Chapter 1: Chapter 1
No one had come down to the brig since Atlantis had landed on earth. Three weeks had gone by, slowly and monotonously. The only way of telling time was by the changing shifts of the guards. The lights never darkened, the temperature never changed. The brig was its own, pathetic and forgotten little world of nothing. It offered nothing and it's occupant hinted at nothing.
Todd wondered if, in whatever convoluted bureaucracy the humans constantly struggled with, they had no plan for him and, just as he was, were waiting for one to present itself. They did often lack the ability to think of things too far ahead, especially when he was involved.
He did his best not to let on that he was looking for a plan to present itself; John had made it quite clear what he’d do if he even thought Todd was looking for one, let alone thinking one up. He’d heard the threat from someone else long ago and it had worked… until he began to speak to John. It was because of John that Todd was no longer behind bars and it was because of John that Todd was behind bars now. This time, the threat was not going to work, not the way John wanted it to. This time, Todd would do whatever it took to defy his captivity and taste true freedom, no matter how it ended for both of them. It was not out of spite, but it was due to a greater lesson John had taught him, the one he'd always fought with john over. This time, he'd give a final reminder. John would hold to his threat, but it would be the way Todd had always wanted it.
He’d done nothing but survive, live form day to day, for so many years he failed to see the point of keeping track of them until John had done everything short of beating him to get the message across that dying free was better than rotting away in someone else’s basement. He went to such lengths to show him hope, only to know that once Todd had tasted it, he could forever dangle it just out of reach while laughing and spitting in his face. John had apparently grown bored with that game—or just decided he no longer liked Todd’s less-than-concerned attitude in retaliation—and just abandoned him altogether with the statement that if Todd showed hope for such freedom again, he’d take Todd’s life away first.
Todd decided he was going to hold him to it and laugh back.. It was not out of pettiness or cowardly resignation, or even hatred, but out of a sense of duty and debt. He’d given John’s life back years ago; this time he would repay him further. Before, John showed him what he believed humanity truly was. Todd wanted an opportunity to do the same.
He was tired of waiting. Finally, so was John, who shooed away the other soldiers as he arrived.He wasn’t dressed for duty, merely a tee-shirt and jeans, and his hair was in even more disarray than usual. The wraith noticed his usual sense of peevedness was accompanied by a sense of melancholy he was either trying to hide or fight.
Todd stood to greet him, but that was it. They were at a standstill, locked in what is known as Mamihlapinatapai—two people wanting the same thing, but each unwilling to take initiative. To Todd, this was John’s city, and John had made it clear that he was not welcome. To John, this was his prisoner, and he was there to tell them the idea of todd wasn't welcome.
John shoved his hands in his pockets.
Todd tilted his head in confusion. He didn’t move any closer, but he was now truly curious as to what John was trying to force himself to say.
“Stargate Command’s decided to move you to Area 51,” John said, looking at his shoes. There, he’d said it. He wondered why he felt worse now. He didn’t know why he felt bad at all in the first place. For a wraith who was polite enough to stay out of his head, Todd had a knack for messing with it in other ways.
Todd’s expression of curiosity hardened into something John couldn't identify. “I see.”
“So you’ve heard of it?” John asked. As far as he could tell, Todd’s knowledge of things was random at best and based around what he could steal at worst.
“It is where you put things you wish to forget and the world to never know of,” Todd said. “When you spoke of how little worth there was in a life spent in a cage for eternity, were those words meant to be hollow, or merely for yourself?”
“What do you expect me to do?” John complained as he gestured for pity. This wasn’t how he wanted things to go. Todd was supposed to be upset, or at least ignorant of the whole thing. He was supposed to be the good guy, offer manly comfort, and then send Todd on his way. Why was Todd ruining his moment?
“I should not have expected answers,” Todd said. “My fate was never any concern of yours.”
“Look, this isn’t my fault!” John exclaimed.
“Of course,” Todd replied.
John wanted to explain, but also, he didn’t. He wanted Todd to understand, but he also knew Todd wouldn’t believe him. He wanted to know things were better this way and that Todd should hold out hope, but he didn’t believe that either. He didn’t like what Todd was saying, but he didn’t know why he should care. “So… this is ‘goodbye.’”
