- Death-Minor Character
- Action Adventure
- Alternate Universe
‘I’m sorry, sir, but I don’t think I can do it.’
George Hammond stared at his subordinate in surprise. ‘Don’t think you can do it? But… You’re the best person for the job, Jack. You’ve been in the programme from the very beginning and you know the SGC and the people in it better than anyone. Why can’t you do it?’
Newly promoted Brigadier General Jack O’Neill looked around, trying to find the words to explain just how weary he was. They were sitting in General Hammond’s new office in Washington DC less than half a mile from the White House. The large, spacious room with cream walls hung with oil paintings, and soft carpet underfoot was leagues away from the drab, concrete greyness that was Stargate Command. The only similarity to the cramped, dark office behind the briefing room in the Mountain, if one discounted George Hammond himself, was the American flag behind his desk, and even that looked brighter in real sunlight.
‘I know I was given this promotion so I could head up the SGC. I do know that, although Reynolds seems to have done a good job as acting CO since Dr. Weir left. I’m just not sure I can do it right at this moment.’ Jack shook his head, angry with himself for not explaining this properly.
‘But you’ve done it perfectly well when you’ve covered for me and you were my XO from the moment I joined the programme,’ George told him, clearly not understanding what Jack was trying to say. ‘You had to know that you were being groomed as my successor.’
Jack tried to explain again, struggling as much as ever with discussing his feelings. ‘When I woke up on Thor’s ship, I had no idea where I was or what had happened. Initially, I couldn’t remember anything from the last couple of years; not Ba’al killing me, the Ancient download, not even sitting in the chair in Antarctica and shooting those little drone thingies at Anubis’ mothership. Carter had to tell me everything that had happened and when I asked where Danny was… At first I … I couldn’t even remember he was dead.’ Jack’s voice broke on the last word.
‘Ascended,’ General Hammond corrected, softly.
‘Ascended, dead, what’s the difference? He’s not here is he?’ Jack jumped to his feet and began to pace – another thing which couldn’t be done in the CO’s office in the Mountain. ‘He’s not here, by my side as he should be! It was like he died all over again for me, and it hurt so much it might have happened just the day before instead of over two years ago.’ He scrubbed his face with his hands and wiped away any signs moisture from his eyes – he wasn’t crying, goddammit!
‘I’m reminded of him each and every day in the Mountain, and when I get home at night it’s no different.’ He dropped back into his chair with a sigh. ‘His toothbrush is still in the mug in the bathroom and spare pairs of his specs seem to fall out of every drawer I open. His PJs are still under his pillow, for Christ’s sake, and every time I change the bed I put them back because I can’t bear the thought of what throwing them away actually means!
‘I can’t take charge of the SGC when everything I see or do reminds me of what I’ve lost. He was the SGC! It wouldn’t even be there without Daniel.’ He scrubbed his face one last time and took a deep breath. ‘I’d like to retire, sir, and this time I mean to stay retired. I want to sell our… the house in Colorado Springs and maybe even the cabin, I don’t know yet. I’m tired, bone-tired, and I don’t know if I’ve got anything left to give.’
The look of sympathy on the General’s face almost broke his heart – again – and Jack squeezed his eyes closed. ‘I’m sorry, sir. I know you can understand how I feel. I just—‘ He was interrupted almost before he began.
‘Son, I’d never assume to think I know how you feel. It’s true I lost my Mary-Anne over ten years ago, but work was my salvation then, not my pain. I didn’t see reminders of her every time I went on the base or see the gap she left in my life when I was just doing my job.’ George paused for a moment, then continued, his brow creased in thought. ‘Don’t do anything just yet, Jack. If you really feel you need to retire and make a fresh start somewhere else I won’t stop you, and God knows you’ve deserved it, but give me a couple of days and I might be able to work something out. I’m making no promises but ask yourself this: Would Dr. Jackson really want you to give up the Stargate Programme?’
Jack nodded and got to his feet with a tired smile and almost before he knew it, he was walking along the side of the Reflecting Pool which was oddly bereft of tourists on this July evening. It had been one of Danny’s favourite places in DC, a city known more for its hustle and bustle than a place for quiet contemplation, and as Jack walked he wondered what offer General Hammond could make that would make him change his mind.
The flight from Andrews Airforce Base back to Peterson the following morning was almost full and Jack was surprised to see Major Paul Davis as he nodded his acknowledgement to the other personnel on the plane.
‘Coming to pay us a visit, Major? What’s gone wrong now?’ Jack asked as he moved to the first row of seats which always had the most room on a transport flight. There were some advantages to having stars on your collar, he decided.
’Nothing’s gone wrong, sir,’ Davis replied with a wry smile, following him. ‘I don’t only come when there’s a problem.’
‘Yeah, you do. The Marines don’t call you Major Disaster for nothing y’know.’ Jack looked around for somewhere to dump his bag and glanced at the Air Force Colonel who had followed them to the front. ‘Who’s your friend? Is he for the mad house as well?’
‘Yes, sir. This is Colonel John Sheppard and he’s joining your command, and congratulations on your promotion, sir.’
Jack looked at Sheppard with interest as they shook hands. ‘Was I expecting him?’ he asked Davis, somewhat surprised to see that such a young man had already reached the rank of colonel.
’No, sir. He’s only just arrived back stateside and I think you were…indisposed when we started the programme to find anyone with the…with a skill such as yours,’ Davis explained rather incoherently with a glance at the other service personnel around them.
’Special skill, eh? Is that what we’re calling it now?’ Jack asked with an inward smile at the vocabulary gymnastics Davis was doing to avoid mentioning the Stargate.
Davis coloured slightly and fussed with his seat belts leaving Jack to smile at the new boy seated between himself and Davis.
’So, what were you doing before you got press ganged into joining the…Deep Space Radar Telemetry programme, Sheppard?’
Sheppard gave him a level look, clearly aware of an underlying meaning but not quite understanding what. ‘I’ve been in Afghanistan for the last few months, sir.’
There was just enough of a pause to make Jack give him a sharp look.
‘Mostly flying helicopters, sir.’
‘I see.’ And Jack did see. He saw pretty much everything Colonel Sheppard didn’t say since he was fairly certain the only O-6s who got to fly helicopters regularly in a war zone were those in special forces, and since thirty something full birds in special forces were rarer than a dodo’s egg, he guessed Sheppard’s gene had to be pretty special to take him out of an important war zone like Afghanistan. ‘Good of you to come and play with us then,’ was all he said as he settled back into his seat and closed his eyes for the four hour flight.
