- Character Bashing
- Action Adventure
- Alternate Universe
- Episode Related
John stretched languidly, glad the pain in his thigh and arm no longer made him want to cry. Being a Sentinel with a high-level Guide was the best as Rodney was able to help him get his pain under control just by using his mind.
The figure curled up against him buried in blankets stirred. ‘Stop thinking so hard. You woke me up.’
John grinned and lifted the blanket to look at his Guide. Rodney screwed up his eyes against the light.
‘If I’d known you liked sleeping with the curtains and windows open I would never have bonded with you.’
‘I don’t usually. I guess it’s just reaction after two months chained up in a cave. And, yes, you would have still bonded with me. And you know it. And I know you know it. ‘
Rodney muttered under his breath, but John’s new senses meant he heard every word, and he rolled over on top of his Guide and began nibbling at his neck.
‘No, you don’t hate me, and I’m about to prove it.’
‘If you put it like that…’
They were late for breakfast and Patrick peered at them over his morning newspaper.
‘Should you really be up and about on that leg yet, John? It’s barely two weeks since you were discharged from hospital and they said you’d need extensive therapy.’
‘They didn’t take into account my bonding with Rodney. He’s helped with both the pain and my healing.’
Patrick frowned. ‘I wasn’t aware Guides were able to heal someone physically.’
‘We can’t,’ Rodney told him, lifting the lids of the warming dishes on the side table to see what was there. ‘But high-level Guides can…stimulate the healing abilities of our own Sentinel’s body. That’s not an accurate description, but I’m not sure how to word it exactly. Blair could probably give you a better explanation.’
‘They’re arriving later today, aren’t they?’ John asked, cutting his toast into soldiers for his boiled eggs.
‘Yes, I sent the plane for them,’ Patrick told him, folding up the newspaper. ‘I know Jim has problems with scheduled flights.’
‘I think all Sentinels and Guides do,’ Rodney replied as he returned to his seat with a plate loaded with bacon, sausages, and pancakes. ‘Pass the maple syrup, please.’
John tilted his head on one side as he passed the – Canadian – syrup to his Guide. ‘I can understand why Guides would have issues with scheduled flight, the empathic bleed off from a mass of humanity crammed into a flying tin-can would be enormous, but why would a private plane be so different from a normal plane for a Sentinel? There are similar noise levels and scents on each of them, more or less.’
‘Private planes tend to have less vibration than large passenger planes,’ Rodney explained in between mouthfuls. ‘The fear factor of mundanes is also an issue. Everyone— almost everyone – has some trepidation about flying.’ He glanced at his Sentinel, and John knew him well enough by now to know he was about to be teased. ‘Except pilots, of course. I swear the part of their brain which deals with fear is removed during flight school.’
John grinned at him and dunked a soldier into his egg while Rodney shook his head at his actions.
‘And while empathy is strong in Guides,’ he continued, ‘most Sentinels have a degree of it, and it can make them extremely uncomfortable in a situation they can do little about. That’s why Jim is so affected by flying – the fear of mundanes is an issue he can’t resolve, and it’s pretty distressing for him. He only flies when he has to these days.’
‘He doesn’t have to come to visit us,’ John pointed out.
Rodney sighed. ‘They’re coming because of me, John. Jim and Blair are the only family I have, and they want to…check you out, is probably the best way of explaining it. I’m part of Jim’s Pride and, even when we form our own Pride, he’ll always see me as such.’
‘Whoa!’ John exclaimed. ‘Form our own Pride? Why would we want to do that?’
‘John,’ Rodney sighed again. ‘I realise what little you know about Sentinels and Guides comes from TV and movies, but surely you know that a bonded Alpha Sentinel Prime will form a Pride around himself and his Guide.’
John narrowed his eyes. ‘Cadman taught me what she could, but she didn’t mention anything about Prides, and I’m not an Alpha Prime.’
‘Yeah, you are.’
Rodney frowned at him. I told you I was an Alpha Prime Guide.’
‘But not that I was an Alpha Prime as well.’
‘I could only bond with you because you’re an Alpha Prime, John. Didn’t you understand that?’
‘I guess not.’ John ran his fingers through his hair. He must remember to have it properly cut. His father had done his best in the hospital, but it was far too long for him when he went back on duty. Back on duty…
‘Rodney, what will happen to us when I go back to my team?’
His Guide’s lips thinned. ‘I was rather hoping to avoid this conversation for a while,’ he muttered.
‘John,’ his father interrupted, carefully. ‘I think this is a conversation you and Rodney need to have in private. I’m going into the office this morning so you can use my study if you want. Nancy won’t disturb you in there.’
John nodded, his eyes never leaving Rodney’s face. ‘Thanks, Dad.’ He paused, trying to choose his words carefully. ‘Shall we finish our breakfast before having our first argument, hmm?’
Rodney nodded and started in on his almost full plate while John quickly ate his eggs. Toasted soldiers didn’t have the same appeal as they had earlier.
Nancy, the Sheppard family housekeeper and mainstay who’d known John since he was born, left a jug of fresh coffee and a plate of cake on the table and quietly closed the door leaving the two men alone.
‘Do you want to start?’ John asked, pouring cups of coffee for them both, mostly as something to do with his hands.
Grabbing the cup and wrapping his hands around it, Rodney nodded and took a deep breath.
‘I know this has all come as a tremendous shock to you, but you have to realise your life is going to be very different now you’re bonded.’
‘I do, but I didn’t think I’d have to give up my job,’ John returned.