“Enjoy your freedom, Sheppard.”
“Huh?” John asked to his phone. It had take three tries to turn it on. It was too early for this.
“Please see me in my office,” Woolsey asked calmly.
“Do you know what time it is?” John asked, grabbing his clock. If he was going to argue, he wanted to be right. It said 3:59 am. “There had better be a good reason for this.”
“Early enough that I’m not in a mood to repeat orders,” Woolsey replied. “SGC’s sending a helicopter to pick you up. I’ll explain during the trip.”
“Is this as serious as it sounds?” John asked.
No one from Atlantis noticed, but the trip was worse for the pilot. He thought landing through the cloak would be the end of his problems, but he had barely been briefed on Atlantis. He had no idea what had happened or what a wraith was, but the more they contemplated and explained the situation, the more he more scared he felt, even in the air.
Woolsey explained the situation as John, Teyla, and Ronon passed a thermos of coffee between them. “Stargate Command wanted to avoid places that were heavily populated and to avoid heavy traffic in case something happened.”
“Didn’t work, did it?” John asked.
“The trip was supposed to change drivers twice with no other stopoversover two minutes. They never made it to the rendezvous point with the second driver.” Woolsey's calm voice, even now, never made things seem any better when he explained situations like these. “No one from the car managed to radio a distress call. A news helicopter alerted the Onizuka Air Force Base when they saw the car on its side between two pile-ups on highway 106. The county’s not happy the Air Force took over the investigation, but let it slide so long as we clear the traffic by dawn. This state is not keen on military intervention and we’re already trying to tell the media is not satisified by being told there is no reason to panic.”
“At least he’ll be easy to spot” John said, sipping from the thermos. “And its not like he can drive even if he figures out how to hotwire a car.”
“He also has no incentive to make this pleasant for us,” Woolsey said. “He could cause a lot of trouble or, given that he knows nothing of earth, could get into plenty.”
Despite Woolsey’s intentions, his remarks caused Teyla to snort coffee back into the thermos she had taken from John. “You mean, we might have to worry about someone taking advantage of a wraith?” she asked, laughing.
“He couldn’t have blocked the radio by himself,” Ronon said. It was all just a matter of finding out who to shoot to him.
“Who’d want to help Todd escape?” Teyla asked, still laughing.
“Someone who knew Todd was in the truck, probably,” John replied.
“What would be the point?” Woolsey asked, not appreciating the humor in the situation.
“Blackmail, ransom, expose the Stargate Programs for some dumb reasons… been there, done that,” John said, shrugging. For early in the AM, things weren’t as confusing at he thought they’d be. Disastrous, yes, but he could easily understand it now that he’d had some coffee. At this rate, they’d find Todd just before lunch…their lunch.
“How do we narrow that down?” Woolsey asked.
“Who cares?” Ronon asked. “Shoot Todd, shoot someone next to him with a gun.” Problem solved, as always for Ronon. Things were easier when everyone was either a bad guy or good guy. Grey areas got your ship set to crash into a planet and lots of people whining about blame.
“How do we know Todd’s alive?” Teyla asked. She didn’t express much care about Todd’s life. Ally or not, a wraith was still a wraith. Her job was to see if she could sense him. If he was dead, she was dead weight and likely considered a burden by the armed forces. If there were better ways to help, she wanted to volunteer instead of standing around being useless.
John winced at the comment, though he didn’t know why. He’d seen nasty wounds; torn limbs; even deaths one would have to clean up with a mop. Whatever his uneasiness was, it wasn’t from remembering those incidents. Now things were getting confusing. He wondered who had the coffee. “If he we don’t hear about having to scrape an alien off something when we get on the ground, he’s fine.”
“I think we should be a bit more worried about cleaning up after him,” Woolsey commented. A wraith was loose, someone one was intelligent enough to wreck an armored car without the army being alerted, and the best people to solve the problem thought this was little more than a nuisance.
“Usually when something like this happens, we just have to wait until whoever started the whole mess comes crying for us to clean it up,” John said. “Given Todd, they might just hand him back if he’s cranky enough.”
