- Alternate Universe
“A thousand roads lead men forever to Rome.”
– 12th century French theologian Alain deLille
“You finally cashing in on your connections to escape, Major Sheppard?” asked Sgt. Deckard keenly, handing John his duty assignment. “Your previous orders are cancelled in favor of that VIP of yours.”
Confused, John skimmed the slip of paper. “Escape where, Deckard?” His orders were to fly around some General named O’Neill. It was light on details, probably because the brass didn’t think he needed to know, but nothing out of the ordinary.
Tucking it away, Sheppard looked back up with a shrug. “Besides, I don’t have any connections up top or else I wouldn’t be the roving transport out here, not that I mind it that much.”
Ever since his career-ending actions in Afghanistan, he only got to fly as a glorified taxi driver or cargo plane. Despite keeping his head down, his CO had seen the black mark on John’s record and taken it as his personal duty to make John miserable. Down time was minimal and assignments monotonous. He only slept in his own bed two or three times a month.
However, his CO didn’t know that he was doing John a favor. The constant work kept his mind just busy enough to avoid actual thinking, his time too full for socializing, and on his rare free days he got to surf at the nearest deserted coastline. “As long as I’m flying, I’m fine.” Sheppard shrugged carelessly.
“You’re full of it, Sheppard. Besides, I know that O’Neill is the one that signed your transfer from Antarctica. That seems like a pretty big favor to me,” the sergeant argued. “Maybe he’s ready to put you to use now.”
“I don’t know where you get your information, but I’ve never even met the man,” John said, though the words got his wheels turning. His time on ice had been mysteriously short, not that anyone would consider this to be a plum assignment either, despite the location on the west coast. When he cared enough to bother, he had wondered why he’d been moved. “Besides, I’m not sure what use this General’d have for a washed up Major besides the obvious, flying him around to his meetings.”
“If you say so, Major. I don’t know what this O’Neill does, but he’s a big deal. When his name shows up, his requests always get first priority. I wonder what he’s involved in?” the sergeant scratched his chin at looked at John speculatively.
“Big deal or small makes no difference to me. It all looks the same when I’m refueling my bird or snatching some shuteye in the barracks,” Sheppard shrugged blandly. “And you know anything said by passengers isn’t my business.”
Doing his preflight check, John was surprised to find himself having trouble not being curious about his passengers. The General’s itinerary had them stopping first at Nellis Air Force Base, a secret area in Nevada that, based on rumors, might double as the real-life Area 51. John had always loved sci-fi. Added to that, O’Neill’s security detail had said a few things while waiting for him to arrive that just didn’t add up based on any of the active conflicts the US was currently engaged in.
Trying to stay detached, John checked his instruments for the fourth time. He didn’t want to feel curious. Curiosity was dangerous because it led to change.
Finally the General arrived, still talking on the phone as he stepped onboard. “I know I said I trust you guys, but come on. You know how the IOA is going to react.”
Tucking his phone into his shoulder, he waved off the salutes and shrugged his bag off his shoulder, passing it to the waiting marine sergeant on his detail. “Why do you do this to me, Daniel? Are you sure we can’t find someone better from the pool of volunteers? And no, that doesn’t mean you.”
In response to what he was hearing, O’Neill made a face. “No, that’s not what I’m saying. Don’t tell Carter I said that, I did not say that! I’m just saying they aren’t going to like it. Obviously, I can see why you chose them, they’re very qualified, but despite your gleeful hand-rubbing at being all high-minded, you have to know this would cause a few raised brows.”
He listened, then growled irritably, “For crying out loud, I was busy saving the world. I didn’t have time to look at them earlier!”
The corners of his mouth got tight. “I do not always use that excuse. Whatever the case, I just boarded, so I have to go. I’ll call you again after the meeting later this week. That way you can still experience the fallout secondhand. I won’t forget this though, you can count on that. O’Neill out.”
Putting his phone away, he sighed and then looked over at John, glancing down at the name on his uniform. “Thanks for the ride, Major Sheppard.” O’Neill gave John a casual nod and made to turn towards the back when suddenly he did a double-take. The exasperated older man unexpectedly morphed into a steely-eyed warrior as he gave Sheppard a piercing examination.
John ignored the impulse to either shuffle his feet or jump to attention. Instead, he gave the General his usual respectful but breezy salute, “General O’Neill.”
Abruptly the intense stare disappeared, just as mysteriously as it had started. The General turned away and strapped in. “We’re good to go, Major Sheppard,” O’Neill said casually.
