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Wide Open Road

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Prologue:

 

Sheppard peered around the corner, quickly ducking back behind the concrete buttresses of the bunker as soon as he got a headcount. Six enemy combatants, each armed with semi-automatics. Crap call it Genii honed paranoia, but this just proved his feelings on underground complexes. The drab greys of the enemy soldiers’ uniforms helped them blend in with the oppressive concrete of the bunker, silo, whatever. Just cos it was the SGC on Earth didn’t mean that John was any fonder of being cooped up hundreds of feet underground.

Sheppard didn’t want to use lethal force on these guys, whilst they definitely weren’t under his command, they were technically his people. Even though they were actively trying to kill him, mind control or not, killing his own men would be more than just frowned upon. It was why he was sticking with the wraith stunner, backed up by a zat he’d raided from one of the soldiers he’d knocked out, and the Intar he was still carrying. 

A shot winged overhead, bullet ricocheting wildly off the steel piping before disappearing down the corridor, John pressed himself further into the curve of the tunnel, trying to present as small a target as possible.

“Sheppard! Give it up! We know you’re there! You’re outmanned and outgunned!”

John mentally cursed, everything had gone to shit, and he still had no idea how the hell this could possibly have happened. The last time there had been a serious foothold situation at the SGC it had been a Wraith invasion taking advantage of security flaws in Rodney’s Midway macro, which was giving the IOA yet another excuse to try and keep ‘Lantis grounded on Earth. The security risk of building another gate bridge had still been deemed too high over a year after the destruction of the previous one, relegating Caldwell to the role of glorified bus driver once again. The uncertainty over the status of the bridge had rendered the supply route for the Expedition nearly as shaky as it had been back in the first year, back when they’d been totally cut off.

“Sheppard! Final warning!”

Steeling himself, John prepared to step out into the open.

 

 

Chapter 1

 

Yawning massively John tried to look interested as the Colonel in charge of the training exercises went over the day’s safety checks, these remedial training orders Landry had insisted on were pure bullshit. Thankfully Colonel Reynolds seemed to be of roughly the same opinion, but he was still Shep’s superior, and he was the man in charge of this little shindig.

Side-eyeing his fellow trainees John swallowed a sigh, for all that he resented the implications that Landry had been not-so-subtly digging at about his leadership skills, the ornery General had technically had a point. Sheppard didn’t technically have the qualifications required for his current command role. For five years it had been Sheppard working out the training schedules and team bonding exercises that the couple of hundred troops under his charge had to undergo, and more often than not Sheppard had led by example… But, well. Unfortunately, everything leading up to Atlantis, and since then, had happened in such a rush that Sheppard had never technically undergone the mandatory training that all military members of the SGC had to undertake before being certified for gate travel.

He’d only managed to squeeze in the Command Training that was usually a prerequisite for the rank of light bird during those long interminable months when they’d all been kicked out of Atlantis by the crew of the Tria. Sheppard thanked his lucky stars (of which he had several, in both the Milky Way and Pegasus) that he’d been on enough of a loose end back then that he’d jumped on that course. He’d have done anything back then to quiet the aching sense of wrongness that being back on Earth had inspired. Now, Sheppard dreaded to think what other damned queep Landry would have come up with if he hadn’t.

At least McKay seemed to be having fun, he was in pig-heaven exploring the contents of the Asgard data-core that had been installed on the Odyssey a couple of years ago. It had taken this long to establish that, no, they really couldn’t separate the core from the F-304’s systems (it was inextricably built into the Daedalus-class ship), and commission a suitable replacement so that they could afford to keep the Odyssey indefinitely grounded. The Odyssey was currently dry-docked in Area 51 in order to both copy the Asgard core into all new BC-304s (so that it was no longer irreplaceable), and to begin analysing the reams and reams of information and tech contained therein.

McKay had already discovered the secret to the Star Trek style matter replicator that had caused so much trouble in that last-ditch battle with the Ori. (Not the creepy robotic bug kind that they regularly had to face, but the Clarke’s Law invoking tech that let them build all sorts of objects out of thin air – and how cool was that?!) He’d been working on integrating the tech into both Earth and the Ancient systems on Atlantis the last time they’d talked.