Woolsey sighed. As long as these three proved as competent as they were confident, it didn’t matter what their attitudes were. If they were going to change their attitudes, it wouldn’t happen up here.
The helicopter landed as close as possible to the scene.
The armored car was on its side, spaciously sandwiched between two piles of cars. Skid marks hid in the pre-dawn shadows. It was still dark. Moths gathered innocently around the lamps that only lit of small areas with bright, ugly, orange light. With the cars lying themselves like cold corpses themselves and the striking contrast of hideous orange and the dulcet black of the scene, and the large carnage present, the scene should have been dramatically eerie in its resolute quiet.
Instead, it just gave off a feeling of dullness. Inanimate objects lay where they were, their innate indifference both obvious and unimpressive. The stillness of the air was neither stifling, nor hinting at some deep secret. Despite the scrutiny everyone gave it, the scene seemingly wished to be passed over, its greatest impression on those who were here being that of denying its own importance and trying to hint at what they were looking for was somewhere else.
The only other people were the forensic doctor and her three attendants, who were occupied with staying awake and out of the way. Neither group noticed the other immediately in the darkness. The doctor made no immediate movement towards he newcomers when an assistant pointed them out to her. She finished her notes before turning to them.
“You’re the people from the military, I take it?” she asked politely.
“Sure,” Ronon answered.
“If you’ll follow me, I’ll show you what we’ve found out so far. We've already taken pictures, so we'll let the county clean this up when you're done looking at it,” she said, gesturing for them to follow her as she turned away.
Almost as if it had been practiced, Dr. Goldsten took a flashlight from a waiting assistant and climbed into the over-turned armored car. “I recommend you don’t disturb anything unless it's important to you,” she said.
The inside was already starting to smell from the tainted meat of the bodies and flies beginning to gather around it. Everywhere her flashlight shone was something gruesome, almost as if the boring facade outside had cleverly hidden this from view just to laugh at their surprise and repulsion.
Woolsey stood back to give the others room; he was just here to babysit and explain—at most give legalese in case something happened. Besides, they had to carefully step around two bodies to get to the car. He was not about to risk messing up a crime scene or getting in the way just to be useless.
“We’ve more or less pieced together what happened to the prisoner for the first few minutes,” Dr Goldstein said. “What was its name again?”
“Todd,” John said. It was looking less and less like they could blame the wraith for anything. It was always so much easier when he could.
All four soldiers were in the truck, each with a thorough head wound. Two had been shot to disable them before death. The two in the back had met a faster end. As gruesome as a death by a wraith was, at least you never needed a hose afterward.
“The only evidence we've found is splatter and partial footprints so far. We've sent fingerprints to the lab for testing, and you'll get the results tomorrow,” Dr. Goldstein said, waving the flashlight to show the blood on more than just the floor. John doubted forensic scientists made many friends. “Snipers—we believe two or three—took out the driver and tires, which is why the car tipped over. They kept shooting until it was on its side.” She pointed at several holes in the ‘floor’. “I sent samples of the blood to the labs to confirm all this, but the placement correlates with where Todd was sitting and the height would indicate the bullet hit somewhere in the upper back, probably the shoulder. There’s no exit wound splatter, so we have to assume that was intentional.”
Bone gleamed like pieces of expensive porcelain that had carelessly been dropped and gristle glistened like strings made of fake diamonds. Bits of dark metal and wires had tried to hide away in pieces of flesh, as if trying not to disturb the morbid beauty of the incandescent light shining down on the sickening masterpiece. “The radios were targeted before they were shot; the blood splatter, though would indicate Todd was crouching and trying to avoid the gunfire even after the car tipped over.” The light from her flashlight shot from the destroyed bodies to vague dots of dried blood on the floor and walls.
“Odd,” Teyla remarked. “That would mean he's following orders.”
“He doesn’t usually follow orders?” Dr. Goldstein asked.
“Not when he doesn’t have to,” Teylascoffed.
“He still had his cuffs on, didn’t he?” Ronon asked, as a rebuttal.