There was a car waiting for them at Peterson AFB with Master Sergeant Siler standing beside it.
‘Congratulations on your promotion, sir’ Siler said, holding the rear door open for Jack. ‘Major Davis, Colonel Sheppard,’ he nodded at the two officers.
’Who’ve you pissed off to get lumbered with driving duties?’ Jack asked as he climbed in.
‘I was glad to escape for a while, sir,’ Siler told him. ‘Dr. Lee brought some alien plant thing back from P6J-908 and it’s trying to take over the base. I thought I’d come and get you all before someone suggested I climb into a ventilation shaft or something. And Walter told me Major Davis was escorting Colonel Sheppard to us and that you’d probably be on the flight as well.’
Jack opened his mouth to ask how Walter knew but closed it again. No-one had any idea how Walter did it, but he always knew everything before actually being told and they’d all just learned to accept it.
‘Alien plant thing?’ Sheppard repeated slowly, looking between Jack and Paul Davis, neither of whom had blinked an eye at the news.
‘All part of the rich tapestry which makes up everyday life at Stargate Command,’ Jack told him airily, always amused to see the look on the face of newbies exposed to the SGC for the first time, and he made a mental note to describe to Daniel the swift cycling expressions of astonishment, surprise and puzzlement on Sheppard’s face before he remembered he couldn’t, and he squeezed his eyes closed as the pain washed over him once again.
When he opened them again he caught a brief look of sympathy on Siler’s face in the rear view mirror as the car pulled out of the base towards the mountain.
‘So is anyone going to explain to me what Stargate Command is?’ Sheppard asked, looking between Davis and Jack again.
When Jack didn’t speak Davis took a deep breath.
‘You’re about to enter the most top secret facility on Earth,’ he replied and something in his tone must have alerted Sheppard to the seriousness of the comment.
‘It’s not Deep Space Radar you’re studying here then.’
Jack forced himself to smile, ‘No, Sheppard. It’s really not.’
They left him staring at the Stargate from the briefing room window and Jack took the seat behind the desk in the small office for the first time.
‘It feels strange to be sitting on this side,’ he told Davis. ‘I’m not sure I like it. Now, I assume there was a reason you escorted Sheppard out here?’
‘Yes, sir. We had to fight pretty hard to get Colonel Sheppard reassigned to the SGC so it was decided that I’d be his escort and that he’d be read into the programme once we got here. No one quite knew when you’d be back on active duty. But now you are here, I’d like to brief you on Dr. Weir.’
‘Weir? I was told that she’s taken charge at the Outpost to get everything ready for the Atlantis Expedition, if we ever find out where it is.’
‘Yes, sir, she has. And Jonas Quinn has now worked out where Atlantis is but when he informed Dr. Weir she decided she didn’t want to go after all,’ Davis explained, pulling a file from his briefcase and passing it over.
Jack glanced over the first couple of sheets. ‘What am I looking at here, Paul? Why doesn’t she want to go and why is Quinn at the Outpost and not here? Don’t forget I’ve been out of the loop for a good while.’
‘She ordered Quinn to take all the research materials that might contain any information about Atlantis down to the Outpost a few weeks ago. She wanted to… oversee the search for the gate address herself.’
‘Most of those research materials belonged to Daniel!’ Jack said slapping the desk with his hand. ‘She had no right to have them removed from here and Quinn had no right to take them.’
‘She knew Quinn could work perfectly well on the gate address from here and I think it was a power grab, plain and simple. Colonel Reynolds argued with her but…’ Davis shrugged his shoulders. ‘She has more influence than Colonel Reynolds even if the Colonel was acting CO at the time.’
‘And why has she suddenly decided not to go? She’s been working towards the Expedition for a few months.’
‘Quinn worked out that Atlantis is in the Pegasus Galaxy and Dr. Mckay told her that the only way they’d be able to open a wormhole to another galaxy would be by using the power source from Proclarush Taonas.’
Jack waved his hand. ‘And, so, therefore?’
’Since it takes an inordinate amount of power to dial another galaxy compared to the power it needs to dial a gate in our own galaxy, there’s a good chance the Expedition wouldn’t be able to return to Earth unless they found a ZPM in Atlantis so—‘
‘Hang on, Paul. ZPM? What’s one of those?’
‘It’s the name Dr. Mckay’s given to the power source you brought back from Proclarush Taonas. Zero Point Energy. He’s determined that the energy comes from—‘
‘Okay, okay,’ Jack held up his hands. ‘I don’t need details. It’s a ZPM, fine, although McKay shouldn’t be allowed to name things if that’s the best he can come up with. Go on.’
‘The Expedition would need a ZPM to be able to dial Earth from the Pegasus Galaxy. Unless they find one in Atlantis, or another suitably powerful energy source, they wouldn’t be able to get home.’
Jack took a moment to digest this. ‘So it’s a one way trip then,’ he said flatly.
‘Well, I’m not sure that’s quite what I’d call it but… yes, sir. It’s essentially a one way trip‘
’So why bring this to me? Dr. Weir reports directly to the President. If she’s decided not to go there’s not much I can do about it.’
‘No, sir, but I thought I should brief you on this myself since it was my office Dr. Weir contacted.’
‘And has she told the President yet? He didn’t say anything to me about it yesterday.’
‘He didn’t know about it before your promotion ceremony, sir. I only briefed General Hammond about it last week since my office now comes under the purview of Homeworld Security. We sat on it for a while hoping she’d change her mind but she hasn’t. He was going to speak to the President about it later today as word had started to spread that she wasn’t going.’
Jack nodded. ‘Okay. So, it’s out of our hands. Now tell me about Colonel Sheppard. What’s his story?’
Davis delved in his briefcase again and passed over another manila file. ‘This is his unredacted jacket, General. We began testing for the ATA gene as soon as Dr. Carson Beckett was able to—‘
‘Whoa there, Major! What’s an ATA gene? And who is Carson Beckett?’
‘Dr. Beckett is a geneticist who’s been working on isolating the gene that gave you the ability to use Ancient technology. He calls it the ATA Gene and it stands for Ancient Technology Activation.’
‘Who the hell decides who’s allowed to name things around here?’ Jack demanded. ‘Because they should make some better choices. Beckett and McKay aren’t allowed to give names to anything again, ever!’