‘Do you want me to give up my job? What would I do with myself when you went off on two or three-day patrols? Or if you had to suddenly fly off to somewhere I wasn’t allowed to go?’
‘I…I hadn’t considered that.’
Rodney leaned forwards and touched the back of John’s hand. ‘We’re a couple now, and we need each other. I can’t help you utilise your senses if I’m a thousand miles away. And I’m not trained for combat in any case.’
Placing his cup down on the table, John took Rodney’s hand between his own. ‘I’m sorry, I hadn’t thought about what was going to change. I think I assumed I’d carry on leading my team and you would…join us, I guess.’
‘John, you all trained for years to get to where you are. Even Kevin Wright has undergone a massive amount of training to get to become a Recon Marine, and he’s only just 20. He’s the youngest to qualify, you know.’
‘I do know. I’m very proud of him, especially considering what we all went through recently.’
‘I couldn’t join you even if I wanted to,’ Rodney continued. ‘My skill set is entirely different. There are several options for us, however, and that’s partly why Jim and Blair are coming to visit. Jim intends to have a conversation with you about the opportunities you – we – have.’
‘I…I just don’t think I can sit behind a desk,’ John admitted.
Rodney’s eyebrows disappeared into his hairline. ‘I wouldn’t ask you to. Your skills can be much better utilised than that.’
‘Jim was a policeman, wasn’t he?’
‘A detective. He joined the police after he retired from the Army. Blair was FBI before they bonded so was able to transfer over.’
‘I can see how his skills could be useful for that, and I can see how my skills could be useful in leading my team, but…’ He sighed. ‘I’d need you to use them properly and, as you say, you’re not a Recon Marine.’ He paused and stood up to look out of the window towards the creek running behind the house. ‘We could do with jobs where you can be a scientist, and I can be a Marine, but I doubt that’s possible. What if I joined the crew of a ship?’
Rodney gave him an odd look, then shook his head. ‘Can you imagine me on a ship full of morons?’
John laughed. If the last two weeks had taught him anything about his Guide – apart from being fantastic in bed – it was that he didn’t suffer fools at all and pretty much hated humanity. ‘I just thought you could do sciency things and I could…shoot people.’
‘The shooting people sounds fun, but ‘sciency things’?’ Rodney made quotation marks with his fingers. ‘I thought you were supposed to be intelligent? I need to check your Master’s diploma and make sure you didn’t get it online if you’re using phrases like ‘sciency things’.’
John huffed. ‘You know I didn’t.’ He glared at his partner for a minute. ‘Do you have a better suggestion?’
Rodney opened his mouth to reply when there was a knock at the study door.
‘Come in,’ John called.
Nancy entered with a letter in her hand. ‘Letter for you, Master John.’
A splutter from Rodney, who was laughing behind his hands, earned him a gentle slap upside the head.
‘I’m a grown man and a badass to boot, Nancy. Can’t you just make it ‘John’ now?’
She gave him a level look. ‘I don’t care for that kind of language as you’re well aware. You’re not too old to have your mouth washed out with soap, Master John. When you start acting like a grown man, I’ll think about it. Now open your letter and finish your coffee and cake. Don’t think I didn’t see the amount of breakfast you ate either. I’ll get some meat on your bones if it’s the last thing I do.’ She gave him a sharp glare as she turned on her heel and marched out of the room.
‘I’d love to put her in front of a bunch of recruits,’ John told Rodney. ‘She could out drill even the best Drill Sergeant.’ He ripped open his letter and read it though, a frown appearing on his face, then read it through again.
Rodney watched him worriedly. ‘Problem?’
‘I…Yes, I think it might be.’ He handed the letter over to Rodney who read it through carefully, his eyebrows getting higher and higher. Eventually, he paused and looked up at John.
‘What do you want to do about it?’
‘Well, first of all, I’d like to know exactly who wrote this and why they’re telling me my Guide is a danger to me.’
‘I’m not a danger to you.’
John gave a short laugh. I know that, stoopid.’
‘What do you want to do about it?” Rodney asked again.
‘Nothing. It’s an anonymous letter. I’ll treat it exactly how it deserves to be treated.’ John made to tear up the letter, but Rodney grabbed it from him.
‘No. Let’s keep it.’
‘Because we might have to show it to someone at some point. This is harassment, technically, and if we do find out who’s behind it, we might need to have proof. Keep the envelope, as well.’
John shrugged again and passed it all over to Rodney. ‘You probably know best. This is all new to me.’
‘Do you think you need to sign up for a few classes at the Richmond S&G Centre?’
The grimace on John’s face gave him his answer. ‘Can’t you teach me what I need to know? Few people come online at my age, Cadman told me. I’d hate to be in a class full of teenagers.’
Rodney laughed. ‘I’d love to see it. It’d be hugely entertaining. I’ll talk to Jim, though, and see if he can suggest anything, but there’s a limit to what I can teach you as I know most about Guide gifts, obviously.’
John moved into his personal space and nuzzled his neck. ‘Are you laughing at me, Guide?’
Rodney tipped his head to one side to give him better access. ‘Never, Sentinel. At least, not too much.’ He yelped as John nipped him. ‘Ow! Guide abuse!’
They made out leisurely for a while until John lifted his head and tilted it to one side. ‘Car’s arrived. It’ll be Jim and Blair. Ready to introduce me to my new in-laws?’
Rodney escaped from John’s clutches and tried to tidy himself up in front of the mirror, tucking in his shirt which had, inexplicably, come loose.’