“We haven’t found any evidence those were taken off, no,” Dr. Goldstein said, not entirely following the conversation. “No metal bits, no scraping marks. There's no evidence he tried to break them.”
“But he did leave,” Teyla stated angrily.
“Why’d he wait?” John asked. Great, Todd was leaving more mysteries and the sun wasn't even up.
“Too many weapons,” Dr. Goldstein suggested, interrupting the group. “There’s splatter on the back wall and on the clothes of the corpse in the back and a droplet pattern on the floor. These match up with his shoulder wound and being struck on the side and jaw with something heavy if it were standing.”
The uneasy feeling John had had when talking to Todd was back again and he didn’t know why. Thankfully, Ronon spoke up before he could dwell on it.
“Seems straightforward,” Ronon said, crossing his arms. He wanted to get to the action. Especially the action that involved shooting something. It was a simple way of thinking, but when one has spent almost a decade where killing is a priority, things tend to simplify themselves often.
“Well, you know it better than I do,” Dr. Goldstien said, ignoring the accusation of possibly wasting their time. “Todd's footprints are the only ones we could find.” She shone the flashlight a half print in a small splatter. “He stepped back when he was hit. The footprints lead to the edge of the car, then to the street,” she said, her flashlight highlighting the prints and resting to shine on the last one.
“Most of the blood was on the heel, but this one indicates pressure was put on the ball of the foot after he stepped down. This is where the prints end, though.”
“You have no idea why, I take it,” John said, wondering if it was safe to admit he didn’t either. The only good news was that he wasn’t going to have to help cover up picking alien bits off something.
“He took off his shoe,” Teyla said.
“Huh?” John asked. “He was still cuffed, though.”
“He used his other foot,” Teyla said. “He—“ she looked down at her army-issued boots. No possible demonstration there. She looked at the doctor. High heels. Still wouldn’t work. “Mr. Woolsey!” she called out. She preferred to call others by their first names, but to that was his strange, overly professional preference and she never argued about it.
“Did you find anything?” he asked, approaching them and doing his best to keep his poise while maneuvering around the bodies.
“Can you take your shoe off without using your hands?” Teyla asked. Loafers. Perfect.
“I don’t understand,” he said.
“Can you show them how,” she said, nodding vaguely at the group. “You don’t have to take it off completely.”
“If you insist,” Woolsey said, doubting he wanted to know what this nonsense was necessary. He shifted one foot so that his heel was off the ground and with the other foot, pushed on the back of the show with his toes. Once the back of the shoe was loose he slipped his foot out of the shoe halfway, showing that such a task was easy for even him.
“Thank you,” Teyla said before turning back to the group.
“So, if that’s what happened…why?” John asked.
“Thoroughness,” Ronon answered immediately. It was just like how careful a runner was. No tracks. “They didn’t want to take chances with anyone knowing which way they took him.”
“How is it that no one heard all this?” Teyla asked.
“I don’t understand,” Dr. Goldstein said.
“Gunshots aren’t uncommon on earth,” Woolsey told her, making sure his shoe was firmly back on his foot.
“Why not?” Teyla asked, now confused. “That means they’re shooting at someone, which is serious.”
“Or they’re trying to,” Ronon corrected.
“That’s not always the case on this planet,” Woolsey said calmly. One of these days someone was going to have to explain man, many, many seemingly unimportant or contradictory details of earth to the two aliens they’d recruited from the Pegasus Galaxy. That someone was inevitably going to be him for the most part, and he’d known it for years. It was bound to happen and at least neither of them were intent one driving or doing anything else as dangerous when the questions arose. “In this country, it’s legal for any citizen to own a gun.”
“Isn’t that dangerous?” Teyla asked.
“Welcome to earth,” John said.
Chapter 2: Chapter 2
New character, same problem.
Dr Goldstain was no slacker, and more and more reports and findings were submitted to both Atlantis and Stargate Command. The more she found, though, the harder the nut became to crack, soon seeming impenetrable without a miracle.
