. The kid wasn’t doing a great job keeping his worry to himself. He reached out and brushed a lock of hair from Sebastian’s forehead. “You need a haircut.”
“I’m not in the Marines,” Sebastian protested and ran a hand through his hair as Teyla laughed. “I’m considering Mr. Dex’s hairstyle.”
“No,” John said firmly. “I don’t have the patience for that.”
He shifted as Biro shifted the Ancient device around and there was weird tugging on his insides. He’d been tempted to say no to the device, but he hadn’t wanted the kid more upset. The injury was bad enough—moving around like an old man for a week would be another.
“Yeah, kind of like she’s tugging on my insides,” John admitted and found his kid leaning forward in fascination. “But the device numbs you before it starts healing, so it’s just this dull sensation.”
“It’s very Star Trek,” Sebastian decided. “The only thing this place is missing is replicators.”
“That’s kind of a dirty word around here,” Biro said as she worked.
“You mean the little bug robots that made themselves look human?” Sebastian questioned. “Yeah, I read all about them. I have to admit to being pretty interested in the whole thing. Dr. McKay already told me I’m not allowed to make one.”
John shuddered. “Yes, please, no bug robots. Actually, no robots at all. It’s just not a good idea.”
“I think Terminator made people a little too afraid of technology,” Sebastian said.
John frowned. “You watched The Terminator? Really?”
“Well, mom made me cover my eyes during the stuff. Which considering part two of that franchise turned out to be baby-making stuff.” Sebastian shrugged. “Mom said I couldn’t watch that movie uncensored until I was sixteen.”
“Eighteen,” John corrected.
Sebastian laughed. “Dad.”
“Thirty!” Rodney called out as he left the infirmary showers dressed in scrubs.
“You’re both ridiculous,” Teyla said. “He’s already very mature for his age. I’m sure sixteen will be an appropriate age to discuss such topics as baby making. I’m sure he already knows the basics.”
John glared at her, and she laughed.
“Daddy, since you’re kind of stuck here for a moment I think it’s a good a time as any to tell you that Dr. Weir said I could have the little alien penguin thing as a pet if I can catch it.”
John raised an eyebrow. “Pardon me?”
Sebastian grinned. “I think considering today’s events and my stress level, I really need an emotional support alien penguin.”
“You’re transparent as hell,” John said.
“He’s a wild alien creature.”
Sebastian raised an eyebrow. “He’s a three-pound penguin who already eats out of my hand and tries to climb up the wall of the pier to be with me.”
“Well, Elizabeth did let us keep Ronon,” Teyla said dryly.
“I’m not deaf, you know.” The curtain for the other bed swung open, and Ronon stared at them all pointedly then focused on Sebastian. “He seems tame enough. Let me know if you need help catching him.”
Sebastian grinned. “I named him Avery.”
Biro snorted as John just sighed and relaxed on the bed. “I think you’re going to lose the emotional support alien penguin battle, Colonel.”
He sighed. “We do have one of those big bathtubs.”
* * * *
John got comfortable on the sofa and just murmured his thanks as McKay pulled off his boots for him. Sebastian was hovering nearby, his hand wrapped tightly around the strap of his backpack. “Why don’t you take a shower? By the time you get done, Teyla should be here with dinner.”
“Mr. Dex didn’t look happy about being kept overnight,” Sebastian said.
“He doesn’t like confinement,” Rodney said. “Teyla and I will sit with him tonight until he sleeps.” He turned to Sebastian. “Are you old enough to shower alone?”
Sebastian stared at him, half horror and all scorn. “I’m not a baby, Dr. McKay.”
John snorted as his kid stomped off muttering under his breath. McKay just grinned and walked away with the boots. A few moments later, he returned with a clean pair of socks which John took gladly.
“Did you want a blanket?”
“Nah, I’m good, thanks.” John pulled the socks on and took a deep breath. “You’re being weird.”
“You got stabbed,” Rodney muttered. “I wasn’t…There was a lot of blood, and I wasn’t…it freaked me out I guess. You haven’t really taken an injury in a while.” He wet his lips. “I…” He huffed and sat down on the sofa beside him. “I need to break up with Katie.”
“You like her a lot,” John pointed out.
“We don’t have anything in common, and I have some stuff to work out in my head. It’s not fair to string her along. I mean, I have some feelings to work on.”
“You have feelings?” John questioned.
“Yes, Sheppard, I have feelings,” Rodney repeated sarcastically. “And I need to work them out in my head because they’re unexpected, and I don’t know where they came from, and they aren’t about Katie, so there’s that.” He stood abruptly. “I’m going to go sit with Ronon and eat my own dinner. I’ll keep my radio on, so if you need anything, let me know.”
John watched him leave with a small frown on his face. He really wasn’t quite sure what to do with Rodney’s unexpected feelings. The scientist had sort of flitted from crushing on one woman to the next since he’d known him, so there was no telling who was next on McKay’s agenda.
He activated his radio. “Hey, McKay.”
“Did you fall or something? I’ll be right back.”
“No, I haven’t moved. Listen, about Brown, the kid doesn’t like to be around her because she tries to mother him. I was going to talk to her about it but if you’re going to dump her…” He sighed. “I don’t want to add insult to injury.”
“Did you want me to tell her? I was kind of hoping to start an argument with her so she’d dump me.”
“No, I’ll just send out a general email on the staff server. You’re such an asshole by the way,” John said wryly, and McKay laughed. He turned off his radio and picked up his laptop from the coffee table.
He fired off a simple email to the whole city, and since he was injured, he figured he could get away with being kind of blunt about it. He outlawed “mothering” whatever that was exactly and reminded every single person on the city that his kid wasn’t required to spend time with anyone and that they needed to all respect his space.
Then with a sigh, he sent an email to the head of biology to ask about the alien penguin. He didn’t think it was dangerous, but getting the expert opinion was for the best. Also, they’d need someone to take care of it in case it got sick or whatever which meant that biology had to be on board with Avery making himself at home on the city.