Chapter 1: Problem Child
== 1.1 - Vancouver, Canada, Earth (June 8, 2010) ==
Jeannie Miller was Not Pleased. No, she was Not Pleased At All.
She had put up with quite a bit over the last few months. Once the press discovered that the great Doctor Rodney McKay, Ph. D. Ph. D. etc. had a sister, they had descended on her home in the hopes of learning more about him, or more specifically about every single private detail of his life. Jeannie had known that might be coming and had made preparations, carefully planning out how to give them just enough information to convince them that she wasn't worth bothering. Thankfully her own contributions to the Stargate program were still classified, and so once the vultures were convinced that she was nothing more than a boring stay-at-home mom (as if that was somehow less important than being a physicist) they had left her alone.
Now, though, she was certain that she and her family were going to be subjected to another round of insanity, because John Sheppard had apparently chosen to reveal his Illegal Military Gay Romance by getting engaged in front of a bunch of reporters. As if that wasn't enough, the last word out of Atlantis had been that the scientists were on strike, complete with fuzzy video of protesters and with a petition signed by Meredith and others. While she generally approved of collective bargaining, somehow she doubted that Meredith could possibly pull it off without causing a complete fuck up.
Then... nothing. Five days along and there was no word from Atlantis, not even an email. According to the press, negotiations were in progress, but nothing more had been released and so the TV and newspapers were full of increasingly insane and stupid speculation. The one blip had been on the previous day, when something happened that got Cheyenne mountain locked down. Maybe it was unrelated.
Knowing Meredith, it wasn't.
In the afternoon, just as Jeannie was getting Madison working on her math lesson - she was, unsurprisingly, quite advanced for her age - there was a knock on the front door. When Jeannie went to open it, she found a tall, rather handsome man in a flannel shirt and jeans standing there with his hands clasped behind his back. At his side was a wolf, of all things.
"Hello?" she said hesitantly.
He offered her his hand. "Ser- ah, Benton Fraser. It's a pleasure to meet you, ma'am."
"Likewise," she replied, cautiously reaching out to shake his hand. "Can I help you with something?"
"Yes, in a manner of speaking." Fraser reached into the pocket of his (rather snug) jeans and pulled out a small USB thumb drive. "This has a message for you that I was asked to deliver."
Jeannie took the drive from him. "By who?"
"I have a cousin who's a colleague of your brother," Fraser said. "He sent a number of videos and other files to be distributed under certain circumstances, and he asked that I deliver this one in person to insure it arrived."
"I see," Jeannie said, her eyes narrowing as she looked between the drive and Fraser. "Why don't you come in so we can talk about this?"
Fraser shifted awkwardly and glanced back towards the road, where a classic car of some sort was idling at the curb. Someone was sitting in the driver's seat. Fraser looked back at Jeannie and apologetically told her, "Under normal circumstances I would be delighted, but I have quite a bit of other work to do. Also, ah, I was advised that it might be in my best interest to be far away when you view the message."
"I see," Jeannie said again, this time drawing the words out. "In that case, Mr. Fraser, thank you for bringing this. I hope it wasn't too much trouble."
"Not at all, ma'am."
"Have a nice day."
"Likewise, ma'am." Fraser nodded, turned around sharply, and started to stride back to the car. "Come along, Diefenbaker."
The wolf gave Jeannie a last look, yawned, and trotted off after him.
Jeannie shut the door and calmly walked to the kitchen, booted up her laptop, and stuck the USB drive into a port. A quick once-over showed several text files and images, along with a video. She opened it up and Meredith appeared on the screen.
Meredith hesitantly waved at the camera. "So, uh. Hi, Jeannie, it's me, Rodney. Obviously. If you're getting this message, that must mean Chuck isn't completely useless and his so-called connections did their job. I hope you're well, and Madison too. And Kaleb. But, um, anyways, this is supposed to be delivered once it's all over with, and with any luck the timing - huh?"
Meredith looked off to the side with a frown, then his face lit up with understanding. "Oh, right, right." He looked back at the camera. "I suppose that does sound ominous, doesn't it? I'm not dead. Or at least, I shouldn't be. Hopefully. Although there's about a thousand ways that this could - never mind. The point is, we may not see each other again for a while. Depending on how long the news blackout lasts, you may already know what's going on, but if not it should come up soon - our 'connections'," Meredith made dorky air quotes, "are supposed to leak some stuff to the press after you get this. Anyways. What I'm trying to say is that we, by which I mean Atlantis, are declaring independence. The reasons are pretty complicated and I don't have a lot of time, because we have to sneak out videos for everyone in a pretty tiny file, but I've written a few letters explaining more. I've also included a few tips and recommendations for Madison's education, and I made sure to cover about every field she might be interested in."
He took a deep breath. "So, um. I just wanted to say that I'm going to miss you and I hope to see you soon, and that, well, I love you. Bye."
The video stopped. Jeannie stared blankly at the screen for at least thirty minutes, mind stuck like a gummed-up engine, until Kaleb got home from his classes. He came up behind her and put his hand on her shoulders.
Jeannie scowled and declared, "I am going to strangle my brother!"
== 1.2 - Stargate Command (June 9, 2010) ==
"Well, this is a disaster," Jack declared to SG-1 and the others gathered in the briefing room. "Do we have any idea how this got out to the press?"
"There was a worm in their last data burst, which was supposed to take advantage of the automatic distribution program we've got set up," Sam said. "It didn't get past the firewalls, though. I think it was a distraction for someone carrying a physical copy of the files. There were so many people with personal computers and drives that it could have been anyone, and they masked their tracks well."
"Wonderful." Jack shook his head. They had detained all the exiled members of the expedition and immediately imposed a security lockdown on the mountain, hoping to contain word of what had happened until it could be released in a controlled manner. Unfortunately, that plan had failed miserably. Within days someone had emailed every major news network on the planet a zip file containing, among other things, Sheppard's declaration of independence, a written list of grievances against the IOA, and a recording of General Forrester's idiotic revelation of his plans. They had also been put up on hundreds of popular file-sharing sites and services, and it had all been done with some sort of McKay-designed anonymizer that had Area 51, the NID, NSA, and everyone else stumped.
In short, not only had the barn door been closed after the horses escaped, but said horses gotten on a plane for a world tour. Or something like that. Whatever.
"Obviously, the rest of the Pentagon wants Homeworld Security to do something about this little 'situation' we have. Anyone got ideas about what our next step should be?"
"I would think it was obvious," Hank Landry said from the other end of the table. "We send a ship out there, take the city back, and put Sheppard and all his cohorts under arrest."
"Easier said than done," Stephen Caldwell replied with a skeptical look. "Unless you're willing to send the Odyssey, it's going to take at least three weeks to get out there. I wouldn't be confident attacking the city under normal circumstances, let alone after they've had that much time to prepare."
"General Caldwell's right," Sam said. "The city's shield is effectively impenetrable as long as there's a ZPM powering it, even with Asgard weapons. You'd need a lot of firepower to bring it down without a ZPM of your own."
"So we send the Odyssey," Landry said.
Jack shook his head. "Odyssey isn't leaving Earth. We can't risk the ZPM or the Asgard core."
Landry shrugged. "All right, then we send several ships and overwhelm them. We have enough that we can spare a few right now. We can send Daedalus, Apollo, and either Phoenix or one of the Navy's cruisers. Hell, let's see if the British are willing to send Valiant or Enterprise along as well."
Sam drew in a breath and made a face like she'd bitten into a lemon. "Even with four or five ships, you'd be talking several hours of bombardment. Remember, the city stood off nearly a dozen hiveships and cruisers at once with a single mostly-depleted ZPM."
"And unlike that time," Caldwell said, looking equally sour, "Atlantis has a mostly-full drone magazine. I'm not sure I want to discover how well our shields hold up against them."
Daniel rolled his eyes and raised his hand. "Hey, here's an idea - how about we try talking to them first?"
"It might be worth a shot," Mitchell said with a nod. "Sheppard won't fire on us if we show up wanting to chat. On other hand, if we go in guns blazing without even trying to negotiate, he won't hesitate blow us out of the sky."
"Oh, I think I like this idea too," Vala said, grinning broadly. "I volunteer to do some personal negotiations with Sheppard and that Lorne man."
"I can't believe I'm hearing this!" Landry almost shouted, face twisted with disgust. "You may not like it, but Sheppard, McKay, and their co-conspirators are not your friends any more! They are traitors and mutineers who, I might remind you, used force against their own people."
"Minimal force," Mitchell replied flatly, arms folded across his chest. "The way I heard it, they went out of their way to keep from hurtin' anyone."
"Indeed." Teal'c inclined his head and looked at Landry with a raised eyebrow. "While they may technically be traitors, they appear to have acted with honor and their cause is undoubtedly just. Perhaps if you had not been prepared to abandon them first, they would not have found these actions necessary."
"It was not their place to question that decision, and especially not through insurrection."
"I see." Teal'c looked at Jack, and even after the better part of twelve years Jack still couldn't quite tell if Teal'c was amused or annoyed at Landry's statement. "I believe that negotiations would be worthwhile."
"If nothing else, it would let us gather some intelligence," Caldwell said. "We could hold a few ships in reserve between the galaxies where they won't be spotted and make a decision later."
"Maybe," Jack said. He grimaced at the thought of sending a substantial portion of the fleet so far from Earth while things at home were unstable. Many members of the IOA, especially the Chinese, had not taken kindly to the fact that the U.S. and its allies were planning to take Atlantis for themselves. They had been making that opinion quite clear, and there was even talk about economic reprisals. The fact that the Chinese had access to at least a few pieces of advanced alien weaponry made Jack nervous. "I'll have to talk with the President to see what recommendation he'll take. Send me proposals by tomorrow so I can brief him."
There was a chorus of, "yes, sirs," from around the table, some happier than others, along with a "sure thing, Jack," and a tilted head.
Jack moved on to the next item of business. "Obviously, this is a pretty big security breach. I'll assume you've already changed all the iris and computer access codes, but has anyone informed the Alpha Site and the other outposts about this?"
Still looking disgruntled, Landry nodded. "General Reynolds has been appraised of the situation, and he'll be taking the appropriate precautions...."
== 1.3 - Atlantis (June 28, 2010) ==
Independence was supposed to bring things like freedom, justice, and apple pie. It was supposed to mean free love and more time on the beach. Instead John found himself sitting in the conference room with Rodney and Teyla, wanting to bash his head against the table or, better yet, end the pain by throwing himself off the exterior balcony and plummeting to his sweet, sweet release.
Of course, knowing Rodney, he would just find some way to raise John from the dead.
"Let me get this straight," John said wearily. "They've had nearly a month, and the social scientists still haven't even come up with a preliminary recommendation beyond 'democracy'?"
"Representative democracy, yes," Teyla replied. "I believe they are attempting to be thorough by researching every form of it that has existed and compile a report with their positive and negative aspects. I believe part of the problem is a lack of consensus on what is positive and negative."
After Independence Day - more accurately, two days after, because the only people without hangovers the next day were those who didn't drink alcohol - there had been an all-hands meeting to establish where they were going to go from there. For the most part it was just business as usual, with more emphasis on things like building spaceships to kill lots of Wraith with, but John had made it clear that he and Rodney did not particularly want to be co-dictators for life. The plan was to eventually have some sort of constitutional convention and referendum, but with this being Atlantis, everyone had agreed that it would be best to (a) make an informed decision, which meant lots of research, (b) not throw everything into chaos when the Wraith and/or Earth might attack at any moment, and (c) not upset the computer too much by suddenly replacing its One True Love.
Thus, the end result was that the sociologists were supposed to be coming up with a comprehensive report on possible government styles that would work for a population their size but also scale up well, which would eventually be used to write a constitution. A comprehensive set of basic rights had also been finalized already, cribbing heavily from various Earth constitutions and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It also appeared that the future was looking bright, bright red, as no one particularly wanted to give up their free medical care, mess privileges, or figure out how to fairly divide ownership of an entire city.
Meanwhile, the command staff had been put in place as an interim government by acclamation, which mostly mean John had to sit through more meetings than ever.
"Typical," Rodney snorted. "That's what happens when you let the soft scientists pretend they can actually do quantitative analysis."
"I am sure that they will finish eventually, and that it is better not to rush into a decision," Teyla said. John sometimes thought she found the entire situation hilarious, given how simply the Athosians seemed to run things. "I believe they are currently leaning towards recommending something similar to that of Swiss-land, but that may change."
"I suppose there's worse places to use as a model," John said. "Right. I guess we'll just table that subject. Again. Rodney, you have anything interesting to tell us, or can we finally get out of here?"
"Well, that depends on what you call interesting. There's all sorts of interesting things going on these days. For example, did you know that the Ancients, in their infinite wisdom, once found a way to use the electric field generated by certain types of fish as the basis for tertiary navigational instruments on the jumpers? It's weird, but I think -"
"Rodney," John said, voice tight but not quite a growl, "is there anything that's interesting to us?"
"Right. Interesting to those with no brains." Rodney rolled his eyes. "ZPM production proceeds apace and we should have the first pair fairly soon. Ship production... well, do you want to good news or the bad news?"
"Does it matter what I want?"
Rodney shook his head. "Mmm, no, but I thought it was polite to ask anyways. The good news is that Constitution is mostly finished. The structure's complete, life support is working fine, and in a couple weeks we'll be ready to test the main engines. In short, as a starship it's looking to be a stunning success, no surprise there."
John eyed Rodney suspiciously. "I'm guessing that there's a 'but' coming."
"But," Rodney said, "As a warship? Not so much. Oh, we've got all the sensors and shields working, and Zelenka's phased-laser arrays should do a number on darts. On the other hand, the main gun keeps trying to melt every time we power it up, the drone bays won't connect to the fire control system and keep locking on to friendly targets, and the less said about the unmanned fighters the better."
John sighed and rubbed his forehead. "What about the missiles?"
"Oh, well, the missiles are doing great. Except, you know, we've only got enough fissile material for one or two warheads, unless you want to start wasting a lot of our weapons-grade naquadah. Which, I might remind you, we're also running low on."
"So we have point defense and missiles that won't actually do more than scratch a ship's hull, let alone do any damage."
"Hey, you're the one who insisted on having missiles in the first place. Don't try to blame me for your poor planning."
"The ship has to have some kind of stand-off armament, Rodney. You promised me you'd be able to make it work."
"And they will work, you'll just have to give us a few months to design a new fusion initiator that doesn't require a fission bomb."
"A few months?"
"Six? Seven? I don't know, we've got a lot of other work to do."
John squeezed his eyes shut, then opened them again and glared at Rodney. "In short, if we need the ship to actually fight anytime soon, we're going to be left with hurling insults instead of actually shooting."
"Perhaps there is a quicker solution," Teyla interjected. She looked at Rodney. "You said that it is fissiles that you need, correct? I imagine that other sources of refined metals may also be useful."
"Well, more or less, yes." Rodney shrugged. "We could probably set up an asteroid mining operation or something, but that'll take quite a while, and might not yield weapons-grade isotopes."
Teyla nodded and looked at John. "Then perhaps we should consider getting the material we require from someone who already has it."
John frowned. "The Genii? I don't know if I like the idea."
"They are one of the few technologically advanced societies within the galaxy, and the only one we know of which has the elements needed for nuclear weapons. We have negotiated them before, and I believe that it would be better to have them working with us that to remain at cross-purposes."
John bit his lip. It was true that the Genii had been willing to help before when it suited their purposes, and that Ladon had been fairly cooperative since he came to power. On the other hand, they might not be willing to hand over weapons to Atlantis and there was no telling how firm Ladon's hold on the government was.
"Do we have anything to offer them in return?" John eventually asked.
"I believe so. We have already earned some goodwill by treating some of those made ill by radiation. We could expand that further, as well as offer any number of technological advances."
John didn't like the idea of giving them any kind of advanced technology. On the other hand, advanced was a relative term, and there was a wide gap between handing over Earth-level equipment and giving them something based on Ancient technology. "All right, we'll give it a shot. Arrange for a meeting with Ladon and his people."
"It may take some time to do so, given how suspicious they are, but I believe we can entice them into hearing us out."
"You know, they're not the only ones who might be helpful," Rodney said suddenly. "What about the Travelers?"
"That's a good point," John said. "Their ships mean they can get us information no one else. We've got plenty to offer them, too. If we started to provide them with spare parts to fix their ships with, maybe even build them a few shiny new transports at cost, they might be pretty damned thankful."
"I agree," Teyla said. "I will contact them as well."
"Thanks," John said. He glanced at his watch. "Please tell me we're done now."
"I have nothing more to add."
"Thank god." John stood up. "I'm starving. Want to grab lunch?"
"I could eat," Rodney said, as if that was in question.
Teyla nodded. "I will join you after I check on Ronon and Torren. Perhaps we can discuss the allocation of the new living quarters while we eat."
John winced but nodded, because the decision about who got them first needed to be made. It wasn't as if he could object to the idea of opening up a new residential wing with larger, multi-room apartments that would be better for those with multiple occupants, given his own family plans. In fact, he could almost appreciate the irony inherent in throwing off The Man only to become The Man himself.
Chapter 2: Synchronize Your Dogmas
== 2.1 - Atlantis (July 13, 2010) ==
Evan woke slowly, something he found himself doing increasingly often as late. Maybe it was because he often went to bed tired to the bone and didn't want to get up. Maybe it was because he no longer had be awake at an absurd hour to avoid patrols. Maybe it was because he had John snuggled up against him, with his chest pressed to Evan's back and an arm around his chest. That seemed like the most plausible answer, especially since even after a month sleeping in the same bed as John for an entire night and being able to wake up together seemed like an extraordinary luxury.