Most of the cars had been stolen, though there was no pattern to the place or time the thefts had happened. The only fingerprints that had been discovered were those of the soldiers and Todd and no more footprints could be found. Four soldiers had been taken down as well as six attackers: ten bodies altogether. All four had clean records and all of the six were eventually traced as ex-NID members, a clue that at first lifted everyone’s spirits until the other proverbial shoe had dropped. There was nothing to do with such a revelation. There was no one to question, nothing to indicate a place or person to investigate, not even a hint that even The Trust was involved. After that, more dead-ends began to crop up. There were train tracks barely fifty yards from the scene. Todd’s shoe had been found, having been run over twice.
All this was the least of Major Landry’s problems. Homeworld Security thought too much time was being wasted hunting Todd down; the IOA had fractured over 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 six feet tall, in prison coveralls, and green suddenly make Where’s Waldo something easy to finish?
He wasn’t surprised when his cellphone rang. All phones had been ringing constantly these days. What did surprise him was that the caller was not demanding another reason there was still a wraith somewhere it shouldn’t be. “I would like to speak to Dr. Daniel Jackson. Is this him?”
“Who is this?” he asked. He wanted to ask why they thought bothering him now of all times was a good idea.
“My name is Jesse Lee Duquesne.” they said.
Dumb question, Landry realised. Thankfully, they followed up with some actually useful information.
“I am at the Willows Inn on Market Street in San Francisco,” the mystery caller continued. “Can you arrange for me to speak to Dr. Jackson?”
He could practically feel the person on the on the other end roll their eyes at him. He reciprocated.
“How did you get this number?”
“You are missing an alien that is dangerous, confused, and easy to anger. Are you close to finding it?”
“How do you know about that?” Landry asked. He wasn’t supposed to be asking the questions and he wasn’t supposed to need to.
“I am about to hang up,” the caller said, their calm becoming eerie now. “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 whereabouts of the alien, but only if I have an opportunity to speak to Dr. Jackson.”
“This is a matter of national security; I—“
Suddenly the voice over the phone changed. It was deeper, louder, with a slight echo. It was clear the same body was speaking, but perhaps not the same ‘person’. Whether this was a Goa’uld or Tok’ra didn’t matter. Things had just gotten worse and he’d just been given a new laundry list of important questions he couldn’t answer. “I will give you nothing if I do not speak to Daniel Jackson. You risk exacerbating this situation greatly if you detain me. I am willing to show my goodwill by allowing you to sequester me here until you see fit. The front desk knows to direct you to my room and to give you my number. Good luck.” With that, Jesse hung up.
Landry was not impressed in the slightest. But then, he had nothing else to rely on. California was not a small state. It was not an appreciative state. Worst of all, it was not a convenient state.
Almost a hundred-thousand homeless, add to that the amount of runaways, substance-abusers, tourists, and just plain shady people no one would ever notice missing… Landry had to conjure up a better miracle than the one that had just landed in his lap or start figuring out how to guard a hotel room without causing a scene.
He sighed and stared at the phone, dreading admitting to even himself that calling Jesse back was his only option. He didn’t know how he was going to arrange this, as now he had two aliens he needed help from but couldn’t trust. There were so few things he knew about Jesse: Was this a trap? What information did Jesse have? What risk was there? What gender was this person?
* * *
Three days ago, an alien had gone missing, with no clues as to where it had been taken. Two days ago, another alien had called to offer help in finding the first. Yesterday, the air force had the good luck to discover and cover up a strange forensic find from an unrelated murder.
In the city of Stockton, just south of where Todd had disappeared, a man was found murdered. He’d been killed on the street, in a dark and filthy alley at night. Technically this was in no way unusual for the city or even state. 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.
It was time to get some answers, starting with ‘How long does it take to get to San Francisco?’
* * *
Jesse was almost unnaturally calm about the arrangement. Snipers had been situated in the buildings across the street to keep an eye on him…her…whichever. Jesse wasn’t allowed to move from the room until the army gave permission, even after the discussion with Daniel.
Somehow, Landry didn’t expect Jesse to stay there, despite how happy Jesse was to comply. Then again, neither things going their way nor silence from their enemy were ever good signs, making their combination an almost nauseating experience.