John watched him through half-closed eyes. ‘You look deliciously rumpled. Jim’s a Sentinel, though. He’s going to know what we’ve been doing.’
‘Perhaps, but I can at least make an effort. Can’t you tidy your hair a bit? It looks as though a nest of birds are living in it.’
‘Hey! Leave my hair alone. I know it needs cutting.’
Rodney frowned at that. ‘Why? I like being able to run my fingers through it.’
‘I’m a Lt Colonel in the Marine Corps. I’m expected to set an example. Plus I hate it tickling my neck when it’s this long. I might just give myself a number one cut tonight.’
Rodney yelped. ‘A buzz cut? No!’
John grinned at him. ‘I could shave it all off, you know.’
‘You’d better not. Not if you want to have sex with me again.’
‘I’m pretty sure withholding sex is only done by women; besides, you enjoy it as much as I do.’
The door opened at that point, and a grinning Jim Ellison followed his partner and Guide into the room. “Yes, Rodney. Withholding sex isn’t the way to begin a relationship; believe me.’
John leapt to his feet. ‘Sir! I didn’t…I…It’s a pleasure to meet you, sir.’ He managed to prevent himself from going to attention and saluting the man.
Jim grinned at him. ‘And you too, John, but please, don’t be so formal.’
‘I…No, sir.’ John reached out a hand to shake the one Jim was holding out but withdrew it when Blair pushed his partner away. ‘Dr Sandburg.’
‘Don’t you dare Dr Sandburg me, John Sheppard. And come here.’ Blair pulled John into a hug, going totally against the basic rules John had heard all his life about not touching a bonded Guide. ‘The rules don’t apply to family members.’
‘No, s— D— Blair.’ John took a deep breath and gave his guests a hesitant smile. ‘I know I’ve got a lot to learn. Rodney and I were just talking about it. And I’m sorry we didn’t come and pick you up. I’m not allowed to drive as yet.’
‘And Rodney is a terrible driver, yes we know.’
‘Hey!’ Rodney complained. ‘Standing right here.’
‘What?’ Blair demanded. ‘You know you’re a terrible driver.’
‘I am not.’
‘You are, Rodney,’ Jim returned. ‘I hate driving with you behind the wheel. Your mind’s always busy on something else.’
‘Noted,’ John commented, grinning at Rodney’s pout. ‘As soon as my leg and shoulder are properly recovered, you’re never driving me.’
‘Except up the wall,’ Blair added. He’s good at that.’
‘Still standing right here.’
By the time Patrick returned a couple of hours later, John felt as though he’d known Jim and Blair forever. Blair had a wicked sense of humour, John discovered and spoke with his hands as much as with his words. He wondered if that was where Rodney had picked it up from since his hands rarely stopped moving when he was speaking.
Patrick shook Jim’s hand but refrained from shaking Blair’s much as John had done. Blair grinned at John, almost as though he’d read John’s mind, and winked, making John flush.
‘How are your senses now you’re bonded, John?’ Jim asked after they’d all settled down again once introductions were made.
‘Much better, thank you, sir—Jim, but I am aware I need some formal training. Rodney and I were discussing it just before you arrived.’
‘That’s what it’s called these days, is it?’ Blair asked, smirking at him.
Both John and Rodney flushed while Patrick laughed.
‘It’s like having a pair of teenagers around the house again.’
Jim grinned at them. ‘Seriously, though, John. You probably could benefit from a few classes, especially as you’ve had no training at all. We’d prefer you didn’t take them at an S&G Centre, though.’
‘Really?’ John asked. ‘Why?’
‘Because we still don’t know exactly how you came online as you don’t have the Sentinel gene. People are going to be keen to ask you questions and even analyse your blood and I’d rather they didn’t do either. Not until we know what’s going on.’
John gave him a keen look. ‘It sounds as though you might have a couple of ideas.’
Jim hesitated and exchanged glances with Blair. ‘We have one thought, yes, but…neither of us are sure what to do about it.’
‘Should I be worried?’
‘No, not at all. And if we get any more information or thoughts, we’ll let you know. In the meantime, I’m happy to take you through the basics of being a Sentinel, if you’ll accept my help.’
John gave a sigh of relief. ‘I’ll accept your help with pleasure, sir. In person or over the internet if you prefer.’
‘We’re here for a couple of days thanks to your father’s generous invitation. Let’s see how we get on before we have to leave. We can make more plans then if we need to.’
At that moment Nancy came into the sitting room to announce lunch was ready, and they made their way through the front hall just as the front door burst open and David, John’s brother, arrived.
‘Excellent. You’ve not started eating yet. I thought I might be late.’
‘You need to wash your hands before you can sit down, Master David,’ Nancy told him sternly.
David gave a wry grin and headed to the bathroom.
Lunch was always a casual affair in the Sheppard household at weekends, and the group settled around a table in the large garden room overlooking the creek where one or two hardy souls had sailing boats out.
‘You have a beautiful home, Patrick,’ Jim told him, serving himself to potato salad. ‘And a fantastic view. Do you sail at all?’
Patrick nodded. ‘I do, but have to admit to being a fair weather sailor these days. It’s still a little cold for me. Do you sail? I’m sure David would be happy to take you out if you want.’
‘David’s happy to take Mr Ellison out to do what?’ Patrick’s eldest son demanded as he slipped into his seat.
‘I was asking if your father sailed, and, please, call me Jim. We’re practically in-laws.’
‘Thank you, Jim. I’d be happy to take you out if you wanted. We have a…’
The conversation slipped into sailing talk for a while before David dug his hand into his pocket and pulled out an envelope. ‘I almost forgot. Dad, we received the strangest letter at the office this morning.’ He passed it over to his father who took it and glanced at Jim and Blair.