Still, he had to get up sooner or later, and so he started the long process of extracting himself from John's arms. It took a bit of doing, because simply rolling away would only result in John clinging ever tighter, not unlike an unusually fuzzy boa constrictor. Evan carefully got one of his arms loose, pulled the covers away from them, and then pried John's arm away. Fortunately from John, Evan managed to get away without having to resort to an elbow to the gut.
"Mmmph?" John mumbled, opening one eye.
"Morning," Evan said. He leaned over to press a kiss to John's head before climbing out of bed and padding over to the restroom to take a piss. When he got back, John at least looked more awake but hadn't made any move to get out of bed. Evan looked down at him and asked, "Are you planning on getting up anytime soon?"
John smiled at him and stretched like a cat, all long lines and concealed strength, and Evan allowed himself to admire the view. John then shook his head. "No, not really."
John shrugged. "I don't feel like it. I'd rather spend the day here in bed."
"Really," Evan said, trying to look stern and failing miserably.
"It'd be more productive than what I've got planned." John leered at Evan and rubbed at the front of his underwear. "You know, productive."
Evan chuckled. "Honestly, with lines like that it's a wonder you ever get laid. Come on, up."
He held out a hand and John grabbed it. Rather than letting Evan help him sit up, though, John instead tugged hard and tried to pull Evan back into bed with him. Evan valiantly tried to resist, for certain values of valiant, but in the end he was forced to relent and he fell down on top of John. Since he was back in bed anyways, Evan decided to go along with John's ideas about productivity.
Much later, after they had finally made it to the shower and gotten dressed, they headed to the mess. As they ate a late breakfast, Evan asked, "Today's the big day, isn't it? Meeting with Ladon?"
"God, yes," John said, rolling his eyes. "I can not believe this took so long to set up."
"I can see why they might be a bit reluctant to meet with you," Evan said. "After all, it's not like most people are eager to spread around nuclear weapons."
"It's not even that. They're perfectly willing to talk about trading for uranium. We've spent this entire time talking about how we should talk." John shook his head in disgust. "It took Teyla a week to reach an agreement about what planet we should meet on. Some had people we didn't trust, some had people they didn't trust, and we ended up settling on someplace uninhabited. But then some planets are too cold right now, or too hot, or flooding, or the day-night cycle doesn't match both Atlantis and the Genii homeworld."
"Oh," Evan said, ducking his head to hide a grin.
"And then! Then we spent another week deciding how many guards would be brought along, and how many negotiators, and who would prepare the food and water, and who would provide a tent to meet in, and when people would be allowed to go to the planet to start setting up." John pointed his fork at Evan. "If Ladon and I had just been allowed to talk on the radio for ten minutes we would already have the damned nukes."
"Well, it could be worse," Evan said.
"I once had to spend three days with Daniel Jackson negotiating with a bunch of Unas," Evan told him. "You have no idea how bad we smelled by the time we finally got home."
John glared at him. "You know, you can't keep trumping every bad meeting I have with that story. It'll get old sooner or later."
"At least I didn't bring up how I got home and was thrown in the brig because my boyfriend had run off to another galaxy." Evan covered his mouth. "Oops."
"Oh, fuck you," John said with a grin.
"You'll have to wait until you're back home for that."
"I'll hold you to that." John grinned, probably trying for lascivious but mostly achieving exceedingly dorky. Evan wondered what it said about his own mental state that he found it endearing and a bit attractive rather than just plain silly.
From there they moved on to other matters, mostly organizational issues within the military. Things were finally getting back to some semblance of normalcy, now that they had adjusted for all the men they had lost when independence had been declared and started to figure out what everyone's role would be in the new Atlantean Combined Services. For such a small force it had taken quite a bit of work to decide how what doctrines needed kept, modified, or ditched entirely. The ground division was largely based on the Marine Corps traditions, much to the chagrin of the few Army personnel they had on hand. Meanwhile, the aerospace division was an odd mix of Air Force and Navy. They were more or less creating operational procedures for the upcoming warships based on what their handful of Naval (and one Coast Guard) officers knew along with some cribbing from science fiction shows. Fortunately they hadn't had much trouble standardizing and rationalizing the rank structure to meet their actual situation, although John steadfastly refused to take the rank of general on the grounds that it was a bit grandiose for someone commanding just over a hundred people.
A couple of hours later, the two of them made their way to the control room. Teyla, Ronon, Rodney, and Radek were all waiting for them when they arrived. Radek and Rodney were huddled together and quietly discussing something about the tablet Rodney was holding.
"Morning, everyone," John said. "We all ready to go?"
"I believe we are, yes," Teyla said. "If we leave shortly, we should arrive on time."
"I am as ready as I am going to be," Radek said after a moment. He looked nervous, as he always did when going off-world, and somewhat resigned to the fact that it was happening. He smiled a little despite that.
Rodney, on the other hand, was scowling at everyone present and at John in particular. He looked pale and there were circles starting to form under his eyes. "I would be ready, if I were going," he snapped. "Which I should be."
"We can't all be off-world at the same time anymore," John explained patiently, not for the first time. He didn't look much happier than Rodney did about it, but he had accepted it when Teyla and Evan had combined forces to beat the idea into John's head. They simply couldn't afford to loose both men, especially not when Teyla was going along as well and Rodney wasn't really needed. "Maybe next time we'll need you to do your genius thing, but Radek will do fine. You'd just be wasting you time."
"Besides, doc, you're not looking to hot right now," Evan added. "You feeling okay?"
Rodney waved the question off irritably. "I've been up for, what, thirty-two -"
"Thirty-nine," Radek put in.
"- thirty-seven or so hours working on this stupid particle cannon. I think I almost have it fixed."
"Sounds cool," Evan said. "How about you tell me about it over an early lunch? I've got a few questions about the fighters, too, if you have time."
John shot Evan a thankful look, and fortunately Rodney didn't catch it. The scientist glared at Evan, then admitted, "I am feeling a bit peckish, and I suppose a military perspective on a few of the performance issues. Meet me in my lab in, say, an hour."
"We should be going," Teyla said. "Rodney, Evan, I wish you both a pleasant day. Sergeant, please dial the gate."
The gate activated and Teyla lead the group towards the steps. Before heading that way himself, John pulled Evan aside. "Watch out for Rodney for me, would you? I shouldn't be gone long, but you never know with this sort of thing. It could drag on days. Try to make him to get some sleep."
"You know, he is a big boy now," Evan reminded John. "But I will. It wouldn't do for him to pass out from manly hunger or sleep deprivation, would it?"
"Thanks. See you tonight, I hope." John clasped Evan's shoulder for a moment before giving Rodney a jaunty wave and jogging to catch up with the rest of the team. Rodney and Evan watched him step through the gate, and the moment it disengaged Rodney took off out of the control room. Evan watched him go with a bemused smile, checked his watch, and made a mental note to show up in the lab in a half hour. Somehow, he suspected it would take a while to wrangle Rodney loose from his research.
== 2.2 - P9X-073 (July 13, 2010) ==
As John had expected, P9X-073 turned out to be yet another Planet Canada, with the same trees and the same plants and the same birds as most of the planets he had visited in Pegasus. The weird thing was that most of those planets had more or less the same climatic variations as Earth, although not as much diversity in flora and fauna, and yet the gate was almost always situated in a temperate forest. Apparently the Ancients had liked their trees or something.
Standing on one side of the gate were two marines and on the other side were two men in Genii uniforms. Standing directly ahead of them near the DHD was Captain Winchester. The stocky young man nodded to John and his team as they approached.
"Hello, Captain," John said. "Everything going fine?"
"Yes, sir. The area's secure, no unexpected gate activity for the past two days, and Mr. Radim arrived about six minutes ago. Looks like the weather should hold up well, too. If you'll come this way?"
Winchester led them out of the gate clearing and down a narrow path through the trees that had once been a road but had been overgrown. At some point in the not-too-distant past, there had been a civilization here, but the Wraith had struck and the survivors moved on. Sooner or later people would return and resettle the planet, but for now it was empty and that was one of the reasons it had been chosen for the summit meeting. Not only did it mean no one to interfere, but it also meant little chance of the Wraith coming by again anytime soon. After a minute's walk, they reached another, larger clearing that had probably once been a field. Several tents were set up around it, Lantean ones on one side and tarp ones on another, with a much larger tent with open sides squarely in the middle. A few more marines and Genii soldiers roamed the area.
Under the large tent was a sizable table surrounded with chairs. Ladon and two aides were already standing there, and as John's team approached he turned their way and smiled, offering John his hand.
"It's good to see you again, Colonel Sheppard," he said as they shook. "How are you today?"
"I'm fine. How about yourself?"
"I'm quite well." Ladon looked at Teyla. "And of course it is a pleasure to see you, Teyla Emmagen."
"And you as well, Ladon."
"Rumor has it that congratulations are in order for the birth of a son."
"Thank you, yes. He recently passed his first year," Teyla said with far more grace that John would have. He smiled himself, letting Ronon do any ominous looming necessary. "I believe you already know Ronon Dex, but this is Doctor Radek Zelenka, our chief engineer."
"Nice to meet you," Ladon said to Radek. "These are Arrin and Segastus, two of my main advisers."
John nodded politely to the two men, then looked over his shoulder. "Captain, you can go back to your patrol now." The marine nodded and turned to leave. Ronon shot John a look, then headed off himself. John wished he could go off to stand guard or roam the woods looking for spies or whatever Ronon was planning to do.
"Shall we get down to business?" Teyla asked. Ladon nodded, and they all sat down on opposite sides of the table, with Teyla between John and Radek. "I believe that we all know why we are here. Atlantis is interested in acquiring a large amount of uranium or plutonium, preferably weapons-grade, possibly on a regular basis. In return, we are prepared to exchange certain useful technologies and expand the level of medical care we currently offer."
"Yes, it sounds like a very interesting proposal," Ladon said. "However, you must understand, we do not have large amounts of either element, especially the isotopes necessary for nuclear weapons. If you start taking it in any substantial amount, our own weapons program would suffer greatly."
"We are aware of that, and for that reason we would be willing to settle for raw ores for the most part. We would even return the lower-grade material to you once it has been separated, which we can do far more easily than you can. You would stand to loose little."
"Perhaps, although that would still lower the amount of the final product we produce. I suppose it comes down to what you're willing to give us in return."
"One thing you may be interested in is shielding for your existing reactors," Teyla said. She looked at Radek, who pushed up his glasses and pulled out a folded sheaf of papers from a pocket.
"Yes, yes," he said. He slid the papers across the table and one of the advisers took it. "That has several detailed instructions on how you can improve your radiation shielding. Most of it would simply be a stopgap on your current facilities, of course, but we can assist you in designing proper reactors that will not be nearly so dangerous and far more effective at producing power."
"Useful," Ladon said, "but hardly ground-shaking."
"Along similar lines would be a new type of medical treatment," Teyla said. "It is almost completely effective at treating the early stages of radiation poisoning and cancer."
That certainly got the attention of all three Genii. "That... is possibly more valuable. Tell me more."
"The treatment requires specialized equipment in Atlantis, but we should be able to accommodate several dozen people each week," Teyla said. "In addition, we would be willing to train your own doctors on various useful procedures for the treatment of other diseases and show you how to create antibiotics and similar drugs."
"I think this is certainly something worth exploring further." Ladon looked at John. "Of course, we would be trading weapons for a number of civilian technologies, which hardly seems fair."
"Your weapons are useless because you don't have a delivery system," John pointed out. "Unless you've suddenly built a missile system capable of reaching hiveships in orbit without being shot down by their escorts?"
"No. Are you offering one?"
"Nope," John said with a smug smile, meeting Ladon's eyes until the other man nodded. "On the other hand, we are willing to offer you our small arms, including automatic weapons, surface-to-air missiles, and various high explosives. And before you ask, yes, we'll show you how to build them yourselves, although it may take some time to create the infrastructure. It'll take you time to deliver all the ore we want, though."
It was less generous than it sounded, as Atlantis was standardizing primarily on energy weapons like the phaser John had at his hip. They could manufacture more ammo for their existing weapons, and certainly planned to maintain some projectile weapons in any case, but every minute of fabricator time spent on small arms munitions was a minute not spent on starship parts or drones. Ladon didn't need to know he would be getting a lot of hand-me-downs, though.
Ladon slowly began to smile. "Now that does sound far more equitable."
"We'll also give you a sensor net capable of detecting Wraith ships a day or so before they arrive," John said. "It wouldn't do for our allies to get caught unawares, after all, and we need to keep track of Wraith ships so we can use these nukes we'll be getting to good effect."
"I see." Ladon looked at his advisers and then at Teyla and John. "That sounds like a satisfactory arrangement in principle. Shall we discuss the details?"
Back when John had been new to the entire trade negotiations thing, he had always thought that this would be where people shook hands and then went out for a beer. On a few rare and very enjoyable planets, like Pseudo-Viking World, they did go off to the beer hall. In the vast majority of cases, however, once you got the actual agreement more or less solidified it was always time to 'discuss the details' and decide exactly how many apples would be traded for an orange, or how many baskets of llama wool were worth one hour of marine grunt work, or what the reward for slaying the dragon was (hold the virgin daughters, please - no, really). This case turned out to be no different. For the most part it was Teyla and Ladon going back and forth, haggling over dates and numbers in an exceedingly polite manner. John mostly sat there and looked pretty, except for a brief description of weapons capabilities. Radek got rather more action, including a long thirty-minute discussion-slash-kindergarten squabble with Arrin about standardized and decimalized weights and measures that had even Teyla looking depressed by the time it was over. From time to time Winchester or his Genii counterpart would stop by before their check-ins with their homeworlds, and once or twice John thought he saw Ronon frolicking through the forest.
John might have been imagining that, though. He liked to think that if he was hallucinating, he would at least imagine a naked Evan.
Thankfully, things were getting close to finished six hours later when they broke for supper, and with any luck they would only have a couple hours more to go. For the meal the Genii had provided bread, fruit, and drinks, while the Lanteans had brought plenty of sliced turkey and, more much more important if past trade deals were anything to go by, a number of types of candy for desert. Everything was traded liberally and eaten by all, so as to prevent any possibility of someone poisoning a particular person without getting one of their friends.
"You know," Ladon said as he ate a Mars Bar, "if you still have need of tava beans, I think perhaps that some of these delightful foods you've provided would make an excellent choice for exchange."
Teyla opened her mouth, but John beat her to the punch. "No. We are not starting this discussion right now. If the two of you want to talk about trading food, you can do it another day. I, for one, am hoping to get this done tonight so I can get home to my husband."
"Husband?" Ladon repeated. John wondered if he'd once more managed to put his foot in mouth and destroy another trade deal. Fortunately, Ladon sounded more curious than horrified, although that wasn't necessarily a good thing. "Is this recent?"
"Colonel Sheppard was married to a long-time lover just this past month," Teyla said.
"Really? I had the impression that he was attracted to women."
"He is at times, but he prefers men."
"Hey," John said, a bit annoyed about Teyla spilling details about his personal life.
"I see. Well, congratulations, Colonel. I meant no offense; I was simply basing my assumption on your flirtation with some of our women."
"Thank you - wait. Flirtation?"
Teyla smiled softly at John. "Yes, as usual."
"What do you mean, 'as usual'?"
"You often give off signals that many women interpret as indicating attraction," Teyla said, now smiling her 'you boys are so stupid' smile that she reserved for her teammates.
"Huh," John said. "Well, that explains a lot."
"Indeed it does."
John was about to ask her why no one had pointed that out to him before when the peace and quiet of the forest was broken by weapons fire.
Chapter 3: Univited Guest
== 3.1 - P9X-073 (July 13, 2010) ==
John wondered what it said about his life that fleeing through Not-Canadian forests seemed perfectly normal. If anything, it made him almost nostalgic for those long-ago days when his team had been able to regularly venture off world, meet new people, and get shot at by them. Sadly, none of his team was there with him. He had shoved Zelenka at Teyla and told her to get him to safety, which he fully expected to earn him the stick-beating to end all stick-beatings, and then had gone to join the marines in trying to beat back the attack. It had quickly became apparent that they were facing a small army and they had been forced to retreat, but by that time there had been no sign of Teyla.
That was how John had ended up running for his life with Ladon and Winchester. John supposed they were okay as a substitute team. Ladon wasn't nearly as smart or pleasantly bitchy as Rodney, but he wasn't having any trouble using Winchester's P-90 - like John he had only carried a pistol on him, but unlike John his needed ammunition and so the marine had handed his rifle over and stuck to using his phaser instead. Winchester, for his part, was doing an excellent job at taking Ronon's role, right down to the ability to jog along despite having gotten shot.
"It's odd how this sort of things seems to happen whenever we meet," Ladon told John as they started to carefully work their way down the side of a valley. There hadn't been any sign of the enemy for nearly fifteen minutes, when they'd literally stumbled over a team of five soldiers. The bastards had barely had time to react before they'd been mowed down, but one of them had still managed to wing Winchester with a fuck-off huge pistol as he went down.
"Last time it was you trying to kidnap me," John reminded him. "Unless this is some stupidly elaborate plot on your part?"
"Not on my part, no. However, I'm very interested in finding out who leaked the time and place of this meeting."
"I bet we have a mind probe sitting around somewhere. We'll totally add it into the trade treaty for free." It would definitely be worth it, in John's opinion, if it meant not having to deal with quite so much Genii internal bullshit every time he wanted to just buy a couple of damned nukes. "Does this sort of thing happen often on your planet? You know, conspiracies, betrayals, all that jazz."
Ladon was quiet for a moment. "More often than it did before Cowen's father came to power. I had thought we'd cleaned their supporters out, but apparently not entirely."
As they neared the bottom of the hill Winchester tripped over a root. John managed to catch him before he went sprawling, but only barely.
