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Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

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No one had come down to the brig since Atlantis had landed on earth. Three weeks had gone by, slowly and monotonously. The only way of telling time was by the changing shifts of the guards. The lights never darkened, the temperature never changed. The brig was its own, pathetic and forgotten little world of nothing. It offered nothing and it's occupant hinted at nothing.


Todd wondered if, in whatever convoluted bureaucracy the humans constantly struggled with, they had no plan for him and, just as he was, were waiting for one to present itself. They did often lack the ability to think of things too far ahead, especially when he was involved.


He did his best not to let on that he was looking for a plan to present itself; John had made it quite clear what he’d do if he even thought Todd was looking for one, let alone thinking one up. He’d heard the threat from someone else long ago and it had worked… until he began to speak to John. It was because of John that Todd was no longer behind bars and it was because of John that Todd was behind bars now. This time, the threat was not going to work, not the way John wanted it to. This time, Todd would do whatever it took to defy his captivity and taste true freedom, no matter how it ended for both of them. It was not out of spite, but it was due to a greater lesson John had taught him, the one he'd always fought with john over. This time, he'd give a final reminder. John would hold to his threat, but it would be the way Todd had always wanted it.


He’d done nothing but survive, live from day to day, for so many years he failed to see the point of keeping track of them until John had done everything short of beating him to get the message across that dying free was better than rotting away in someone else’s basement. He went to such lengths to show him hope, only to know that once Todd had tasted it, he could forever dangle it just out of reach while laughing and spitting in his face. John had apparently grown bored with that game—or just decided he no longer liked Todd’s less-than-concerned attitude in retaliation—and just abandoned him altogether with the statement that if Todd showed hope for such freedom again, he’d take Todd’s life away first.


Todd decided he was going to hold him to it and laugh back.. It was not out of pettiness or cowardly resignation, or even hatred, but out of a sense of duty and debt. He’d given John’s life back years ago; this time he would repay him further. Before, John showed him what he believed humanity truly was. Todd wanted an opportunity to do the same.


He was tired of waiting. Finally, so was John.


He dismissed the other soldiers as he arrived.He wasn’t dressed for duty, merely a tee-shirt and jeans, and his hair was in even more disarray than usual. The wraith noticed his usual sense of peevedness was accompanied by a sense of melancholy he was either trying to hide or fight.


Todd stood to greet him, but that was it. They were at a standstill, locked in what is known as Mamihlapinatapai —two people wanting the same thing, but each unwilling to take initiative. To Todd, this was John’s city, and John had made it clear that he was not welcome. To John, this was his prisoner, and he was there to tell them the idea of Todd wasn't welcome.


John shoved his hands in his pockets.  He didn’t have to do this. He didn’t have to be here.  But no one else was going to do this, not even Woolsey. But Todd deserved to at least be told what was going to happen.


Todd blinked.


“Stargate Command’s decided to move you to Area 51,” John said, staring back. There, he’d said it. He wondered why he felt worse now. He didn’t know why he felt bad at all in the first place. For a wraith who was polite enough to stay out of his head, Todd had a knack for messing with it in other ways.


Todd’s expression of curiosity hardened into something John couldn't identify. “I see.”


“So you’ve heard of it?” John asked. As far as he could tell, Todd’s knowledge of things was random at best and based around what he could steal at worst.


“It is where you put things you wish to forget and the world to never know of,” Todd said. “When you spoke of how little worth there was in a life spent in a cage for eternity, were those words meant to be hollow, or merely for yourself?”


“What do you expect me to do?” John complained as he gestured for pity. This wasn’t how he wanted things to go. Todd was supposed to be upset, or at least ignorant of the whole thing. He was supposed to be the good guy, offer condolences, maybe a beer, and then send Todd on his way. Why was Todd ruining his moment?


“I should not have expected answers,” Todd said. “My fate was never any concern of yours.”


“Look, this isn’t my fault!” John exclaimed.


“Of course,” Todd replied, still as impassive as ever.


John wanted to explain, but also, he didn’t. He wanted Todd to understand, but he also knew Todd wouldn’t believe him. He wanted to know things were better this way and that Todd should hold out hope, but he didn’t believe that either. He didn’t like what Todd was saying, but he didn’t know why he should care. “So… this is ‘goodbye.’”


“Enjoy your freedom, Sheppard.”


“Huh?” John asked to his phone. It had take three tries to turn it on. It was too early for whatever this was.


“Please see me in my office,” Woolsey asked calmly.


“Do you know what time it is?” John asked, grabbing his clock. If he was going to argue, he wanted to be right. It said 3:59 am. “There had better be a good reason for this.”


“Early enough that I’m not in a mood to repeat orders,” Woolsey replied. “SGC’s sending a helicopter to pick us up. I’ll explain during the trip.”


“Is this as serious as it sounds?” John asked.


“Todd’s missing.”


No one from Atlantis noticed, but the trip was worse for the pilot. He thought landing through the cloak would be the end of his problems, but he had barely been briefed on Atlantis. He had no idea what had happened or what a wraith was, but the more the people in the back contemplated and explained the situation, the more he more scared he felt, even in the air.