‘I’ll let you tell them that, sir,’ Davis said with a grin. ‘Anyway, Dr. Beckett’s been working on a blood test to show the presence of the ATA gene and when Colonel Sheppard was tested a couple of weeks ago as part of a routine blood test his results showed the strongest gene we’ve come across so far. It’s a couple of percent stronger than yours even so we had him return to the US for transfer here.’
‘Why here and not straight to Antarctica?’ Jack asked, flicking through Sheppard’s jacket.
‘Because the largest collection of Ancient tech is here in the Mountain. Major Carter had everything moved here from Area 51 a few weeks ago for better security, and most of the Ancient tech that can be removed from the Outpost has been brought here as well since there was some disagreement over exactly what constituted a weapon. Part of the Antarctic Treaty covers weaponry so, just to be safe, we’ve had everything moved here. We don’t want to cause any upset, do we?’
Jack laughed. ‘Sneaky, I like it. So Sheppard’s here to…?’
‘We need to actually test his competence with the tech,’ a new voice answered.
Jack lifted his eyes to see Major Carter who’d just slipped into the room. ‘Hey, Carter. Wondered when you’d show up.’
‘I see congratulations are in order, sir,’ Sam Carter smiled and dropped into the other chair before the desk. ‘How’d you like stepping into General Hammond’s shoes?’
Jack grimaced. ‘No sure if I’ve quite decided yet,’ he said vaguely, not wanting to say or do anything before George Hammond spoke to him again. ‘How’ve you coped with Reynolds as acting CO?’
‘We’ve been okay,’ she told him. ‘At least he understands the programme. I understand you’ve brought a new gene carrier with you, Paul?’
‘Colonel John Sheppard. He’s out there gazing at the Stargate. I think he was a little overwhelmed to be honest, and I only gave him an outline of the programme after he’d signed all the NDCs. I thought I’d let you fill in the blanks,’ Paul told her with a smile.
‘Excellent. Wanna come with me and play with his genes?’ she asked Davis with a grin.
‘The President will see you now, Mr Vice President,’ said the aide, holding the door open for Robert Kinsey to pass through and scowling when Kinsey failed to even acknowledge him.
Henry Hayes sighed at the lack of manners Kinsey seemed to think proved he was an important man although he knew better than to voice his thoughts. ‘Robert, take a seat. Tell me you’ve got good news.’
‘Sorry, Henry,’ Kinsey told him. ‘She’s still refusing to go now we know Atlantis is in another galaxy.’
‘But she can’t do that!’ Hayes slapped the desk in frustration. ‘We need her in charge of the Atlantis Expedition. If she doesn’t go the IOA will try to put one of their own flunkies in charge and everything’ll be ruined. What about using a…’ and he waggled his fingers.
‘We can’t risk it yet. Don’t forget Carter can sense the presence of one, as can Telca, or whatever his name is,’ and Kinsey made a moue of distaste at the mention of the Jaffa. ‘Carter’s been down to the Outpost a couple of times. We can’t risk her sensing one, not yet.’
‘Is there anyway we can do to make her change her mind?’ Hayes asked with a frown. ‘She was the one who pushed me to appoint her originally . Why’s she so bothered about Atlantis being in another galaxy? Surely it’s no different from going to a planet in ours?’
‘She’s worried it might be a one way trip as they can’t guarantee having enough power in Atlantis to get back. ‘It needs a—‘
‘Yes, yes, I know all that!’ Hayes stood up and began to pace back and forth in frustration. ‘And we both know that’s an excuse. What’s her real reason for changing her mind about going?’
‘She claims she can’t leave her sick mother,’ Kinsey said, standing to help himself to a drink. He returned to the sofa and stretched himself out. Hayes glared but didn’t dare rebuke him. He knew exactly who held the power in their partnership.
‘It’s all nonsense, of course,’ Kinsey continued, swirling the whisky around in the glass. ‘I think she’s more concerned that if she’s away from DC for too long people will forget about her. Our Dr. Weir is very fond of being the centre of attention and she has quite high ambitions. For instance, I’m pretty sure she wants to sit in your chair at some point.’ He looked up and gave Hayes a malicious smirk. ‘Whereas we know perfectly well that being President doesn’t actually give you much power at all.’
Hayes turned away, pushing down the anger which threatened to erupt each time he interacted with Kinsey. Still, it was better than having a snake put in his head which he knew Kinsey wouldn’t hesitate to do if he became…difficult. ‘So, what can we do to persuade her?’ he asked, staring out onto the perfectly manicured lawns. ‘Or failing that, how can we make sure we get one of our own in control of Atlantis?’
‘What if we change tack for the moment?’ Kinsey suggested. ‘If the Atlantis Expedition really might be a one way trip, it won’t do us any good even if we did control it. The real issue at the moment is who controls the stargate on Earth.’
Hayes turned round to look at Kinsey who was still sprawled on the sofa holding his drink. ‘O’Neill’s been given command of the SGC and while the IOA would rather have one of their own in charge, as long we have a suitable US candidate they can’t really argue. If only Weir didn’t want … Oh.’
‘Exactly. If Weir doesn’t want Atlantis she can go back to the SGC.’
‘But what about Jack O’Neill? We…I only agreed to promote him so he could take command and it stopped the IOA trying to get one of their own people in. The Joint Chiefs aren’t going to be happy if we take it away from him now.’
‘A little bird tells me that O’Neill wants to retire. Says he can’t cope with the SGC now his boyfriend’s dead,’ Kinsey spat. ‘Why that idiot before you decided to allow faggots to serve I’ll never know. And it’s too late now to get that genie back in the bottle!’
’So we let O’Neill retire and put Weir back into the SGC?’ Hayes tried to get Kinsey back on subject. ‘He’ll still be a problem, even retired, we both know that, and what about the IOA?’
’What if we suggested that O’Neill be appointed to lead the Expedition? The IOA wanted strong gene carriers for Atlantis.’
’They’ve already got a strong gene carrier, or so George Hammond told me yesterday. Some Air Force Colonel who’d been in Special Forces in Afghanistan.’