"Sorry, sir," Winchester gasped out. He tried to stand straight again and was able to get a walk more feet before he stopped again and doubled over in pain. John grimaced, then pulled Winchester's arm over his shoulder. He spotted what looked to be a small cave or overhang half-concealed by trees not far away and waved Ladon over that way. When they reached it, John carefully lowered Winchester to the ground inside.
"Time for a break, I think," John said. He looked at Ladon, daring him to question the order, but Ladon simply nodded, hefted Winchester's rifle, and took position to stand watch.
"Let me take a look at you," John said as he knelt down. He carefully examined the bloody gash in Winchester's side where he'd been hit. Luckily it had been a glancing blow near his hip, if you could call a wild shot that managed to hit half an inch below his armor 'lucky.' The wound didn't look too deep or near anything important, but gut wounds could be unpredictable and John wasn't confident that it wouldn't get worse the longer Winchester had to keep moving. John opened up a pocket on Winchester's tac vest and pulled out a bandage, wishing one of them had a real first aid kit and telling the kid, "Well, it's not great, but bad either."
"Didn't think it was, sir. I've been hurt a lot worse."
After seeing how well he'd kept going despite the pain, John wouldn't be surprised if that was true. "I'd say you're looking at a couple days in the infirmary, but you'll be back to impressing the girls in no time."
"Cool," Winchester said with a weak smile. "Chicks dig scars."
John patted his shoulder. "Exactly. You stay there for a minute and get your strength back, then we'll get moving again."
"Might be a good idea to leave me here, sir."
"And have your brother kill me if you bleed out alone? Yeah, not happening." To forestall further debate, John stood up and joined Ladon at the entrance to their shelter, taking up a position to cover the opposite direction of the one Ladon was watching. "Do you have any idea who these jerks are?"
Ladon shrugged. "There are about a half-dozen societies I can think of off the top of my head who have their level of technology -" from what John had seen that meant bolt-action rifles and revolvers, along with a bunch of Wraith stunners, "- and who would be willing to anger the Genii and Atlantis simultaneous. Assuming they knew what they were getting into, of course."
"I don't care what they knew. If they think they can fuck around with my people and get away with it, they're in for a big surprise," John said, as casually as he would if talking about the weather. "I'm done putting up with this sort of bullshit. By the time I'm through with them, they'll be lucky if their planet is still one piece."
John meant it, because after years of dealing with kidnappings and hostage situations he was finally the one in charge and the gloves were coming off. Apparently Ladon could tell John was serious, because he gave him an appraising look then nodded once. A moment later he tensed, and quietly said, "Group coming from up the valley. Looks like five or six."
"Funny, I was about to say the same thing," John replied, pointing the other way. Two and a half to twelve didn't sound like terribly good odds to John. If it was his team with him, maybe he would take the chance, but he'd never seen Ladon in a stand-up fight and Winchester wasn't in much condition to try to run. Hiding wasn't much of an option, either, because the cave wasn't deep enough for them to remain unseen if someone looked inside. "I could try to draw them off. It might be me they're after."
"Or it might be me," Ladon said. "In any case, I doubt either one of us could make it past them, and they'd be sure to check this location for others."
"True." John took another look and his eyes narrowed. "They're carrying stunners, so I'm guessing this is a snatch-and-grab, not an assassination. On the other hand, if we kill some of them..."
"They may change their minds, especially with regards to whichever of us they're not after."
"Exactly." They looked at each other, then John shrugged. "Give me a minute." John went back to Winchester, who was looking increasingly out of it. John took his phaser and tossed it as deep into the cave as he could, then did the same with his own. Then he nudged the marine. "Get up. We've got company."
John helped him stand and brought him to the front. He looked at Ladon, who nodded and put down the rifle. John took a deep breath and stepped out into the open.
"Hey! Hey, you!" John waved to the nearest group of soldiers. "Take me to your leader!"
== 3.2 - P9X-073 (July 13, 2010) ==
Teyla found herself running through the woods, half-dragging Doctor Zelenka alongside her. There had been next to no warning, simply the sudden sound of gunshots, phaser fire, and Wraith stunners. As far as she had been able to tell guards at the gate had been overwhelmed within moments by the weight of numbers arrayed against them, barely having time to even shout an alarm over their radios. The enemy had fallen upon the meeting site immediately afterwards, and Teyla cursed the fact that they had chosen a spot so close to the gate in the interest of convenience. The remaining guards at the camp had tried valiantly to mount a defense, but they were too few, and in the confusion John had shoved Zelenka to Teyla and ordered her to get him to safety. There had been no time to argue or to insist he come with them, and so she had taken the civilian and fled.
Without warning a figure stepped out from behind a tree ahead of them. Teyla snapped her pistol up and barely stopped herself from firing in time. "Ronon," she said with a sigh of relief.
"Oh, thank God," Zelenka said. He hunched over, red-faced and breathing heavily.
"Where's Sheppard?" Ronon asked.
"We were separated in the attack," she said. She glanced back the way they had come. "Did you recognize who they were?"
"No," he said. "Not Genii. They've got guns and uniforms, too, so probably not Wraith worshippers. I think there's about fifty, maybe sixty of them."
"A sizable force." The number of worlds that could muster a raiding force of that size and arm them with guns was not a large one, but still far too many to identify with ease. "It would explain how they managed to get through the guards at the gate."
"Yeah. So what do we do?"
Teyla looked at Ronon, then at the still-panting Zelenka, and came to a decision. "There is nothing here of value, certainly nothing that would justify sending so many soldiers, which means they must be looking for prisoners. Perhaps they are after us, perhaps after Ladon and his people, but it does not matter. Once they find who they want, they will most likely return to the gate. Someone must be there to see what address they dial."
Ronon nodded. "If we're careful, it shouldn't be too hard to get within sight. Might even be able to dial out ourselves, call for help."
"No, with their numbers they will certainly have the gate well-guarded. The next check-in is not far off; when we miss it Atlantis will send help."
"I am not sure that this is a good idea," Zelenka said. His eyes were wide and he was trembling, with a hand resting on the pistol still strapped to his thigh. "I am not Rodney, I can not do the, the fighting and the sneaking about well."
"I do not expect you to, Doctor Zelenka," Teyla told him. "I will go alone."
"What?" Ronon said. "No you won't."
"Alone?" Zelenka shook his head and took a deep breath. "No, no. Simply find me a place to hide and take Ronon with you. I will be fine."
"We are not leaving you alone, Doctor," Teyla said. If he were Rodney, she might have considered it, but for all his considerable merits Zelenka was not Rodney. "They may be taking prisoners, but for what purpose we can not be sure. It would be best if you kept moving and someone remained to defend you."
"Yeah," Ronon growled. "Like you."
"The undergrowth near the gate is not so considerable that a man of your size would find it easy to conceal himself. It will be far easier for me," Teyla reminded Ronon. He started to protest further, but Teyla snapped, "We can not risk detection, and there is no time to discuss this. Take Doctor Zelenka and keep moving, as far as you can go. Once a jumper arrives they can locate you with your transponders. Until then, avoid combat and try to maintain radio silence. They may have radio tracking equipment."
Ronon stared at her a few seconds longer, but he nodded and put a hand on Zelenka's shoulder. "Come on, doc. We need to move."
Teyla watched them go, but before they were completely out of sight she turned and ran back the way they had come. The forest around her was unnaturally still and silent, all the wildlife driven to ground by the sound of the fighting. She made a wide circle around the camp, not daring to venture closer to see what was occurring there, and as she ducked from tree to tree she occasionally caught sight of groups of men spread out in lines and combing through the woods. It was child's play to get past their, because for all their apparent skill at warfare they were unfamiliar with the forest and moving with great haste. For someone observant it was clear where the gaps in their search would be. As she slipped through their ranks she happened across a particularly incautious pair that she could have taken with ease, but she left them alone as she did not wishing to draw attention to her location when they were missed. The time for fighting, and if necessary vengeance, would come later. For now she had other duties.
She finally reached a small hill within sight of the gate some minutes later. She found a brush-covered depression to settle into and drew out the tiny field glasses she kept in a belt pouch. A quick look over the gate clearing confirmed her earlier suspicions: there were at least a dozen men around the gate, and while perhaps together she and Ronon could have dealt with them there was no telling how many more were nearby. She also noted three bodies lying nearby, one in a Lantean uniform and two Genii. Their unnatural positions told her that they were dead, but their presence told her something else. If all the guards at the gate had been killed, there should have been at least one more corpse. That almost certainly meant the missing guards had been taken alive.
A large force of enemy soldiers entered the clearing, and in their midst was a group of prisoners, some Lantean, some Genii. A glimpse of a familiar tuft of hair in the center made Teyla's heart leap to her throat, but she steadied herself and remained where she was. Whoever these people were, John Sheppard had undoubtedly dealt with worse. They could not compare to a Wraith queen or Acastus Kolya; he had survived them and he would survive whatever new threat this was.
If he did not, then his captors would quickly follow him.
== 3.3 - Atlantis (July 13, 2010) ==
Evan knew something was wrong when the clock on the lab wall ticked past 19:05 and there was no call from the control room. Chuck was on duty and he'd been as thorough as ever about relaying every check-in notification to Evan. On the other end of the wormhole Winchester had been absolutely punctual about dialing home exactly on schedule, not so much as a second late. One or two minutes might have been understandable, especially given the irregular pattern - thirty minutes, forty-five, twenty, nothing to give the Genii an exploitable schedule - but now they'd passed the five minute mark.
Quietly, so as not to disturb the three-way conversation between Rodney, Simpson, and Mike about cooling systems, Evan tapped his radio. "Chuck, this is Lorne. Did I miss a call from you?" There was any number of alternate explanations. Maybe Chuck had been taking a piss when Winchester dialed in, maybe the comms were on the fritz, maybe John had come home early and wanted to surprise him. There didn't have to be something wrong.
"I was just about to radio you, sir. They've missed the check-in."
But then, this was Pegasus, so nothing could ever be that simple. "Have Captain Barnes assemble two squads in the jumper bay. I'll be up in a minute."
Evan got out of his chair and headed for the door, only to stop short when Rodney called out, "Where are you going?"
He turned around. "To the control room. It's probably," nothing he started to say, but looking at Rodney's worried and sleep-deprived expression he couldn't quite do it. "It's just a late check-in. I doubt it's anything."
Somehow Rodney managed to look even more haggard than he had a moment before. He looked at Simpson and said, "Your idea looks... adequate. Possibly even good. Go ahead and implement the modification." Then he joined Evan at the door and says, "Well?"
As they walk to the transporter Evan said, "I'm serious; it's probably just a mix-up about the schedule. By the time we get up there it'll probably be all taken care of."
But when they reach the control room, Chuck just shook his head. "Still no contact, sir."
"They've just finished gearing up and are starting preflight. They should be ready to go in a minute."
"Wait, go?" Rodney glared at Evan. "I'm not ready, they need to wait."
"You're not going," Evan said flatly.
"That is my team out there," Rodney hissed, "and I am -"
"About to fall over any second," Evan interrupted and finished for him. "You'd just slow them down, and we might need you here. You'll notice I'm not going either. Barnes and his men can handle this."
"Barnes is an idiot."
"Barnes was SAS and has done this sort of thing a hundred times, here and at the SGC."
"They could have been attacked by Wraith, or the Genii could have decided to kidnap them yet again, or, I don't know, Godzilla could be running amok!"
"All the more reason for you to stay here until we know what's happening on the other side," Evan said patiently. "If it's a purely military rescue, you don't need to go. If there's some sort of technical malfunction, we'll need you to diagnose it and you'll want a full set of equipment. Or hey, there's another possibility."
"This is all a trap for you. There's certainly enough people in this galaxy who might want to get a hold of your big brain, and they know your team is the best way to get at you."
"Hmmm," Rodney said, looking slightly mollified. "You know, you may have a point there."
"Yeah, I know. I mean, it could be the Genii, Todd, Earth, Larrin," Evan paused for dramatic effect, "the Matriarch of Kev-Shen."
"Fine, you've made your point," Rodney said with a shudder and a horrified look. "But if they're not found, I'm going out on the next search team."
"I won't try to stop you," Evan said, relieved that he'd managed to win at least that small victory.
As they were arguing, the away team had finished their prep and now the gate sprang up. Three jumpers dropped from the ceiling and passed through, one, two, three before the gate shut down again. They could have left the wormhole active and monitored things from the control room, but the last thing Barnes needed was Evan and Rodney looking over his shoulder from halfway across the galaxy.
They waited for an eternity, or maybe just twenty minutes, before the gate engaged again and over the radio Barnes said, "Atlantis, I'm sending jumper four back to you. They've got Teyla, Ronon, and Doctor Zelenka aboard." There was a momentary pause, then Barnes added, "It looks like there's been a firefight here, and Teyla says everyone got separated. The other jumpers are still searching, but it doesn't look good. And, uh, we're going to need some body bags."
Evan and Rodney looked at each other and simultaneously ran for the stairs. They reached the jumper bay just as Teyla stepped out of the jumper. She was grimy and had leaves in her hair but otherwise looked fine until she saw Evan and Rodney. Then she swallowed, closed her eyes, and when she opened them again she simply said, "They took John."
"Right. Okay," Evan said after a moment, instead of curling up in a ball. "Get yourselves cleaned up and checked out, then meet me in the conference room. We've got work to do."
Chapter 4: Gunboat Diplomat
== 4.1 - Atlantis (July 13, 2010) ==
The search of 073 turned up only a several bodies and a wounded Genii soldier hiding in a ravine. According to Teyla, most of the unknown attackers had already left through the gate shortly after taking John, and as soon as the jumpers turned up the remainder high-tailed it off the planet. It was bad luck that they hadn't caught any of them for interrogation, but Teyla had seen a gate address and if the attackers were even a little overconfident chances were it was to their homeworld.
"Do either of you recognize this address?" Evan asked Teyla and Ronon. They, along with Radek and Rodney, had gathered in the control room shortly after they had returned and passed through a cursory medical check.
Teyla shook her head, but Ronon said, "Cortosis. Industrial world, fairly advanced. Not on the same level as Sateda, but getting close. They tend to do a lot mercenary and bounty-hunting work, do stuff so others don't have to get their hands dirty and can deny involvement."
"Well, there's the motive, probably." Evan looked at Chuck. "Dial it up and send the MALP through."
The gate engaged without a hitch and one of their remaining MALPs soon trundled through the gate. The telemetry and video popped up on the main screen, but only for a few seconds - almost immediately it was struck by gunfire from multiple locations and the transmission cut off. Rewinding to the last image sent didn't exactly fill Evan with confidence.
"It looks like they have the gate pretty well fortified," he said, pointing at a few places on the screen. "Those look like Gatling guns, and I bet those covered emplacements there are cannon. It would be a bit of a squeeze for a jumper, too. We'd have to stop right in front of them and then move up, and they'd see us before we could cloak.
"We could, we could," Rodney waved his hand vaguely. "Convert the cloaks to shields, then they wouldn't be a problem."
"Maybe, but without the cloak sneaking in will be a problem." Evan looked at Ronon again. "I'm guessing it's safe to say they have a fairly big army."
"So a direct assault probably won't do us much good, not with the numbers we can fit inside jumpers." Evan bit his lip. Asimov, their only fully operational ship, was currently out in the system's asteroid field doing a mineral survey, but even if it was recalled they could only fit twenty or so men in it. It wasn't well armed, either, just a few dozen drones and a pair of popguns for dealing with darts. "Okay, get us a UAV ready to send through."
Atlantis had never made as much use of UAVs as the SGC did, thanks to the jumpers, but they did have a couple on hand for just this sort of situation. They had been modified and enhanced with a few interesting pieces of Ancient technology, most important being advanced sensors and anti-grav engines that could allow them to loiter indefinitely. Evan had already alerted the engineers that one might be needed, so it only took a few minutes to set one up on the gateroom floor and send it rocketing through. The instant it cleared the gate it pulled up and went into a steep climb to avoid the various barricades around the gate. Soon sensor information began to pour back to Atlantis.
"That's a pretty big city for Pegasus," Evan commented as he saw the raw lifesigns count. "Fifty thousand people? No way are we going to be able to fight our way through all that if they go on alert." Then a set of five green dots appeared. When superimposed over the images being sent back, they appeared to be inside a fortress, itself at the center of a large, well-protected military compound. "Are those their transponders?"
"Yes, yes it is." Rodney tapped at his computer. "And there are lifesigns associated with each signal, so they haven't been removed."
"Oh, thank God," Evan said. He thought about the situation some more. Even knowing the location of the captives, a direct uncloaked assault was out of the question. Even one made with the cloaks would be difficult, at best, because it would mean trying to infiltrate a heavily guarded installation and extracting the prisoners without being detected. There had to be another way. Maybe they could arrange a distraction of some sort, or try to find out why the Cortosians had attacked in the first place and negotiate.
Then Evan had a thought about how to do both at once and he slowly began to smile. "Rodney, am I right in thinking that with the ZPMs we can maintain the wormhole indefinitely?"
"Huh?" Rodney had begun to slump over in his chair and jumped. "Yeah, as long as we keep sending a signal through. It's happened at the SGC a couple times."
"Which means they can't move our people off-world. Good." Evan looked to Radek. "Constitution is basically spaceworthy, correct?"
"More or less. The engines, shields, sensors, all of those are functional," Radek replied. "Weapons, however, not so much. The defense lasers and missile tubes are ready, but we have no actual missile warheads yet and the main gun is in pieces. Drones, well, the less said the better."
"That's fine, we won't need anti-shipping weapons for what I've got planned. How long would it take to reach 073?"
"Five hours, if we push the drives. Certainly no more than six."
"All right. Is there any work going on that needs finished but can't be done underway?"