“Yes, Sir,” John said, shaking off his discomfort as he radioed the tower for takeoff.
“By the way, congratulations on the promotion, Major McLean,” General O’Neill said once they leveled off.
“Thank you, Sir,” answered the big bald marine. He had a deep, gravelly voice.
“I’m sorry you got stuck following me around to meetings this week, considering your typical assignments. My usual detail and transport got reassigned last-minute to put out a fire. You’ll probably be bored, but then again, so will I,” joked the General.
“Oh no, Sir, we wanted this assignment. Boring is right up our alley considering the alternatives,” offered Major McLean. “Since we just dropped off our unit’s anthropologist at a conference, we’re relegated to guard duty until he comes back. It was between you, Dr. Jackson, and Dr. Mckay.”
John’s ears perked up at the mention of a Mckay. Could it be his Rome? Usually John kept his head down and ignored chatter from the back, but that all flew out the window if Mckay was really involved. Using the rearview mirror, John surreptitiously examined the people in the back for clues.
In addition to General O’Neill, a fit man in his early fifties with iron-gray hair, the ‘copter carried a four man team lead by Marine Major McLean. John catalogued their names and ranks. Their unit patches read SG-15, a designation he wasn’t familiar with. Next to McLean sat Marine Sergeant Kindall, a seemingly-reserved man built like a tank. Across from him lounged Captain King, a female marine that reminded him of a lioness between hunts. The last person in the squad was Lieutenant Cohen, a fresh-faced and cheerful female in the air force officer.
Unaware of John’s scrutiny, O’Neill snorted with amusement as McLean continued his explanation. “As you can imagine, the jockeying was fierce. Since we were already in California, we sweet-talked the duty officer and won the right to join up with you here.”
Then again, John thought, Mckay was a common enough name. It was probably a coincidence. A genius astrophysicist and engineer, even one who’d designed experimental planes, wouldn’t fit in with people who found it rational to place anthropologists on military squads. They’d also stuck an air force officer in with a bunch of marines, but she wasn’t in charge of some special mission as far as he could tell, so who knew what was going on there. Whatever it was, it was above his clearance.
“I have to ask,” General O’Neill grinned, “who was your second choice for guard duty, Mckay or Jackson?”
The squad exchanged looks. “We couldn’t agree on who was worse, so we decided to leave it up to Lt. Cohen,” McLean said with a shrug.
“I’m new and unbiased,” Lt. Cohen said with an amusement, “so if things went really wrong, they’d have someone to blame.”
“You’d be biased too if you’d had to rescue Dr. Jackson from being sacrificed by a cult, only to have him apologize to the natives and then make you both perform a ritual cleansing that lasted for six hours and included a public performance of something eerily close to the Hokey Pokey,” interjected Captain King, her finger wagging at the lieutenant.
“I thought it was the Macarena,” teased Sgt. Kinney with a straight face and twinkling brown eyes.
“I’d rather perform with Jackson in a chorus line for a solid week than deal with Dr. Mckay,” grumbled McLean. “At least Jackson’s brave. If Mckay isn’t complaining, she’s ordering us around like raw recruits.”
“Using the wrong names, of course,” King interjected with an eye roll. “They’re embroidered on our uniforms, how hard can it be to remember? She’s supposed to be a genius.”
McLean grimaced. “I’d hate to have to rely on her out in the field. Thankfully she mostly sticks to her lab. I doubt Mckay cares for anyone but herself and cold hard facts.”
“That’s untrue,” Kindall interrupted with quiet sincerity. “Last year, my old squad rescued her from a kidnapping off-world. In the process, I got injured and the two of us got separated. We had to make the Stargate on our own. I’m not arguing that she can be irritating, but when push comes to shove, Mckay has a core of steel. I would trust her with my life.”
“Well, what about—,” began Major McLean irritably before getting cut off firmly by O’Neill.
“That’s enough, gentlemen.”
John’s head reeled from what he’d just heard. Despite his earlier doubts, their descriptions certainly sounded like his Mckay. People either hated or loved her. Like Judith Works had written in City of Illusions, “Living in Rome is either a one or a two, or a nine or ten. Not much in between.”
But if it really was his Mckay, did that mean she’d been kidnapped last year? John wished he’d given in to impulse and contacted her when he’d first hit stateside. Instead, he’d fallen into a detached state created by his grief and bitterness.