’So we send two strong gene carriers,’ Kinsey shrugged. ‘Who cares as long as we’ve got one of our own no one else knows about. Or we could send Sheppard back to Afghanistan, it doesn’t matter. The point is that the IOA will accept O’Neill as leader because they want him out of the way as much as we do and the Joint Chiefs can’t argue since O’Neill wants to retire anyway. If the Expedition does find anything worth having on Atlantis and can get it back to us, well. We’ll cross that bridge when we need to. Meanwhile, we get Weir in control of the SGC and she’ll do as she’s told because she’ll be grateful to us, particularly if we offer to help her with her…ambitions, shall we say? And now Carter’s had all the Ancient stuff from Area 51 moved to the mountain we get control of that as well as the stargate. It’s win win for us all round.’
Hayes found he didn’t have any argument against this plan so he simply shrugged and sat back down. The Resolute desk gave him the illusion of the authority he knew he didn’t actually have.
Kinsey took a large drink of his whisky and put the glass down. ‘Right, so it’s agreed. I’ll get in touch with Weir and make our offer to her. It’s best if I do it,’ He gave a predatory smile. ‘There’s less attention and scrutiny on the office of Vice President so I have more freedom.’
Hayes was very aware that the slight emphasis Kinsey placed on the word ‘freedom’ was done to mock him since they both knew that it was something Hayes just didn’t have.
‘Try this one, Colonel.’ Sam Carter passed John another Ancient gadget to switch on with his mind, and how cool was that! He turned it over in his hands and thought ‘on’ but it didn’t even flicker.
‘I think it’s dead,’ he said, passing it back to Carter. It feels…blind somehow.’
‘That’s what General O’Neill said when he was asked to try it,’she said as she read the notes on her laptop and quickly added another. ‘He—‘
She was interrupted by a loud voice expressing its displeasure about something, John couldn’t quite make out, but from the look on Carter’s face, she knew exactly what it was.
‘Crap,’ she muttered. ‘Why didn’t anyone warn me McKay was due back?’
Since she and John were the only ones in the lab at the moment John decided it must be a rhetorical question and kept quiet, keen to see the person who was able to ruffle the feathers of the even tempered major.
‘Carter!’ the voice bellowed, before the body it belonged to had even entered the lab. ‘You knew I had first dibs on the next gene carrier we found!’ and the man John presumed was McKay stomped fully into the room and came to halt in front of them both. His vivid blue eyes narrowed as he took in the box of Ancient gadgets next to Carter’s elbow. ‘And you even stole my box of tech you…you…hussy!’
John covered his mouth with his hand to try and hide the smile the insult had caused and he sneaked a glance at the…hussy next to him. To his surprise she was grinning.
‘Gee, McKay, you say the nicest things to a girl,’ she told him, fluttering her eyelashes, and to John’s even greater surprise McKay grinned back at her.
‘Don’t you try your brazen whiles on me, you jezebel.’ He pointed a long elegant finger at her. ‘It’s enough that you’ve tried to seduce my gene carrier.’
John coughed making both sets of blue eyes turn their attention to him.
‘I’m not sure I was seduced exactly,’ he told them both, seriously. ‘I’m pretty certain I’d’ve remembered that. And if I belong to anyone, I guess it would be the USAF. At least that’s what it says inside my shirts.’
McKay’s grin turned towards John. ‘Smart as well as pretty, eh? Where’d you find this one, Carter?’
John felt his cheeks flush slightly and hoped the artificial lighting inside the lab wouldn’t make it too obvious.
‘Paul Davis brought him to us,’ Carter told McKay. ‘They found him through the blood tests they’ve started doing on all military personnel and discovered his gene is pretty strong so they sent him to us. Colonel John Sheppard, meet Dr. Rodney McKay.’
McKay stuck his hand out and John shook it. The doctor’s grip was firm and dry.
‘Pleased to meet you Dr. McKay.’
’Colonel Sheppard. Would that be a light or a full bird colonel?’
‘He’s a full bird, Rodney. The youngest in the Air Force, in any branch as far as I’m aware,’ Carter told him, and John found himself flushing again.
Christ! I haven’t blushed this much since puberty.
Thankfully neither of them commented on it although McKay did give him a look of amusement.
‘What’re you doing here anyway, McKay. I thought you were staying down at the Outpost?’ Carter asked.
‘I fully intended to but Weir was getting on my last nerve,’ McKay told her, his voice thick with disdain. ‘I assume you’ve heard that she’s decided not to go to Atlantis? After dragging poor Quinn down there and the hoops she’s had us all jumping through.’
‘What hoops?’ Carter frowned. ‘I haven’t heard about this.’
McKay shrugged as he headed over to the coffee pot and picked it up and sniffed it. ‘What’s this one? Y’know, don’t bother. It’s fresh coffee, that’s all that matters. You should have tasted the crap they were trying to pass off as coffee down at McMurdo. I swear, if Daniel had been here to try it he’d’ve died all over again!’
‘McKay!’ Carter exclaimed. ‘You can’t say things like that. Especially not here. What if Col—General O’Neill heard you?’
McKay tasted the coffee he’d poured and gave a sigh of happiness. ‘Yeah, I heard about his promotion. Good for him, he’s deserved it for years but as usual the PTBs couldn’t see any further than the ends of their snouts. And if Jack heard me he’d only laugh. He knows that Daniel worshipped at the alter of good coffee and would happily eviscerate anyone who served bad stuff to him.’
‘I’m not sure he would at the moment,’ Carter said with a frown. ‘He’s not been himself since the Asgard…healed him.’
‘Well, I shouldn’t think he would be himself straight away. He was frozen for three months, for fuck’s sake,’ and McKay refilled his cup. John had never seen a cup of hot coffee drunk so quickly.
‘Don’t drink it all, you glutton,’ Carter told him, striding over and grabbing the pot before he could finish it. ‘Leave some for the rest of us. And I don’t think it has anything to do with the amount of time Col—General O’Neill spent in the life-pod. When he came round he’d lost a lot of his memories. I had to tell him about the last six months or so and then he asked where Daniel was. He’d forgotten all about Daniel ascending and I had to tell him and he…he seemed to shrink into himself and it’s like he’s mourning Daniel all over again. I’m quite worried about him if truth be told.’ She poured herself a cup of coffee and held the pot up to John who nodded.
‘Yes, please. Black with no sugar.’
‘I’m sorry, Colonel,’ Carter said as brought over his drink. ‘You must think we’re terribly ill mannered, talking about things you know nothing about and pretty much ignoring you.’
John smiled. ‘Don’t worry about it. At least I know one of the people you were talking about and I have heard a little about Dr. Weir as well.’
