John took a deep breath and struggled to remain calm. "General Landry, we've been on Earth for a month now, and --"
"And we're bored out of our minds!" Rodney had no inner struggle and was waggling a finger in Landry's face. "It's bad enough that it's going to be another month before we get Atlantis back to Pegasus. The amount of time we're wasting is practically criminal. But you have me in a tiny little lab analyzing satellite transmissions. Are you insane?"
John winced. "What Rodney is trying to say, sir, is that we want to help. With something. Anything. You've got to have a mission that needs some hands."
Landry narrowed his eyes at Rodney, who had backed off a bit. John grabbed Rodney by the shoulder and eased him back a little more for good measure.
"As a matter of fact, Colonel, we have discovered some readings that we thought could use a little investigation. I'm not sure Doctor McKay needs to go along, though."
John tightened his grip on Rodney's shoulder; Rodney muffled a yelp. "McKay is very sorry."
"Yes," Rodney said. "Sorry. Readings are great."
Landry flipped open a file folder on his desk. "We're picking up some kind of signals originating from Cardiff, and they match the samples of Wraith technology that you've sent us from Pegasus. The British government isn't talking to us about it, so we'd like you and your team to pay a discreet visit and see what you can find out." He closed the file and handed it to John. "Discreet, Colonel."
"Yes, sir," John said. "You got it."
He towed Rodney out of the general's office and headed toward the elevator that would take them to Ronon's quarters. They'd grab Teyla on the way out.
"Great," Rodney griped. "He's sending us to Wales. You get to explain to Ronon why he has to fly coach."
When they walked in the door of the sad-looking building in the middle of Cardiff, they were greeted by a blond man who seemed to speak only in exclamation points. "Hello! Welcome to the Tourist Information Center! May I help you!"
John, at a loss for words in the face of such enthusiasm, looked at the rest of the team, and Teyla stepped forward. "You provide guidance to tourists here?"
"We do! Would you like a pamphlet!"
"Are there any other offices contained in this building?"
The man froze. "Uh, well, madam, I couldn't say."
"Look," Rodney said, "we're getting some kind of weird signal coming from this building, and it's obviously not a homing beacon for tourists. So cut the crap and tell us what's going on."
"Oh!" the man said, relaxing. "You know about Torchwood, do you? What a relief. I find it so hard to lie."
"What's Torchwood?" Ronon asked, just as a wall to their right slid open.
"Oh, bugger," said the man.
"Don't mention Torchwood!" cried the new arrival, a dark-haired man in old-fashioned suspenders. "How hard is that? It's the one job requirement! Do you know how many people we've had to retcon in the last two weeks?"
The receptionist looked crestfallen. "Sorry, Captain Harkness."
Harkness turned to them and flashed a bright smile. "Hello. Would you like some coffee?"
"Sorry," John said. "We don't take candy from strangers."
The smile wavered for a moment, and then reappeared in full force. "Gwen!" Harkness yelled, without turning to face the door. "You better be watching the security feed."
"Oh, we're well ahead of you, Jack." Two more people walked out of the door, a man in a business suit and a woman carrying what looked like some kind of spray bottle.
John looked over at Ronon, who was balancing himself on the balls of his feet and holding his hands loosely at his side. "You know, I'm not sure what's going on here, but I'm going to recommend that you don't get any closer to us."
Rodney chimed in. "Among other things, we work for the U.S. military, and they'll be very pissed off if you spray us with whatever the hell is in there."
"You're going to sack me, aren't you?" moaned the receptionist. Gwen rolled her eyes and spritzed him in the face.
"Bad receptionist," said the man in the business suit. "No biscuit."
"We wouldn't have this problem if you weren't too good to work out here now," said Harkness.
"That's what sleeping with the boss gets me."
Harkness offered a hand to John. "I think we got off on the wrong foot here. U.S. military? Me too. Once upon a time. Captain Jack Harkness, at your service. Especially yours," he said, favoring Ronon with that toothy smile.
"Right," John said. "I think I'm going to need to see some ID."
"Ianto, who's in charge over at Homeland Security these days?" asked Harkness.
"General O'Neill, sir. Shall I call him?"
The receptionist face-planted onto the desk with a thud and lay there, moaning faintly.