"Not particularly, no."
"Good. We'll transfer down anyone who isn't essential before we leave." Evan wasn't particularly worried about possible combat, but he also wasn't thrilled about risking both of the city's top researchers on a ship that had only made a single test flight before. The fewer civilians aboard, the better. "I'll have Keller put together a medical team in case someone needs immediate attention. We'll also bring Barnes' marine squads, since they're already assembled, plus Captain Miller and three other combat pilots. Ronon, I'll want you to work with Barnes to evaluate their defenses. By the time we leave, I want to know every detail about their military capability that we can get."
Evan looked to Teyla last. "Teyla, I don't have any right to ask you this..."
"But you think someone should remain here, in case this is not an isolated event and someone attacks the city." She nodded, taking the suggestion with more grace than Evan would have. "I understand, and will begin preparations at once. I shall also alert our allies of what has happened."
"Thanks. Everyone else, plan to depart at," Evan checked his watch, "2030 hours. Any questions?"
Everyone shook their heads and Evan tried to smile. "Okay. Let's get going." As they split up, he flagged for Radek to stay behind. "Got a question for you, doc..."
Thirty minutes later, Evan flew a jumper carrying Rodney, Ronon, and Keller's team up to Constitution. The ship was currently floating inside a minimalist drydock, which was little more than a few dozen structural frames that served as a convenient set of anchor points for putting together the ship's modular components plus a shield generator for protection against radiation and meteors. Not unlike an aircraft carrier or submarine, the ship had been built in segments in the shipyards down in Atlantis and then hauled up by the tug ship Beagle for assembly. The cruiser was about five hundred meters long, about the same size as the old Prometheus and a bit shorter than a BC-304. However, as it lacked the large flight bays on either side of the main body that a 304 had, it was actually much smaller.
There were three main sections of the ship. First was the command and weapons section, which was shaped like a wide octagonal prism, flat-faced and vaguely shaped like the head of a hammer. It housed the living quarters, bridge, infirmary, and other crew facilities. It was also where the main gun, drone bays, torpedo launchers, and most of the defensive phased laser arrays were located. Next came a boxy mission-adaptable section, also in shape but boxier and fatter. The upper half was taken up by a large VLS missile battery, not unlike that of a BC-304, and the lower half had several launch bays for remote-piloted fighters. Lastly, there was the engine section; a boxy arrangement with four large drive nacelles attached to it, two to either side.
Constitution wasn't terribly pretty to look at, and most of her weapons still didn't work. For Evan's purposes, though, she would do just fine.
There was a gaggle of engineers and other scientists waiting for them in the ship's hangar, and once the marines finished getting off their jumpers the civilians started to file on. However, one hung back, a shaggy-haired young man who looked like an overgrown puppy and who looked vaguely familiar for some reason.
He squared his shoulders when Zelenka looked questioningly at him and said, "Doctor Zelenka, I was in the middle of recalibrating the forward fire control system. Now, it's still operational, but I think it'd be easiest for everyone if I finished it myself."
"That's nothing I or one of the ship's crew couldn't do," Zelenka pointed out.
"Yeah, but I could get it done a lot faster and without taking up your time," the engineer said, practically begging, "and if something does go wrong, you and Doctor McKay might need every hand he can get to help."
Evan finally realized why the boy seemed so familiar and said, "It's okay, Radek, he can stay."
Radek shot Evan a questioning look, then shrugged. "Very well."
"You're..." Evan tried to put a name with the face, came up with Sean, Sam, something with starting with S, and settled for, "Winchester, right? Hey, I'm sure your brother is fine."
Winchester the Younger smiled half-heartedly at Evan. "No, I'm pretty sure he's not. He has a habit getting into a lot of trouble."
"Well, so does Colonel Sheppard, and he always gets out okay. They may be a little bit broken when we get them back, but Doctor Keller's down in the sickbay and she'll take good care of them."
"I hope so, sir."
"Think of it like this," Evan said somewhat cheerfully. "It probably can't be worse than what happened to you the first time you went off-world."
Winchester gave Evan a skeptical look. "I was nearly eaten by a vampire, sir. I mean, a Wraith."
"Exactly!" Evan thought for a second and had to add, "Although if your brother is injured, I'd appreciate it if you refrained from reducing any marines to tears like the captain did."
"Sorry about that," Winchester said with an embarrassed look. "He gets a bit... overprotective at times."
"Are we standing around for a reason?" Rodney asked from behind Evan. "I don't know about you, but I'm sure me, Zelenka, and Mr. Floppy here have useful things to do."
With an exasperated sigh, Evan turned around. "We're just waiting for everyone to finish getting on or off their jumpers, McKay." He looked to the side, where Ronon, Barnes, and Miller were waiting with rather more patience. "Miller, go to the bridge and get us into hyperspace as soon as we're cleared for departure. Everyone else, you know what your jobs are."
Everyone began heading for the exits, but as Rodney passed by Evan grabbed him by the sleeve of his t-shirt. "Not you, Rodney. There's something else I need you to do."
"Hmmm? Sure, sure." Rodney's easy acquiescence convinced Evan that he was doing the right thing. After a few minutes of walking and a transporter ride, they arrived outside the captain's quarters. When they stepped inside, it took Rodney a few moments to realize that they weren't in engineering, a lab, or some other work-related area.
"Why are we here?" he asked irritably.
"Because otherwise you would have gone off to engineering with Radek," Evan explained, even as he took off his outer jacket and bent over to unlace and pull off his boots.
"I fail to see the problem with that," Rodney said. When Evan's shirt followed his jacket and he began unbuttoning his pants, Rodney scowled and added, "I also fail to see why you seem to be performing a rather pathetic striptease. Is there a point to me being here, or are you just wasting my time for the fun of it?"
Evan dropped his pants and stepped out of them. He walked forward until he was face to face with Rodney. "You're here because Radek said that he can handle the work without you, and because by our count you've been up for the better part of two days straight. You need to sleep."
"Sleep! John is being held captive by some Pegasus version of Blackwater and you want me to sleep? Hey, what do you think you're - mmph!"
Evan had closed the distance between them, grasped the hem of Rodney's t-shirt, and swiftly pulled it up. Rodney tried to struggle feebly but had to give up and raise his arms to let Evan get it completely off. As Rodney fumed and glared at him, Evan calmly explained, "I know exactly where John is, which is why I need you to get some sleep. It's also why I know I can't trust you to go to bed without someone to force you to do it."
Rodney practically exploded, and despite being sleep-deprived and weary - or perhaps because he was - it was an awesome sight to behold. His face was quickly turning dark red and his hands were flying as he yelled, "Okay, that's it! I've had about enough of this shit! I've been watching you the entire time this has been going on and you, you've barely even so much as frowned, let alone show the slightest bit of concern, and now suddenly you're trying to make me sleep for John's sake? Well, fuck you! Unlike you, I actually care about what's happening to him and want to do something about it!"
Evan gritted his teeth, took a deep breath and held it for a ten count, then let it out and asked, "You finished yet?"
Rodney crossed his arms. "No, but I'll let you make a rebuttal, if only so I can crush you even more thoroughly."
"You want to know why I'm calm? It's because I need to be able to think things through and make rationally, and reassure my subordinates that things aren't that bad. It's because after a couple years of John throwing himself into danger, getting captured by Wraith and Replicators and all the rest, and just plain disappearing into thin air, I've gotten used to keeping my cool until he's safely back. It's because if I spend too much time dwelling on it, I'm going to start thinking of what they might be doing to him and about the fact that in about seven months I might have a son who'll never know one of his dads!"
Evan had started off quiet and level, but by the end he was shouting loud enough that Rodney flinched back from him. He took a deep breath to steady himself, then pointed at the bed. "So I don't want to hear any more crap about me being too calm. John wanted me to watch out for you and I'm damned well going to do it. Now, you're going to take off your pants, get in that bed, and sleep for four hours, so that when we arrive you'll be rested and ready to pull a miracle out of your ass if we need one. Clear?"
Rodney stared at him in silent shock, then looked away and nodded shortly. "I suppose what I said might have been a bit... unfair."
"Just a bit, yeah."
"It's just, you know, the lack of sleep talking."
Evan felt his anger start to ebb and he smiled a little despite himself. "Just the lack of sleep?"
"Whatever." Rodney sat down on the edge of the bed and began working his shoes off. "This thing had better have a good mattress. My back's been acting weird the last few weeks."
Evan flopped down on the other side of the bed. "It's exactly the same kind of mattress as we use in the city."
Rodney looked him up and down, eyes lingering for a moment on his briefs, and he asked, "What do you think you're doing?"
"I need to sleep too, Rodney. The bed's plenty big for the both of us, and it's not like we haven't shared before."
"Oh. Fine." Rodney lay down as well. "Just keep your hands to yourself."
"Don't worry, your virtue is safe with me." Evan rolled his eyes and killed the lights.
He wasn't terribly surprised when he woke up to find that while they slept Rodney had migrated across the bed to press up against Evan's side. Not only that, but he'd sprawled out, apparently trying to take up as much room as possible, and in the process he had draped and arm and a leg cross Evan. He was also drooling on John's pillow. It was all vaguely cute, but none the less Evan shoved Rodney off of him, resulting in considerable squawking and grumbling. Evan ignored it and headed for the shower for a quick rinse. Rodney was looking far better by the time Evan got out, and after a shower of his own he almost appeared human.
The two of them made their way to the bridge. For reasons that were far too geeky to go into, it was almost but not quite a duplicate the one from the Star Trek movies. Two military officers manned the forward helm and tactical consoles and Winchester was at the engineering station. Rodney made a beeline for the science station and plopped down into the chair.
From where he stood near the center of the bridge, Miller said, "You've got great timing, sir. We're just about to drop out of hyperspace."
"Really?" Evan sat down in the captain's chair and it happily hummed to life under him. "I thought it was going to be at least another thirty or forty minutes."
"Doctor Z managed to get a little more speed out of the engines, sir."
"What?" Rodney shouted. He snapped his fingers in Winchester's direction. "You. Worchester. What did the idiot do?"
Winchester shrugged. "Not much. We only pushed the drives ten percent past rated; we're still well within the safety margins. I think we could have done fifteen or twenty and been fine."
"I know you're new at this," Rodney said with a voice that could melt lead, "but it's hard to perform a rescue if your subatomic particles have been spread across a few light years of hyperspace."
"We're still alive, and we're going to get to Sheppard that much quicker, McKay" Evan said, stepping in to rescue Winchester before one of them got hurt. "I'm not going to complain. Are you?"
"That," Rodney said grumpily, "is not fair."
"Nope." Evan grinned and Rodney seethed. Luckily, the main screen flashed and the swirls of hyperspace were replaced with a view of a blue-green planet. Keeping his voice calm, Evan asked, "McKay, can you locate our people?"
There was a long, drawn-out silence, before Rodney visibly relaxed. "Yeah. They're all still there and accounted for."
"Good," Evan said. He leaned back in his chair. "All right, people, let's get this show on the road. Miller, get down to flight ops. Tactical, raise shields and arm phasers."
"Phased lasers," Rodney corrected.
"You know what I meant. Helm, set a course for the target and take us into the atmosphere."
== 4.2 - P1X-370 Cortosis (July 14, 2010) ==
One look around the area after they came through the gate had been enough to tell John that they might be in some serious shit. Most societies in Pegasus didn't do much to fortify the area immediately around the gate, because that sort of thing tended to piss off Wraith keepers enough to bring a full-scale attack even between culling cycles, but apparently their captors got regular old humans angry often enough to make it worth the risk. There were thick-looking stone walls around a relatively small enclosed area, with gun emplacements looking down and ready to turn the place into a killing field. Maybe if the personal shield project had been finished Lantean marines might have been able to storm it, but as it were he wasn't even sure a jumper would be able to come through and get into open air without taking some serious hits. That only left rescue by space, and Asimov wasn't up to carrying a large force even if they had one. Still, he knew Rodney and Evan would come up with something.
They were loaded up onto a wagon and John did a quick headcount. In addition to Winchester and himself, there were three other marines already there, two of them just waking up from stunner hits. There were a similar number of Genii. That left at least three of his men unaccounted for. Teyla and Ronon he assumed had managed to evade capture and taken Radek along with them. As far as John was concerned, that was the only possible explanation for why they weren't there. Not long after they arrived, the stargate activated again and another group of soldiers piled through. The enemy leader gave a signal and the wagon began moving, passing through set of gates, through a large empty courtyard, and through another gate out into the streets of a city. It didn't take long to reach a sprawling military compound, complete with large stone fortress of some sort smack dab in the middle. John and his men had their equipment taken from them, were separated from the Genii, and taken to what might have been a small halfway-comfortable bunk room, if it weren't for the bars on the windows.
"Everyone okay?" John asked after the door slammed shut with a solid thunk. Most of the marines nodded, although the two who'd been stunned still seemed somewhat out of it.
"Peachy, sir," Winchester said. John glanced at him skeptically.
"Lay down before you fall over. Fitzpatrick, he's got a gunshot wound to the side. I bandaged it up, but make sure he's not still bleeding."
John went to the windows and looked outside. They were several stories up and outside he could see a large number of soldiers going about their business. The place was also crawling with patrols. It didn't look to good for an easy escape, but John liked to be optimistic and so he said, "Well, on the bright side at least they're not Wraith, and we're not on a hiveship out in deep space. No worries about how we're going to breathe when we escape."
"Unless they're planning on selling us to the space vampires," Winchester muttered. "Same shit, different galaxy."
"I know you're in pain, but shut up."
"Shutting up, sir."
While Fitzpatrick replaced Winchester's bandage, John and the other marines searched the room. They didn't turn up much of use - eight beds with mattresses and sheet, a table with four chairs, and an enclosed electric light. There was nothing else to find, and they had been searched thoroughly enough that none of them had so much as a knife. It was times like this that really reminded John of one of the many reasons he liked working with Ronon so much.
About an hour later, the door swung open and a young man with a beard stepped through, two hulking guards with raised stunners close behind him. Beard Dude glanced between a large photo he was holding and John a few times. "That's definitely him. You, come with us."
"What if I don't feel like it?" John asked.
"Then I have you all stunned and you get dragged along instead."
"Yeah, I figured. Sergeant Myers, you're in charge until I get back or Winchester's lucid." With that, John walked out the door and let himself be led through a series of twisting passages and up several stairs until they reached a large ornately decorated room with large windows that looked out onto the city beyond. There was a huge wood desk near the center, where an older man wearing a medal-covered uniform was eating a meal. John was none too gently pushed into a rather uncomfortable chair on the opposite side of the desk.
"Ah, Colonel Sheppard," the old guy said. "I am Meritas, Autocrat of Cortosis. I do hope you don't mind if I continue my meal, my doctors insist that I maintain a regular schedule to help with my digestion."
John frowned but shook his head. "Uh. No, not at all."
"Good, good. I don't suppose there's anything you need for yourself? Food, drink?"
"I'm fine, thanks," John said. Trying to get a feel for what he was dealing with, he cautiously added, "One of my men is wounded. He needs medical attention or at least some painkillers and clean bandages."
"Of course, of course. It wouldn't do for him to die on us." Meritas took a drink from a fancy wine goblet. "I'm sure you must be wondering why you're here."
"The question had crossed my mind."
"There are two answers to that question. First, you are here on my world and enjoying my hospitality because my nation is being paid a great deal to capture you, among other people." Meritas sighed. "It was unfortunate that your Doctor McKay was not present at your meeting with the Genii, but perhaps the others will make up for his bounty."
John was rapidly finding this conversation annoying. "I don't suppose you'd mind telling me who hired you?"
Meritas shrugged. "They didn't give a name and I didn't ask, although they wore uniforms not unlike your own - perhaps old comrades that you've angered? They showed up with a rather impressive flying craft and offered to show us how to make man-portable automatic weapons similar to the ones you have, plus several crates of weapons and ammunition for every additional soldier we captured. I could hardly refuse such a generous offer."
John's gut twisted. If Meritas was telling the truth, than apparently the SGC or IOA had decided to take a more subtle and dirty approach to taking back Atlantis than he had ever expected. "You know, my own people might be willing to pay the same as they're offering, and I bet it'd go a lot smoother for everyone if you did that. We'd just go our separate ways, no hard feelings."
"I could hardly do that after agreeing to their terms and capturing you, Colonel." Meritas smiled jovially. "Although perhaps your people would be willing to trade the scientist for the other soldiers with you. Hmm, but I see from your expression that it's unlikely they'll go along. Pity."
John fought to stop scowling and instead gave Meritas his best kneeling-before-a-Queen smile. "Maybe I should rephrase that. My people are going to come for us sooner or later, and when they do it would really be in your best interests to make a deal before they wreck the place."
"I see. Merilyn."
"Huh?" John looked at Meritas in confusion. He would have asked what that was supposed to mean, but he figured it out pretty quickly when Bearded Dude came out of John's blind spot and slugged him in the jaw. John waited for another blow and when it didn't come, he said, "Ow."
"I would prefer to keep this a civilized conversation, Colonel. I do not appreciate threats."
"This may sound cliche, but it wasn't a threat, it was a statement of fact." That earned John another blow. "Okay, okay, fine. Let me rephrase it. Even if you get the bounty for us, my people are still going to be angry, and they may cause enough damage to make your deal unprofitable. It would benefit both of us if you allowed us to pay you instead and let us go."
"Ah, you see, Merilyn, now he tries reason like a real man. Sadly, Colonel, a mercenary such as myself can not afford to break bargains that I have already made without great cause, especially when those I've bargained with have so much strength. Our gate is well fortified, enough to deter any attack. My employers, however, have a flying ship with which they might attack us. You're much less of a threat than they are - unless you have one of your own?"