‘Lucky you if the closest you come to her is hearing a bit of gossip,’ McKay told him with a grimace.
‘And that reminds me, Rodney. What hoops has she had you jumping through?’ Carter asked.
‘She wanted us to focus on getting as much information from the Outpost database as we could,’ McKay told her. ‘All of us, including me and Radek. Including pretty much everyone there in fact. She wanted us to leave our own research and help her find out everything she could about the Ancients and ascension in particular. I mean, can you imagine? Radek and I have five hard science PhDs between us and she wanted us translating the fucking database! And you didn’t help by having all the transportable Ancient tech brought back here, although I understand why you did it.’
‘Yeah, sorry Rodney. Jonas and I thought we’d better get what we could move back here before the other countries down there could claim it all. It helped that there was an ongoing argument about any weapons being there. We used that as an excuse to clear everything out as fast as we could since we know for a fact that some of the tech the Russians had acquired has found its way onto the black market.’
‘Bastards!’ McKay muttered into his third mug of coffee then turned to John. ‘So, Colonel. Are you coming to find Atlantis with us?’
John was startled to have a question suddenly thrown at him. ‘Umm. I’ve only just been read into the Stargate programme so I’m not quite sure what I’m going to be doing.’
‘They wouldn’t be stupid enough to bring the youngest colonel in the Air Force to the mountain just to join a gate team,’ McKay scoffed. ‘Although this is the US military we’re talking about so maybe they would.’
‘Don’t mind him, sir,’ Carter told him. ‘He’s Canadian.’
‘I thought Canadians were all supposed to be polite.’
‘He’s the exception that proves the rule.’
Jack answered the door before George Hammond could knock.
‘Come in, sir. Can I get you a beer?’
‘Thanks, Jack. I have a feeling we might need them.’
Jack raised his eyebrows in surprise but gamely led him through to the kitchen and passed him a bottle.
‘Do you still have that little gadget you got from P2X-416?’ Hammond asked quietly.
Jack’s eyebrows rose even further but he nodded and motioned to the General to follow him through to the sitting room where he fiddled with a small puzzle box on the coffee table and took out what looked like a small metal bar with grooves on it. He slid his finger along one of the grooves and a small light blinked once.
‘Okay, sir, we can speak freely now. Is there some problem I should know about?
‘My aide discovered my newly decorated office had also been decorated with a couple of things we didn’t know about and until the whole room is stripped down, we have no way of knowing if we’ve found them all.’
‘Which is why you wanted to come here,’ Jack surmised.
‘I was coming for the weekend anyway to visit Kayla and Tessa so I thought I’d drop by. No-one watching would be surprised since I frequently came round when I was based here, but it wouldn’t surprise me if this place wasn’t bugged to limit, especially since it was empty for a few months.’ George took a long drink then picked at the label on the bottle for a minute. ‘Until I was posted to the SGC I never really worried about who was in the White House or the Senate or even Congress. They didn’t have much impact on what I did, but after coming to the mountain I became more and more affected by decisions made in DC than I cared to be. I took the position in Homeworld purely because any alternative appointment could have been disastrous for the men and women of the SGC although there were more than a few people who didn’t want me there.’
He paused for a moment. ‘The bugs in my office are just the start, I believe. The current leadership is corrupt, immoral and unscrupulous, and certainly cannot be trusted.’
Jack started in astonishment. He’d never heard George Hammond make such a sweeping indictment of anyone, least of all the President of the United States. ‘Oookay. I think I understand why you didn’t want this conversation overheard.’
George gave a humourless laugh. ‘It’s probably the most fucked up situation I’ve ever been in and considering I led the SGC for six years, that’s saying a lot. And I’ve no doubt it’s going to get a lot worse.’
‘So it’s not the best time for me to retire? Is that what you’re here to tell me?’ Jack asked, neutrally.
‘I said I might have another option for you and I have. And I’d really like you to accept it. I assume Davis told you that Dr. Weir’s decided not to head up the Expedition to Atlantis?’
Jack nodded. ‘I’ve also heard it from Rodney McKay. He arrived back in the mountain a couple of days ago because he said she was driving him insane.’
‘She claims she doesn’t want to leave her elderly mother on what might be a one way trip although I can’t see the Expedition not being able to find someway to get back home. McKay’s heading up a team of some of the brightest men and women on Earth and if there’s a way to make contact from Pegasus, they’ll find it. I don’t see it as a one way mission at all and I have no idea why Weir should make the decision she has. Still, it was her choice to make because we won’t order anyone to go. Each and every Expedition member must make the choice themselves.’ George took another long drink. ‘I’d like you to take over as leader of the Expedition, Jack.’
There was a long silence.
‘Me? Lead the Expedition to Atlantis? But…’ His voice trailed off.
‘It gets you away from the SGC and it’ll give you a new challenge to focus on. In that respect it’s a better option than retiring since that would give you a huge amount of spare time for brooding. You might be tired of your life here, but trust me, not having a purpose or something to get you out of bed in a morning is much worse. If you were head of the Expedition you’d have plenty of things to focus on.’
‘But would the IOA accept me?’ Jack asked, more than a little nonplussed by George’s proposal. ‘I thought they wanted a civilian led Expedition, that’s why they chose Weir.’
‘The IOA chose Weir because she wanted it and they thought her skills as a diplomat would be useful. They have a finite list of candidates to chose from and you just happen to be on that list. Your experience with the Programme makes you an excellent choice, in fact all the reasons for you being in charge of the SGC apply equally to Atlantis.’
‘And the President supports my appointment?’ Jack could see the reasons behind George’s proposal, he was just trying to get his head around the fact that he might potentially be leaving Earth for good.
And suddenly the whole thing made sense. George was right, it would be a new challenge and a new adventure. He’d be out of the way of the politics George had talked about and all the interference from the IOA and other self interested groups as well as the painful memories the Mountain held.
It was an opportunity to build a new SGC without the problems they’d suffered in the early days, and to be proactive instead of reactively making policies and decisions on the hoof due to unforeseen circumstances. They’d be able to think through and plan for all situations that might arise and make proper procedures. In fact the first thing they needed to do was—
‘I think you’ve made your decision haven’t you?’ George said with a smile ‘And in answer to your earlier question, yes, the President is more than happy to support your appointment.’