Concentrating on the details of today’s exercise Sheppard tried to remind himself that this was necessary, just another step closer, however small, to getting Atlantis back to Pegasus, and the fight against the Wraith. It had been nearly two months already, Sheppard dreaded to think what the Coalition thought about Atlantis’s sudden absence from the political stage, let alone the numerous alliances and trade agreements that had all been left hanging by their rushed departure.

The month of mandatory training had passed in an awkward dance, as John struggled to toe the line between doing enough to pass the exercise, following his by-now natural leadership inclinations, and allowing his fellow… cadets to have a fair shot at getting anything resembling officer’s training out of the exercise. A couple of times Shep was self-consciously aware he’d gone too far one way or the other, but for the most part he figured he’d managed to strike that uneasy balance.

Shep caught Reynolds’ eye mid-yawn, crap. The guy’s facial expression went wooden, even with a cast on his arm the other officer knew how to be intimidating,

“Am I boring you Colonel?”

“No Colonel.”

Shep did his best to look embarrassed, which being fair wasn’t difficult. In truth he really was bored, oh not out of any misplaced macho sense of ‘Training?! I’m an officer! I dun need no stinking training!’ It was the sinking knowledge that following a long physically demanding day of drills and exercises he could do in his sleep (and indeed that one time they’d all been hit with the crystal entity he had done them in his sleep), he’d have to spend the equivalent of another full working day stuck in meetings with the IOA under the mountain. Then get up at the ass-crack of dawn and do it all over again tomorrow.

Oh, Woolsey was trying his best, and the man had proven several times over what a ruthless mover and shaker he could be back in Pegasus. But… Best will in the world, Woolsey was on the outs with his former peers. Pegasus had changed the timid man, left its indelible mark on him, just as it had on all of them. Woolsey was no longer by-the-book enough for his fellows. The new guy, Carl Strom, was even more of a shark than Shen Xiaoyi had been, and that was saying something. At least Madam Shen knew when to stop with the politics and start caring about the people on the front lines, Strom had none of her restraint. To make matters worse he lacked the obvious levers that Coolidge, slime ball that he was, had to exploit.  

Sheppard honestly wasn’t sure how much he was helping in these meetings, which frequently ran well into the wee hours of the morning, but he was damned if he’d let the IOA scuttle Atlantis without putting up the loudest and longest fight he was capable of.  

He refocused on the here and now, and just in time too, Reynolds was about to begin the day’s exercise,

“Inside that building is a valuable piece of alien technology. Two things stand in your way, opposing fire, and time. The stargate will only be open for another 12 minutes and it’s a half a mile away. Is that clear?”

“Yessir!”

John barely managed not to roll his eyes at the enthusiastic response from all his lieutenants.

“Conduct yourselves as if this was the real thing, the clock starts, now!”

John immediately ordered,

“Move out people!”

Startling Colonel Reynolds, who’d clearly been about to order him to get going. Oops? At the press of a button by Reynolds all the ‘debris’ littered around the training field lit up at once, it might have been impressive, if Sheppard were a wet behind the ears new recruit.

“James! On my six. Scott, TJ, scout around to the other side of the building, give us intel on what we’ll be facing, then double-time it to the gate. Check in in five. Let’s go!”

Laying down cover fire for the pair he’d sent ahead, Sheppard dodged his way through the field of burning crap, dodging the returning Intar shots from the marines in charge of running the exercises. After making sure that the other half of his team had made it into the woods surrounding the warehouse Sheppard jimmied a side-door open, cleared the passageway inside and snuck into the building. A quick glance confirmed that Vanessa James still had his six. They rapidly made their way through the maze of passages that surrounded the large open space in the centre of the warehouse. Sheppard and James both making quick work of shooting Intar rounds into any opposition they encountered.

They made their way into the vulnerable open space in the middle of the warehouse, Sheppard didn’t like this, but didn’t see that he had a choice. The ‘valuable alien artefact’ reminded John uncomfortably of the oversized wraith grenade that had been used on the SGC, he turned to James and said,

“You know, it’s probably a bomb.”

“Sir?”

“Or a grenade. Mine. Flashbang. Something likely to blow up in our faces.” Trying not to groan at the likely answer Sheppard made himself ask, “Any recommendations James?”