John shook his head. "I wish we did, but no."
"Then there we are. I hope your people don't waste lives by trying to achieve vengeance."
"You do realize that the Genii are probably going to be a bit angry, too, right?"
Meritas spread his hands. "They have no way of getting past our defenses either. Besides, I intend to send them home with the name of my informant and a blood price for their men."
"How generous of you." John suspected that Meritas had no idea how well the Genii could hold a grudge over a few dead men. He definitely didn't know about that the Genii didn't exactly need to throw men against the fortification to express their displeasure.
"In any case, this talk of your people has reminded me of why you are here in this room. You see, not long ago the stargate activated and a metal device of some sort came through. We destroyed it, of course, but I was wondering if perhaps you knew what it was?"
John shrugged and looked clueless. "Never heard of anything like that before. Maybe it's a Wraith device and you're about to be completely fucked."
Meritas sighed, and his bully-boys held down John while Merilyn punched him a couple of times in the gut. While John was still doubled over, Meritas said, "I will no more tolerate lies than I will threats. Your language is also unacceptable. My suspicion is that it is a remote-viewing machine of some sort. You do have such marvelously small radio communications devices, after all."
"Could be," John allowed.
"Shortly afterwards, some sort of rocket passed through as well. Rather than striking anything, it veered sharply upwards and soon disappeared from sight. Can you explain that?"
"Weapons misfire would be my guess," John told him. "They saw your defenses and tried to destroy them, make a hole they could exploit. Unfortunately the damned gate missiles never work right. Between you and me, a lot of McKay's toys tend to be pretty shitty, no matter what he likes to claim."
This time both of the guards joined in on wailing on him, and by the time they were done John's ears were ringing and it felt like one of his ribs might be cracked.
"It was obviously intentional, Colonel. Was it another remote viewing machine, only one for the air? And on a similar note, do you know how your people have managed to hold the stargate connection active for more than thirty-eight minutes?"
"I'm just the muscle, they don't tell me how any of the gizmos work." John braced himself for another round, but it didn't come.
"You're the military commander, Colonel Sheppard. I'm sure you know at least the basics, if only so you can plan your strategies around your capabilities."
John smiled crookedly. "Pretty much. I'm not going to tell you anything, though."
"You and I both know that sooner or later you will tell me whatever I want."
"Sure, every man breaks eventually, but honestly? I've been fed on by a Wraith. This is nothing." John's grin got even wider. "Besides, not only is torture a sucktastic method of intelligence-gathering, but I'm betting you're not getting paid for a broken man."
Meritas stared at him in silence for a minute before inclining his head in acknowledgment. "True. On the other hand, I rather imagine that injured young man of yours may be easier to get answers from, or perhaps a good way to encourage you to tell me what I want. Of course, he might not survive our discussion, but the loss of his bounty wouldn't be that bad. Shall I send for him?"
John closed his eyes. "No, I'll tell you what you want. Yes, both machines were probes we use to look through the gate. As for keeping it on, all you need is a lot of power. I don't know the details, but I do know that you can't' keep it up forever without the gates exploding. Happy?"
Meritas clapped his hands and smiled. "Indeed I am. I suggest you take note, Merilyn, because this is one sign of an excellent leader. He did not waste further time trying to stall once his men were threatened, because he knew their deaths would gain him nothing. Thank you for your cooperation, Colonel. Later I may need your help in encouraging your people to cease their interference with the gate, but for now you can go."
John stood up, somewhat unsteadily, and bit out, "Just to remind you, you promised medical supplies."
"Of course, of course. Merilyn, see to it."
Merilyn and his pals lead John back to the cell and locked him in. Not long after that, a doctor showed up to clean Winchester's wound and stitch it up. Apparently their idea of painkillers was a few shots of something that smelt like vodka, but despite that Winchester grinned and bore it like he was used to getting sewn up without much real medical help. Then they were left alone. It was hard to tell how long they were in the cell, but it was easily four or even five hours. The sun was nearing the horizon outside and they had just finished a meal consisting of bread, cheese, and a few apple-like fruits when John noticed a commotion outside the windows.
"Looks like something's up," he said, going to look outside. Soldiers were running back and forth in alarm, and in the distance a siren began to sound. Then he heard a sound, quiet and first but growing in strength, a low almost subsonic throbbing that caused the window to vibrate in sympathy. John knew what that meant. "There's a ship coming in."
"Is it a 304 or Wraith?" Fitzpatrick asked.
"Doesn't sound right for either of them." A shadow fell across the compound outside and John craned his neck to try to look upwards. He could just barely catch a glimpse of a protruding antenna a couple hundred meters up, colored the distinctive reddish-tan of Ancient hull plating. John laughed aloud and said, "Oh, Rodney, I could kiss you. It's one of ours, guys!"
While John didn't know what was going on elsewhere, either there in the fortress or on the ship above, from the look of the soldiers below the Cortosians were shitting bricks. After ten minutes or so, there was a loud thunder-like clap of displaced air and a pair of brilliant lines connected Constitution and a distant point outside the city. The sound of an explosion reached John's ears a few seconds later and he could see a massive cloud of smoke begin to rise on the horizon. Somehow the Cortosians managed to become even more frenzied.
It didn't take long for a troop of armed soldiers to appear at the door, led by Merilyn. "Come with us. All of you."
John looked at his men. "Well, guys, looks like someone's eager to meet you all. Let's go."
They made their way back up to Meritas' office, with Fitzpatrick helping Winchester limp along. When they arrived they were lined up near one wall. Meritas had one of their radios in his hand and was scowling at it.
"- want to remind you that those were just our smallest guns," Evan was saying over the radio. "Now, unless you want me to demonstrate the true power of my fully operational battleship on something a bit more important than empty forest, I suggest you hurry up and get Colonel Sheppard on the radio."
Meritas stomped over and thrust the radio at John. "You will tell him that you are well and nothing more."
John smirked and clicked the radio on. "Colonel Lorne, this is Sheppard. I understand you're begging to hear the sound of my voice?"
"I wouldn't put it quite that way, sir," Evan replied in a sardonic tone. "How are you guys?"
"We're all good, but Winchester's got a gunshot wound. He looks stable enough for now."
Before John could say more, Meritas snatched the radio back and angrily said, "You have heard from him. Withdraw your ship."
"Heh, yeah, no," Evan replied. "I'll be staying right here until we get our men."
"That is unacceptable. I have no desire to see anyone harmed, but if you remain things may become most unpleasant for everyone."
"Maybe that's the case, but I'm afraid it's not up to me. My orders are to retrieve Colonel Sheppard and the hostages, and I can't leave until I've done so."
Meritas looked at John. "You are his commanding officer, yes?"
John shrugged and nodded. "Among other things."
"Then you will order him to leave at once, and to shut down the stargate. Once he has done so we can discuss the release of some of your men."
John raised an eyebrow and shook his head. "I really don't see what's in that for me."
"Really? Perhaps I can persuade you." Meritas turned to one of his guards, pulled a revolver from the man's holster, and aimed it at Sergeant Fitzpatrick.
John tried to step in front the marine, but Fitzpatrick shoved John away from him and just lifted his chin a little. John shot him an annoyed looked and slowly said, "I really don't think shooting anyone will help."
"I think it will, Colonel," Meritas said, cocking the firing hammer. "Merilyn, give the Colonel the radio." Merilyn brought the radio over and John reluctantly accepted it. "Now give them the order to stand down, or I will shoot your man in the stomach. I'm sure you're well aware of how painful a death that will be."
"Yeah. Yeah, I do," John said. He weighed his options, considered how likely it was that Meritas would really be willing to negotiate in good faith as opposed to stalling until the Earth ship returned. While Meritas didn't strike John as the sort to take this sort of blow to his pride lightly, he also seemed like the sort who could put aside his feelings if the price was right. With that in mind, John raised the radio. "Lorne, you still there?"
"It's not like I have anything better to do, sir."
John gave the autocrat a shit-eating grin. "General Order Twenty-Four, Mr. Scott."
There was a long pause, then Evan said, "Roger that, sir."
"What was that?" Meritas asked suspiciously.
"I just told him to turn the planet to slag if the hostages aren't released. Hope you're happy." There was a loud crack and a flash of light outside the window, quickly followed by more at an increasingly rapid pace until it sounded like they were in the middle of a thunder storm. Meritas hissed and took a few steps forward until he was pointing his revolver right at John's face. John's grin only grew wider. "You've got yourself a pretty nasty situation here, you know. If you kill any of my men and later release me, I'm just going to order you city leveled."
"Then I'll start with you and see if your subordinate is willing to spare the others once you're out of the way."
"Ah, there's the trap," John said. "That's not just my subordinate up there, it's my husband. If you kill me, he'll swear a Klingon blood oath and not stop firing until the land is melted and the oceans have boiled away." The sounds of explosions were drawing closer and John turned away from Meritas to look out the windows. "I'd say you've got about ten minutes or so until he starts running out of military targets and starts hitting other government targets, then the civilians. You might want to warn you family to get out of town, not that it'll do them any good in the long run. It's going to be a bit hard to breathe when the air fills with radioactive ash."
Meritas clenched his teeth and for a few seconds John thought that maybe he had pushed him just a little too far and that he would pull the trigger. The room was lit up when a laser burst hit one of the buildings just outside the fortress and a moment later Meritas snarled, "Fine! Tell them to stop!"
John lifted the radio again. "Lorne, Sheppard. Case Orange. Cease fire and send a jumper to pick us up. If you don't hear from us, revert to my last order."
"You sure about that, sir? We were just about ready to start trying out the quantum torpedoes."
"I'm afraid Captain Sisko will have to find someone else to test his toys on."
Evan's voice grew less tense after he heard the right code words. "If you insist, sir. Just signal where you want us to land."
"We'd like our equipment back along with any photos of us your employers gave you, please" John said sweetly to Meritas. "Oh, and we're taking the Genii with us."
"Whatever you want, just leave," Meritas bit out.
"Also, just in case you're thinking about revenge, you should know that we'll be watching you and if you try anything again we're not going to settle for just blowing up a few buildings. Consider this your fair warning."
John held up his hands. "I know when I'm not wanted. Come on, guys, let's get out of here." John looked at Merilyn, who appeared a bit shell-shocked. "Be a pal and lead us to our stuff, would you?"
Six minutes later they met a jumper as it landed in a large courtyard just outside the main building of the compound. Ronon was aboard, and as they filed on he glared at every Cortosian in sight and fingered his gun as if daring any of them to try something. Undoubtedly there were more jumpers hovering nearby under cloak, ready to intervene if the Cortosians were stupid enough to try something while Constitution still hovered directly overhead. John checked with Ladon to make sure all of his men were accounted for before allowing the jumper to take. It was a short ride, thankfully, and they were met at the other end by Keller and a stretcher team for Winchester. She took one look at John and ordered him and everyone else to follow along to sickbay as well.
John had barely sat down on one of the beds when Evan entered the room. Their eyes met across the room and John flashed him a smile. Evan strode across the room with the carefully measured pace of a man who had gotten the 'no running in the infirmary' lecture.
"How are you?" Evan asked when he reached John. He fidgeted a bit, like he wanted to hug John right there in front of the marines, the medics, and the Genii, and eventually settled for just sitting down next to John and holding his hand.
"I've been worse," John answered. His smiled dropped away. "Teyla and Zelenka okay?"
"They're all fine. Rodney's fine, too. In fact, he should be right behind me."
Sure enough, there was a yell from across the compartment. "Sheppard, you idiot!"
As Rodney stormed across the room, John winced and told Evan, "You know, maybe I was better off with the mercenaries."
Chapter 5: Excuses and Accusations
== 5.1 - Atlantis (July 15, 2010) ==
A quiet, solemn atmosphere hung over Atlantis when Constitution returned home. As soon as the cruiser had jumped to hyperspace, they had signaled ahead that they had safely rescued the captives. The news they got in return was grimmer: the bodies all of the soldiers who had been unaccounted for had been recovered and returned home. Staff Sergeant Luis Ramirez, Corporal Alice White, and Corporal Lukas Neumann had all been killed by the Cortosians during the fighting. Ramirez had fallen at the gate and the other two at some later point.
It hit everyone hard, especially John. Intellectually, of course, he had known he would lose someone sooner or later. Even if Earth had sent them a congratulatory fruit basket, the Wraith had gone vegetarian, and Pegasus had turned into the land of rainbows and unicorns, there were always a thousand other dangers lurking around every corner that could catch the unwary or unlucky. Even on Earth accidents in peacetime left people dead. This was different, though. Not only were they killed by hostile action, but the enemy had not been the Wraith but rather fellow humans who they had once called friends and comrades.
"I'm not going to say I really knew these guys," John said to the assembled crowd on the west pier. Funerals had always gotten decent attendance, especially military ones, but from what he could see every person in the city was there, baring those on critical duties. "I mean, to me White was just one of those kids who thought I'd gone nuts and wanted to save the city. Still, from what I did see and from what I've heard others say, I think I'd have liked to know them better. They'll certainly be missed and no one's going to be able to replace them."
John looked down for a moment before continuing. "I know that a lot of you have probably thought that, 'no one will replace them'. We're not going to get reinforcements anytime soon, not from Earth at least. Still, that's purely a matter of personnel. No one who's been in this city has ever been truly replaceable, because each and every one of us has been special in some way. And while I know it hurts, I want each and everyone one of you to remember that they died doing their duty. They chose to be here just like every one of us, because they thought what we're doing was worth the risk. Just... keep that in mind."
Later, after others had spoken and the bodies had been cosigned to the deep, there was a wake. John made his rounds through the crowd, doing his awkward best to personally express his condolences to surviving squad mates and friends. Once that was done he ended up at a table right at the edge of the pier with his team, Evan, and Radek. None of them said much for a while, each of them nursing drinks and guilt over their roles in what had happened. Kate Heightmeyer would probably have told them that none of them had anything to feel guilty about, which John supposed was probably ironic given that he still felt a bit guilty about her death even after so long.
"So what's our next move going to be?" Rodney asked suddenly while staring at his cup.
Ronon snorted. "Same as always. You find out who did this and then I shoot them."
"I think I like that idea," John said, hunched over in his chair. "Hey Rodney, how hard would it be to get past the iris?"
Rodney shrugged. "Surprisingly easy, really. It's not nearly as sturdy as our shield."
"A phase-shifted device, perhaps," Radek suggested. "Or a particle beam."
"Anubis had this cool Ancient device that blew up gates, I saved the world from it once." Rodney looked at his beer slightly cross-eyed. "Well, me and Sam. And Jonas Quinn. The point is, it was Ancient and I bet we could make one. Of course, it took a pretty long time to work, so doing it from another galaxy would use disgusting amounts of power."
"Wasn't that thing going to take out half of Colorado?" Evan asked, staring tiredly at the tabletop. "Because while I'm as pissed as everyone else, sending Earth into a nuclear winter seems like a bit of an overreaction."
Rodney shrugged. "Maybe. They'd just move the gate again anyways and get a new one. Although we could keep blowing them up. Or find a way just to level the SGC."
"Sounds good to me," John told him.
Evan rubbed his forehead and looked at John. "Personally, I'd rather not blow up the SGC anytime soon. I've still got – we've still got friends there. They have a lot of good people."
"What, so we just let them kill some of us and let them get away with it?" John knew it was unfair the instant he said it, but between the beer and the festering anger he felt it had slipped out anyways.
"That's not what I meant," Evan said, his eyes narrow and voice becoming decidedly frosty. "We don't even know for sure it was the SGC, John."
"The Cortosians had photos of us straight out of our personnel files and talked about a starship," John retorted. "I don't see who else it could have been."
Evan held up a hand "Yes, sure, it's someone from Earth, but that doesn't mean the SGC itself. For all we know, that's a Navy carrier out there and blowing up the gate would just make them deliriously happy because it'd be a major victory in the latest funding war."
"I agree with Evan," Teyla softly said. "We must strike back, but we also must ensure we strike those who harmed us. Threatening mass destruction would only serve to cause more trouble."
"Besides, we need to deal with the immediate problem first - that ship."
John squeezed his eyes shut tight and muttered, "I hate it when you two gang up on me when you're being reasonable."
There were chuckles from around the table. After another quiet minute, John said, "Okay, fine. Rodney, you working on anything vital?"
"Personal shields, among other things, but I can hand that off."
Beside him Radek nodded. "We had been holding off until a version that didn't need the ATA gene was designed, but under the circumstances, I can have production start on the original model immediately. We do not need Rodney."
"Why do you need to know?" Rodney asked.
"Because if you're not busy I want you to meet me in the planning center tomorrow morning." John opened his eyes and looked at Rodney. "You're going to help me and the pilots figure out how to kill a 304."
== 5.2 - Atlantis (July 17, 2010) ==
For the next few days, John spent most of his time with Rodney, Teyla, and Evan, plus a dozen other officers and scientists, out in a massive planning center several levels above the chair room. Once, thousands of years ago, it had been the strategic command center for the Ancient military. Now they were using it to plan out how to best defend Atlantis while hunting down and destroying a Tau'ri warship. As luck would have it, not long before they were scheduled to stop for supper Chuck radioed from the control room to say that a ship had been detected on the long-range sensors, moving too fast to be anything but a ship with an Asgard drive and headed straight for Atlantis. ETA was ten hours.
John found everyone looking to him in silence after Chuck signed off. He took a deep breath, put his hands on his hips, and said, "Okay. Ten hours, that gives us a lot of time. I think at this point our best option is defense plan FOREST MOON. Now, for the most part that doesn't require much beyond what we've already go prepared, so what I want you to do is go out, brief your sections, and then grab some chow and hit the sack. We'll reconvene two hours before they arrive to finish any last-minute adjustments we need to make. Any questions?"