‘Then yes, I agree, I accept, I’ll do it.’ Jack suddenly grinned at his former commanding officer. ‘I’m looking forward to it already.’
After George had left, Jack tidied away the empty bottles and went to pick up the metal bar but paused. He hadn’t thought to check the house for bugs, something he’d regularly done in the past. He looked at the innocuous little device gave a grim smile. He needed to get his head on straight and start thinking like he used to. He carried the empty bottles into the kitchen but left the bar where it was ready for his next discussion.
He’d just finished a bottle of water when the doorbell rang.
‘Come on in,’ he shouted and went to get two more beers from the fridge.
He took Sheppard back into the sitting room and passed him a beer, resolving to drink this one more slowly as he was out of the habit of having alcohol.
Sheppard accepted it and glanced around the room. ‘Nice place you’ve got here, sir.’
‘We’re both off duty now so let’s make it Jack, shall we?’
Sheppard nodded and took a drink from his bottle.
‘I guess you’ve been wondering why you’re here, haven’t you?’
‘Here, here, or here at the SGC?’ Sheppard asked with a grin.
‘I’m guessing it’s something to do with this gene McKay’s been obsessing over?’
‘You looked as though you were getting on okay with him. I know he can be a bit… overwhelming for some folk but it seemed as though you were coping with him.’
Sheppard smiled. ‘He’s nothing I can’t handle and he makes me laugh when he starts yelling at people. That sort of fun never gets old.’
‘I know. Sometimes I wind him up just to watch, but he’s not everyone’s cup of tea.’ Jack grinned. ‘Or cup of coffee. I heard what he said to Carter about Danny and I agree with every word.’
‘She was quite concerned that he’d upset you with being insensitive.’
‘I won’t deny missing Daniel. I miss him every day but it’s made harder when people won’t even mention his name in case they upset me. It just makes us all feel awkward.’ He took a drink of his beer. ‘McKay doesn’t do that. He’s an asshole all the time to everyone, no one’s spared, so he treats me no differently now I’m a widower than he did before and that actually helps.’
Sheppard nodded but didn’t speak.
‘Anyway, I didn’t invite you over to discuss our feelings. As you guessed, it has everything to do with your amazingly rare gene. I take it you’ve heard about the Expedition that’s being planned to find Atlantis?’
‘I’ve heard about it, McKay’s talked about it pretty much nonstop, particularly about the fact that the person chosen to lead it has decided not to go.’
‘And is he pleased or upset about that?’
‘I think that’s something you’d have to ask him yourself, sir,’ Sheppard said carefully, and Jack couldn’t fault him for his caution.
‘Yeah, sorry. I wasn’t trying to trick you or anything. A diplomat, Elizabeth Weir, was originally selected to lead the Atlantis Expedition but she’s since decided she needs to remain on Earth so I’ve been asked if I would consider leading it. I’ve accepted the offer so it’s up to me to appoint my command staff although you were always going to be invited to be a part of the Expedition. You were assigned to the SGC because you have the strongest ATA gene that’s been discovered so far. That makes you a perfect fit for Atlantis as it’s believed to be a city created by the Ancients, the race who built the stargates.’ He paused and looked at Sheppard, trying to gauge his reaction.
‘May I ask what my position would be as I know a Military Commander has already been appointed and with you as head of the Expedition I doubt you’ll need another high ranking soldier.’
‘I’m sorry, John. I didn’t make myself clear. You would be going as the CO of the military side of the Expedition and McKay is the Chief Scientific Officer. Marshal Sumner always knew he’d be replaced if we found a gene carrier of high enough rank. I’ll be the head of the whole thing although in reality we’ll probably be more of triumvirate. You will make any and all military decisions although I would hope to be consulted when appropriate. I may not even be going as a serving member of the Air Force. The IOA may decide that it would be better politically if I were a civilian.’
Sheppard wrinkled his nose. ‘Rather you than me, sir. I hate politics.’
‘Oh, you’re not alone in that, believe me. Danny would laugh his head off to know that I was trying to be politically correct.’ Jack grinned at the thought. ‘It’s really regarding the scientists who are going with us. We’ll be taking 120 military assets and 80 scientists and most of the scientists will never’ve worked closely with the military, so having a civilian head would be easier for them.’
‘Even if the head is a retired General?’
‘Even then.’ Jack regarded his guest. Once his position on the Expedition and been clarified Sheppard had relaxed back on the sofa. His outward demeanour was casual but his eyes were bright with excitement. ‘So, d’you think you’d like to come with us?’
‘Might there be spaceships?’
Jack laughed. ‘There just might.’
John made it his main priority the following day. He’d agreed to play light switch for McKay but had called him and said he wouldn’t be available until later. When McKay had asked what was so important, he’d prevaricated but promised to talk to him over lunch. It had become a habit for himself and McKay to have lunch and sometimes dinner together and they were joined on occasion by Major Carter who enjoyed baiting McKay as much as he did. This morning, however, he wanted to meet with Colonel Sumner.
He was fortunate that SG-9, who Sumner led, were on the base today and John made his way to Sumner’s office, wincing at the thought of working at the SGC full time. The whole base felt oppressive to him. As a pilot he was used to wide open spaces, and more recently deserts, as his place of work. Being under a mountain felt dark and confined.
He tapped on the door and opened it to see a grizzled man in his mid to late forties.
The man nodded abruptly.
‘I’m John Sheppard. I wondered if you had a few moments?’
‘Come on in and shut the door, Sheppard. I thought I might see you at some point.’
John entered the small room and sat on the only spare chair.
‘It’s not much but as they say, it’s home,’ Sumner told him. ‘Coffee?’
‘Thank you. Black without.’
Sumner nodded and gave him a small smile. ‘I can tell you’ve served overseas.’
John laughed and relaxed. This probably wasn’t going to be as bad as he’d thought if Sumner was making jokes. ‘It’s the first thing you learn, isn’t it. Don’t have anything with milk unless you’re very sure what animal it came from.’
‘And don’t eat any meat you don’t recognise unless you don’t mind that you might have eaten the family pet,’ Sumner grinned. ‘So what were doing out of the US? Unless you can’t tell me without having to shoot me.’ He passed John a chipped mug of coffee.
‘I guess you know all about that having worked here for a while.’
Sumner nodded and sipped at his own chipped mug. ‘It helps not to have much family who might ask awkward questions. What about you? How will you explain leaving the planet for an indefinite amount of time, possibly for ever?’
