Tyrel looked up when the colonel walked in the room. Lieutenant-Colonel Samantha Carter. She didn’t look particularly impressive. Blonde, girl next door type, and well preserved for her age. She was tall, but she didn’t look like the sort of person to save the world on a regular basis, and yet she had.
“First Sergeant Brown,” she said with a smile.
“Just call me Tyrel. My military days are over.” Tyrel could have stayed in longer, but after General Anderson retired, he hadn’t wanted to break in a new general. Tyrel was proud of his work, but every time he had a new boss, he had to figure out how to work around a new ego and train a new staff and the thought of being assigned to a newly promoted general was more than he could take. Inevitably they still acted like colonels, trying to keep their finger in every pie before utterly burning out and allowing Tyrel to finally step in and protect them from themselves. At least that’s how the good generals handled promotions. The bad ones played golf. Besides, keeping his private life away from his job was endangering both. It had been time.
“Tyrel,” Colonel Carter said as she took a seat across the conference table. “I appreciate you coming.”
“I haven’t turned down a request for assistance yet.”
“I know.” Carter smiled again, and Tyrel was starting to worry. Officers weren’t this differential or hesitant unless something was really wrong. Given the nature of the SGC’s command, a lot could go wrong. A lot had gone wrong, and Tyrel started mentally reviewing every foothold situation the base had ever suffered. General Anderson had argued long and hard for moving the SGC to another planet, but he’d lacked the political power to make it happen. “Have you reviewed the files on Project Arcturus?”
“Please, call me Sam. I think it’s important for people to remember that you’re a civilian.”
Tyrel frowned. “Okay, Sam.” He ignored the way his gut twisted in discomfort. Thirty years of military protocol weren’t easy to erase, particularly when he respected the woman sitting in front of him. “I’m not sure why you would brief me on this failure. General Anderson’s office wasn’t involved in the decision.”
“Oh, I know,” Carter assured him. “The scientist who advocated for finishing the project…” her words trailed off.
“Dr. Meredith McKay?” Tyrel prompted her.
She laughed. “Oh no. Do not call him Meredith. He’s Dr. Rodney McKay. He has been on the expedition from day one and joined the flagship exploratory team shortly after that. He’s earned the right to have his first name forgotten.” She sighed. “He took a lot of pride in being on Colonel Sheppard’s team, and in the last communication from Atlantis, he asked me to find him a replacement for SGA1. He wanted a military trained scientist who could shoot and hotwire Ancient equipment. He made it clear that I was his first choice, but that if I wouldn’t come, he wanted me to use my judgment to pick someone because no one on Atlantis had the right skill set.”
“Do you want administrative assistance in setting up a search?” Tyrel guessed. That was well within his wheelhouse, but the SGC had Chief Master Sergeant Walter Harriman. If there was one sergeant who could run logistics better than Tyrel it was Harriman, not that he would admit that out loud.
Carter shook her head. “No, I’ve already chosen Captain Nejem. She’s shipping out on the Daedalus. I have another concern. Rodney loved being on that team, and this is coming so close on the heels of the Arcturus project that I’m concerned about Rodney.”
“Dr. McKay?” Tyrel clarified. From everything he had read, Dr. McKay was irascible, formidable and perfectly able to take care of himself. It was a little like worrying about a cactus.
“He’s in charge of a scientific community twice the size of the military contingent, and he has no second in command to assist him. He’d doing research, overseeing research, writing reports, attending meetings, and up until three weeks ago, going on away missions.”
“Doesn’t he have a Czech scientist as his second?” Tyrel wasn’t certain because General Anderson had always concerned himself more with the SGC than Atlantis, but Tyrel had seen all the personnel files at least once.
“Radek helps with the science, but Rodney is very bad with people. He tries to drive them away with sarcasm, but when they ask him for something or demand something, he doesn’t know how to tell them no, and he doesn’t have military protocol to protect him.”
That was a familiar story. Tyrel had worked for any number of tyrants who showed much more compassion once people were out the door. They’d refuse a request from a subordinate, only to fight like hell to make that request happen once the subordinate had left. They didn’t want to be seen as weak or to make promises only to break them later. “You want me to take a job on Atlantis,” Tyrel guessed.
Carter nodded. “Yeah. I know your reputation, and you would protect Rodney if things are going wrong.”
“Things such as?”
Carter gave him a grim smile. “I’ve made bigger mistakes than Arcturus. Danny has, General O’Neill has. I would say Teal’c is the only one who hasn’t, but he made enough mistakes before joining us that his hands aren’t clean either. But none of us ever felt like we were being pushed off the team because of them.”
“Are you sure he is being pushed? Maybe he decided this mistake happened because he was trying to do too much.”
