Chapter 1: Over the Hills and Far Away
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.
“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.
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.
Chapter 2: The Wayfarer
New character, same problem.
All the information from the forensic teams as well as the local police had been sent to the airforce, as agreed. The more light shed on the situation, the bleaker it became. The only fingerprints that had been discovered were those of the soldiers and Todd, and only the latter had left footprints, and no new ones. There were train tracks barely fifty yards from the scene. Todd’s shoe had been found, having been run over twice.
There was nothing to do with these details. There was no one to question, nothing to indicate a place or person to investigate, not even a hint that Todd's ingenuity was causing a problem for his captors
This was the least of General Landry’s problems. Homeworld Security thought too much time was being wasted hunting Todd down; the IOA was fractured as to what to do beyond blame him; and they only thing Atlantis could deliver, with all their advanced technology, self-appointed genius, and someone who claimed to have been the closest thing Todd had to a friend, was to argue that it was still a good idea that they had taken the subspace transmitter from him.
It had been two days and they had yet to find anything that hinted at ‘people-eating monster’. How did someone seven feet tall, in prison coveralls, and green make Where’s Waldo look easy?
He wasn’t surprised when his cellphone rang. Both his personal and office phones had been ringing a lot recently, mostly from superiors demanding answers he didn't have.
“I would like to speak to Dr. Daniel Jackson. Can you put me in contact with him?” the person on the other end asked.
“Who is this?” he asked.
“My name is Jesse Lee Duquesne.” They said. “I am at the Willows Inn on Market Street in San Francisco, Room 106,” the mystery caller continued. “Can you arrange for me to speak to Dr. Jackson or not?”
“How did you get this number?”
“You are missing an alien that is dangerous, confused, and easy to aggravate. Do you now longer need help finding it?”
“How do you know about that?” Landry asked. He wasn’t going to give out information until he knew the significance of this person. He was already wasting his valuable time trying to figure that out.
“I am about to hang up,” the caller said. “I can promise you I will have nothing to do with whether or not word of this gets out. I can also promise you information on the alien, but only if I have an opportunity to speak to Dr. Jackson.” There was a short pause and the voice over the phone changed. It was deeper, louder, with a slight echo.
Whether this was a Goa’uld or Tok’ra didn’t matter. He’d just been given a new laundry list of important questions he wanted answers to.
“Bring your weapons if you must. I will be waiting. All you need to know now is that I do not wish to be enemies.” With that, Jesse hung up.
Landry was not impressed in the slightest. But then, he has nothing else to rely on. California was not a small state. It was not an appreciative state, especially towards the military. Worst of all, it was not a convenient state.
Almost hundred-thousand homeless, add to that the amount of runaways, substance-abusers, tourists, and just plain shady people no one would ever notice missing. A wraith could be fed for months, possibly years.
This had better be a miracle that had just landed in his lap.
Three days ago, a wraith had gone missing, and there were no clues as to where it had been taken. Two days ago, another alien had called to offer help in finding the first. Today the air force was busy attempting a cover story the media and police would accept and stop talking about by tomorrow.
That day as not a good day either. In a city just south of where Todd had disappeared, known as Stockton, a man had been found murdered. This was in no way unusual for the city or even the state. He’d been killed on the street, in a dark and filthy alley at night. Nothing about that warranted even a blink from SGC members. The police had assumed it would be just another cold case until the forensics lab had found tiny bones and bits of flesh wrapped around the top of the man’s spinal cord.
No clues… unless they agreed to ask for them. It was time to get some answers, starting with ‘How long does it take to get to San Francisco from Cheyenne?’ followed closely by ‘How much will this cost us?’
The hotel wasn’t the usual cheap-yet-trying-hard-to-be-friendly mess he had become accustomed to in his travels prior to joining SG-1. The atmosphere here had taken measures to be tranquil to the point of being soporific. There was a heavy sense of sleep-inducing blandness to the strange and seamless mix of rustic and modestly modern styles throughout hotel.
The door opened just after Daniel knocked.
“Dr. Jackson?” the person at the door greeted. Jesse was an inch shorter than Daniel himself, and thinner. Her short hair and suit showed off her Korean features. She was dressed for business, and her expression looked genuine in that she wanted to put him at ease.
“That’d be me,” he said.
“In South Korea, I am Miss Jesse Lee; here I am Mr. Jesse Duquesne.” Jesse’s gestured for Daniel to follow and enter the hotel room, and then closed the door after Daniel. “Business there, personal regards here. Call me what you wish.”
“So why me?” Daniel asked, taking the offer to sit down. He kept as much space as he could between them. He had agreed this was all too convenient, and he hated whatever was inside of who he was talking to. He also agreed that this was their best chance at retrieving Todd.
There was a flash in Jesse's eyes, his voice became flanged, almost reverberating in the thin body with the bass to it. “Because I believe you would want want I do in exchange for my help. Personal or for the better of the Tau'ri I don't care,” Jesse tossed a box from the desk to land next to Daniel.
He opened it and discovered nearly an entire ream of paper, all one typed-up document. “Is this a list of demands?”
“It is a single request, entirely from my companion. Atlantis is no longer any use to your military. He hopes to establish a center for diplomacy, science, and cultural understanding by purchasing or at least funding the mission. He assumed it might pique your interest.”
“What's the catch?” Daniel asked. The Goa'uld wanted to conquer. The Tok'ra wanted to ambush. This didn't fit into the motives of either.
Jesse tossed a much smaller container onto the bed. It was a CD case. “Your Todd is on the market. I made a rather large bid. Interference in this transaction will ...have bad results, I expect. I am willing to work with Stargate Command if they accept my proposal, but he would be my property. My host has completed all the paperwork necessary, including funds. All that matters is a few signatures Do not worry about the IOA, he is one of them.”
“He's not a thing. You can’t own him.” He was sure he knew what he was talking to now.
“Then he does not belong in Area 51.”
“What are you?”
“I have lived as a Tok'ra and as a Goa'uld.” the thing said. “Now I am neither. I have long abandoned either title. I am justme. I am Taiji.”
“Why drag me out here all this way just for something you could have just sent us? We have a fax machine still.”
“Because I would not work with anyone who agreed with me that he is property. I heard you had an annoying habit of refusing things such as that. I don’t recommend watching that alone.”
Chapter 3: Away
I have no idea what I'm doing. Plot bunnies and corrections (please be specific) are appreciated.
Having someone else nearby while watching the DVD wasn't actually comforting.
There was no sound to it, but six sets of subtitles: English, Chinese, Spanish, Russian, Arabic, and Korean. It was poorly shot, recorded on a cellphone, which provided the only lighting.
Todd was kneeling on the floor of a moving van. Glass glittered among dried blood in his hair. One of his shoulders was dislocated and he was having trouble breathing. It was obvious at least one over his ribs was broken, along with one of his legs. Looking closely, the two watching noticed he was missing a tooth. His coveralls showed more evidence of the creativity and thoroughness of his captors. Burns, slices, bullet wounds, and large blood stains covered what was left of the orange outfit.
Todd's arms were pulled up over his head, his wrists bound with barbed wire and strung up to a bar on the ceiling.
‘Very durable,’ the subtitles narrated as the gloved hands grabbed Todd’s long hair and pulled it back. 'Learns fast.'
A gloved hand yanked Todd's hair away, giving a clear view of his face. Todd was watching something intently, something he was afraid of, something suddenly bright, lighting up the van, illuminating more injuries and a puddle of blood Todd had spit up on the floor before they had started filming.
The light softened to a dull yellow, then dimmed further. It was a blow torch.
Todd gave up struggling as the flame outmatched his ability to heal, boiling through the membrane of his golden eye and fusing the consequent ooze to skin seared and bubbled to a sickening black.
‘It has already admitted several names and codes of high ranking officials from the American. The thing is capable of complex code hackign and has knowledge of weapons, advanced space flight, and military outposts.’ was all the subtitles found worthy to say. '
The flame was cut off, its existence suddenly gone, leaving the place darker, more sullen, even starker than before. The gloved hand threw Todd’s hair, the messy white locks falling over the destroyed half of his face. Todd hung his head and winced, not noticing that in his pain, his wrists were bleeding from the barbed wire, sinking so deep it had almost disappeared.
'Don't worry. It all clears up immediately. We are waiting for our volunteer.'
The screen of the laptop went blank, nothing but ominous and foreboding black.
There were only two men watching; one had crashed and shot his way through an infamously brutal war, the other with ageless skill at calm and dignity. Neither felt well after watching the video.
“Well, on the bright side…” John started.
Woolsey raised an eyebrow after John’s pause went on for too long.
“Yeah, I got nothing,” John said. It was obvious whoever had Todd had done their homework, they just didn’t want to show what they’d studied up on and how. As much as he wanted to, as easy as it would be for him, he couldn’t say they had cheated; Todd had no hand in this mess.
“So… this Jesse guy knows where Todd is?”
“He will know,” Woolsey said. “They haven’t contacted him yet”
“I’m guessing Jesse’s still really annoying when it comes to getting help,” John said. Aliens: Can’t live with them… and space would be pretty boring without them.
“He’s asking for a lot, technically,” Woolsey admitted.
“Oh, I love ‘technically’” John said sarcastically. “Isn’t this technically a matter of National Security? Doesn’t that mean we can just sic Ronon on him?”
“Killing a citzen of South Korea would probably start an international incident,” Woolsey said.
“He's the volunteer, isn't he?” John asked. “Please tell me he has a plan.”
“I think we are his plan,” Woolsey said. “At this point I don't want to know what he had in store if we refuse.”
“What’s the IOA say?” John asked. When he had to ask them for the best idea, he knew his luck was in the toilet.
“Philibusters. No one wants to admit they don't know what to do. Some just resorted to blaming us without any suggestions. No polite ones,” Woolsey said. It was obvious he was both glad he’d left before this happened, but also wondering if his presence could have stopped it. Most of it was squabbles over position and who had the power to do what.
John was silent for a while. “The only downside is keeping Todd and someone else alive and we practically did that every week. Was there some evil part of Jesses's plan you forgot to tell me about?
“Other than giving us a lot of work to do around here just to prepare for all that?” Woolsey asked.
“That’s it?” John asked. “The worst part of this is remodeling?”
“Unless you miss solving our problems by shooting people that much,” Woolsey said.
“As long as he doesn’t’ take away golf,” John said. “I still want to shoot someone, though.”
“He can't do that, can he?” John asked, now even more worried.
“I’m not sure,” Woolsey admitted. “But you know Todd better than anyone else, so you’d know to keep him from trying anything.”
“Yeah, that’d be my specialty,” John said. He missed when people who stole things were stupid.
Wraith do not cry. They do not weep. They do not whimper.
All they know to do is to scream in the wake of pain, scream until they surrender or fight not to reveal the pain. They never expect reasons for pain, only silently question when it will end. They are wraith, breakable, killable, still eternal.
Something had inevitably happened, something between them had broken, snapped in half during their last conversation that John. He was why Todd had no schemes. John had told him to take everything between them and crumple it up and throw it away and Todd had done just that, wondering why John ever returned to talk to him. Todd’s mind had gone somewhere it had been before, somewhere it shouldn't, somewhere john didn't want it to go, and it was John's fault.
He was supposed to find Todd. He was supposed to know how that far-too-human and not-human-enough mind worked. He was supposed to know him perfectly, what he’d do, how his tricks worked, where he’d go, what he’d say, and most importantly how to find him before he did all those things. He thought he knew those things, always knowing Todd was going to crash and burn and turn to Atlantis after sifting through the ashes. Now… now all his intuition would tell him was that Todd was going to curl up in the ashes until something new came by, even a chance to catch hold of one of the flames and burn alive.
All John had was one important piece of unhelpful information: Todd was not going back with him easily. All he knew that that no matter what, Todd was that if Todd sense the opportunity to escape, the tiniest whiff of freedom, he’d take it and die in it. He was not going back to the van and he was not going to Area 51. This time he’d set the world on fire if he had to just to stay away from certain parts of it.
There was a knock from somewhere and John realized he was sitting in his room, the lights dimmed, and holding his head. “Come in” he said, doing his best to be… himself. He always pushed things aside or grabbed them and punched them until they gave up; ad-libbing his way through everything and always ready to ad-lib something new the second something unexpected happened. He needed to talk to someone now. He had no ad-libs, not even a joke. Worst of all, the burned apparition waited just beyond his next thought to haunt him until he himself understood what it was like to lose everything but the last, tiniest shred of your soul.
The doors opened, revealing Teyla. She waited for a second out of politeness before entering. “What are you doing?”
“I dunno,” he answered. “It wasn’t really this dark when I got here. What time is it?” He waved his hand, brightening up the room. It had been too dark to see his watch.
“Around eleven,” Teyla said. “I began to worry when the mess hall closed and I hadn’t seen you for dinner.”
“It wouldn’t hurt me to lose a few pounds.”
“I heard about Todd,” Teyla said bluntly. It was always a shock, at least a small one, to those outside of her clan, how unmoving she could be, especially when she always started out so soft and gentle. She wasn’t going to let him joke his way out of this, nor would she just dismiss it as a headache from stress.
“How much have you heard?” John asked.
“Enough to be confused,” Teyla said. She wasn’t going to let him dance around this.
“I’m just having a tough time not being able to play golf, okay?” John feigned, though admittedly being told he couldn’t hit gold balls into the bay due to pollution laws did aggravate him.
“I know you better than that, John,” she said.
“Well, if you know what’s going on, I’d like to hear it,” John said. He helped other people. He didn’t have problems like this. He didn’t sit in the dark or beat himself up because of parts of his own mind. He helped people fight that sort of thing… until now. He was always there to fight alongside his friends against inner demons but up against his own, he couldn’t even see them, let alone swing a punch.
“The last time you stayed in your room without eating or talking you refused to let Ronon kill Todd and left him on an uninhabited planet. He wasn’t what—“
“Kolya,” John interrupted. A sickeningly cold churning in his stomach told him she was right. Kolya had filmed his torture, not directly as revenge or torture, ultimately just to buy something petty that he wanted. John had returned to earth just to rewatch the same act, not of sadism, but of finding the pain of others just a tool to complete their machine. Kick it harder until it worked. Kolya has stopped being human a long time ago and became some sort of symbol, some sort of force, something that coalesced in the darkness and chased you with shadows. That was what he as fighting and Todd had given up the fight against.
“I… I have no idea what to say, though,” John admitted, shrugging
“You don’t always need to,” Teyla said, smiling. She could sense he’d had some sort of breakthrough, and at the moment, that seemed to be all he needed. “But I’m still here if you need anything.”
“So…uh, you wanna go watch football or something?” John asked. People. He needed people, human people and of all he human people he knew, Teyla was the best at driving away fears about wraith. She might even help him think of something useful. Even if she didn’t, she’d be a good start on getting back to ad-libbing his way to success.
“I’d love to,” Teyla said, leading him out of the room. “You’ll find Todd before he hurts someone, I know you will.”
Suddenly all his newfound clarity was gone. Something fired in his brain to tell Teyla, but he managed to stop himself. As intuitive and caring as she was, his gut told him this wasn’t for her. There was a reason he kept seeing Todd’s ruined face, but he didn’t know it yet. All he knew was that they were both running from some force they recognized as Kolya. It was pain for the sake of cheap bargaining, knowing it was cruelty and not believing in the slightest this occasion would count as even the barest of sins. It was that, but something in his head told him there was something wrong with the equation.
Just as he thought that, the voice in his head he always listened to spoke up. It was simpler to follow Teyla. She made sense. There was no need to complicate things one his own. There was nothing deeper or more complicated or another piece to his mental puzzle.
For the first time in his life, John decided to ignore this voice. This time, simplest wasn’t going to be best, easiest wasn’t easiest. He was going to learn what he’d been hiding from himself for once.
Because Todd was never going to ask why this had happened. Because wraith do not cry.
The first batch of coffee made on Atlantis is always thrown out after the first cup. It’s made by people who were too tired to make it properly on the first go. It was only replaced once someone unfortunate realized just how foul of a drink humans were capable of making in the slow stupor of the early morning.
Dr. Keller never minded the taste or any other properties anyone else unfortunate to start work so early in the morning fond disgusting about the first batch of coffee. She was always there, right on time before the first batch was thrown out and replaced.
“Finally!” she heard as she was leaving the mess hall. John walked up to her, forcing her to check the contents of her thermos.
It was indeed coffee, too strong, very bitter, and badly filtered. Nothing else. “You’re not usually up this early,” she stated.
“An all-nighter isn’t going to hurt me,” John said, not acquiescing. “Besides, whoever we’re after has been doing their homework, so I thought I’d better get started myself.”
“You need help with research?” she asked as she started walking again. She hadn’t noticed she had stopped when John showed up.
“More like cheating,” John said, following her. “SGC sorta found someone who knows where Todd is… well, will know soon. I want you in the group when we talk to them.”
Dr. Keller hadn’t heard any of the recent news regarding Jesse or the DVD. All she knew was that Ronon, Teyla, Woolsey, and John had gone to the mainland and they had returned empty-handed. Needing her to talk to someone who could find Todd only meant one conclusion to her: “How badly hurt is he?”
“Well, last I checked, he's alive...” John said. How did doctors make it look so easy to talk about gross stuff? “I’d rather you didn’t try to help him, though.”
“John, I know the gene therapy didn’t work, but if there’s anything—“
“Doctors have pointy things. He's going to need a fluffy blanket after this,” John clarified. “Besides, I'm not sure if we're on speaking terms after this.”
Despite her genuine worry, she smiled at the compliment. She knew the bigger purpose of all this. Compassion wasn’t a weakness. Here was a perfect opportunity to show one wraith, maybe more if he ever returned to his own galaxy. “He is hurt though, isn’t he?”
“Yeah,” John said, still hoping that if he never answered, she’d never try to figure out the full answer.
“How bad is it?” she asked, her smile fading slightly.
“He—There’s nothing you can do, I’m pretty sure. Even if you did figure outfix it, I don’t want you to try until I know he’s not going to freak out. You can do doctor stuff after that. I promise.”
“I understand,” Dr. Keller said, her smile returning. This was something Todd had needed for a long time, and he definitely needed it now. She should probably have started with it. Medical labs, no wonder what happened in them, were strange and unnerving alien worlds of their own. Unless you were a doctor yourself, even the bravest would worry that whatever implements came near them was going to find a way to bite back. Todd had learned to trust that instinct, fortunately. “I think he’d understand this time.”
“Understand what?” John asked. Maybe he needed sleep more than he thought.
“I’ll tell you later,” Dr. Keller said. It was best if Todd told him; or at least that she gave Todd a chance. She had thought Todd had told John, but obviously he didn’t think there was a need. Shortly after she had compared herself and John, saying they both saved lives and the difference was the tools the used Todd had lost his entire crew. As dangerous as they were to humans, Dr. Keller know that even though the wraith wouldn’t admit it, it hurt to know he had been kept from saving those he knew, especially when someone whom he had been told saved lives for a living was responsible for stopping him.
“Well, in the meantime, can you tell Rodney I want him in on this too?” John asked. “He can at least talk to Todd and stall things until someone else catches up.”
“Sure,” Dr, Keller said.
John stopped following her and she proceeded happily down the hallway. He wondered what she had meant. He wondered why she seemed to understand the importance of someone Todd trusted being there to help find him, no matter what the plan was in actually getting to him. He wondered if that bothered her.
All he knew was that as much as he needed to get to sleep, it wouldn’t answer his questions.
Chapter 4: High Hopes
“This is quite the entourage,” Jesse said after opening the hotel room door. He backed up and gestured for the group to enter the room.
“You’re Jesse?” John asked, the two words almost stumbling over each other in his confusion. He could spot breasts hidden behind a lead wall, yet everyone had been referring to this person as ‘he’. Last he checked ‘he’s didn’t have curves like the ones he could spot from a mile away—so long as the person he was looking at had two X chromosomes.
“John, don’t try it or you’re going to hurt yourself,” Rodney said as Woolsey rolled his eyes.
“But—“ John started to protest.
“This is not the time,” Woolsey pressed
“You’re not my type,” Jesse said, closing the door.
“I didn’t do anything,” John complained defensively as he finally moved into the hotel room.
“Oh ye of little faith,” Woolsey said, handing a thick envelope to Jesse, who glanced at it and tossed it on his desk. Not even one sentence into the actual conversation and it had been decided that they were all screwed.
“They want a new video” Jesse said. “Beyond that, I don’t know what plans they have for me beyond racking up their price and that they probably intend to use this weekend’s festival as a distraction. At best.”
“What happens this weekend?” John asked, earning the same reactions from Rodney and Woolsey as any time they had to explain something embarrassing to someone who didn’t know about earth.
This just made everyone else whom John spoke for even more confused.
Jesse laughed and crossed his arms.
It reminded John too much of exactly what had gone missing in the first place. Gallows humor; a smug sense of having enough tricks up his sleeve to keep everything to his advantage; yet, when it came down to it, he needed SGC to clean up a mess when something didn’t go according to his plans.
“This city is famous for taking nearly everything imaginable in the name of sexual freedom and any kind of conceivable craziness or oddity and revels in it. That is how it is on a normal day. This weekend the streets will be packed with...more”
“I don’t get it,” Ronon said, summing up how most everyone felt.
“Everyone around looks insane and it’s the worst day to accidentally shoot a civilian,” Rodney said.