“Blow it to hell sir?”

“Nah, the point of this exercise is to bring back the ‘priceless alien artefact’ not blow it up.”

Taking a chance Sheppard released the mechanism holding the thing well out of his reach, sending it crashing to the concrete floor of the warehouse. Woops. Oh well, nothing for it, ignoring the obvious lid, he gingerly lifted open the nearly invisible access panel with the tip of his ka-bar, checking around the edges for a hidden catch, or booby trap.

“James keep watch.”

“Yessir.”

Sheppard plunged his arm into the device, and having spotted the object he’d been expecting, plucked out the key timing crystal, then yanked out the rest of the crude timing mechanism, taking a couple of larger crystals with it. Not as elegant as the solution McKay would have found, no, but hey, it hadn’t blown up in his face. Cool.

He rescued the dislodged control crystals. As quickly as he dared Sheppard dumped the oversized ball into his pack, shoving aside the spare set of clothes and other nonsense that had been mandatory carry all damned month.

“Let’s move out.”

They double timed it to the other end of the warehouse, eschewing the obvious exit, and taking another side door.  

“Johansen sitrep.”

“We’re outside the building that holds the gate sir.”

“Well done Lieutenant, enemy combatants?”

“There’s an ambush waiting on the other side of the gate clearing sir. I count six, armed with staff weapons.”

“Sit tight L.T. See you there in three. Sheppard out.”

To her credit James kept up with John’s pace easily. They circled around the clearing the ‘stargate’ was contained in, coming upon the building from the opposite direction to the warehouse. Despite how weirdly green she was in some areas, Shep was glad that James was in his group. Her special forces background in Iraq had given him the excuse he needed to teach his team of LTs the basics of the spec ops radio clicks needed to communicate when you thought an enemy might be trying to listen in.

Sheppard clicked three times to signal ‘hold position’ as they cleared the forest they’d quick timed it through, and settled in to set up their own ambush. They had four more minutes.

He sent the signal to break cover, Sheppard took out three of the enemy soldiers before they realised that he and James were behind them, wincing at the likely result of an Intar shot to the head, even as he managed two headshots. James took out another two, and, to his credit, Scott took the final member of the ambush.

Sheppard used hand signals to let James take the lead, and they cautiously made their way to the shack that contained the gate. James did a good job of it too. She cleared the rooms efficiently, with all the expertise he expected from someone with her training. Well, until they got to the final room that contained the gate, Sheppard saw her begin to rush as the end goal came into sight.

Sheppard followed the 2nd-Lieutenant into the room, automatically scanned the room himself, quickly pushed his way past her, and immediately shot an ‘enemy’ between the eyes with his Intar. Wincing again at the headache his fellow soldier would likely have in a couple of hours Sheppard turned to the young officer and barked,

“How many times James! Clear the room! Doors and corners, kid. That’s where they get you.”

“Yessir.”

The young 2nd-lieutenant was giving Shep the hairy eyeball, shit, he wasn’t picking on her because she was a woman, which was clearly the thought process going on there. James was supposed to be ex-special forces, she had to have gone through a high level of SERE training, and much more recently than he had too. Yet he kept finding himself in the awkward position of schooling her ass. Deciding to brazen his way through the awkwardness Sheppard turned to the other combat trained Lt still in the room,

“Scott!”

“Yessir?”

“Watch our six.”

Scott didn’t so much come to attention, as shiver his way upright, rattling off a textbook salute that would make a drill sergeant weep tears of disbelieving joy. Sheppard resisted the urge to sigh and stare at the ceiling, these kids were uncomfortably keen. Keen and green. He’d long since trained this perpetual need to salute and stand to attention out of his own troops. But this lot were only his to command on sufferance for the purposes of these damned exercises.

From the look of amusement on her face TJ had spotted his internal struggle, she was visibly suppressing a smirk,

“Johansen, dial the gate.”

“Yessir.”

Thankfully Lt Johansen wasn’t quite as green as the other two members of his temporary team, she’d maintained a calm efficiency throughout this course. Admittedly, her training wasn’t as combat oriented as the others, and the gaps in her knowledge showed at times. The young woman was a medic, she’d apparently been contemplating trying to scrape the cash together to earn herself a medical doctorate before the assignment to Stargate Command had come for her. Sheppard hoped all the members of his team would make it in the programme, they were good kids. (Christ didn’t that make him feel old? They were kids, and they all looked like they were approximately twelve.)

