‘No! Leave me alone!’ Mer screamed out and shoved at the hands gripping their flesh. They just needed it to stop, please let it stop. They punched out wildly, hitting flesh and hearing a groan.
‘Mer, it’s okay, it’s okay, you’re having a nightmare again,’ John carefully pulled away from Mer until they became more conscious, then ran gentle hands along their shoulders, soothing. He thought the lights on dimly.
Fuck, John’s nose was bloody, dark red dripping over his more-salt-than-pepper stubble.
‘Oh god, John I’m sorry, your nose –’
John put a hand up to his face and it came away streaked with red. ‘S’nothing.’ He wiped the blood away with a hanky. ‘See? Just a drop of blood. Mer, just come here.’ He pulled Mer close and gentled them, like he had done pretty much every night for a while now.
Since Belinda Riley’s hearing date was set, in fact.
They stayed like that for a while, but Mer was now restless. The temptation to get up and go to the lab was strong, but they had promised not to bury themself back in work. They had to deal with what was happening or it would never get easier.
‘Want hot chocolate?’ John was getting practised at this.
‘Put on some Trek or Dr Who and I’ll bring it through in a sec.’ He kissed Mer’s forehead and ruffled their hair, and Mer thanked god for John yet again. Even in the midst of the trauma, they could once again connect to the solidity of this, of Mer and John and their years together. So different from the disconnected, suicidal feeling they’d had after their kidnap.
Cocoa was one of Lantea 3’s main exports, along with coffee, so there was never a shortage of it, and Mer had got used to the plant milk they mixed it with – the only animal milk to be had in the galaxy was the sour kind that tasted like yak’s milk or maybe goat’s on a bad day. John had a good stock of Pegasus spices and knew how to add just enough to elevate the hot chocolate to something approximating heaven in a cup.
Mer was about to set a TNG episode playing when they heard the door to Selin’s room crack, and a murmur of voices. They padded out into the living area. Selin and Ronon had been woken by Mer’s screams and then lured by the hot chocolate. John had encouraged her to sleep in her own room, that connected to Ronon’s adjacent apartment while Mer was having nightmares, but of course they couldn’t protect her completely. She came over to her Pa and gave them a big hug. Mer pulled her slight frame close, ran fingers through her wavy brown hair, stroked her golden skin.
‘I’m okay, Comet, just a bad dream. Good excuse to get Da to make chocolate.’
‘My nightmares didn’t start for a half-year either, Pa. And I hardly ever get them now.’ Her big brown eyes were calm and solemn. Mer constantly had to remind themself that her wise, mini-adult persona was not the sign of an old soul or future guru but borne of deep trauma. And maybe they related to that, just a little, remembering back to the too-serious, too-bright kid they once had been.
‘I know, Sel, and thank you for reminding me. It gets better, huh?’
‘Of course. And then sometimes stuff happens. Digs it up again.’ Now she looked sad and it made their heart ache.
‘Yes. I’m learning that.’ They pulled her closer.
‘When that horrible woman gets what’s coming to her, maybe the nightmares will start to get better.’
Mer swallowed. There were just too many unknowns – what the adjudicators would decide, given infinite possibilities, and what would happen next was too much to think about.
‘Cross that bridge when you come to it,’ John said, putting a cup of chocolate into Mer’s hand with a kiss to their forehead. He bestowed another hot chocolate and a kiss on Selin before going back for his and Ronon’s drinks. Ronon inclined his dreadlocked head, amused and expectant for his kiss and John brushed his lips on the taller man’s forehead with a soft smile, stroking back the short dreads with a gentle caress.
‘Tonight,’ John went on, ‘we’re going to have some chocolate, talk only about safe, middle of the night things, and then it’s straight back to bed.’
The scent of chocolate and spice soothed Mer, making them take a deep breath where all the preceding ones had been hypervigilance-shallow. They sank onto the sofa, pulling Selin close. John settled on the arm, his fingers scritching through the loose curls that fell against Mer’s neck. Ronon sat on the beautifully carved and iron-bound Manarian chest they used as a coffee table, his ankles resting against Mer’s protectively.
Belinda Riley’s hearing seemed like it was taking Mer right back to square one. They continued to wake up screaming, reliving every second of the torture they endured at the hands of her Genii lackeys.
Who had never been brought to justice, despite Ladon Radim’s empty promises to hunt them down with the extent of his resources. And despite John’s own not inconsiderable efforts. The knowledge that those bastards remained at large – not just the torturers of his spouse, but the people responsible for two hundred murders on Jalik – ate at John in ways he’d not had to sit with since the wraith had been defeated.
Lantean justice was not adversarial, it took a form common in Pegasus, where events were laid out and examined from every possible angle, every statement measured and weighed. No cross-examination but a testing of the evidence piece by piece. It was a slow process with a selection of independent adjudicators examining everything in intimate detail.
The day they gave their testimony, John was virtually holding Mer up by the time the two of them got back to the apartment. Mer was ashen-faced and looked at least ten years older. John could almost see the bruises those bastards had left in the shadows on their face. It was maybe the first time Mer had told the full extent of what had happened, certainly the first time John had heard it all. He sank Mer down onto the couch, took their shoes off, lifted their legs onto his lap and wound himself round them like a vine. Just clung.
Not ever letting you out of my sight again. Not ever gonna let those fuckers hurt you again. The anger in him smouldered and sparked in a way that no Genii since Kolya had ignited.
Oddly, the more agitated John was, the more it seemed to relax Mer.
‘Honestly, John, while that military streak isn’t always my favourite part of you, it’s sort-of reassuring to have my own cross between guard dog, avenging angel and limpet right now,’ they said later in response to John’s angry glowers and refusal to let them out of his sight.
John didn’t say a word, just pulled them even closer and tried to breathe through the rocks in his chest.
That night, it was John who woke up screaming.
Priya, Chanis, and Mer had given their evidence. Today was Belinda Riley’s turn. Mer was expecting the too-familiar charm to be turned on, was convinced that somehow she would wriggle out of it.
Ghosts that had haunted them their whole life now crawled under their skin. Autistic folk don’t make sympathetic witnesses. A lifetime of people never taking Mer’s side, of other’s charm winning out over the blunt truth.
When Riley came onto the courtroom, Mer was unprepared for their reaction. They had last seen her as she was taken away when they arrived back in Atlantis more than half a Lantean year ago. Seeing her poised, cold face had Mer shaking so hard they could barely hold themself in their seat. John grabbed them close and held on tight.
‘Belinda Riley,’ the first adjudicator said, ‘this hearing is to determine if you were responsible for the detonation of a nuclear device on the Planet of Jalik, that led to deaths of two hundred and four people and the destruction of the planet’s ecosystem. You are also accused of the kidnapping Dr Mer McKay, Dr Priya Mirchandani, and Myll ta Chanis Galn, as well as the torture of Dr McKay. We will hear your opening statements and then proceed with questioning.
