Reading Time: 54 Minutes
Title: Safety Measures
Author: Keira Marcos
Series: The Vanguard
Series Order: 4
Fandom: Stargate: Atlantis, Stargate: SG1
Relationship: John Sheppard/Rodney McKay, Jack O’Neill/Daniel Jackson
Genre: Time Travel, Romance, First Time, Alternate Universe
Warnings: Canon Level Violence, Temporary Character Death, Discussion-Cheating (not within my pairings), Grammarly Beta
Word Count: 13,345
Author Note: See the series page for casting.
Summary: McKay starts to shape the scientific purposes of the SGC, Carter balks under his leadership, and the results will be far-reaching.
* * * *
October 4, 1996
John bounced a little on his feet, then leaned on the side of the Jeep as he waited for McKay to come out of the airport. He’d offered to come inside and wait at the gate, but he’d been subjected to a disdainful diatribe on airport reunions that made him laugh helplessly. He pulled out his phone to check it again.
“I knew you owned a pair of those ridiculous sunglasses.”
John snatched the aviators off his face with a huff because he’d forgotten that he’d picked them up. He was a pilot and felt like he deserved to wear aviators, but he hooked them in his shirt and grabbed McKay’s bag. “Hey, how was the flight?”
“Long, boring,” Rodney said. “I’m tired.”
The Abydos mission had happened, and John knew it hadn’t been without casualty. Rodney hadn’t gone but had been part of the recon and rescue mission of Ernest Littlefield. As a result, they had a lot of data and a DHD to cannibalize for their own purposes.
Once in the Jeep, John worked his way out of the airport and onto a highway before asking any more questions. “Are things still tense with Carter and Jackson?”
“She resented the hell out of being left out of the Abydos mission,” Rodney said. “Most of the time I’m a direct buffer between them because while Daniel doesn’t snap at her—I will. She learned pretty quickly that she couldn’t push me around.”
“She wasn’t like this the first time around.”
Rodney huffed. “Yes, she was, John. Except the first time around, she was the golden girl, and no one had expressed any sort of problem with her behavior. Sam Carter is and always has been quite callous with the lives of others when it comes to science. Plenty of people in the program volunteered for the Atlantis mission to get out of the mountain to get some breathing room and the opportunities to work on exciting projects. Carter took all the important research for herself—she was a bit of an empire builder.”
“She’d have to be pretty ambitious to rise in the ranks the way she did at her age,” John said. “I just assumed she was more generous than that.”
“Not at all,” Rodney admitted. “Do you know the specifics of what she did to prevent O’Neill from saving his son the first time he time traveled? Because, honestly, John, he can’t hardly stand her anymore.”
John took a deep breath. “O’Neill arranged to have a letter sent to himself so he could prevent Charlie’s accident. Carter took the letter from the girl before they returned to the future to preserve the timeline. She eventually confessed that to O’Neill and made it clear she thought he was an idiot for putting his child’s life ahead of the mission. I think that conversation took place during an argument about what she did to Jackson. I wasn’t given specifics, so that’s just speculation. He clearly isn’t going to get over what was done before.”
“That…would do it,” Rodney said quietly. “I would’ve never thought…that’s…John.”
“I know the principle,” John said. “I know that intellectually she was right to strive to protect the timeline, but…she should’ve never admitted it.”
“Agreed,” Rodney said. “I wouldn’t have. Basically, she made him grieve his son twice, and the second time around, he had someone to blame.”
“Her.” John nodded. “Right. It’s fucked up. Is he outright hostile with her?”
“No, he’s more professional now than I’ve ever seen him, actually. But he doesn’t make time for Sam in any single way. He put her on SG4, a scientific assignments-only team and with no possibility of first contact missions. She has been to Abydos twice to study the pyramid there. I went last week, looked around, and came back as soon as I could. Got made fun of for not liking the heat.”
“Carter asked me out.”
“She…what?” John glanced toward him with a frown. “Seriously?”
“Seriously, and was startled when I declined. I mean, I’m not an asshole to her or anyone else, and that’s difficult. Because I hate a lot of those people, John, but I need to work with them for the sake of the mission. I’m really looking forward to the arrival of Felger and Coombs, so I’ll have someone to be mean to. Daniel’s looking forward to it, too.”
John rolled his eyes as he exited the highway. “Do they really deserve it?”
“They really do,” Rodney promised. “Zelenka and I have been taking turns going off-world with O’Neill. Radek pretends to hate it, and I honestly do hate it. O’Neill’s working his way back toward putting Carter on his team because he knows he needs her, but he wants her to learn her place before that happens.”
“And we’re about ten months out from Apophis dialing Earth for the first time,” John said. “What’s the plan for that?”
“The problem is that we know Teal’c came through the gate as a member of that hunting party, and we can’t afford for him to smack into a shield, so we haven’t proposed one to Hammond yet. It’s a risk because we’re out and about in the galaxy.”
“Carter hasn’t suggested it?”
“Carter isn’t concerned about mountain or gate security at all, as far as I can tell,” Rodney admitted. “She’s focused on the tech, data, and research development. But at this point, she hasn’t faced any violence on the other side of the gate. I mean, she’s certainly read the report from Abydos and understands that mission cost O’Neill two of his team, but she’d be hard-pressed to remember their names.”
“Ferretti and Reilly,” John said.
“Yeah,” Rodney murmured. “I wasn’t sure if you’d had time to read the reports, what with your stupidly full class schedule. How are your grades?”
“Damn near perfect,” John said and shot him a look. “I’m doing the work, Rodney. I know what’s at stake. I’ve already started working on my dissertation.”
“The role of intelligence in combat analysis and conflict management.” John flicked a hand as he drove. “I’m researching, and I’ve written my premise. I was told I couldn’t submit it until I’ve got my prereqs done, but I’m not worried because my academic advisor was excited by the idea and the discussion we had about it. I’ll have to refine, surely, but I suspect I won’t have a problem writing or defending the topic.
“I have two chapters of the proposal drafted and the third outlined. I’ll have a final draft ready before summer.”
“O’Neill will be happy—you haven’t mentioned much about your plans.”
“The three of you are stressed out and working like dogs while I sit on my ass taking classes,” John said.
Rodney poked his arm. “And working out.”
“Yeah, well, that awakening made landfall,” John said. “And you were right—there wasn’t a damn thing gradual about it. I have to run ten miles a day just to keep from bouncing out of my skin with extra energy. I also have a gym at home because I didn’t want to work out on base. Is Langford still coming into consult?”
“No, she’s taken Ernest home to take care of him,” Rodney said. “It’s pretty tragic, but Jack says an early rescue means they have more time together, and that’s better than nothing that they both expected to have. She was pretty messed up to realize he’d been sent through the gate and hadn’t been killed as her father had reported. At any rate, we were able to retrieve all the data from the meeting place and take the inside of the DHD with us.”
“I’ve designed a device somewhat similar to the one on Atlantis—not a duplicate because there’s no way I could explain that, but we’ll be replacing the dialing computer in the next six weeks. Zelenka is in the construction lab, and Miko is about a third of the way through the firmware program.”
“How is Carter handling all of that?” John questioned as he turned into the community and paused briefly at the gate to show his ID.
“You live in a gated community?”
“I let my father buy the house,” John said dryly. “I just asked for something reasonable. I didn’t think I’d have to ask not to be put in some ridiculous gated community with an HOA and a bunch of neighbors who get in my business. They tried to have a housewarming party for me.”
“How’d that work out?”
“Well, I managed to get rid of the husband hunters inside the first week by telling every single mother that considered throwing their daughter at me that I planned to serve overseas for years and would expect my wife to live abroad with me. After that, the daughter parade stopped. I did have to leave a note for my neighbor because his eighteen-year-old daughter kept sunbathing, basically naked. They don’t have a privacy fence.” He paused. “They didn’t have a privacy fence. He apologized for the intrusion and thanked me for letting him know instead of enjoying the view. I assured him that I wasn’t interested in enjoying any sort of teenage view, legal or not.”