They stepped through the large plywood arch that was the ‘gate’, Scott still guarding their backs as they made it through to safety.

The lights went up suddenly, and a slow clap echoed through the shack,

“Well done Team 3. You successfully completed the mission.”

Sheppard’s three lieutenants all looked extremely pleased with themselves. Sheppard cautiously eyed up Colonel Reynolds, he sensed a ‘but’ coming along there.

“Colonel Sheppard, how did you know you’d made the device safe? You correctly identified that it was boobytrapped. Lt James there is your explosives expert. Why didn’t you delegate? Furthermore, Lt James, why didn’t you offer your leader your expertise?”

Sheppard eyed up James’s expression of angry sick fear, and interjected,

“James, would you have felt comfortable disarming this tech?”

Predictably she shot him a nasty glare, eesh, she did not need to prove herself to him, this was not a dick waving contest, Sheppard stepped in,

“Look. …Sir. I’ve got a lot of experience dealing with jury-rigged tech. I knew what I was looking at.”

Reynolds didn’t look appeased, but he nodded tightly to concede that he saw John’s point. Reynolds took a theatrical step backwards and signalled that he wanted Sheppard’s own assessment of his team. John turned to James, and put on his best leading the troops voice,

“Lt James, you’re a fine soldier. Major Teldy speaks highly of you, and I agree with her assessment. However, you need to keep a cool head, and remember, doors and corners.”

John turned to face TJ, he never could quite bring himself to call her by that nickname,

“Tamara, you’re a fine med tech, if you decide to continue in the SGC, or go on to do that medical degree I’d be happy to back you. Though I’m honestly not sure if my word’s worth much round these parts.”

He met Matthew’s gaze and tried not to show the kid how much his youth scared him,

“Lt Scott, you handled yourself well, and I’m sure you’ll continue to pick up the skills you need quickly, going by the rapid progress you’ve made this month.”

James looked cautiously pleased, TJ merely nodded, and Scott? Matthew Scott beamed. John held back the urge to gape at the kid. He was so young. Had John ever been that wet behind the ears? John shifted uncomfortably and decided to undercut the squishy moment,

“I hope my turn leading the team wasn’t too onerous for all of you to bear.”

James gave him a wry grin at that, all four members of the team had each been given a week to play leader. James’s stint in lead had been a bit like following along behind Ronon’s plans; almost entirely cleaning up behind her, she could be frighteningly competent when she decided to put her mind to it. Scott started to protest loudly that Sheppard was one of the most competent CO’s he’d ever had the pleasure to serve under (like the kid had a clue what made a good officer at this stage), and TJ smiled quietly back at John, before exchanging a look with James.

Yeah. They were good kids.

Reynolds looked satisfied.

“Remember, you’re all to meet at the visitors’ level of the SGC tomorrow at 0900. Trainee Team 3. Dismissed!” Just before John could escape, Reynolds quietly said, “Colonel Sheppard, a word please?”

John held back a sigh and nodded to his team of kids as they filed out.

“You know, John. That exercise was designed to be deliberately impossible to win.”

Really, a Kobayashi Maru? John carefully didn’t let his opinion of that show on his face,

“Huh?”

“Yeah, you see, with the amount of knowledge we’d given the recruits, they weren’t supposed to be able to disarm the alien device.”

“Oh.”

“It was an exercise to see how they’d cope with a loss.”

“Ah. Sorry.” 

Reynolds gave John a wry grin, “No worries Colonel. We’ve got plenty of data from the other three weeks.”

John barked out a short laugh in response, hoo boy, yeah, the week following Scott’s lead especially had been… Interesting. If it weren’t for the fact that John had been painfully aware that he’d get them all failed by taking over, he’d have been tempted to let his AFSOC training shine through and run the ops for the kid. He certainly knew that James had been tempted, despite Scott technically outranking her both in reality and for the purposes of the exercise.