And what did that strange talk of “stargates” and being “off-world” even mean? It had to be code for something. Usually John felt too numb to let mysteries bother him, but hearing Mckay’s name felt like a battering ram, causing huge fissures in his ennui.
“Our pilot hasn’t been read in,” the General continued pointedly, “so he’s going to forget everything he just heard, right Major Sheppard?”
“Soldiers complain all of the time, Sir,” Sheppard forced himself to answer blandly. “It goes in one ear and out the other.” Biting down on the impulse to ask questions, he turned back to his instruments.
“Excellent,” the General said breezily. “What’s our ETA for Nevada?”
“Only 45 more minutes, Sir,” Sheppard answered. “I’ll top off the tanks just in case and then it’s a straight shot to D.C.. I should get you there plenty early for your meeting.”
“Extra time with the IOA. Oh, joy,” O’Neill said sarcastically. “I appreciate your competence, Major, but don’t feel the need to break any speed records. I have to be there, but I’d rather not be available for any quick meetings ahead of time.”
“Roger that, Sir,” Sheppard said, barely restraining himself from asking the irreverent General a follow-up question. John didn’t need to know. Being a taxi service served him just fine.
Still, he couldn’t completely restrain his curiosity as he approached the secret base in Nevada. Sheppard tried not to look around too obviously as he radioed the tower and received confirmation and an approach vector for Nellis. There weren’t any obvious signs of aliens, but that didn’t necessarily mean anything, he thought with a suppressed grin. “I’m starting our descent now,” he told his passengers.
Suddenly his instruments beeped and flashed red, registering an incoming missile. “What the-!” Sheppard exclaimed even as he activated his defense screen and swerved. “Everyone strap in!”
Ignoring questions from the cabin, he started evasive maneuvers and opened a channel to the base. “Why are we under fire?” he demanded. “We’re friendlies! I have General O’Neill onboard!”
Grim-faced, the General dropped into the copilot seat and strapped in.
The tower squawked back in barely suppressed panic, “We didn’t fire! We’re tracking the origin point now and scrambling reinforcements. Good luck.”
Cursing under his breath, John’s focus narrowed down to the missile hugging his trail. It didn’t behave like anything he’d ever seen before. None of his feints or jammers worked.
O’Neill opened a private channel on the radio and began snapping orders, but John barely paid attention as he struggled to keep them alive. Distantly he heard someone groaning nauseously in the back as he took a hard left and dived, trying to get under the missile’s tracking software. The missile overshot them, but then curved at a physically impossible angle to come roaring back.
John might have finally met his match. He’d never faced a missile this advanced before. However, it wasn’t just his life at risk here, but the lives of the General and SG-15. He had to figure out a way to save them.
Eyes darting across the mountainous, desert landscape, John took a page from the movie Independence Day and dived down into a canyon. Someone swore as the tail rotor clipped the wall, jarring the cabin and snapping a blade. For a moment he thought he’d lost the missile with his maneuver, but then it reappeared behind them in the narrow passage.
“What is that thing, the Energizer Bunny?” O’Neill muttered as John zoomed around a series of sharp turns. “It keeps going and going and going….”
“It doesn’t strike me as the sunglasses wearing type,” Captain King joked tightly. “It’s probably more like the killer rabbit from Monty Python.”
“If we die,” McLean growled, “they better not put on my tombstone that I was killed by a rabbit.”
The missile crept inexorably closer as they raced through the tunnel of orange rock. Readouts blinked red and panels creaked as the craft strained against its mechanical limits. John’s best efforts weren’t going to be enough.
About to give up hope, Sheppard noticed the missile suddenly begin swerving back and forth drunkenly, as if experiencing difficulties. Pressing his lips tight, Sheppard went for a Hail Mary and yanked his bird into a steep corkscrew.
“What are you doing?!” Cohen shrieked as the ‘copter angled down almost vertically toward the canyon floor, pressing everyone forward into their straps and allowing the missile to get dangerously close.
Not answering as the ‘copter reached the opening he’d seen flash past earlier, John turned sharply, threading the narrow opening. He pushed the speed to max, going back up in as steep of an angle as he could without bleeding off too much acceleration. He hoped to trick the missile into hitting one of the stone bridges overhead or the rocky walls.
Unfortunately, despite its jerky flightpath, the missile still followed after them, refusing to be distracted. John scraped through the sharp twists and turns of the tight canyon with nothing but blind faith in his reactions and an intimate knowledge of his machine. “Come on, baby, you can do it,” he coaxed desperately.