‘Jack O’Neill assures me that it won’t be a one way trip, not with the geeks we’re taking with us. And McKay’s told me he fully expects to win a Nobel one day and will make certain he’s around to collect it.’
‘He’s one of the good ones. He’s been off world with us a few times and knows how to look after himself unlike some of the others. He still makes me want to shoot him sometime though.’
‘He seems to have that effect on a lot of people. I’m making weapons training mandatory for any civilian who wants to go off world. Depending on what we find out there, we might make it mandatory for everyone,’ John told him taking another sip of his surprisingly good coffee. ‘Does no one drink anything other than the very best coffee in this mountain?’
‘Dr. Jackson forced O’Neill to only buy the good stuff and when someone from DC complained about the cost of it Dr. Jackson told him he could explain to the scientists in person why they’d been given cheap coffee.’
John looked at him in puzzlement. ‘Why did that make him change his mind?’
‘Because Dr. Jackson told him he be facing them after they’d had a week with no coffee at all. He folded like a cheap suit. Which reminds me, triple the amount of coffee that’s been ordered for the Expedition. Whatever the amount is, triple it. At least. The worst thing that could possible face you on the other side is an un-caffeinated McKay.’
That made John give one of his belly laughs, the laugh his brother had told him made him sound like a donkey. ‘Thank you, that’s good advice. You’re not upset about being replaced ,then?’
Sumner shook his head. ‘No, I knew if they found a strong high ranking gene carrier I’d be replaced. I would have been quite happy to be replaced, though, when we thought Dr. Weir would be leading the Expedition. She would have been a nightmare to work with in Atlantis. It was bad enough when she took over here temporarily. We lost more than one good officer because of her.’
John must have looked as shocked as he felt since Sumner hurried to correct himself.
‘No, no, she didn’t get them killed, although she might have done eventually. They asked for reassignment because she was so difficult to work with. Apparently, she was a professional activist after college, trying to get military funding cut or preferably stopped all together. Then she became a diplomat and tried to do the same but from a different direction. It was madness putting her in somewhere like this. Some of the decisions she made… Well. You’re better off without her, believe me. Have they announced who the new leader will be?’
‘No, I think the IOA are still bickering about who they want,’ which was the strict truth, John decided. Jack O’Neill hadn’t known when the announcement would be made so John had been told to keep quiet about it, although Carter and McKay would be told. They both knew how to keep secrets after years of working for the SGC as well.
He stood and held out his hand. ‘I’m glad there’s no bad feeling, Sumner.’
‘None at all, Sheppard. I do advise you to check some of the choices of civilians Weir made, though. I didn’t like the look of some of them but I didn’t make a fuss as I knew it was likely I’d be replaced. No use in making waves if you don’t need to.
‘Agreed, and thank you. I’ll be going over the personnel and supply lists – and I won’t forget the coffee.’
Sumner shook his hand. ‘Good luck, Sheppard. I have a feeling you’re going to need it!’
It was a tight fit, having four people in his office, but since he had his side of the desk all to himself, Jack didn’t mind too much.
‘Right, well I’ve invited you all here to—‘
‘Hang on a minute, Jack. Is this going to take long?’ McKay demanded.
‘Because if it is, I need coffee. In fact we’ll all need coffee,’ and McKay folded his arms, his face taking on the stubborn set Jack was all too used to.
They had a silent glaring match for a minute, but because Jack needed to get on with the rest of his day, he folded first. ‘Alright, you stubborn son of—‘
This time he was interrupted by the entrance of Walter bearing a tray of four full mugs and two filled pots of coffee.
‘I thought you might need these, sir,’ he said as he put a mug and a pot by McKay’s elbow and passed the others out.
‘Thank you, Walter. I don’t know what I’d do without you,’ Jack told him gratefully as Walter smiled and left, closing the door quietly behind him.
John, meanwhile, was looking pensive. ‘How did he know…’
‘We have no idea and we’ve learned not to ask,’ Carter whispered loudly to John. ‘Let’s just say there’s more than a passing resemblance to Radar O’Reilly from MASH.’
‘If I may continue, Dr. McKay?’ Jack said with more than a hint of sarcasm but Rodney just waved a hand. The other one was busy refilling his mug.
‘Right. Where was I?’
‘You’d invited us all here?’ Rodney suggested mischievously and Jack just gave him a glare.
‘I wanted to share some news with you before I make an official announcement,’ Jack told them, his eyes resting on Carter. He knew she wasn’t going to take it well. ‘I’ve been asked to lead the Atlantis Expedition and I’ve accepted.’
There was a moment of silence before McKay burst out, ‘Well thank fuck for that! Maybe the US military aren’t as stupid as I thought after all.’
‘You do realise you’ve just insulted everyone in this room, don’t you?’ John asked.
‘And your point is…?’ McKay asked, emptying the last of his coffee pot into his mug and reaching out for the other one.
‘Oh no you don’t,’ and John grabbed the full carafe and moved it out of McKay’s grasp. ‘You’ve drunk your own, leave this one for us,’ but at that moment Walter entered the office with another full pot which he silently placed beside McKay, removing the empty one.
McKay gave John a triumphant grin and topped up his mug.
‘I don’t know why you aren’t bouncing off the walls,’ he told the grinning McKay.
‘Bite me, Colonel!’
Jack was aware of this interplay but was focussed on Sam Carter who had gone pale at his announcement. He’d been prepared for this and had considered telling her privately but had made the decision to tell McKay at the same time. Now he was regretting it.
‘Hey, McKay, grab your coffee and let’s get out of here,’ John told him, standing up and picking up his own mug.
‘Why? I thought we were going to…Hey! Hands off the scientist! My brain is very valuable I’ll have you know,’ and he rubbed the spot John had gently slapped.
Jack just nodded his thanks to the pair as John bundled McKay out of the office, complete with the new pot of coffee.
‘Carter? Sam? Are you alright?’
Sam finally focussed on him and nodded her head. ‘Yes, I’m fine, it… it was just a bit of a shock.’
‘Yeah, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have broken the news quite so abruptly. I apologise. Can I get anything for you? Water, cup of sweet tea? I’ve heard that works wonders for someone who’s had a shock.’
Sam smiled weakly. ’No, I’ll be fine. As I said…’ she shrugged, ‘It was a bit of a shock.’