* * *
Daniel had no idea what he was doing. What was he going to say? ‘Hi, so where’s the wraith?’ He didn’t even know what a wraith was for the most part. Landry wanted a face-to-face interview with this Jesse person based mostly on suspicion—a tiny part wanted Daniel to find out which pronoun to use in regards to them—this didn’t help Daniel figure out what to say or what to keep an eye out for in regards to this ‘mystery saviour’.
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 and calming to the point of being soporific. There was a heavy sense of sleep-inducing fancy dullness to a strange and seamless mix of rustic and modestly modern styles throughout the hotel.
The door opened just after he knocked on it.
“Dr. Jackson?” the person at the said cheerfully. Daniel hadn’t spoken to Jesse on the phone, but Landry told him he had no clue what gender to expect. Now, actually seeing Jesse up close, gave no evidence either way still. Jesse was an inch shorter than Daniel himself, with prominent physical characteristics that inferred Korean descent. Jesse’s hair was short, in a professional-looking version of an outgrown buzzcut, again alluding nothing toward whether both genes were X or if one was Y as both he himself and many other men had worn the same cut, but so had Sam. The very last, and most obvious hint that Jesse preferred to lie somewhere in the spectrum of ‘how should I know? in terms of gender appearance were the neatly pressed business clothes: a simple suit, complete with tie and polished shoes that revealed only that Jesse did not intend for a causal chat in regards to the inevitable ultimatum.
“Uh, yeah, so… why exactly am I here Miss…t—uh…?”
“In South Korea, I am Jesse Lee; here I am Mr. Jesse Duquesne.”
Jesse gestured for Daniel to follow and enter the hotel room, and then closed the door after him.
“So… ‘Welcome to San Francisco’?” Daniel asked. It would explain a lot. On the calm days, when the government sat still and meddled in no one’s affair and no holidays were in sight, the city of San Francisco adorned every street pole with rainbow flags; dialog, graffiti, advertisements, and even hired fundraisers screamed about something related to the LGBTQ community; every sidewalk had someone considered ‘out of the norm’ in some way casually tucked into every corner. Jesse’s refusal to stand on a side of the gender-defining fence and stay there was mild in comparison to regular citizens of the city.
“Exactly; but for now think of me as male if it makes anything easier for you,” Jesse said, pulling out a chair from the desk near the window. He sat down and gestured for Daniel to do so on the bed.
“So… why me?” Daniel asked, taking the offer to sit down.
“I was the one who suggested that SGC find a way to sequester me here before our meeting,” Jesse said, leaning back and lounging in his chair without losing either professional or confident poise. “You have at least two snipers who can easily take me out where I’m sitting and I’m not about to move any time soon. As much as this…’snake’ as your friend often calls it, has helped me in financial success and a bit of cunning, I will be speaking and have agreed to any proposed decisions on my own free will. Is there anyone else in your program who’d believe me about this better than you?”
The real question that Jesse was asking was ‘Who would be smart enough to realise I am giving you an advantage over me on purpose and not take it as an immediate threat?’ He had also addressed how much Daniel both despised and distrusted Goa’uld, and had almost blatantly said that whenever Daniel felt like it, could end the lives of both the symbiote and host. Yet, due to his posture and almost smarmy tone, doing all this intentionally was part of a larger scheme to get what he wanted.
“Not really,” Daniel said. If he was going to play a game of secrets with a Goa’uld—or something similar—he’d had to have some of his own to keep. “Why all this?”
“As in ‘what do I want?’ or as in ‘I’m no going to get it no matter what?’” Jesse asked. “Because if this is the latter, our discussion is over.”
Daniel leant back, sighed, and rolled his eyes. Why…just why, couldn’t anything ever be easy?
“Since it seems to be the former, I expect you have some questions,” Jesse said. “First: No, I don’t know where he is. Second: I do have information on him that I believe Stargate Command would be interested in getting their hands on. Third: If I do receive what I want, I might be able to find out where he is. Fourth:--“Jesse tossed a box from the desk to the bed, which landed next to Daniel.
He opened it and discovered nearly an entire ream of paper, all of it a single typed document. “Is this a list of demands?”