“I had no idea your virtue was at risk,” Rodney said mildly. “Maybe we should get you security.”
“If I never see another naked woman again as long as I live—I would be happy,” John admitted.
“Speaking of women you’ve seen naked, have you heard from Nancy?”
“She’s in California going to grad school,” John said. “We’ve exchanged a few emails. Dad set up AOL for the house, so…there’s that.”
“Right?” John said. “Sometimes, I just walk away and let it dial for a whole half hour before I get a connection. Thankfully, I don’t need it for anything beyond email because there is little no research material on the Internet right now.”
“We’re living in the dark ages,” Rodney muttered. “Nice house.”
“Just three bedrooms, one of which I’ve turned into a gym.” He paused as he pulled into the garage. The door slid rolled down behind them, and he put the vehicle in park, set the brake, and turned off the engine. “I’ve missed you.”
“Come here,” Rodney demanded.
John laughed but unbuckled his seat belt and climbed across the console and into McKay’s lap. “I’ve got a big bed inside.”
“In a minute,” Rodney murmured and buried his face against John’s neck. “It doesn’t feel safe—being apart.”
John understood that, so he just relaxed in his lover’s lap and ran his fingers carefully through Rodney’s hair. “It’s fine. I get it. I hate not having your back.”
“Well, no one has yours,” Rodney muttered. “Daniel Jackson follows me around like a lost puppy, John. It’s horrible. I think he wants to be my friend, and that’s ridiculous.”
“Well, no one is ever going to understand our circumstances like O’Neill and Jackson,” John murmured. “We’ll have to make terrible decisions, Rodney, and live with the consequences because we know what’s coming, and we know we don’t have a choice. Do you think O’Neill wanted to take those same men in Abydos when three of them died on that first mission?”
Rodney’s breath hitched, and he slouched back against the seat as John relaxed on his thighs. “It was horrible, but at least he was able to bring bodies home this time. Also, when they all came back—Jackson and O’Neill had been arguing. I don’t know what it was about, but I assume it was related to the woman that Jackson married the first time around.”
“You didn’t ask?” John questioned as he retreated to the driver’s side of the Jeep and pulled the keys out. “Unlike you.”
“Well, I don’t want to get involved in their personal crap,” Rodney protested. “I can barely handle my own personal crap.” He flung a hand around to gesture between them. “You’re more than enough drama.”
“Me?” John laughed. “You’re the drama king around here, McKay.”
In the house, he dropped McKay’s bag in the bedroom and went in search of his friend who hadn’t followed him. He found Rodney on the couch, remote in hand. “You didn’t say—how is Carter taking the lack of authority over the project?”
“Badly,” Rodney admitted. “But she’s keeping her feelings close to the vest for the most part. I think she would’ve probably already tried to move toward reassignment if it wasn’t what it was. I’ve reviewed her jacket, and she’s made a habit of project jumping to suit her curiosity. Historically, she’s gravitated toward situations where she was the top dog in the room. Sam doesn’t like to collaborate as much she pretends and is frustrated by the fact that I don’t bow to her expertise. The fact that I can go toe to toe with her on practically any subject that she considers herself an authority on is…well.” He shrugged. “I’ve always liked working with the very best.”
“And she prefers to be the very best,” John said.
“She is brilliant,” Rodney said and shifted so he could meet John’s gaze easily. He tossed the remote aside. “Quick on her feet, confident, and incredibly competent. She dug herself a hole with Daniel Jackson and has skirted around apologizing for it. Even after all the data we gathered from Ra’s temple and the meeting place of the four races—she still doubts him.”
“The first time around, she fell in love with O’Neill—is that a factor already?”
“Only if she’s an idiot, and she’s not. She has to know that Jack won’t give her the time of day on that front. He’s very rigid with the other military assets on the project—except for Charles Kawalsky, who has apparently been his friend for more than a decade. He’s Charlie O’Neill’s godfather. Great guy; I’m glad to have met him this time around. Carter tried to build a report with him early on, but that went to hell pretty quickly because she’d talked shit about Jackson to him, and O’Neill made sure that Kawalsky knew that he didn’t like the attitude.”
“Right. Is it really just about…professional jealousy and control?”
“I think it’s entirely about control,” Rodney admitted. “Or the lack of, actually. The Sam Carter we knew before didn’t have to deal with a CO knowing more than her. Jack’s future knowledge means that he’s running circles around her, asking questions he’d have never known to ask before, and casting doubt on every single decision she makes. He’s not unprofessional, as I said, but he gives her absolutely no quarter. She’s working harder to impress him than she’s ever worked in her life, and she clearly hates it.”
“Then maybe having her on his team would be unhealthy.”
“Or she’ll become a scientific asset he can trust to be completely honest with him,” Rodney said. “Because that’s the base of the problem—he’s come to realize that she used his lack of understanding and scientific ignorance against him more than once. He asks me to brief him on every topic and every project going on before he speaks to Carter about it. I review her mission reports so when she debriefs with him, he has a list of questions about her scientific actions in the field.”
“He doesn’t trust her at all.”
“Not personally, no,” Rodney admitted. “He questions her morals, prods her regarding the choices she makes and how they impact others. He’s making her think about the impact of her work on and off-world, and frankly, she hates that. The problem is that her mercenary personality is getting the better of her a lot, and I’m not sure things can get back on track the way Jackson wants.
“Carter and Jackson met too soon, and there’s no correcting that—she came into it with zero respect for him. O’Neill has given her a road map to some sort of working relationship with Daniel, but she’s not prepared to adhere to it. Maybe this was always here—the expectation that she was more important than him when it came to the work being done at the SGC.”
“You’ve never taken soft scientists all that seriously,” John pointed out.
“That’s more accurate than I’d like to admit, but I want to believe that I’d have never created a situation like Carter has. I hated having to deal with anything to do with the social sciences on Atlantis, but I managed those resources and made sure they were given what they needed to work, and I never just outright ignored what they had to say. It would’ve made working on the city impossible since it was just one big archaeological site, and there were times when I needed someone exactly like Daniel Jackson to help me figure out various parts of the city.”
John nodded because he knew that. “I was going to order pizza—if that’s cool?”
“Pizza would be fine,” Rodney agreed. “O’Neill, Jackson, and Hammond know I’m here, but officially I’m visiting a DOD lab at Wright-Patterson to review potential power sources for the gate.”
“We need to visit those people who make the naquadah generators sooner rather than later, no matter how offensive their methods are,” John said.
“O’Neill sent SG2 to that planet yesterday,” Rodney said. “I could tell he wanted to go himself, but Daniel talked him out of it. It was for the best, considering how he reacted the first time around. The deal will certainly be brokered, and that power source will become part of the SGC going forward. I have some ideas for a second generation of the generator that I never had time to work on the first time around.” He waved a hand. “At any rate, that kind of project is at least a year out, which is a frustration all its own.”
“At this point, no one is going to automatically jump to the conclusion that you’ve time traveled,” John pointed out.
“No, but that kind of speculation would be very dangerous. One of my first tasks, once we get to Atlantis, will be to find and hide the Vanguard to prevent anyone but us from using it going forward.”
“It required a powerful gene, and I don’t think O’Neill and I could’ve gone back as far as we did without a bit of an ascended boost.” John reached out and snagged Rodney’s hand. He laced their fingers together. “Not to be a co-dependent mess, but I’ve missed you like crazy.”
“It was harder than I thought it would be,” Rodney said. “Even more so for the fact that I’ve got O’Neill and Jackson in my face being stupidly in love with each other all the damn time. Carter hasn’t noticed that either, which is bizarre. She’s wearing some serious blinders where Daniel is concerned.”
“DADT officially ends January 1st,” John pointed out. “And any investigations or legal proceedings have been stopped. The president has gone so far as to reverse dishonorable discharges and offer those who qualify the chance to return to uniform. Dad’s pretty proud of himself, actually.”
Rodney grinned. “I know. He mentioned it several times during the last phone call I had with him.”
“You’re taking my father’s calls?” John said.
