- Science Fiction
John dropped his watch on the nightstand and picked up the buzzing radio which he slipped into his ear. “This is Sheppard.”
“Good morning, Colonel. AR2 has had a delay and won’t be returning for another two hours. Dr. Parrish is harvesting some sort of potential food crop for analysis.”
John rubbed his face. “Did Lorne sound resigned or infuriated?”
Chuck Campbell laughed in his ear. “Amused, actually. The fruit in question is apparently quite phallic in appearance.”
He snorted. “Understood. Tell Lorne no second extension if Parrish requests it. They’ve been off-world for fifty-two hours already.”
John clicked off the radio and rolled out of bed. He walked into the closet and looked around. The arrival of his son on Atlantis had also required a move. In fact, everything he’d owned had been moved into an apartment in the main residential tower before he’d even returned to the city with Sebastian. The team had also managed to furnish the place, so they hadn’t come home to a bunch of empty rooms.
He dropped his pajama pants in a basket for cleaning and pulled on a pair of black cargo pants. Socks and boots followed which he did it up properly despite his own preference because he figured he should be a good role model or whatever. John wasn’t entirely sure if the kid even paid attention to that kind of thing, but he figured it couldn’t hurt anything to be a little more professional about his appearance. He was pulling a T-shirt on when he heard his son start to cry.
“I’m here, buddy,” John called out and left his closet. He snagged his radio and watch from the nightstand and crossed the hall to the kid’s room. Sebastian was sitting up in a tangle of blankets.
Sebastian wiped his face with the bottom of his T-shirt and sniffled in a disgusting fashion. John made a face at him as he sat down on the bed and the kid laughed a little. “Sorry.”
“No apologies—for the nightmare or the snot.” He paused. “Well, maybe the snot.” He reached out and grabbed the box of tissue he’d left on the nightstand beside the bed and wiggled it in Sebastian’s direction. “Same one?”
Sebastian grabbed a few tissues and nodded. “Yeah, I…yeah. The same. I don’t know why I’m dreaming about the accident when I wasn’t even there.”
“It’s not that hard to imagine what happened to your mom,” John murmured. “And you’re not short on imagination. Maybe it’s time we make that appointment with Dr. Heightmeyer.”
Sebastian frowned and shook his head. “No. I…I don’t want to talk to her.”
He swallowed back a sigh. John wasn’t interested in forcing Sebastian into therapy, but he figured if they at least talked about it often that his son might get used to the idea of it and consider going. “I’ve gone to see her a few times.”
“When Dr. Weir made you?” Sebastian questioned and raised an eyebrow.
John laughed. “Yeah, something like that but I still went, and I talked about stuff that bothered me. It helped.”
“I’ll keep thinking about it.” He rubbed his head and yawned. “Oatmeal for breakfast?”
“Sure. I’ll take care of it while you do something to your head that makes it look semi-civilized, so people don’t question my parenting behind my back,” John said as he stood. “And make sure your socks match today.”
“Matching socks really isn’t important,” Sebastian pointed out.
“Tell Dr. Weir that—she mentioned it to me twice on Tuesday when your socks were blue and green respectively,” John muttered as he left the room. His son’s laughter followed him through the apartment almost to the kitchen.
He pulled out the bowl of oatmeal he’d made the night before, dished out some for both of them and tucked them in the microwave. Then poured juice for himself and milk for Sebastian. He had everything on the table and was browsing through their schedule on his tablet when the kid managed to drag himself into the kitchen. His hair was as neat as it was likely to ever be.
“I have to submit a report on your progress to the homeschooling thing for the state of Colorado next week so let’s work on that this week and make sure you’re hitting all the marks to stay in the high school curriculum.”
“I’m ahead on most of it,” Sebastian said as he doctored his oatmeal with a bit too much sugar and some butter. “Well, I’m a bit behind on history since it’s so boring, but I’ll catch up this week.”
“I’ll take leave in about six months, and you’ll have to sit a standardized test in Colorado Springs. Colonel Carter will be setting that up for us,” John said as he shifted screens to his son teaching schedule. The civilian scientists were staging an all-out war amongst themselves to teach his kid which was both relieving and weird. Apparently, a child genius was genuine star stuff to geeks. “Dr. Kusanagi is your first stop this morning.”
“She’s teaching me how to program in Ancient,” Sebastian said. “You know she’s close to fixing the Ancient database, right? I mean—so close that Dr. McKay offered her a whole case of really expensive coffee in tribute.”
