- Action Adventure
- Alternate Universe
- Episode Related
Chapter One, Part Two
John knew a considerable amount of time had passed when he finally awoke, although he remembered fragments of overwhelming pain interspaced with darkness. His skin was on fire again, and the sounds and scents of the hospital he was clearly in were almost unbearable. He shifted a little, and a stab of pain shot through him making him whimper like a puppy. He bit hard on his lip to prevent himself from doing it again.
‘You’re awake, then?’ a female voice asked, and John couldn’t help wincing from the sound.
‘Can you keep the volume down a little?’ he asked plaintively. ‘Maybe dim the lights a little too?’
‘Why?’ the voice demanded, still at volume. ‘Do you have a migraine? Is that what’s making you sensitive to light? I can give you something for that.’
‘I’ve just come on-line as a Sentinel, and I don’t have control of my senses yet,’ he explained for what felt like the hundredth time.
‘You can’t be a Sentinel,’ she told him. ‘I’ve seen your blood tests. You don’t have the gene.’
John sighed. He was getting seriously tired of the same argument. ‘What happened to my team? There were ten of us altogether. Where are they? Where am I for that matter? This doesn’t smell like Afghanistan.’
She gave him an odd look. ‘You’re in the Bethesda Naval Hospital. Is that where you’ve been? Afghanistan?’
‘Christ preserve us!’ he muttered to himself, then, a little louder: ‘What’s the date?’
’22nd of March. Why? What did you think the date was?’
‘We were rescued on the 16th. I’ve lost a week somehow.’
‘Rescued?’ she asked curiously. ‘Were you being held somewhere?’
John had had enough of the questions. He needed answers. ‘Where are my men? Failing that, I need to speak to a doctor.’
She said nothing but her lips pursed in a way John knew he’d regret if she ever gave him a bed bath. He tried to struggle into a seated position, wincing as he did so but managed to prevent himself from making a sound. She offered no help, even though she must know about his injuries.
By the time he was sitting upright he was sweating; yet another thing his skin didn’t like. He did feel more in control, however, and was able to meet her eyes from an almost level height.
This time the command voice worked, and she scuttled out of the room at speed while John relaxed against the pillows and tried to catalogue his injuries. Burning skin? Check. Bullet hole in left arm? Check. Light sensitive eyes? Check. Over sensitive nose? Phew, check. Hole in right thigh? Check. In desperate need of a bath or shower? Check, but not by Nurse Ratched. That appeared to be it at first glance, but he intended to leave the book open for the moment.
The door opened, and an older man in a white coat entered and exclaimed at the brightness in the room.
‘Why on earth didn’t you ask to have the lights dimmed, Colonel Sheppard? It must be unbearable for you.’
John gave him a relieved smile but refrained from complaining. ‘It is a little bright. I’d appreciate it if you could dim them a little.’
The doctor frowned at him. ‘You can do it yourself from your bed controls. Did no one show you?’
‘I might have misunderstood what they said,’ John hedged.
A quirk of his lips told John his visitor had read between the lines. ‘Then let me show you, again. I’m Dr John Francis, by the way. I understand you and your team had a few problems on your last posting?’
John listened to the quick explanation of the controller and smiled at Dr Francis. ‘We share a forename, then, Dr Francis, and yes, we did run into a spot of bother. Do you know where my team is, and how they all are? My Gunnery Sergeant had a broken arm.’
‘They’re all fine if a little malnourished and infested with parasites, as are you, although we’ve got rid of all your little friends. How long were you held for?’
‘Ten weeks or so. Is Laura, Captain Cadman, is she…alright?’ John met the medic’s eyes hoping he wouldn’t need to elaborate.
‘She’s fine, and no, nothing like that happened. She explained that the threat to her was what brought you fully online. Is that right?’
‘Fully on-line? What do you mean?’
‘Captain Cadman said she thought your senses had been gradually heightening throughout your captivity. Major Daniels agreed. He said towards the end you were hearing and smelling things no one else had an inkling about. I suspect your body was triggered into coming on-line by the whole episode although we are curious as to why none of your blood tests show an active Sentinel genome.’
‘There’s no history in my family of Sentinels or Guides.’
The doctor’s face twisted and he tilted his head to one side. ‘Few families know much about their history beyond a couple of generations back. The information has probably just been lost.’