“I talk to all of them regularly, John,” Rodney said and rolled his eyes when John huffed. “I have a consulting contract with SI, which is actually to my benefit and gives me a layer of protection regarding my intellectual property rights. Plus, it’ll allow me to direct some research their way once we get contracts in place with the DOD. As for Matthew—he’s literally a hot mess, John. He called yesterday to complain about his girlfriend being standoffish.”
“He’s been complaining to me, too, which is a waste of time since I’ve never been great at keeping a woman happy long-term.”
“I got him squared,” Rodney assured. “Order the pizza.”
“What advice did you give? Is it going to come back to haunt us all?”
“Well, first and foremost, I got to the root of the problem—his girlfriend is opposed to giving head but demands it regularly from him. So, I told him to dump her selfish ass. I mean…fine don’t give head but geez, don’t basically require what you aren’t going to provide.” Rodney rolled his eyes. “Then I suggested he find some hot football player who wants to eat his ass so he can get over his break-up.”
John huffed. “He’s eighteen, McKay.”
“He’s an adult,” Rodney said and flicked his free hand. “And beautiful. Let him live his life. He’s doing well in his classes, isn’t drinking, and keeping his party-time safe. I sent him a case of condoms.”
John snorted and released McKay’s hand. “That I did know about. David laughed himself sick over it. Apparently, you won the award for the best care package from home in the whole dorm.” He stood and went in search of his phone. “Pizza. There’s beer in the kitchen.”
* * * *
Jack dropped his book on the bedside table and turned out the light on his side as Daniel slid into bed. “Long phone call.”
Daniel put his glasses down on the bedside table and rubbed his face as he slid into Jack’s arms and snuggled close. “Miko overheard Sam talking to someone on the phone at the DOD about McKay’s trip.”
“What about it?”
“She apparently checked his reported flight, found the private charter, and figured out he didn’t go where he said he was going. I think she’s probably getting ready to accuse him of some form of espionage. I realize his behavior probably looks a little off to her, but she’s gone over Hammond’s head, Jack.”
“He’s going to be furious,” Jack murmured and glanced at the clock. “I thought if she was going to focus on anyone’s behavior, it would be yours.”
“McKay is a real force of nature,” Daniel said. “And it’s clear that when the departmental structure gets finalized that he’ll be CSO, and his go-to guy is Zelenka. She’s being iced out of the decision-making process when she expected to run the whole thing. She’s tried to maneuver herself into a position above Zelenka in the sciences, but he has the multi-disciplinary experience, more time to dedicate to research, and he goes into the field with you.”
“It’s hard for me to be fair to her,” Jack said roughly and took a deep breath against Daniel’s hair. “I keep seeing…her in Landry’s office admitting to me that she’d destroyed your body. But that version of Sam Carter doesn’t exist, and I need to come to terms with the person she is right now.”
“Unfortunately, the person she is right now is a real asshole,” Daniel muttered and shifted closer with a huff. “And it doesn’t feel fixable, which hurts. I guess I don’t really resent her for destroying my body. She was trying to protect the program and, in turn, Earth.”
“She could’ve waited for me, Daniel, and she didn’t because she was jealous.” He carded his fingers through Daniel’s hair. “Sam wanted more from me than I could’ve ever given her, and she resented you for it. I felt like she punished me for not loving her the way I love you.”
“This time, she resents for me an entirely different reason time,” Daniel said pensively. “It’s terrible, Jack. One of the best parts of being part of SG1 was the scientific collaboration I had with Sam. I miss it. I miss her. Also, I’m very disappointed in her, which I know is some level of condescending.”
“There was a time when we both trusted her with everything,” Jack said quietly. “And I consider it a mistake, and I won’t repeat it. The program needs her, but she’ll never reach a position of power if I have a thing to say about it. She doesn’t care about other people.”
“Yeah, Rodney says she’s callous,” Daniel said with a huff. “She didn’t attend the memorial service for Ferretti and Reilly. She said she lost track of time in the lab, but I just don’t think she cared enough to remember. It was remarked on by a lot of people. Especially since McKay made sure that every single civilian was present when no one expected it of us. I mean, no one complained—not even in Bill Lee, and he complains about everything.”
“He wasn’t like that before.”
“Yeah, apparently, he had a really bad experience in the private sector the first time around that caused him to have a nervous breakdown. McKay rescued him before that could happen.” Daniel huffed. “And I’m not saying I wanted him to suffer like that, but I like the other Bill better.”
“Shut up.” Daniel huffed and poked him in the side. “I’m trying to explain that I have a deep flaw in my character, Jack!”
“Oh, Danny.” Jack pressed a kiss against his mouth. “Your flaws are no secret to me.”
Daniel laughed and slipped over Jack. He sat up, pulled off his T-shirt, and tossed it aside. “You love me, though.”
“A lot,” Jack admitted. “Despite what is ahead of us—I’ve never been happier than I am right now.” He cupped Daniel’s hips and relaxed on the mattress. “You lookin’ to be distracted, Dr. Jackson?”
“I want to get fucked,” Daniel said and wet his lips. “You on board, Colonel?”
“I can probably handle it,” Jack murmured and rolled them over abruptly. He moved to his knees and snagged the waistband of Daniel’s boxers. “If you slept naked, we wouldn’t have to deal with your clothes.”
Daniel laughed and lifted his hips to help get rid of the offending material. “Career military men probably shouldn’t be accustomed to sleeping bareassed, you know.”
“I can sleep fully dressed, but why do that at home?” Jack asked and raised an eyebrow. He snagged the lube from the nightstand and flicked it open. “How do you want this?”
Daniel raised an eyebrow and shifted around so he could get on his knees. “Do you know why it’s awful that you have memories of us that I don’t have?”
“There should be some profound answer to this question, but it’s probably about sex.” He slid lubed fingers deftly between the cheeks of Daniel’s ass. “The first time around, you had to teach me.”
Daniel groaned and buried his face briefly in a pillow. “I bet I liked that.”
“I’d say so,” Jack said mildly. “But I’m a quick study.” He pushed two fingers inside, and Daniel clenched down on the invasion with a soft gasp. “Still, time travel or not, you’re the only man I’ve ever had which I know you love.” He added a third quickly because they fucked often, and he knew Daniel could take it.
“I’d send my future self flowers if I could,” Daniel confessed and rocked back into his fingers. “I appreciate all the work he did for me.”
Jack laughed and pulled his fingers free. “Ready for more?”
“Always,” Daniel admitted and groaned as Jack slid his cock in. “Yeah, just…slow like that. God.”
Jack took his time, let Daniel fall to pieces moment by moment until he had his lover pressed fully against the mattress and was grinding through an intense orgasm of his own. He let his forehead rest briefly on Daniel’s shoulder, then pulled free and moved to lay beside him.
“Why is that so good?”
“Was that a complaint?” Daniel questioned and turned to face him. “Seriously?”
“Not a complaint,” Jack murmured and leaned in to kiss him. “Just an observation slash question. This is going to sound weird.”
“Shoot,” Daniel said in amusement.
“The sex is better than it used to be.”
“You’re younger,” Daniel pointed out, and Jack huffed. “I mean, seriously—much younger.”
“Yeah, but…” Jack trailed off. “I can’t explain it.”
“Want me to ask McKay?”
“They wouldn’t have a frame of reference,” Jack muttered and shrugged when Daniel gaped at him. “I mean…Sheppard didn’t even know that McKay felt the same until after he died.”
“How did he keep those feelings to himself?” Daniel asked in shock. “He drags ass around the lab and moons like a teenager because John’s in Ohio.”
Jack snorted. “The next time that’s happening—I expect to be told immediately. I’m really the only one with the frame of reference, and I can’t explain it really. I feel a deep connection to you that wasn’t there before.”
“I’ll ask Oma,” Daniel decided. “She promised to visit next week. Right now, she’s in Pegasus doing whatever she wants, I guess.” He flicked a hand. “Her little games amuse the shit out of her, by the way. She’s apparently gotten away with more shit in the last three months than she has in like thousands of years.”
“At least she took care of Anubis properly this time around,” Jack muttered. “And, additionally, I’m glad I didn’t have to witness that whole thing.”