Rodney raised his hand. "Yes. Am I allowed to sleep in my own bed, or are you going to have your chief minion tie me up this time?"
John grinned. "Well, Rodney, while under normal circumstances we'd be happy to discuss your kinks, I think we may have to wait."
"That wasn't what -" Rodney crossed his arms and lifted his chin a little. "You know what? Never mind. I don't have time to entertain your juvenile fantasies right now."
There were a few good natured chuckles from around the room, and Evan leaned a little closer to Rodney to whisper something in his ear. John had no idea what he'd said, but whatever it was made Rodney blush. John knew better than to laugh himself, if only to avoid the inevitable disapproving look Teyla would give him, and instead asked, "Anyone else?"
No one else had anything to add and so the group broke up, scattering off in ones and twos to fulfill their assignments. Rodney shot John a last heated glare before loudly and pointedly asking Teyla if she wanted to join him for dinner and the two of them left together. Eventually John and Evan were the only two left and John leaned against the central display table, a hologram of the solar system slowly turning in the air behind him.
"Want to get some food?" John asked.
Evan slowly shook his head. "I'm not really hungry."
"Me neither," John said, because there was a weight in the pit of his stomach that hadn't there ten minutes ago, even while they were discussing the effectiveness of kinetic kill missiles against Asgard shielding and trinium armor. "We should get something anyways, though. We might not get another chance."
So they went to the mess and got sandwiches, telling the food services staff to be sure to have a hearty breakfast ready extra early in the morning. They ate quickly and in silence before heading off to their quarters. The instant the door closed behind them it was a race to strip off their clothes and reach the bed. John fucked Evan hard and fast, driven by an instinctive, possessive reaction to the oncoming threat, and left Evan with a new set of bruises.
Afterwards, as they lay side by side in the darkness, John quietly said, "I never thought it would come to this."
"Neither did I really," Evan replied.
"It's just... I don't want to think O'Neill would do something like this," John went on. There they were, though, with a battlecruiser headed their way and plans in place to blow it out of the sky. Under other circumstances John would have reacted differently, but was before hired mercenaries started to kill his people. Part of John also remembered just what O'Neill's job was before the stargate program.
"He wouldn't," Evan said after a minute. "But it might not be him calling the shots. We don't even know if he's still in command of Homeworld Security."
John had been shying away from those kinds of thoughts for a long while now. They had left a lot of people back on Earth who might have taken a fall for what they'd done - Carter, O'Neill, anyone else even loosely associated with the expedition. It had had proved to be worth the risk, but John still hated it. "Yeah, I know."
"This is more Landry's style, I think, or maybe someone from outside the program entirely. It wouldn't be the first time the Pentagon has pulled something like this. O'Neill might have gotten overruled."
"I hope so," John said.
Evan leaned over and pressed a gentle kiss to John's lips. "Stop worrying, John. Whatever's going on, we'll figure something out."
"'Course we will." John meant it, too, because even if he was on shaky ground Evan would be there to steady him, and Rodney to produce miracles, and Teyla to guide him, and Ronon... well, Ronon to beat sense into him or blow shit up. With that in mind, he finally managed to get to sleep.
When they woke up, John shoved Evan against the shower wall and blew him, quick and sloppy. After that the morning was a whirlwind of activity, first breakfast with the team followed by two hours of organizing and last-minute adjustments to the defense plans. John and Evan split up halfway through it to see to their individual duties, John heading to the control room and Evan going up to take Constitution and lie in wait behind one of the moons. They were too busy to say goodbye and ended up just waving to each other from across a room.
"Well, they're certainly not trying for a stealth approach," John said in the control room as they were waiting for the last few minutes to pass. Waiting was his role at this point, because he would only get in the way of the activity up in the jumper bay or around the city as everyone battened down the hatches and moved to shelters and defensive position. The shield was up, the transport jammer active, and in the chair room Captain Winchester was waiting to take command of the offensive systems in case they were needed before John himself could get there. They were as prepared as they were ever going to be.
"No, they're not," Rodney said, standing alongside John as they watched the screen. Down in the corner of the display a timer was ticking away, one minute and counting. "They know what our sensor range is and how hard it would be to come in without us picking them up. They'd waste a week crawling in and not get much more surprise."
"Why are they coming here, though?" John asked, not for the first time. "They can't expect us to be dead already or something."
"I do not know," Teyla said from his other side. "But I expect we will discover that shortly."
The clock hit 0:00. Above New Lantea a hyperspace window appeared and a BC-304 emerged from it. It was positioned well outside of weapons range for either the ship or Atlantis.
"IFF identifies it as the USS Phoenix," Chuck reported. He frowned, and added, "Its shields are down, weapons are cold, and gunports are closed. We're not picking up active targeting sensors, either."
"No shields?" John frowned as well. Even if they were trying something sneaky, the ship should still have its shields up in case Atlantis opened fire on sight.
"They're up to something."
"Maybe they have the Odyssey along with them under cloak," Rodney suggested. "We still don't know how Jackson modified the ship to do that, and since it works against the Ori it might work on us too."
"They come in looking peaceful, get us to lower our guard while the other ship closes in and hits either the orbital drydock or the city itself," John said slowly as he thought it through. "That makes sense. Contact Captain Miller and have him proceed with intercept."
"We're being hailed," Chuck said.
Teyla nodded. "Thank you. Put it through, audio only."
"Atlantis, this is Phoenix," a familiar voice said. It was like a punch to the gut for John, because of all the people that could have been involved with this clusterfuck, Cameron Mitchell was the last person he had expected. "We're here to open up talks regarding diplomatic relations between Atlantis and a number of countries back home. Requesting permission to enter orbit."
Teyla looked at John before replying, "You may approach, Colonel Mitchell. Be advised that we are tracking you and have our defenses standing by."
"Thank you, Ms. Emmagen. Is Colonel Sheppard around?"
"I am afraid that he is... not available at the moment," Teyla said, going along with the script they had planned out. "However, I am sure he will be happy to speak with you when he returns, which will be shortly."
"I'm looking forward to it. I'll contact you again once we're in position. Phoenix, out."
Teyla glanced at John again. "It is not too late to abort Captain Miller's mission, if you think it is wise."
"No. This doesn't change anything," John said shortly, even thought it did. He watched as the icon representing the cruiser slid closer to the planet and simultaneously a second icon closed in on it. "We'll proceed with the plan. We may not get another chance to catch them with their shields down and I don't want to rely on an untested shield penetrator for this if we don't have to."
Out in space, a cloaked jumper was closing in on Phoenix, matching velocities and ever so carefully inching in towards the far larger ship's belly. Filling its rear compartment was a boxy device; something hastily built mostly out of pre-existing parts cannibalized from missile bodies and jumper spares. The jumper came into position just meters from the hull of Phoenix and its hatch silently opened. The device inched its way out of the jumper on compressed-gas jets until it was clear entirely. That meant it was clear of the cloaking field as well, but even as alarms began to go off inside the ship the device had oriented itself, fired its jets again, and clamped firmly onto the battlecruiser's hull.
The jumper itself sprinted away, still cloaked, and John breathed a sigh of relief as it quickly cleared the range at which randomly-fired railguns might possibly hit it. He tensed up again an instant later when Phoenix raised its shields and hailed them again.
"Atlantis, what the hell was that?" Cam said, sounding more annoyed than anything.
John took a deep breath. "Mitchell, this is Sheppard. We've just attached a mine with a two-gigaton naquadah warhead to your hull. You're ordered to lower your shields and surrender."
"You've what? Sheppard, this had better be your idea of a joke."
"No, it's not."
"Like hell am I surrendering."
"You don't have a lot of choice, Mitchell. The mine has a transport jammer and an anti-tamper system. If you attempt to remove it, it explodes. If you jump to hyperspace, it explodes. If you piss us off too much and we send a signal, it explodes. You getting the idea yet?"
Quietly, Chuck reported, "They've opened their VLS tube doors. Asgard weapons are coming online."
John grimaced. The missiles Phoenix carried couldn't get through the shield, especially if most were intercepted by drones before detonation, but they still had the kind of serious gigatonnage no one wanted going on planet that they desired to live on. "Cam, don't do something stupid that gets your people killed."
"Fuck you, Sheppard," Cam said. There was a long pause. "Give me a minute."
"Take all the time you need."
Rodney shot John a look and said, "If they have Sam aboard, they might manage to remove the mine."
"I know. I'm not going to push the button unless they fire first, though."
After a few tense minutes, Cam radioed them again and proposed to meet them halfway: he would come down to turn himself over, if Atlantis would remove the mine. John was hesitant to accept a deal like that, because once the mine was gone destroying Phoenix would be much more difficult if it came to that. Still, he agreed in principle, with the caveat that the mine wouldn't be dealt with until after Cam was on the surface. Phoenix would be required to completely shut down all weapons, shields, and its hyperdrive as well. Cam didn't sound happy about that, but he had no choice but to accept.
The transfer was fairly simple. An uncloaked jumper left the protection of the city so Cam could beam aboard it, and after he had been inspected for implanted explosives, nanites, snakes, and a dozen other potential threats they flew back to the city. John met them in the jumper bay, along with Ronon and a few marines.
When hatch whined open, John's first thought was 'Wow, this is going to suck,' because he had never in his life seen Cameron Mitchell look so pissed, not even after that incident with Marie Delacroix when they were lieutenants. His face was contorted with rage and his entire body looked so tense that John was surprised he hadn't pulled something.
John's second thought was, 'Yep, this sucks,' because Cam shouted, "You son of a bitch!" took three long strides forward, and slugged John so hard that it sent him spinning to the deck.
The marines started forward, but John waved them back and mumbled, "Stan' dow'. Ah 'served tha." He climbed to his feet and carefully felt at his jaw and teeth. He was happy and a bit surprised to find nothing loose. "Nice t' see you 'oo, Cam."
Cam balled up his fist again but then looked past John's shoulder to where Ronon was looming and settled for shaking it in John's direction. "I can not believe this, Sheppard. I never thought you'd pull this kind of bullshit."
"Yeah, well, back at you," John said. "So what's the plan? Odyssey lurking around and waiting for us to lower the shield? Or were you just hoping that the command staff would be out of the way by the time you arrive so you could roll over our seconds?"
"What? I don't know what kind of paranoid delusions you've got, but this is a diplomatic mission. You hear that? Dip-lo-matic. It means we're here to talk." Cam stuck a finger in John's face. "You know, I went to bat for you, said you'd listen to reason. I know you're insane, but I didn't think you'd be batshit enough to attack friends without provocation."
John snorted. "You've got an interesting version of 'talk'. Maybe that was your backup plan or something, but I spent some time 'talking' with your pals and I'm not too inclined to give you the benefit of the doubt."
"Pals?" Cam looked past John again. "Has he hit his head or something? 'Cause he's not making any sense."
"You know, the bounty hunters you hired to capture me and my team? The ones who crashed a diplomatic meeting with some of our allies and killed three of my men? Any of this ringing a bell?"
Cam stared at him incredulously. "No, it doesn't. Have you considered that there might be about a thousand other people in this galaxy alone that you've pissed off recently?"
"Sure, but none of them have a spaceship, wear our style of uniforms, or have my personnel photo to hand out."
"Huh." Cam folded his arms over his chest and frowned, the anger in his expression quickly being replaced with confusion. "Well, it sure as hell wasn't me."
"Really?" John said, frowning as well. He could feel relief starting to rise up and clamped down on it, not daring to believe Cam quite yet.
"And there's no other ship?"
"Sheppard, my orders came straight from General O'Neill and the President. Unless they forgot to mention it to me, I'm the only one out here and I'm supposed to negotiate."
"Well, shit." John scratched his head, feeling at a bit of a loss. "Um, sorry?"
"Sorry? You attach a nuke to my ship and all you can say is 'sorry'?"
"I've had a really shitty week." John sighed. He and turned around to the marines. "Stacks, take him down to the conference room. If he wants something to eat or drink, have it sent up from the mess." He looked at Cam again. "I need to talk with Rodney and Teyla, see if we can figure out what's going on. You better be telling me the truth."
"I telling you, Sheppard, I don't have the slightest clue what you're talking about."
"Right. I'll get back to you in a little bit and let you talk to your ship then."
Cam left with Stacks and the others, shooting John a last look as they headed out the door. Ronon came up behind John and asked, "You believe him?"
"I hate to admit it, but yeah, I do." John shook his head. "I've known Cam for half my life, he wasn't faking it and this isn't his style anyways. The question is, if he didn't do it, who did?"
== 5.3 - Atlantis (July 22, 2010) ==
The answer came from Larrin, of all people.
Despite the fact that John trusted Cam, he couldn't act on that trust alone, and so they had come to a stalemate – while John had ordered the mine removed, he was still unwilling to release Cam or let Phoenix power up primary systems until there was some way to find out what was happening. On the other hand, Cam was unable to clear his name and quite reasonably unwilling to give Rodney access to his ship's computers to verify that Phoenix hadn't made any other stops in Pegasus.
Cam and John had been reduced to staring at each other across the conference table while hoping that Teyla and Daniel Jackson, who was still on the ship, could find some way to work things out. It was perhaps the most polite and friendly standoff in history, but it also looked like it was going to drag on for the foreseeable future. Luckily for everyone, three days in the new alpha site dialed in to report that a Traveler ship had arrived and that the captain wanted to speak with John.
"Sheppard," Larrin said as she sauntered through the gate. "It's nice to see you again."
"Likewise, Larrin," he replied with a smile that was only mostly fake. "To what do we owe the, ah, pleasure of this visit?"
"I've recently obtained some information that might be of interest to you," she said. "Something about a bounty on your head."
John's smiled dropped away in an instant. "Really. Come with me." John led her up the stairs to the conference room, where Cam was staring intently at the Risk board sitting in the middle of the table. As they came in he looked up and stood. John waved it his direction. "Larrin, Colonel Cameron Mitchell of SG-1. Cam, this is Larrin. She kidnapped me once."
"Nice to meet you, ma'am," Cam said, shaking her hand.
Larrin looked him up and down and turned to John with a smirk. "You know, Sheppard, I was going to give you the information for free, but on second thought I may have found something I'd like in exchange."
"Um," Cam said.
"He's not for sale." John rolled his eyes. As often as he'd thought about selling Cam into slavery he suspected that doing it now would put a crimp in the negotiations. "What have you got?"
Larrin pouted, but at John's pointed look she sighed. "Fine. One of our captains recently had an encounter with a ship that he recognized as one of your cruisers. Well, one of their cruisers that is." She nodded towards Cam, who tensed up but didn't say anything. "Their leader came aboard and gave this long spiel about how Atlantis had been taken over by criminals, and he offered a pretty substantial reward for your capture. My captain said he would pass it along to the rest of us, and as soon as the cruiser was gone he informed me about it and asked that I tell you."
"That's pretty nice of him," John remarked. "Any reason why?"
"Because we're allies?" Larrin said with a sharp look. "And because you replaced his water reclamation system two weeks ago."
"When was this?" Cam asked. "And where?"
Larrin looked to John, who nodded. "Yesterday, most of the way across the galaxy. We've actually got a picture, too."
She handed a printout to John. It wasn't a terribly good image, blurry and out of focus, but he picked up a few details that made him narrow his eyes and hand it over to Cam. "I don't recognize him. How about you?"
Cam bit his lip and eventually said, "Colonel Dmitry Alexeev Kalinin, commander of the Yuri Gagarin. John, I swear to God, I had no idea they were out here. They were supposed to be on maneuvers when we left Earth."
John nodded and told Larrin, "I don't suppose that they gave you any way to contact them."
"We have set of coordinates to send a transmission to, yeah. I suppose you want them?"
"You know, giving you those could cause my people a lot of trouble, Sheppard. These guys might not take too kindly to us taking sides."
"They're not going to hear about it from me or Mitchell," John glanced at Cam for confirmation and got a shrug and a nod, "and there's probably others who know that information."
"Oh, cut the crap, Larrin. Just give us the damned coordinates and go ask McKay if he's got that new engine ready for you yet."
She smiled at John. "Fine, fine. It's a pleasure doing business with you, as always." She turned and started to walk out, then called over her shoulder to Cam, "Hey, if you ever need a job, feel free to look me up."
"Well, this is awkward," John said after she was gone.
"Tell me about it," Cam said, sitting back down. John took his own seat across the table.
"We'll have to deal with Gagarin," John said slowly, trying to gauge Cam's reaction. "We can't have our people at risk from bounty hunters every time they go off-world."
Cam gave him a non-committal reply of, "Makes sense."
"You going to have a problem with that?"
Cam shrugged and looked away. "My orders are to attempt to open diplomatic ties and establish a basis for continued technology sharing. I can't very well do that if the Russians are trying to kill you or to take over the city themselves, can I? You'll need a new plan, though. I doubt the Russians are going to be quite as trusting and cooperative as I was."
That wasn't exactly the best excuse for doing nothing and they both knew it, but John didn't call him on it. "Yeah, I don't think I can count on catching them with their pants down, unlike you."
Cam's head snapped back around and he glared at John. "Sheppard...."
"Sorry, sorry," John said, completely unrepentant. After a few seconds his smile slipped away. "I don't know if I should let you go back to Phoenix just yet. It might help you avoid any awkward questions if you're still hostage when we take them out."
That got John a sharp look. "You don't have to protect me, Sheppard."
John shrugged and spread his hands. "It was just a thought. We can see what Teyla and Jackson think would work best for everyone."
"That'll be fine. God knows how much more complicated this makes things."
There were undoubtedly a dozen or so conflicting political ramifications of either keeping Mitchell longer or allowing him to return to his ship, and if Cam wasn't in a hurry to leave then John wasn't going to make him until they had all had time to put some thought into the matter. On the other hand, if Cam was now just an honorary hostage, that probably meant the two of them didn't need to sit in the conference room instead of doing something more enjoyable.