John shook his head. “After Dr. Kusanagi, you’re scheduled for a botany lesson, but Dr. Parrish is currently off-world with AR2. He should be back well before you’re due for a lesson but radio ahead to make sure he’s available and has time for you as scheduled.”
“And remember the radio protocols, please,” John said and shot his son a look. “It’s not to be used for chit-chat.”
Sebastian made a face. “In my defense, he kept talking back to me. I mean…he really could’ve just stopped at any time.”
“Rodney has no self-control when it comes to two topics—bitching about food and science. But really, the entire city didn’t need to bear witness to the two of you arguing over the composition of a black hole.”
“We weren’t arguing,” Sebastian denied. “We were debating.”
“Right.” John rolled his eyes. “And the whole betting pool? And the T-shirts?” He’d caught four different Marines wearing Team Sebastian T-shirts. “Who even made them?”
Sebastian laughed. “There’s a screen press thing in one of the labs on pier three.” He flicked a hand. “I have no idea where it came from or what they’ve set it up for, but you can get stuff put on shirts if you ask Dr. Kusanagi nice enough since she has the print designer thing on a computer in her lab.”
“Right.” John set that aside because he wasn’t going to pick any sort of fight with a woman who regularly sparred with a sword with Ronon. “I’m going off-world this morning, but it shouldn’t be a long trip. Keep your radio on at all times, and if security orders you to a location, you’re to follow their orders explicitly. Understood?”
“Yep.” Sebastian smiled. “I won’t get into any trouble while you’re gone.”
John eyed him because he wasn’t sure he could take that as gospel. The kid had a habit of wandering off into the city and creating chaos in his wake. At least, short-term chaos. “Please don’t since I’m taking McKay with me.”
“Oh, he’s not going to be happy about that. He has an experiment that is due to finish up this morning. He’s been waiting on the results of the simulation for weeks.”
“He’ll get over it.” The kid shot him a knowing look. “Loudly. He’ll get over it loudly.”
Sebastian laughed. “You should be nicer to Dr. McKay, Daddy.”
“He’d think I’d been taken over by an alien if I were nice to him and I’d end up in the infirmary getting the kind of physical no one wants to ever experience,” John said gravely and grinned when the kid almost laughed himself off of his chair. “Finish your oatmeal so we can get going. And pack some sort of sack in your backpack.”
Fifteen minutes later, John had dropped Sebastian off in Miko Kusanagi’s lab and was in one of the team ready rooms checking over his gear. McKay was seated on a bench near the door dejectedly poking at his tablet and John was bound and determined to ignore him. He really was.
John glanced toward McKay again and sighed. “McKay.”
The scientist glared at him. “We didn’t have a mission scheduled today. I made sure!”
“Yes, well, things change pretty rapidly around here, and we have to take this meeting for trade if you’d like to have a steady supply of those peach-like things you like.”
Rodney glared. “I do like those peach-like things. But we weren’t part of that trade originally.”
“No, AR4 did the original mission, but Major Teldy is currently laid up in her quarters with a broken leg.”
“Oh, right.” Rodney stowed his tablet in his backpack just as Teyla and Ronon entered. They were already ready.
“Sheppard, tell Teyla that you said I could handle Sebastian’s physical education.”
John opened his mouth to confirm that, and Teyla glared at him. She’d been off-world when he’d returned to the city with Sebastian due to a problem on New Athos. He was kind of surprised that it was just now coming up since it had been over a month since since his son’s arrival. “Ronon did call dibs on it.” Her gaze narrowed. “But there’s no reason you couldn’t share it?”
“On Sateda, children were trained by a single master in self-defense,” Ronon said as they left the ready room.
“Amongst my people, the entire village takes part in the education of the children we’re blessed with,” Teyla said. “At his age and size, he should be learning meditation and physical discipline.”
“And simple weapons,” Ronon input.
“Whoa, no weapons,” John admonished as he signaled Chuck to dial the gate. “Seriously.”
Ronon and Teyla exchanged a look that John didn’t like the look of.
“McKay, no weapons, right? Our kids don’t learn about weapons.”
“Well, our kids don’t live in a galaxy full of space vampires who want to suck the life out of them,” Rodney said tartly and marched through the gate. Ronon smirked and quickly trotted after the scientist.
“Teyla,” John started, “Seriously, no weapons. It’s not appropriate for his age.”
“Relax, John, we’ll be careful.”
– – – –
Sebastian shouldered his backpack as he left Dr. Kusanagi’s lab. There was a transporter not far from her lab, so he entered it. The insides brightened around him, and he picked his destination carefully. Once or twice, since his arrival, he’d accidentally gone places he hadn’t meant to. He couldn’t be sure if the system was ignoring his choices or if he was being influenced by the city somehow.