‘Do you mind?’
‘Go ahead,’ Blair replied, waving a hand. ‘We can make ourselves scarce if you want?’
‘No, don’t leave,’ David told him. ‘It’s nothing private, just…curious.’
Patrick scanned the short letter, a look of disgust passing over his face. ‘Throw it in the bin, David. I’ve no time for anonymous letters. If someone wants to tell me something they need to—’ He broke off as he saw the expressions on John and Rodney’s faces. ‘John? Rodney?’
Rodney dug into his jeans pocket, pulled out a crumpled letter and envelope, and handed it over. ‘Is it something along these lines?’
Patrick took it from him and exchanged it for his letter which Rodney promptly shared with John.
‘Looks like the same person even though it’s been written on a computer.’
”Dear Mr Sheppard, Were you aware that Radek Zelenka is a spy for a European country? Rodney McKay is also a spy for Canada and is a danger to everyone around him.” Rodney read aloud. ‘Pretty much along the lines of the one John received.
”Dear Lieutenant Colonel Sheppard, You need to be careful about having Rodney McKay as your guide as he’s a danger to everyone,” Patrick read to the others. ‘No signature and no details about why Rodney might be a danger.’
‘I wanted to rip it up, but Rodney stopped me,’ John said, glancing at his Guide. ‘Said we might need to produce it at some point.’
‘I agree,’ Jim nodded. ‘Ignore them, but put them somewhere safe. If they continue, notify the police.’
‘Why would someone warn you about Rodney and Radek, though?’ Blair asked. ‘And the thought that Radek is a spy is laughable.’
‘Do you know him?’ John asked curiously. ‘I’ve not met him yet, but I know he and Rodney go back a long way.’
‘Rodney helped him escape to the west from Czechoslovakia in 1988,’ Blair explained. ‘He came to stay with us while he sorted out his papers and a job at Northwestern. Of course, none of us knew the Berlin Wall would come down the following year, but Radek hasn’t been back there since he left.’
‘He’s still afraid to,’ Rodney added. ‘Won’t set foot inside any former European communist countries, and I can’t say I blame him.’
‘Dad explained how the people Rodney and Radek used to work for tried to make him go to Russia,’ John said, loading his fork with ham and coleslaw.
Jim and Blair exchanged glances. ‘Do you—’ Blair began in a low voice John doubted the others would hear before Jim shook his head and scowled at his Guide.
‘Later,’ he muttered.
John didn’t say anything, but he knew Jim was aware he’d heard their exchange, and he filed the information away to examine at a later time.
Once lunch was over John was ordered off for a nap by pretty much everyone there and Jim announced he’d take the opportunity to have a brief chat with him about what John needed to learn. Rodney scowled at both Jim and John, and John guessed he’d hear all about it later.
As soon as the door to his bedroom was shut, John turned to Jim. ‘What was that about? At the table? Do you know who sent the letters?’
‘Whoa, slow down, sport.’ Jim held up his hands to John. ‘If you get settled on your bed, I’ll tell you what I can, but I’d rather you kept it to yourself.’
‘I won’t keep secrets from Rodney. It’s a terrible way to begin a relationship.’
‘I don’t disagree.’ Jim told him. ‘I didn’t really mean him, though. It can’t go any further than Rodney. I’m dead serious about that.’
John surveyed him for a moment then nodded. ‘Okay. Shoot.’
‘If you lie down.’
John huffed but settled himself on his bed – his and Rodney’s bed, he told himself. Actually, he hadn’t realised how tired he was, and how much both his leg and shoulder hurt. Must remember to get Rodney to do his thing again.
‘Has Rodney told you anything about what he did before he came to work for your father?’
‘Not really. He said he couldn’t say anything to me about it and not to ask questions. I could tell he was serious. Do you know?’
Jim nodded. ‘Blair and I were read into the programme because of our position as joint heads of the National S&G Council. I can’t go into specific details, obviously, but I can tell you both Rodney and Radek worked in a top, top secret programme as USAF contractors. Someone in the programme went beyond their remit and tried to send each of them to work in a similar Russian programme. In the end…that person went instead of Rodney or Radek, and Blair and I heard they came back to the US about a month ago. It’s odd timing that the letters should arrive not long after they came back.’
John frowned. ‘But Rodney and I only bonded a couple of weeks ago. A letter couldn’t have been sent before then.’
‘Mmm. But the letter to your father could have been sent anytime during the last two years. Why was it sent now?’
‘You think this person returning to the US and the letters are connected?’
John remained silent for a couple of minutes to think it over. ‘Is Rodney in any danger?’
Jim hesitated. ‘I…don’t think so. For a start, anyone trying to hurt him would have to come through you, and they’d know it. I can shake a few trees and see what falls out, though. Do you think your father would mind us staying for a few days longer than we’d originally intended? We can easily go to a hotel.’
‘Dad wouldn’t let you and nor would I. If you wanted a little more privacy you could move out to the guest bungalow.’
‘No, no. We’ll be fine in the main house. We wouldn’t want to get under anyone’s feet, though.’
John laughed. ‘Jim, we have ten bedrooms here in the house. Half of them haven’t been used since my mom passed away in 1982. Dad always liked having company, and besides, you’re Rodney’s family, and Dad adores Rodney. More than David and I, I think.’
Jim laughed. ‘Then I’ll have a word with your father and make a couple of phone calls. Go to sleep now, John. You look shattered.’