 

 

Master Sergeant Greer discretely stared at the back of Colonel Sheppard’s distinctly non-regulation hair as he mooched down the hallway, everything about the man screamed that he couldn’t give a damn. That walk, that slouch, the way his uniform was improperly bloused, the way the man hadn’t even bothered to properly tie his own laces.

The rumours surrounding the Atlantis CO had been circling for years, lackadaisical crop duster, unwilling soldier, disgraced black ops pilot, badass. Ironically it was his fellow marines who had the most complementary things to say about the guy. It was a large part of why he’d always made it a point to respect the guy’s rank, if nothing else. If Sheppard’s marines were to be believed the guy was no Telford, no unnecessary weight throwing to be found here. Of course, the opposing opinions mostly came from his fellow marines too, they were usually the ones repeating the more uncomplimentary scuttlebutt the loudest. Black Mark, killed his CO, coward who’d been in Antarctica by choice when there was a war on, only got his position because he’d been screwing Weir.

Greer… Well, Greer was willing to wait and see. Ronald was well-aware that Landry disliked the guy. Landry disliked him too, so that was at least one thing he had in common with the Atlantis CO.

If nothing else Greer knew the guy was burning the candle at both ends, he’d leave at the crack of dawn for those stupid training exercises they’d forced them all through and head up to the meeting levels during the nights. Still, the guy’s hair was ridiculous, if the idiot wanted to go around skirting regulations when there were so damned many brass on base there was no helping him.

 

 

That evening’s IOA meeting was just as interminable as Sheppard feared it would be. Carl Strom especially was an obstructionist, power grabbing jerk. The whole room was filled with political movers and shakers from all corners of the world, Sheppard was sure if he looked down, he’d find his gun glowing blue in the presence of so many bureaucrats. Camile Wray seemed alright, well, for a member of the IOA that is. But she wielded no real power. At first Sheppard had thought the HR rep was a new Chinese Representative, and had almost embarrassed himself, but Shen Xioayi had marched into the room, and given Strom a death glare.

The internal politics and infighting would almost have been amusing, were it not for the fact that these assholes held the fate of Pegasus in their hands. Seven weeks. The Expedition had been stuck on Earth for seven whole weeks already.

Oh, the first few days had been enjoyable… he supposed. The temporary week’s grace period when he’d gotten the opportunity to take Teyla, Ronon, and McKay around San Francisco had been kinda fun. Kanaan had made all sorts of weird faces at the junk food and the crowds, even though John had taken care to ease them into the idea of the sheer number of people you’d get in a large modern city. They’d gotten all sorts of weird toys for Torren, including a whole bunch of stuff Rodney had insisted would help the kid’s brain develop. Amelia had vanished with Ronon for an afternoon, they’d both come back grinning secretively, weighed down with shopping bags. The huge amount of stuff they’d brought back had eventually turned out to be a truly excessive number of knives and other weaponry, to John’s secret relief. They’d pulled their disappearing act right next to the sex shop end of the Castro District, and John’s imagination had been running rampant given the shape of some of their packages.

The time-wasting introductory section of the day’s IOA meeting rolled to a close, practically the same people attended every meeting, you’d think they’d all know who each other was by now. John settled in for another evening of trying to appease the politicians, Carl Strom said something outrageous,

“Well, it’s clear to me Mr Woolsey, that the scientists at Area 51 should be allowed to take away whatever they like from Atlantis base now that it’s safe in Earth’s hands, and do the research that the Expedition was supposed to be carrying out from day one.”

“With all due respect Carl,” Woolsey countered, in a tone that said he meant anything but, “You’ve read the reports, I know you have. Do you really want scientists with no real idea of the risks involved turning things on willy-nilly? Think of the supposedly innocuous device that turned out to make people explode. We lost good people that day.”

John couldn’t keep quiet, “How about the foolhardiness of taking apart yet another perfectly intact piece of Ancient architecture and transporting it to Area 51?” John looked into Strom’s cold shark-like eyes, he narrowed his gaze, taking on the expression that some of his Marines had assured him still made Genii run away weeping like little girls, “You do remember what happened last time you did that right?” John did his own shark impression, with a toothy, unamused grin, “I had to clean up the mess. A huge chunk of Nellis base is still molten slag. And we still don’t know if the Command Chair is intact under all that rubble or if your last orders destroyed this planet’s best line of defence.”