Riley held the eyes of the adjudicator confidently, and Mer wanted to punch her.
‘Thank you, adjudicator. I wish to apologise for the lateness of the statement I am about to make, but I was not able to speak up until now. New information brought to me means I am in a position to now confess. I was involved in the conspiracy that committed the crimes you just listed. I was one agent and not the instigator of these crimes, however I was fully involved and fully culpable. I will accept whatever justice you believe is appropriate for me.’
Mer felt themself go lightheaded. John’s grip on them tightened. It was almost impossible to process what Riley was saying. The woman continued as if she was talking about the weather. Fucking psychopath.
‘In addition, I wish to make an offer.’
Here we go, she’s going to try and wriggle out somehow.
‘In recompense for my crimes, and in return for some considerations regarding sentencing, I am offering my services in bringing down those higher up who were responsible for these atrocities. Moreover, I believe, after discussions with Governor Emmagan, that I may be able to provide key intelligence to assist in the liberation of Earth.’
Mer looked across at Teyla and felt fury as her calm eyes gazed back at him, impossible to read. They had known enough betrayals in their life, but there were a handful of people they would trust with absolutely anything. John. Selin. Ronon. Priya. Chanis. Radek. Carson. And, until that moment, Teyla.
An all-too familiar nausea swept through them. They needed to get out of here, to not be looking at Riley, to not see Teyla’s dispassionate face looking at them. People were still talking, but it was all echoey and vague in their head. They needed to puke until everything was out.
They rose hurriedly and John jumped up, grabbing and steadying them as they swayed from sudden dizziness. Shit. The floor was tilting and the world was greying out.
‘I think you should just stay away,’ John snarled at Teyla as she made it to Mer’s side as quickly as Carson. She simply inclined her head and withdrew, and just for a second John hated her for her airtight composure.
‘I think I should give them a sedative,’ Carson said, and John nodded – Mer was coming round but their breathing was erratic, their movements agitated, their pulse rapid under John’s fingertips as he cupped Mer’s neck. Carson must have been expecting this because the shot was to hand and administered swiftly, and then he was radioing control and asking them to beam the three of them home.
‘They’re better off waking in their own bed. They’ve seen enough of the hospital.’ John was grateful to Carson for understanding this, for breaking his usual strict protocols. With their current level of beaming tech it wasn’t as if he couldn’t be there in seconds if needed.
In a familiar flash and burst of static on his skin, John materialised in the corridor outside their apartment. Mer was sat up in his arms, but barely aware. Carson helped him get his sedated partner into bed and then dragged John into the living room to speak with him privately. John didn’t want to leave Mer’s side, but Carson clearly needed to talk to him.
‘Do you need anything yerself, lad?’ Was not what John was expecting to hear first.
John just shook his head mutely.
To kill Belinda Riley with my bare hands. To scream at Teyla. To punch the wall really, really hard.
Impulse control wasn’t John’s strongest suit, given his ADHD, but he had at least learned ways to avoid the dented walls and damaged hands of his youth.
‘I know we all thought this hearing would give Mer some closure. And I know you’ll be scared fer them right now. But they’ve come a long way, John, and we’ll help them get through this.’ Carson squeezed his arm, and only then did John realise he was shaking.
‘John, are ye sure I can’t get ye anything?’ His friend asked, but John still didn’t trust himself to speak. It felt pretty wild inside his head right now. He just shrugged.
‘Okay, I’m gonna send Ronon home, and ask Jeannie to take Selin fer a bit. And ask Martin to check in on Mer when they’re awake, if they want it. Now go be with Mer, John. Get some rest yerself if ye can.’
Carson pulled John into a hug that he didn’t feel and left. John flew back to Mer’s side, crawling onto their enormous bed and pulling himself close to his spouse. Mer was dozing, but fitfully, and they looked like they were having a fight in their sleep. The age lines on their face had transformed into furrows of worry.
John couldn’t bear to see them go through any more pain. That asshole Riley had unravelled their happy lives and now one of their closest friends had helped her evade justice. It wasn’t that he couldn’t see the bigger picture, it was just that right now, he didn’t care about the bigger picture. All he cared about was Mer and what this would do to Mer.
‘John.’ A gruff whisper from the cracked door sometime later announced Ronon’s arrival. John still couldn’t trust his voice, didn’t know what to say anyway. Ronon came in, producing one of those sort-of incense sticks from the market on Belkan, the ones that got you a little stoned. He lit one on the dresser and the delicate smoke began to weave its scented way through the room. Ronon crawled up onto the bed and gave John one of those insistent Ronon hugs that you couldn’t help but feel all the way through you. John just about managed to croak out a ‘thanks’ and scrubbed hard at his face as if he could wipe away the pressure building behind his eyes.
Ronon arranged them carefully so that he was spooning John and John was spooning Mer, and miraculously Mer seemed to settle, either from the effects of the incense, the sedative or from drawing Ronon’s steadying energy through John. Seeing Mer momentarily relax took John’s threat level down the tiniest of notches and he sighed.
‘What the fuck happens now, Ronon?’
‘We rest. Figure it out later.’ Ronon squeezed him in a don’t argue with me sort of way and John subsided. At least he knew how to take rest in the middle of a war zone.
He just never saw the possibility of Teyla Emmagen doing a deal with the enemy.
Nana Muezero once again looked around the sparkling city with pride. Members of its growing population strolled around in ease, still staring slightly dazedly from a combined sense of wonder and recent trauma, dark eyes and brown skin turned upwards to the sunlight bouncing off towers and spires. She had seen faces like this a quarter of a century ago in her own country, and she knew that given all they needed, these people could rebuild their lives and thrive.
She knew the man heading across the square towards her, but not his companions, an older man and a grey-blonde woman who may have been his age, or perhaps a little older. The man himself was approaching fifty, his rugged face tanned for a white guy, his body muscled, hair shaggy, glasses ever so slightly askew.
The three stood out on this planet, the only white people here.
‘Doctor Jackson, it is good to see you again,’ Nana held her hand out, palm up, a gesture of greeting that everyone here had now adopted. There was a conscious effort to create new rituals, to make this a place of fresh starts.
‘Nana, it’s great to be back.’ Daniel returned the gesture, smiling his usual hesitant smile, and turned to his companions. ‘Allow me to introduce my partner, General Jack O’Neil, and his other partner, General Samantha Carter.’ Both the Generals were in the dark blue uniform of the UN Space Corps.
‘Generals, it is an honour. Welcome to BP6-3Q1. Or should I say, welcome back.’
‘Call me Sam,’ the blonde woman said.
‘Call me Jack,’ the burly, white-haired man said with a smile, almost in sync with his partner. He was as big a presence as his legend warranted, still hale and strong despite his years. ‘And it’s good to be back. Considerably less bugs this time round, I’m pleased to see.’