Daniel made a face. “Right? The host survived, though, so that’s something. I do think we could be a bad influence on her. She was less inclined toward…violence the first time around.”
“Yeah, sure, she just decided to pick a fight with a guy for an eternity,” Jack said and rolled his eyes when Daniel laughed. “Let’s shower.”
“We could ask John if jerking off is better,” Daniel pointed out.
“He’s twenty-six,” Jack said sourly. “If he’s not having the best orgasms of his life right now—we’re going to get him a thorough medical exam. Maybe we’ll ask the asgard to do it.”
Daniel snorted. “Oh, god, Loki. That little fucker is probably here right now kidnapping people, Jack!”
“We’ll ask Oma to warn him off,” Jack said and frowned. “And also, we need to figure out how to prevent the asgard from just beaming us whenever they want. It’s rude. Speaking of, did you text McKay and tell him about Carter’s bullshit?”
“No,” Daniel sighed and rolled out of bed. “I should, but I didn’t want to interrupt their reunion. I mean—I feel bad for it because we’re together, and they’re going to be separated for months.” He paused. “You’re going to bring him to Colorado, right?”
“Hammond has already handled that,” Jack said. “He’ll get new orders as soon as he finishes the class work at AFIT.”
* * * *
October 5, 1996
Instead of picking up his son for the weekend, he was sitting in the conference room in the mountain waiting for Hammond. Carter was seated at the table as well, but Jack had been fiddling with his phone since her arrival and had barely spared her a glance before ordering her to sit. McKay had sent him a knock-off Tetris game, and he liked to brag about his high score, so he was working on it.
General Hammond entered, and Jack stood.
“At ease,” Hammond said roughly and sat down. “Captain Carter, I’m supposed to be in Denver meeting my son, his wife, and their two children at the airport. Instead, he’s having to rent a car to drive here to me because I received a phone call from the DOD.” He turned to Jack. “You had plans as well, Colonel, correct?”
“I promised to take my son fishing,” Jack said mildly. “Kawalsky trotted over to pick him instead and is probably bribing him with sugar as we speak. But that’s what godfathers are good for. I certainly won’t be catching any fish for dinner due to a hyper eight-year-old.” He focused on Carter. “Do you think General Hammond and I are stupid, Captain?”
Her eyes widened, and her cheeks paled. “No, sir, of course not.”
“Why did you contact the DOD and report Dr. McKay for, in your words, suspicious behavior?” Jack asked.
Carter’s gaze flicked briefly to Hammond, but she seemed to realize instantly that the general was going to let Jack play the heavy. She wet her lips. “It’s my duty to report breaches of security. Dr. McKay filed a fake travel plan.”
“Dr. McKay’s movements are none of your business,” Jack said evenly. “We know exactly where he is, what he’s doing, and why’s he’s doing it. That information is above your pay grade, Captain. Since the reason for his trip is classified, a paper trail was created to protect him and his project from scrutiny. You’ve put an unreasonable spotlight on him for people outside of Project Giza, who had no business knowing where he was traveling to. You had no reason whatsoever to check the details—why did you?”
“He…” She cleared her throat. “He knows too much, sir, and it’s concerning. It doesn’t appear to concern you, so I approached a contact I have at the DOD to investigate the situation more thoroughly.”
“Dr. McKay has worked for the US government for a decade,” Jack said. “Since before he started his second Ph.D., as a matter of fact. They wanted him sooner, but they had to wait until he turned 18 to sign a contract. He has a TS/SCI security clearance and has enjoyed that status for the last five years.”
“How…did a non-citizen get a Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information security clearance?” Carter asked in shock.
Jack sat back and picked up his phone when it buzzed gently. He flipped it open so he could read the bigger screen and use the keyboard if needed.
MRM: Tell Carter to mind her own damn business.
Jack flicked his gaze around the room, quirked an eyebrow at the security camera, and put the phone down. “McKay is a dual citizen, as it turns out. The circumstances of how that was accomplished are none of your business. His project at Wright- Patterson is none of your business, as well. He has many responsibilities and more than one project in the works for the government. I transferred him here from Groom Lake before he could wrap up all of those projects, so he will be traveling as needed through the next year or so.”
His phone vibrated again. The screen lit up and revealed a new message.
MRM: John said I should tell you that she asked me out, and I rejected her. Tell Daniel if Lovelace comes to ANY harm—I will ruin lives.
“Why are you interested in what McKay does?” Jack asked and wondered if he needed to go check on McKay’s cat.
“As I said, he seems to know too much. He hasn’t had time to have read all of my work regarding the gate since his arrival, and yet…he clearly has. He studied Dr. Jackson’s work before he could’ve possibly known that Jackson was mostly right about the stargate and has pulled together a team of individuals he clearly knows will work well together despite having never met any of them by his own admission. He knew what brand of tea Dr. Kusanagi likes and stocked it in her workspace prior to her arrival. He has no documented education regarding foreign languages and, yet, he has no problem understanding Drs Zelenka or Kusanagi when they revert to their native languages when they’re excited.”
“Dr. Kusanagi prefers that Gyokuro stuff, right?” Jack questioned. “It’s in her contract that it be supplied for her whenever possible.”
Carter frowned. “You’ve read her contract, sir?”
“Yes, and so did McKay, clearly,” Jack said. “As General Hammond’s executive officer, it is my job around here to manage all of the assets for Project Giza, and that includes the civilian ones. McKay has no formal foreign language training, but he is fluent in French and Russian. I’m sure if you were nosy enough to check his office, you’d find the language primers he borrowed from Dr. Jackson on Japanese and Czech. Materials he borrowed so he could read papers that Zelenka and Kusanagi have published in their native languages. He also requested language texts for Egyptian and Latin.
“As to your research, of course he’s read it. He knew he was coming here for weeks before the final transfer came through and was given access to everything to do with the project. Dr. Jackson has almost finished his total review of that material as well. Both scientists are putting in seventy to eighty hours of work a week and have since they came onto the project. Zelenka approached a hundred hours last week and had to be ordered to take time off.” He glanced toward his phone again when it went off.
MRM: She’s going to be ripe to be recruited by the Trust or whatever forms if we can’t get her redirected and focused on what matters. Also, Daniel was totally right—literally fucking decades ahead of himself, and it’s annoying.
Jack closed the phone and gave a little nod so McKay would know he’d gotten the point he was making. He focused on Carter, who was staring at the phone.
“Dr. Jackson has a phone like that—it’s not standard issue.”
“It’s encrypted, and I issued it to him,” Jack said mildly. “It’s a prototype we currently have in development with a government contractor. Several are in the field being used as a part of a test group. The biggest concern I have with this situation, Captain Carter, is your apparent inability to respect operational security. Granted, I’m furious about how much disrespect you’ve demonstrated regarding the chain of command, but an argument could be made that you believed that both General Hammond and I have been compromised and were traitors. I’m personally insulted, of course, but that’s neither here nor there. You’re not responsible for how I feel about your actions.”
“Sir, my concerns are valid, and I apologize for offending you. I won’t apologize for taking what I know to be the proper steps regarding the reporting of suspicious behavior.” She took a deep breath. “Dr. McKay is not the right choice to lead the research department for the project. He’s…not managing resources properly and appears to be slowing down research on purpose.”
“He is being cautious on purpose,” Jack agreed. “Because that’s what he was ordered to do. He understands how dangerous the technology we’re bringing back through the gate is, and he’s treating it as such.” He stared at her and resisted the urge to crawl down her throat because McKay was right about redirecting her, and that was galling. “All research on tech brought back through the gate will be done in the mountain. Area 51 is practically a tourist attraction, and all classified operations will be ceasing at the facility within the next year. Incidentally, within the next six months, Project Giza will take up over ninety percent of the space in this complex.”
Carter nodded slowly, and Jack searched her face—seeking out the woman he’d gone on hundreds of missions with. He’d trusted her with his life for years, and there had been a time when he’d believed that nothing would shake her loyalty to him. Now, he knew different. Part of him knew he couldn’t blame her for preserving the timeline, no matter how heartless the decision was on her part. But what she’d done with Daniel’s remains had been nothing more than spite. He knew she could’ve put off following the order by asking for tests or even an autopsy. She hadn’t stalled to hurt him.