Coming around a bend, he felt his heart drop at the tall cliff face directly ahead. They were either going to hit the stone wall in front or explode from a missile in back. Refusing to give up, Sheppard stubbornly forced his beleaguered helicopter to climb. The engine whined in protest. The wall got closer and closer. At the last second the body of the helicopter cleared the lip of the canyon. Something on the undercarriage caught on the rock and ripped free, jolting the helicopter sideways. It tipped. The main rotor clipped the rocky plateau and several blades snapped off.
If that rotor broke, they were dead.
Sheppard fought with his controls, forcing the obstinate machine to right itself. Before he could celebrate, the missile impacted against the rim of the cliff they’d just cleared and exploded, pushing the helicopter’s nose forward. They bounced off the ground once with a tongue-biting jolt. Then John regained control of the ‘copter and got them level and back up into the sky.
“Damn fine flying, Sheppard,” complimented the General breathlessly. “I see what she sees in you.”
Before John could ask for clarification, Kindall exclaimed, “Major, you have nerves of steel!” The rest of SG-15 began talking over each other and the moment was lost.
John checked his sensors again, but couldn’t see any other missiles. However, he wasn’t ready to relax his protection of his charges just yet, not after being attacked on American soil by a missile so high-tech he’d never even heard whispers of something with similar capabilities. “I’m not reading any other missiles, Sir. Nevertheless, if Nellis is compromised, I can take you to a safer location,” Sheppard told the General. “Creech Air Force Base isn’t far.”
Face hard, O’Neill shook his head and listed to something on the private channel of his mike. He listened to the response and then growled. “You can bet I want to see them. Be there soon, O’Neill out.”
Turning back to Sheppard, the General ordered, “Take us back, Major. I’m told that the attack was a research accident. I’ve been promised that the situation is contained and the weapons disabled.”
“Yes, Sir.” Babying his damaged ‘copter now that danger was passed, Sheppard carefully flew them back to Nellis. After a slightly bumpy landing due to the damaged landing skids, his passengers disembarked. John powered down his bird in preparation for some major repairs, poor girl, and then hopped out.
“Sheppard, with me,” commanded General O’Neill.
“Sir?” he questioned, intending to remain with his damaged vehicle, especially since he didn’t have clearance to wander around the secret base.
“We’re going to need new transport and you deserve a moment to relax after flying like that.” O’Neill paused and looked John over. “Are you still good to fly me to Washington or do you need me to find another pilot? Lt. Cohen could probably fill in. There’s no shame if you need time for your adrenaline to crash, Major. Not after a save like that.”
Grateful for the General’s consideration, John nonetheless shook his head. His curiosity had been roused too much to let the General go just yet. “Thank you, Sir, but as long as you get me a new bird, I’ll be fine. I don’t have clearance to go inside the base, however.”
O’Neill clapped him on the back and steered them forward, where a welcome committee waited anxiously. “Don’t worry about it. Just don’t touch anything.” On that note, the General strode into the waiting crowd. SG-15 followed protectively at his heels.
A pale-faced Colonel Graff, the man John assumed to be the base commander, stepped forward. “I’m so sorry, General. Are you alright?”
“I’m alive, no thanks to you. If I hadn’t had God’s gift to pilots on the stick, I’d be dead.” He gestured back at John. “How did this happen and where were my reinforcements?” O’Neill snapped crankily as he stomped into the facility. Everyone followed, with Sheppard holding up the rear.
As they descended into the bowels of the base, Graff kept up a constant stream of excuses. Finally O’Neill held up one hand. “In summary, you underestimated the very geniuses we employ and put green officers in advanced positions without sufficient training. You screwed up. Any last words before I talk to the scientists?”
Col. Graff’s sweaty face went dark red. “Dr. Mckay may be smart, but she’s also pushy, shrill, and unreasonable. She should have stayed in Antarctica. If she’d done her job properly instead of wandering off to powder her nose, this wouldn’t have happened!” His voice boomed vociferously as they turned into a large room, only to be confronted by the woman herself waiting impatiently just inside the door.
“Rome,” breathed John, the word sliding past his lips at the sight of the woman his life seemed to orbit.
“That’s a gross oversimplification of the accident!” Mckay snapped, on the defensive as she slashed her hands through the air. “Besides, you’re just as pushy and unreasonable, Colonel, but without the intelligence to back it up. And the only reason your voice isn’t shrill is because you have a pair of balls, or at least I assume you do, all evidence to the contrary. Otherwise, what you just said about me would be called whining.”