“More or less,” Jesse agreed. “Even if you kept it secret that you were from any part of the military, you could be facing years of disastrous consequences.”
“Got any good news?” John asked. “Maybe how we’re supposed to find him?”
“Beaming is out of the question. They knew too much before they put the plan to kidnap him into action. I hope you changes any codes Todd might have stolen,” Jesse said. “Cellphones these days each come with their own GPS tracking device. You can track me as far as you can; I doubt they’d block anything as low tech as that.”
“That’s not good news,” John commented.
“Then what's your plan?” Jesse shot back.
Ronon shrugged. Casualties were what he did best. “Why do we need him alive?”
“We can’t just shoot him, this isn’t his fault,” Jennifer spoke up.
“If you wish to show other planets you have the moral high ground, this would certainly be a good time to start,” Jesse commented. It was clear he didn’t have faith in these people. The potential they or any of their coworkers had was getting smaller and smaller in Jesse’s mind. Like Todd, he needed them to get what he wanted, but Jesse could just stop talking to them and walk away and shrug off any plans he had had and leave them in the dust and the dark.
“He’s a wraith” Teyla said. “We don’t need him, we need to know what information he gave them.”
“Ladies, please!” John said.
Jesse stood up from the wall and growled. Jennifer glared. Teyla was confused.
“Taiji has been tortured by the Tok’ra and hunted by the Goa’uld, yet it was his idea for a new Atlantis project. The funds come from me and my position in the IOA. You will do were chosen as the fifth race and you will act like it.”
“I understand completely,” Woolsey said. It meant ‘Or else’ was more than just ‘find your own damn alien’.
“I don’t,” Rodney admitted.
John shrugged, not understanding either.
“It means no more breaking the rules,” Woolsey said. “This obviously complicates things.
“Aw, gee, that’s what we do best,” Rodney said sarcastically.
“I’m sure you can find a way they won’t be as restrictive as your team thinks they are,” Jesse said.
“I’m flattered.” He saw no real problem with save for having to listen to John complain to him. He knew how to use rules and words and perspective to his advantage. He could use rules to prove why he could break other rules. If he had the time, he could make people question gravity with nothing but a long string of legalese.
“What about a distraction?” Dr. Keller spoke up. “I mean, to get Todd back,”
“I thought we just had one,” Rodney commented.
“If you can distract them long enough for Todd to get out of the van, we can find him before he hurts anyone—including himself,” Dr. Keller explained.
“I will be a bit… incapacitated at the time. Can you use any other kind of distraction?”
“Why don’t we just set something on fire and call it a day then?” Rodney asked.
“Would that distract them long enough?” Jesse asked.
“Just so you know, this is why Ronon isn’t allowed to play Dungeons and Dragons anymore,” Rodney said. “And I was being sarcastic.”
“No, he injured someone with the dice,” Dr. Keller said., wincing as she remembered pulling them out of someone’s nose. “John had his character set everything on fire.”
“I think an explosion would work better,” Ronon said, feeling no guilt about the mentioned game.
“”Isn’t there a better plan than reckless property damage?” Woolsey asked.
Everyone silently stared at him, waiting for him to voice his own bright idea.
“Never mind then,” he said, backing down. Messy, disorganized, and chaotic, yes. As far as ethics went, trashcans and fire escapes didn’t matter.
“Your beloved C4 would be too much for me to recover from,” Jesse said. “Is there anything a bit more mild you have?”
“How mild?” Ronon asked.
“Enough the locals won’t assume there’s a battle taking place,” Jesse said.
“Explosions aren’t exactly invisible,” Rodney commented.
“Most would be invisible in late June,” Dr. Keller said in a missed attempt to remind her boyfriend. She sighed, noticing the silence in the room. “Fireworks can be pretty distracting.”
“That’s easy,” John said. “Technically they’re illegal, but I’m pretty sure selling Todd to North Korea isn’t legal either.
“Hw hard can it be to make one?” Rodney asked, hoping to be useful. “It can’t be that hard—“
“No,” Dr. Keller said adamantly.
“One disaster at a time, please,” Woolsey pleaded.
“This is ridiculous,” John complained.
“You lost a green alien at two in the morning and you’re asking someone with a slug wrapped around their brain stem for help to get him back on a holiday known for people dressing like rainbow-covered clowns,” Jesse said.
“They do what?” Ronon asked.
“Why?” Teyla asked.
“Right,” John said, ignoring the others. All their serious plans hadn’t worked. Some days you had to put all your faith into the rubber chicken with a pulley in the middle. “Never mind.”
“So the plan is ‘Boom, run in and start shooting’?” Rodney asked. “We needed six people for that?”
It didn’t work.
It really, really didn’t work.
It could have worked. It should have worked. They had done everything right. It wasn’t his fault; it was… if only they’d been up against someone dumb.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. It wasn’t…. it wasn’t fair.
That was all he needed right now. Things were supposed to be fair. He didn’t know what that was exactly, but suddenly a wave of clarity washed over him. Suddenly everything was quiet, everything was calm, despite his surroundings. He’d grabbed the reigns of some great beast and instead of feeling closer to the turmoil and tumult, he felt nothing but a sense of achievement. He had a direction, a reason. He only knew that he was lost in retrospect, only in comparison to this feeling of having something so much better, so much greater, a way to end his own craziness. It was still there, but now he knew there was a cure once he figured it out. The fact that it existed put his mind at ease, and that, to him, was the greatest step towards his goal he could take.
Of course, he couldn’t admit that. Especially not now.
John was wondering if maybe he’d completely misunderstood Todd. Perhaps it wasn’t Todd for whom things when sideways, but him and Todd merely happened to be present and hide things when the worst events happened. Perhaps disaster just followed Todd the way a moon follows a planet as it orbits something larger it can’t escape. Perhaps there was simply some logic to Todd John never understood and failed to realize was important.
If only this had worked.
“John, where are you?” Teyla yelled over his radio.
“Uh… wherever Castro and Fourteenth is,” he answered.
He’d run all this way, stopping when he was out of breath and out of clues. He had circled around clouds of foul and searing gas, following the occasional sound of crashing. He’d lost the trail almost an hour ago, running after a vague footprint next to a piece of bloody barbed wire he’d found. He remembered firing at something growling and making noise in some nearby trashcans only to realize he’d followed a raccoon at some point.
“How’s Jesse?” he asked.
“Whatever he did, it worked,” Teyla said. “He’s badly burned though. He’s got some sort of device.”
“Yeah, I heard about those.” John said, scowling at the fact that a nearby building said ‘Occupational Health.’ The universe was doing its best to mock him. “I didn’t know those worked on wraith. We could have used some of those.”
“He’s not going to give it to anyone. I tried” she said, slightly angry. “Do you have any good news?”
“I don’t have any worse news,” John said. “Except I’m lost. And I might need a rabies shot. Or is that tetanus?”
“I’ll ask Jesse how to find you when she--he’s done,” she said.
“Thanks. I’ll wait here.”
He wondered how dangerous San Francisco could be. He guessed ‘very’. He had never explained anything about earth short of ‘Don’t Touch’ to Todd. At most the wraith seen the inside of one of Rodney’s comic books or a picture from a calendar. John barely understood this crazy place, how could he expect Todd to survive here without causing catastrophic damage?
A city of millions of people and he was worried about the man-eating monster. He didn’t know why he thought he should.
Because life wasn’t fair, that was why. It should be, that was why.
Chapter 5: The Escapist
“Officials are still working to clean up what is known as the Pride Attack—an explosion of high-grade mustard gas in a neighborhood parking lot that happened on the first day of the San Francisco Pride Festival, a parade celebrating freedom of sexuality and expression. Some call it over-the-top vandalism while others are going as far as to label it terrorism. Police are still on the hunt for those responsible, even as the almost-week-long clean up nears an end,” the newscaster on the television announced.
“While no casualties were reported and the number of hospitalizations was surprisingly low, the attack has had unfortunate consequences. Violence towards companies and individuals suspected of homophobia has skyrocketed, especially in the Castro area—a district in San Francisco famous for its pro-gay stores and people. The violence has yet to have any effect on the tourism, though many residents are saying they no longer feel safe to leave their homes, both due to vigilantism and fear of another anti-gay attack.”
John made a sound of disgust and Ronon changed the channel out of politeness.
“—and I think this is just the American people saying they won’t stand for this anymore. This is America standing up for itself finally and telling these people—with their Anti-American floats, with their anti-marriage propaganda, their rainbow parties, and a whole bunch of other things I don’t even want to know and I don’t want to say in case kids are watching—‘Get the hell out. We don’t want you here. You brought 9/11 on us and we’re not going to let you try it again, let alone celebrate—“
“Is this guy crazy?” Ronon asked.
“Yes, that’s why he’s on TV,” John answered. “Change the channel.”
“No!” John yelled. “I really can’t catch anything green right now.”
“It’s a good show,” Ronon said, changing the channel again.
“I don’t care!” John said. He’d been grumpy all week. It had started drizzling just after he’d spoken to Teyla on the radio after he’d lost Todd. That was seven days ago and his mood had gotten stuck in the mud ever since.
Woolsey had spent several hours negotiating with the police to get access to recent cases and John and Teyla were still sorting through them, looking for non-existent clues. It was an experience that could kick a human heart into a whimpering ball of sadness or resolute apathy.. For the last five years, John had bee out is space, seeing and touching the far reaches of the universe, away from earth. He’d been protecting this planet for years with war, while his only times to actually return to the planet were full of death. Yet he still had a soft spot for his home planet. He loved it. He cherished it. He still did, even as he met with hatred by those who kept people safe because they had no idea what he did and while he sifted through papers, each one something morbidly unique to his planet.
A planet he’s saved every singled citizen of had greeted him with robbery, assault, sadism, and murder. Now it was reminding him that this happened every day, along with a long list of other human atrocities he had no right or jurisdiction to solve. The worst part was there was nothing human about the incidents. They had been reduced to text on paper, nothing but file after file, nothing individual save for the arrangement of letters to them. There were cold, still, and hollow.
The worst part was that this hurt the aliens worse, and he couldn’t deny his planet had always been like this. Not anymore. Ronon thought Earth was some sort of untouched safe haven, no wars, barely a trace of crime, everything simple and easier than any of the planets he’d been to. Now humans had just replaced the wraith, often with worse crimes that no one wanted to fix and just hoped would go away by wishing or ignorance. Everything was on fire, everyone did something wrong and got away with it, everyone was having sex with someone they weren’t supposed to, and everyone was killing someone, yet no one seemed to be dead. Earth was dull in its cruelty.
It was worse for Teyla. To her, Earth was a paradise. Nothing could compare to a place teeming with people who could grow old, free from the wraith. Earth was practically sacred to her, and yet, finally touching the great planet that had given her so much hope, it had left her feeling dirty, lost, and confused. Humans abused everything they touched, taking for granted property, children, lovers, even their own lives. Some even enjoyed what they did. What was worse was that this wasn’t new. Earth never had an era of great peace spanning its surface. Never had these atrocities disappeared, only lessened on occasion and she felt she had collected the blood of the victims on her hands for her near-worship of the place.
“Well, that’s the last of my half,” John said, tossing the last file in a sloppy pile. “Somehow I thought this would be easier.”
“Did you think he’d set something on fire so we’d know where he was?” Teyla asked, tossing her entire pile along with John’s. As little as she would attribute to Todd, not even she could blame the gruesomeness she’s read about on him.
“I thought he’d do something a bit more subtle than that,” John muttered to himself. “How come he was always easier to find when he could be anywhere in the galaxy?” John asked, leaning against a bed.
“He kept bugging us,” Ronon replied.
“Oh, right,” John said, scooping up a much smaller pile. It was cases that might have something to do with Todd. Might. “I’ll take these to Rodney.”
“I miss that about him,” Ronon commented. “Just that part.”
Todd had no idea where he was. He had no idea where he’d been.
He had expected organization with an unashamed flaunting of grandeur on the native planet of the Tau’ri. Instead, he found a loud, disorganized, haphazard, obsessed, conflicting mess. Monuments right next to each other displayed designs incongruous and in opposition to each other. Shipps belched sickening smoke and most of their pilots couldn’t navigate in a straight line if their lives depended on it. Roads were full of trash and people were eating out of where the trash should have been. If it wasn’t broken, it was covered in lights; if it was broken it was covered with something uglier. Everything made noise. People made noise, people had devices that made noise, they had animals that made noise, monuments made noise, ships made noise, things on the roads made noise, even the smoke made noise.
Who would want to conquer this place? It hated itself and enjoyed every second of it. It was a planet where everyone was trying to turn each other inside out just to laugh in the other’s face about it and that was when the inhabitants were trying to be pleasant. This place was toxic to its core. No wonder humans were so possessive about everything they touched when they went into space.
He preferred the dark; there were fewer ships on the ground speeding past, no one thought he was in the way, and he had less reason to hide. No one here had seen a wraith, and most had never known battle. They were more interested in their own selfish activities than in anything about him. Having to use the night to travel seemed like punishment, though, as it always reminded him of why he hated wherever he was. The stars were faint and often the sky was a blank brown, at best close to purple, almost too shy to actually attempt a color that didn’t resemble bile.
Still, as much as he’d seen, ‘Near the ugly thing and not the other ugly thing’ was nowhere close to having any sort of bearings, geographical or directional. He was sure that whoever had designed this place…or these places…hated anyone who unfortunate enough to be in them. Roads stopped because a building happened to be in its meandering way, they curved awkwardly and turned at sharp angles suddenly and seemingly randomly while tiny hidden other roads branched off of them to lead humans on even more dizzying paths.
Wherever he was, it wasn’t quite quieter, but it was….more still. Humans weren’t around, but there was evidence they frequented this spot. Canisters of some sort littered the ground near one of many large metal boxes. He wasn’t too fond of those, but hiding among empty ones had recently become a benign habit.
His legs had healed for the most part. He could move his fingers with ease. His face was still half gone. A rib was out of place. There was pain he either did not know the cause of or had not had time to figure it out.
What frightens many animals, no matter their ability to reason or understand the universe they live it, is the unknown. Wraith are no exception. For the most part, when curiosity is mixed with fear, it is a concern that the status quo—their way of survival—is threatened. This, however, was a feeling of being overwhelmed, of mere helplessness as he had neither the force or the understanding to find a way out of this newness.
There was a whisper in his head, something that would speak up when the noise of the craziness around him would die down to it own version of silence and all the screams for attention allowed themselves to be ignored. He was used to hearing others, but this made a different noise than he was used to and only now, upon hearing it so strongly did he realize it was wrong—there were no other wraith here, no one to speak to him in this manner.
The voice, slow and almost a feeling of vibration rather than a sound, was reciting the painted scrawls on the walls of the box.
He stood back and let the voice sweep over him, concentrating on silencing his own thoughts while staring at the writing.
SAILOR M SAYS NEVER DO HEROINE AGAIN
It was then that he was truly taken aback. He knew what the gibberish was trying to say. He knew the source of its incoherency. Except… he didn’t know these things. It wasn’t his mind this knowledge came from. It was wherever the voice was coming from. It was more than just a voice.
Todd stood where he was and waited.
The voice said nothing. It put nothing more in his head. After a whole minute of nothing, though, there was a foreign feeling of being apologetic.
Whatever he’d found, it likely wasn’t leaving, but so far it desired to be helpful...though it had accomplished little in terms of safety. Todd figured he was on his own for the most part. Reading was no helpful achievement at the moment. Decoding word out of one of Rodney’s ‘Comic Books’ had taken about an hour and ended in the physician screaming act him for almost as long. What he needed was a way to contact someone, and only them.
That was when the voice spoke up again. It was not so much of words than a mental hint, an explanation of a memory. It told him what the canisters were for, and it was he who knew how to keep his message secret from the unwanted., so long as the voice would help
As he picked up a canister, he wondered about the voice. It wasn’t just a polite observer giving him information. It had taken information of his and used it to aid him. It barely contained words, nor even a real sentence, but he could feel it asking for trust, and he knew how dangerous it was for the wraith to even consider offering it.
He attempted to talk to it, ask it what it was and see what it wanted in return.
All he received in return was a sense of alertness, a need to protect them both. Apparently, that was a topic for later, when he—perhaps both of them—had managed more permanent safety.
Rodney had pinned a large map of San Francisco to a corkboard and hung it on the hotel wall, replacing the picture of a sail boat, which he stuck in a drawer of a dresser no one was using. The map was dotted with dozens of thumbtacks of various colors that marked different likelihoods that Todd could have been to, each with a date and time pinned to the location as well. Rodney found no order to them, no outliers to eliminate, no geography to take into account, no possible distractions or deviations—let alone reasons for any of them.
John’s fist slammed into it, setting the thumbtacks flying and smashing a hole through the corkboard and the wall. The board crashed to the floor and toppled over on the ripped map.
“He’s done Rodney,” Dr. Keller said, rolling her eyes.
Rodney crawled out from behind the bed he’d ducked behind. “What, are you a rock star now?” he asked, standing up. “Go destroy your own hotel room.”
“John, you’re bleeding!” Dr. Keller exclaimed, grabbing at his hand and missing.
“Eh,” he replied. He couldn’t feel the large gash on his hand or the two pushpins stuck in it. It didn’t hurt at all. “It was a stupid idea anyway.”
“Oh course it was. Did you think beating it up would make it tell you where Todd is?” Rodney asked.
“Who cares?” John complained. “We’re just going to end up breaking things! And for your information, that--” He pointed to the broken board. “was a stupid idea.”
“John, we can’t just wait here until he hurts someone—if he hasn’t already,” Teyla said.
“You can punch him when he does,” Ronon suggested.
“He’s already going to shoot him,” Rodney said as he started to pick up stray thumbtacks.
“Can I punch him, then?” Ronon asked.
“This is why we can’t find him in the first place!” John screamed, groaning at the knock at the door.
“Because you’re crazy?” Rodney asked as Teyla opened the door.
“So, are you going to shoot him or not?” Ronon asked.
“Who is shooting someone?” Jesse asked as he and Woolsey walked into the room. He gave Woolsey a look expressing how he now wondered about the sanity of the group, silently asking him how concerned he should be for his own physical and mental health.
“I don’t, think things are that bad,” Woolsey replied. Then he noticed the hole. “It probably looks worse than it is.”
Even Teyla understood the threat from Jesse’s concern; if the South Koreans took finding Todd into their own hands right now and right here, someone was likely to die in a battle over who got to take the wraith with them. “No one is going to shoot anyone,” she said, hoping to calm everyone else down. “John is merely…upset about the past. The last few days haven’t helped him.”
“I…see,” Jesse said, cautiously eyeing the hole in the wall. “Does this mean the wraith is in danger?” Other danger, he meant.
John rolled his eyes as he tried to to clam himself, mostly from the distraction that the gash on his hand was bleeding onto his pants an annoying him. “No, but we might have to dodge some punches.”
“Why?” Dr. Keller asked, finally managing to get a hold of John’s hand to tend to it. She wasn’t looking forward to a much surlier patient with thousands of years of experience in defending himself, even if it was from a bandage.
“Todd was… burned by whoever had him,” Teyla said. As much as Todd had been an ally, he was still a wraith. Even now her pity for him wasn’t much.
“Burned?” Dr. Keller asked. “How badly—hold still.”
“Half his face. Lost an eye,” John said. “Ow!”
“Hold still,” Dr Keller said. “I’d certainly call losing an eye, especially like that, more than ‘ow.’”
“More like ‘blech’” Rodney squeaked. “Why didn’t you tell us earlier, I don’t want to calm down a mad wraith with no depth perception.”
“I don’t know,” John said. He didn’t know. He should have an answer, but he didn’t. Why didn’t he have an answer? He thought he’d had an answer, but he couldn’t find it anymore. At least he knew he didn’t have an answer. That was something, right? “I just thought.. I could handle stuff.”
“You asked me to help because Todd knew me,” Dr. Keller said as she finished wrapping John’s hand.
“Yeah, but I thought I’d be the one doing the talking,” John said.
“Why?” Ronon asked. “All you do is tell him to stop being weird and then you yell at him.”
“Yeah, and we saw how well that worked out,” John said, feeling miserable now that his anger and adrenaline were spent. “I thought I’d have this figured out by now.”
“You are not the only one,” Jesse said. His façade of confidence was crumbling. This hair was brushed, his clothe s ironed and straight, yet the weariness in his eyes showed that the situation was wearing on him. They were hunting an alien through police reports, but he was the one telling other nations SGC had everything under control. He’d spent the last five days talking to representatives of seven countries and three directors of the IOA, doing his best to convince them that anyone else taking over this mission or ‘offering help’ would just get in the way or something routine. Hassles of the everyday did nothing keep him from regretting working with these people. Then again, he’d lost his only contact tot he underworld and had no information about how or why. “Could I perhaps borrow the colonel for a moment? You’re free to punch me if it makes you think it will help. I’d rather not be shot, though.”
“Is this going to take long?” John asked. He didn’t need to waste more time on something that he might not care about in the first place. “Because I don’t really go for yoga or whatever.”
Jesse laughed, a pathetic, hollow attempt at a light and cheery mood. “If I thought that were so great, I’d merely have invested in gyms.”
John shrugged and walked out onto the hotel balcony and Jesse followed. Everyone else stood there, wondering what to do after the door was closed behind them. Now they had two problems on their hands that they couldn’t solve. Sure, the answers had seemed easy for both of them, but the universe never turned out to work that way. It refused to play fair.