‘I am a little tired, but I’d nap far better if Rodney were here.’
Jim eyed him narrowly. ‘If napping’s all you intend on doing.’
‘It is, I promise you. Rodney’s been able to ease my pain and…advance my healing as well, I think. I don’t have a clue how that works since I’ve never heard of it before.’
‘It’s something only Shamans can do. Blair learned it from an old friend of mine in Peru and passed on his skills to Rodney after he left the— left his former place of work.’
‘Rodney’s a Shaman?’ John asked in surprise.
‘Didn’t he tell you?’
John shook his head. ‘We’ve not talked an awful lot about his skills. I only found out today I was an Alpha Sentinel Prime.’
‘Alpha Prime. Sentinel Prime is a Transformer.’ Jim raised an eyebrow and smirked at John.
‘See? I don’t even know the right phraseology.’
‘Don’t stress about it. I can teach you a lot in a few days as we’re staying longer than planned. If your father agrees.’
‘He will.’ John yawned and flushed. ‘I’m sorry. That was rude.’
Jim laughed. ‘No it wasn’t. Have a nap, and we can chat later. I’ll send Rodney up in a few minutes, but just remember I’ll hear if you get up to anything you shouldn’t.’
‘Spoilsport,’ John muttered around another yawn.
Jim grinned at him and crept towards the door. John didn’t even hear him leave.
Jim and Blair made arrangements to stay for the whole of the following week and were happy to be able to stay in Virginia for longer than a couple of days as it gave them some time to look around. It was a much gentler landscape than they were used to, at least on the coast where the Sheppard family home was situated, just across the border from Maryland.
As promised, on the Monday after they arrived, Jim made a few phone calls to his friend Robin Cave who promised to find out where Carter was now based.
I’m pretty sure Jack O’Neill refused to have her back at the SGC, he told Jim. And I’m not surprised. She got up to some pretty nasty stuff over the years. Bullying scientists wasn’t the worst of it by far.
‘I’m surprised the SGC didn’t just get rid of her.’
I doubt they could trust her to keep her mouth shut if they let her go. Between you and me, I don’t think she’ll ever leave their employ, even if she wants to. These letters though, they don’t sound like her MO at all. If she sent anything through the post, it’s more likely to be a letter bomb!
‘Is that something we should be worried about?’
Robin laughed. I doubt it, but I will find out where she is and what she’s doing now and let you know, Jim.
Jim made a mental note to teach John how to distinguish between the scents of different explosives and to warn Patrick something worse than an anonymous letter was a possibility at his office.
They chatted about a few other inconsequential things, and Jim promised to pay a visit to DC while he and Blair were on the East Coast, and he then went out to sit on the terrace and think about what he’d been told. He hadn’t been out there above five minutes when Blair slipped into the chair beside him.
‘How’d it go?’
‘Robin said her MO is more likely to be a letter bomb than an anonymous letter.’
‘A letter bomb?!’ Blair repeated loudly.
‘Keep your voice down!’
‘A letter bomb?’ Blair repeated in an exaggerated whisper.
Jim slapped him on the back of his head.
‘Ow!’ Blair exclaimed rubbing his head.
‘Shut up. This is serious.’
‘I know that. Another letter arrived this morning. Do you think it is…her?’
‘Robin doesn’t think so. She’s out in Nevada now.’
‘Where Rodney was?’
‘Mmm. I don’t want him worried about it, though. He had a hard enough time when he left there two years ago.’
‘He’s a grown man now, Jim, not the teenager we took in. And he’s changed a lot in these last two years.’
It was true, Rodney had changed a lot. Much of his arrogance had fallen away, and he was much more careful to think before he tore shreds off someone. He still called an idiot an idiot but made sure he gave praise to good work and offered help to his scientists where he could.
Rodney had built up a good team around himself in the R&D division. He and Radek had discussed who they might want to employ and two names stood out, both people Rodney had wanted to employ at Area 51 but who had been rejected by the General in charge of the facility, Hank Landry, on the advice of Sam Carter.
Miko Kusanagi was just 19 when Rodney first heard about her in 1999 from a former colleague at Northwestern University as the woman who hacked the Department of Defence for a bet in 1996, in the early days of the internet. He believed she’d be a perfect addition to the Stargate Programme but Carter, via Landry, refused to employ her. At the time Rodney had thought it was because Miko had a criminal record after being caught hacking a newspaper, of all things, as a teenager. It was classified as a B level misdemeanour, and Miko was ordered to pay a fine of $100, but the criminal record was by far the worse part of the punishment. After the fiasco in 2002, however, Rodney suspected it was more likely Carter had refused to employ her for the simple fact that Miko was born to Japanese parents.
It was a similar story with Englishman Peter Grodin. A brilliant Engineer who got his first PhD from Cambridge at the age of 22, he’d developed an unfortunate habit with prescription drugs whilst at University, even though he’d quickly recovered from it. It was, however, sufficient excuse for Carter to refuse even to interview him, but again, Rodney suspected it was his Black South African mother which caused Carter to refuse to consider him.
Rodney couldn’t care less about anyone’s background or the colour of their skin, just that they were decent scientists, and so was more than happy to employ both Peter and Miko for Sheppard Industries, and they’d repaid him by becoming excellent members of his team. Radek, Miko and Peter were joining the Sheppard family and guests for dinner that evening, and both Jim and Blair were looking forward to meeting Miko and Peter for the first time.
John and Rodney wandered out onto the terrace to sit with Jim and Blair.