John felt like all the air had disappeared from the room. The years had been kind to Rome. Her golden hair still gleamed, her blue still eyes snapped, and her tongue still cut like a razor. Part of him wanted to laugh at her on-point insults while the rest wanted to wince with worry at how careless she could still be with people in authority. Mckay had no filter. In the heat of the moment, her emotions ruled her tongue and she assumed that the value of her genius would let her get away with anything. Considering some of the retribution she’d had to endure over the years, he’d have thought she’d have learned that bitter lesson by now. Then again, there was some comfort in seeing her unbowed by life’s judgements and misfortunes. Dr. Mckay was a force of nature, sometimes big and loud and destructive, but always breathtaking.
Ever since the first time he met Mckay when test piloting experimental planes, he’d found himself fascinated by her. Over the years their lives had intersected again and again. Something kept bringing him back to Rome. Each time, John found himself changed. He wondered who he’d become this time. He’d have to find a way to stick around if he wanted to find out.
“You would know, Rodney,” Colonel Graff sneered, fists clenching white at his sides.
“It’s Meredith,” she snapped, “at least to my friends, which you are not. You may address me as Dr. Mckay or Doctor. I know my value to this program. Shall we see how yours compares?”
Head lowering, Graff stepped forward.
General O’Neill cleared his throat warningly, halting the Colonel in his tracks and reminding him that they weren’t alone.
Mckay turned away from Graff dismissively. “Did anyone get hurt?” she asked O’Neill.
“Just the multi-million dollar helicopter,” O’Neill answered wryly, keeping the apoplectic Graff in his line of sight. Sergeant Kindall glided forward to put himself between the Colonel and the doctor before John could push his way through the crowd.
Mckay relaxed slightly and rocked back on her heels. “I can fix a helicopter.”
“You aren’t a mechanic, Dr. Mckay; you’re the lead scientist for Ancient Research. Would you care to tell me why your department is shooting at me?” He raised one eyebrow crankily.
Mckay’s mouth went crooked with unhappiness as she gestured them further into the lab. “No one is shooting at you on purpose, General. If we were, you’d be dead. Dr. Riley merely got overly ambitious with the missile’s wiring while I took a bathroom break, something everyone on base is legally allowed to do,” she said pointedly in Colonel Graff’s direction, “and then she forgot to tell me about her changes before I hooked up the power coupler because she was too busy eyeing Carson and trying to work up the courage to ask him out.”
“Don’t tease the poor lassie, Meredith,” scolded a Scottish man standing off to the side with his arm rubbing circles on the back of a bawling woman in a lab coat.
“Oh for-” Mckay broke off in exasperation. “Carson, would you go out to dinner with Dr. Riley?”
“What?” He answered feebly, eyes going wide. Dr. Beckett looked down at the woman now frozen beneath his hand. “I mean, she seems a nice enough, so I suppose so?” his voice trailed up uncertainly.
“Great. Do it tonight and resolve this so she can focus on her work.” Mckay pointed at them both sharply.
“Well, alright,” Becket floundered for a moment before pulling himself back together. “However, getting back to the point, things wouldna have gotten out of hand if you hadna forced me to touch those things. I’m a physician, not a lab rat. I have my own research—very important research on creating an artificial form of the Ancient gene—and the sooner you let me finish it, the sooner you’ll have extra people to help you with these experiments of yours.”
“I understand that, Carson, but until then I need you. I can’t make much progress with these artifacts unless someone turns them on. If you actually came over regularly like you’d agreed to, I wouldn’t have to badger you at all,” Mckay defended irascibly.
“I’m still not clear on what happened, Doctors,” O’Neill interrupted with short-temper.
Drifting along the edges of the room as they talked, John found himself drawn to a table with a strange-looking circular device on it. It looked like a chunky bracelet made out of some strange polymer. Something scratched at the edge of his mind, like a puppy begging for a scrap of food. Despite his intention to turn away, John found himself picking up the bracelet. It lit up blue in his hand with a mental purr.
John should be freaking out, but the mental touch felt natural and strangely nice.
“Of course, General,” he heard Mckay say on the other side of the room. “I was just getting to that. We were working on a new short-range missile incorporating some technology from the Nox, which took some creativity considering their pacifist nature, if you know what I mean. It wasn’t supposed to have an acceleration package yet, but Dr. Riley decided to hook it up anyways to see if the connections fit properly inside the housing and then she began tweaking the software.