His dad had told him that the city sometimes prodded him and that it could be disorienting. He’d experienced the prodding a time or two, but for the most part, he pushed that away since he couldn’t make heads or tails of the gibberish the city sometimes threw at his head. It wasn’t Ancient…it wasn’t any language as far as he could tell. He figured that whatever part of the city that could communicate with gene carriers was just as corrupt as the database.
He entered greenhouse three and put his backpack down next to Dr. Parrish’s desk. “Dr. Parrish!”
“I heard you were off-world this morning. Did you find anything cool?”
“Potentially,” David Parrish said with a smile as Sebastian joined him. “We’ll find out soon enough—Katie is currently checking it for consumption and nutritional value. How’d your programming class go this morning?”
“Oh, we were able to write about six hundred lines of code,” Sebastian said as he climbed up onto the stool beside Parrish. “Most of it was hers, but I did two hundred all by myself with no errors, so that was cool. She said I need to work on my keyboarding skills a little, but I’m going to be slower mostly because my hands are small right now.”
“Certainly,” David said with a smile. “I’m prepping six variants of lettuce for hydroponics this afternoon. I saved the herbs for you—basil, mint, and parsley. I’ve ordered rosemary and sage for the next supply delivery.”
“Cool. My mom used to grow rosemary in the kitchen. It always smelled really good.” He shifted the three pots around. “Why so little?”
“Test crop,” David said. “Hydroponics has only been operative for the last six weeks, and we’ve spent most of that time adjusting the water environment to mirror what these plants thrive in on Earth. It’s an ebb and flow system which wouldn’t have been my first choice considering how much space is dedicated to it. Ancients like to make things more complicated than they need to be.”
“A deep water system would be easier to maintain?”
“Right, you did your reading.” David offered him a smile. “Good.”
“You send much less than Dr. McKay,” Sebastian explained. “So I always read your stuff first.”
David laughed. “Please don’t ever tell him that.” He wiped his hands on his apron. “You get started while I get a pushcart.”
Sebastian nodded. He pulled the mint free from its little pot full of dirt first, cleaned off as much of the soil as he could then washed it gently in the sink like Dr. Parrish had taught him. Then put the plant in the net pot and filled it with clay pebbles. He was washing the parsley by the time the botanist returned.
“Did I put enough pebbles in the first one?”
“Maybe a few more,” David said as he reviewed the mint. “The clay will give the plant support, but it will also hold nutrients for later consumption.”
Sebastian pulled the pot closer and put in more clay pebbles as Parrish started to load his own work onto the cart. “Are you a gene carrier?”
“Not naturally but the therapy did work for me,” David admitted. “I can handle most things around here when it comes to opening doors and turning on tech. I can even, in a pinch, fly a jumper but my team leader doesn’t require that from me often since he’s a trained pilot with the Air Force, like your dad.”
Sebastian smiled. “That’s still weird.”
“Having a dad?” David questioned.
“Well, my mom told me about him the first time I asked so I always knew about him as far back as I can remember. She even gave me pictures and stuff. But having him in my life is weird.”
“And not having your mom is sad.”
“Yeah.” Sebastian frowned as he settled the second plant into the new pot and surrounded it with pebbles. “She’d have been so excited to know all about this place. She was a marine biologist.”
“We would’ve had plenty for her to do,” David said. “I’ve read some of her work, you know.”
“Really?” Sebastian turned to him.
“When we heard you were coming—many of us were curious about your mother,” David said gently. “Dr. McKay found her research papers and articles which he made available for anyone who wanted to read it. She was brilliant.”
“Yeah.” Sebastian felt his cheeks flush with heat and he cleared his throat. “She really was. I miss her a lot.”
“I miss mine as well,” David said as he continued to load. “I lost her while I was in college. I’m grateful for the years I was given but angry…still…about the years that were taken from me.”
“Me, too,” Sebastian admitted. He loosened the basil and started to knock the dirt free. “But having daddy helps. Sometimes I have nightmares about the car accident.”
“You weren’t in that, right?” David asked with a frown.
“No, I wasn’t…but I saw the car.” He took a deep breath. “I insisted and Mr. Blake, her lawyer, showed me, but I think he regretted that after the fact. He doesn’t have kids—he said he effed up.” He paused. “But he used the real word, ya know.”
“Thank for you not repeating that part,” David said with a wry smile and patted his shoulder. “And I agree, he definitely effed up showing you the car after the fact.”