John gave him a wry smile. ‘My family know our history right back to when our ancestors landed in Virginia in the mid-1600s, Doc. Believe me. We have no history of Sentinels or Guides.’
Francis’ eyes widened. ‘You’re one of those Sheppards, then. I did wonder. Your father has been pretty much camping out in the hospital since you were first admitted. It explains why no one tried to have him ejected.’
John now felt a flush rising on his cheeks and shook his head in resignation. ‘I’m sorry if he’s made a nuisance of himself. He gets a little…overprotective. Has he tried to buy the hospital yet?’
‘Twice, I believe. The Secretary of the Navy told him it wasn’t for sale.’
John laughed. ‘It probably won’t stop him. Doc, where are my team? I’d really like to see them if possible and see for myself that they’re all okay.’
‘Oh, didn’t I say?’ The air of nonchalance was spoiled by the smirk on the medic’s face. ‘They’re all camping with your father.’
‘Are you sure you’ve got everything you need, sir?’ Major Daniels asked again. ‘I’m happy to stay on hand if you want me to.’
‘Geoff, your parents are probably worried sick about you, to say nothing of Cathryn. I’d rather not have to explain to her why I’m keeping you by my side instead of hers. Leave! And that goes for all of you. Go home. Put some weight on and have a proper rest. Spend a few hours in a hot bath. We’re all on stand-down for a month at least. Make the most of it. I’ll probably see you all at this shindig President Hayes wants to throw, anyway. Unless I can persuade him to call it off, that is.’
‘There’s little chance of that, sir,’ Glen told him. ‘We’re all to become poster boys for the Corps.’ He grunted as Cadman poked him in the arm. ‘Poster boys and girls.’
They all laughed, a much more natural laugh from the forced laughter in the cave just three weeks ago. The time they’d spent together after John gained consciousness – in between his trips to the OR to have his leg wound seen to – had helped them all make the adjustment from captives to being safe and, more importantly, home. It had taken a little while before they could bear to be apart from each other for too long, one reason Patrick had taken the team under his wing when John was unconscious, and, happily for all of them, why the team was willing to accept John’s father while John himself was unavailable. Bethesda Hospital had, eventually, accepted they’d made mistakes with the whole team and Nurse Ratched had disappeared from sight. John had also been moved to a Sentinel friendly room with space for the entire team to congregate while they each came down from their combat-high states of alertness.
Right now, John ran his eyes over the group crowded together in his room as they each prepared to disperse. He understood the desire to stay together. Spending ten weeks in the direst of conditions formed a bond like no other.
‘”The friend in my adversity I shall always cherish most”,’ he quoted softly.
‘What’s that, sir?’ Gunny Weston asked.
‘Something Ulysses S Grant once said. I tried to remember it when we were in the cave but…Anyway, I’ve remembered it now. Grant said “The friend in my adversity I shall always cherish most”.’
There was silence while the members of his team considered this.
‘I wasn’t sure we were ever going to be rescued,’ Geoff Daniels admitted in a quiet voice. ‘I was at first, but as time went on…I thought we all might die in those caves.’
‘Me too.’ Glen nodded and kept his eyes on the floor. ‘If I’d been on my own, I think I would’ve given in. It was us being together that gave me the will to carry on and to live in spite of them.’
‘I thought we’d been forgotten about,’ Kevin said quietly. ‘You hear a lot about ‘never leave a man behind’ but…it felt as though we had been.’
‘Especially as we had to rescue ourselves in the end,’ Pete Rogers added.
‘You hadn’t been forgotten,’ Patrick Sheppard said softly, looking around at them. ‘I wasn’t the only relative playing merry hell with the Commandant, with all the Chiefs of Staff. Laura’s father is a Senator, and he and I caused a lot of waves to make sure you weren’t just forgotten about. The other relatives wrote a lot of letters and articles for newspapers, as well as lobbying their own Senators and Representatives. You would have been found.’
‘Did we ever find out who exactly captured and held us?’ Laura asked.
Patrick nodded. ‘A group associated only peripherally with the Taliban. They mainly operate out of Pakistan but had moved into the mountains after an increase in patrols such as yours. Your team was a lucky capture for them, and they didn’t really know what to do with you, but by capturing and holding you for so long, they hoped their influence within the whole Terrorist network would be raised. In a nutshell, you were a means to them gaining power and prestige.’
