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Lions and Tigers and Conspiracies, Oh My

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“How are you guys settling in?”

John leaned closer to the camera on their modified cart. The cart had easily handled the eighty miles of rocky and difficult terrain and Zelenka’s liquid shock absorbers had saved the equipment from any heavy bumps. However, the equine-horsish creatures they’d borrowed to pull it were both worn out. John suspected they were too tired to graze.

“Rodney is having geekgasms, so I assume the walk was worth it. Is Zelenka having any luck figuring out why this gate is killing anything mechanical that comes through?” John asked Walter—or he asked the tiny picture of Walter on the monitor mounted to the cart. John would have felt a little guilty about lying to Walter, but he was almost sure Walter knew the whole thing was a set up. Hell, he might even know what it was a setup for. Walter had his ways, mysterious ways that were beyond the understanding of mere humans.

“No, sir. He theorizes it’s an anti-Wraith weapon the Ancients might have been experimenting with, but he can’t figure out the code, and he warned General Helms that trying to deactivate it could shut down the gate permanently.”

“That would be bad. I’m stuck here with Ronon and Rodney. Don’t you fuck with that gate, Walter.” John put on his best threatening face. Walter just grinned. They’d served together on Atlantis for over a decade, so Walter knew when John was just bitching. Besides, John was retired, so technically he wasn’t in Walter’s chain of command and couldn’t threaten him.

“General Helms might have ordered research to continue, only Zelenka warned that the gate could blow up if there was any sort of anti-tampering device embedded. I believe Dr. Knight vetoed that.”

“Good to know,” John said. Dr. Knight might be the new IOC representative, but he was almost decent. He certainly didn’t have any more issues than any other IOC leader sent since Elizabeth had retired during her difficult second pregnancy. Of course John suspected that her resignation had also been timed to screw over the Chinese representative, but he hadn’t quite understood how. He stayed away from politics. And since the U.S. military had given him the choice of transfer or retirement, he could officially ignore any and all politicians because technically John was just one more civilian consultant.

Sure, everyone still called him ‘General,’ and he had to encourage certain individuals to actually follow General Helms’ orders, but as a retiree, he had taken over O’Neill position as the unofficial meddler behind the scenes who would claim ignorance any time the shit started flying.

It was kinda nice.

“Is that Mr. Sheppard checking in?” someone on Walter’s side asked.

John tried to pretend that Dr. Knight’s habit of stripping John of his rank didn’t matter. Knight was used to dealing with civilians, and since he rarely saw John in uniform, he likely didn’t understand the protocol. The graying beard probably didn’t help much, but twenty eight years in the service, he was enjoying being able to get a little scruffy. Since his hair was still mostly black with a few hints of silver, the pure gray beard had been a shock, but John wasn’t insecure about his age, so he didn’t shave.

“Yes, sir,” Walter said. “They’ve reached the facility.”

Dr. Knight’s face appeared over Walter’s shoulder. “Has Dr. McKay determined the feasibility of bringing the place online?” he asked. Considering that they’d only been on site for an hour, that was a uniquely stupid question. Knight was lucky Rodney wasn’t around to hear it.

“Not yet,” John said. “There’s a lot of damage, but we had the computer working for about five minutes, and he’s almost sure there are schematics here.”

“Of what?” Knight certainly looked interested at that bit of news. Unsurprising, really. IOC representatives tended to have very short tenures if they didn’t show results. Elizabeth had held the chair for sixteen years. And once she retired, the IOC had sent Galvani, Lepel, Warming, that short guy with the mustache, Lamarck, Bowler, Sarastro, Peters, Myall, Siegmund, and Overmeyer. The mustache guy had the record for briefest tenure at three days. Lamarck had held out for a whole eight months. At the three month mark, Knight was running out of time to impress someone.

“Rodney thought it might be small weapons production, maybe something like Ronon’s blaster.”

Ronon leaned over and gave the camera a wolfish grin. “Wishful thinking. Sheppard’s had a hard-on for my gun for decades.”

Knight pursed his lips in distaste, and John put an elbow in Ronon’s stomach—not that it did any good. Ronon never changed.

Sure enough, Ronon backed away while stroking his gun affectionately. “You’re never getting her.”

“If I shoot you in the head, I will,” John warned. Then he turned back to the camera. “Surely you can afford to send a few more people. Or one. Just send Zelenka or Quinn.”

Knight stood. “I am sorry, but with the current budget restrictions, I cannot send anyone else. Request that the Travelers or Turi send support personnel.” With that, he disconnected.

John stood up and looked around.

“That was friendly,” Tony said. He was wearing Traveler leathers, which made him look a little like a dashing space pirate. The touch of white in his hair suggested his age, but he didn’t look significantly different from the young NCIS agent who had stumbled into a classified op. Turi did keep their hosts healthy.

Larrin leaned against Tony’s puddlejumper. “How long can you run this ruse?” she asked.

“A long time,” Tony answered before John could point out that he had given up trying to predict human behavior for Lent. “Earth leaders are uncomfortable about how John fits into the power structure, so they’ll be happy he’s temporarily out of the picture.”

“Earthers,” Larrin said in a tone that communicated all her disgust.

Tony shrugged. “Aleigheta, are you ready to run communications?”

An image of John appeared on the computer screen. “I know John Sheppard’s style of speaking quite well,” the city’s AI said in her normal feminine tone.

“That does not sound like me,” John said.

The AI used John’s image to offer up a crooked smile. This time when she spoke, she sounded like John. “Yeah, well, I’ll throw around a few insults, question my ability to survive all these crazy people and then roll my eyes.”

“Okay, she’s got you down,” Tony said.

John would have defended himself, but Rodney came storming past. “Chop, chop. I want to get back here before anyone finds out we’re gone.”

The AI spoke through the computer screen. “Chill, Rodney. They aren’t going to catch us.”

Rodney whirled about, frowned at the computer, and then crossed his arm. “That’s all well and good for you to say, but what happens if I get fired as head of science? Do you have any idea how much damage those morons could do to your systems?”

A version of AI Rodney appeared on the screen next to the AI John. “One day. One day is all they would take to ruin some critical system that it took me months to fix. The general level of intelligence on planet Earth continues to fall if these morons are the best of the best. They aren’t even the best of the mediocre. A random twelve year old off a Traveler ship has more intelligence than these incompetent excuses for professionals.”

Everyone except Rodney laughed. He just sort of spluttered.

“I do love your computer,” Larrin said. “But McKay’s right. Let’s get moving.”

“Eighteen hours to Earth, and if we’re lucky, we can get there, get home, and get back to Atlantis without anyone realizing it,” Tony said.

“I don’t sound like that!” Rodney said. “That doesn’t even sound like a Canadian.” John kindly didn’t point out that Rodney had lost his accent years ago.

“Come on, Hubby,” John said as he pulled on Rodney’s elbow. John shook his head at the time table. He remembered when Earth required a three week journey in one of Earth’s creaky old ships. Those were the days. Well, times changed, and Atlantis needed to as well.