There was an exclamation of outrage, and the squabbling started. Sheppard had long since given up trying to play nice with these assclowns.

Oh, he knew he’d surprised them all with his political manoeuvrings, Sheppard had made great use of catching the IOA on the backfoot like that to get all sorts of concessions out of them. Being one of the majority shareholders at Sheppard Industries, and keeping that fact very quiet, meant he’d been well-used to dealing with political sharks that were even less inclined to part with cash than this lot, before he’d come of age. Case in point – the Daedalus, and Caldwell were still assigned to patrol Pegasus. There’d been talk of withdrawing even their presence in the early days.

However, they’d eventually wised-up to the fact that he knew how to handle himself in a meeting and were back to trying to scuttle Lantis. John had resigned himself to the fact that even if he did manage to save the Ancient city, it was likely he’d never get to see her as a member of the SGC again, let alone the man in charge. He fully expected to be out on his ear back in Big Air Force before all this was over, possibly even at some posting that was even more of a punishment than Antarctica had been intended to be.

Strom opened his fool mouth and got going on yet another rant,

“I fail to see why the people at the Pentagon have been turning a blind eye to your dangerous willingness to risk the lives of everyone on Earth by continuing your presence in Pegasus…”

John bit back the urge to snap at the man and let Woolsey field that one. It was going to be a long night. He met Wray’s eye with a wry grin, and let the argument wash over him. She at least looked mildly sympathetic, Xiaoyi’s voice cut through the moment like a knife,

“Speaking of which, what are we going to do with your Wraith Colonel?”

His Wraith?

John’s heart sank. Strom’s eyes fairly glittered with greed, he added his usual infuriating two cents,

“An example of a being that is functionally immortal. The progress to human medicine could be invaluable.”

Aw crap. John had been expecting this line of discussion to pop up for a while. Queep, it was always the same. Though John figured he was stretching the definition of the term when these damned meetings directly pertained to the fate of Atlantis. He’d hoped he’d have a few more days until they realised Todd was in a weird, he wants to eat us, officially he doesn’t exist, and he isn’t human, so does he even have rights, limbo.

It was going to be a really long night.

 

 

At 0900 the next day Sheppard was waiting impatiently in the conference room up on level 6. Within the levels of their section of Cheyenne that non-SGC personnel were cleared for, level 6 was a weird mixture of high security staff that were also mostly people not in the know about what was going on downstairs. Up here it was all genuine NORAD personnel, and big Air Force - Sheppard kept getting odd looks for his lack of rank insignias, and his hair.

If it weren’t for the fact that the checkpoint staff all knew him on sight Sheppard might have been in trouble for a moment when an angry looking Major looked to be on the verge of saying something about his black garrison uniform in the secondary lifts up to the surface. Thankfully the Marine MSgt manning the level 11 checkpoint, Greer, had the wherewithal to interject with a pointed,

“Good to see you this morning Colonel!”

Interrupting the officious looking junior officer before he could get started, but eesh. This was why Sheppard didn’t leave Pegasus when he could help it. Mitchell, the closest thing the SGC had to a soldier’s soldier had given Sheppard a respectful nod at the level 6 checkpoint. He’d been heading in the opposite direction, down into the mountain, and since Mitchell at least seemed to pass muster in the Major’s eyes, any further complaints he might have had were quieted.

Sheppard would be grateful when NORAD finally moved out of the upper levels of the SGC’s section of the mountain and over to Peterson. It had been due to happen late last year, the secretive section of the Cheyenne Mountain Complex that they were buried in finally being given over fully to SGC operations. However, between the chaos in the aftermath of Atlantis’ splashdown in San Francisco, Area 51’s aerial bombardment by Wraith, and general bureaucratic stonewalling, the timetable for the move had been set back by at least three months.

Sheppard stifled a yawn, and took a moment to regret some of his less than diplomatic phrasing in his AAR on yesterday’s exercise, he’d still been wired after the unproductive IOA meeting last nig- well, alright, this morning, and might have vented some spleen when he shouldn’t have. Eh, it was fine, he hadn’t yet submitted the paperwork, he could rework it. With a cursory knock on the door, Sheppard let himself into the smaller meeting room and looked around. Up here it was obvious NORAD had a bigger budget to spend on the niceties than within the SGC proper, Sheppard hoped they didn’t gut the place too badly when the time came. That’s assuming the SGC hadn’t kicked him out on his ass in the meantime.