‘I understand your last visit here more than twenty years ago nearly led to the infestation of our own world.’ Nana had heard the story, along with many others that had filled her with fury at how the Americans played god with her homeworld. But she did not blame the man in front of her for this, nor was there room any more for anger at the past. She was too busy helping build the future.
‘As you see, the creatures that devastated this planet ran out of food long ago and became extinct,’ Nana continued. ‘It is good that the UN deduced that would happen and decided to risk a return. And General Carter’s photographic memory for gate addresses was fortuitous. It is the perfect planet for a new Earth colony.’
‘Oh trust me I only remember the scary ones,’ Sam said, then her face turned more serious. ‘Nana, we need to know if the planet is ready for a bigger influx of people.’ General Carter had a serious face and big, adorable eyes. Nana had already been warned not to fall for Sam Carter’s charm, the woman was fierce – not ruthless, but hard as nails since her own country betrayed her and she was exiled offworld. If their goals meshed, then Sam was a good person to be alongside. If they didn’t . . . well, Nana had to remind herself this planet was independent, not the UN’s property. That was the first condition the interim council insisted on.
The second had been to ensure there were no refugees from this planet out there waiting to return home. Planetary records, though, showed the creatures had guarded the stargate and prevented any leaving. The demise of this world had been swift, terrifying and absolute.
‘What’s coming could make the rescue efforts in the Mediterranean and elsewhere look trivial.’ Sam finished, but this was nothing new. This was what they had all been preparing for, after all.
‘We are ready for anything. I and my team are all Rwandan.’
Daniel turned to his companions. ‘Rwanda is an incredible success story. Twenty-five years after one of the worst genocides in history, they are one of the more successful countries in Africa, with a female majority in parliament and a thriving, corruption-free economy.’
‘I actually knew that, Daniel,’ Jack said with an eye-roll. ‘And I know the work Nana has been part of in Rwanda and elsewhere to reduce corruption and improve justice and human rights.’
Nana smiled patiently, wondering when the nice white men were going to stop splaining her own life to her. They left her a gap, and she jumped into it, with a slightly apologetic smile from Sam. She was warming to Sam, despite her caution.
‘It was important to ensure this planet started on a platform of full empowerment and freedom from outside control. As such, we have very strict rules that are quite the opposite of those on Earth. On Earth, money crosses borders easily while people cannot. Here, there is complete freedom of movement. All are welcome here, and all who are here own an equal share in the planet’s resources, while they remain. But wealth cannot leave this planet, nor can outside wealth be brought in. This way, we hope it will never be attractive to greedy people.’
‘Cool,’ Jack smirked, ‘although we’re obviously hoping you’ll barter for some of those rich naquadah deposits you’ve got going on.’
‘In time, we may, but presently we are purely about making our new citizens comfortable and prosperous. Your people bring us more daily from various covert rescue missions using cloaked scout ships. Syrian refugees, mainly, who are trying to cross the Mediterranean, and Yemenis, but also Rohingya Muslims and even some Mexicans whose lives were at stake crossing the border into the US. Among others. And my people have brought refugees to safety from Sudan, Nigeria, Cameroon, Somalia, and LGBT people from Uganda, among other places.’
General Carter smiled at her, ‘the UN will do anything it takes to make sure BP6-3Q1 and its citizens thrive.’ Nana believed her – this project could not afford to fail. It was the line in the sand Earth needed to shake its history, just like her own country had shaken its past.
‘Are we still calling it BP6-3Q1, really?’ Jack complained.
‘Yes,’ Nana assured him, ‘until we have a more stable population it feels like we are merely custodians. When we are an entire people, we will find our name and our purpose. Although a few jokers have been calling it Wakanda.’
Carter and Daniel both went to explain the Black Panther reference to Jack, but he rolled his eyes again. ‘I know, guys, jeez, I’ve been sleeping with geeks for twenty years, it rubs off you know.’
Nana smiled. She reckoned the General, despite his age, would be handful enough for the two of them.
‘Now, Generals, perhaps you would be so kind as to tell me the real reason you’re here? The UN does not send in high ranking military, even semi-retired military, for a discussion about homing refugees.’
Daniel raised his eyebrows to Jack, and Jack looked at his feet for a minute, before launching into the UN’s very secret plan.
They had tried their hardest not to let Selin be affected by the rift with Teyla. But she was a smart kid, she knew what was going on. And she was a caring kid, so of course she wanted to fix things. Then there was the fact that she was bff with Charyn, Teyla’s youngest, and the two girls were constantly in and out of each other’s homes. They weren’t going to allow their adult conflict to affect the girls’ friendship.
But watching this mini-Teyla glide around their apartment with all the same grace and poise as her mother made Mer’s heart ache.
In the weeks following the hearing, they had come to terms – sort of – with what had happened. They could see the big picture, understand there were larger fish to fry. More was at stake than their own need for closure here. It didn’t really change the fact that Teyla had let them walk into that hearing and be blind-sided. Didn’t change the impact it had had on them – or John, for that matter, or Selin. So, they had all picked themselves up and gone back to working alongside each other, in fact working on the very plans that were emerging from Belinda Riley’s intelligence.
But there was no point in pretending they were friends anymore.
‘Mother is very sad,’ Charyn said to them earnestly one day, Selin at her elbow as if egging her to speak. Her intonation was as formal as her mother’s, quite unlike Torren’s casual Lantean hybrid dialect.
Tough tits. Mer bit back an acerbic comment. Tried for something gentler. ‘We’re all sad, Charyn, but I’m not sure there’s much we can do about it.’
Selin had a determined look on her face, though. ‘You always tell me to talk things through with people, Pa. But you haven’t spoken to Teyla about this.’
Mer had promised themself a long time ago there would be no “you’ll understand when you’re older” bullshit in this household. This wasn’t about Selin not understanding, this was about Mer not being capable of having that conversation yet. But at least Selin was making them admit this.
They put an arm around each of the girls. ‘I appreciate you both trying to help. I’m just not ready to talk, not yet.’
Priya and Teyla had insisted John and Mer come along for this meeting, and the atmosphere was . . . uncomfortable.
John hadn’t seen Mara since her clumsy seduction of him back in ’05 (Earth’s ’05, that is), but Mer’s scary ability to recall every one of his phoney “Kirk” moments just added to the general awkwardness of the situation. Looking back, John could only credit himself with an impressive ability to fool himself and everyone else into thinking he had ever had a remote attraction to the vacuous blonde noblewoman. Or indeed any other person of her gender.
And here she was, somewhat older, not noticeably wiser, and despite the Lanteans’ efforts to institute democracy on her world, more or less running a dictatorship alongside her brother Tavius.
And now word had gotten out that there were ZPMs on offer, her interest in John, or at least his gene, was suddenly renewed.