“When I got back from my very short break, I began working on the power coupler. When my back was turned, Dr. Beckett tried to sneak out of the experiment time he’d promised me. I marched him back over to the box of Ancient artifacts and gave him what I suspect is a protective shield. His gene activated it and the artifact produced a glowing mass of energy that encircled both Dr. Beckett and the nearby Dr. Riley. Riley panicked. In her flailing, she accidentally launched the experimental missile. Since she’d been in the middle of recoding the software, the missile wouldn’t respond properly to our access codes. It took me longer than expected to hack it, rewrite new code for both the Earth and Nox components, and shut down the targeting systems. I’m sorry.”
The General sighed in exasperation, but otherwise seemed to accept her crazy story.
“I’m so so-so-sorry,” Dr. Riley stuttered wetly, wiping her blotchy face.
“Me too, General O’Neill. I’m sorry I ever turned that infernal thing on. It felt like I was being squeezed in from all sides by a giant,” Dr. Beckett complained, turning to gesture at the item glowing in John’s hands. “So I can’t completely blame Dr. Ri…ley for—” his words stumbled to a halt as everyone stared at Sheppard.
“Sorry,” John said awkwardly, pushing past his strange reluctance to put the glowing circle back on the table. The bracelet went dark as soon as he was no longer touching it.
“It lit up for him,” Beckett said with wonder. “Who is he? And canna you give him to Meredith? Please?”
“John,” Mckay breathed in shock and excitement. Schooling her face, she cleared her throat. “John Sheppard, I mean, Major Sheppard.”
Putting her hands in her pockets, she leaned forward, “Pick it up again,” she ordered.
Warily he did what she asked since he sort of wanted to anyways and the bracelet once more glowed welcomingly in his hands.
Mckay smiled at him brilliantly. “What does it do, Major? Can you tell us?”
How should he know?
John was about to say that when the answer formed in his mind. “It’s a pacifier,” he answered, looking down at the strange bracelet with surprise. “It scans for anxious mental signatures and gives them the sensation of being gently swaddled. It can be automatic or directed. It’s primarily meant to soothe babies and calm accident victims.”
Crinkling his brow and biting back on the rest of the technical details bubbling up enthusiastically from the back of his mind, he looked at Mckay with barely suppressed panic. Instead of offering an explanation, she sent him a soothing smile tinged with envy. It didn’t help.
“It certainly didn’t feel gentle,” Dr. Riley hiccupped crossly from her seat.
“I hafta agree with the lass,” Dr. Beckett said with a glower.
“That’s because you’re both big babies,” Mckay rolled her eyes and then glanced around. “Hey Mr. Clean, Xena,” she pointed at Major McLean and Capt. King, who did look uncannily like their nicknames. “Go over there and let Sheppard swaddle you.”
“It’s Major McLean,” he growled, nevertheless stalking forward to stand by Sheppard after a quick look at O’Neill.
“Oh, congratulations on the promotion,” Mckay said absently as she turned to a computer and started a recording.
“Now swaddle them, Sheppard,” she ordered, turning back.
“You sure this is a good idea?” he asked nervously, also glancing over at the General.
O’Neill shrugged, “Probably not.”
“Yes. Now go on,” Mckay said insistently, shooting the General a glare.
“You sure there aren’t any more missiles primed to take off in here?” O’Neill asked archly.
Mckay folded her arms stubbornly. “Of course not. Can we proceed now?”
“Sure, knock yourselves out,” O’Neill said breezily.
“He doesn’t mean that literally,” she assured John. “It’ll be fine. Go ahead, Sheppard.”
Bracing himself for something crazy and horrible, John activated the pacifier and sent a wave of soothing energy towards McLean and King. A glowing field of energy spread out from the bracelet to encircle them. They both twitched, as if restraining themselves from fighting back.
After a moment of tense silence, King laughed.
“What?” Mckay demanded.
“It feels like getting a bear hug from my dad,” King smiled fondly. Looking over at her commanding officer, she arched a dark eyebrow in inquiry. “What about you, Sir?”
“I feel snuggled,” McLean answered, deadpan.
“I don’t know the utility of this, but why don’t we see how big the effect is,” O’Neill suggested. “Snuggle a few more people, Sheppard. Start with Mckay, see if it can make her at least speak slower.”
“Oh, now wait a minute,” Mckay said, backing up nervously. “I don’t like being touched.”