“It’s a list of one demand,” Jesse said, smirking. “I’m willing to hand over all the information I have now no matter what, as well as a friendly warning. What you and your own country’s program does with it would be up to you and your superiors.”
“Is there and abridged version?” Daniel asked, setting the document aside. He was very sure he needed to keep all his concentration on Jesse.
“A peace delegation headquarters. I have the money; you have the resources, the ancients were kind enough to leave a perfect—even movable site—for it.”
“I think I’m confused,” Daniel admitted. Since when did aliens who made ultimatums want to actually help?
“Atlantis is conveniently on Earth these days, which would make the transition easier than before,” Jesse said, his tone hinting that he was struggling slightly to dumb things down for Daniel.
“As I have said, ever since I acquired Taiji, my…partner… business has been booming. I own several smaller business and companies and have financial ties with dozens more. I can fund this program and, while I do intend to use it for gain, you’ll find my methods of trading with other planets rather benign.”
“And you want SGC to do the work,” Daniel said, finally catching up.
“I want SGC to be willing to join it,” Jesse clarified. “My position would merely be oversight; I would never have approached you and yours if I did not trust you to be able to undertake this venture, yet I do not intend to give up everything if I will be funding it. Besides, if you can find a better replacement, all you need is to convince the representatives of the planetary nations my presence is detrimental to the cause.”
“You’re serious?” Daniel asked. He had yet to see any hint of some evil plan, serious threat, or stupid idea. There was not even any metaphorical mustache twirling, merely a smug sense of knowing how to get what he wanted and enjoying Daniel’s bafflement that someone might bargain for something better for the both of them.
“Very,” Jesse said, a sudden heaviness to the word. “I am not about to risk this getting tied up in red tape, no matter how many people didn’t mean for it to happen. Once I get a guarantee that at least two planetary nations will agree to this and that Stargate Command will begin retrofitting the ancient city, I will give you my aid in finding your wraith.”
“How do I know you’re actually going to help?” Daniel asked. Why wouldn’t people get to the catch sooner when it came to negotiations?
Jesse chuckled and leaned back in his chair. “How many times have you and your friends gotten your hands dirty? How many times have the ends justified your own questionable and hidden means? Have you lost count?”
Daniel was silent, and very uncomfortable. The last time someone asked questions like this many people had died.
Jesse’s amusement brought him to full on laughter this time. “That was not meant to be an attempt at confrontation,” he said, still chuckling to himself as he did.
Daniel didn’t find it comforting yet.
“It was merely to say that not even the best of us are spotless.” Jesse made a gentle, very casual, swooping hand gesture to indicate it was Daniel he referred to as ‘the best’ in that sentence. “Taiji arrived along with many Goa’uld transported here by members of what you know as The Trust. It had a different strategy of what to do on this planet, especially after learning of the Stargate Program. I was a perfect host, both my personality and that I already worked as a secretary for an IOA member—South Korea to be exact, a… preferable government. Taiji spent years looking into this, as well as more… exemplary projects, organizations, and businesses to work with for a considerable profit. What Taiji also did, was talk to one of the less ambitious of the Goa’uld.
“All he had to do was keep an eye on a certain part of the black market, and he’d receive an anonymous donation to pay for living expenses. He told me your wraith was suddenly up for sale, an offer that happened to be made just before he was moved from Atlantis.”
“Well, thanks for telling us. Better late than never I take it?” Daniel said. He wondered how this would get to being able to trust Jesse in holding up his end of the bargain. He wondered why all the explanation; Goa’uld who posed as Gods on earth for thousands of years didn’t have this much back story.
“I intended to buy him,” Jesse stated, again putting a sudden heaviness to his words. “I have put a great deal of money towards a multi-national project that the South Korean government has finished last month: a fully-functional, robot-operated, cloaked, beaming station. We have treaties with China, Russia, and are currently negotiating with Turkey to use it for transnational transportation. Countries entered will be alerted, yet any action taken to block the frequencies will be considered hostile and all countries who wish to use it will be required to take action. You were meant to be told this just after I had used the station secure him. The station has better security than your area 51 and would be much more comfortable for him. His agreement to the peace delegation was meant to create international pressure for the proposal.”