Jack glanced at his watch. ‘Look, it’s after five now. How about we go off base and grab some dinner. My treat. We could go to O’Malley’s, they might have forgotten our last visit by now.’
‘Daniel was so mad when we got thrown out of there. It was his favourite restaurant in Colorado Springs.’ Sam smiled at the memory.
‘You know that’s about the first time you’ve mentioned Danny to me in general conversation. You’ve always gone out of your way not to mention him,’ Jack told her with a small smile of his own.
A look of surprise flashed across her face. ‘I…I was worried about hurting you.’
Jack nodded, ‘I know, but really, talking about him helps. It sort of…keeps his memory alive. And I have a lot of happy memories of him, you know. We were together for five years, since we came back from that first trip to Abydos. Not all my memories are bad ones. It’s just…this place maybe holds too many memories. And while you’re all still walking on egg shells around me, it makes it even harder to deal with losing him.
‘The Atlantis Expedition will be a fresh start for me as well as something to get my teeth into, and while I’ll never get over his death, I can make a new normal. I can’t do that here. Do you understand?’
Sam nodded, tears welling in her eyes. ‘I’ll have lost both of you, though. And Teal’c is away more than he’s here these days. I’ll be the only one left. Can’t I come with you to Atlantis? I’d happily serve under John Sheppard or even under McKay if you wanted me to.’
Jack shook his head. ’Sorry, Sam, no. I need you here. We all need you here, because the other part of my announcement that I didn’t get chance to make is that the President’s offered the leadership of the SGC to Weir. George, me, we all need you to stay here and try and keep her from fucking things up completely.’ He glanced down at the small metal bar he’d activated before the three of them came into his office.
‘Is that…Is that the thing you were given on P2X-416?’ Sam asked, looking at it more closely. ‘The thing that blocks any sort of electronic transmitter?’
‘Yes, and I’ll leave it for you when I go. Don’t have any confidential conversations without it. Especially ones about Weir or the Government. George will have your back as much as he can, but he’s pretty certain Hayes is trying to get control of the SGC through Weir. And he has some pretty unsavoury acquaintances including the VP. Try and keep Weir from getting too many of our people killed or upsetting too many of our allies.’
‘Maybe you should think about staying here yourself if it would keep Weir out of here,’ Sam suggested.
Jack gave her a grim smile. ‘If I didn’t go to Atlantis they’d try and get rid of me some other way. George is pretty certain that Hayes had to agree to my promotion because it’s what the Joint Chiefs wanted. He doesn’t think I’d have lasted long in charge here although it would have obviously been passed off as an accident. You’re too valuable to them, especially with McKay off world. It’s up to you, Sam, to keep the SGC safe.’
‘Goddammit! How did that woman hope to feed everyone?’ Jack threw down another supply list in disgust.
‘It’s just as bad with the supplies for the military, Jack. We’ve got ammunition for a month at most if we use only a tenth of what the SGC uses in a month. Her defence when Sumner questioned it was that she didn’t think we’d be making as many enemies in Pegasus as we have in the Milky Way,’ John told him, his face etched with tiredness. ‘My suggestion is to start from scratch. Let’s make all new lists and start again.’
‘We’ll never be ready for a September 1st departure of we do that,’ Jack argued.
‘We wouldn’t be ready for a September 1st departure even if we didn’t change the supply lists at all. She removed every single foreign scientist from Rodney’s choices and from what I’ve heard she even petitioned the IOA to have Rodney replaced as CSO by some dick called Kavanagh. At least that’s how Rodney described him. He’s probably a perfectly decent man.’
Jack sat back on his the sofa and grinned. ‘I take it you haven’t met the esteemed Dr. Kavanagh?’
John shook his head. ‘No, why?’
‘Because ‘dick’ is a compliment to the man, believe me. Imagine the most objectionable, whining fuckwit you can and double it. Maybe even treble it. The man is a nightmare, a whining, whinging, gutless—‘
‘Okay, okay, I get the point. He is a dick. Why on Earth did she want him as CSO then?’
‘I suspect a mixture of 1. There aren’t that many American scientists to choose from, and 2. She’d be able to manipulate him to do whatever she wanted.’
‘And you’re happy that she’s taking over command at the SGC?’ John asked a question that had been on his mind for some time.
‘No, I’m not happy at all, but I can’t do anything about it. Even if I’d stayed there the PTBs would have found some way of getting rid of me, probably by making it look like an accident.’ Jack laughed. ‘Don’t look so horrified, John. You know this type of thing happens. I’d actually decided to resign my commission before I was offered Atlantis, but George Hammond made it very clear that he didn’t think I’d be safe even then. I have too many connections and too much history with the SGC to be allowed to retire quietly. My only option, really, was to accept Atlantis.’ He stood and walked to the kitchen. “Want another beer? I’m guessing you’re stopping over again?’
John nodded in reply to both questions. He’d happily accepted Jack’s offer of accommodation on the evenings they spent going over the plans for Atlantis, their days being full of the normal work of the SGC and John’s various trips through the Stargate to get him used to off world conditions and situations. ‘So you’re essentially being forced to go on the Expedition?’ he called to Jack who sounded as though he was preparing more than a couple of bottles of beer.
‘Christ! No, John. I’m perfectly happy to go and I’m excited at the thought.’ He came back into the sitting room with a tray of snacks as well as the beers. ‘I needed a new opportunity though and I thought the only choice I had was retirement. I’m not being pressured into this by any means.’
‘Okay, if you’re sure? It’s going to be a difficult mission as it is without having you press ganged into it.’
‘No, I’m fine. Don’t worry. Let’s worry instead about our departure date. If we can’t make 1st September, when do you think we’ll be ready?’
‘How about we aim for 1st October and reassess on 1st September. That gives us just over three weeks to to get our ducks in a row, then we’ve got a month to finalise everything.’
‘What does McKay think?’
‘Why should I know what McKay…,’ John grinned at the look of comic disbelief on his friend’s face. ‘Yeah, okay. Rodney and I have discussed it and before you ask, we’re just friends…at the moment. Yes, I like him, he makes me laugh. Do I want anything more with him? Not at the moment. We’ve both got far too much happening to get into a relationship right now. But to answer your earlier question, Rodney was the one to suggest 1st October.’
“Well, if that’s what Rodney suggests then who am I to argue with Rodney. 1st October it is.’
‘Fuck off, Jack!’ John told him with a grin and raised his beer bottle in a salute. ‘October 1st.’