‘How do you know all this, Dad?’ John asked.
Patrick shrugged. ‘I have a couple of contacts in government. I asked the right people the right questions.’
You threatened them until they told you just to get you off their backs, John translated in his head.
‘It’s a bit galling to find we were being tortured just so someone could gain a better seat at a table,’ Mike Smith commented. ‘Everything we went through, the scars we’ll all carry for the rest of lives…None of it mattered at all.’
‘Never think that son,’ Patrick told him firmly. ‘Of course, it mattered. The US has gained valuable intel because of the man you captured, and the caves themselves yielded a great deal more evidence. We may never find out exactly what was discovered, but the ten of you were the means to a great deal of information which can be used to save the lives of other people, other soldiers in particular. I understand there might even be clues as to where Osama bin Laden is, as well.’
John nodded. ‘And we came through it,’ he told his team equally firmly. ‘With a few bumps and bruises and probably a few nightmares to come, but we all survived, and we all came home. Never forget that, any of you.’ He looked around the room again, meeting the eyes of each of his people, his friends in adversity. ‘We’ve experienced something that will colour the rest of our lives, and we did it together. I’ve never been so proud of you all, of being a member of the Marine Corps as I am now. Thank you, all of you.’ He paused for a moment to let his words sink in and cleared his throat from the sudden lump. ‘Now piss off, the lot of you. I want to go home with my Daddy.’
It surely wasn’t just his imagination that the shoulders of his nine team members appeared a little straighter, their heads held a little higher as they saluted him and waved goodbye, Cadman planting a soft kiss to his forehead.
John patted her arm and swept his gaze around the room. ‘I’m not saluting anyone while I’m in my jammies. Go home, people. I’ll see you all soon enough.’
The room quickly emptied apart from John and his father, and John felt able to relax against his pillows.
‘We are going home, aren’t we, Dad?’ Doc Francis said I could be discharged.’
‘And we are going home, just as soon as I get your gear together. I’ve asked for the helicopter to come and pick us up as I wasn’t sure you’d be up to the drive home with your leg still giving you problems.’
John gave a wry smile. ‘It is getting better now, though. They wouldn’t discharge me if it weren’t. I will admit to looking forward to getting home and sleeping in my own bed as soon as possible.’
Patrick laughed. ‘Your own bed never feels quite as good as when you’ve been away from it for a while, does it?’
‘True, but to be fair, any bed was a relief after weeks of a rough floor and chains on my arms and legs. They always dug in no matter how we lay. I will be glad to be in my own home, though. The smell of the hospital is awful, even in this wing.’
‘Still not got your senses under control?’
‘Not really. The DC Sentinel and Guide Centre wanted to admit me, but I refused. Maybe later. I was surprised they didn’t insist a lot more, to be honest.’ He noticed Patrick’s eyes wouldn’t quite meet his. ‘Dad? What did you do?’
Patrick huffed. ‘They were on the phone almost every hour, wanting to take control of your treatment, and have you moved over to the Centre. What they were really interested in, though, was why you aren’t displaying the genome for a Sentinel. They’ve tried to get hold of David and me to test us, as well.’
John gave a sharp laugh. ‘I’m guessing you told them no?’
‘I told them to kiss my ass if you must know.’
John gave a heavy sigh. ‘That probably made them more determined. How did you get them off our backs?’
‘Henry Hayes might have made a couple of calls, but I think it was the call from Jim Ellison which really pushed them off.’
‘Jim Ellison? The Alpha Sentinel Prime of North America? I didn’t know you knew him. How do you know him?’
‘His…ward, I guess is the best word, is my R&D director.’
‘Ward? How old is he? I thought only children were wards.’
‘Rodney was his ward when he was 14. He’d just started at Northwestern and was all on his own as well as being a high-level Guide. Jim and Blair took him under their wing, and Jim arranged to get legal custody of him in case there were ever any issues. Rodney has a few severe allergies his parents had refused to take seriously and, at the time, live in mortal peril of others eating around him in particular.’
‘You’re fond of him, aren’t you?’ John asked softly.
Patrick gave an embarrassed laugh. ‘I am, yes. So is David. He can be an arrogant bastard, but he does grow on you.’