“Sir?” Carter questioned and smoothed down her collar nervously. “I…I’ve misstepped on this issue, but I believe my concern was warranted based on the information I had.”
“Daniel Jackson was entirely right about the stargate, the aliens, and the history of our planet. Every single day, we send a team through the gate, and we encounter humans that were stolen from our world and taken out into the galaxy. Humans that descend from slave labor. Even the Jaffa descend from humans,” Jack said. “Genetically, they’re no different than you or me before they were manipulated by the goa’uld. All of his theories regarding ancient cultures, alien manipulation, and the pyramids have proven to be accurate. Yet, you still manage to insert passive-aggressive disapproval of him in practically every single situation. Why?”
She flushed and took a deep breath. “He…doesn’t…he’s just not…It’s difficult to take him seriously despite how often his guesswork is proven to be accurate, sir. There is still no proof to be had on Earth to back up what he believed prior to seeing the stargate and the cover stone. Even if we found proof at some point in the future, he’d never seen it when he started…spouting his theories. I find that difficult to comprehend. It’s just not how I think…I need a proven process and verifiable data. I find him frustrating, to say the least.”
“He believes you rigid and unimaginative,” Jack said mildly. “McKay says you’re brilliant with a dynamic thought process that is both challenging and interesting.” He paused when her cheeks flushed with pleasure. “But he also thinks you’re callous and that you put scientific discovery over the safety of others. He believes, with time, you’ll learn to stop and consider the ramifications of your decisions. But he worries that won’t come until you’ve gotten someone killed.”
“I’d never risk someone’s life for no good reason, sir,” Sam protested.
“The problem is, Captain, is that you and I don’t agree what a good reason would be,” Jack said and glanced toward Hammond. “For instance, your ham-fisted approach to investigating McKay’s off-base activities could’ve gotten the man killed. He has a fairly high threat profile because of previous work he’s done, his intelligence, and his security clearance. Currently, there are two Marines sitting outside the house he’s staying in because of you. He’s going to be furious to learn he’ll never travel without security again. I suspect you’re going to get it with both barrels when he returns.
“Is it your intention to alienate all of the civilians working for us? Have you always had a problem working with civilians? Or is it just male civilians? I would ask Dr. Langford about it, but the last we talked about you, she suggested I send you back to DC permanently. She doesn’t think you have the right mentality for the program.” He watched shock and anger drift over her face. She’d never really been good at keeping her emotions off her face, for good or bad.
“Dr. McKay has purposefully excluded me on several priority research projects, including one on the firmware of the stargate itself,” she pointed out and folded her hands in front of her as if she were relaxed when she was far from it.
“Despite his demonstrated temperament, Dr. McKay has proven adept at managing people and resources. The fact is, Captain, we need Jackson and Kusanagi on the firmware research. He’s needed for translation, and he doesn’t want to work with you at that level,” Jack said and watched her digest that. “I told you months ago to make peace with the man and apologize to mend the communication bridge between the two of you.”
“I did apologize.”
“And yet you continue to alienate him at every single damn opportunity,” Jack snapped, and she reared back like he’d slapped her. “Look, Carter, you’re very intelligent, and you’re used to being the smartest person in the room. You’re used to having people around you struggle to keep up with you. If that’s the kind of environment you want, then you can expect to be transferred out of Project Giza within the month. Because we are actively recruiting the most intelligent assets we can on the planet to work in the project and if you can’t swim in that genius pool—let us know now.”
“I don’t want to be transferred,” she said stiffly. “Sir.”
He exchanged a look with Hammond, who looked irritated by the whole mess. Jack couldn’t blame him. Sam Carter had been instrumental in saving the planet multiple times in the other timeline and in more than one reality. They needed her. Well, they needed to be the person she became the first time around, and Jack was having a hard time trying to get there with her. A lot of it had to be his fault, and he resented that as much as he resented her.
Jack stood and left the table. He walked to the large window and watched the stargate activate. The squad of Marines in the gate room readied weapons and took aim as a team returned to the mountain. SG2 was back, which meant very soon they would have plans for a naquadah generator. His gut tightened briefly as he considered the little girl that would come to Earth and what they would do with her when she returned to her homeworld. He loathed it and wished there had been a way to get the device without making any sort of agreement with the bastards.
“You’ll be moved to SG1, effective immediately,” Jack said shortly.
“May I ask why?” Carter asked.
“Is it a problem, going into the field with me?” Jack questioned and turned to face her.
“No, sir, of course not.” She flushed. “First contact missions would be fantastic. It’s just I didn’t think I would get that opportunity considering the fact that Dr. Jackson is on your field team.”
“You judged him before you met him,” Jack said. “It’s time you learn a few things about Daniel Jackson, and the only way that’s going to happen is in the field. Additionally, I think you need more supervision in the field than you’re getting on SG4.” He turned away from her when her mouth dropped open dramatically. “Dismissed.”
“Yes, sir,” she said quietly.
Hammond sighed as soon as the door shut. “Are you sure she’s worth it, Jack?”
“She was…” Jack cleared his throat. “I can’t account for all of it,” he admitted. “The Sam Carter from the first timeline was a team player, and the worst I would’ve said about her was that she had an incredibly narrow focus in some situations. Sometimes her curious nature got the better of her when it came to science. She was hard-working, loyal, brave as hell, and prepared to die to save the world.” He turned to face Hammond. “I don’t want to believe that a badly timed meeting with Daniel Jackson has destroyed all of that because that would make no damn sense.”
“He came into the project, solved the gate puzzle in a few weeks when she’d been spent two years searching for an answer,” Hammond said. “Originally, he was considered “lost” for nearly a year, right? And the whole thing was mothballed.”
Jack nodded. “Yeah.” He took a deep breath. “She was a bit primed to…defend herself because of her gender when we met the first time. I don’t have a problem with female soldiers. In fact, there are times when I prefer them. They aren’t prone to glory-seeking or fist fighting when they get bored.”
George laughed. “True. You think you can get her back on track if you put her on SG1 now instead of the original timeline you had for it?”
“McKay thinks that if we aren’t careful that Carter will be ripe for spy recruitment or worse,” Jack said. “And he’s not wrong. She doesn’t trust you or me. We need to fix that.”
“And if she gets you killed in the field trying to prove a point?” Hammond questioned.
“Then you need to get John Sheppard in this mountain as soon as you can,” Jack said. “I mean that—you’ll need him more than ever. He’s as much of a lynchpin as McKay is when it comes to the Atlantis project. We need to secure that city before someone can beat us to it. Oma says that Atlantis is waiting for John, and that means we need him to get him to Pegasus as soon as it’s viable.”
Hammond nodded. “Agreed. You can work with Carter at your discretion, but you need to be prepared to let her go if she’s going to be more of a hindrance than a help. We can put her in a DOD lab off-site in a research-only position, so we’ll have her on tap for emergency situations.”
* * * *
McKay huffed and closed the blinds. “General Hammond promised that the two Marines he sent won’t make any reports against you regarding DADT.”
John took a sip of coffee. “Come eat, McKay.”
“It’s just annoying, and also, why do I feel this stupid need to defend Daniel Jackson?” Rodney demanded. “I honestly don’t even like him, John. He’s…a fluffy, soft scientist!”
“Well, Carter is picking on him so, of course, you’re going to defend him. You never let anyone bully or mistreat your people on Atlantis,” John pointed out. “I mean, you could go from accusing Zelenka of trying to kill you with his tea to eviscerating Elizabeth Weir for questioning Zelenka’s deep, abiding desire to never ever return to P34-9YT.”
Rodney huffed. “I’m gonna lock that damn planet’s address as soon as I can once we get there. Nothing on that fucking dirtball is worth dealing with the people who live on it.” He crossed his arms when John laughed. “Living in a desert on purpose seems like behavior we should mistrust. Their whole population could’ve migrated hundreds of years ago to some beautiful forest world, but no, they suffer on a planet where they have to recycle the water from their own damn body to live. Come on.”