Woolsey explained the situation to Ronan, Teyla, and John, as they passed a thermos of coffee between them. Ronan was there for muscle, Teyla to sense their fugitive alien, and John to figure out how to plan what to do next.  “Someone disabled the armored ar before the stopover to change drivers. They disabled the radio as well, as the cars escorting the one moving Todd. A news helicopter alerted the Onizuka Air Force Base when they saw the it on its side between two pile-ups on highway 106.  Dr. Keller was sent to examine the scene less than half an hour ago.”


“How far could he have gotten?” John asked.  He was not looking forward to a statewide search for a dangerous extra terrestrial. Then again, there was a chance Todd had ended up on the wrong side of a speeding car. John knew he wasn’t lucky enough for that.


“That’s a lot of firepower,” Ronan said.  “They’ve got more if this wasn't just about killing it.”


“You’re only here to find Todd,”: Woolsey reminded the Satedan.  “Once we have evidence of who did this, SGC will be sending in other teams to deal with it.”


“At least he’ll be easy to spot” John commented, sipping from the thermos. “He’s seven feet tall, green, and very obviously a space alien.”


“Sounds simple to me,” Teyla said.  She was hoping for the car accident and her voice made it obvious it would be a bus instead.


“He couldn’t have blocked the radio by himself,” Ronon said. It was all just a matter of finding out who to shoot to him.  Puzzles, red herrings, and traps were just a means to an end. A very satisfying end to a dire situation. While he’d enjoy shooting Todd if it came down to it--and he hoped it did--he’d prefer no situation at all.


“Who’d want to help Todd escape?” Teyla asked, laughing.  Laughing was better than acknowledging the gravity of the situation.  She preferred the happiness and safety of ‘Atlantis will shot hives out of the sky’ to the constant reminder that wraith will still threaten her people. She wasn’t going to let that feeling go without a fight.  Whoever these people were, they deserved everything they got. Plus the bus.


“Someone who knew Todd was in the truck, probably,” John replied.  It wasn’t funny. Okay, it was funny, but not as funny as it was to the others.  It was funny, but he felt bad for thinking it was funny.


“Simple and easy can still be very unpleasant,” Woolsey said.  He didn’t get angry, but he knew when words could bite, and the truth stung in the air, silencing everyone.  “Blackmail, ransom, expose the Stargate Programs for any reason can all turn very unpleasant for civilians. I would rather you focused on locating Todd before it does.”


The silence continued.  They hadn’t wanted to face the truth.  Not this part. A large, angry, green, space-vampire shouldn’t be able to hide for long.  They all wanted to focus on that and finding a way to blame him for this disaster. He would have no sense of direction or clue what anything around him was, and the reason for the all the destruction would be obvious.  Someone else able to aim such a thing and use it as a weapon was not something they wanted to face just yet. They were up against something big. Big and smart. Big, smart, and something they couldn’t hope to reason with.


“How do we know Todd’s alive?” Teyla asked. She didn’t express much care about Todd’s life. Ally or not, a wraith was still a wraith. Her job was to see if she could sense him. If he was dead, she was dead weight and likely considered a burden by the armed forces. If there were better ways to help, she wanted to volunteer instead of standing around being useless.  It was better to be useless than helpless.


John winced at the comment. He’d seen nasty wounds; torn limbs; even deaths one would have to clean up with a mop. He wondered who had the coffee. “If we don’t hear about having to scrape an alien off something when we get on the ground, he’s fine.”  A mop was better than Area 51, though. Maybe.


The helicopter landed on a bare spot of highway, as close to the scene as possible without disturbing it..  


The armored car was on its side, spaciously sandwiched between two piles of cars. Skid marks hid in the pre-dawn shadows. It was still dark. Moths gathered innocently around the lamps that only lit up small areas with bright, ugly, orange light. With the cars themselves lying  like cold, forgotten corpses and the striking contrast of hideous orange and the dulcet black of the scene, and the carnage present, the scene should have been dramatically eerie in its resolute quiet.


The scene just gave off a feeling of dull emptiness. Inanimate objects lay where they were, their innate indifference both obvious and unimpressive. The stillness of the air was neither stifling, nor hinting at some deep secret. Despite the scrutiny everyone gave it, the scene seemingly wished to be passed over, its greatest impression on those who were here being that of denying its own importance and trying to hint at what they were looking for was somewhere else.


There were only two soldiers on the scene. Dr. Keller was waiting near the truck while two assistants huddled together, trying to stay out of anyone’s way.  The doctor made no immediate movement towards the newcomers when an assistant pointed them out to her. She finished her notes before turning to them.


“We’re trying not to spook the natives too much,” she said. There also wasn’t much point to bringing in a boatload of soldiers to guard dead bodies.


“We've already taken pictures and samples,” she said, gesturing for them to follow her as she turned away.  Almost as if it had been practiced, she took a flashlight from a waiting assistant and climbed into the overturned armored car. “I recommend you don’t disturb anything unless it's important to you.”