“Are you dating anyone?” Sebastian asked and raised an eyebrow when the scientist glanced his way in shock. “How does that even work on this place?”
David laughed. “I’m…sort of seeing some one but I can’t discuss it and wouldn’t even if I could since you’re just ten no matter how old you think you are.”
Sebastian sniffed like he was insulted. “I’m perfectly aware of my age, Dr. Parrish.”
“Why so nosy?”
“I’m just trying to figure out what kind of social life exists out here,” Sebastian admitted. “Because my daddy’s not dating anyone and that’s pretty weird since I’ve heard plenty of people talking about how attractive he is and plus he’s a single father now which apparently just adds to his attractiveness which I don’t understand but whatever. He’s still not dating, and I’m wondering if that’s because of me.”
David laughed. “First, it’s not because of you. Your dad is in charge of a large portion of the people on the city who are single as the military leader. Of course, he couldn’t date any of them even if he wasn’t their boss because of military fraternization rules and his rank.”
“That leaves a bunch of civilians though,” Sebastian pointed out. “I evaluated Dr. Weir for it, but she’s a little too…in his face…I think. They’d probably fight a lot if they were to try to date. The way he talks up Dr. Heightmeyer would be great if he weren’t doing it to encourage me to talk to her about my stupid feelings.”
“Talking about your stupid feelings is important for your growth as a person.”
“My growth as a person is right on track,” Sebastian protested. “I’m practically self-actualized over here.”
“You’re too smart for your own good,” David cautioned. “I think your father likes being single. Some people do. Don’t stress it too much and if it’s really bothering you just ask him.”
“I was thinking that I’d just make a list of people I find acceptable as a step-parent and give it to him.”
“Oh.” Parrish snorted. “Please let me be close enough to see his face when that happens.”
Sebastian laughed as he washed the roots of the basil. “This smells nice. But not as good as rosemary.”
“Nothing smells as good as rosemary,” David agreed. “Get that settled and we’ll move to the hydroponic greenhouse for sorting.”
An hour later, Sebastian hightailed it out of botany because Dr. Brown had returned from her lab time and he wasn’t about to stick around to endure that. She was pretty, but she hovered and tried to mother him in an awkward way which made him really uncomfortable. Unfortunately, he didn’t think she had the social skills to realize she was making him uncomfortable. It certainly explained her utterly bizarre relationship with Dr. McKay.
He liked Dr. McKay, but it was pretty clear that he had the personality of a velociraptor and Dr. Brown was like a butterfly—how they’d made it as far as they had was a mystery that was baffling quite a few people. Dr. Kusanagi thought it must be physical chemistry and Sebastian had resolved not to think about that stuff. Still, despite the fact that he kind of worried that Dr. McKay was going to ruin her life by just being his snarky everyday self, he didn’t like being around her because of the hovering and stuff.
The hydroponic greenhouse was on pier four, and that part of the city was easily the prettiest as far as he was concerned. It even had a public park that needed tending, but that was pretty low on botany’s list of things to do. Sebastian wondered if he could talk Dr. Weir into doing some kind of community project for the park—enrichment or some such thing. She was really interested in morale projects all of a sudden and had been talking about instituting a regular day off since there wasn’t one on the city. A rotating Sunday which he figured the whole city needed.
He felt a little push—mental but the touch was so heavy that he stumbled and his backpack slid off his shoulder. He pulled it back into place and looked around. There was a door near the elevator that was slightly opened which was weird because he was pretty sure it had been closed when they’d come out earlier. A little bit of apprehension made him hesitate, and he got another really firm push. Sebastian sighed.
“Okay. I get it.” He glanced around and walked toward the door. It slid open the moment he came close enough, and he grimaced. “Fantastic. I’m gonna get such a lecture for this, ya know? Remember last month when I’d only been here like four days, and you made me touch that place on the wall by Dr. Weir’s office that made a whole console spring right out of the floor on the command deck thing?”
The lights flickered briefly but didn’t come on. On the far wall of the small, empty room a panel was glowing gently.
“Man.” He almost stomped his foot. “This is effed up. Why can’t you point this stuff out to Daddy or Dr. McKay?” He touched his radio when the room lights flickered again and cycled through the channels with little taps until he reached the one for Zelenka and the engineering team. “Dr. Zelenka, this is Sebastian Sheppard. I’m in quadrant four, section six near the transporter. Could you…I found an empty room with a glowing wall panel.”
“This is Zelenka, have you touched anything in the room?”