Smirking, John reached out and engulfed her in the glow. “Oh!” she jumped. Then her cheeks turned pink. A few seconds later, Mckay relaxed back into the field trustingly, her eyes going half-lidded. It made something in his stomach flip and John had to turn away before he did something embarrassing.
“I’m going to start using it on more people. If you don’t want to participate, move out of the room,” John said. Colonel Graff immediately left along with about half of his staff. John hadn’t realized he was still there. Dr. Beckett and Dr. Riley looked at each other nervously but stayed. Despite that, John decided to spare them by saving them for last.
“Not me,” General O’Neill passed. “I get enough of that stuff on my own time.”
Shrugging, John ‘swaddled’ Sgt. Kindall and Lt. Cohen, followed by three of the remaining spectators. The blue field became almost transparent on the last one. “I think eight people are the limit,” John said.
Mckay nodded. “Alright, you can end the test.” John heard a hint of wistfulness in her voice, but nothing else gave away the fact that she’d enjoyed it.
As soon as he mentally told the device to shut off, the blue field disappeared and the bracelet went dark. He put it back down on the desk with a tinge of reluctance. “How did I do that?” John asked.
Mckay met John’s eyes with excitement and finally answered. “You have the Ancient gene, Sheppard. This is perfect! You have to come and work for me.”
“Ah ah!” General O’Neill scolded. “He doesn’t have the clearance yet.”
“Then give it to him,” Mckay ordered impatiently. “I need his gene. Do you know how many discoveries I could be making if I didn’t have to fight with Carson to come over once a week? Plus, the IOA is about to green-light Atlantis. He could be a huge asset there.”
“If he wants to volunteer after hearing about it. He might not,” the General warned.
Mckay waved his objections away. “Of course he will. It’s Atlantis!”
Maybe John would and maybe he wouldn’t, but it was his choice to make once someone finally told him what was going on!
Before John could say something to that effect, Mckay cocked her head to the side and stepped towards O’Neill. “You are going to put me in charge of research on Atlantis, aren’t you? You know I deserve it and you owe me, Jack. No one is more qualified than I am. No one.”
“Don’t badger me, Mckay. I know your qualifications, but the ultimate decision isn’t up to me. The IOA has final say on the command staff for Atlantis,” O’Neill answered irritably. “Besides, we’re getting off point, which is that you guys almost blew me and my men up.”
“I thought we were done with that,” Mckay said with bewilderment. “I explained what happened. It was an accident. I’ll yell at everyone once you leave, put Riley on notice, and put more protocols into place to prevent this from ever happening again. Now, are you going to put forth my name or not? Come on, General, if nothing else, it will get me off the planet and out of your hair. That has to be an incentive for you.” Mckay smiled up at him winningly.
O’Neill looked at her incredulously for a moment, then he began to chuckle. “Fine. No promises, but yes, I am suggesting you for the position, Mckay. I got SG-1 to help suggest names for the command staff and they put you first on the list for sciences. The IOA is probably going to have a heart-attack, but I’m going to do my best to put the most qualified people in charge of our efforts in Pegasus.”
“Thank you,” Mckay said with complete sincerity.
Sheppard was still completely lost and rather annoyed. He really hoped someone explained this mission soon, starting with what special gene he had that let him interact with this strange technology and ending with whatever Atlantis and Pegasus were and why Rome wanted to go there. None of this made sense. He folded his arms frustratedly.
O’Neill looked over at the motion and inclined his head before turning back to Mckay. “I’ll get someone to read in Sheppard. I’m picking up my new aide-de-camp around here somewhere. There’s also supposed to be some contraband Heineken hiding in an office for me. I need the liquid courage before I present people like you to the IOA, even if I’ll be sober by the time I get there,” O’Neill drawled.
“Then why even bother drinking it?” Mckay asked. “If you’re looking for a warm memory, why choose a bathwater beer like Heineken? It’s the Budweiser of Europe. At least drink a Canadian Molson.”
The General pointed a finger at her, “I like Heineken. The memory of it will carry me through. But if you annoy me too much, Mckay, I might change my mind about nominating you.”
“Fine. For Atlantis, I’ll even drink one with you,” Mckay said fervently, though her mouth gave a moue of distaste. “But no limes! I’m allergic to citrus.”
O’Neill rolled his eyes. “No one puts limes in Heineken—that’s a Corona—and you’re not invited. Go berate your minions and write up the report. I need to deal with Graff and the rest of my people. Stay out of trouble and don’t try to kill anyone else, if at all possible.”