‘Yes, it’s true that a ZPM is available to your world,’ Teyla was saying carefully, ‘but I think perhaps you missed the detail – the ZPM would belong to everyone, and we cannot hand it over until we have assurances that you will not use the ZPM to power up this facility and once more oppress your citizens.’
‘You took all our drones,’ Tavius drawled wearily. ‘And the ships.’ Teyla raised one eyebrow at him quite sternly. ‘Traded for them, I mean obviously,’ Tavius corrected himself.
Ok, but John wasn’t going to tell them what else a city-ship, even a very damaged, grounded one, could do.
‘Oh, for heaven’s sake, it’s obvious!’ Mer said, their growing agitation throughout the meeting finally bursting out in a way that John still found more endearing than he should. ‘The facility is no use to you, but it is to us. Lease it to us, let us see what we can salvage, and I’m certain we can make sure all your people benefit. Let’s face it, we’re not going to hand over a ZPM to you while you control this technology, given what you did to your own people with it last time.’
‘Mer, I think you’re jumping the gun a bit,’ Priya sighed. This was a version of her and Teyla’s endgame, but Mer had just skipped past hours of negotiating.
‘They are right, though,’ Mara said firmly, her eyes suddenly snapping into focus. ‘You’re not going to give us the means to power this facility. Well, this spaceship.’
Huh. All those years I practised my vacant act and I still can’t spot it in others. John almost-smiled at Mara, which earned him a sharp look from Mer.
‘Very, very broken and permanently grounded spaceship,’ Mer corrected.
‘Yes, I acknowledge it would take more than a miracle for her to fly again, Dr McKay.’ Mara went silent, looking thoughtful. ‘And admittedly we haven’t the skills or the strong genes or the ZPMs to do much with the facility ourselves. So it seems our only choice is to negotiate, much as I might condemn the high-handedness that prevents a people from using what is rightfully theirs.’ Mara had transformed before John’s eyes. He almost liked her, and wondered idly if perhaps he’d seen something in her all those years ago after all.
‘Thing is, Mara,’ his drawl was slower than her brothers, ‘we can do it that way if you like. Make sure that everyone on the planet has equal rights and access to the facility. Only that’s going to cause a lot of conflict.’
Mara sighed. Priya interjected.
‘Though Dr McKay has not been fully briefed on what we can offer,’ she said with a stern glance at her friend, ‘they are right that we think the best option is for you to lease us this facility, and apprentice some of your people to learn to handle the technology. What is essential to us is that you understand this equipment, and the ZPM you are going to receive, will belong to all of your people, equally, and cannot be used by some of you to control others.’
Mara took a long look at Priya, then Mer, before finally resting her eyes on John. ‘You would do this, if you were us, John?’
‘Hell yes.’ He tried to give her a reassuring smile, but the look on Mer’s face wasn’t getting any happier.
‘Tavius?’ Her brother just shrugged.
‘Okay, I think we can come to an agreement in principle. We’ll have to see what your terms are, of course, and also have some flexibility in terms depending on what can be salvaged, but I have one condition of my own. That John Sheppard oversees the handover process.
‘Now wait a minute, you hus-’ John grabbed Mer’s arm before they completed that word. He hadn’t seen Mer this jealous since they last bumped into Larrin. It was sort-of cute, but Mer was seriously blowing the deal here. Still, he was so going to make Mer forget about their jealousy later.
Mara, however, only smiled. ‘Your husband’s virtue is safe, Dr McKay. I learned many, many cycles ago that I do not have what it takes to sustain his . . . interest.’
John’s ears went pink. No man, however queer, likes to hear his inability to perform announced like this. Hell, he’d given her great head, what did she want from him?
Oh. Yeah. She’d been after seed and the store had been well and truly closed for business.
‘Anyway, Dr McKay, I’m assuming you will be here also, to see what technology can be salvaged. You should bring your daughter and have a holiday. We have beautiful beaches not a day’s walk from here. The waves are a bit high, but the landscape is wonderful.’
John felt his surfer senses come online at that comment and he looked excitedly at Mer, who just frowned. Maybe it would be good to be off Atlantis for a while. Selin was bright enough to catch up with missed school and this would be a chance for her to experience a very different world and culture. The security was going to be a headache with these scheming elites, but it might be just what they needed. If Mer would go for it. He looked pleadingly at his spouse, who was clearly caught between a smile and a scowl.
‘If you think you’re teaching our daughter to surf, John Sheppard, I’ve got news for you.’
Mer, John and Selin came back to Atlantis in time for Belinda Riley’s sentencing hearing. The break offworld had done them good – even though it had been hard work they’d taken Ronon, Jeannie, Caleb and the kids, and Torren and Charyn too, and made some sort of a holiday of it, albeit much of it under a nuke-proof shield that flattened the waves to a millpond, much to John’s disgust. But after Jalik, they weren’t taking any chances. And John had snuck out and caught a few waves, though Mer had absolutely drawn the line at him teaching Selin on the twenty-foot breakers. It was good to watch the habitual tension in John’s body loosen slightly with his still-fluid moves on the board.
It had been weird spending time with TJ and Charyn without Teyla there, but Mer felt like perhaps there was a little healing happening. The nightmares had stopped, and the anger was less like an oversized monster following them around and more like a small, bitey critter lurking in their gut.
They weren’t sure whether things would ever go back to the way they were, but their feelings towards Teyla were softening, and one day they may even be able to talk with her about it, as they’d promised Selin.
It turned out that Riley had done a number on all of them. Mer should’ve known, really. Teyla was as close to spitting feathers as Teyla got when she spoke at the hearing.
‘I wish state for the record, as I have said to you in private,’ Teyla’s voice was brittle as glass. ‘I made no offer to Belinda Riley. While it is true I was in discussion with her, she was trying to manipulate the process by claiming she had negotiated some sort of amnesty. That does not mean I have not been guilty of keeping her victims in the dark that I was in talks with her, but I would never have sought to come to an agreement with her about her fate, circumventing this legal process and the needs of her victims to be involved.’ She shot Mer a look of deep regret, and Mer nearly – nearly melted.
There was a lot of talking. Riley wriggled and manipulated, dangling intelligence like carrots before them all, selling the fact that she could go on record, bring people to justice that were higher up the chain. By now, Mer and John also knew there was another informant on Earth, close to the US president, just like Riley had been, but still in place. With cooperation from the two of them, they could bring down the US government, or what passed for a government these days.
On the other side of the discussion, in a world that did not have a prison system, there was what to do with a terrorist. They were a new world but one with deep roots in many cultures. Lantean justice tended to be creative and mostly effective – but there was no precedent for this, and the whole galaxy was watching what happened here. They weren’t going to accept an amnesty for Riley merely for the benefit of the people of one planet in another galaxy, the very planet that had caused the attack. Not when so many Pegasus planets had been affected.