Rodney sighed. If there was one thing he had learned about this job, it was that demand always piled up, no matter how finished you were with your first project. If there were two things he had learned, it was that nearly everything about the stargate programs—whichever he had found himself working on—was about cleaning up. He could at least start with the thumbtacks.
“The others are not...fond of the wraith, are they?” Jesse asked.
“Well, Rodney’s scared of most things, Todd once threatened to feed on Woolsey, Teyla’s people have been killed by wraith for years, Ronon’s a runner—that’s when—“
“I’ve read your mission reports,” Jesse interrupted.
“Right,” John said. “So why the rhetorical question?”
“Do you think any differently about him?”
John shrugged. “Well, I feel kind of responsible for him… Just because he told us about the superhive doesn’t mean he can be trusted, but…I don’t think he deserves to be dumped in Area 51. I know it’s stupid, that I’m worried about the giant alien that eats people. I think earth’s worse for him than the other way around. And that it’s probably going to be one hell of a clean-up when we do find him”
“What do you intend to do when you find him?” Jesse asked.
Jon shrugged again. So far, it seemed to be his best tactic since this whole thing started. “Dunno. I’ve never been that good at planning like that. I just make it up as I go. So far threatening him has worked, kinda, but I don’t think it’ll work after all this.”
“There is an alternative to area 51,” Jesse said, leaning against the balcony railing. “You may have the only stargate, but other nations have never taken kindly to anything that looks like an arms race. South Korea’s program is relatively benign. Beaming stations, automatons better at most surgeons, I could keep him somewhere better than your over-sized closet.”
“Like a brig on the beaming station?” John asked. “I don’t think he’ll find that an improvement. Mean, I’d sure love cable if you have it, but I doubt he’d be interested. No offense, but I don’t think your country would just let him sit there for long.”
“True,” Jesse said wistfully, making John wonder if the thing she shared space in her head with had ever spent a long time trapped in a box by itself. “I was hoping you’d have a better answer than Area 51 by now.”
“I don’t think any of us are good with that,” John said. Note to self:….Never mind. “So what’s your plan?”
“I don’t have one,” Jesse said. “I make things up as I go, as well. I adapt to what I know. That was why I thought it would be best to ask your help. I may have failed.”
This time John knew he was referring to the thing in his head.
“What’s so bad about that?” John asked, then realized what word he had used. “I mean, you tow will kiss and make up or however it works in there. How bad can it be?”
“War,” this time it wasn’t Jesse who answered. It was his voice, but not his memories.
“Please tell me this is alien humor,” John said. He didn't want to be having this conversation anymore.
“Trust my host and you will have your joke.”
“Okay… Just as long as you’ll make things better, right?” His hand throbbed. His head ached. Something was trying to choke him. He was pretty sure the universe was laughing at him the way he did when he ran his video game character into walls or off cliffs.
“I will do my best. I will be in your debt if things go well.”
John wasn’t comforted by that. He didn’t know if he should be. But he didn’t know what else to do.
Chapter 6: Crazy Train
“What is it?” Jesse asked. “Does your wraith have an affinity for earth trains?”
John had demanded not only a ride, not only that Rodney—who also had no idea why John was so frantic—join him, but had also demanded small part of the train tracks be under military watch.
“They like to write on them at least,” John said. He didn’t appreciate no one else was excited at what he’d found in the police reports.
“I think he’s just been sniffing paint,” Rodney said. “He wrote a bunch of gibberish.”
“Can we just assume he’s not accidentally on drugs and try to figure out what he wrote?” John asked. “Just for a few minutes?”
“Then he’s just being weird on purpose,” Rodney said, not seeing the point, even if John wasn’t breaking things. “And where’d he get paint?”
“Maybe it’s upside-down,” Jesse said, trying to be helpful.
“Then it really would be gibberish,” John said.
“Wraith is derived form ancient, but it doesn’t work that way,” Rodney said. “We could see where this car came from and check that station.”
“If he just wanted us to meet him there, he wouldn’t have been so cryptic,” John said.
Jesse sighed loudly. “He spent all that time in your brig and you never once told him what a phone was?”
“Who would he call? Ghostbusters?” John asked. Great, now two aliens were being cryptic. Maybe they both had sniffed paint.
“I left a piece of paper attached to mine with your number. I thought he’d figure out the rest,” Jesse said, and sighed.
“Why would he have your phone?” John asked.
“He was supposed to take it with him,” Jesse said, pulling out his replacement. “Things...got in the way. It just...broke. I don’t think it’s built for mustard gas anyway.”
“Well, that’s something about Todd I never wanted to know,” Rodney said, shaking his head as if he wanted to knock the mental image loose.
“It was a longshot,” Jesse said, holding up his phone. There was a loud click from the camera of the phone.
“Does he still has your old purse?” Rodney asked.
“I have no idea,” Jesse said, typing. “It’s not like I expected him to use the breath mints.”
“He could use some,” John said.
“You’re not trying to call him, are you?” Rodney asked. He hoped there was a sane answer despite how stupid he felt the conversation was.
Jesse rolled his eyes and shook his head. “He’s not going to know how to answer it,” he said, putting the phone away.
“I e-mailed the writing to Dr. Jackson. If it really is gibberish, he’ll know.”
“Oh, great, not him,” Rodney complained as Jesse mumbled about incompetence from phone companies.
“Would you rather check every place he could have gotten into to find paint to sniff?” John asked.
Rodney was already considering it.
Jesse had spent the days with Woolsey, sharing the hotel room. Time passed in an unimpressive, yet dignified mutual ignorance, neither one recognizing the other in the room save for a convenient absence when the other could might be in a less compromising situation. While the others had found some reason to use the television in their own rooms, the device remained still and silent here, even dusty as the two did nothing but pour over paperwork and phone calls, occasionally managing to escape into literature. Neither spoke much beyond simple questions about the other’s work that might pertain to theirs. The closest they came to interacting as mere people was sharing food and deciding who paid for it.
Thus, as Jesse’s phone rang and her caller showed obvious signs that they were from SGC, all Woolsey did was look up from his work to see that she had a pen close by before returning to it.
“This is Dr. Jackson. I figured out what Todd wrote. Even though the wraith alphabet is derived form ancient, they took their language from the humans and—“
“Are we going to be on the clock because of this?” Jesse asked in the same tone as if asking when the report would be on his desk.
“No,” Daniel said, disappointed at the interruption.
“Then please continue.”
“They acquired the actual language from the humans they hunted, but developed their own vernacular, so the term belongs purely to the wraith culture. I had to look in left over wraith technology the Atlantis crew had brought back to even find it in context. The closest translation would be ‘ship graveyard’ but that's still pretty far off. The rest was just copied down, I think he saw it in something relfective. I don’t think he knew what any of it meant or that parts were covered up. He’s near the San Francisco campus for the College of Arts and Crafts, wherever that is. By the way, thanks for letting me talk.” Throughout his speech, bits of giddiness at finally being listened to had poked through.
“I find it quite interesting,” Jess said, not realizing he was smiling at the phone. Everything intrigued Jesse—or possibly his dormant partner and the blend had left him with a little interest of his own; not even he knew for certain. “However, now I need to contact a school.”
“I can help with that,” he said.
Suddenly there was a noise from the phone as he simultaneously hung up and the device received an e-mail. It paid to indulge others now and then.
Something strange was going on… strange for this place. Hours ago, the humans that frequently filed in and out of the nearby building had all left. Todd knew extremely little about the human here and had relied on stealth until he felt confident a certain group was likely to ignore him. He had never risked exposing his presence to these people, given their numbers and how varied the members of the groups were. He had, however, taken note of the usual comings and goings and this was not the usual time for the occupants to leave.
The other buildings that surrounded his hiding place had become quieter as well. They were always sealed off to the outside, but they were full of noise and were always pumping something strange out into the road during the day and long into the short nights. They had gone silent just as the others had left, though, to his knowledge, none of the buildings had anything to do with each other. They were practically separate worlds in their own stars system, alone and ignorant to each other.
Things were far too still for Todd to feel safe, yet he had no idea if he should leave. All he he heard was the distant sound of poorly steered traffic. The world around him seemed calm; there was nothing ominous about the emptiness. Leaving now might cause more suspicion than attempting before. He also had nowhere to go...
He had ceased contemplating whether anyone from Atlantis had found his message days ago. It either had worked or it had not worked; he did not need to be distracted by false and misguided hope when he should be focusing on surviving as he constantly moved about the never-ending city.
Suddenly a loud noise rang out, short and loud as something boomed just above him.
Todd shot to his feet, only to stand in confusion as a thin drizzle of color rained down on him. It took him only a second, but a second too long, to realize someone had shot the can of paint that had been resting on a large box just above the one he had been hiding in. The wrong people had found him.
John grabbed Jesse’s arm and lunged at the ground as a bullet pierced its way through a nearby box car.
“That’s a good sign,” Jesse said, not a hint of sarcasm in his voice as he stayed down, waiting for John to tell him it was safe to stand.
“I think I hit your head to hard doing that,” John said, helping him up.
“We know they haven’t found him yet,” Jesse said, intentionally keeping his voice heard. The more they were noticed, the more chance the other had at stealth.
“I don’t think I like your version of good news,” John said as he ducked around a corner.
Jesse had insisted on coming with the group, who were all surprised John didn’t argue. The lot full of boxcars had been easy to spot. John immediately sent everyone else to go after whoever was shooting while he and Jesse were to find Todd before things got messier than they already were.
Especially now that he had found the wraith.
“Sheppard?” Todd asked. He was not wondering why John was here or if he had indeed found the message and tracked him here despite the vagueness of the direction, but why he was here with another familiar human—one who did not look the way they were supposed to.
“Don’t worry, we’re friends,” John said, reaching out slightly. “Is that paint?”
Todd backed away immediately. Although he had misinterpreted John’s words, it was the movement of the human’s hand that chased him back. Asking for help did not mean he was going to accept what John was offering. He’d seen the decisions John had made on his behalf and he was not willing to be spoken for again, even out of good intentions.
“I am impressed by the duct tape, myself,” Jesse said. His eyes flashed, but his voice remained human. “I asked to him to help me.”
If there was one thing to fault Todd for, it wasn’t his ability to adapt. He always found a way to survive, be it by luck or cunning, offense or hiding, trickery or just plain stubbornness to keep from being the first to give in. One of the few things he’d learned quickly while hiding within the city was how to procure new garments, though it was quite obvious he’d panicked during the lessons. He had obtained an iconic rainbow shirt, which was somehow too big for him, as were his jeans—which showed signs of both having spent time both in a street and up a tree—which he had used duct tape to do his best to adjust. One couldn’t fault him for creativity either, apparently.
Todd turned to cautiously study Jesse, who smiled, assuring him that he was correct in that his health was no illusion.
“I am not going to your Area 51,” Todd said, adamantly. Somehow, he seemed much more serious with only one half-lidded eye as he focused on John. The marred half of his face had been covered by his long still-matter hair, a curtain hiding most of what little expression he deigned to give the inhumane species.
“You don’t have to,” Jesse said. “I can change things—“
“I will go to no prison,” Todd said, backing away again and making it clear he was about to take off on his own again, this time without leaving a message, no matter how much he hated the city he was stuck in.
“If you want to go back—“ John started.
“You already gave me your word, Sheppard.”
“What, your doing this now?” John asked. Todd had used his name, there was no way to get him to back down from something when that happened. All this time, John thought he’d be happy to get a free pass for the past weeks of chaos. “Okay, I admit you’ve been squirreling around, but do you want a band aid maybe? A belt? You’re shoes don’t even match—did you roll in something?”
“That is how San Francisco tends to smell,” Jesse commented before turning away from the conversation completely.
“I am not interested in your city or your offers,” Todd said. “I find your petty needs offensive. You cannot even explain your denial to me.”
“That’s not what I was trying to do!” John said, resisting the urge to hold his temples. This wasn't difficult because Todd had just called him a coward and a liar, which was probably true. It was difficult because he couldn’t talk to Todd because he was too selfish. He didn’t want to know that Todd thought he hated him. But he wasn't going to shoot Todd, over this, no matter how bad the last few weeks had been. “What are you doing?”
John suddenly noticed no one cared. Jesse wasn’t paying attention. Todd had stopped caring in the middle of John complaining at him. A quiet had settled around the group, surrounding them and he was the last to realize there was no escape in the maze of boxcars.
The bullets had stopped. Another noise had replaced them. It was a sudden sound of the angry, almost territorial roar of a car, the sound bearing down on all three. Todd was out of John’s reach intentionally, fearing he’d lose his ability to make demands. There was nothing he could do. There was nothing John could do. It was the last thing Jesse did.
John knew his legs were broken. He could feel how thoroughly they had been smashed. He could hear bone scraping along the cold, steel floor. He could feel himself bleeding to death.
This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. He wasn’t supposed to be here. Not now. Not yet. Not alone.
“You are in serious need of medical at-ten-shonn.” Above him was a robot, crude despite the latest advances even with the advances of the Stargate projects. Every motion it made was smooth and fluid, there was nothing organic about it. Her bright eyes, synthetic skin, delicate hair, and fancy dress Korean dress did nothing to brighten the station. The colors of her uniform and headdress did nothing to fight the bland, unfeeling darkness. Everything about her was as cold and lifeless as the rest of the place, which looked to have been made of metallic shadows. “I am assessing medical options. Remain calm.”
“Where’s Jesse?” John asked between gasps. His vision was going too quickly. “Where’s Todd? We got him, right?”
“Morugessumnida,” it said.
This wasn’t’ how it was supposed to be. He wasn’t supposed to leave like this. Not now. Not alone.
Chapter 7: Los (Less)
John woke up to the familiar sensation of morphine, a fuzzy lining to reality. A pillow between him and Everything else. He could smell the strong scent of disinfectant. Neither of these promised anything good. The morphine was strong and the smell was stronger. He didn’t doubt he’d made a huge mess bleeding everywhere, but even before he opened his eyes, he knew this wasn’t going to result in just a few hours lying in bed and playing Nintendo.
“Oh, boy,” he heard Carson say as he slowly focused on the doctor. Before the image cleared completely, he could tell Carson was holding something back from him, something important that he had to say, but didn’t want to. John wished someone else had been there to greet him, someone who could hide their feelings better. This wasn’t the day to wake up to bad news immediately.
“What day is it?” John asked.
“Saturday,” Carson said, happy to have the opportunity to sneak away from whatever disaster he didn’t want to talk about. It showed. He didn’t care.
“Cough it up,” John said, doing his best to sit up. He had never been a fan of people hiding things from him. Not even for his birthday. “Why was I out for so long?”
“You were bleeding pretty badly,” Carson admitted. “And you had already passed out with a head injury by the time you were beamed in here. That robot has pretty good aim. Not good at English. Was she pretty?”
“Carson, please,” John said, holding up his hand and thankful for how well he was regaining coordination. His head hurt though. How in the world did one get a headache on morphine?
“She sounded like a cute lass over the comm,” Carson said.
“Carson!” John yelled. “Something is wrong and it’s not that we didn’t get Todd. Tell me what happened.”
“Your right leg was smashed up pretty badly. I managed to reconnect most of the knee, but I couldn’t save the rest. I’m sorry. I just couldn’t do anything else and the robot couldn’t either.”
John put his face in his hand and let out a long sigh.
“John, there wasn’t any alternative,” Carson said.
“Shut up,” John said. He wasn’t angry. Not at anything physical. He didn’t know if he should be mad at fate or disappointed in himself. He decided to settle for a little of both until a third option showed up. He wasn’t mad at Carson, but the doctor seemed to be trying to take the blame and hurting himself like someone stabbing themselves with a knife they took from a child. He couldn’t handle Carson feeling bad for him. People weren’t supposed to be burdened by him, that wasn’t how things worked. “Just… don’t.”
He couldn’t stand being a burden. He had left his family, thinking they’d sort out his loss in a few days. It was hell seeing just being there was a problem. He couldn’t apologize for who he was, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t torture. This time he couldn’t run away. This was where he needed to be. This was his whole life. It wasn’t what he knew how to do, it was what he couldn’t do without. He couldn’t walk away from his own niche, especially when he’d screwed it up so badly.
“Why isn’t anyone else here?” John asked.
“They didn’t want to tell you,” Carson said. “Rodney convinced Jennifer she wasn’t actually up to it and Ronon and Teyla said they wouldn’t be able to handle breaking it to you. They all thought you’d react best if I told you.”
“Well, I’m going to react to them now,” John said. “Get me a wheel chair.”
“Carson, I’m getting up and going back to work and you can’t stop me,” John said. Things were missing. People, direction, parts of the world, parts of him, part of who he thought he was. None of it had to do with his leg. That was just holding him back. He was tried of letting things hold him back. Confusion, no idea what he was doing in the first place, lack of clues, orders from other people… his leg would have to get in line.
“I’m not getting you one because we don’t have one,” Carson said firmly. “The best I have is a pair of crutches you can use. It would actually be a good idea to get some exercise soon, but not yet. Please just stay where you are, I think there have been enough disasters so far.”
“Fine, but send someone in here,” John said.
“Aye, I can do that,” Carson said. “But you do your best to relax. This isn’t going to be easy.”
“Nothing has been easy so far,” John said, leaning back and sighing. Carson left. He was trapped in this stupid room and couldn’t move. He could only wait to talk to people who didn’t want to talk to him. There were no bars, but it was prison. He wondered if Todd was right, that prison on Atlantis was just the same as prison somewhere else.
He never thought it was; it was to protect others, not to hurt him. Maybe he had. Maybe that wasn’t the point. Maybe the point was prison, never seeing the stars again, never knowing what it was like to fly for yourself.
It had to be. I had to be because John knew he’d never understand anything else. His wings and stars were gone. His leg was gone. Unless he did something, his life was gone, and Todd was going to know the exact same thing worse than he would.
They weren’t equally destroyed yet. There was still time to set the wraith free and give him back his own skies. It wouldn’t fix him. It wouldn’t fix Todd. It wouldn’t fix anything. He didn’t need to fix things. He needed to make things fair.
Todd had made the mistake of accepting things. John had made the mistake of forgetting what he was supposed to do. He had to make things right. No one else was going to and the universe wasn’t going to pick up the slack. This time he was going to kicked the universe’s butt and tell it to get to work.
Rodney had no idea what to do or say to John. He still barely knew how to handle having friends. He knew physics, not people. Jennifer’s advice wasn’t any help at all. She had told him to ‘be himself’. She was a doctor, shouldn’t she know what to do? She should at least know how badly being himself would be.
Sighing, he entered the infirmary. At least John should know how bad he was at this kind of stuff.
“Took you long enough,” John said, having finally gotten his hands on the infirmary’s game console. “I could hear you panicking behind the door.”
“Y’know, you get a higher score if you just connect three at a time,” Rodney said, pointing to the game.
“You waited until I was on level 93 to tell me?” John asked. “You didn’t get Todd, did you?”
“None of use even saw him,” Rodney said. “Were were lucky we got out of there in time.”
“Oh, yeah?” John asked. He was going to beat Rodney to death with the game console if he was whining at him about a parpercut.
“It turns out train cars have a lot of flammable stuff in them most of the time. school’s going to be out for a while. That was before the nerve gas, by the way,” Rodney said, quickly beating John’s underestimation to a whimpering ball. “I’m not even sure SGC can clean this one up.”
“Where’s Jesse, then?” John asked. Losing track of one alien was bad enough.
Rodney sighed. It was his own personal sigh of having to do the worst of the dirty work and that it needed to be done immediately before everyone panicked worse than he ever did. “You want the long version or the short version?”
“I’m not going anywhere,” John said. “Give me the long version.”
“Not even the robot wanted to beam up a burnt pizza,” Rodney said, scratching his head. He didn’t want to do this anymore.
There was a long silence. Even the console was quiet.
“I could have designed a better robot, you know,” Rodney said.
“What? Fran? No way, the one of the station looked way better.”
Many of those still stationed on Atlantis had been recalled home. There was almost a quiet, palpable hum to the place now, as if the city were trying to replace the feel of constant footsteps that it had lost.
No one noticed the sound of crutches amid the quiet. No one wanted to.
“Well?” John asked, quickly making his way to Woolsey’s desk from the door.
“You’re early,” was all Woolsey said. He had no idea the etiquette required for this sort of situation.
“I can leave and come back if you want,” John said impatiently. For having been so seriously injured, he wondered why the worst so far—beyond sheer surprise—was boredom. He wished someone would do something.
“I’ll try to refrain from small talk,” Woolsey conceded. “Retrofitting will start tomorrow.”
“So that’s why everyone left,” John commented.
“Exactly. The changes will be minor, but the fewer people we need to have around, the fewer people we have to inevitably get in the way or complain.”
“Does this mean Rodney left already?” John asked. He was bored. He wanted to bother someone.
“He’ll be needed for most of the work and Zelenka will be in charge,” Woolsey said. “He’ll be complaining enough for everyone.”
“So why’d you need me?” John asked. He tended to think of himself as a hero, not a mechanic. He didn’t think heroing would be needed in this situation.
“I take it you’ve heard about Jesse?” Woolsey asked.
“Yeah, Rodney told me,” John said. “Ick.”
“’Ick’ turns out to have only applied to Mr. Duquesne—Jesse,” Woolsey said.
“Did I miss something?” John asked. He didn’t want anyone to treat him like he was stupid because of his injury, but treating him like he was psychic wasn’t better.