“I am coming. Do not touch anything, back out of the room, and wait in the hall.”
“Understood.” He turned off the radio and backed entirely out of the room. The city lights winked at him again.
It didn’t take long at all for the transporter to activate and for Zelenka to hurry out with Dr. Simpson in tow.
“It’s not my fault,” he protested immediately.
Zelenka sighed. “I know, kid.”
Sebastian picked a spot by the door inside the room to lean against the wall and watched them remove the panel. He could tell from his place that there were several dark crystals and one that looked broken. Zelenka muttered under his breath in his own language for several moments before activating his radio and requesting replacement crystals from Dr. Porter. After he ended the call, he turned to Sebastian.
“Congratulations, you have much explaining to do.”
Sebastian huffed. “Oh, come on, do we have to tell anyone?”
“That’s really mean Dr. Simpson.”
She laughed harder.
“I’m really nice to you. I even helped you pilfer candy from Dr. McKay’s desk.” He crossed his arms. “Why do I have to explain things?”
“Because you found the broken power relay we have been searching for since our arrival,” Zelenka said. “We’ve been doing a physical search since diagnostics couldn’t show us what we needed due to the database corruption. Based on our current schedule we wouldn’t have reached this part of the city for another two years.” He raised an eyebrow. “How did you find it?”
“I got a little…push.” He flicked a hand. “And I tried to ignore it because Daddy says sometimes the city just feels weird because of all the water damage and stuff. But then I got another push so I figured it was actually something important and the door to this room was kind of cracked open. It opened all the way when I walked over to it.” He blew out a breath. “You didn’t request a crystal for that one in the corner.”
“It appears to be redundant, and we’re short on blue ones…” Zelenka trailed off. “Are you getting another push?”
He really didn’t know how to answer that because the city felt distinctly unhappy about the idea that Zelenka didn’t plan to replace all of the malfunctioning crystals. “I think…maybe you should replace it, too?”
He nodded and put in another request for Porter. “Tell the city to leave you alone until McKay comes back—I’m busy.”
Sebastian laughed. “It’s time for me to read trade agreements with Dr. Weir.”
“That is one lesson I’m not sure you need on your schedule,” Zelenka muttered. “Much better to spend your time in the sciences that matter.”
“If we don’t trade for food we end up eating MREs if the Daedalus gets behind,” Simpson protested. “And what I put in my stomach is really important to me.”
“MREs are perfectly serviceable,” Zelenka argued as Sebastian slid out of the room.
He really wasn’t interested in bearing witness to that argument again. Zelenka and McKay both seemed to be allergic to trading missions and anything to do with being nice to other people to get stuff. They were also pretty bitter about being bartered as what Zelenka called slave labor that one time so the city could have flour. Though Sebastian thought that building a clean water system for several hundred people so they wouldn’t get sick was a pretty great trade for the ability to make cookies and cake.
Once in the transporter, he picked the one closest to the mess because he figured he might be able to beg some cookies of Chief Cooper and Dr. Weir liked peanut butter ones. The mess was mostly empty which wasn’t a surprise since it was nearly an hour until the first lunch shift.
He dropped his backpack on a table near the service line. “Good morning, Chief Cooper. I found a broken power relay that the scientists have been looking for since forever and I’m sure to get a lecture about it when Daddy comes back from off-world so I kind of figured I’d earned some cookies.”
Cooper laughed and shook her head. “Well, good job on finding the broken relay and sorry in advance for the lecture. You didn’t touch anything, right?”
“Nope, not even the door.” He raised an eyebrow. “But you know that means nothing when you got a super gene.”
“All right then, Super Boy, what sort of cookies would you like?”
“Chocolate chip for me and peanut butter for Dr. Weir. I have a diplomacy lesson in ten minutes. We’re going to be discussing trade agreements. I think food ones.”
“Well, I love food trade agreements,” Cooper said as she pulled to packages of cookies out of the case. “I sent Dr. Weir a fresh carafe of tea about forty minutes ago. Did you want a drink? Milk, water, or juice?”
“Hmmm… can I have milk and water?”
“Yep.” She put a carton of milk down and went to a different cooler to pull a bottle of water. “Come back for lunch. It’s taco day.”
“I love taco day,” he admitted as he put his loot in his backpack. “Thanks, Chief Cooper.”
“Stay out of trouble on your way to the gate room,” she called after him.
He offered her a grin over his shoulder as he left the mess. It really wasn’t his fault, and that was exactly what he planned to tell his Daddy. Honestly, it was tough to ignore the city when she was busy thumping you in the back of the head.