John laughed. “Plenty of people live in deserts here of their own free will, McKay.”
“Weirdos,” Rodney muttered. “Of course, I know a guy who actually volunteers yearly to spend six weeks in a shack on a glacier. He loves it. He also ice fishes. Who does that?”
“Plenty of people.”
“Awful people,” Rodney corrected. “So, Carter tried to get me arrested for espionage.’
“Yeah,” John said with a sigh. “She also noticed that you know far more about Zelenka and Miko than you should’ve.”
“The tea preference really is in Miko’s contract,” Rodney pointed out. “And maybe it’s hard to treat them like strangers when I worked with them for years, but I am trying.”
“I can’t see how it wouldn’t be hard as hell,” John admitted and watched Rodney tackle the breakfast they’d cooked together. “It was also clear she wants to take your place as lead researcher on the project.”
Rodney nodded. “I knew that was an issue already. She’s complained to Miko a few times about sexism, but that’s bullshit because Jack O’Neill doesn’t really care what’s in someone’s pants when it comes to the work. There are plenty of female military assets on the project, and they’re transferring Janet Fraser into the mountain next week. Well, the transfer has already happened, and she’ll arrive next week. Plus, Hammond chose a female Marine to be the third command—Colonel Lyndon Archer. Beautiful, fierce, and a rockstar in the Corps, apparently. She’s also a pilot.”
“You got a crush?” John questioned in amusement.
“Shut up, but also, maybe because she’s really nice, too,” Rodney said and flushed. “I mean, I wouldn’t cheat.”
John grinned and stood. “I know you wouldn’t, Rodney. It’s pretty cute, though. I’m looking forward to meeting her.” He squeezed his shoulder gently then went to the coffee pot for a refill. “Do you think Carter asked you out to get more information on you or try to manage you?”
Rodney shrugged and frowned. “I mean…” He huffed and held out his empty cup. John refilled it. ‘The thing is that I slept with Carter in the other timeline. More than once.”
John raised an eyebrow. “Seriously? You never mentioned that to me at all, ever.”
“I’m not exactly proud of it,” Rodney admitted. “Because it wasn’t….” He made a face. “It was very much a grudge-fuck situation for her all three times it happened, and I didn’t realize it at a time. As I told you, Sam Carter is callous with other people. She wasn’t dishonest with me or anything, but I realized months after the last time that she’d used me for sex and that she couldn’t stand me.”
“So, it wasn’t about management the first time around.”
“No, she’s just very mercenary about sex and personal relationships,” Rodney shrugged. “Physical needs can be distracting, so I get that part. I just wish I’d been paying more attention because having sex with someone who hates me is not and never has been a goal.”
“I get it,” John said as he sat down at the table. “I mean, I’ve never had sex with someone I hate or who hated me, but I’ve had some deeply regrettable sexual experiences. The girl I dated before Nancy—I called her a man’s name in the middle of fucking her because I was thinking about a friend of mine to get aroused.”
Rodney stared at him for a moment and shook his head. “You’re lucky to have survived that kind of fuck up. Is that male friend still in your life?”
“Nah, I haven’t seen him since undergrad,” John said and slouched in his chair, then tucked his feet into the chair across from him. He bumped his knee just once on the underside of the table before he got comfortable. “Anyways, sex is complicated enough without adding ugly emotions on top of it. What are you going to do about Carter?”
Rodney frowned and took a sip of coffee. “For the sake of the program and the planet, I’m going to have to manipulate the hell out of her. I feel like shit already.”
“In the scheme of things, McKay, it’ll be the least shady thing you do,” John said wearily. “I mean, O’Neill and I discussed it before he took the trip. We both knew that we’d have to do some fucked up stuff along the way to keep the planet safe. I’m sorry that neither you nor Daniel was really allowed to make that choice.”
“I’m not sorry at all,” Rodney said. “How can I? The changes we’ve made already have saved lives.” He paused and took a deep breath. “I met Charlie O’Neill last weekend at a barbeque at O’Neill’s cabin.”
“Honestly, John, the moment I set eyes on him, I realized I would never regret what you and O’Neill did. How can I? He’s a charming kid—funny, savvy, and smart. Watching the two of them together, I don’t know how O’Neill survived the loss. He’s a great dad, by the way. It’s so odd seeing him like that.”
John nodded. “I see it. He has a paternal vibe that actually put me off and made me avoid him as much as possible before. I guess he reminds me more of my own father than I’d like to admit, and that was no comfort at all.”
“How’s that going?”
“He seems to be listening to us—taking our concerns on board, and as far as I can tell, he only offered an opinion about Matt’s university choice when he was asked. Matt chose CalTech. I was a little worried that Dad would protest the distance, but he flew Matt out to California, set him up in an apartment, got him a car, and just kind of detached like a proper parent.”
Rodney laughed. “You sound so shocked.”
“It’s just so beyond what I experienced the first time around,” John admitted.
“Well, you derailed him a bit, and maybe he saw something when you came home that made him realize he needed to make changes.”
“I told him that I would cut him off completely if he caused more harm than good in my life,” John admitted. “He was shocked, but I guess he took that on board. Maybe Sam Carter needs that kind of wake-up call. Based on her facial expressions, that meeting with O’Neill didn’t get the job done.”
“No, agreed. She’s hiding behind regulations and went into that meeting knowing that they really couldn’t punish her for the breach because she followed the procedure to the letter no matter how wrong she turned out to be.”
“So,” John began and shrugged. “Do the same to her.”
Rodney hummed and shut his laptop. “Your Internet connection is awful. The next time I come here, it’d better be DSL.”
John laughed. “I told Dad it wouldn’t fly. I just haven’t had time to be here during the day for an installation. Are you going to get a slap on the wrist for hacking the mountain’s security?”
“I didn’t hack it,” Rodney said. “I just logged in. I have full network privileges since we’re redesigning the security system. All tech from off-world will be kept and researched in the mountain. People leaving the mountain are subject to search and have to go through an exit process where they step through a scanner. We’re setting up clean labs on several floors, and NORAD has been downsized—some of the departments were just transferred off-site while others have been made obsolete by Project Giza.”
John nodded. “Right.”
“Yesterday, I made sure that Peter Kavanagh never, ever gets recruited to the SGC,” Rodney said and shrugged when John raised an eyebrow. “As it turns out, he plagiarized his dissertation. I overheard him confessing it during the first year of the expedition. He did it because he knew he could, not because he couldn’t do the work. He said his committee was full of morons. Due to security and the classified status of the project, I couldn’t do much about it. The DOD didn’t even want to fire him because of how much he knew about the SGC. He’d have just ended up in the Trust. Regardless, he defended six months ago, so I got a copy of his dissertation and anonymously reported to one of the committee members that it was plagiarized.”
“So, you ruined his life,” John said.
“Well, he ruined his own life.” Rodney waved a hand. “And he was terrible for the program and prone to stealing the works of others, which he often got away with because he’s an American. Regardless, I don’t regret it at all. The fall out for him was immense, though. I’ve heard that his master’s thesis is now under review, so he might get stripped of that as well.”
“I can’t stand his ass, so I’m not mad,” John said as he cleared the table and opened the dishwasher so he could load it. “You were dating a woman around this time, right? You haven’t mentioned her at all.”
“Casey Montgomery,” Rodney said. “I broke up with her shortly after I woke up in the past and took stock of my situation. By the time I returned to Area 51 from attending my sister’s wedding, she’d transferred herself to a DOD lab in California. It wasn’t hostile or anything. She wasn’t invested, and even our first breakup was very civilized. Government work can be isolating, especially if you’re working in an isolated area. It was more a comfort arrangement than a romantic entanglement.”
“She was never tapped for the SGC,” John pointed out. “You’re doing?”