After a recess, Riley was taken out, and the adjudicators proposed a sentence that had taken weeks to negotiate among the various victims. Mer, Priya and Chanis, as well as the many representatives of the Jalik victims, were formally asked to consider it.
It met with almost unanimous approval.
When the hearing reconvened, the spokesperson for the adjudicators laid out Riley’s sentence:
‘Belinda Riley, the crimes you participated in are unimaginable, and there is no method in existence to make reparations for the lives taken or harmed by your actions. This is what this hearing has decided is necessary for justice to be done as much as it can be. You will have all your assets seized and converted to appropriate currencies to offer some compensation to the Jalik victims. Beyond that, you face two options. Should you cooperate with testifying against all those involved in the Jalik terror attack, you may remain in the Pegasus galaxy. If you do, you will be expected to engage in a process of restorative justice in relationship with your victims for as long as it needs to take, and you will be given protection from US operatives. You will not be in custody, but you will be continuously monitored. Should you refuse, or cease to cooperate, you will be returned to Earth, and subjected to the Earth justice process that is to come regarding the wider context of the Jalik massacre and Dr McKay’s kidnapping.’
Returned to Earth would mean certain death for Riley, and she knew it. She chose restorative justice in Pegasus without hesitation, but her eyes were full of fury and her face was pale.
Good, thought Mer, relieved to see the stone-cold woman was actually suffering. John squeezed their hand, scanning their face with attentive concern.
‘I’m okay. Really,’ Mer told him, amazed to realise it was actually true.
Jack O’Neil watched as the rings sliced the air in front of him, and an old friend materialised in their midst from the cloaked scout ship in orbit. He really was beginning to look his age – long, crinkly hair that was seriously grey now and muscles that were corded, but still impressive.
‘Teal’c, buddy!’ He embraced his friend unselfconsciously, staying for way longer than the requisite length of a man-hug.
‘It has been too long, O’Neil,’ Teal’c’s ever-composed face almost cracked a smile.
‘A couple of Earth years. How goes it with the Free Jaffa?’
‘We have brought an impressive army to the rendezvous, O’Neil, and thirty-two Ha’tak vessels, well stocked with gliders,’ his smile widened.
Ah, that’s the Jaffa I know and love, straight down to business.
That wasn’t quite what I meant, buddy, but good to know, good to know. But how are you?’
‘I am well, O’Neil.’
‘Whoa there, buddy, don’t overshare!’ Jack rolled his eyes and Teal’c raised one eyebrow back at him.
‘You look well also, O’Neil. It seems married life agrees with you.’
‘Which one?’ Jack was just about over his embarrassment being open about his polyamory. ‘They both keep me on my toes, but you know Daniel’s the one that’ll always make trouble for me.’
‘You would not have it any other way, O’Neil.’ Teal’c shot him a knowing look, and Jack felt completely owned. God, it was good to see his old friend.
Teal’c looked up, then, to the huge bulk he had not yet acknowledged.
‘She is a thing of beauty, this ship.’
Jack scanned her curves proudly. She should be, he helped design her alongside Sam. Sick of the ugly, boxy space freighters that the Asgard handed down, the Rwanda was something else entirely.
‘Sure is, and she’s everything you want in a defence vessel,’ he said proudly.
‘The Space Corps has a new jewel in its fleet.’
‘Oh no, my friend, what’s built on Wakanda belongs to Wakanda.’ Damn, he wished they would name this planet, because Wakanda was sticking, and it felt a bit unprofessional for an elderly General to be quoting pop culture.
‘But they will lend her to the cause?’
‘Teal’c it’s their cause more than anyone’s. That’s why we had to give them this.’
And maybe, if they were very, very lucky, the Rwanda would be enough to turn the fate of a whole planet, and possibly two galaxies.
John’s knuckles whitened round his beer bottle as the two of them watched today’s news from Earth. He looked at Mer, whose face was thunderous.
His own brother, there on screen, shaking hands with the US president (or fascist-in-chief, as Mer called him).
The Al Jazeera reporter narrated: Calls for the president to declare his business interests have once again been met with silence from the White House . . .
John thought “off” at the TV in disgust. It was nothing new. His brother, the president, and all the other billionaires were a nest of vipers, doing just what they pleased. Earth reporters barely knew a tenth of what they were up to and reported even less.
But Mer’s kidnapping, the atrocity on Jalik . . . the president was neck-deep in that, and seeing his own brother shake hands with that man . . .
‘I’m sorry, Mer.’ He really didn’t know what to say, but had never felt more ashamed of his blood, and that was saying something.
Jeez, Mer was angry. They were almost vibrating with it. John stilled, unsure what to say.
‘I, um . . .’
‘Sorry,’ they said again, part fury, part incredulity.
‘Mer . . .’
‘Seriously, Sheppard, what the fuck do you have to be sorry for?’
Oh. ‘But . . .’
‘Listen,’ Mer grabbed him kinda fiercely, ‘I want to murder your president with my bare hands . . .’
‘Not my president,’ John introjected.
‘Well, the president of your birth country, then. And I would definitely give that brother of yours a good kicking . . . more, depending how deep in this he is. But Jesus, John, I can’t imagine what it’s like to see the kid you used to climb trees and play checkers with up there schmoozing with the mouthpiece of all evil.’
The look was one of compassion, not judgement, and that damn near broke John. He suddenly realised that Mer was just as angry for John as they were for themself.
Amid the anger and worry John felt a wave of love for his spouse so fierce it almost surprised him. He didn’t have words for any of the several things he was feeling, so he returned Mer’s fierce grip with his own and nuzzled into their neck, breathing them in until his heart settled once more.
Mer put the TV back on, but found some old, old Dr Who on the drive. John relaxed against them, letting the earlier angst slip away. Mer continued to hold onto him tightly, and John realised with shock that something about them was changing. Mer was getting stronger again, they no longer felt like they could break apart at any moment. John was drawing strength from them right now in a way he hadn’t been able to in a while. It felt good.
Kinda sexy, too.
He speculatively traced his finger along Mer’s thigh and was gratified to elicit a groan from Mer.
Not just me, then.
One second they were watching Tom Baker fighting a big green rubbery thingy and the next Mer was wrestling him onto his back on the sofa and pinning him down. John went from semi to rock hard in a nanosecond. Mer straddled him, pinning his arms above his head, easily these days the physically stronger of the two of them. They plundered John’s mouth with the usual McKay focus and intent.
John just lay there happily and took it.
‘Can I restrain you?’ Mer asked when they pulled back, a little breathlessly. Their blue eyes were hungry, raking over John like he was chocolate.
‘God, yes. Please,’ John bucked up into them at just the thought of it. They hadn’t done any bondage since Mer’s kidnap. For obvious reasons restraint had ceased to feel sexy to Mer, on either side of the equation.