Part of him was still waiting for the other shoe to drop, and for the brass to finally get fed up of him and kick him back to Big Air Force. Sheppard was well-aware that no one was grooming him for a senior officer’s position; he’d been military commander of Atlantis for long enough that they’d have reason to turf him out on the basis of time served at one duty station alone.

The meeting in the conference room with Reynolds was an odd one, understandably all the young lieutenants were visibly excited. Even Johansen, who was usually remarkably cool under pressure, looked nervous. But up here Reynolds really couldn’t say much, just issue them the security passes that allowed them basic access to the SGC levels.

John had raised an eyebrow ironically at Reynolds for all the pomp and circumstance, they both shared the clearance level for free reign in the most sensitive sections of the SGC. But at the lieutenants’ ages, new assignments, especially plum roles in highly classified, special access projects like the Stargate programme were still a pretty big deal.

“Good morning people. Nice to see you all bright eyed and bushy tailed on this fine day.”

John did not roll his eyes at the ironic tone in Reynolds’ voice, it was hardly his fault the IOA meeting last night had run until four in the morning. He’d taken a leaf out of McKay’s book, and eaten a couple of pro-plus pills, as well as his usual coffee and two plain slices of toast at breakfast in the mess. It wasn’t quite as effective as the non-FDA approved uppers that Carson would occasionally give them in the First Year when things had gotten dire, but he no longer felt like he’d fall asleep any second.

“Now you’ll all be getting the basic tour, before we ship you off to the Alpha site.” Reynolds eyed Sheppard’s gear approvingly, and gestured with his casted arm, “Look to your leader people, he’s already fully kitted out for going offworld.”

Sheppard really hoped Landry had been kidding about the alpha site stage of the training. He was needed here to keep the IOA wolves at bay dammit. But signs were not looking good if Reynolds’ was anything to go by.

James eyed Sheppard’s equipment speculatively, while TJ started asking about what medical equipment he thought was needed beyond the mandatory gear for offworld activity. The mismatched group started making their way down into the mountain, or in Sheppard’s case, back down into the mountain. Scott was trailing along behind them, looking starstruck at even the boring equipment housed in the NORAD section of the complex.

They were just about to start their basic tour of the SGC facility, starting with the less sensitive half of Dr Jackson’s lab on level 18, when the Unscheduled Offworld Activation alarm sounded. The three LTs all jumped, but John had spent enough time wandering the halls of the SGC lately that the noise of the sirens barely rated an acknowledgement these days.

Reynolds’ lifted his hand to his radio, and listened to the chatter on the other end, a concerned frown growing on his face.

“On my way sir.”

John blinked, sure he was on the outs with Landry, the way he’d just spent the last month was proof of that. But surely? If it was an all hands-on deck situation?

“We’ve got a foothold situation people.”

Immediately Scott volunteered, “Sir we can help!”

Sheppard tried to read his fellow Colonel’s expression, squinting warily when Reynolds wouldn’t meet his eye. Dammit, Shep knew that Reynolds was one of Landry’s, but really? Was this any time for politics?

“Reynolds…” Sheppard bit out, “Is now really the time to play the popularity contest the brass keep trying to push on us?”

He resisted the urge to gesture towards the broken arm, but his fellow colonel seemed to get the message. An unreadable expression flickered across Reynold’s face, there and gone again so quickly that if he didn’t know better Sheppard would have thought he imagined it. As it was Sheppard bitterly contemplated his ongoing unpopularity with the brass, even now all these years, and several world-saving events, later. With a look that wasn’t capitulation, Reynolds told them,

“Floors 27 and 28 are already inaccessible. General Landry is missing. It looks like Colonel Mitchell has been compromised but I don’t have any more info.”

The two colonels fell into planning what they’d do once they got down there, by necessity Sheppard agreed that it was better that they split up, though he didn’t like it,

“Look I get it. Better operational security if you head up and secure topside, then head back down. It’s fine. Just make sure the Pentagon don’t get it into their heads to blow us all up okay?”