“Her personality made it a no-go,” Rodney said. “She’s sensitive and prone to hysterics at the slightest complication. She’s a brilliant scientist but requires a lot of special handling. I’d honestly say the same thing about Peter Kavanagh. Beyond the fact that he’s a cheat and an asshole—he really didn’t have the constitution for the work he was tapped to do. Often, the SGC didn’t pay attention to the emotional landscape of the civilians they recruited, and that’s one of the things I’m focused on when it comes to who gets hired and where they work. Carter and I have already gone head-to-head over it because she tried to commandeer Dr. Lee for her lab.”
“He had a massive crush on her the first time around, right?”
“Yeah, he did to his own detriment. I’m not saying she took his work, but she managed to co-author dozens of papers with him despite how often she was off-world with SG1. I think it was his doing more than hers, but she never protested it as far as I could tell. I made it clear that she doesn’t get to change anyone’s schedule or duty station. It didn’t go well. I think her secondary reason for reporting me was to maneuver herself into a position where the DOD would consider her a better fit for the CSO position.”
“If that’s what she expected to have happen after going over the heads of not one but two superior officers, then she has zero understanding of politics,” John said. “If either of them takes unofficial offense, her career will completely stall out. She essentially accused all three of you of treason.”
Rodney huffed. “Sometimes, I think that accepting US citizenship was the worst thing I could’ve done. Canadians don’t treat me this way, John. They don’t even get mad at me when I’m mean and unreasonable.”
“That’s because you’re nothing compared to a Canadian goose,” John said wryly.
He crossed his arms and frowned. “Well, that’s fair. I guess.”
* * * *
October 7, 1996
He’d returned to Colorado late on Monday night, so Rodney didn’t see Carter until early Tuesday morning during the research update. She looked confident as she breezed into the room. There had been a mission for SG1 the day before; Rodney thought perhaps she was going to play the transfer to a first contact team as some sort of reward or promotion.
There’d been a time when he would’ve bought into such head games, but he was beyond that. It must have shown on his face because Miko was regarding him with an amused look that was difficult to ignore. Due to the fact that gossip was rampant in the science department, it was no secret at all that Carter had reported his trip to Ohio to the DOD in the hopes of getting him arrested or fired.
Rodney took a sip of coffee and shifted the stone tablet masquerading as a laptop in front of him, and hit send on the reassignment email he’d produced while he’d waited for everyone to arrive.
“I’ve reorganized tasks and research assignments due to Captain Carter’s future availability,” Rodney began. “Working on a highly active first contact team means that are her lab time will cut down to twenty-five percent of her work hours based on the schedule that has come down from O’Neill’s office.”
Carter cleared her throat, but Rodney raised a hand to prevent her from speaking.
“This is merely based on logistics, Captain Carter. You won’t have time to actively participate in major research projects, and we don’t have the luxury of waiting for your participation. Thus, Dr. Zelenka will be taking the naquadah generator project as lead, and Dr. Kusanagi will continue as the lead of the firmware mapping of the gate with Dr. Jackson as a language consultant. I’ll be adding six more engineers to the team in the next three weeks, and each will work under my direction regarding the study of retrieved technology. You’ll be a part of that team going forward and will work in the labs when you’re available on those projects.”
“You can’t just sideline me on the research of the stargate, McKay,” Carter exclaimed in shock. “I’ve been studying it in for two years—no one knows more than I do about it.”
“You won’t have time, Captain,” Rodney said evenly. “Should we all sit here and wait for you to trot back home through the gate to deliver upon us your brilliant observations?”
She flushed with anger. “I get that you’re pissed about the report to the DOD, but I had an obligation to report what I considered to be suspicious behavior.”
“Sure,” Rodney agreed and picked up his coffee. He took a long sip and shrugged. “Nothing came of it, of course. If anything, you’re the one that will have a lingering stain of calling wolf on a set of circumstances that were completely outside of your purview. The result is that several people in high-up positions in the Department of Defense consider you to be quite petty.” Her eyes darkened. “Since it was clearly a play to get me fired so you can have the job you presumed me to be in line to be assigned.” He paused. “And that assignment, by the way, was confirmed an hour ago. As the Chief Science Officer, it’s my job to manage scientific assets for the Stargate Command.”
“Stargate Command?” Miko questioned.
“Project Giza has been retired and replaced with Stargate Command as of this morning. The cover story is in development and will also go through a name change to further hide the program,” Rodney explained. “We now have a budget, a contract officer in the DOD, and the beginnings of a secret congressional committee.”
Miko made a face. “That’s going to suck.”
“A lot,” Rodney agreed. “Americans invest themselves in making situations as complicated as possible,” he focused on Carter. “You’ll need to review the mission schedule then assign yourself lab time based on your on-world availability. Per General Hammond, no one within the project can work more than fifty hours a week outside of an emergency situation that can only be declared by his office.” He checked his watch. “Let’s get started.”
Zelenka and Kusanagi practically ran from the room, but Carter remained seated.
“Questions?” Rodney asked mildly.
“General Hammond isn’t going to approve of this.”
“General Hammond doesn’t care to be involved in lab schedules, Captain Carter,” Rodney said. “Additionally, he’s aware of the limitations of a human being, even if you apparently don’t believe they apply to you. Being part of a first contact team means you won’t be available to do the research on the timetable we need for the project. That’s just the truth, and really it’s your own fault.”
“How is that?” Carter demanded.
“You chose to put on that uniform,” Rodney said evenly. “And when you did, you put science on the back burner. Your service to the Air Force is always going to come first, and sometimes that will be to your detriment. One of the reasons why Zelenka and I were splitting time on O’Neill’s team was that going off-world is a time suck. It’s also exciting, of course, and groundbreaking work in its own right. No one can be expected to do either full-time. Your intelligence doesn’t give you some superhuman ability to do twice the work of every single person around you, and it would be absurd for me to allow that narrative.”
He closed his laptop and watched her digest that. It was disheartening to see her flailing about because of the changes in the timeline. He’d admired her on a professional level the first time around, even if he’d grown to dislike her on a personal level.
“Daniel Jackson’s contributions to this program have changed the future of our planet,” he said, and her mouth firmed up. “Even his undergraduate work spoke to a deeper and horrifying truth woven into the fabric of our history as a people. Every single time a team goes through the gate, we are confronted with a deeply ugly truth about our role as a species in the galaxy. Our people were stolen and subjugated as slaves across hundreds of planets. What we know about ourselves and our history is a lie, and the genuine proof of that is lost to time—that must be disconcerting for someone so invested in scientific fact.”
“How are you any different?” Carter demanded in frustration.
“I’ve learned, working with a variety of people across disciplines and jobs, that I can’t bring everything to the table when it comes to every single project. Being able to work with a large cross-section of the sciences broadens my scope and my appeal when it comes to contract work. Independent contract work requires a different mindset, I guess, than what you’re used to. Regardless, your disrespect of Jackson’s work and contributions to the program have put a lot of people off. He isn’t the only civilian who doesn’t want to collaborate with you as a result.
“The first job I had, after working with the CIA, was in a remote DOD lab. Knowing what I know about Project Giza, I now recognize that I was actually researching viable power sources for the stargate. In fact, one of the prototype generators being used in the mountain right now came out of that project. It was a successful operation, but to my shame, I would say that it was successful despite my behavior. I’d just finished my second Ph.D., was entirely full of myself, and high on my own potential. I alienated every single person on the project within a week of starting work, ran roughshod over anyone I thought wasn’t doing exactly as they should, which was honestly everyone, including the project lead, and generally acted like a complete bastard.
“I made a name for myself during that project that I’m still trying to live down. I practically had to take a knee to get Dr. Kusanagi on board this project because she’d just heard about my behavior without any sort of job-related context and wasn’t interested in putting up with my bullshit no matter how much money the government was putting on the table. You’re currently creating that kind of reputation for yourself, and maybe that’s not important to you if that uniform means more to you than your work as a scientist.”
“Colonel O’Neill puts too much faith in Dr. Jackson’s assessments,” Carter said stiffly. “I noticed it yesterday during the mission. He accepted Jackson’s translation of the ruins we were investigating and disabled the device in the center of it before I could finish diagnostics.”