Mer pulled off John’s T-shirt and use it to skilfully bind John’s wrists together above his head. John tested the bindings but as soon as he felt they were secure he relaxed by a disproportionate amount. This was something he’d only ever had with Mer, someone he could trust so deeply it was possible to completely let go. For him, it was the sensory feeling of restraint that really did it for him sexually, but knowing he was totally safe in another’s hands? That did amazing things for his heart.
Mer pulled off the rest of his clothes but left on their own, straddling him again across the thighs and reaching to stroke down his front, raking hands through his ample chest hair, teasing around his groin and avoiding his hard cock.
‘God, you’re beautiful,’ they said a little dreamily. John’s body had lost so much of its condition, his body hair was greying, his stomach a little flabby, but when Mer said it, he believed it.
‘Kiss me?’ He pleaded, and Mer settled themself across his chest, pressing him into the sofa, and attacked his mouth with biting kisses. John thought he might just dissolve into the sofa beneath him if this got any hotter.
Mer pulled back, shifting to one side so they could tease John’s nipples. ‘So, what am I going to do with you? Been wanting to tie you up for a while now. Properly, I mean, not just your wrists, but your whole body restrained, just the way you like. Been thinking about that chest, too, maybe not today but maybe someday . . .’
They were looking at the Manarian chest that Ronon had gifted them. It stood about two-foot-high by three long and wide in the middle of their sitting space, acting as a coffee table or extra seating when needed. On each of its sides it had three sturdy, hinged iron handles that lay flush to the beautifully carved wood. It had been a regular feature in John’s fantasies ever since it made an appearance in their living room.
‘God, yes. Please. Now.’ John was almost ready to come just thinking about it.
Mer’s eyebrows went up. ‘Really? You sure?’
‘Only if you want to,’ John said carefully. He didn’t want Mer spooked, not when they were making progress here. Mer had been sexually assaulted while in restraints, and for a while through intensive therapy there had been a lot of times they were triggered back to that. But John also understood that Mer was healing. Reclaiming this was a part of that process.
‘I want to. Fuck, I really want to.’ Mer’s eyes were all pupil and their voice was shaky with desire.
‘The President wants his briefing at eleven hundred. Do we have the report on this miracle ship yet?’ The new defence secretary had barely been in post for a week, but these folks were as interchangeable as the corrupt old figureheads at the top of the pile. To the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, they were all just playing at power. He had spaceships and planes, drones and armies at his beck and call, and he told them where to point them.
‘I’ll be informing the president that our operatives have come through for us. We don’t know the location of their new ship but we know the specifications. They dug up an old Ancient City Ship, just like Atlantis, in Pegasus. It isn’t spaceworthy, but they’ve managed to transfer a lot of the tech. And they’ve also installed a stargate that will supersede ours.’
‘Just one ship?’
‘One like this, yes. They’re calling it the Rwanda.’ Bloody PC UN types, he thought privately, still unsure whether the time had yet come when he could say such things out loud. But it was coming, thank God. The world would be washed clean. ‘The Rwanda is backed up by most of the UN fleet and a hefty Jaffa contingent – they’re leaving enough back to protect Atlantis, if you were thinking of doing an end-run, though.’
‘I was thinking of stopping the spaceship that’s heading for Earth to take control of our stargate and perform precision drone attacks on strategic military targets. Stopping the armada that’s hell bent on neutralising our fleet. Because for the first time, it seems the Space Corps has us outgunned.’
‘True in theory, Sir, but for two things. One, we have the specs of the Rwanda and know her weaknesses. We’re confident we can prevent her from getting to Earth and we will have dedicated cloaked scout ships tasked with disabling her. She’ll be a very impressive floating piece of space junk when we’re done with her.’
‘And the rest of the fleet?’ The defence secretary looked dubious, but really, what the hell did this upstart from nowhere know about anything?
‘We have a secret weapon. Because we know their rendezvous and their course, we’ve been able to effectively mine an area of space we can draw them into. They won’t be expecting us to go out to meet them, but rather to engage them here in our own solar system. We’ll take the fight to them, and they’ll have to work reactively. We don’t anticipate a problem manoeuvring them into the minefield, and we don’t have to engage the mines until their fleet is locked in.’
‘You seem to think you have it all sewn up.’
‘We sure do sir. Our intelligence is good. We know the names and locations of every vessel in their fleet. It’s going to be expensive, and there will be casualties, but we’ll annihilate the enemy.’
Cam and Evan had invited their Lantean friends to their favourite bar in the south of the city. It was a dark and chilled out place on the waterfront with a local band playing mellow tunes in the background while everyone got buzzed but rarely drunk.
It was no secret the couple were shipping out tomorrow, nor that most of the UN fleet was heading back to the Milky Way. They weren’t the only Space Corps troops in the bar drinking a quiet goodbye. The other Lanteans in the place picked up the mood; Earthers were a minority on Atlantis and theoretically the concerns of another galaxy did not reach them, but after Jalik all eyes had been turned that way, and though folk did not know exactly what was going down, they showed a sombre solidarity towards the departing Earth troops.
It was just John, Mer, Cam and Evan left in the place, and the hour was getting late. The mood in the place was sombre, a familiar night-before-battle vibe John knew only too well. Even though the fight was still a way off and the details of what and where and how were sketchy, it hurt something inside John to see his friends going off without him.
John was leaning against his former XO, arm round his shoulder reaching to grip Cam’s hand. He’d lost all the layers of defences he had when he was a battle-weary pilot. He loved these men, he didn’t want to lose them, but at the same time what was happening was monumental, and the sense of duty weighed on all of them equally. John would have his own part to play soon enough.
‘Hey, I just wanna say . . .’ he sighed. Just spit it out, Sheppard. ‘I love you guys.’
‘Sheppard, you’re drunk.’ Cam grinned, but there was affection in his eyes.
‘Nope.’ John said simply.
‘He really isn’t,’ put in Mer, who was scrunched up on John’s other side. ‘And I know this on account of the fact that he’s still awake. These days John’s inevitably asleep after his third beer. Second, if it’s Satedan. So, gentleman, he really does love you. And more astonishing still, he said it out loud.’
John felt his cheeks colour at this, but Cam was squeezing his hand hard and Evan was smiling softly.
‘Aw, we love you too, man.’ Cam said, ‘We love you too. S’gonna be okay, you’ll see.’
‘I think we should be telling you that,’ Mer said, clearly realising John had used up his words for the night. Mer eased a hand into John’s hair, scritching at his hairline in that way John loved, and it helped ease the almost unbearable ache John felt. This was definitely not the time to talk about how he was terrified his friends were going to die. This was not the moment to talk about Mitch, Dex or Holland, Ford or Elizabeth, or say how much his guts still felt shredded at those losses after all this time. He didn’t want to face any more. Couldn’t bear to.
He was getting old and his skin was so much thinner than it used to be. He was sure everything he was feeling showed on his face. Old soldiers were supposed to just get tougher, but John had never stuck to that script and didn’t really want to. He was pretty sure Cam and Evan were sick of the same script too.