Turning to Sheppard, he jerked his head. “Major Sheppard, I want you to stick with SG-15 until I find someone to print off the non-disclosure forms and brief you. Major McLean, keep him out of trouble.”
“Yes, Sir,” they both answered, falling in at his heels to exit the room.
“Or he could stay here and do some more work for a while,” Mckay craned her neck after O’Neill to wheedle.
John would be more sympathetic if he knew for sure whether her interest stemmed from seeing him again or just using his mysterious genes for her research. He refused to let her steamroll him into anything until he read the fine print. Not to mention the fact that she’d almost killed him just a few minutes before. Heaven knew he cared for the woman, but sometimes, she drove him nuts.
“Nope,” O’Neill said, not even bothering to look back as he strode from the room.
Sighing, Mckay met John’s eyes. “We’ll have to catch up later. Deal?”
“Sure,” he couldn’t help but smile at her, despite his irritation. “Catch you later, Rome.” The tips of her ears turned pink at the nickname. Pleased, John turned to follow Mclean from the room.
“You coming?” King asked, drawing attention to the fact that Sgt. Kindall had lingered in the lab.
“In a minute. I have to ask Mckay something,” Kindall answered vaguely. The rest of his squad looked at him askance.
“You found some more stuff?” Mckay whispered loudly as she looked left and right to see who was still around. Kindall winced at her lack of subtlety. If he was peddling black market goods, he could get in real trouble if caught.
It made John hope they weren’t talking about some kind of illegal drugs or stimulants. Mckay didn’t seem the type, but then again, he hadn’t seen her for a couple of years. Hopefully it was just something innocuous that happened to be banned on base.
Tucking a lock of blond hair behind her ears, Mckay beckoned the Sargent towards a private office in the back. “We can talk in here for a minute, Kindall.”
“That alright, Sir?” Kindall asked McLean.
Shaking his head disbelievingly, McLean nevertheless waved him off and left the room with the rest of the squad.
“You ever notice that he’s the only one who gets his name said right?” King asked suspiciously. “I wonder what’s going on there.”
McLean shrugged. “Kindall’s too tight-lipped to share. However,” he glanced back at John, “what about you, Sheppard? What’s your connection to Dr. Mckay?”
“We’ve run into each other a few times,” John answered vaguely, looking away. Then couldn’t help but add softly, “All roads lead to Rome.”
“You know her well enough to give her a nickname, it seems like,” King prodded.
Looking around at their faces, Cohen asked, “Just what is Dr. Mckay’s full name then? My first experience left me rather confused.”
Feeling a spurt of devilment, John decided to answer. “Professionally she goes by Dr. R.M. Mckay. A few close friends call her Meredith. However, her full name is Rodney Meredith Mckay.”
McLean snorted. “Wait, her first name is Rodney? That’s a boy’s name.” His lips twisted with amusement.
John smirked. “Yep, she hates it. That’s why she goes by Meredith.”
“Then why do you call her Rome?” Cohen asked curiously, her dark ponytail swaying as she tilted her head to the side.
John rubbed his face to hide whatever expression his mouth was making as his mind sifted through the memories. Despite himself, he found himself briefly answering the earnest young lieutenant’s question. “It’s just a nickname I came up with to tease her. ‘Ro’ from Rodney and ‘Me’ from Meredith gets you ROME.” He shrugged self-consciously, not interested in explaining more to strangers.
Before he was forced to endure more questions, Kindall caught back up to them with a slightly overwhelmed-looking Air Force Captain in tow. Captain Truesdale turned out to be the general’s new aide-de-camp. She immediately started in on logistics and thankfully ended the personal conversation.
Once Sheppard signed the non-disclosure forms, all thoughts of Mckay disappeared. He spent the rest of the day lost in files explaining about Stargates, aliens, Ancient genes, and spaceships. John really liked the spaceships.
Science fiction was real!
Dr. Rodney Meredith Mckay (Kate Winslet)
John Sheppard (Joe Flanigan)
Dr. Elizabeth Weir (Torri Higginson)
Col. Marsha Sumner (Wendy Davis)
Gen. Jack O’Neill (Richard Dean Anderson)
Sgt. James Kindall (Eric Bana)
Major Alex McLean (Vin Diesel)
Captain Robin King (Lucy Lawless)
Dr. Rigoberto Diaz (Antonio Sabato Jr.)
Lt. Roni Cohen (Gal Gadot)
Dr. Troy Forrester (Jude Law)
Patrick Sheppard (Brian McNamara)