‘Nancy’s bringing coffee and cakes,’ Rodney told them, rubbing his hands together. ‘She’s such a great cook.’
‘I thought she was supposed to be fattening John up, not you,’ Blair teased Rodney.
‘Watch it, or I’ll make sure you don’t get any cake,’ Rodney returned, but it was far too nice a day to quarrel, even if it was one of his favourite pastimes.
‘I could sit here and watch that view forever,’ Jim commented, lazily. ‘It’s an ever-changing living canvas. How long have your family lived here, John?’
‘In this house or in Virginia?’
John began to tell Jim about the Sheppard family while Blair and Rodney tuned out and relaxed in their respective chairs.
‘You okay?’ Blair asked quietly.
‘I’m fine,’ Rodney told him. ‘Better than fine, to be honest. I’ve found my Sentinel, something I never thought would happen since I’ve been online for over twenty years.’
Blair gave him a sympathetic smile. ‘I’ll admit to being concerned myself, but you found him in the end. Why were you here that first day when he came home from Bethesda? I’ve been meaning to ask you.’
‘David asked if I’d come out to be here when John arrived. I’m the only unbonded Guide he knows, probably the only Guide he knows well. We knew John was having problems with his senses and was parting from the Guide who’d helped him when he first came online. I was here to prevent his arrival being too traumatic, given his injuries.’
‘And was it a traumatic journey for him?’
Rodney nodded. ‘Patrick said he pretty much had him in his lap the whole flight. He was almost in tears at the pain John was in, let alone John himself.’
‘But it all came good in the end.’
Rodney gave him a shy smile. ‘It really did.’
They sat in silence for a while enjoying the view and the company until Nancy came out with the promised tray of coffee and cakes.
‘There’s some post for you, Master John,’ she told him, handing an official looking letter over.
‘Thanks, Nancy,’ he said taking it from her. He held it up to Jim and Blair. ‘Do you mind if I…’
‘Go ahead, Jim told him, waving a hand lazily.
John ripped it open and frowned as he read it through.
‘What’s happened?’ Rodney demanded. ‘Is it another anonymous letter?’
‘No, it’s…’ John sighed and handed it over to his partner. ‘Here, read it for yourself. Show it to Jim and Blair too. I don’t know…’ He shook his head, wordlessly.
Rodney snatched it from John’s hand and read it, then handed it off to Blair with an expressive look. ‘I know the woman it’s from.’
Blair’s eyes disappeared into his hairline. ‘Is she from…’
‘Yes. Unless she’s been posted elsewhere, which I highly doubt. She’s been there since the place opened.’
‘Rodney?’ John asked, drawing out the name. ‘How do you know…’ He peered around Blair’s arms. ‘How do you know Major Janet Frasier MD USAF?’
‘I’m more interested in how they got hold of your blood to test it in the first place,’ Jim said grimly.
‘Who’s got John’s blood?’ Patrick demanded, walking onto the terrace. ‘I thought we were trying to avoid him being tested by anyone?’
‘We were, but it appears that a Major Janet Frasier MD has obtained a sample and wishes to discuss the results with him in DC tomorrow.’
‘Tomorrow?’ Patrick demanded. ‘He has a hospital appointment tomorrow.’
‘Which they also know about somehow. She suggests they meet at Bethesda Naval Hospital after his appointment with Dr Francis.’
‘Do you know something about this you’re not telling me? John demanded of Jim.
‘Yes, plenty. But before I can explain anything I need to make another phone call. Do you mind, Patrick?’
‘Help yourself. I think we’d all like to know what’s happening.’
‘Let me call Robin again, and I’ll see what I can tell you.’ Jim nodded to them all and disappeared inside.
John heard him pick up the telephone and begin to dial a number but forced himself to respect Jim’s privacy and to dial his hearing down. He then glanced at Rodney.
‘Is there anything you can tell us about this woman?’
Rodney pulled a face. ‘You know I’m bound by some serious NDAs, John. All I can say is that as far as I know, she has a reputation for being fair and honest. I doubt very much if she was the one who effectively stole your blood.’
‘It must have been done in the first few days after you arrived at Bethesda while you were still unconscious,’ Patrick ruminated. ‘Once you came around or were allowed to come around, and Dr Francis had you moved to the S&G wing, there was someone with you pretty much 24/7. Between myself and your team, they’d have never been allowed to take your blood without your express permission.’
‘It could be why he was in the main part of the hospital to begin with,’ Rodney suggested. ‘It always seemed odd to me. I mean, they knew he was a Sentinel since the whole of his team said they’d made it clear to everyone, yet he was still placed in the mundane wing, and you and his team were kept away from him.’
‘Nurse Ratched,’ John said suddenly.
‘I beg your pardon?’ Rodney looked taken aback.
‘The nurse who was with me when I came round. She was a bully, and I didn’t trust her at all. She made no attempt to help me after I woke up and complained about the light and noise, and she even told me I was wrong about being a Sentinel since I didn’t have the requisite genome for it.’
‘Do you think she’s the sort of woman who’d have accepted a bribe in exchange for a sample of your blood?’ Blair asked.
‘Absolutely.’ John was very definite about it.
‘But they’d have still needed someone else to make sure he was admitted to the main part of the hospital,’ Rodney mused. ‘Do we have any idea how he was treated at Landstuhl?’
‘Don’t talk about me as though I wasn’t here,’ John complained.
‘You were unconscious at the time so don’t know anything useful,’ Rodney pointed out perfectly reasonably.
John huffed and folded his arms.