"In the mean time, want to go grab a beer?" John suggested.
"Works for me," Cam replied. "But just so you know, you're going to have to do better than one beer if you're hoping to get any tactical information out of me."
"How about two?" John asked innocently. "No, wait - that's how many it takes to get into your pants."
"Fuck you, Sheppard."
Chapter 6: Killing Time
== 6.1 - Atlantis (July 22, 2010) ==
Being on Atlantis was... strange. It hadn't exactly been normal the last time Cam had been there, but now it was just plain weird. It didn't seem like a city full traitors and mutineers, and other than the bomb incident they had to be the friendliest captors who had ever held Cam captive. Also, the food was pretty good, which was definitely something Cam had come to appreciate. Breakfast today, for example, consisted of thick pancakes with what was either real butter and maple syrup or something close enough that it didn't matter, plus plenty of bacon.
"Mind if I sit here?"
Cam looked looked up to see Lorne standing by his table with a tray. "Sure thing."
As Lorne sat down, Cam asked, "You know where Sheppard is? He was supposed to meet me here for breakfast."
"Yeah, I know. John sent me instead, because apparently being his XO means taking his place at dinner dates he can't make." Lorne grinned. "Before you ask, he's up on the ship doing some planning."
"Really." Cam gave Lorne a skeptical glance and flatly repeated, "Planning."
Lorne looked at him and shrugged. "For definitions of 'planning' that mean 'he and McKay are gone to hunt down the Russians'."
"So he snuck off without so much as a goodbye. Seems a bit rude, I'd have liked to wish him good luck."
"That's what I told him, but he seems to think that the less you know the less you have to lie back home. I've long since learned to pick and choose what battles to fight when he gets protective and so I just went with it."
"I hear that." Cam could almost appreciate that reasoning, even if he would have preferred Sheppard to just be straight with him. Certainly some people back home might question his decision to sit back and let Sheppard go off to destroy another Tau'ri ship without even a protest, but he was pretty sure none of them were in his immediate chain of command. His orders didn't mention anything about supporting possibly rogue black operations, and if anything cooperating would help his actual mission. Personally, he certainly wouldn't shed any tears if anyone the IOA had sent out got vaporized - this had been the second time their secret antics had nearly gotten Cam killed and his ship destroyed, and he was getting a bit tired of it.
"So," Cam said as they ate.
"How's this entire independence thing working out for you?" Cam and John had been studiously avoiding any mention of politics, but he figured that it wouldn't hurt to sound Lorne out a little bit.
"Pretty good, I guess, although there's been a few rough spots. You know how it is. One minute you're worried about scheduling and resource allocation and training, the next someone's taken your lover hostage and you have to blow up half their planet to get him back. The usual."
"You had to put with all that anyways, though. Okay, sure, there's less bureaucracy, and they were trying to give you guys a pretty shitty deal, but don't you miss Earth or your family?"
"Sure I do, and I hope I'll my sister and her kids again. That doesn't mean I don't have plenty of family right here."
"Yeah, okay, I can see that," Cam admitted, because he knew what SG-1 was like and they weren't even stuck in another galaxy with no one around but each other. "Still, it's not quite the same, is it? No kids, for one thing."
Lorne smiled. "Give us about, oh, seven months or so and maybe you'll change your mind."
Cam took the seven months, added in about two more since Atlantis had seceded, and came up with, "Expecting a baby boom, are you?"
"There's either three or sixteen people pregnant, depending on how you want to count it."
"Three or sixteen?" Cam frowned. "Maybe your momma never explained this, Lorne, but in general a person is either pregnant or not pregnant."
"Most people are using artificial wombs. Believe me, it makes things a lot easier and safer for everyone, although I haven't got a clue what we're going to do for daycare once they're all born." Lorne shot Cam a sly look. "I'm surprised you didn't know already. John likes to brag about how we have the cutest embryo ever."
Cam stared at Lorne open-mouthed. "Wait. You and Sheppard are having a kid?"
"John Sheppard," Cam repeated, "is going to be a father."
"That's what I said," Lorne replied with a shit-eating grin. "A son, if you're wondering."
"Well, I'll be damned." Cam shook his head. "I didn't see that coming."
"Neither did I, honestly. Hopefully it'll make him settle down a little."
Cam and Lorne looked at each other for a minute then broke out laughing.
== 6.2 - USS Phoenix, Atlantis Orbit (July 22, 2010) ==
Daniel wondered if it said something deep about his life that negotiations that had begun with a nuclear mine powerful enough to level a state and now involved the misdeeds of Russians (In SPAAACE!... and wow, that thought was just more evidence he was spending too much time with Jack) were more or less the most pleasant ones he had ever been ever been involved with. Obviously the Lanteans weren't outright malicious like the Goa'uld, nor did they have giant sticks up their asses like the Tok'ra, and the fact that they spoke English did away with the usual creeping translation errors. None of that meant that things had to go well, though, especially given that Atlantis had chosen to break away from Earth, but luckily talks had gone pretty smoothly. There had been a slight hiccup a few days before when Cam had called up to the ship to drunkenly demand that Sam send marines to, "make this gawdamn bastard stop snickerin' and tell me where he put my pants," but Colonel Lorne had gotten that straightened out eventually.
There was, of course, the small quibble about having to do everything over the radio, because Cam was still technically being held hostage to insure their good behavior (or what passed for good behavior for Cam and Sheppard, who were entirely too like each other when off the job) and Daniel wasn't allowed to come down in person until everything was sorted out. All things considered, though, that was a small issue and it didn't stop Daniel and Teyla from having tea together in the mornings.
"Good morning, Daniel," Teyla said on the screen in the ship's wardroom.
"Good morning, Teyla," he replied. "I hope you're well this day."
"I am. And you?"
"Well, my back is wishing this ship had a real mattress, but otherwise I'm fine. The wonder twins haven't done anything I need to be aware of, have they?"
For an instant Teyla had a considering look on her face as she translated the idiom. "No. Colonel Mitchell has been well behaved since we last spoke, as has Colonel Sheppard."
"Well, that's good to hear. I'd hate to have to start all over again because Cameron gave in and threw Sheppard into the ocean."
"Believe me, Daniel, should such a thing happen we would be quite forgiving." Teyla tilted her head slightly and gave him a sly smile. "I have been on offending end of such, ah, incidents before, and I can assure you that after these last few years I am inclined to be gracious towards those who commit them."
Daniel chuckled. "Tell me about it. Is there anything in particular you wanted to discuss this morning with regards to our governments? I've more or less covered my end of things."
The mission that Jack and President Hayes, along with several other close allies such as Canada, Britain, and most of the EU, had sent Phoenix on had only a few broad goals. First and foremost was determining the state Atlantis was in. It had been obvious to everyone that the secession had been well-planned (and it was obvious to Daniel that Jack knew more than he was letting on, which was all sorts of interesting) and over half of the expedition had stayed behind, but what had happened afterwards was in question. It was entirely possible that Sheppard and his team were ruling the place with an iron fist or that the city had since devolved into chaos. As it had turned out, Sheppard was doing no such thing. Daniel was fairly certain that producing large warships and, if some hints people had dropped were true, possibly ZPMs meant the city was not only stable but thriving.
With that in mind, the military aspects of the mission had taken a backseat. Ideally Daniel was supposed to bring Atlantis back into the fold, but that clearly wasn't happening and so he was trying his best to secure any kind of alliance he could. While large parts of Earth had declared the Lanteans traitors to humanity, in the West they remained fairly popular. People liked the image of a plucky band of rebels escaping power-hungry governments to battle Evil Space Vampires and so reconciliation was a high priority, especially if it meant a renewed flow of high technology and a guarantee that the Wraith would remain occupied with Pegasus and too busy to turn their eyes toward Earth.
"Actually, yes, there is one thing," Teyla said. "While obviously diplomatic relations are very helpful as a starting place, there are certain personal matters that must also be addressed. I am thinking specifically about any legal action being taken against Lantean citizens in their countries of origin, and the possibility of immigration of family members."
"Right, right," Daniel said slowly. While many places were still scrambling to figure out exactly what to charge the Lanteans with and jurisdictional issues, there had already been a few trials in absentia. The military staff in particular was facing harsh measures if they ever returned to Earth. Most would be lucky to see the outside of a cell ever again, assuming they weren't shot. "I can see why that would be a concern. I think I can safely say that the governments that I represent may be willing to either drop the charges or commute sentences against those affected, in the interests of establishing good relations. Some may even recognize dual citizenship."
"That is good to hear. There is also the matter of personal property. Many of our people left objects of sentimental value behind, not to mention homes, land, and a considerable amount of monetary wealth. While the Lantean government itself will be willing to build up its financial resources for official trade purposes, it only seems fair that our citizens be able to access their personal wealth."
"That... might be stickier," Daniel said hesitantly. He was fairly certain that no one had gotten so far as confiscating property when Phoenix had departed, but that was certainly one of the things in legal limbo. "I mean, sure, it sounds fair in theory but it's going to raise some major questions about taxation, conflicting regulatory schemes, all sorts of things. I mean, do you guys even have a financial system? Or an economy, for that matter?"
"I believe we are in the process of developing a currency, although I would have to ask Colonel Lorne and the economists for details," Teyla answered. "I am sure the final arrangements for dealing with the problems you mentioned can be negotiated later, however I will say that those countries willing to work with us on the matter will be looked kindly upon."
Teyla said it with such grace that even Daniel could barely noticed the barely-veiled stick going along with that carrot: play nice, Earthlings, or watch your neighbors get the shiny technology while you don't.
"Of course. I don't doubt arrangements can be made," Daniel said. "You mentioned immigration �" I assumed it's going to be limited?"
"Yes. We wish to have the right to approach family and former expedition members with offers to come to Atlantis, free of any penalty. Beyond that, we have little interest in accepting others at this time."
"Right. I think those two at least will be doable, but more than that..." Daniel shook his head. Atlantis had already sucked up many of Earth's best and brightest, and he doubted anyone would be eager to allow further uncontrolled emigration anytime soon. "It's probably for the best that you don't want more anyways."
"Good. I know many people here would be glad to regain contact with family at home, even if they can not meet in person soon." Teyla smiled serenely. "I am, of course, sure that your governments would be happy to allow the resumption of personal messages via databursts."
"I'm sure they would," Daniel agreed. "Actually, that reminds me. There's something Jack asked me to discuss with regards to Doctor McKay..."
== 6.3 - AS-3 Constitution, Planetary Orbit, M5X-101 (July 23, 2010) ==
Constitution lurked in deep space at a point several thousand light-years from Atlantis. They had chosen the site carefully. While the moon below them was inhabitable, at present there was no one living there. It was also well off the normal paths of known hiveships, as several of the neighboring star systems had already been culled and it was unlikely the Wraith would come again in force anytime soon. It was far enough from Atlantis that Gagarin's crew wouldn't be worried about being detected by the city's sensors. Finally, the moon had a stargate, which would likely come in handy in case of an emergency.
They had been on station for two days now, having sent a short transmission to the coordinates Larrin had provided. The message claimed that John and Rodney had been captured while meeting off-world with a long-standing trade partner. To make it seem more real, they included a few pictures of the two of them chained up behind bars, looking roughed-up and angry. Once the transmission had been sent, though, it became a matter of waiting. The ship still had a few rough patches, but after a day John had ordered the engineers to stop tinkering for fear that they'd have something important in pieces when the Russians showed up. That left the small crew with relatively little to do.
"Oh, come on!" Rodney shouted from behind John. "You're supposed to be our military commander and you can't even beat Winston?"
"Not the time, Rodney!" John said as another flight of Cybran gunships overflew his base. His remaining anti-air defenses started to knock them down, but he couldn't tell if they'd kill them fast enough to prevent them from destroying too many essential buildings. Another minute and John would have a Mavor online and be merrily leveling Winchester's base, but he might not get that minute. "Actually, Rodney, make a note --conventional forces good, super weapons not so much."
"Oh, right, because a dozen idiotic Ancient experiments haven't already taught us that lesson. Sometimes, Sheppard, I really have to wonder if you're paying attention at all."
Rodney was interrupted by a loud beeping. Everyone else on the bridge froze for a moment and turned towards the tactical station.
"Was that the proximity alarm?" John asked.
At tactical, Thornton looked over his shoulder at John. "We've just picked up a hyperspace signature headed our way. It's definitely an Asgard drive, they're about ten minutes out."
"Well, Winchester, looks like this one's a draw," John said as he crossed the bridge to the captain's chair and everyone else scrambled to their own stations. "Red alert. Raise shields, arm phasers and photon torpedoes."
"They're phased lasers, not phasers, and we don't have photon torpedoes," Rodney snapped. "Yet."
John turned and glared at him. "Whatever, he knows what I mean. Flight operations, launch Red Squadron."
On Constitution's flanks, a pair of hangar doors silently opened. Catapults flung a dozen tubular fighters out into space, where they banked sharply away and cloaked. They resembled jumpers to a certain extent, at least on the outside, as they used the same basic hull. However, their engines were more powerful, and instead of a rear compartment they had room for dozens more drones. The main windshield was replaced with a powerful laser cannon, because there was no cockpit. Where the crew should have been there were multiple redundant subspace radios and a robots brain that, while far from intelligent, was a decent pilot. Back on Constitution six pilots sat at remote-control stations, each one flying a fighter and leading a robotic wingman.
Constitution herself flipped end over end and began to accelerate towards the projected emergence zone of the incoming ship. For obvious reasons they couldn't know exactly where Gagarin would drop out of hyperspace, but they could estimate the general volume and be headed in the right direction when it happened. Sure enough, a few minutes later a hyperspace window appeared and a BC-304 popped into existence just over two thousand kilometers ahead. John and the other planners had considered opening fire the instant the enemy appeared and catching them when their shields were still weak, but after the incident with Phoenix no one was quite willing to take any risk of misidentification when they were fairly sure that they would win a conventional fight.
Assuming their other trick didn't work out right, that was.
On the bridge, John put his hands on his chair's armrests. "Open a channel." When Thornton nodded, John went on, "Attention, Gagarin. This is Colonel John Sheppard of the Atlantean warship Constitution. Please respond."
After a moment, an image appeared on the main screen. It showed the familiar view of a cruiser bridge, and seated in the captain's chair was a man in a Russian flight suit. He looked to be in his fifties, was reasonably tall and just a bit overweight, and had wispy brown hair. "This is General Kalinin of Gagarin. What do you want?"
"General, I'd like to inform you that we're aware of what you've been up to lately. Your actions have resulted in the death of three members of the Lantean military. For that reason, we are declaring Pegasus a military exclusion zone for all unauthorized ships of Earth origin. In case the meaning's not clear, that means get the hell out of our galaxy."
"We do not recognize your authority to do any such thing, Colonel Sheppard. In fact, since you have so obligingly delivered yourself to me, I should inform you that you and any of your co-conspirators with you are under arrest in the name of the International Oversight Advisory, on charges of mutiny, planetary treason, and a number of lesser offenses. I suggest you lower your shields and prepare to be boarded."
"Yeah, I really don't think that's happening any time soon," John drawled. He watched the main screen, where a tactical display was showing the relative positions of the two ships and the Lantean fighters. The strike craft had shot past Gagarin and were now swinging around to approach it from the rear. "I don't suppose you'd be willing to surrender yourself?"
"No." The transmission cut off with a click.
"Well, that was impolite," John said.
"They're powering weapons," Rodney said almost before he'd finished. "We'll be in optimal range in twenty seconds."
"Helm, begin evasive maneuvers. Tactical, Red Squad, stand by to execute Operation YAVIN on my command. Rodney?"
"Wait for it," Rodney muttered, staring intently at his displays. "Wait for it... they're locking on... energy spike!"
Constitution and Gagarin fired simultaneously. One of the blue beams from Gagarin narrowly missed thanks to Constitution's erratic maneuvers, but the other struck home along one side and caused the shields to flare brightly. Constitution returned the favor, stabbing at Gagarin with a bright green beam that played across the battlecruiser's shield bubble for several seconds before dying away.
At the same time, Red Squadron decloaked behind Gagarin. Each fighter let loose a volley of drones, which streaked out to smash into two points at the rear of Gagarin, where momentary weak spots in the shields caused by engine interference were expected to appear. By all rights those weak spots should have been impossible to exploit. The effect was not something that showed up on any schematic or was apparent to any sensor, and even an expert on Asgard shielding would have been hard pressed to realize it was there at all. Rodney McKay was just such an expert, and more importantly he was the one who had designed the current generation of shielding. Even then, weak was a relative term, and only shield-penetrating Ancient drones could have gotten through. Unfortunately for the Russians, they were facing people with Ancient technology rather than pirates or surviving Goa'uld.
The attack was precisely timed to correspond with the impact of Constitution's beam and the firing of the power-hungry Asgard weapons, when the shields would have the lowest energy supply and be under the most stress. Some drones arrived too soon, some arrived too late, but a few struck home at just the right moment and slipped past the shields. Even as Gagarin's aft railguns blew away three Lantean fighters a pair of drones sliced through the ship's armored hull straight into her engines.
"Well?" John asked. The two ships had shot past each other now and were coming around for another pass. It was obvious from the main display that Gagarin had been hit, but it was also clear that she was still under power and maneuvering just fine.
"Well, we hit their hyperdrive," Rodney said, "But it looks like their sublights are intact. So are their reactors, which means they have power for shields and -" the ship shook as it took another glancing blow and Rodney glanced at the ceiling "- weapons."
"Gagarin is launching fighters," Thornton reported.
John nodded. "Reset phasers for point defense mode. Red Squadron, engage fighters and leave the cruiser to us."