“Mr. Duquesne was the host. The...creature had found a new one before volunteering to help you,” Woolsey explained. “Unfortunately, we needed at least one to handle this project. Most of the funding comes from investments and companies under Mr. Duquesne’s name.”
“So...we’re now looking for two aliens?” John asked. He really wanted a ‘no;.
“Unfortunately,” Woolsey replied, also wish for the same answer.
That wasn’t a ‘no.’ “How did you not notice? You shared a room with her—him—whatever.”
“I’d rather not know what you think about my private life,” Woolsey said, extremely offended.
“No, I mean he’d have said something or something.” He missed when it was only one alien hiding things. One very obvious alien. One very obvious alien doing it all on his own because he wanted to. Somehow, that wasn’t all that scary anymore.
“No, but he did leave a note in case something happened,” Woolsey said. “Apparently, once we accepted his offer, he had his will changed. Ownership of the company goes to you—funds are mostly frozen, but you’re in charge of funding this project until the person it’s all meant to go to is found. Or speaks up.”
“Sounds fun,” John said sardonically. Great. Paperwork. Lots of it.
“The good news is that it’s only temporary.”
“I think I’ll wait for the bad news to cheer up,” John said.
“The bad news is that you can’t give ownership to anyone else and Mr. Duquesne did all the work himself. You might want to hire an accountant,” Woolsey said. “You’re only in charge until the beneficiary is found and the IOA isn’t releasing information about Jesse now that they’ve discovered his...friend.”
John was quiet for a moment. He contemplated the best way to bury his face in his hand while still using the crutches. He eventually settled on a mildly aggravated scowl instead. “When did we lose track of all these aliens?”
“Personally, I’m more worried about something else,” Woolsey said. “Whoever’s going to end up with Jesse’s assets is going to end up running this place. However, the will says they won’t be transferred for years. The reasons why were confidential.”
“I miss Todd,” John said. “His schemes were always a lot more… um…”
“Predictable in retrospect?” Woolsey asked.
John shook his head. “Containable.” He had no idea where to find eel-snakes. It wasn’t like he could have the army check every single fish tank in the world. Jesse was from South Korea and was visiting America. He had trade agreements with China and France other countries. Where should he even begin to start looking? Who would take care of something like that? Could he just check a payroll for ‘Feed symbiote?’ Maybe it already had a host. If so, how did Jesse keep track of them? A human was easier to hide, but harder to find. He sighed. “I’m going to concentrate on one alien at a time,” John said. “We’re going to have a lot of explaining to do when we get Todd back. I probably should make some notes.”
“SGC said they want SG-1 and other teams to handle that,” Woolsey said. “I thought you had heard about that.”
“So what do they expect me to do?” John complained.
“I assume the expect you to get well enough to yell at the IOA to release some information,” Woolsey said. “At least find out everything you’re in charge of. Half of this is confidential.”
“Can’t you...y’know, un-confidential it?” John asked. When did he sign up to be a babysitter for himself?
“I’m overwhelmed with this project. Even if you didn’t violate some new rule in the first few seconds this place is back in the Pegasus Galaxy, you’re still on medical leave when it launches. Not to mention new budgets, memorizing new legalese, contracts, and what to do if the beneficiary is found while we’re in space and in the middle of one of our usual disasters.”
“Do I have to?” John asked, practically begging in his own way.
“No, but you’re facing a lot more paperwork if you refuse. We don’t have Mr. Duquesne’s fund yet and the international backers we do have are very interested in this new Atlantis project. We need all the resources we can get to find our wraith without any more incidences.” Woolsey said, stopping to calmly take a breath. “I’m pretty sure you quitting on this would cause even more problems that I can’t think of right now.”
“Did I mention how much I miss Todd messing with us?” John asked, sitting down. He should have done that a long time ago in this conversation. Why him? What was the point? Why not leave a note about where he left his alien? Didn’t he keep an eye on it? Why hide whoever should be doing this? Why hadn’t they spoken up now that the will had been passed around?
“Yes,” Woolsey said. “Jesse thought he could keep this from happening entirely; I never really tried to tell him I doubted it would work at all.”
“What do you mean?” John asked. Great. Even dead, Jesse was talking in riddles. If only there was a way to shut him up.
“Jesse thought that eventually the Peace Project could be used to negotiate with the wraith.,” Woolsey said, still with no confidence anything could be worked out, maybe not even in the galaxy they were already in.
“Might not be a bad idea,” John mused, though not uncomfortable with the idea, yet not happy with it. It was, technically, his fault…maybe. If he hadn’t promised to shoot Todd, would he have even written to them for help? Why him? Surely Todd was smart enough to find at least one thing to get himself killed on his own. Suddenly John hoped Todd had been sniffing a lot of paint. The alternative was both uncomfortable and hard to define.
“What do you mean?” Woolsey asked.
“I almost had him,” John said, almost wistfully. “He didn’t want to come with me.”
“Then why did he write to us?” Woolsey asked.
“He wanted me to shoot him,” John said, slowly letting his depression at the situation show. “I think he wanted me to do it personally.”
“Why didn’t you?” he asked. Woolsey wasn’t good at reading people. He doubted people, to him bonds were invisible when others thought they were opaque, he never knew how to let his own feelings and past show and never learned how from others. However, it was obvious to him as to why John didn’t go through with it. It wasn’t a delay. It wasn’t lack of equipment. It wasn’t suspecting a trap. It wasn’t even the presence or Jesse. John didn’t want to. Woolsey didn’t want an answer, he wanted an explanation. He wasn’t good at people, but he figured John probably needed this. Even if John didn’t want it, he needed it. Probably.
“I thought I could figure something out,” John said. “I thought Jesse would say something.” Why didn’t that work? Why had Jesse just let Todd ask? Why not just help grab Todd and figure out what to do with him later? Morals sucked. How could anyone go through life living by them all the time? And why couldn’t he do it?
“And then the car happened,” John said. Why did everyone think he was the expert on ever alien they met?
“What are you going to do if we ever get him back alive?” Woolsey asked. He didn’t know people and he certainly didn’t know aliens.
“Dunno,” John said, suddenly reminded of the last time Todd had expected him to kill him. He hadn’t then, either. That time Todd had been appreciative for the surprise. Even though Todd had thought John was ultimately out to kill him, he healed him, giving back what he took in desperation. “I’ll ask him.”
John took advantage of his new duties the best way he could: making it up as he went. Having taken over Jesse’s duties, he decided to supervise the changes on Atlantis. It was what he thought Jesse would do.
He did help. He was glad he did. Just by being there, everyone focused on whatever it was they were supposed to be doing. Perhaps it was due to the awkwardness of someone just getting used to a prosthetic, even as the weeks went by. Perhaps it was feeling John was armed with two large metal sticks and not ashamed to use them as weapons. Perhaps it was just knowing that he was around and that nothing had changed that much about him. He didn’t care. He was there with people and he was important. At least one problem was solved
Still, nothing felt completely normal for him. The crutches were annoying. He could get around fast, but he always found his gestures, even subtle ones, were impaired by them. He still needed them to balance, despite how well he was getting used to the prosthetic.
Worst of all was getting used to remembering it was plastic beneath his knee. Sometimes he swore he could feel his foot. Often it was just the sensation of the floor beneath him, sometimes he thought he could feel the muscles twist or bang against something, even in open areas. On occasion, he thought he should feel something, such as when he accidentally put his crutch on his foot. He was shocked there was no sensation, only to remember why his body had no response.
He hated when these things happened. He should be able to get on with his life now. He didn’t need to visit Carson any more. He had moved back into his room weeks ago. He should be able to just get up, grab his crutches, and do whatever he wanted to do. He even wondered why he still had to use them. He shouldn’t. He had a prosthetic; everything should be back to normal now.
Except that everything shouldn’t be normal now. Things were too normal, going too smoothly. Why was everything so relaxed around the place when it had been a month since Todd disappeared for good? A loose wraith practically disappearing off a map was no time for things to be normal. There should be tension, worry, fear… he should be feeling those and helping direct those into something useful. Yet, everyday when he woke up, he never thought about an alien that had disappeared into the chaos of everyday life on earth. He could go for days forgetting about someone expected to be gunned down seconds after meeting him. He hated himself for so seldomly remembering Todd still expected that, even when the wraith was still in the brig.
He wished he could play golf. Everything was easier to think about when he played golf. Nothing felt as wrong as it was when he played golf. Everything could wait, everything fell into order in a queue in his mind. Everything was sorted and eventually became solvable when he could play golf.
He couldn’t though. He wasn’t allowed to do so according to environmental laws. He wasn’t even allowed to use the biodegradable kind of golfballs even. He couldn’t because he was on crutches. He still needed them to stand. It wasn’t fair. He’d had golf taken away from him. It was cruel. It was unfair.
He was going to make it fair. No one took these things away from him. Not aliens, not Atlantis, especially not golf.
At the end of each month, John had sent a letter the IOA explaining that he needed more information about Jesse. For science. And money.
For the first two months, he was ignored. Halfway through the third, he finally got a reply. It was an invitation to speak to them personally, though with less name-calling than what he included in his letters. Jesse spoke for his company and most of the Asian Nations involved in their own Stargate Programs. John was going to be speaking for the company he couldn’t run and needed to give to someone else.
He wasn’t going to complain that no one had found Todd when he couldn’t find an alien himself. That wasn’t going to be possible until he had annoyed the IOA enough that they threw up their hands and gave in.
He wasn’t going to put up with babysitting anyone. Especially not someone who’d rather be shot than go to the trouble of being rescued. He was going to drag Todd by the ear and get things straightened out… not that he had any clue how to do that.
First things first, though.
As work was finished on Atlantis, he was surprised how much had changed while so little of it had been changed. It was all about returning the city to what it was meant to be: a city. It was going to hold refugees, diplomats, representatives, and anyone else who wanted to start or solve a problem, possibly both. It was going to be a place where people could eat, sleep, rest, and interact with those from other galaxies. Technically that was what it was before; just now it could be used for that all the time by people who weren’t part of the Atlantis Expedition. SGC was going to send people to be armed for them. Atlantis would be a gigantic pitstop of two galaxies, maybe three.
The work was almost finished now; he probably wasn’t needed to supervise, even if someone was having a really, really bad day. Most of what needed to be done was just wiring coding.
“The worst that could happen is Rodney complains too much that Zelenka’s telling him what to do,” John said. Ever since work he had been noticeable, he had become accustomed to watching the lower promenade from the upper walkways. Ronon often joined him, thought the Satedan easily became bored doing nothing but standing and watching without planning to fight something. “I’m sure you can break that kind of fight up without breaking anything… of his.”
“What about after that?” Ronon asked.
“I think he’ll get back to work after that” John said.
“No, what will you do after you go to ‘South of Korea’ to talk to the IOA?” Ronon asked.
“I’m gonna try and figure out where Taiji went and dump all this on him,” John said. “Someone’s gotta want to be paid back for all the fish food by now.”
“That’s when Atlantis goes back into space?” Ronon asked.
“Yup,” John said. “Think you can handle it? A peace delegation isn’t going to be like a military outpost. You’re going to be stopping most fights and you can’t beat someone up for information even if someone else wants you to.”
“Doesn’t sound like fun,” Ronon said grumpily.
“You’ll work it out. It’s not like you can’t scare people,” John said, smiling. “You’ll have tons of stories for me.”
“What’s that mean?” Ronon asked, suddenly concerned. He rarely did this outside of someone dying. John not fighting with him was close enough.
“It means I can’t fight like this,” John said. “I’m hoping you can pick up the slack while I’m gone.”
“You’ve got a new leg,” Ronon explained. This was one of those miracles Earth had at it’s disposal. It was like fried food and television and antibiotics. It was better than anything else and it solved problems instantly. Earth was cool like that.
“Yeah, but I still gotta get used to it more before I can fight on it,” John said. “I’ll be back.”
“You better,” Ronon said.
“What are you going to do if I don’t?” John asked, chuckling. “Go to Earth and drag me back?”
“Who says I can’t?” Ronon asked.
“Just don’t tell Woolsey or he’ll try to stop you,” John said. “Or bore you to death.”
“You’re coming back or else.”
“I dunno. You dragging me back almost sounds like fun after everything that’s happened.”
It was two days before John had to leave for South Korea, Jesse’s territory. This was one of those things he wished Jesse had been around to do on his own. Then again, if Jesse were around, no one would need to do this so badly.
If he was going to do this, he was going to do it right. If he could go to Atlantis before there was any hope of reaching Earth and pack everything right, it’d be downright embarrassing if he on the other wise of the Pacific. At least these days he never had to worry about finding a matching sock.
A knock at his door interrupted his mental checklist as he contemplated his luggage. “Come in,” he said. He didn’t turn around as Teyla entered his room. “What’s up?”
“I heard you were leaving us,” Teyla said solemnly.
“Yup,” John said. “My plane leaves tomorrow.”
“John, Atlantis needs you here,” Teyla said.
“Actually, it needs me over there for a bit,” John said. “Otherwise, we can’t get back into space.”
“We’ll need you there,” Teyla said, placing her hand on his shoulder. “You don’t need to fight; we need you there as a leader.”
“That’s not my job for a few more months,” John said, chuckling.
“You could still stay here,” Teyla said. “Atlantis will be accepting people from all over the galaxy who need a place to stay.”
“It still wouldn’t work, Teyla,” John said. “I can't just rent an apartment here. Stargate Command wouldn’t let me if I could.”
“You would still be there for all of us,” Teyla said. “Atlantis would be where it belongs. We’d be protecting people again.”
“I won’t be making the same kind of decisions,” John replied. “No one trusts me about battle plans just because I showed ‘em popcorn and beer. They better not, at least.”
“We don’t,” Teyla said. “There will be those when Atlantis goes back, won’t there?”
“Better ask Woolsey,” John said. “You sure everyone wants me around still?”
“Of course we do,” Teyla said.
“You asked everyone?” John asked, impressed.
“I don’t need to.”
As much as this cheered John up, it was also depressing. He had been so prepared just to walk away and come back in a year or two and make fun of whatever had happened while he was gone. He knew people would miss him, but he didn’t think people would need him so much. Not him specifically. Not for this. This was someone else’s mess to clean up. Better go find them.
Nearly everyone had left Atlantis by now. They had a chance to revisit Earth and there would be no emergency to call them back. It was not a choice, as they were told to leave. They weren’t just no longer needed, and no disaster reared it’s head.
Woolsey had stayed to watch the place, as there were still people working with in the city, though they numbered barely over a dozen. Rodney had stayed, along with a few engineers, to keep the place running smoothly. The last thing the needed now was any of the millions of reasons the cloak could fail to actually happen. Dr. Keller had stayed with him, telling everyone the place still needed a doctor around and that even sitting around with nothing to do, everyone present could still find a way to injure themselves. Lastly, Ronon and Teyla stayed on the island city. There was nowhere for them to go, save for being offered rides to and from nearby California tourist attractions.
“You know, you could have just left a fruit basket,” John said, to the group.
“We decided this was far more fitting,” Teyla said, bowing. “I was not about to miss this farewell. Will you be returning here after your trip?”
“Sorry, SGC wanted me to meet them in Cheyenne when I get back,” John said, chuckling at the fat that he needed to meet the top brass in order to to be told to stop coming to work. “Come on. I’ll be back. This isn’t a wake.”
“I’m just here to make sure you’re coming back,” Ronon said. “It’s still that or else.”
“Yeah, but that might be fun.’” John said. “Don’t get into any trouble I wouldn’t.”
“Things will certainly be different without you,” Woolsey said. He wasn’t good at goodbyes. Or hellos. Or much of anything of that kind. It was one of the reasons he liked dogs. “As many insane things as you’ve done, I doubt my job will be any easier without you.”
“I really thought you’d be the one to leave a fruitbasket,” John said, shaking Richa’rds hand. “I’ll miss you too, though.”
“Atlantis has introduced me to a good man, I’d rather see him depart in person,” Woolsey said.
“Don’t let it go to your head,” John said.
“Ow,” Rodney suddenly yelped as Jennifer stabbed him with her elbow. “Umm… I… here,” he said, shoving a colored box at John. “I actually bothered to get you something. Plane rides can be pretty boring, you know.”
“What’s Elfquest?” John asked as he opened the box, finding several comics in it.
“I have no idea,” Rodney said, pointing at Jennifer. “She picked it out.”
“I wanted to tell everyone you won’t be needing the crutches in a few months,” Jennifer said. “You’ll be back in the Air Force in about a year from now. I convinced SGC that if they find Todd, you should be the one to talk to him afterward for you.”
“That’s a pretty good idea,” John said, trying not to wince. One disaster at a time. “I’ll try to bring back someone fun. You guys are depressing. Stop worrying and let me get on my boat”
As he made his way to the pier and the awaiting boat, he realized exactly what it was that would be a good place to put Todd after this. Sure it wouldn’t be the same as for him, but it was safe and far away from Earth. It was perfect for John and though it wouldn’t be perfect for Todd, it’d be close enough.
Chapter 8: Dark Chest of Wonders
There wasn’t much to SG-1 these days. Teal’c had returned to his people. Samantha now commanded a starship. All that was left was Cameron and two civilians, one not even native to Earth. They weren’t much of a replacement when it came to finding a captured wraith. Daniel had considered this a good opportunity to learn about wraith, until he discovered how little there was, even combining mission reports from Atlantis and the archives the Ancients left behind. Cameron and Vala wondered if any of his dead-ends, cul-de-sacs, and other general frustrations would lead to them actually leaving the compound. By now even Daniel had given up. Even General Landry had forgotten about Todd.
Only Dr. Lee, who had asked for the meeting in the first place, had believed this wasn’t a fruitless endeavor.
“The good news is, Todd has no clue how a stargate works when it comes to building—what?”
“We were expecting something a bit more… ‘apocalypsey’ when we found him.” Vala said. To them, this was akin to looking up a supervillain in the phone book and politely asking them to stop. “And maybe starting with ‘Hi’.”
“You want to wait and see what happens?” Dr. Lee asked. And here he thought they were supposed to prevent the apocalypse, just as they had the last dozen times.
“Just tell us how you found him and where he is,” Cameron said. He didn’t want to be at the table for another month.
“Well, I was on this math forum and someone recently asked for help on a formula, which turned out to be a partial formula for stargate travel—with a bunch of errors. I asked him about where he came up with it, and he said it was something his company decided was gibberish and couldn’t give a research grant for.”
“You think he’s working with Todd?” Daniel asked. When Daniel insinuated you needed to get out more, it was serious.
“No, the company that gave it to him was VETA industries. He was allowed to post it on the forum because it couldn’t be copyrighted,” Dr. Lee explained.
“Can we make this long story short?” Landry asked.
“They don’t exist,” Dr. Lee summed up.
“It’s a false-front subsidiary,” Dr. Lee said, assuming that explained everything.
According to everyone’s faces, it didn’t.
Not even the resident language expert had a clue what he was talking about.
“It’s a corporation created purely to take responsibility for risky business deals so the owners can dissolve it instead of having to declare bankruptcy or to take on debts, if it works, great, if not, no one takes the blame or owes any money. If it works, it’s usually dissolved anyway and the parent company takes over.”
“If it’s that simple, just say that,” Vala said, hoping everyone thought she understood.
“Don’t get ideas,” Daniel said flatly.
“What kind of ‘risky business deals?’ are we talking?” Landry asked.
“I couldn’t find that out; they’re top secret,” Dr. Lee said. “I did find out that the parent company works for DARPA, who break more rules a week than Jack did over the first eight years.”
“Oh boy,” Cameron said as Daniel put his hand to his temples. Landry wasn’t pleased either.
“What?” Vala asked, suddenly as clueless as Dr. Lee.
“Before we go against DARPA, what makes you think they have our alien?” Landry asked. Note to self: Just ask for a memo next time Dr. Lee discovered something.
“I did find out that most of their projects are coming from a single medical research building in La Jolla, California,” Dr. Lee said. “That company contracts out to dozens of things, including the army and air force, so I managed to get a bit of information about them in general. The facility of theirs that specializes in nanoscience is in a totally different state—which is why it’s odd that one of their lead developers has a California phone number with a La Jolla area code and no tax information. They won’t tell me what VETA industries is a subsidiary of, though.”
“That’s it?” Vala asked. “I don’t see any evidence of aliens that eat humans in this.”
“Computers and nanoscience were his areas of expertise,” Daniel admitted. “This is a bit too close.”
“Yeah, but they work for DARPA; we can just wait this out,” Cameron said. “Whatever they’re cooking up, we’re gonna get.”
“Not all the contracts are to DARPA,” Dr. Lee said. “They admitted that some of their current contracts were outside foreign investors looking for patents. Plus whoever has him said they were going to auction him off. This is probably just them milking him for all he’s worth before they finally sell him. It’s not like DARPA owns the facility; they’re a third contractor.”
“That still doesn’t give us a plan,” Landry said.
“Somehow I thought Daniel would have cracked a Carmen Sandiego plot,” Cameron said. “What exactly would our plan be? We’re still just attacking a civilian office in front of tons of people.”
“At least we know not to be as dumb as the last people who tried,” Vala said.
“Doesn’t narrow down our options of what we should do,” Cameron said.
“Especially when we need to follow Jesse’s advice,” Daniel said.
“How so?” Vala asked.
“Thanks to the last time humans were in Atlantis, the IOA’s watching us pretty closely about ethics,” Cameron said.