‘How old is he now if he’s in charge of your R&D?’
‘Just 34.’ Patrick was watching John closely.
’34? And he runs the whole Research and Development division?’
‘He’s a brilliant man, John. Probably the most intelligent man of his generation.’
‘How did he come to work for you? I would have thought the military would snap him up if he’s so clever. They usually do.’
‘He was working for them, but they fucked him over. Tried to banish him to Russia for something or other. The whole project he was working on is highly classified, and he won’t say a word about it.’ Patrick shrugged. ‘Their loss was most definitely our gain, though. He brought a colleague of his along with him who they’d also tried to send to Russia.’
‘Why Russia? What joint projects does the US have with Russia?’
‘Highly classified ones from what little Rodney has said, but they were stupid enough to try and force him and Radek to go, which broke the terms of their contracts, so they both walked.’
‘Radek? Unusual name.’
‘Eastern European. He was born in Czechoslovakia.’ At John’s look of astonishment, Patrick nodded. ‘Yes, they tried to send a man who’d escaped from a Communist bloc country in the 1980s to go and work in Russia. It beggars belief.’
‘I hope whoever screwed the pooch on that got reprimanded for it.’
Patrick shrugged his shoulders again. ‘We’ll probably never know.’ His cell phone chimed, and he pulled it from his pocket. ‘The pilot’s arrived with the chopper. You ready to go?’
‘Go? I’m not dressed.’
‘And you won’t be getting dressed. The wound on your leg isn’t to be covered by anything tight. Your immediate future consists of sweatpants and pyjamas. The hole in your arm will also require care. The nurse should have left a sling somewhere.’ Patrick hunted around in John’s bag while John glared at him.
‘I’m not wearing a sling.’
‘Then you’re not coming home. It’s as simple as that. I promised I’d take care of you. If you don’t let me, you’ll have to stay here.’
The pair of them glared at each other, but experience told John he was doomed to wear sweatpants, pyjamas and a sling until his father said otherwise.
‘I hate you sometimes.’
‘And I hate you, son. Now–‘
John tilted his head to one side and scowled at his father. ‘I can hear a wheelchair coming. I’m not using it.’
‘Then you stay here.’ Patrick folded his arms and waited until John’s shoulders sagged.
‘I still hate you.’
John hadn’t been conscious for any of the flights from Afghanistan to Landstuhl, Germany, and then eventually on to DC and rather wished he was unconscious for this flight, especially in the confines of a helicopter. The sound of the engine and blades was almost unbearable, but the smell of aviation gasoline was worse, and he wondered if he’d ever be able to pilot a helicopter again. Patrick gave him a few concerned looks while John tried desperately to imagine the clock faces Cadman had suggested and move each of them to one. In the end, his father pulled him up against his chest in a manner John hadn’t experienced since he was a small child cuddling his daddy.
‘I should have accepted the offer of a nurse,’ Patrick said guiltily. ‘And travelling by road might have been longer, but it would have been better than this.’
‘It would have taken almost two hours depending on traffic,’ John managed to say. ‘This is painful but will be over very soon.’
Patrick nodded doubtfully and hugged his son tightly, being careful to avoid the injured arm and leg.
The helicopter landed on the special pad beyond the garages and the opposite side of the house to the stables where one of the large station wagons was waiting, its cargo area filled with pillows to soften the short journey for John. David was waiting with another man John didn’t recognise but who became the focus of his attention as soon as he was carried very carefully from the helicopter. The stranger also paused and looked directly at him.
‘John?’ Patrick asked quietly. ‘What’s wrong? Why are you staring at Rodney?’
‘Who?’ John croaked, his eyes not leaving the other man’s face.
‘Rodney. Dr Rodney McKay, my R&D director. Do you know him?’
‘Know him? No. But I will. I think he’s my…Guide. He’s my Guide.’
Rodney stepped towards him and held out his hand, then withdrew it sharply. ‘No. We mustn’t touch. Not yet.’
‘Why?’ John demanded, holding out his own hand.
‘Because once we do, I’m not sure I’ll be able to let go, Sentinel.’
John’s mind was filled with blue, but he managed to nod at the well-known word he never thought would be applied to him. Blue, so much blue. Almost without being aware, he heard himself give the only reply he could. ‘Guide. My Guide.’