Constitution and Gagarin were quickly locked in complicated dance about each other, more in line with a dogfight between a pair of WWII-vintage fighters than the ponderous maneuvers of ships of the line. Both ships were far nimbler than hiveships or ha'taks and they used their maneuverability to get as much advantage as they could. Neither ship wanted to get too close or too far from their opponents, and Gagarin in particular wanted to keep the range from opening up because of the relatively slow speed of her Asgard beams. The ships jockeyed for position, trying to stay out of their opponent's firing arcs while bringing their own guns to bear.
Fighters began to dart through space around the combatants and quickly an unruly furball developed. F-302s and Lantean interceptors were well-matched, both agile and equipped with missiles and direct-fire guns. There were almost twice as many Russian fighters, though, and it was quickly apparent that the robotic brains of the interceptors not under remote control were not nearly as good as human pilots. The Lantean pilots gave them a run for their money and took a half-dozen 302s with them, but soon they were overwhelmed. That worked against the Russian pilots, however, because once the sky was clear of friendly ships Constitution's point defenses could easily track them. The phased laser arrays made short work of the 302s, because between their light-speed beams and a fire-control system that had the full specs of the 302s to make predictions with it was simple to target and destroy the fighters.
Soon it was down to the two ships once more. Gagarin fired off a brace of nuclear missiles from her VLS array, but much like the 302s they were swatted from the sky with ease by Constitution's phasers. Both ships repeatedly tagged each other with their main beam weapons, never quite managing to penetrate their enemy's shields. Constitution was hitting more often, though, thanks to the superior firing arcs its main weapon had, and even when the cannon could not be brought to bear there were never less than two phaser arrays with line of sight. Individually they didn't pack the same punch, but with no other targets they could keep up constant fire and ensure Gagarin had no chance to recover shield strength. In the end the disparity between the two ships wasn't so bad that Gagarin was easily crushed, but it was clear that Constitution had the upper hand.
Then something went wrong.
There was a loud thump from somewhere above the bridge and as John looked up towards the ceiling he could hear alarms start to go off at several stations.
"What the hell was that?" he asked.
"I've got red lights on the particle cannon," Thornton reported, already switching power to the secondary batteries.
"Yeah, I see them too," Sam Winchester said at engineering. "There's been several explosions in the main turret. I'd say it's pretty well fucked."
"What?" Rodney yelped. "Was it the capacitors? Tell me it wasn't the capacitors."
Winchester winced. "Yeah, looks like it was. I think one of them overheated, exploded, and took out the rest."
"We fixed the cooling system!"
"I know! Maybe there was faulty part or coolant leak."
John didn't care about the technical details, because the important thing was that no main cannon meant they were suddenly outgunned. He turned his chair and demanded, "Rodney, can you repair it?"
"What, do I look like I'm a magician?" Rodney shouted. "This isn't just a matter of swapping some crystals around; something important in the stupid weapon blew up! I don't even know how much damage there is!"
"Oh, you have got kidding me," John growled. He swung his chair back around. The main display showed that they were still firing phasers just fine, but Gagarin's main guns were a hell of a lot bigger. They still had the hyperdrive and so they could jump away for repairs, but John wasn't willing to risk the Russians fixing their ship before he returned. "Thornton, target their Asgard weapons and flush the port drone bay."
"Sheppard, those still aren't working right!" Rodney protested.
"I know, McKay, but they're better than nothing!"
A hexagonal hatch irised open on Constitution's side and a swarm of glowing yellow missiles began to pour out. Each of the ship's two drone bays carried nearly four hundred drones and the port bay was launching its entire load at once. John had given that order for a reason -- like Rodney had said, the drones still weren't working properly. While most arced towards Gagarin, some spiraled randomly off into space, and other died or exploded as their power feed from the ship malfunctioned. Still more failed to correct their course when their target began evasive maneuvers. As the drones closed in Gagarin began firing its point defenses and knocked dozens of them from the sky. Despite all that, nearly a hundred slammed into Gagarin's already-weakened shields and many penetrated. With little fine control available few of them homed in on the proper target but more than enough did to permanently wreck the Asgard weapons, and the remainder punched clear through from the top to the bottom of the battlecruiser. In the end the forward section of Gagarin was left a glowing ruin that trailed smoke and atmosphere behind it.
"Well, I'd say that disarmed them pretty well," Rodney said after a moment, sounding slightly stunned. "They're coming about. It looks like they're trying to run."
"Should I fire the other bay, sir?" Thornton asked.
Gagarin still had some shields and a few remaining missiles and railguns, but nothing that could penetrate Constitution's defenses. Another volley of drones would catch the ship dead astern and almost certainly detonate engines and power systems, probably destroying the entire ship. It would certainly be satisfying and part of John still wanted to make them pay for what they had done, but vaporizing the battlecruiser wouldn't serve any useful purpose. They could probably burn through the shields with phaser fire and disable the engines but some degree of risk still remained.
John bit his lip and came to a decision. "Lieutenant, hold your fire and hail the Russians."
"You're on, sir."
"Gagarin, Constitution. I'd like to propose a cease-fire."
Kalinin appeared on the screen moments later. Smoke filled the air around him. "For what purpose, Colonel?"
"Your weapons are gone and unless I miss my mark your hyperdrives are probably trashed pretty thoroughly. There's no point in continuing to fight and you can't run. I'd like to discuss the terms of your surrender."
Kalinin didn't deny any of that. Instead he stared at John in silence for a few long seconds before sighing deeply. "What do you propose?"
"On our part, we'll repatriate you to Earth at the earliest possible time. Until then you'll be treated in a manner consistent with the Geneva Conventions, which Atlantis intends to sign regardless of whether anyone on Earth recognizes our ability to do so or not. We will not press any charges against you or any of your officers for the deaths of our people on Cortosis."
"I see. And on our part?"
"You'll transport down to the surface, where you'll be brought by stargate to an internment camp on New Lantea. Furthermore, you will leave your ship intact for us to salvage. Any attempt to destroy it will be regarded as a hostile action, and should any of our people be harmed by an act of sabotage we reserve the right to enact proportionate reprisals."
Kalinin laughed dryly. "You can hardly expect me to hand over classified information to you, Colonel Sheppard."
John shrugged. "We already have your schematics anyways. However, if you insist, we'll allow you to wipe your computer systems of any sensitive data. It's the raw materials and parts we want. As you've seen, our ships are superior to yours anyways." They also wanted the Asgard point-to-point transporter so they could copy it, but Kalinin really didn't need to know that.
Kalinin slowly nodded. "Very well, Colonel. I accept your terms. We are lowering shields."
"We'll transmit the location of the stargate to you. Medical assistance will be waiting for you. Sheppard out."
The video cut off and was replaced by the tactical display again. John turned his chair to face Rodney. "Well?"
Rodney pursed his lips. "They've dropped shields and are heading that way, all right."
"Keep an eye on them. If they so much as twitch, I want to know." John turned back around. "Helm, follow along behind them. Make sure to keep them in our forward firing arc."
Twenty minutes later, the Russians began transporting to the planet and shortly afterwards there were no life signs remaining on Gagarin. Under different circumstances, it might have been difficult and risky to get them back to Atlantis. After all, there were nearly eighty of them, not many less than the military contingent of Atlantis. Shuttling them to the mainland by jumper would have taken a dozen flights, and keeping them in Atlantis would risk the possibility of a revolt. It wouldn't be a serious risk to the Lanteans, because they had finally figured out some of the internal defenses, but the Ancients had given the city a distinct lack of non-lethal anti-personnel systems and any attempt to seize the city would almost certain have resulted in a bloodbath. Fortunately, they had planned ahead.
John sent Atlantis a message informing them of their success, and soon afterwards a contingent of marines arrived. There were only a dozen of them, led by Major Teldy, but they were in far less danger then the disparity in numbers would suggest. Each one of them was equipped with a freshly-built personal shield and a crowd-control stunner. After having her people take up positions around the perimeter, Teldy dialed back to Atlantis. That was when the stone pillar located next to the gate went into action.
The gate on 101 was surrounded by a wide field and the entire area was filled with a flash of bright white. Moments later there wasn't a person to be seen. The Ancient transport beam was relayed through the gate and from Atlantis it was bounced to another pillar located in a similar field on the mainland. Before the prisoners even realized what had happened, they were safely in their temporary home.
While that was happening, John and Rodney were having a conversation on Constitution.
"I really hope you don't want to go over to Gagarin, Rodney," John was saying. "Because I don't think you need to visit a potentially booby trapped ship."
"What?" Rodney replied, his brows furrowing. "Why would I want to do that? The thing has holes all over it, and I'm already going to be busy fixing this one."
John blinked. "Rodney, you always want to go over to the alien spaceship."
"Please, that's not alien," Rodney scoffed. "It's just another 304. Boring."
John chuckled and shook his head, wondering when a space battlecruiser had become boring. "All right. So you're going to run things from here?"
"Of course not. I want to get Constitution back home so we can shut down the systems and do a complete inspection. God knows what kind of damage you've managed to inflict on the poor ship, half the damage control board is yellow or orange. This is going to take months to fix."
"I'll send Zelenka with jumpers to direct the salvage operation, maybe give him Beagle to haul it back to Atlantis. He knows what to look for."
"All right then. Helm, lay in a course for home. Cruising speed."
John raised his right hand, extended two fingers, and pointed forward. "Engage."
Rodney laughed. "What, seriously?"
"Shut up, Rodney," John said as the ship jumped to hyperspace.
Chapter 7: Thank You and Good Night
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
== 7.1 - Atlantis (July 25, 2010) ==
With the Russians safely dealt with and now happily living on the mainland, for flexible values of happy, Atlantis let out a collective sigh of relief. Things quickly went back to what passed for normal, although John had seen at least two weapon design engineers jumping at shadows and crying in corners since Constitution had returned home. A stunning victory called for a celebration, of course, and one had been hastily arranged.
The group assembled in the west pier banquet hall was an eclectic one. Constitution's crew was there, of course, along with the engineers who had built it except for the aforementioned weapons specialists. Several other senior officers and civilians were also milling about. More unusual was the presence of Larrin, Ladon, and several of their subordinates. Other allies were also present, such as Keras from M7G-667 and Harmony, who had finally started to grow up and had thankfully become a fair bit more mature. Finishing up the party was SG-1 and a few other Air Force officers. The entire reception was a message of sorts to all present that Atlantis was now firmly established as independent and capable of taking care of both itself and its friends.
"You should probably keep an eye on Jackson," John said to Cam as they sat in one corner and tried to avoid getting caught up in any serious business. He pointed across the room to where Jackson was talking animatedly with Larrin. "He'll probably be wanting to run off and see what a culture that lives on ships is like."
"He's your hostage, you keep an eye on him," Cam grumbled.
"He's your fellow hostage and team mate."
"Yeah, well, I've played watch-the-archaeologist for three years, I think I deserve a break."
Most of SG-1 would be staying in Atlantis as hostages, although the status was in name only and Teal'c was there to represent the Free Jaffa. Carter would be taking Phoenix back to Earth, with a Lantean diplomatic team aboard and a hold full of Russians. This neatly avoided the use of the stargate, which was helpful because it would have been a pain in the ass to convince the SGC to open the iris.
"I know how you feel," John said. "Sometimes it seems like McKay either can't stay still or won't move at all, with no setting in between."
Evan approached their table carrying a duffle bag. He dropped it to the floor and sat down next to John. "Evening, John, Colonel."
"Colonel," Mitchell said with a nod.
"Evan." John reached under the table to subtly take hold of Evan's hand. "I was wondering where you'd gone off to."
"I got held up talking with Ladon," Evan replied. He squeezed John's hand and gave him a piercing look. "Did you really promise him a mind probe?"
"I don't think I used the word promise," John said, bitting his lip and looking downwards. "Hey, did you bring Cam his present?"
"Present?" Cam looked at John suspiciously. "I'm not sure I want a present from you, Sheppard."
"Relax, it's harmless."
Evan ducked down and when he came back up he had a ZPM in his hands. He put it on the table and slid it over to Cam. "Merry Christmas."
"Holy shit," Cam said, scrambling to sit up straight. "Is it charged?"
"It's about half full," John said with a lazy grin. "Consider it a down payment for getting some credit and a token of our friendship."
It was also a message of sorts: 'We don't need this one anymore and can afford to be generous, aren't you glad we like you?' From Cam's sharp look, John could tell he heard it loud and clear.
"Well, that's certainly mighty generous of you folks," Cam said as he carefully put the ZPM aside.
"Is that for me?" someone asked from behind John. He looked over his shoulder to see Vala.
"No," Cam firmly replied. "You need something?"
"There's no need to take that tone with me, I simply wanted to ask the colonels here a question." Vala leaned closer to John. Evan clenched his hand even tighter around John's. She pointed across the room. "Who are those two men?"
John peered over where she was indicating. "Sam and Dean Winchester. Why?"
"Oh." Vala crossed her arms and shook her head. "Another couple. Honestly, are there no men here who like women?"
"They're brothers," Evan said slowly. "I'm fairly certain they're straight, too. Well, as straight as anyone with the gene is."
"Brothers?" Vala perked up. "Excuse me, gentlemen."
The three of them watched her go and once she was out of earshot John asked, "You think we should warn them?"
"I'm sure they've dealt with worse," Evan said with a shrug.
A while later, as John and Cam were telling Evan stories about the days when they had been young, stupid, and reckless ("Last week?" Evan asked), Rodney appeared and dropped into the table's fourth chair.
"So, I've been talking with Sam," he said, interrupting John and Cam as they argued about who was ultimately responsible The Great Goat Incident, "and while obviously we're having to be careful about what we discuss, what with technically being on opposite sides now, I think we've independently come up with some very interesting ideas about starship-scale wormholes that might prove useful."
"That's... nice, Rodney," John said. "I'm sure you two will have plenty of time to talk about it on the trip to Earth."
Rodney frowned. "What trip to Earth?"
"You're going with Teyla and Evan to talk about trade, alliances, and all that jazz," John explained. "Teyla sent out a memo about it."
"Oh. Sorry, I think I was too busy fixing our broken spaceship to read my email," Rodney replied. He brightened up quickly though. "I suppose Zelenka will be able to handle copying the transporter and I can certainly understand why you'd need me for talking about any technology exchanges."
"Yeah, that and you need to talk to Jeannie before she kills O'Neill with her brain."
"In fact, maybe the Nobel committee will have finished - wait, what?"
== 7.2 - Vancouver, Canada, Earth (August 4, 2010) ==
"I really don't think this is necessary," Rodney said. "I mean, aren't we supposed to be really busy? There's no reason I couldn't do this from, say, orbit. Video conferencing is all the rage these days, high gas prices and all that. Well, at least that was the case before alien batteries made electric cars possible, but I bet it's still true. The point is, I already did the reunion by video thing before and it worked out just great, even if Sheppard showed it after the actual, you know, reunion."
"Rodney," Teyla said gently, placing her hands on his shoulders. "Breathe."
"I am breathing, I'm just, you know, not doing it a lot. What does that have to do with anything? My point is that our time would be much better spent talking with, with," Rodney shook his hand and waved it vaguely southward, "the people we came here to talk with."
"It will take time for them to consider our positions and prepare for negotiations," Teyla reminded him.
From where he leaned against the government-supplied black SUV, Evan added, "Also, General O'Neill said we're not allowed back at the SGC until he stops getting emails and daily phone calls."
"Yes, well, that should tell you just how perilous this is, if she's harassing the supreme space commander or whatever they're calling O'Neill these days." Rodney peeked over the top of the SUV. "Shouldn't you come with me? And why don't I have a body guard? We should have at least brought a personal shield. "
"The area has been swept by security, and I am sure you are in no danger inside. We will join you after you have had time to speak with Jeannie in private."
"I don't get what you're getting so worked up about," Evan grumbled. "She's your sister, not a fucking Wraith queen."
"Oh, please, just because your hippie art professor of a sister is cheerfully supportive and non-homicidal doesn't mean mine feels the same way," Rodney said while giving Evan a scathing glare. "I'd also like to point out that if I end up dead Sheppard will probably blow up the sun or something like that, so it'd be in everyone's best interests if – hey!"
Teyla manhandled Rodney around the SUV and shoved him onto the walkway up to the house. He shot her a betrayed look – John never would have done that, although on second thought he almost certainly would have, the traitor – before he squared his shoulders and marched up to the front door. He rang the doorbell and prepared for the worst as the sound of pounding feet came from inside.
The door swung open and a small creature attached itself to Rodney's side while screeching, "Uncle Rodney!"
"Uh, hi there, um, little lady," Rodney said. He awkwardly patted Madison on her head and tried to imagine what John would do in this situation. Rodney wasn't sure his body was slinky enough or would put up with that much slouching.
"Did you bring me a present?"
"Oh, crap," Rodney muttered.
Rodney looked up to see Jeannie standing in the doorway connecting the living room and kitchen. She looked conflicted, alternating between 'relieved' and 'murderous' with such rapid speed that Rodney was sure only her McKay-class brain was saving her head from exploding like a robot from Star Trek. He hesitantly waved to her.
"Hi?" he squeaked in a very manly fashion.
"What are you doing here? Don't tell me you went and got yourself captured."
"No, no, nothing like that," he said quickly. "I'm here as part of a trade negotiation embassy... thing. Anyways, it's good to see you. How have you and Madison been? And Kaleb of course."
Jeannie's expression softened just a little. "It's good to see you too. We're all fine."
Completely at a loss as to what he should say next, Rodney asked, "So, have you ever considered emigrating?"
The soft expression went away and Jeannie narrowed her eyes. "I think you and I need to have a long talk, Meredith."
End of series, for all practical purposes. No continuations since about March 2008.