“So?” Taking to long to explain things must be contagious around here, she figured.
“So we have to be on our best behavior,” Cameron said. Whatever her idea was, he didn’t want to know what it was, let alone clean up after it. “You of all people should know what it means.”
“Oh blababla, do the right thing, I know all that,” Vala said waving her hand at him. “I still don’t see any problem. A woman like Jesse—“
“Man,” Daniel corrected. He was far too used to being the only person who understood how amorphous gender roles were for humans.
“Exactly,” Vala said, not missing a beat. “Someone like that wouldn’t be telling us not to break a rule or two, just to make sure which kind of pants we’re wearing when we do.”
“That’s a strangely fitting metaphor,” Daniel said.
“We’re already wearing pants; what’s the next step?” Cameron asked. “These guys have made it pretty clear they’re serious about keeping Todd where they want him.”
“You sure you can’t just threaten them?” Dr. Lee asked.
“Terrorism tends to make a bad track record,” Cameron said. “We’ve already had to clean that up twice and they still won.”
“Why don’t we just do what they do, then?” Vala asked. “Without the ‘injuring civilians’ stuff?”
“You mean a bomb scare?” Dr. Lee asked.
“How would we get a bomb in there without it being noticed?” Vala asked. “Won’t that still hurt people?”
“You wouldn’t have to have a real bomb,” Dr. Lee said. “You could tell them you suspect someone may have put a bomb in the building. Everyone would have to evacuate the area. The police show up. You could go in before the bomb squad—what?”
Again, everyone wondered when Dr. Lee had somehow done so much without their knowledge of it. When did he get three steps ahead of SG-1?
“When did you start coming up with plans?” Cameron asked
“I came up with a plan?” Dr. Lee asked. “Cool”
“Then what?” Daniel asked. “What exactly do we do with a wraith? Put it in a closet and wait for John?”
“Closets are too flimsy,” Cameron retorted. “We can dump it in the isolation room left over from Reese. The security camera in there still works, right?”
“He’s over ten thousand years old and we’re going to leave him in a room full of picture books and coloring pens?” Daniel asked. He hoped no aliens ever rescued him with this line of thinking.
“John’s already going to babysit him.” Cameron said, rolling his eyes. Why couldn’t Daniel wait until they had the alien before complaining about how they treated it? “If he says something, we’ll give it an Xbox or something.”
“Hello?” John answered his phone. The second he turned it on after a long, dull—though thankfully successful—meeting, it had started to ring. Most of the meeting as wasting his time and whining in a very political way until the IOA members gave up in boredom, as if they never found the subject interesting in the first place. He has to practically ask every member, one by one, for papers. He still felt his information was incomplete by the time he had gathered it all.
“What in the world have you been teaching these aliens?” someone screamed at him. This was not what he had been expecting from and SG-1 number.
“Huh?” John answered. It summed things up very precisely.
“Your stupid wraith threw a fire axe at me!”
“Took you long enough,” John said. “Who is this?”
Todd slowly sat up. He hasn’t been in any condition to fly to his feet as his instincts told him to for a while. He slowly looked around, taking his surroundings. Very little had changed.
He found himself sitting on a small pink blanket with disgusting pictures all over it. There were several boxes of colored writing utensils arranged neatly on top of a pile of colored paper nearby. Next to that was a pile of books, the writing on them in unnecessarily large letters and the pictures in garish colors and foreign writing. This was all too familiar. He turned around as best he could; yes, there was a camera watching him.
At least he was trapped in a larger room this time.
Just like before, he was allowed little time to contemplate his prison. It was John who entered the room. Both were surprised about the reunion, including the human who had known for hours this would happen. Often there was no planning for the inevitable.
John had been allowed to use the beaming station to travel as close as he could the Cheyenne base and was driven the rest of the way. He had been very thankful for an elevator in the compound.
All his thanks diminished as he entered the room. Staring at Todd, he was too overwhelmed by the sight in front of him to even notice the doors closing behind him. He wished he were on the stairs, struggling against awkwardness and the probability of crashing all the way down. He wanted stairs to struggle on. He wanted a reason to argue with Cameron. He wanted to have taken a plane. He wanted he had a valid excuse not to be here and not to have to handle this situation.
John sighed. Todd had been described as having been found ‘kinda injured’. The problem with tact was that it never prepared you for what it meant to say. The fact that Todd’s face hadn’t improved was the most minor of the ways someone had found a way to be creative with how….durable Todd had turned out to be. He had most of his tangled hair, which looked worse now—the sting was in the word ‘most.’ Even across the room John could see tiny patches on the sides and back that had been shaved, messy fuzz blending in with the rest. Someone had literally gone inside his head. The rest wasn’t any less of a threat to his imagination.
Cameron had also mentioned Dr. Lam did as much as she could to ‘fix him up’ without freaking out that he’d wake up while on her table. She hadn’t done much but make him look worse than if she’d left him alone. John wondered if she’d actually helped anything. Beside the small bandages on his face, she had wrapped him lower left leg in a SAM splint and add a brace to his right thigh.
For the most part, Todd was ignoring the injuries; his attention was primarily on John. His right hand was on his left arm, making it obvious that the second he felt he had privacy, he was going to curl in on the injury and beg whatever he believed in to make the nightmare end. He wasn’t just trying to hide the pain. He was doing his best, but here and now—without the grainy vague camera—it was far too obvious what had happened. There was nothing there anymore; his arm stopped three inches from where his wrist had been.
John wanted to be sick. He wanted to cringe. He wanted to leave. He wanted never to have set foot here in the first place. He wanted to know what to say. All he could do was be thankful Todd didn’t take insult from the childish toys and that those who last had him in custody had gotten rid of the hideous rainbow shirt and duct tape. They had bothered to give him an outfit similar to what the stargate programs gave patients, but that was the end of their generosity. They hadn’t even done anything about the paint.
“So… hi.” He wanted to slap himself. He needed to be here. He needed to do this. He wouldn’t be able to live with himself if he didn’t. And yet, that was the best he could come up with.
“Where is this?” Todd asked, pulling his left arm farther away and still trying to hide what had happened to his hand.
“It’s not Area 51, if that’s what you’re concerned about,” John said. “And it’s not… wherever you were last. You’re in a completely different state now.”
Todd didn’t understand. Or, rather, he understood, just not in the way John had meant. Of course he was in a different state. He’d gone form the state of despair to the state of confusion. “That is… no longer comforting,” Todd said, making an attempt to seem calm as he reached back and hold the back of his neck. He failed utterly in hiding his fear, his resulting movements jerky and far less subtle than he’d hoped them to be.
“What?” John asked, noticing Todd was staring cautiously at his crutches. He looked like he wanted to find a substitute to running away. Todd was already injured, confused, and very definitely hungry; John didn’t need to add panicking to the list of potentially fatal inconveniences.
It was unclear whether Todd ignored him or if his small phrase was what prompted Todd to suddenly turn to the security camera and tighten his grip on his neck. Todd did nothing after that, waiting for something unpleasant as the silence and stillness took over the room.
“What are you doing?” John asked. Five months on Earth and Todd was acting positively batty. Humans had done something in a few dozen weeks that the genii couldn’t manage in years. This was not an accomplishment he wanted on record.
“This is nothing but more coercion,” Todd said. “What is it you want me to do?”
“I’m pretty sure you’re confused,” John said. So was he. He had expected ‘Hi, didn’t kill anyone you shouldn’t have, right? No? Let’s get back to space, then, buddy. No hard feelings.’ It was as if whoever had gotten their hands on him intentionally made it difficult for anyone to help him if they ever lost their grip.
“Do not bother with your invisible and insignificant details,” Todd said, almost growling in his anger. “There is no real difference in my situation. This is just another place to be trapped in, just another set of demands for information; I know what you can do to force my hand and I know you can do far worse. I do not want to play games. What is it you wanted from me?”
Todd didn’t want to play games. John didn’t think that level of torture could exist. He didn’t want to think about it and didn’t want Todd to try and make him think about it. “Well, since we’re on the subject, Dr. Lam is concerned about your legs. She knows they’re broken, but she can’t do much other than that. and it’d be a lot easier if—“
“No,” Todd answered. He rubbed his neck, giving as many details as needed to show John it was not a subject either of them would like to delve into. “No doctors. Not willingly.”
John wanted to ask what he was talking about, but before he could open his mouth, it him square in the gut what Todd meant. There was no explanation, no making amends for this. No humans had ever given him reason for him to distinguish themselves from each other regarding their behavior and he wasn’t going to see a difference now. After all: all wraith were wraith. All humans from Earth felt the same about each and every one of them: when it came down to it, shoot them.
This was what Jesse was trying to stop. This was something he not only had foreseen, but had known firsthand thanks to Taiji. Only now did John realize how much skill it took to be that kind of person, to always think of not only the repercussions of every step you took, but that of all who represented humanity. Even someone you never met could make you realize it’s your own soul find missing one day when you wake up.
John felt sick. At least with the wraith there was something to understand. Humans… humans didn’t need reasons. They didn’t even need excuses. They just did… whatever.
“Why don’t you try and take it easy for a while?” John asked. “Anything I can actually get for you? We’ve got an Xbox.”
“I have had enough of boxes,” Todd said, nodding to the room in general.
“Right,” John said. Great, now he’d have to watch out for simple geometry.
“There cannot possibly be this much concern for someone you intended to throw away as useless,” Todd said, cocking his head and finally letting his arm fall from protecting his neck. “There is something… intrinsically wrong with you.”
“False leg,” John said causally. He was so used to being casual about it. He no longer had any idea if he wanted to talk about it in detail, or how. All he knew was that Todd wasn’t someone he wasn’t to be so open with, no matter how things went. “I lost my right leg under the knee the last time I went looking for you. You’re welcome by the way.”
Todd considered the words for a few seconds. He didn’t seem chevalier about what had happened to John, but he gave no thanks either. Perhaps he didn’t feel the need; perhaps there was no part of the wraith language or culture for it. “Is that the reason you no longer ask me your favorite question?”
John shrugged to himself. There was no point in postponing the question now. Todd seemed to hint that the familiarity might even take the edge off the situation for him. “You mean to tell me that after all…of…whatever happened, you’re still trying to gloat over hiding something?”
“It is always the only thing you truly want from me,” Todd answered. His voice lacked his usual pride in keeping what he had hidden. There was honesty in that there was something indeed hidden, merely that there was no bargaining to be made for its reveal.
“Are you sure it’s the only thing?” John asked.
Todd didn’t see a reason to dignify the question with a response other than to narrow his eyes. He’d been through far too much for such pathetic humor.
“Anything in particular you’re hinting at?” John asked. “Anything that’s going to kill everyone soon?”
“I do not know the damage. I believe there is time. You are honestly unaware of what has happened?” Todd asked in genuine surprise.
“I was in Korea,” John said. “All I heard was that you threw an axe at someone. After that the building kinda… exploded.” The army was calling it a gas leak. All evidence had been destroyed, their research subject left with broken legs. He wasn’t meant to have survived.
Todd waited for the other shoe to drop on John’s head.
“Where’d you get an axe?” John asked, the wheels in his head suddenly turning. “How did you reach—wait—“
“It is one more life at risk, is it not?”
“I guess, yeah,” John said. He was back to hiding things, back to speaking in riddles. It wasn’t as comforting as John thought it would be. It didn’t even help that he had a good reason. “Did they ask you to tell them how to make a stargate?”
“They asked me many things,” Todd said. “Why are you seeking answers you should know?
“Because I’m not them. None of the--” He couldn’t say no one involved in the stargate program was involved. Not when he had no clue what there was to be involved with.. “I just came back to Cheyenne; I’ve been in Korea for a week. All I was told was to talk to you and see if Dr. Lam could look at your leg. No one’s going to mess with you if you don’t wan them to. But that's kind of the problem here.”
“I see no problem,” Todd said, smiling a humorless grin. He’d been beaten for months, had been forced to crawl his way to escape and use an axe to grab hold of stairway railing until he felt force to use it as a weapon, been forced to cover half his face, and lost part of his vision and yet he still had the pride to gloat at his both his former and current captors.
John shook his head. You can’t keep a good dog down, apparently. “You have no idea where you are, do you? Geographically speaking, I mean.” John crossed his arms while still leaning on the crutches. Something else was up. Todd was trying to hide something more than a missing cattle prod or protect a person who had helped him escape.
“I know I am no longer in ‘San Francisco’,” Todd answered immediately and innocently.
John paused. Then he narrowed his eyes at the wraith. “Why weren’t you confused when I mentioned Cheyenne or Korea?” Heck, why didn’t’ he ask which Korea if he knew what Korea was in the first place?
“I have met a voice that tells me of such places.”
Chapter 9: Keine Lust (No desire)
“We have three days to get Atlantis back into space. If we back out, we’re going to face too much international backlash to handle. The only thing that knows how to get us out of it is in a wraith with mental problems—something not even the ancients managed to do,” Landry said. “Have I missed anything?”
“I’m still wondering how things got so complicated without any of it being Todd’s fault,” John muttered.
“We’re also short one snake that’s supposed to help fund this,” Cameron said.
“You need to find better friends,” Cameron said to John.
“Todd hasn’t done anything helpful, has he?” Landry asked.
“No, he barely knows half of what he ended up telling them,” John said, placing one of the picture books Todd has been given and a few pieces of paper on the table. “No clues about where he’s been and not much of an idea about what they did. He doesn’t even know how dangerous these guys are and I don’t think he’s being cryptic. The good news is he doesn’t seem to be up to something…yet.”
“That’s good news?” Vala asked.
“What’s the bad news?” Cameron asked.
“He’s been acting weird and says he doesn’t remember it,” John said.
“As much as I don’t like the idea of one of those sitting there and thinking all day, ‘weird’ doesn’t narrow things down,” Landry said.
“He’s been scribbling in the picture books,” John said, hoping to diffuse the situation. He wanted to focus on the real disaster. Todd may not be very trustworthy, but John saw no reason to take markers away.
“So he’s not just insane, he’s four,” Vala said. “At least he’s not drawing on the walls.”
“What was he writing?” Daniel asked out of boredom.
“Looks like fortune cookie stuff,” John said, shoving the stuff towards Daniel. “He can’t read English, let alone Japanese.”
“This is Chinese,” Daniel corrected. “Was he reading these when he wasn’t writing in them?”
“He was looking at them when I came in,” John said. “I don’t know about reading.”
“Hey, I like this one,” Vala commented, leaning over to see the book. “What do those scribbles mean?”
“He translated the sentences into Chinese and wraith.”
“Oh,” Vala said, as if it all made sense. She hoped Daniel would say something so it did. He didn’t. “So, is this a good thing?”
“Well, he’s not nuts,” Daniel stated.
“So what’s he up to?” John asked. “If he’s not scheming up something, that’s not a good sign for him”
“Well, ‘Cat’ isn’t something that translates to anything in his language,” Daniel said, flipping through the book.
“Why not leave the snake in a fishtank?” Vala asked. “I don’t think it’s very safe in his head.”
“Are you sure Todd is the insane one?,” Cameron asked.
“Exactly what part of this plan made sense to Jesse?” John asked, hoping someone had an answer by now.
“So who’s going to be the new host, then?” Vala asked. “It IS Taiji, right?”
“I hope so,” John said, putting his face in his hands. He didn’t. The thought of Todd having anything to do with regulating Atlantis made his brain hurt.
“I don’t think Taiji meant for it to stay with Todd,” Daniel said, immersed in the book. “I think he’s been teaching Todd how to read so he can tell us something. It’s a pretty big language barrier.”
“Why not just tell us?” Cameron asked.
“I don’t think Todd would like that,” Daniel pointed out. “I’m not saying they’re friends, but I wouldn’t want to leave an angry and very hungry wraith in front of my new host.”
“Why exactly do we trust this thing?” Vala asked, wondering why no one had answered this already. “It’s not like it told us where it was going.”
“I’m hoping Todd was a back-up plan,” Cameron said. “I don’t see when it would go to all this trouble trying to help us catch him. Or letting Jesse do it, if it was all his idea”
“We still have a wraith and a snake in our isolation room,” Landry reminded them. “I want those problems solved.”
“Jesse knew how to feed him without getting killed,” John said. “This thing should know how, too. He’s a lot easier to move when he’s not Cuckoo for Coco Puffs, is all.”
“Would the host want to?” Vala asked. “Wouldn’t we just have another Goa’uld?”
“It’s not a Goa’uld,” Daniel said.
“It’s still a snake, though,” Cameron rebutted.
“So are the Tok’ra,” Daniel pointed out.
“This isn’t a Tok’ra, though,” Vala said, still thinking about not wanting to feed a wraith.
“I dodn’t care,” Cameron said, hoping to end the conversation. “Once we get it out of Todd, do we still trust it? It’s going to blend with its host sooner or later.”
“All the better to get it out of Todd,” John said. Note to self: Eww.
“Why not just ask him?” Vala asked.
“Because that’s a dumb plan,” John said immediately.
“Wasn’t the last one stupid too?” Cameron asked.
Daniel flipped to another page. Everyone else stared at John.
“Fine, I’ll go talk to him.” He didn’t want this to work. If it did, no one would ever stop asking him why he didn’t do it in the first place years ago.
Todd didn’t look up when John entered the room again. He’d come back, ask for something, and walk away. That was what he did. He missed John coming in just to insult him as if he were up to something criminal that he wouldn’t do himself.
“What did you write in this book?” John asked, holding a page open in front of Todd and hoping the wraith would look up.
“Why?” Todd asked, still looking down and covering whatever held his interest with his good arm.
“Just tell me if you can read this without the voice in your head helping you,” John said.
Too took his time studying the words—English, wraith, and Chinese. Each had their own grammar, their own words. Still… “Yes.”
“We need to get that voice out of your head, but to do that, we need to know what it wants,” John said, tossing the book to Todd. Bending down with the crutches was problematic. He didn’t need anything embarrassing happening to him in front of Todd right now. John really hoped the thing wanted to leave. He didn’t want to be in the same solar system if it didn’t.
“I am of no use if it does” Todd said, going back to whatever had previously had his attention.
John sighed. At least things were a lot more familiar now. “Well, it would depend on whether the thing talking to you still likes you once its out. I’m pretty sure you’re hungry after...” ‘Whatever’ wasn't’ a strong enough word, but it was the closest John could think of to describe what he didn't want to see and even more what he didn’t want to know. “If anyone knows how to feed you without killing someone, it’s that thing.”
Todd tilted his head and stared off into the distance, conversing seriously with his ‘guest’. He stayed that way for several minutes.
“Uh… hello?” John asked, waving a hand in front of Todd’s face. Nothing happened. “Okay…” John wanted to yell at Todd not to do things like that, but how do you tell a green, browless, life-sucking alien not to be weird?
Suddenly Todd smirked.
“You had better not be playing around,” John said. He was, wasn’t he?
“It knows of such things,” Todd said. He may have been smirking, but there wasn’t even a spiteful amusement to his words. He was waiting to finish in order to gloat at his words. Trapped, injured, and confused, yet he had something to make him laugh at the those who watched him and could go where they pleased. Apparently genetic memory included a sense of humor and the two had spent a while telling jokes to each other. “Still, I do not believe you would choose just anyone to help me.”
“I…” John said. He couldn’t tell if Todd’s stare was genuine curiosity or if he thought this was all one big joke John didn’t get. Daniel had said the creature hadn’t been with Todd long enough for personalities to blend, but that wasn’t comforting anymore. How much of Todd was this person going to have in their head after this? “We don’t really have anyone planned.”
“You’re doing this now?” John asked angrily.
“What happened to the last person who heard this voice?”
“How much about what’s going on do you know?” John asked. He didn’t expect a real answer. He only half expected words.
“I have not been told much. It has someone chosen. Beyond that, it is vague.”
Great. John was at the wrong end of playing an intergalactic game of telephone and Todd was calling the other end ‘vague.’ “Fine, what do we do?”
Todd moved his arm and leaned back, revealing what he’d been staring at and shoved it towards John. It was poorly written Chinese. No pictures, no translation.
“If I do this for you, you better not try anything sneaky or I am personally going to make sure you stay in Area 51. Understand?”
“Exactly what would I do?” Todd asked.
John had not idea whether Todd was teasing or pointing out how immobilized he was, but he didn’t want to take chances. “Because you are way too smart not to without a warning.”
“If he was hiding it, why did he hand it over?” Daniel asked. He had wanted to watch Todd on the monitor out of curiosity, and everyone else took this as an excuse not to do so.
“I didn’t ask,” John said. He didn’t want to admit he didn’t want to say that it probably was the snake that convinced Todd, not him. If the others couldn’t figure that out, that was their problem. “So, what is it?”
“An address to a college dorm,” Daniel said, keeping an eye on the monitor, despite the fact that Todd had been reading the same page for the last twenty minutes.
“And?” John asked.
“There is no ‘and’,” Daniel said. “That’s it.”
“That sounds very… not at all like what we need.”
Daniel just shrugged. Todd was still more interesting than the conversation.
“Whoever it is better not waste our time,” John said, giving up. “Just try to bring back someone human. All human.”
“Why me?” Daniel protested.
“You speak people,” John said. “Besides, the only damage you’ve ever done is to yourself. Technically, that’s a lot better than the damage when I’m involved.”
Admittedly, John was right. The situation called for diplomacy and guns and threats weren't all that diplomatic. Nor would they be appreciated in a college dorm on a weekend afternoon.