The inside was already starting to smell from the tainted meat of the bodies and flies were beginning to gather. Everywhere her flashlight shone revealed something gruesome, almost as if the boring facade outside had cleverly hidden this from view just to laugh at their surprise and repulsion.


Woolsey stood back to give the others room; he was just here to babysit and explain—at most give legalese in case something happened. Besides, they had to carefully step around two bodies to get to the car. He was not about to risk messing up a crime scene or getting in the way just to be more useless than he already was. He used to like being useless.  He could hide behind a desk and paperwork and he rarely got involved--fully involved. Now, useless was just that. All he could do was stand and watch and try to keep from literally stepping in a mess he wondered how responsible he for it, while wondering how much damage had already been done that no one had found yet. Everyone else could contribute something, but is job and talent were to stand here and let people think he was far less concerned and afraid than he truly was.


“I’ve more or less pieced together what happened until Todd left the vehicle,” Dr Keller said.


All four soldiers were in the truck, each with a thorough head wound. Two had been shot to disable them from shooting before death. The two in the back had met a faster end. As gruesome as a death by a wraith was, at least you never needed a hose afterward.


“Snipers—I think two or three—took out the driver and tires, which is why the car tipped over. They kept shooting until it was on its side.” She pointed at several holes in the ‘floor’. “I sent samples of the blood to the labs to confirm all this, but the placement correlates with where Todd was sitting and the height would indicate the bullet hit somewhere in the upper back, probably the shoulder. There’s no exit wound splatter, so we have to assume that was intentional.”


Bone gleamed like pieces of expensive porcelain that had carelessly been shattered and gristle glistened like strings made of fake diamonds. Bits of dark metal and wires had tried to hide away in bits of flesh, as if trying not to disturb the morbid tranquility of the incandescent light shining down on the sickening mess. “The radios were targeted before they were shot; the blood splatter, though would indicate Todd was crouching and trying to avoid the gunfire even after the car tipped over.” The light from her flashlight shot from the destroyed bodies to vague dots of dried blood on the floor and walls.


“Seems straightforward,” Ronon said, crossing his arms. He wanted to get to the action. Especially the action that involved shooting something. It was a simple way of thinking, but when one has spent almost a decade where killing is a priority, things tend to simplify themselves often.  


“Except this,” Dr. Kellersaid, ignoring the accusation of possibly wasting their time. “Todd's footprints are the only ones we could find.” She shone the flashlight a half print in a small splatter. “He stepped back when he was hit. The footprints lead to the edge of the car, then to the street,” she said, her flashlight highlighting the prints and resting to shine on the last one.


“Most of the blood was on the heel, but this one indicates pressure was put on the ball of the foot after he stepped down. This is where the prints end, though.”


“You have no idea why, I take it,” John said, wondering if it was safe to admit he didn’t either. The only good news was that he wasn’t going to have to help cover up picking alien bits off something.


“He took off his shoe,” Teyla said.


“Huh?” John asked. “He was still cuffed, though.”


“He used his other foot,” Teyla said. “He—“ she looked down at her army-issued boots. No possible demonstration there. She looked at the doctor. High heels. Still wouldn’t work. “Mr. Woolsey!” she called out. She preferred to call others by their first names, but to that was his strange, overly professional preference and she never argued about it.


“Did you find anything?” he asked, approaching them and doing his best to keep his poise while maneuvering around the bodies.


“Can you take your shoe off without using your hands?” Teyla asked. Loafers. Perfect.

“I don’t understand,” he said.


“Can you show them how,” she said, nodding vaguely at the group. “You don’t have to take it off completely.”


“If you insist,” Woolsey said, doubting he wanted to know what this nonsense was necessary. He shifted one foot so that his heel was off the ground and with the other foot, pushed on the back of the show with his toes. Once the back of the shoe was loose he slipped his foot out of the shoe halfway, showing that such a task was easy for even him.


“Thank you,” Teyla said before turning back to the group.


“So, if that’s what happened…why?” John asked.


“Thoroughness,” Ronon answered immediately. It was just like how careful a runner was. No tracks. “They didn’t want to take chances with anyone knowing which way they took him.”


“How is it that no one heard all this?” Teyla asked.


“I don’t understand,” Dr. Keller said.


“Gunshots aren’t uncommon on earth,” Woolsey told her, making sure his shoe was firmly back on his foot.


“Why not?” Teyla asked, now confused. “That means they’re shooting at someone, which is serious.”


“Or they’re trying to,” Ronon corrected.


“That’s not always the case on this planet,” Woolsey said calmly. One of these days someone was going to have to explain man, many, many seemingly unimportant or contradictory details of earth to the two aliens they’d recruited from the Pegasus Galaxy. That someone was inevitably going to be him for the most part, and he’d known it for years. It was bound to happen and at least neither of them were intent one driving or doing anything else as dangerous when the questions arose. “In this country, it’s legal for any citizen to own a gun.”


“Isn’t that dangerous?” Teyla asked.


“Welcome to earth,” John said.