‘To be perfect honest,’ Even slurred (okay, at least Evan was a little drunk), ‘I’m over fucking fifty, I’m way too old for this shit, and I’m terrified.’
John tilted his head towards Evan’s and let it rest there. There was nothing he could say to that. The four of them huddled together, letting the music and the beer wash over them.
Mer’s nephew Bradley looked shifty as he sidled up to the desk in Mer’s home office, where Mer was pretending to work but actually playing solitaire, feeling jittery about what was coming and unable to focus.
‘So . . . um.’
‘What is it, Brad?’ The boy looked nervous, his pale, grey-blue eyes not meeting Mer’s, his lanky hands tugging at the back of his shaggy, mouse-coloured hair.
‘I-wondered-if-I-could-get-some-advice,’ the boy forced out in a rush of words.
‘Okay, sure. Whatever you need,’ Mer hoped they sounded more confident than they felt – this was not a familiar situation. Why was Brad coming to Mer, of all people?
‘I thought you might be able to help me understand how two guys . . . I mean, I know you and John aren’t two guys, but I thought . . .’
‘Oh.’ Fuck. If Mer blew this Jeannie and Teyla would kill them. But hang on a sec, why hadn’t his sister and his boss, two incredibly competent women, had this talk with their respective sons already? Brad and TJ had been dating for a while now, and they were adolescents for heaven’s sake, horny was pretty much the standard.
‘Okay, okay. Let’s start by assessing what information you already have. What have your parents told you about sex, and I’ll fill in . . .’
But Bradley’s face was wrinkling in horror. ‘Sex? I don’t want to talk about sex! I know all about sex, and anyway we’re not doing that.’
‘Oh, okay.’ Mer let their breath back out and felt relief wash through them. ‘So what did you want to talk about?’
‘Talking. Communication. We seem to be . . . well, bad at it. Like, Torren doesn’t say much at all and I say a lot but never the actual thing that’s important.’
Oh, didn’t that sound familiar? Mer could feel themself floundering, because over the years John and Mer had got much better at talking but they weren’t sure they knew how that happened.
‘Are you sure you wouldn’t prefer to talk about sex?’ they asked, and Bradley laughed.
‘I mean, I can see it’s not easy for you two, that’s why I thought . . .’
But at that moment, to Mer’s eternal relief, John materialised in their living room, and ran to the study. He had that hyped-up look he used to get before going into battle, and before he could say it, Mer knew.
‘It’s happening. Get what you need together, McKay. Full meeting in twenty minutes.’
‘We should be going with you.’ Ronon hugged Mer and John with worried intensity before they boarded the puddlejumper. Teyla gave her usual Athosian forehead-touch and they both melted into it. This was no time for the resentment that still lay between them.
The goodbye felt worryingly final, and the parting with Selin some time before had been agony, even though they were mostly protecting her from what was happening.
‘Ronon, even if you didn’t need to take care of our daughter, you’ve both done more than enough for the people of Earth and suffered more than enough because of us,’ John said, grasping the man’s hand tightly. ‘We woke the wraith, brought them on the Athosian people, set the replicators on the galaxy, the Hoffan virus, Michael, Jalik . . .’
‘Neutralised the wraith, destroyed the replicators, killed Michael . . .’ Teyla said firmly. And now what you do in the Milky Way will hopefully mean an end to our fear of another Jalik.’
‘You mean, at least we clear up the messes we make,’ John said wryly.
Teyla smiled. ‘Yes, that is exactly what I mean.’
‘Teyla . . .’ Mer suddenly realised how small their concerns had been compared to all this woman had shouldered. How they all had simply expected her to absorb so much injustice and meddling, had taken for granted her serenity, her ability not to put a foot wrong. And now, she had messed up for the first time since he’d known her. Not activating a necklace that acts as a beacon to the wraith and annihilating half her people levels of messing up, not waking the wraith levels of messing up, not altering the base code of homicidal robots so they turn even more homicidal, not messing with wraith dna and creating an even more psychopathic kind of monster. Or indeed blowing up part of a solar system. Fuck, she had been trying to help their planet, and all the people of two galaxies and she’d been right. All she’d done wrong was to keep a secret.
Teyla grabbed their hands tight. ‘It’s okay, Mer. We will talk when you are home.’
‘But . . .’ they couldn’t leave it like this. ‘I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have . . .’
‘Yes, you should,’ Teyla said. ‘I was wrong, and I’m so very sorry for what I did. I had the right intentions, but I would never want to have hurt you that way, my friend.’
Oh god, now Mer was crying. They hugged Teyla again, and found John and Ronon piling in. For a long moment, their old team held onto each other. But they were on the clock and John knew it, pulling back, saying ‘Mer’ as softly as he could. All their eyes were wet and nobody cared.
They boarded the puddlejumper with Priya, who also had to be prized from Chanis’ arms, and in minutes they had gone through the automated procedure and gated from Atlantis without looking back.
General Samantha Carter stood on the bridge of the UNSC Kilimanjaro, her brow furrowed. It had been a long time since she had been in the thick of battle like this, but the enemy fleet, despite its smaller numbers, had manoeuvred them well into an ambush.
‘Banks, did we set off the transmitters?’ she asked her XO.
‘Yes, General, let’s just hope they worked.’
‘Teal’c,’ how goes it with the Jaffa fleet?’
‘It seems we are being compelled towards a particular area of space and cannot break free without heavy losses. I recommend regrouping when we have a better advantage.’
Jack’s voice came through as calm and dry as ever. ‘We’re way behind the fleet. I don’t think they’ve spotted us yet. Hanging back as agreed, though it bugs the hell out of me not to be in the thick of it.’
‘We need to keep the Rwanda safe, General; you know that.’
‘I know it, I’m just not sure how you talked me into being the guy who sits here watching you take our fleet into battle, and I want to remind you you’re only on the Kilimanjaro cos you’re still the best geek we have. Be careful out there, Sam.’ Jack sighed, and Sam had so much she wanted to say, but there wasn’t time to respond.
‘General, we’re picking up some kind of ordinance in the space around us,’ Amelia, her XO said, her voice urgent.
‘Options, Captain Banks?’
General Stephen Caldwell watched the opposing fleet get into formation from the safety of the bridge of his old ship, the Daedalus. Fortunately, it was obsolete enough these days that it did not need to be in the thick of things.
Everything was going exactly according to plan. They had manoeuvred the UN fleet into the minefield – all but the Rwanda. Stephen knew that people he had once served beside were probably out there – Sam Carter, Jack O’Neil, John Sheppard, Evan Lorne, but they were enemy combatants now, and he had a job to do.
‘Arm the mines, Captain Johnson.’ He felt only a small pang of regret, and no small thrill of victory as he watched the Captain set the deadly mines to detonate on impact. The UN Fleet would be decimated. He watched from his vantage point as the destruction unfolded.