“So who do you think the guy is, exactly?” Cameron asked Daniel as he knocked on the door of the dorm. “did Jesse mention a secretary or a roommate or another host?”
“I’m guessing someone very close,” Daniel said. “The only person alive he mentioned was a goddaughter.”
The door opened, revealing a very small, and very tied girl. Her overly ambitious behead was the only thing that put her barely over five feet. She sported a large shirt that said ‘Want to see how extreme my wormhole is?’
“I’m confused,” Cameron said.
“I don’t’ think I can help you with that,” she said, rubbing her eyes. “Are you lost?”
“You’re Mr. Diplomacy; say something,” Cameron said, elbowing Daniel.
“We’re looking for Andy Hunter. Is he in there?” Daniel asked.
“I’m Andi Hunter,” she said. “With an ‘I’. It’s short for An Doushi.”
“This place is crazy,” Cameron mused. Damn co-ed dorms.
“Welcome to San Francisco,” she said. Her words were neither biting, nor smug. To her, it was a formality. ‘Welcome to San Francisco, cookies are on the table. Something else weird will be with you shortly…’ “And the answer is ‘no’. She closed the door, ending the conversation.
“Nice going,” Cameron said as he knocked again.
“Do you know what time it is?” Andy asked, opening the door again. This time she was wearing pants as well.
“It’s almost noon,” Daniel said.
“Yeah, well, I’m seventeen,” she said. “Look, I’m not interested in enlisting, I really don’t want to hear what you have to say about Jesus, and if you want money, some guy name Jack handles it right now.”
“John,” Cameron corrected.
“Yeah, go bug him, you’re not getting my stuff,” Andi complained.
“Actually, we--” Cameron started.
“Stuff?” Daniel asked.
“It’s just a bunch of flea market stuff Uncle Jesse collected,” Andi replied. “It’s not like he’d give me a stargate or something. Do you really think I’ve got one in a dorm room?”
“How did you know about that?” Cameron asked.
“It’ says SG-1 on your jackets,” Andi answered.
“That could mean anything,” Daniel pointed out. “Did your uncle mention a partner? Maybe one we can discuss somewhere that isn’t in a hallway where everyone can hear us?”
Andi sighed and opened the door wider. These people weren’t leaving without something important happening. “Fine. But keep your hands to yourself.”
“Uh...” Cameron was not an idiot by nature; he was merely in the wrong environment. One should put Cameron in charge of breaking the news about aliens to civilians with the same weariness as asking Teal’c to entertain toddlers.
The small dorm looked like one if Woolsey had shared a room with a raccoon. Clothes were neatly in the closet, a makeshift ironing board had been made out of a towel and a bookshelf, and a few folders holding documents and some books had been neatly placed on a shelf below. Meanwhile, the bed was a worse mess than her hair, there was a pizza box on the floor, and if there was ever a trashcan in the room, it had turned itself upside-down and managed to wander off.
“How much did your uncle tell you about...all this?” Daniel asked once Cameron closed the door. “And, my condolences.”
“Nothing you’d be interested in,” Andi said, shoving her hands in her pockets. “I met an alien who was hitchhiking in my Uncle’s head when I was 9. He takes me to Korea now and then with this...blue...stuff. I’m pretty sure that's not a stargate. He said those look like really big ancient phones or something. He worked for something called the IOA. Irrational, Obnoxious, and Annoying, he called it.”
“Sounds about right,” Cameron commented.
“So, are you guys lost or something?” Andi asked. “I mean, you have got to be really, really, really desperate if you’re asking me for answers. I mean, that's why I’m in college.”
“Pretty much,” Cameron said, feeling outsmarted by someone who couldn’t legally drink.
“College isn’t going to help you,” Daniel warned as politely as he could.
Chapter 10: Spiel Mit Mir (Play with me)
“That’s a wraith?” Andi asked. She didn’t seem aware that everyone in the room was staring at her, shocked and disappointed at her lack of awe or fear. “What exactly to I do?”
“Just tell him you like his music and he has your alien and you want it back,” Vala suggested.
“I get that reference!” Daniel said proudly. “What?”
“What did you guys do?” Andi asked. Despite seeming casual about the situation, she was fixated on the monitor.
“We rescued him,” Cameron said. “Usually wraith don’t look like they lost a fight with a freight train. He’s still big and scary.”
“I don’t get it,” Andi said, shaking her head.
“What is there not to get?” John asked.
“You’re in charge of the money, he’s got Taiji and knows all about your magic city,” Andi said. “Why don’t you two run the place?”
“That’s a long story,” Cameron answered. “We don’t have that much time.”
“I’ve got...two days until my next class,” Andi said.
“Yeah, that’s not enough time to explain that to you,” John said, shaking his head.
“I still don’t get it,” Vala admitted.
“Then give him the company temporarily and he can run everything.”
There was a resounding “No” from everyone else in the room.
Andi shrugged with open arms, silently asking for an answer.
“Yeah, we don’t trust him with a licked stamp,” John said. “He is SO not running Atlantis.”
“Explaining that would take even longer,” Cameron said.
“I barely understand,” Daniel said, bored.
“Fine, just...what exactly is he?” Andi asked, turning back to the screen. She crossed her arms out of boredom. “He can’t be a POW. Is he an asylum seeker?”
“Well, I wouldn’t say he’s as bad as the Joker,” John said. “You’re not going to like his sense of humor, though.”
“Not Arkham Asylum, you lunkhead,” Andi said, smacking her forehead in exasperation. “Political asylum. You have a stargate, why can’t ET phone home?”
“He’s not that kind of an illegal alien, that’s why,” John said. “That kind of stuff doesn’t apply to him.”
“I’m an illegal alien,” Vala mumbled tentatively up.
“Please tell me you’ve heard of a Geneva Convention. At least one of them, Andi pleaded.
“Sure. But when he’s got the munchies, the only thing on the menu is people,” John said. “So he doesn't count.”
“Did you not get past the title?” Andi asked, accusingly. “You have to follow it irrespective of the behavior of the imprisoned. You can only rescind those rights if it hurts national security and you have to able to defend your reasoning in court. Have you never heard of the Hague? The IHRC? The ICC?”
“That sounds like Daniel speak,” Cameron said.
“It means we’re all in big trouble,” Daniel said. “Plus, we may have kidnapped a minor.”
“Can’t you translate some good news?” John complained.
“It’s not like you listen to me about these things,” Daniel explained. At leas,t he hoped it explained things.
“This is why I don’t babysit,” Andi said, throwing up her arms in disgust. “Ugh.”
“Good thing you’re not in charge then,” John said. “Babysitting is, like, ninety percent of your job.”
“I am in charge,” Andi said.
The room went silent for a moment. The members of the SG-1 team all wished they weren’t involved in this mess anymore. John just sat there, struggling to understand the gravity of what a tiny college student had just said and done. “Huh?”
“Technically control of this project goes to me, according to the will if Uncle Jesse couldn’t.,” Andi said, glaring at John before turning back to the monitor.
Everyone watched her as she watched the wraith. Todd just stared at the floor. One hand had settled on the monitor, the other fidgeting to something to hold onto in a world that had replaces stupidity with what little sense it had started with. “He’s going to Area 51, isn’t he?”
He hands curled into fists as she continued to watch the wraith do nothing. She could feel the tension behind her as no one wanted to answer her and they hoped someone else would make the mistake of doing so. She didn't know if these people deserved her anger or if they just needed more direction. She wondered how much of it she had herself. Nothing in what her godfather had left her had explained what to do in a situation like this. All she did know what that there had to be a reason it was left to her without telling her what to do. “I’m not doing this,” she said, taking her hands away from the monitor. “Whatever you’re going to do...do whatever that is without me.”
“We can’t just leave him in there,” John said. He hoped Andi didn’t ask for a reason why.
“That’s better than the alternative.” She didn't know whether to cry or to scream. Some part of her decided for her. She did both. “That’s the last I’m ever going to know of my Uncle Jesse in there! One day he says he’s visiting for work and I’ll see him soon and a week later, I’m at his funeral and all I’m told is he was helping the army retrieve a thing. A THING! I don’t care if I’ve never met him or if he’s from a galaxy I’ve never seen. I’m not sending him to cruel and unusual punishment even if it means it’s the only way to talk to my uncle again. You can't do this to me!” With that, Andi ran out the door.
Everyone stared at each other, hoping for an answer. Or at least an idea. “At least she can’t leave,” Cameron muttered.
Cameron blamed John for the predicament they all found themselves in. Vala was quick to side with him, not wanting to be involved with children again. Daniel got offended when Cameron asked him to ‘go speak kid.’ That and Andi was in the women’s bathroom. That left john to wait for Andi to stop crying. He couldn’t talk his way out of this mess when it started, why did anyone think he could talk his way out of this mess now?
“There you are,” John said, sitting down next to Andi. She had wandered off while he had gone tot he vending machine and found the cafeteria. Red puffiness had replaced her tears and she didn’t look all that interested in the food on her tray.
“I’m only here because it’s the only place other than the bathroom I’m allowed around here,” she said. “You’re chicken nuggets, suck, by the way.”
“”Yeah, Tuesdays are pretty lame,” John agreed. “Did your uncle leave any instructions or ideas for what to do about Todd?”
“Nah, just a few instructions,” Andi said. She was just as disappointed as he was no answers could be found. “Mostly ‘Do not aim at face’.”
“Is it really you uncle in there, though?” John asked, not as good at gesturing as he was at articulating. “I mean, I have no idea how how these snakes work and it wasn’t there when...you know. Look, if that part of him was part of what your Uncle did...tell him ‘thanks’ when you get it. If he’s as smart as he is, he’ll figure it out.”
“I’m still not doing it,” Andi complained, narrowing her eyes. “I’m not sending him to Area 51”
“I’m not exactly happy about it, either,” John had to stop himself before calling her ‘kid’. “There’s just nothing I can do.”
“Yeah, yeah yeah, ‘Life isn’t fair kid, but we’re still putting all the blame on you’,” Andi mocked. “I’ve heard it before.”
John shook his head. “I’m not blaming you. I didn’t get a good look at the will. The second I got the unedited version from the IOA, Cameron’s yelling at me because Todd threw a fire axe at him. I’ll explain that when I’m not on medical leave anymore. Isn’t there some sort of riddle or haunted house or something in there?”
“Not really,” Andi answered.
“Did the will mention why you’re Uncle Jesse was contacted by the freaks who took him?” John asked. Jesse had mentioned more than once that the number they contacted him with was untraceable. It would be asking too much to find a clue in the will now.
“He collected lots of stuff. Mainly to keep other people from getting their hands on it,” Andi replied. After a brief second she pulled her tray closer. “Including the military.”
“They’re not that bad,” John commented. “The chicken nuggets.”
“I’m going to need to eat something if I’m going to feed him,” she said.
“Oh, hell no!” John exclaimed. “You are in no way doing that.”
“So what’s your plan?” Andi asked. “You’re just going to leave him like that?”
John put his hand to his face. “This is going to be a regular thing, isn’t it?”
“What is?” Andi asked, focusing on her food.
“I’m going to corrected by a teenager,” John muttered. Things were supposed to better, right?
“If it helps, I’m also a college drop-out now.”
“Not really,” John muttered. “Not unless you have a plan.”
“I might,” Andi said, shrugging. “I gotta talk to Todd first.”
“Well, fair warning: he’s probably just going to mess with you.”
“At least I know he’s doing it on purpose,” Andi said. “Is there soda around here?”
“There’s coffee,” John suggested.
“Ew,” Andi commented. “this city had better be worth not having soda.”
“Well, you’re in charge. That's a small price to pay to keep our asses from getting kicked.”
“No promises,”she said, holding up her free hand as she shoved her last nugget in her mouth.
Andi silently followed John down the hall to the heavy door that was locked with a card-reader. “You had better…look just try to keep out of trouble,” John said, swiping his card. He couldn’t really hold her to standards meant for him when he didn’t know exactly what they were.
“I get it,” Andy said. She felt as if she he thought she was walking into a lion cage. She might be, then again, given that he had something her uncle used to, she might not. She had no idea what to expect, but she had to do this… at least, she couldn’t walk away from it.
There was no turning back; she figured that would be a good mindset to have. If she was going to prepare people to look like they wanted peace, turning back on her decisions would be counterproductive.
She followed John through the door, so nervous, it felt light electricity was shooting around her fingers. She almost jumped as the door closed.
“Don’t even think about it!” John yelled at the prisoner.
The black and white camera had not fully prepared her for meeting a wraith in person. She had been warned, but only upon seeing the color of his skin for herself did she grasp just how truly alien he was. The camera had even failed to capture his size; even so injured and sulking on the ridiculous-looking blanket, he could do her harm just by tripping over her.
He looked up, his gaze darting first to John, then staying on her. There was a tiny part of his expression that showed he recognized her, but the rest was blankly confused, waiting for her to do something.
She wished she knew what to do. She had had a plan, but only now did she realize how vague it was and how much she was used to using paper and essays and numbers. This wasn’t a situation that called for any of those. She took a deep breath and smiled. “Ni Hao,” she said, sitting down, making sure to be just out of arm’s reach. “Wo-duh ming-d'zih An Doushi.”
Todd looked just as confused as John felt for a moment, only for a different reason. While John has no idea what she had just said—the inflection or what she said didn’t even sound like she was speaking in sentences to him—Todd had never been addressed similar to hearing ‘Yo. ‘Sup?” and now it was his turn to have no idea what to do for a long while.
Very slowly, and strangely carefully, he replied to her in the same strange language, leaving John more confused than afraid.
Andi pointed to the neat pile of pens and paper, silently asking for a response.
Nothing. Close enough.
Gingerly she took a piece of colored paper and a pen and began to write, out of site of either John or the camera. She shoved it towards Todd, still smiling and trying to remind herself why she was still here.
The wraith pulled it closer and studied it. One ochre eye slowly traced over the letters, one by one, piecing the meaning together, afraid to miss something.
“Hey, no passing notes,” John said. “You’re not in school.”
“You’re not my mom!” Andi argued back, turning to John. When she turned back, Todd was staring at her again.
“So...Gàosù wǒ yǒuguān yà tè lán dì sī de shì,” she said.
This time, there was barely hesitation in his answer.
Andi happily asked another question.
The two continued to converse, Todd taking his time to come up with a reply and Andy’s fear gone so long as the conversation continued.
John sighed, realizing he’d have to ask Daniel what they were saying later. Her couldn’t ask now; everyone had decided not to use the intercom unless there was an emergency. Todd had mentioned that whoever had locked him up had used the intercom themselves and when Daniel accidentally knocked the microphone over, it took fifteen minutes of nothing happening for Todd to settle down. A panicking wraith around a child was not something he was going to risk just to understand Chinese.
As much as John knew Todd could use something that would get him to relax, he didn’t want to know what wraith spoke of in casual conversation. Whatever they were talking about, John realized, he was going to be here for a while.
John was bored. He was tired of being on his feet, even with the crutches. He could shoot with them if he had to, but Todd wasn’t even playing with him. He seemed to have found a new human to be interested in. He hoped Andy could adapt quickly. He had never once had a clue what Andy and Todd were talking about that was all they were doing. However, it was a good thing he was paying attention; this symbiote didn’t waste it’s time.
It leaped form one mouth to the other, flying from the Wraith to Andi’s lap to it’s new host. In almost the time it took to blink, they went from chatting to Andy holding her neck and Todd recoiling in case John wanted to blame the mysterious happening on him. John quickly went over to Andy and pulled her back by the collar of her shirt as Todd stared on, still surprised now that John wasn’t going to blame him.
“I think I just ate alien barf,” she complained.
“Hello? No, I don’t want to speak to his secretary. He knows me. I promise. Can you just put Mr. Tan on the phone please?” Andi asked into her phone.
“You sure you know this guy?” John asked.
Andi waved at his to stop talking. “Yes, I’m An Doushi. Yeah, Jesse’s kid. Yeah, I’m thinking of taking controlling interest back. Oh yeah, these people are crazy. No, I haven’t seen Atlantis yet.”
There was a short pause.
“No thank you sir. The pony bribe didn’t work when I was ten and it’s not going to work now. Yes, I know I’m seventeen. Well, you’d know a lot more about how good these guys are at some peace thingy.”
There was a longer pause.
“No, sir, I wasn’t calling to ask for a list. I wanted to know if you had any ideas to prevent the last disaster. Like, the one involving giant green alien. Well, I was wondering if you’d want to negotiate. Did you want a ZPM? Yeah, ugly orange thing. I thought it was an air purifier or a fake candle. No, it’s not for free. Yeah, for that. Gotcha, I’ll have SGC send an e-mail over. You still use fax? I’ll ask. Yes, I am stuck here.”
She hung up.
“Thanks for unlocking my phone,” Andi said to John. She started typing.
“What are you doing?” John asked. When he thought he’d end up staying up late until the wee hours of the morning with a young woman, this was not what he had ever pictured.
“I’m texting my parents,” Andi said. “As far as they know, I’ve been abducted by the military and sent to Guantanamo. This way they won’t try to confiscate all the stuff you might be looking for. Here, I didn’t tell them anything I shouldn’t.” She held up the phone.
Military came by
Before that was an old text about picking up groceries.
“Its not that I don’t trust you,” John started. He wondered how old he’d sound even if he chose his words carefully. “It’s just...I’m pretty sure this won’t work.” It didn’t help that her plan had been written in purple glitter ink and ripped out of a notebook.
“Did you have a better one?” Andi asked. While she was honest, her comment still threw the fact that both stargate teams had been out of options for months.
John sighed and took out his own phone and dialed.
“Hi, Woolsey—No, nothing’s on fire. No, no one’s hurt. Well, I consider that progress. Yes, we’ve solved that...sorta. We kinda hit a bit of a snag. No, this is not Todd’s idea. Look, your the legal loophole expert and we need you to write up a contract and send it to the IOA. No, this is not a joke. Uh, hold on.”
He covered his phone and turned to Andi.
“Are you sure this is legal?” he whispered.
“Is sending him to Area 51 legal?” she asked.
“It’s about as legal as things are going to get,” John replied to Woolsey over the phone. “You’re going to laugh at this...okay fine, you won’t, but we kinda still need that contract. And probably whatever a notary is. Well, they didn’t teach me that in pilot school. I can’t make any promises, but this is the last of the crazy stuff until Atlantis gets into space. Yeah, I’d recommend no asking questions if you want to avoid a headache.” He hung up. “I want a picture of Woolsey meeting you for the first time, in exchange for this.”
Something was wrong. Not with Todd, and not with him, but… with something between them. Something was gone, slipping away, and John didn’t want to let it go. The problem was he had no idea what he wanted to cling to.
John really wanted to punch something. He wished he had a good excuse for his target to be Todd, but he knew it was his own fault for never explaining the term ‘civilian’ to the wraith. As terrified as anyone, even the janitors who were on Atlantis, at least they knew they could face threats to their lives at any moment even with all the technology the city offered. He had had so many opportunities since Todd had been rescued to explain the difference between people who worked with the stargate program and those who didn’t even know aliens existed, let alone someone in between.
He didn’t want Andi to fix things, he just...wanted Andi to not let things get worse until he had the time to talk to Todd again as a soldier. Technically he shouldn’t be here, but he was the only person willing to speak to Andi because he was the only person who knew ignoring her wasn't going to make her go away.
“Are you sure?” he had asked her. “Because if I had a choice when I did it, I wouldn’t have said yes...probably.”
“Would it be better with more armed soldiers?” she had asked. John wondered how innocent honesty could deal a greater blow than a punch to the face.
“Fine,” he had said.
Now he wished he had said more. At least to one of them. In two hours both of them would be sent to Atlantis. Fifteen minutes after that, someone would come looking for him and force him to go on medical leave somewhere else. Thirty if he could come up with somewhere to hide.
At least he had told her to tell Todd he was coming back eventually. He hoped she remembered after what she was going to go through.
Andi entered the room alone this time.
Todd was surprised. He hadn't expected her to return. Everyone had been trying to unearth answers about the strange thing that spoke to him and now that it was gone, even he knew his own uselessness.
She took a few more steps and stopped, her gaze fixed on his. One hand played with a strange device: a large red stone wrapped in metal. Yesterday she had thought it was a piece of junk. Now a voice in her head told her it was salvation. Her other hand fidgeted, needing something to do, something else to fear.
“You are frightened,” Todd said, his voice blank. It was just a fact, undeniable and obvious.
“I’m terrified,” she admitted as she forced herself to take another step. “It didn’t really help that I learned a few minutes ago that the last person who volunteered for this died.”
“He no longer wished to live,” Todd said as it that explained everything.
“Yeah, well. John’s watching. I think he’s going to be mad at you, no matter what happens,” She said, staring at the camera.
He didn’t turn this time. He watched her, curiosity beating the flames of hunger. He let out a small noise. Whether laughter or a threat, he wasn't telling.
“How do you keep from...finishing a person?” she asked, turning back to the wraith and taking the final step. She sat down before he spoke.
“The eyes. If we do not wish to end them, we watch their eyes.” Indeed, he was staring at hers, just as she was staring into his single visible eye. She wasn’t looking at what he’d lost, or what had been thrown on him by doctors. She wanted to see how he looked at her, how he saw her and what he’d give her in his expression.
He, too, was seeking answers. She had come to him on her own volition, choosing this fate. He didn’t see the remnants of tears, or the borrowed shirt that fell off one shoulder. He didn’t see her youth as anything to judge her by.