"Plus one for the aerosolized retcon," said Gwen.
John nodded slowly. "You call General O'Neill. We'll wait right here."
They gathered around a table in what Harkness ("No, call me Jack. I insist.") had explained was the medical bay. The palm-sized device pulsed with a faint glow as Rodney poked it.
"I don't think it's dangerous," he said. "But considering that it's putting out a signal, it would be a good idea to smash it and drop it in a big hole."
Gwen was consulting a terminal in a corner of the room. "It came through the Rift about three years ago."
"So stuff just shows up here, and you guys keep it?" asked Ronon.
"It's our job," said Ianto.
"Your top-secret nobody's-heard-of-you job." Rodney left the table and moved to peer over Gwen's shoulder, presumably snooping for anything he wasn't supposed to know.
"Sounds a little bit like the Stargate program, doesn't it?" Ianto pointed out. Rodney looked testy, and John decided he might be able to like these people.
Teyla gestured at the little machine on the table. "I suspect General Landry would prefer that we return to the SGC with that device, rather than leave it here."
"I don't know about that," Jack said. "It's one thing to let you in the door, but I'm not sure about letting you rifle through our drawers."
Ronon stepped closer to Jack, looming over him a bit. "We're not going without it."
Jack, instead of being intimidated, shifted even closer to Ronon. The table blocked John's view of anything below their waists, but whatever Jack did, it made Ronon twitch.
"On the other hand," Jack said, "maybe we could work something out."
John stood on the sidelines with Rodney, watching Ronon stalk something the Torchwood people called a Weevil.
"He's never going to want to come home now," Rodney said glumly. Teyla had already subdued two of them and headed back to the SUV, telling Gwen about the challenges of fighting evil while raising a child.
"We do have a few vacancies," Ianto said. "For some reason, we can't seem to keep a receptionist."
John shook his head as Ronon circled round a confused Weevil. "No poaching. Besides, we're due back in the Pegasus Galaxy at some point."
"But not for weeks, at least," Jack said from John's other side. "Think of it as a temporary assignment. Believe me, we could use all four of you."
"You teaming up on us?"
"Ianto and I are very good at double-teaming."
"It's a specialty," Ianto said with a completely straight face.
"Do you spend everyday making double entendres and 'wink-wink' jokes?" Rodney asked. "That could get very irritating."
"You can work in the lower levels and not have to deal with anyone."
"A win-win situation," John said, ducking Rodney's attempt to swat him on the arm.
Ronon strode over to them, a hooded Weevil thrown over his shoulder. "You should try this, Sheppard."
John followed as they walked to the SUV. "I don't think so, buddy. I usually like to wait for the snarling aliens to chase me, instead of me chasing them."
"Ronon," Jack said, muscling in front of John. "Want to be our receptionist?"
Ronon dumped the Weevil in the back of the car with the other two. It was going to be a crowded ride back to the Hub. "Sure," he said.
John blinked. "What?"
"You think I can't do it?"
"Uh, no," John said. "I guess I just didn't think you'd want to do it." John envisioned Ronon sitting behind the reception desk and handing out brochures to giggling tourists.
"It's not that hard," Ronon said with a shrug, climbing into the seat next to Teyla. Rodney had tried to call shotgun, which resulted in his being exiled to the tiny seat in the back. "I'd be better than that guy who got sprayed in the face."
"Did you ask them?" Gwen said. "I already told Teyla she and I could go chasing the hole in the Rift that's due to open next week."
John leaned past Ronon to look at Teyla. "What do you think?"
"It is preferable to sitting in my quarters at the SGC and occasionally answering questions about my people. Your anthropologists are very persistent."
"And you're bored."
Teyla shrugged. "I miss my son. Anything to distract me from that is welcome."
Gwen stretched a hand from the front seat to pat Teyla on the knee. "You poor dear. You're coming to dinner with me and Rhys on Sunday."
Hunched on the half-sized seat, Rodney scoffed. "Like you have to ask."
"Right." John pulled his cell phone out of his pocket. "I guess I'll call the General and tell him we're extending our vacation."
"Don't get too comfortable," Jack said, somehow managing to wink at John in the rearview mirror. "I plan to work you pretty hard."