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 form 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, who shooed away 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.
Todd tilted his head in confusion. He didn’t move any closer, but he was now truly curious as to what John was trying to force himself to say.
“Stargate Command’s decided to move you to Area 51,” John said, looking at his shoes. 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 manly comfort, 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.
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 this.
“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 you up. I’ll explain during the trip.”
“Is this as serious as it sounds?” John asked.
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 they contemplated and explained the situation, the more he more scared he felt, even in the air.
Woolsey explained the situation as John, Teyla, and Ronon passed a thermos of coffee between them. “Stargate Command wanted to avoid places that were heavily populated and to avoid heavy traffic in case something happened.”
“Didn’t work, did it?” John asked.
“The trip was supposed to change drivers twice with no other stopoversover two minutes. They never made it to the rendezvous point with the second driver.” Woolsey's calm voice, even now, never made things seem any better when he explained situations like these. “No one from the car managed to radio a distress call. A news helicopter alerted the Onizuka Air Force Base when they saw the car on its side between two pile-ups on highway 106. The county’s not happy the Air Force took over the investigation, but let it slide so long as we clear the traffic by dawn. This state is not keen on military intervention and we’re already trying to tell the media is not satisified by being told there is no reason to panic.”
“At least he’ll be easy to spot” John said, sipping from the thermos. “And its not like he can drive even if he figures out how to hotwire a car.”
“He also has no incentive to make this pleasant for us,” Woolsey said. “He could cause a lot of trouble or, given that he knows nothing of earth, could get into plenty.”
Despite Woolsey’s intentions, his remarks caused Teyla to snort coffee back into the thermos she had taken from John. “You mean, we might have to worry about someone taking advantage of a wraith?” she asked, laughing.
“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.
“Who’d want to help Todd escape?” Teyla asked, still laughing.
“Someone who knew Todd was in the truck, probably,” John replied.
“What would be the point?” Woolsey asked, not appreciating the humor in the situation.
“Blackmail, ransom, expose the Stargate Programs for some dumb reasons… been there, done that,” John said, shrugging. For early in the AM, things weren’t as confusing at he thought they’d be. Disastrous, yes, but he could easily understand it now that he’d had some coffee. At this rate, they’d find Todd just before lunch…their lunch.
“How do we narrow that down?” Woolsey asked.
“Who cares?” Ronon asked. “Shoot Todd, shoot someone next to him with a gun.” Problem solved, as always for Ronon. Things were easier when everyone was either a bad guy or good guy. Grey areas got your ship set to crash into a planet and lots of people whining about blame.
“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.
John winced at the comment, though he didn’t know why. He’d seen nasty wounds; torn limbs; even deaths one would have to clean up with a mop. Whatever his uneasiness was, it wasn’t from remembering those incidents. Now things were getting confusing. He wondered who had the coffee. “If he we don’t hear about having to scrape an alien off something when we get on the ground, he’s fine.”
“I think we should be a bit more worried about cleaning up after him,” Woolsey commented. A wraith was loose, someone one was intelligent enough to wreck an armored car without the army being alerted, and the best people to solve the problem thought this was little more than a nuisance.
“Usually when something like this happens, we just have to wait until whoever started the whole mess comes crying for us to clean it up,” John said. “Given Todd, they might just hand him back if he’s cranky enough.”
Woolsey sighed. As long as these three proved as competent as they were confident, it didn’t matter what their attitudes were. If they were going to change their attitudes, it wouldn’t happen up here.
The helicopter landed as close as possible to the scene.
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 of small areas with bright, ugly, orange light. With the cars lying themselves like cold corpses themselves and the striking contrast of hideous orange and the dulcet black of the scene, and the large carnage present, the scene should have been dramatically eerie in its resolute quiet.
Instead, it just gave off a feeling of dullness. 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.
The only other people were the forensic doctor and her three attendants, who were occupied with staying awake and out of the way. Neither group noticed the other immediately in the darkness. The doctor made no immediate movement towards he newcomers when an assistant pointed them out to her. She finished her notes before turning to them.
“You’re the people from the military, I take it?” she asked politely.
“Sure,” Ronon answered.
“If you’ll follow me, I’ll show you what we’ve found out so far. We've already taken pictures, so we'll let the county clean this up when you're done looking at it,” she said, gesturing for them to follow her as she turned away.
Almost as if it had been practiced, Dr. Goldsten took a flashlight from a waiting assistant and climbed into the over-turned armored car. “I recommend you don’t disturb anything unless it's important to you,” she said.
The inside was already starting to smell from the tainted meat of the bodies and flies beginning to gather around it. Everywhere her flashlight shone was 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 useless.
“We’ve more or less pieced together what happened to the prisoner for the first few minutes,” Dr Goldstein said. “What was its name again?”
“Todd,” John said. It was looking less and less like they could blame the wraith for anything. It was always so much easier when he could.
All four soldiers were in the truck, each with a thorough head wound. Two had been shot to disable them 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.
“The only evidence we've found is splatter and partial footprints so far. We've sent fingerprints to the lab for testing, and you'll get the results tomorrow,” Dr. Goldstein said, waving the flashlight to show the blood on more than just the floor. John doubted forensic scientists made many friends. “Snipers—we believe 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 dropped and gristle glistened like strings made of fake diamonds. Bits of dark metal and wires had tried to hide away in pieces of flesh, as if trying not to disturb the morbid beauty of the incandescent light shining down on the sickening masterpiece. “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.
“Odd,” Teyla remarked. “That would mean he's following orders.”
“He doesn’t usually follow orders?” Dr. Goldstein asked.
“Not when he doesn’t have to,” Teylascoffed.
“He still had his cuffs on, didn’t he?” Ronon asked, as a rebuttal.
“We haven’t found any evidence those were taken off, no,” Dr. Goldstein said, not entirely following the conversation. “No metal bits, no scraping marks. There's no evidence he tried to break them.”
“But he did leave,” Teyla stated angrily.
“Why’d he wait?” John asked. Great, Todd was leaving more mysteries and the sun wasn't even up.
“Too many weapons,” Dr. Goldstein suggested, interrupting the group. “There’s splatter on the back wall and on the clothes of the corpse in the back and a droplet pattern on the floor. These match up with his shoulder wound and being struck on the side and jaw with something heavy if it were standing.”
The uneasy feeling John had had when talking to Todd was back again and he didn’t know why. Thankfully, Ronon spoke up before he could dwell on it.
“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.
“Well, you know it better than I do,” Dr. Goldstien said, 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. Goldstein 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.