‘Would any of your team members know, John?’ Patrick asked. ‘Laura Cadman did her best to stay with you after you were admitted to Bethesda. She told me the staff refused to even listen to her which I thought was odd at the time. You’d all been through a traumatic event together, and they refused to even allow your team to see you. It didn’t make sense.’
‘It wouldn’t hurt to ask Cadman or Geoff Daniels,’ John suggested. I’ll go and call them on my cell phone. I left it in my bedroom.’
He limped back into the house, and Patrick turned immediately to Rodney.
‘I know you can’t say much, but do we need to be worried about this?’
‘I think we should be worried about anything that meant anyone’s blood being tested without their knowledge. I don’t know why the…people I used to work for would need to test his blood specifically, though. There were no experiments that required the use of blood in my time so it must be something that’s happened since I left.’
‘Might they have been done back then without your knowledge?’
Rodney considered the question. ‘It’s possible, but as I was CSO for my facility, I should have known about it. I can’t see why I’d be kept in the dark unless it was for something illegal, and I’m pretty sure the Pentagon wouldn’t have allowed that.’
‘And the other place?’ Blair asked carefully.
Rodney grimaced. ‘They ran to a different set of protocols. Anything’s possible.’
‘So we have reason to be worried?’ Patrick clarified.
‘I…Yes. Yes, I think we do.’
The three men sat in silence until John limped back onto the terrace carrying his cell phone.
‘Laura says she made sure everyone at Landstuhl knew I was a Sentinel and that she and I needed to be together, and Geoff confirms it They had no problems about it there, but as soon as our plane landed at Andrews AFB, I was physically separated from them even though she and Geoff protested it. I was taken to a different part of the hospital to the rest of them, and no one saw me until after I’d come around and Dr Francis became involved in my treatment. I get the impression he hadn’t been involved before that point.’
‘He hadn’t,’ Patrick confirmed. ‘It was only after I get in touch with SecNav and threatened to make some serious waves that Dr Francis took over.’
‘Is that why I was allowed to come round properly, do you think? Who was in charge of my treatment before?’
‘No one really,’ Patrick told him. ‘It was one of my concerns. There didn’t appear to be one particular medic in charge of your case, and no one could give me a good reason for why you were being kept sedated. They said it was to give your leg time to heal properly, but since you were taken to the operating theatre twice after you regained consciousness, I suspect they did next to nothing for you. They hadn’t even started you on a course of antibiotics, were just giving you the normal saline solution through a drip. The rest of your team were given antibiotics as a general measure against anything they might have picked up in Afghanistan.’
‘No antibiotics, really?’ demanded Rodney. ‘I didn’t know that. If he’d developed an infection in either of his wounds, it could have been very serious indeed. It makes me think there was a lot more going on there then we realise. Who could give us some more information?’
Patrick shook his head. ‘I have no idea. Would there be anything in John’s patient notes?’
‘Unlikely. Nothing would be written down where anyone could read it,’ Blair pointed out.
‘But it might be written down somewhere,’ Rodney said thoughtfully. ‘We need to get into the Bethesda systems and have a good look around. I’ll get Miko right on it.’
‘Whoa, whoa, hang on a minute.’ John held up both hands as though to ward Rodney off. ‘You can’t just go hacking a military installation.’
‘Sure I can, or Miko can. She’s done it before.’
‘What if she gets caught? She works for Sheppard Industries now.’
‘Don’t worry; she’ll use a secure VPN connection. And why would she get caught? She’s very good at what she does, you know.’
‘Rodney, you want her to hack a military installation. That’s beyond illegal.’
‘Please,’ Rodney huffed. ‘I employed her because she’s probably the best hacker in the US, possibly the whole world.’
‘Is that what she does for SI? Hack stuff?’
‘No! Of course not. She has fantastic IT skills, that’s why I employed her. The fact she can hack so well is just gravy.’
‘Dad, tell him!’
‘I’m not getting involved in your fights, son. Besides, I think he’s right. The only way to get this information is through Miko.’
‘And if nothing’s been noted on a computer?’
‘Then we’ll find some other way to get hold of it,’ Rodney told him calmly. ‘You have nine highly skilled people who’d walk over hot coals for you. We’ll get the information somehow.’
John threw his hands up in the air. ‘I want nothing to do with it, and I don’t want you involving my team. We could all be court-martialled if this came out.’
‘Then we make sure they don’t get caught.’ Rodney shook his head at the expression on John’s face. ‘John, this is a serious situation. We need to know who was behind your blood being taken and what they wanted it for. Janet Fraiser has no connection to the Sentinel and Guide Council, or any of the Centres, so it’s not about you coming online as a Sentinel, although I suspect there are more than a few people interested in that. This is something else entirely and…I’m worried. The people I worked with before are potentially very dangerous. We need to know as much as we can about why they’re so interested in you and how they got hold of a sample of your blood before you meet Fraiser tomorrow. The best way of doing that is by hacking Bethesda hospital and having a root around their computer system, okay?’
John nodded reluctantly and sighed. ‘Okay, but tell her to be very, very careful. I don’t want her getting into trouble over this. I’m not worth it.’
Sounds of protest came from both Patrick and Blair while Rodney gripped his hand and shook it. ‘Don’t ever say that! You are important, to me, to everyone here, to your team and to plenty of other people as well. If you say you’re not worth it again, I’ll…I’ll kick your ass, or I’ll set Nancy on you!’
This made John chuckle. ‘Yeah, okay. Consider me told off.’