It was a game of chicken, played with honesty.
“Do you have to, like, here?” She tugged the collar of her shirt down to show her bare skin. “I mean...” she pressed her arms against her small breasts, hoping he understood where his hand shouldn’t be.
He just stared, tilting his head slightly.
Andi took her arms away, letting them fall limp in her lap as she looked at him, wondering if she had dawned on a revelation. She wasn’t a genius by her standards, which she considered normal. Yet, she had spoken to him for over two hours. Taiji had only been a translator. There had been questions he didn’t understand why she had asked, ideas he didn’t think had meaning or importance. She was just as alien to him as he was to her, maybe more. Why would he think anything she said or did was important when it was never important before. If you met a talking duck, no matter how important what it has to say sometimes, it will do duck stuff because, talking or not, it is still a duck. Humans around him were just quacking and nuzzling their feathers sometimes. “No one’s different when it comes to this, are they?”
“The eyes,” he repeated. He hadn’t move other than shifting his head throughout the conversation. His hand stayed on the ugly, pink blanket.
“I heard this is going to hurt, so, can I...” She reached out to his left shoulder.
He reached out, ignoring her freeze in place as he did. He gently shoved her arm aside with his palm, making no indication he had any indication of wanted to reach out further. “Why?” He was just as cautious as she was. That, he didn’t want to hide. Not from her. The meaning of his word, however, that was hidden far away, where she couldn’t reach.
Why what? Why this? Why her? Why now? Why questions? For her it was simple. Why shouldn’t she? “Because now...now we can both survive, where we need to be.” ‘I can be cryptic too,’ she thought. “There’s no point in doing this if you’re just going to rot in Area 51, and it wouldn’t mean much if I’m not going to survive this.”
Silence. She wondered if he understood. He waited, that much she knew.
“I just want something to hold onto, if that isn’t too much to ask.” That was her answer to his last, inevitable question. She had given him enough of an answer, maybe more. Besides, “You can ask more questions later. As long as this works as well as it did last time, I mean.”
He offered his left shoulder as he reached for her. He let her steady herself before placing his fingers on her chest where her large shirt fell away. He could feel her jump as he began to feed, her eyes still watching her face as something flashed in them. There was something other than determination to fight through the pain. Something she hadn’t meant to show him. Or anyone.
Todd pulled his hand away, but hers stayed where it was. With her other hand, slow, and withered, she pulled the strange device close. For a moment nothing happened. Todd worriedly turned to the camera, expecting to hear a reprimand over the intercom. There was nothing but silence; as Todd was beginning to grow tense, despite what he’d gained. Then, a soft reassuring red glow shone from Andi’s device. Healing was slow compared to having assistance from a wraith, yet Todd watched with intrigue as her hair returned to hurts normal color and bright sheen.
As soon as enough strength returned to her arm, she pulled her hand away and grabbed one of the books and opened it just before vomiting from the pain. “I think I fell on a weed whacker,” she muttered, shoving the book away. “Did….did it work?”
“Yes.” He was still staring into her eyes, despite having shifted away.
“So...what now?” she asked. She didn’t want to meet his eyes anymore.
He just stared and waited.
“Right.” She was quacking again. She stood up. “I gotta go talk to other people who don’t like me. So...um, I guess...thanks.”
He watched her leave, silently wondering what she had meant.
Chapter 11: About the Things you Said
This one is LONG. I'm sorry.
“Uh, Hi. Again.” Andi greeted Todd. Before they had gone into space, she had insisted on changing part of the project, angering many people, most of whom weren’t involved in the change of plans. She didn’t want anyone to move out of their office for her and she insisted on using a conference room, so long as it had big windows and she could turn the security cameras off. She had spent almost half an hour under the long desk adjusting to the feeling of being in space once she had moved in.
Todd didn’t answer her. He felt lost. Towering over her even across the desk somehow made things worse. He guessed she wanted answers. He had none. Not even for himself.
“How much did Ronon explain to you?” she asked. Confusion translates well across language barriers.
“None,” he explained.
Ronon was glaring angrily from outside. Apparently, he was also a fan of the windows.
“It’s called ‘emancipation’. Congratulations, you’re a person like everyone else around here, not a thing to be bartered or thrown away. It’s boring and sucks for everyone.” She waited for an argument or complaint or even an attack.
He just stood there, waiting for her to get to an actual point for him being here. Ronon had just yelled ‘Out!’ at him, dragged him to an empty restroom and thrown his old clothes and a love to cover his feeding hand, and then followed him silently as he looked for somewhere to be. After an hour of being lost and uninterested, Ronon dragged him here without a word. He knew Ronon was enjoying this, but it wasn’t the reason he was here.
“Yeah, look, I intended for repatriation once it was clear you weren't going to actually do anything, but there’s a lot of important people demanding to use the stargate and technically, they have priority. The problem, is, I’m going to have give the order to confine you to quarters for a short time, soon.” She held up her hand to keep him from interrupting.
He had no intention, but her gesture intrigued her more than her statement so far.
“It’s not personal. Some guy in charge of the Genii wants to discuss joining this Peace Delegation and I’ve been told you were involved in come coup or something. I can’t figure out the details, but I’m not going to risk your presence influencing his decision or have him lie to me if he suspects something,” she said, waving her hand, hoping to convey this was important. “Once he’s gone, you're free to wander around or not. I’m going to try to get rid of you as soon as the stargate is free.”
He stared at her quizzically.
“You don’t belong here and I’m pretty sure you don’t want to be here permanently,” she explained.
“You would rather I did not,” he said. Apparently if a wraith got their hands on something, they’d try to turn it into a weapon. Humans thought themselves to polite when they denied this habit. Todd had learned not just how to use words as tools and weapons, but how to sharpen and shape them to an even better advantage.
“...Kinda.” She looked away, wondering what to do. Ronon was outside, looking like he wanted to ignore the door and break straight through the window and shoot Todd over any excuse. He wasn't helping, to say the least. She was scared of Todd. She’d admit it if he asked. All she had, as to be thankful he so far didn’t care, or at least had no interest in rubbing it in. Everyone around her was bigger, stronger, and armed. And male. This was already an unpleasant situation she didn’t want to explain and now she had to explain something worse. But then, who else could explain this? She couldn’t demand someone else come in here and address something she could barely talk about herself. “When you were...doing...the thing.” She put her her over her heart and hoped he wouldn’t spread rumors about how badly she was at words sometimes.
“Feeding,” he prompted, his only emotion show was curiosity in where this conversation was going.
“That.” She put her arm down and gripped the table with both her hands. “What did you see? In my eyes?”
Todd had no idea what to think about her before he had been moved to Atlantis and he’d been even more confused about her before he had stepped in here. She threw odd situations at him without regard for if he’d get an explanation and when he got one, it was meaningless and full of human gibberish. Yet, as best as he could fathom, these things were for him. Everyone else had tried to contain him as best he could, even trying to keep his mind from wandering off when the rest of him was locked away under several layers of imprisonment. This was the first time she had refused to look him in the eyes—everyone else looked through him or at him like an object or an annoying insect they couldn’t shoo away—and now it was the first time she looked into his eyes with anger, not at him, but at herself. She wanted a reason to aim it at him, but unlike the others, she needed a reason his proximity and species. “Pain,” he said succinctly. He couldn’t leave it at that. Whatever she was doing, it wasn’t a trap, and she had offered too much not to at least earn full honesty. “Betrayal. The past.”
For a moment, she put her hand to her face, just between her closed eyes, then went back to holding the table. She needed something solid and with the knowledge that they were in space now, the floor didn’t seem adequate. “Have you told anyone?” she asked.
“It is insignificant.”
“It’s significant to me!” she yelled at him. There is was. Ferocity. But her anger was still turned inward, despite how much he had accidentally fueled the flame.
Here, in this instance, Todd saw the universe change. And it was a tantalizing change. Beautiful, ripe fruit just out of reach, begging to be plucked by him and, he thought smugly, maybe not only by him, but best by him. This wasn’t a time for cunning, though. It was a time for patience. Was this real? Was she truly offering this, even without her own knowledge? She was rational, as far as humans went. What they lacked in lifespan, they made up for in emotions. She didn’t try to guard the world from him, she trusted him to live in it if he wanted to. She was nothing more than he was, someone struggling not to be hurt and stepped on, but refusing to do it to him. Others had regarded him as equally or more dangerous, more likely to set things on fire, just to watch the others’ world burn. She regarded him as having just as much potential to put out the flames, no matter who had started them. It was a strange world, a disaster had happened and not only had it not been his intent to cause the trouble, but he was blameless. It was enticing, confusing, and backwards. She had managed to unarm him. He had no words, he had no reason to protest, and he was at a loss for a plan.
“I can’t...I can’t make you unsee things,” she said, slumping into her chair. It was too big for her.
There it was. She was going to pull the branch way, out of his reach. Everything was going to go back to how it was before.
“Do you have any idea how little sense you make?” she asked, picking up a datapad. “I tried looking through reports about you. It’s a bunch of whining from someone named Meredith, John just swears at you in his reports—hes’ not very creative—Teyla keeps writing essays about things you weren't involved in about other wraith, Ronon just writes ‘Todd did stuff’ or ‘Todd did Todd stuff’. There’s a few bits and pieces about what actually happened in some of these, but I can’t figure a damn things about you from any of this. I can’t sit here for days reading this stuff.”
“You do not trust me?” he asked, calmly. Now he was paying with her. He felt it was fair until she told him with version of reality she was playing with.
“I don’t trust anyone,” she admitted. “I don’t know if I can trust you. Not with that. You’d figure it out soon enough and if you wanted to, you could do a lot of damage.”
She was playing with a very dangerous version of reality. One worse than he had at first thought of. She’d moved the branch closer and he’d taken a bite of the fruit and it was too sweet, too much. She had just admitted she had handed him a weapon and she was pleading for a promise he’d never use it. He couldn’t give it back and yet, it went against his nature not to sue everything in his arsenal.
“Can I trust you?” she asked. She wasn’t begging for a certain answer. Her anger was gone, or at least hidden way from him while it still burned inside. There wasn’t even fear in her voice. All she wanted was simplicity from a universe that had never once shown to bear such a bloom.
This new game was far more dangerous than the one he’d played with Sheppard. It was always their rules. They were watching him. They were threatening him. They were challenging him to find a way around their walls and words. John had accused him of being similar to a grenade. She had tossed one a his head and yelled ‘catch!’ over and over. Yet, whenever he did, he was rewarded and she just walked away with a few odd words. Still, a leash was a leash and he wasn't her dog. He wasn’t going to play fetch for long.
She sat there, thinking, one hand cradling her head by her fingertips. The other playing with the armrest. Now she was playing the silent game.
Well, he had played it longer. He could easily outdo her at this.
Suddenly she was looking at him, not quite accusing him, but suspecting. She had just realized he had tossed a grenade into her lap and she was wondering if the pin was still there. “You didn’t do that head thing on me, ever, did you?”
“Human minds are….highly disorganized.” There was obviously come cultural barrier as whatever he wanted wasn’t in any language he knew. “The chaos is extremely unpleasant.”
“That doesn’t answer my question,” Andi told him, taking her hand from her head and settling it on it’s own armrest.
“No,” he replied. “It is too dangerous to do so around your military. I was uninterested, for the most part as well.”
“Well, thank you for that.” She checked her watch awkwardly. She wasn’t used to having one. She didn’t want to waste time panicking about ambassadors for an hour, so she might as be here with her time being slightly less of a waste. “I appreciate it.”
Todd tilted his head. Yet another riddle. He kept to his word, not intruding on her thoughts, but she acted as if she had no plan, no goal other than to stay safe from the useless information he’d accidentally learned. Yet, if there was no plan, why the riddles? Why play this new game? Why so blindly wander into dangerous territory? “I did nothing,” he explained. Reality was getting too backwards for even him.
“You’re a telepath, aren’t you?” she asked.
Now she was just as confused as he was. For some reason, it didn’t feel like rewarding to have evened the playing field.
“You said so,” she continued. Her knowledge of his species consisted of having met him, John’s complaining, and a few sentences he’d spoken in Chinese. “You’re used to it. It’s how you…do you. It’s gotta be a pain in the butt not to, I’m guessing.”
Todd barely understood the term ‘diplomat’. He still failed to conceive of the use, even now with everything she was giving him. She wasn’t helping. She was giving him concepts, not anything material, and nothing to fight with. No armies, no weapons, no codes, no alliances. What she gave him, was what he needed to be himself. He could think up all the tricks he wanted, wander around the city and memorize it all he cared to, he had fed enough to heal, and now she told him she knew just how isolated he still was. She was promising him the same thing Sheppard had, but ultimately denied him. It was his choice to be free or not, his choice to end things or not, and no matter how stupid he was, he was free to be himself, to own himself, until the end, and he got to choose when that happened. This had to be a trick of some sort.
“Would I notice that?” she asked. “Not anything else, just the mind-reading?”
“You would not.” Interrogation. He knew how to play this game. This was familiar. He knew where he stood when it came to this. Whatever else she was trying to do just left him confused. Confused, but strangely wanting to play. But just for a little while. “Not unless one was seeking certain information.”
“Then what?” she asked. “I’d rather not have my brain explode by accident.”
As simple and ignorant as her statement was, she had brought up something Todd had never considered. He’d been subject to more than enough situations to know interrogators rarely cared about the state of the mind they were digging around in when they were done. Unless the captive was as durable as someone like him, you only had one chance at getting what you wanted. Even then, resilience came with stubbornness—he’d seen to that as best he could—meaning none of your chances were easy. It was best not to break your toys until you were completely finished with them and it wasn’t helpful if they broke themselves so you couldn’t play with them anymore.
“A metaphor?” human metaphors were stupid. He had no idea why they liked theirs so much. It was probably a pride thing.
“From where I’d be standing, I don’t think it matters,” she replied. “Let’s say all you guys are already pretty scary, is that all there is to it? You’er just...spookier?”
He knew it, She couldn’t pretend to be in her made-up fairytale land for long. She wanted information and she wanted it free. Information she could use as a weapon. She was just like any other human in charge of anything around here. “It is not fear itself. It would be like a hand reaching inside, holding your thoughts still and sweeping aside anything but the one she wants. There is no escape from what she grabs hold of and there is no way to think of anything else. I have never known anyone to feel anything but terror when it happens. Whether that is all they can feel or if she holds onto it for her pleasure, I do not know.”
“It is done almost solely by queens,” he explained.
“Right, them. No offense, but I’m not looking forward to meeting any,” she said, waving her hands and hoping he got the gesture. “I’m probably going to have to, but...you’re scary enough.”
Todd couldn’t help but chuckle. Everyone else was mad at him for being intimidating, even when he wasn’t trying. They kept trying to undo it, fight it, make themselves bigger and scarier when all he had to do was stand there and just let them think he was thinking about something they didn’t like. No one had just let him be intimidating. Not here.
“Well, no wraith are coming, so that’s at least one disaster I don’t have to worry about.” She stood up and stretched. “Not like I could do anything if they did. Thanks for telling me about it, though.”
“That is all you wanted?” he asked. She was doing it again. Her own reality. Her own rules. Now she was insinuating he didn’t have to play in it at all.
“Pretty much,” she admitted. Now she was confused. “I mean, you didn’t have to say anything at all. It’s not like I could do anything if you stayed quiet.”
She’d twisted things around now. Now he didn’t know who to be angry at, her for not telling her these new rules or others for never following them she said they should. No one had ever used confusion against him before. Either she was an expert with the weapon, or she had no idea the power she held in her hands.
“No one told you that?” she asked, noticing his confusion.
“Not as you have,” he answered. He was going to do his best to keep it a secret, but he was enjoying this game, now that she had no idea she was practically juggling warheads.
“Who the heck was running this place?” she yelled, throwing her hands up in frustration.
He smiled at a sudden revelation. Everyone who had been here before wanted a weapon against his kind. She wanted a shield. She wanted to stand with them, be seen as she saw them.
Sheppard had been the closest he had had when it came to allies in Atlantis. When the deals were done and they both went their separate ways, as far as the other let them, ‘all bets were off.’ For her, she wanted to let them wander as far as they wanted, and to leave them with ‘Let’s do this again if you want’. He had come back to Atlantis because it was his only option. Now, he could come back if it was his best option, or purely on a whim. This could be a fun, new toy.
“What are you looking at me like that for?” Andi asked, noticing his expression. “Should I be calling Ronon in about this?”
“I have seen others fend off such attacks by queens,” he said. “It would be harmful if you met with queens without that skill.”
She burst into laughter at the thought of what he was suggesting. She had grown up knowing of aliens for almost a decade. She had heard bits and pieces about wars and powers and weapons. It was only three years ago that she had been hit with the surprise that she would be inheriting money from her ‘Uncle’. Two years ago, she had agreed tot he offer to someday work within some elite group that knew more about the classified goings on about the extra terrestrials and the not-so-extra ones. Two days ago, she had agreed to help SGC sort out this mess and took over because she couldn't trust anyone here to properly handle a puppy for five minutes.
But Todd was crossing a line. She was fine reigning things in, babysitting, straightening out the wrinkles everyone else had caused. All she was doing was taking the scissors from children, not telling them when and where to run or even to stop altogether. “Dude, I’m not queening anything. I’m seventeen. You’re like a bajillion years old.”
“That is not a number.”
“I’m not going to queen anything, so knock it off. I’m not in charge of anyone like that around here. Especially not anyone who comes here for help, and definitely not for anyone who’s already a leader. That’s not how things work around here and it’s not going to change.”
All Todd heard was ‘Your move.’ “Queens lead, commanders answer.”
“There isn’t really an alternative here, is there?”
Todd stayed silent and just stared at her expectantly.
“I really think you should ask someone else,” Andi said. She really wanted an excuse not to be involved in this conversation. “Maybe you should ask someone who isn’t half your size, for starters. Maybe an adult. I can’t even vote.”
Todd raised an eyebrow.
“Of course you don’t know what voting is. I don’t have time to explain that right now. Look, I honestly don’t know what you want. I really don’t want to queen, but I get that this is a big deal to you. I just...I’m pretty sure I can’t.”
“It can be learned,” he said. “Lives will be saved.” This was easy.
Andi sighed. That was the very reason she was here. She put her hands to her face for a second before regaining her composure and—at least it felt like it—her sanity. “Do you want to? I’m not going to be some puppet, I’m going to say hat I want to say, but if you want to tell me how to do this, I’ll do it. After I meet with the representatives.”
“What price are you asking?” he asked. Yes and No weren’t simple when it came to humans. Not when he was involved. They liked simple, but not for those words.
“Is this going to hurt?” she asked, wondering if she was agreeing to something that had nothing to do with what he was suggesting.
“I will not harm you.” he said. “You have my word.”
“That’s pretty much all I want,” she said, shaking her head slightly at the craziness she was agreeing to. Why was he expecting such big, grand, complicated answers all the time? She hoped it was a wraith thing, or at least a Todd thing. She didn’t want to be invested in a ‘yet another disaster Atlantis had caused’ thing. “This had end up doing something useful.”
“I sincerely hope it will,” he said. This was indeed fun. He was going to enjoy this game, at least for the most part. She would make a very entertaining toy. And yet...she was also the best human he had met so far.
“Ronon can show you your quarters then,” she said, waving at him. “And if he doesn’t want to, that’s his problem, not mine. I gotta go.”
Everything went well. Until the representatives found who they would be talking to. Seasoned warriors, downtrodden refugees, hardened and disheartened leaders only because everyone else was too criminal or too weak to take up the position, all stared at the small child in front of them with no regalia or uniform but the borrowed jacket Ronon didn’t like wearing that barely clung to her wrists as it was incapable of sitting on her shoulders.
Ladon of the Genii, Teal’c of the new Jaffa government, and three leaders of minor worlds had arrived. Ladon turned to Woolsey, who just shook his head. Teal’c turned to Teyla, who stood next to Andi. The others looked to the armed officers, waiting for an explanation as they entered the second conference room, as Andi didn’t want to share her office, despite Woolsey’s assurance no one was interested in taking her pokemon games.
“Hi,” was all Andi said, as she waved her fingers at the representatives. “Right here.” Ladon wondered if this was a joke or if Atlantis was having trouble and doing it’s best to stay efficient while not explaining anything to him this time. Teal’c merely accepted it as yet another earth thing. Jack had refused to show or explain many things to him, Rocky Horror, Cosplay, most cartoons, San Francisco, Woodstock and whatever he said had to do with whatever hippies were, and anything related to the internet. This was mild in comparison. Everyone else was mildly offended.
“So, anyway--” Andi started.
“We have… another guest,” Woolsey told her over the earpiece. “He’s being escorted to the delegation room right now. I can’t say I envy your job right now.”
The guest was a short man with a deep tan, a smooth and shiny bald head, and glistening white teeth, wearing clothes so gaudy he wanted to blind the next planet over. His outfit screamed ‘tourist’ while his demeanor reminded Andi of one of her parents’ friends who smelled like they’d eaten a skunk until she learned the real source of the odor. Thankfully, he only smelled like vaguely like car wax and cheap cologne. He looked to be dressed for lounging on a beach and by his attitude he already was. He was heavy, the kind of fat made entirely out of muscleyet he was soft and gently as he took Andi’s hand in his. “Am I late?” he asked, vigorously shaking her hand.