Carter shook her head. “Not Rodney. He thinks he's Superman. And the tone of the letter… he’s desperate for his team to have someone good, so he cares about them. But he doesn’t feel like he can keep going out with them. Something is wrong.”
“And you think I can fix it?”
“I know your reputation. You can verbally eviscerate people while being polite about it. You demand perfection and you know enough about the law that you could probably pass the bar exam without a single university class. You worked in some of the most difficult political postings, and you came out with everyone’s respect. I’m asking you to do this as a favor for me.”
That was a low blow. Carter had saved the world more than once, and Tyrel felt that obligation. “I spent ten years not telling anyone about my partner, and I won’t shove him back in a closet.”
“I’ve cleared it for you to take him as a dependent. I understand you were married in DC.”
“Yes, ma’am. Would he have any official standing?”
“No, but there’s local food for trade, and plenty of complaints that the cooks don’t know how to prepare it. If Dr. Weir approves him opening a catering service of some sort or taking charge of the kitchens, she would be able to add him to her payroll.”
“I can’t agree without speaking to him,” Tyrel said. He’d never told Rich about the things that went bump in the night, but even with the Wraith out there, Rich would probably want to go. He was addicted to travel and loved the exotic, and it didn’t get much more exotic than another galaxy. “However, if we do go, what would be the situation with Dr. Weir? Has she requested more staff or has Dr. McKay requested it?” Tyrel got the feeling Colonel Carter was working her own angle here.
“They don’t know.” She confirmed his suspicions. “Don’t let Rodney run you off, and tell him that I sent you to cover his six, and he’ll settle down. As far as Dr. Weir goes, the original charter allowed for a civilian run facility with a structure similar to the SGC. Weir was the leader with Grodin her second in command. When Sumner and then Grodin were killed, she insisted she was keeping Sheppard as her second in command whether or not the Air Force gave him the position, which would have meant that Sheppard would answer to her under the charter and would be under Caldwell if Colonel Caldwell took command.”
“No clear chain of command,” Tyrel said.
“Exactly. And so the Air Force promoted Colonel Sheppard despite the fact that he had very little command experience outside of Atlantis herself. He has held the city together and the military ranks show great loyalty, but Arcturus was the first major disaster under his command.”
“They’d lost people before.” Tyrel had read every report up until two months ago when he’d retired.
“Yes, but Sheppard could look back and say they’d done everything they could. This was the first major mistake his people made. And if he was handling it well, I don’t think Rodney would be requesting a new member for SGA1. And he asked me to not tell Weir or Sheppard until the new person arrives on the Daedalus.”
“He’s afraid of retribution?” Tyrel asked.
“I don’t know,” Carter said softly, but she was clearly bothered by the idea. “I know how it feels to make a scientific mistake so big that people die, and he deserves a little support. But back to my point with Weir. The charter allows Weir, the military commander, and Rodney to all have seconds. Weir designated Sheppard, Sheppard has Major Lorne, but Radek turned down the offer to be Rodney’s official second, citing the additional paperwork as too onerous. Rodney never chose another.”
“Sheppard certainly doesn’t do Weir’s paperwork,” Tyrel said. Every person had their own style of report writing, and Sheppard’s concise and occasionally irreverent prose was on a minimum of the reports that came out of Atlantis.
“No, but choosing Sheppard was a political move. Sending you is simply fulfilling the requirements of the charter by providing a second to take the administrative load off Rodney. Since Rodney requested I choose a person to take his duties on SGA1, I decided that a lack of available personnel must have limited his choices for a second, and I took care of that detail since I know Rodney is so forgetful when it comes to anything other than stellar equations and decay rates.”
“Colonel Carter,” Tyrel said softly because this clearly meant a lot to her, “I can’t help someone who doesn’t want my help. I could get there and have Dr. McKay send me away within the hour. It’s a lot of money to spend on a long shot.”
Carter gave him a sad smile. “Rodney is not as independent as you think. He blusters and intimidates because he’s sure that everyone will leave him… that they’ll decide he’s not good enough. So he tells them how good he is and then tries to drive them away before he gets attached. The first time I worked with him, I didn’t see it. The second time… I saw the real man. And the real Rodney would cling to his team with both hands if he thought he could. He wants me to join their team when I am the one person he envies most. Deep down under all the lust and insecurity, his jealousy is so great that he hates me—that tells you how bad it is. If I were to show up on the Daedalus and take his spot, it would kill him a little more every single day.”
“But that’s what he asked for.” Tyrel wondered if McKay needed an assistant or a psychiatrist.
“And that’s why I’m worried,” Carter said. “There aren’t a lot of people I think could stand up to Sheppard and Weir if the situation is as bad as I fear, but I think you could do it.”
Tyrel wanted to say he was retired. He wanted to point out that he had tickets to Japan next month. He wanted to say he’d earned a little rest. Instead he said, “I’ll talk to Rich.”