Jim returned at that point and raised his eyebrows at the four grinning people he’d left with frowns on their faces. ‘What’s happened? You’re all looking remarkably cheerful.’
‘I’ve just been put in my place,’ John admitted. ‘Rodney can be fierce when he wants to be.’
Jim laughed. ‘Only just found that out?’ He sat back down next to Blair and made himself comfortable. ‘What?’ he asked as he noticed them all looking at him. ‘Is there something on my face?’
‘There will be unless you tell us what Robin Cave told you,’ Blair threatened. ‘My fist.’
‘I’m pretty sure you’re not allowed to threaten your Sentinel,’ John told him, his eyes dancing with laughter.
‘Of course, I am,’ Blair retorted. ‘He’s my Sentinel. I can do what I like with him.’
‘That’s not how it works, Chief,’ Jim complained.
Blair muttered something Patrick and Rodney couldn’t hear but which John and Jim heard perfectly clearly.
‘Did you just tell me to kiss your ass?’ Jim asked, leaning towards his Guide, the smile on his face belying his threatening posture.
‘Maybe?’ Blair fluttered his eyelashes. ‘Tell us what Robin said.’
Jim sobered and sat back in his chair, sighing. ‘I can’t. No, no, wait,’ he added at the muttering Rodney and Blair began. ‘I’ve asked for permission to read John, Patrick and Rodney into the top secret programme. I’m waiting to hear back from Robin.’
Rodney frowned at him. ‘I’m already read in.’
‘Your permissions lapsed when you left the programme. I’ve asked Robin to renew it.’
‘Why would he do that?’
Jim watched both John and Rodney until John shifted uneasily. ‘This is one of the things I wanted to discuss with you both and I hoped for slightly better circumstances, but I guess I need to do it now.’ He took a deep breath. ‘Blair and I want you two to join the Sentinel and Guide Grand Council.’
It took a couple of minutes for the words to sink in.
‘You want us…’ Rodney began. ‘Why?’
Blair huffed. ‘You know perfectly well, Rodney.’
‘What does ‘Oh’ mean?’ John demanded. ‘Why do we need to join the Council?’
‘Because you and I will be the Alpha Prime Sentinel and Guide of North America when Jim and Blair step down,’ Rodney told him quietly.
‘You and Rodney are the strongest Sentinel and Guide Pair in North America, possibly in the world,’ Blair added.
‘How do you know that? I’ve only just come online and know next to nothing about being a Sentinel,’ John reminded him.
‘Knowing how to be a Sentinel has nothing to do with your strength as a Sentinel,’ Jim said to him. ‘And before you ask, I will teach you how to use your senses and how to gauge the strength of another Sentinel or Guide, something only an Alpha Prime can do, much as only a Shaman can heal his Sentinel. You have a strong set of natural shields which will help you immensely.’
‘I do? I didn’t think I did. Cadman had to teach me how to build my shields and to dial my senses up and down when I came fully online when she…she was attacked.’
Jim and Blair both gave him sympathetic smiles. ‘She told me about that when we first spoke,’ Blair admitted. ‘I wasn’t trying to spy on you, but we needed to know exactly when you came online and what had happened. Your father made contact with us first, via Rodney, and we stopped the S&G Council and the DC Centre from harassing both Patrick and David. Laura explained what she’d told you and that, in her opinion, you needed more training from somewhere other than an S&G Centre.’
‘Why did she say that?’
Jim sighed. ‘You’re an awkward person, John Sheppard.’ He frowned at Rodney when he laughed. ‘I’m very serious, Rodney. John will have slightly different gifts from me, from other Sentinels, you know that. We also don’t understand why he came online in the first place given he doesn’t have the right genome and—’ He paused as Rodney narrowed his eyes and tilted his to one side as he frequently did when spinning a problem or question through his large brain. ‘What, Rodney? What have you thought?’
‘What if…’ Rodney began slowly. ‘What if we’ve been looking at the wrong gene for Sentinels and Guides?’
‘We haven’t,’ Blair replied promptly. ‘John’s the first person who’s come online without the S&G gene.’
‘Bear with me for a moment,’ Rodney told him. ‘I’m trying to think something through.’ He was quiet for a short while then spoke again. ‘Has anyone ever tested to see what other genes Sentinels and Guides each have in common?’
It was apparent Blair’s curiosity was roused. ‘Hmm. Not that we know of, but you might have something there, Rodney.’
‘Would the programme you worked for before you joined SI be likely to research that, Rodney?’ John asked.
Rodney nodded. ‘They might. Which might also explain why Janet Fraiser is coming to Bethesda to see you tomorrow.’
‘Fair enough.’ John nodded his head. ‘I can accept that, but what does it have to do with Jim wanting us to join the S&G Council and be read into a top-secret programme by Jim’s friend?’
‘Blair and I were only read into this programme when Rodney left it,’ Jim explained. ‘But both of us were extremely annoyed we hadn’t been read in before that point as…things were happening to Sentinels and Guides that we should have been informed about. I can’t say anymore as yet, but if you two are our successors, as you are, then I’m determined that you’ll have all the information to work with before you replace us. It simply wouldn’t be fair to either of you if you didn’t have it and there was a problem you couldn’t deal with. As Alpha Prime Sentinel of Northern America, I have to have access to all the programmes my Sentinels are involved in, as will you, John. The same goes for Rodney. It’s imperative you are read into this programme.’
‘And if they don’t agree?’ John asked quietly.
‘Then I have the right to pull every Sentinel and Guide in the employ of the US government citing the danger to all of them.’
‘And you’d do that?’
‘You’re damn right I would!’