Rodney knew that the device in question was a broken time travel device that had trapped Earth in a time loop that had lasted for months the first time around. Jack had a hit list of planets and situations that he wanted to nip in the bud as quickly as possible. He was doing it by picking planets at random from the Abydos map instead of following any sort of computer-generated order.
“Based on the mission report I read yesterday, your final analysis of the device indicated that it was dangerous and should be dismantled entirely,” Rodney pointed out. “SG3 is currently on that planet doing exactly that.”
“Yes, but Colonel O’Neill didn’t wait for my report. He acted on Dr. Jackson’s translation without any sort of hesitation, and I don’t know why he trusts him to such an exaggerated degree.”
“Or more to the point, you don’t understand why he doesn’t trust you more,” Rodney said, and her cheeks went ruddy with what he figured was temper. “Listen, Captain—”
“You can call me Sam.”
“I’d rather not,” Rodney said neutrally because she wasn’t the Sam he remembered, and that was a frustrating situation, to say the least.
He didn’t have a lot of great memories of Sam Carter on a personal level, but he had trusted her work. Now, he found himself questioning everything. Rodney had always found a unique peerage with Sam, and it felt like that was something he’d lost due to the time travel. There was no room for regret.
“Didn’t Colonel O’Neill take you aside months ago and explain to you that your behavior regarding Jackson was making things difficult? I realize the man couldn’t order you to be Daniel Jackson’s best friend, but I was told he made it clear that your behavior was pissing him off. You’ve done basically nothing to fix that situation, and on Friday, you essentially accused O’Neill and Hammond of treason.” He stood and picked up his laptop. “Now, you can swan around this place and pretend you were put on O’Neill’s team out of merit all you want, but plenty of people know you were transferred to SG1 so he could directly supervise you.”
“And the research issue?” Carter demanded.
“As I said, check out the mission schedule and put yourself on the lab schedule as allowed. The projects you’ll be assigned going forward will be based on availability and time constraint. Obviously, time-sensitive research will not be a consideration for you as long as you’re working full-time on a gate team. I won’t allow our understanding of the gate or any other technology we discover to suffer because we’re waiting on you to finish being a space cowboy on a regular basis.” He flicked a hand. “That’d be ridiculous.”
He headed toward his own office after leaving the small meeting room.
* * * *
Rodney honestly didn’t like Jack O’Neill. It wasn’t necessarily a personal thing or even about the situation in the past with Teal’c. He’d allowed himself to be used as a political pawn, and that situation had taught him a valuable lesson about himself and, more importantly, about how he would structure his contracts going forward. He was never going to give an organization the power to put him on a plane to Siberia again.
He’d always considered O’Neill rather narrow-minded, and his focus skewed far too personal a great deal of the time. It hadn’t surprised him at all that he would recklessly time travel with John. Some would say that John and O’Neill were a great deal alike, but Rodney had never seen it.
“She was jealous of Jackson the first time around as well,” Rodney finally said after O’Neill had bitched and complained for nearly ten minutes regarding his opinions on the meeting that he’d observed via security camera.
“That was personal, though,” Daniel said with a frown. “Not professional. Sam never let her personal feelings get in the way of the work.”
“Oh, come on,” Rodney said and shot Jackson a look. “Are you being fucking serious right now? Everyone lets their feelings get in their way in one way or another every single day, Daniel, that’s the human condition.” He frowned down at this empty cup and glanced toward the coffee pot, which was still brewing. “Here’s the thing—you have this idealized version of Sam Carter living in your head, and the real, live version of her is currently being a giant disappointment. No one’s perfect, and the Sam from the other timeline was no exception. She played fast and loose with the gate on a regular basis, and even when it was pointed out to her that her workarounds on the dialing program were dangerous, she never changed it.
“Her mistakes, large and small, were swept under the rug regularly. She never faced the consequences for them and didn’t grow as a result. Her callous behavior regarding your corpse in the other timeline was just another in a long line of terribly selfish choices on her part. Some of it boils down to her gender; she’s had to work very hard to get where she is career-wise because she’s a woman. It’s caused her to trust little, assume the worst, and manipulate others to get ahead when merit wasn’t enough. That’s actually common in scientific fields, and I can’t fault her for that.” The coffee pot finished, so he crossed the room and got a refill before Daniel could.
“It’s clear the version we’re currently dealing with has never really dealt with consequences either,” O’Neill muttered.
“No, that’s certainly true,” Rodney agreed. “She came into Project Giza as Catherine Langford’s golden girl—a protégé of sorts and that image stuck despite the fact that she didn’t figure out the gate the first time around either. Still, I think being side-lined for a year the first around created a different mindset, and maybe it was a bit humbling, so when the SGC was formed, she was just relieved to be included.”
“Are you suggesting I dump her in some lab for a year?” Jack questioned.
“No, because that would just make this version of Sam Carter deeply resentful, and we know there are organizations on this planet who’ll be looking to recruit her sooner or later. What I am saying is that she’s jealous by nature, and the first time around—it was a deeply personal sort of jealousy because she was in love with you. She’s got a lot of emotional intelligence at her disposal, which is rare, in my experience, when it comes to scientists of her caliber. That means she knows, on some level, that you can’t stand her.”
Jack flushed and averted her gaze. “I can’t help it, McKay. I’ve tried really hard to put all of that in a proper place.”
“I can’t say she’d have survived doing to me what she did to you,” McKay said frankly, and O’Neill raised an eyebrow. “That kind of betrayal isn’t something you get over, is what I’m saying, and I get it. I think she’s going to learn some hard lessons on your team that are timely, but you can expect things to get rough in the meantime. And, honestly, next time, you should wait for her complete her work before you make a decision in the field if time allows. She’s brilliant, we both know that, and there’s no need to ignore that because of the knowledge we have at our disposal due to time travel. She needs to see and learn, even if you don’t. She won’t be the scientist we need in the future if you keep doing an end-run around her.”
“So, let her waste my time,” Jack said sourly.
“Yes,” McKay snapped. “For fuck’s sake, O’Neill.” He glared at Jackson. “Do something about him. I mean it.”
“I’ll…handle it,” Daniel said reluctantly and set aside his cup.
“Great.” Rodney left and pulled the door shut behind him with a sharp snap. A stupidly young-looking Evan Lorne stood from a desk near O’Neill’s office as Rodney left. “Ah…uh…” He glanced over the rank. “Captain?”
Lorne flushed and touched his rank insignia. “Yes, sir, as of a week ago.”
“Yes, well, congratulations,” Rodney said and took a sip of coffee. “You’re the one with a degree in geology, right?”
“Fantastic.” He went to the door, opened it again, and rolled his eyes as Jackson shot out of O’Neill’s lap. “For fuck’s sake, that wasn’t what I meant, Daniel! Also, I’m stealing Lorne, O’Neill. I have some questions about naquadah, and that geologist we recruited from Arizona won’t be here for two weeks.”
“Sure, take Lorne and lock my door,” O’Neill said lazily.
Rodney huffed, but he flicked the lock on the knob before shutting the door. “I hate people.” He focused on Lorne. “Come along then, you can stare at rocks for me and answer my questions. I have a few reports for you to read as well.”
“Sounds great, Dr. McKay.”
It sounded boring as fuck, but he’d promised John he would wrangle Lorne out of O’Neill’s office as quickly as he could so the man’s career didn’t get stalled out because of the administrative position. Also, John wanted Lorne on his SG team once he got in the mountain, so a good working relationship now would be to Rodney’s benefit. They’d gotten off to a rocky start the first time around.
In the elevator, he pulled out his phone to text John.
MRM: I think O’Neill needs therapy
JPS: Send him fishing. It’ll work out better for everyone that way.
MRM: There are no fucking fish in that pond! How would that be therapeutic? I’ve temporarily rescued your baby XO from O’Neill’s clutches. I’ll work on getting the man a proper admin. Walter Harriman arrives next week and he’ll help me sort that one way or another.
MRM: Also, baby Lorne looks like jail bait.
JPS: Don’t get him dirty, McKay.
Series Page: The Vanguard