Daniel suddenly realized there might be a way he could have the upper hand in this conversation and jumped at the possibility while doing his best to be subtle. “So this is the only way to actually get this peace delegation to happen?”
Jesse smirked, indicating that Daniel had figured things out, yet hadn’t quite hit the nail on the head. “You of all people should understand. What your country offers is dying alone through painful starvation in a plastic box in a facility that might as well have a revolving door. What mine offers is the protection of at least three countries willing to do whatever it takes to protect the station, mankind, and him at the drop of a hat, purely to keep him in a spacious room equipped with books, cable, and even windows for him to watch the stars; he can even be fed if he behaves while around others.”
“I—wait, did you--?” Now things were starting to sound like their usual ‘we’re all gonna die’ song and dance.
“Yes,” Jesse said, returning to being smug. “At the moment, all I have is a theory and the means to test it—except for the actual wraith of course. My…correspondent was supposed to have contacted what he claimed were reliable scientists on Goa’uld technology, but he was recently found dead. I believe Stargate Command took over the investigation into his death.”
“I take it you’re not about to share this theory without more bargaining,” Daniel said, hoping he hadn’t clued into yet another major part of this strange plan.
Jesse smiled and for Daniel wished he could speak to the ‘snake’ instead, as it would be more comforting. “I managed to convince the sellers to let me test my theory. I do not know who they are, where they are, or when they will let me take them up on the offer. If my proposal is accepted, we can discuss my ongoing help in this matter. If not, I will do my best to do this on my own without interfering. Either way, I doubt you would be able to find someone willing to feed him even with a cure.”
“I take it, you are willing,” Daniel asked. This made things worse. Whether he was fed or not, Stargate Command would end up doing nothing but discussing and covering up an ethics debate that would last for eternity.
“Yes,” Jesse said flatly. He leaned back and unlocked a drawer of the desk. He took out a sealed envelope, from its shape Daniel could tell it was lined with bubble wrap on the inside and from the size carried a CD or DVD. Jesse started to toss it to Daniel, but his wrist twirled back the way it went, his arm pulled back, and his long fingers tightening over the package.
Jesse’s eyes flashed bright and his voice changed. “Do you remember your wife’s son?” The words were spoken in Taiji’s deep, booming voice; there was no sense of Jesse’s smugness or inner smirk. Taiji spoke of somber reminiscing, regret and sorrow that hinted it was on the edge of desperation that could push everything into greater chaos if it felt that might silence the memories that haunted it.
“You mean Shifu?” Daniel asked, startled at the sudden change. Whatever exactly Taiji was, it hadn’t been wandering the globe plotting and scheming to find the best way the lounge in untouchable luxury; it had been running. If a symbiote could have sleepless nights, this one had been through too many.
Daniel wondered, while he could trust Jesse….so far….did he care one bit for Taiji? The two weren’t the same by a long shot. Apophis had claimed to love Amaunet, but no matter the devotion, Daniel would have ripped the symbiote from the human’s neck and stamped it into a pile of sludge under his boot if he had the chance.
“Jesse is willing to risk his life to aid you. These are his principles and his decision. I won’t stop him and, in fact, I admire them. He is also the godfather of a girl who has just entered college; I share the same memories of watching her grow up. I have spent centuries, one way or another, running and hiding from Goa’uld. Now that I finally have a chance to live without fear of them, there is still a risk that someone will take away any hope of being part of her family.
“I proposed the peace delegation as a concept, and Jesse helped with many of the details. The greatest hurdle, beyond the proposal being accepted, is a law that officially gives those native to other planets the same rights a human would have. The offer of peace will be hollow without it.”
Taiji tossed the package to Daniel and it landed squarely in his lap. “I chose you because from the reports, you’ve always known who best to shoot immediately and who to help...as well as the questions that will give you such knowledge. Whatever plans you intend to propose to your superiors, don’t watch that alone.”
Chapter 3: Chapter 3
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: Chapter 4
“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.
“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.
“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 htings. “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 interrutption.
“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.
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.
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.”
“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.