“Uh…” was all she could manage. Only Ladon and Teyla didn’t look at the newcomer as if he was on fire. A very offensive fire. Even Taiji was screaming in her head a warning about him: Goa’uld.
The screaming almost drowned him out as he slipped a piece of paper into her hands and tried to offer another to the other representatives. “Am I late?”
“No, we were just about to decide on some rules,” Andi told him as she took a quick glance at the paper. It was a pamphlet, with pictures of things she didn’t recognize and writing she couldn’t read and Taiji didn’t want to waste time explaining, given the tension in the room.
“We were just going over the rules,” Andy said as the newcomer sat down, propping his feet up with another chair.
“Bah, I don’t need any of that,” he said, waving the issue away. “Help out, peace, love, no take-backs… when can I join, I’m selling, who’s buying?”
“And you are?” Andi asked.
“Bess,” the man said, gesturing wildly as he continued to talk, and pointed at the other delegates. “Teal’c, Rohan, Tian, Seiya, Teyla, Ladon.” He counted, pointing to the representatives, getting only Teal’c’s name correct. “Eh, when you have spies, you want them to bring you the fine print only. I’ll remember whoever else join up if this works out. you’ve got my number.”
Everything went as well as it could have, in retrospect, from there.
The first rule, set down mostly by Andi herself, was no weapons. The rule included no improvising weapons with Lantean furniture, no bare-fisted—or bare-anything—fighting, no chemical weapons, and no attempting or even threatening to use other people as weapons.
From there things had gone as civilly as possible. No deaths, no harm, many threats, and—she had lost count at five—that she was no in charge of the USAF or any other military personnel short of telling them what actions counted as war crimes.
Technically, despite their misgivings, even Ladon was interested in what Bess had to offer, which was nearly anything short of people—which he refused to sell on the account that anything that could have an attitude made for poor customer satisfaction.
And then, she screwed up.
She asked her own question.
Everything was routine, on occasion deferring to someone or even Woolsey for a proper word, instead ‘ that thing you do’ or ‘the thing that does the thing with the stuff. Yes, I asked for a dictionary, no one listened to me,’ ‘you know, that thing with Cuba that was also in the Star Wars. No, the boring one. Well how many are there? What Holiday special?’ Taiji was too focused on Bess, as he looked like he was about to take a nap, to help.
Then things went sideways. Or inside-out. Andi was just thankful nothing went backwards. She had asked about their respective cultures. It was a simple question, and there was no mention in reports that she shouldn’t ask about it. She brought up Kwanzaa to Teal’c. All she had meant by it was to know the culture of the groups who would be considering joining. She wanted to make concessions, acknowledge taboos and observe holy days and item with reason and to discuss how to do that. To her, it was someone she had always done. She had learned about it in kindergarten, taught about unclean animals and different holidays the parents of her friends were teaching them.
Bess didn’t care; he couldn’t sell a holiday or history. Ladon didn’t see the point, as you cannot defend or attack with such things. The other three didn’t careand that was as far as thinking abut it went. Teal’c said he’d speak to others about the subject. Teyla showed the most interest, saying it sounded majestic.
Todd had no idea how to open the door. Despite being confined to quarters, he wasn't interested in opening it. In fact, the option to ignore whoever wanted to bother him was strangely comforting.
The door opened anyway. He knew it would happen eventually, but he didn’t have to answer it himself and that was a right he wanted to exercise, even if he didn’t know why.
“Hi, sorry to bother you, but I was working on your medical files,” Dr. Keller said, letting herself in.
Todd regarded everything medical as something that was about to maul him if he put his guard down. Yet he didn’t think of Dr. Keller the same way. He wasn’t about to let her get close enough to stab him with a needle if she had one, but he was comfortable enough to talk to her without focusing his attention on her striking at him. He also wasn’t afraid of her coffee cup, which seemed to be the only thing she had with her. She was also polite enough close the door behind her.
“Miss Hunter… fixed everything, right?” she asked. She may have studied wraith DNA intensely, but what she knew about Todd’s condition couldn’t fill an index card. What she knew about this new ambassador couldn’t fill a ‘hi my name is’ card.
Todd reached out. At first Dr. Keller backed away, but then she realized he was showing his hand to her. Only upon closer inspection would anyone realize he had not yet recovered. His fingers were slightly too short, as if the tips had been cut off. They lacked nails and prints, as well.
“I take it your leg isn’t full healed,” she said, setting the cup down on the bolted down nightstand. The problem with figuring out the whole story with Todd was that you never really wanted to know that much. Ignoring that kind of stuff tended to be counterproductive, as he only met with Atlantis when there was a disaster trialing after him or just ahead of him. Jennifer didn’t exactly like Todd, but she was comfortable around him. Even wraith respected doctors. That or they didn’t last long. He always had some sort of interest in her. A more friendly interest than in John, but when she was around, he was at a conference table or free to move in a lab, not in a brig with guns aimed at him. Still, she didn’t like the way he looked at her.
“It is adequate,” he said, putting his hand to his side. He had no idea why she was so nervous. He was answering her questions.
“You really shouldn’t be walking on it,” she advised, wincing slightly. All this time and no one could give him those instructions? Especially when no one liked him walking around in the first place.
He gave her an expression that was both ‘I am not a baby’ and ‘now you tell me.’
Dr. Keller sighed. “What did they… do?”
“They asked me questions,” Todd answered.
“Besides questions,” Dr. Keller corrected herself. She couldn’t believe she had asked a question like that to Todd. Of course that was the answer he’d give.
“I was not entirely aware of all that happened to me,” Todd told her. “Many times I found myself feeling… lacerated. Between what you’ve found already and your imagination, you would already know more than I would.”
Dr. Keller already preferred when wraith asked her questions about philosophy or thought humans were wasting their time. Still, all Dr. Lam at SGC had managed was tentatively touching him to see what limbs were broken and an ultrasound. Everything else that was possible, from CT scans to MRIs, was dismissed in case it woke him up.“We’re going to need to—“
“No,” Todd calmly interrupted.
“What do you mean ‘no’?” Dr. Keller asked.
“I refuse to partake in any medical procedure of yours,” Todd said. No one had ever told him what he was allowed to refuse, given him a chance at a choice. He’d been given the opportunity not to be a pain, but to choose for himself and Atlantis would have to accept it without a fight was new and different. It was comforting, so he had latched on to this new ability and he refused to let it go. “I also wish for you to end your pursuit in your research. May you find other options, but I had no desire to continue with you, nor will I let you test anyone on a hive I lead.”
Dr. Keller felt she was going to need more coffee for this and reluctantly reached for her cup. “Todd, whatever happened, you haven’t recovered from it—we don’t even know if you can heal completely. You don’t exactly lead a…sedate lifestyle, if you get injured and there was something they left inside you like a bullet or some sort of tracker, it could start ripping up your insides pretty fast or end up doing severe nerve damage. I know you can heal from that, but it’s going to do it again and again and again it it’s left in there. You should at least know what they did.”
The prospect of actually knowing what they had done intrigued him. Yet to return to a medical lab willingly was too much. Yet, he was a victim again, without knowing the plans of those who were both his captors and tormentors… without knowledge of what they had done, there was no way he could overcome it and laugh at their poor, distant faces, and he needed that. He needed to laugh at them so he knew their touch had faded away and he could know they were finally powerless over him.
In giving him the choice, Atlantis had condemned him. Either they became an enemy, or he was a coward even when he was far away from another. Given Atlantis’s previous interpretation of ‘help’ he wasn’t sure if he was being a coward, merely waiting for an opportunity that wasn’t a trap. “I do not trust Atlantis’s help in this matter.”
“If this is about—“ Dr. Keller realized this wasn’t about what happened with the gene therapy at all. It was about them wanting to weaponize it, and they already had it. Atlantis would have knowledge of everything that happened, so much so that they could copy the technique and build upon it with their own collective twisted imaginations, and they’d know that it would torture a wraith just to go looking once they had the knowledge. Todd was imagining the same smile as the Genii had on all the faces of people he trusted and the trust was already waning. “Todd, the procedure is non-invasive.”
Todd just stared, waiting for the other shoe to inevitably drop, leaving Dr. Keller to wonder how to tell him there were none in the first place.
“It’ll just be a scan; I don’t even have to touch you,” Dr. Keller said. “If you want any thing after you’re informed, I’ll see what I can do, but I’m not going to insist on anything.” Woolsey creeped her out a lot less and he’d believe her more about not wanting to stab a trypanophobic wraith.
“Your price is too high to pay,” Todd said. “And my people are no longer a matter of your concern.”
She sighed and made sure she had her coffee cup before she left. She could eventually make her experiments do what she wanted. She wasn’t good at making her patients do what she wanted.
All she could do for him was leave, which was the opposite of what she felt she needed to do for him.
The short story, which was all Andi was getting, was that the Milky Way galaxy was full of people acting like babies—not just on Earth.
With that out of the way, the debate turned to whether or not a Goa’uld should be allowed to ally with Atlantis. Even Ladon felt this was bad news as the Jaffa piled on more descriptions of Goa’uld practices.
Bess didn’t help his case. He didn’t deny what he did and he didn’t care. He took over a rotten, collapsing economy run on slavery, tyranny, and mismanagement. So he took over the ruler, sent the slaves to who-the-hell-cares, fixed up the economy and lived a life of semi-vacation. He stole anything the owner wouldn’t notice missing until he had already sold it, did business with anyone with currency or other resources to sell, used every bit of land he could claim for profit, disabled any ship that came in range and sold it, either in tact or in pieces, he commented on revealing clothes, and he snored throughout everyone else’s conversations. His only defense was that he never tried the Brooklyn Bridge scam—once it was explained to him.
However, he agreed only to sell to people in the alliance, so long as they defended his territory. He didn’t sell people and he couldn’t manage much more than security guards and temporary body guards he constantly changed and rehired. Humans and Jaffa were too easily ‘swayed’ to higher powers, the Tok’Ra always had their own problems with survival, and other aliens were just as fragile or busy, or moreso.
He did, however, and unintentionally, offer two things in his favor above the others. He offered every single bit of information he could possible have, even down to when his host last had hair. He said transparency tended to move inventory more often than it got him into fights or at least very serious threats. He was also willing to trade with anyone—Jaffa, Goa’uld, wraith—aliens who didn’t like to label themselves...he would make trade deals with dogs and cats if he could keep their attention and make a deal.
While he’d gladly hand over every piece of porn he looked at and would ask which they’d prefer he’d delete, no one else wanted to give out information about their sock drawers, and to anyone who’d rather give him more instead of shooting him, he made the others look very, very wrong. Wrong, mean, cruel, petty, and wanting to blame the others for starting it. Mad at him for already having gone back to taking a nap and ignoring how much they wanted to impose their prejudice on this new delegation. He had ruined everything, and so had the little girl whom half of the group wanted to take advantage of, yet she stood by a goa’uld who looked like easy prey at his own casinos.
No slavery, no discrimination, no swindling, eager to make new friends and treaties, technically honest, and had no fucks to give about Andi’s age. Each and every single one of the others had at least one problem with those policies and the ambassador of Atlantis was infatuated with them. The only bone tossed to them was that she didn’t like him personally.
Still, as hurt as their pride was, no one died, and no one was truly injured. While most saw Atlantis as someone to hide behind or a convenience store now, papers were signed. There was an official delegation. People were alive and they’d be more alive later.
It took surprisingly little time for Andi to get answers out of Ronan. While he was disappointed he had no reason to shoot Todd-no good ones—he liked her rule that the second there was actual, believable trouble he was getting into, Ronan could ‘go medieval on his ass’. It wasn’t the promise that some day in the future, he’d have the opportunity enjoy shooting an enemy, it was that she trusted his judgment about who was an enemy and who was just annoying or strange.
Getting an answer out of Todd was slightly more difficult, but he didn’t waste time just because he could. He did it because he didn’t think Ronan would deliver his message.
The hard part was getting what he wanted. To Ronan, she was yet another person on a ladder of leadership, and that didn’t matter unless they took away his chances to shoot bad guys. To Todd, she was a new plaything to test out, especially since it did off things he didn’t expect, sometimes randomly. To everyone else, she was a kid who had landed on a pile of money and tantrumed and manipulated her way into playing the My Little Pony in space.
Andi knew all this, but it didn’t make the latter easier. It was difficult to get any of the staff not to hurry away from her, let alone to get them to find her a pen. It took the threat of ‘Todd isn’t leaving and will probably make a lot more trouble later’ for someone to leave an MP3 player on her desk while she was distracted trying to talk to someone who pretended they didn’t speak English.
After that, is was all just a matter of having Ronan show her Todd’s quarters and to thank him for not kicking the door in. Asking him to knock when a wraith was on the other side was not something she wanted to bother wish and she doubted he’d listen.
He didn’t let her know, but knowing that at best, Andi would be wasting Todd’s time instead of him wasting someone else’s, and at worst, they’d know everything he would say in the ensuing conversation, as it was recorded, so whatever scheme he was up to, couldn’t amount to much.
“Sorry, he was supposed to knock,” she muttered, wandering in. She was thankful Todd didn’t respond. “So...” She looked back as the door closed behind her, then at the camera, then at Todd and let out a relieved sigh.
The time to be delicate was finally over. Right now, he was no ambassador or even close to one. He wasn’t a victim anymore, either. This was how he was to everyone else before her...no, this was how he was to her, and it had to stay that way. She didn’t know half of what everyone thought of him, and she shouldn’t care. He was the main reason she was here. She didn’t trust anyone else to do anything other than make his situation worse. Just because he was out of their hands didn’t mean the problem was entirely solved...or that it ever would be.
Before, she had to play nice, pretend to be someone else—something else—play nanny to children who didn’t understand or didn’t care and she had to do her best to convince them nap time was their own idea. They drew lines they didn’t want crossed and she had to convince them the line would be better somewhere else without making them think it had been redrawn. Now, she could draw the lines and she’d know if she was being pushed to change it. “You’re being watched,” she started out, pointing with her thumb to the camera. “You should probably say whatever you’ve got to tell me, because I’m not going to be the one explaining any mystery silences here. I’m here because I think this is a good idea. If you think you can get away with something, fine. But if you lied about how this might save lives, it’s over.”
“All bets are off,” he repeated.
“Oh, heck no,” she said, crossing her arms. “If I can't trust you with what I don’t want getting out, I’m having someone shoot you out of the sky.”
“Information has been stolen before,” he stated.
“I don’t care,” she said, shaking her head. “I told you. Heads leak. This isn’t about that. It’s about how much you try to keep it safe and what you do once it’s out. If you want to play games, you play by my rules too.”
“This is no game,” he replied.
“Don’t give me that crap,” she said, somewhat angrily. “It’s politics, everyone plays games or gets stepped on. I’d rather be a pawn that takes a queen than one you sacrifice early in the game. I’ll play on your team, so long as I’m supposed to stay alive. If you still want to do this, I’m game. Just tell me what to do...And don’t expect me to be an expert on my first time doing this.”
“Then listen,”Todd said, not even hesitating. Either he had already expected this or he had a backup plan for when his important gamepiece recognized they were being moved by someone else. “Focus on the rhythm, not the voices.”
“That’s it?” she asked, taking the comm-link out of her ear.
“It is not easy for many,” he stated.
“I didn’t say easy,” she said. “I don’t expect this to be easy. I just expect this not to hurt.”
“It should not,” he said, talking to the camera without looking at it. “Do not let your mind go blank, it is too easy for a queen to direct your thoughts.”
“Got it,” she said, and put the earbuds in. With no more words from him, she turned on the music, loud and pounding.
She kept her eyes open and stared directly at his. She clenched her fists, not in anger, not in pain, not from fighting anything, but to focus, as there was nothing to feel.
Focus on the other. Do not move. Do not fidget. Do not break eye contact. She had no idea what he was doing or even if he was doing anything. The first thing about being an unmovable object is not to let being curious enough change your course or wonder about the unstoppable force.
She just had to remind herself, ‘the only way out is the way through.’ She hoped Todd didn’t take that too much to heart or ask for it’s origins. One sci-fi based cult was enough.
Eye contact for so long isn’t easy for most humans. It was a dominance game of chicken. It wasn’t about blinking, it was about turning away. Who was angry, afraid, or amused first? Who turned away, letting their emotion get the better of them, petty or not.
The stillness was worse. Humans liked stillness, but stillness they could control. She couldn’t enjoy the music or even wonder about it. She couldn’t even take a second to wonder what the words were. She couldn’t even let herself wonder if he was doing anything. That was probably some trick of his, testing to see if she’d lose composure from curiosity.
She let herself smile. It wouldn’t affect the lesson. Besides, he hadn’t told her what to think about, or even to concentrate on anything. A little humor while still focusing wasn’t bad. Was he seeing the strange hallucinations she was if he managed to read her mind? She wasn’t going to be the first to be the first human to fall for her own phantasms on the edge of her vision.
Suddenly, he was pointing at her, waiting for her to understand whatever he was trying to convey.
“Huh?” she pulled the earbuds out and for a few seconds was deafened by the lack of noise. The first sound that returned was muffled by her thick jeans. “Uh...hello?” she asked, her comm-link, the only possible source of the noise.
“I’ve been trying to reach you for three minutes,” Someone new said over the device. “Are you with Todd?”
“Yeah, I’ve been here almost since the delegation officially ended. How long has it been?”
“Over an hour,” the mystery person said. “Can you send Todd down to the medical bay? We’ve finished looking over his scans and he should know the results.”
“Sure. Just send him over to the gateroom once you’re done.” She turned to Todd. “Some doctor wants to see you.”
“You were not given the information?” he asked. He seemed exasperated as the mention of the doctor.
“None of my business,” Andi said, turning off the music player. “Unless you‘ve got the space flu, it’s between you and her and anyone you want to know. Come on, unless you want Ronan to open the doors for you.”
Dr. Keller’s head was on her desk. She didn’t want to do this, even with Carson’s help. There were pages of notes; pages and pages and pages. It was as if someone had medically emptied a junk drawer into a wraith and decided to see what happened.
It hadn’t even been an alien group that had done this. Earth had done this. The part of Earth that knew the Stargate Program well. Too well.
They hadn’t just left things inside of him. Whoever had done this had anatomical skill and questions to go with it. Bones had healed. There were tiny traces of scar tissue still. There were microscopic cuts and needle stabs that had left traces of chemicals from their use. By now she was surprised she didn’t hear something rattling around when he breathed.
“I’m not even sure what this means,” Dr. Carson said, pointing to a section on one of the notes.
Dr. Keller looked up, only to slam her head down. Karma didn’t play fair.
Todd was beginning to get irritated with all of this. For being ‘free’ more people wanted to bother him than when he was just locked in a cage. How did humans make friends if this was their regular standard for helping others?
“Todd, you have Asuran nanites in your blood stream,” Dr. Keller said, her eyes on the notes, desperately wishing for something she had overlooked.
“They are of a different origin,” he said. “Have you found anything else?”
She sighed for the umteenth time today. Todd had the annoying habit of dragging half the Galaxy’s problems with him and then running off to find more. She had thought she was immune, as all she dealt with were strands of DNA and viruses for the most part. Apparently, not even she could hide from his annoying habbit, and this time he wasn’t trying. If she was going to be in over her head, she wasn't going to put up with debating semantics with an alien who had yet to master the basics of slang. “Todd, last time, you spent weeks trying to stop nanites. You nearly died. Now you’re saying they’re fine?”
“Yes.” Ask a stupid question…
“How can you be sure so sure?” she asked.
“If they wanted me dead, I would have died,” he answered. Another dead end. Whoever had gotten their hands on him didn’t knew all they had to do was confuse him to cover their tracks.
“If this is about--” she started.
“It is not.” he said. “Have you found anything else?”
“We can’t tell without further scans,” she said, shaking her head. All she had wanted to do was help. Now she was paying for it in spades.
“No.” he said and turned to leave finally.
“Chevron 6 encoded”
Andi ran over to the small crowd in the gateroom. Only Ronan and Jennifer had come to see Todd leave with their own eyes. The rest were marines. Todd was ingoring them all.
“Chevron 7 locked”
There was knowing what a stargate was and did and there was seeing it. Andi realized there was a huge difference as the energy whoosehed out toward the crowd. Her skin prickled from being so close to so much energy.
“Whoah—hey wait!” she called out, as Todd strode toward the stargate.
The wraith paused in walk, letting her run the short distance up to him.
“Here,” she said, holding him a shiny object out to him.
Todd just stared at it, looking neither curious, nor interested.
“It’s free,” she said. “You can do whatever you want with it. You can throw it away once you’re on the other side, if you want. I just thought you might like it.”
Carefully, yet quickly, either an attempt to be gentle or trying not to provoke the soldiers, he took the thing from her hand and turned back to leave.
“See ya,” she said, without waving. “Everyone else says you’ll come back to bug us, so have fun whether you do or not.”
She received no reply. He walked through the strange, rippling energy, which disappeared with a piff.
It was her and some bored soldiers in an empty room with an empty stargate now.
She shoved her hands in her pockets and exhaled. It had been a tiring day. She was ready to go to bed, no matter what time it was.
Two problems dealt with and there was no bloodshed. That had to be good, right?
Before she could compare herself to the few notes she had read, someone spoke over the comm link. “This is Richard Woolsey. I’d like you to see me in my office.”
“Yeah,” she answered. “Sure.”
Then she realized. Who the hell was he and where was his office? More importantly, where was her bed?