‘Captain, what’s the delay?’
‘No delay this end sir, but . . .’ the young man studied his screen, typed hurriedly at his keyboard, then looked up in horror. ‘The ordinance is not receiving our arming codes. It’s like they’re . . . completely inert.’ The pale man was sweating, like he expected the world to cave in on his head any second.
‘Fuck’s sake, who’s the best tech we’ve got on this?’
‘Er, that would be me, sir. I don’t know what to tell you, the mines have simply . . . stopped working.’
‘General, we’re being hailed,’ said the new girl at Comms – Stephen still couldn’t remember her name.
‘Put them through, Lieutenant.’
‘This is General Samantha Carter of the UNSC Kilimanjaro. I am authorised to negotiate a ceasefire.’
‘Sam! Long time no hear. I take it disabling the mines was your doing?’
‘Stephen? Well, well. Yeah, something like that. Look, Stephen, I need to point out that our fleet outnumbers yours, and given we should be on the same side not fighting each other, what say we just step away from this before lives are lost?’
You should be on our side, not falling in with commies and aliens, Stephen thought privately. Aloud he said, ‘I’ll have a think about it, Sam. Can you give us an hour, and hold your positions?’
An hour would be enough time to complete their mission.
‘Sure, Stephen. Let’s not lose anyone today.’
Whatever. He cut the comm.
‘Captain, the attack on the Rwanda is a go.’
Jack breathed a sigh of relief when the mines failed to go off, thanks to the control codes supplied by their informant. So Sam was okay, but he also knew that now they’d be coming after the Rwanda.
He turned to Daniel and Nana, who was there to oversee what happened to a ship that was more hers than his, and to ensure agreements on its use were stuck to.
‘You might yet regret coming along for this trip, Ms Muezero. It’s about to get a little hot round here.’
The ageless woman just smiled serenely. ‘I assure you, General, I am used to the heat.’
The space around them was beginning to fill with cloaked scout ships and F-306s. The Rwanda had the hidden advantage of scanners that could detect the cloaked ships, another piece of Carter/McKay brilliance (he still disliked McKay, but they sure brought out Sam’s competitive edge, and the pair certainly got shit done together, as their joint Nobel attested).
The Rwanda had a second hidden advantage; a superior fleet of better-cloaked scouts, gliders and fighters that kept formation, waiting for the order to attack. One Jack really wished he did not have to give. A lot of lives were about to be lost, on both sides, and he really did not want to give that order. But there was no helping it.
Why didn’t I just stay retired? He thought for possibly the thousandth time, reflecting on the foolishness of having come out of retirement not once, but twice. He sighed. Here goes.
‘Shields up.’ The Rwanda’s shields were either impressive or overbaked, depending how you looked at it – they were impenetrable even to friendly beaming tech, unlike those of Atlantis and many of the newer generation of smaller craft. ‘Mitchell, begin your attack on the enemy craft, but until they fight back I want warning fire only and if that doesn’t get the point across disable, don’t destroy where possible, do you hear? I’m beaming into the control chair now.’
Jack hoped that the enemy would see they did not have the advantage and retreat, but he soon realised Caldwell was going to keep them in the fight to the bitter end. It was madness – the US fighters could not see their opponents, so they were effectively making a suicide run on the Rwanda. What a senseless waste, but they must not be allowed to damage this ship. Jack sighed and launched the drones.
It sat cold in Cam’s, gut to be picking off F-306 pilots, men and women he might well have trained. Cam was pissed that this had to happen at all, but that only improved his aim. The US squadron was already a third down, most of them disabled rather than destroyed, and now drone fire was speeding up their demise, but their attacks on the Rwanda were relentless. Well, he guessed they knew what was at stake.
Life as you know it needs to change, boys and girls. Oh, and other folk, he added, thinking of Mer.
The enemy had found a vulnerability, too. The Rwanda’s shields were weakening as the enemy fighters concentrated on one spot.
‘Attention UN fleet, the enemy is targeting one spot on the aft shields. Defend it at all costs.’ He headed further into the fray. On his readout, he could see Evan at his wing. His heart lurched with a mixture of love and fear for the other man.
Nearly made our 30 years together and still flying, he reminded himself. God, he loved that man, but he could never have given up flying for him, and turns out he never had to. It was ridiculous to be flying at his age, but the Space Corps was hard up, cut off from Earth in terms of recruitment if not intelligence.
He exhaled hard as he sped into the fracas, cutting a swathe through the enemy fighters and sending their formation scattering. Their side had taken casualties, but the other side were hit hard. There was a lull in the fighting as both sides regrouped, but they weren’t near done yet.
‘Cam,’ Evan’s voice came through the comm on a private channel. He sounded oddly calm, conversational, like they’d just rolled out of bed and he was offering coffee. It sent a cold chill up Cam’s spine to hear such a tone in this context. Something was horribly wrong.
‘What’s up, Evan?’ He tried to keep the tremor out of his voice.
‘I’m hit. It’s bad.’ So very calm. Cam knew that tone from long years of combat. It was the sound of someone who had run out of luck and knew it.
‘How bad, baby?’ He wanted to run to Evan, rescue him, but there was nothing he could do, no way of getting to him from his sealed cockpit. Their UN fighters were similar to the F-306, and just as risky if the pilot got into trouble.
Evan’s breathing came through a little laboured this time. ‘Injured. Life support’s fucked. Few minutes of air. . . if that. No propulsion.’
He had to try. ‘Any scouts out there? Evan’s in trouble.’ No answer. Fuck.
Back to the private channel. ‘Hang in there babe, we’ll get you out of this.’ The tears on his face let him know he was lying.
‘Not this time, Cam.’ Evan’s voice was weak, his breathing laboured. Cam was already losing him, listening to him die. ‘Listen . . . no regrets, okay? I love you. It’s all been . . . totally . . . fucking . . . amazing.’
‘I love you too, Evan, god, love you so much. You’re the best thing that ever happened to me. No regrets, baby.’
But all he heard back was static.
From the control chair, Jack could monitor all comms. He heard Evan Lorne’s last words and it damn near broke his heart. Senseless fucking waste. He remembered all the times he thought he’d lost Sam or Daniel and his heart filled with fury.
The already decimated enemy fleet was preparing for another run. It was time to stop this. He sent a powerful volley of drones their way, taking out at least half of them. Mitchell led the follow-up, a frenzied attack that finally had them running back towards the enemy position.
It was over. All that waste for a piece of pure theatre.
‘Patch me through to Caldwell and Carter,’ Jack said through his comm, his voice grim.
‘This is Caldwell,’ okay, Stephen sounded grimmer. Good.
‘Stephen, I’ve just killed way more Americans than I ever thought I was capable of, and I lost a lot of good men. This better be over, dammit.’
‘Jack, you know I can’t let you through. Not when you threaten our whole way of life. You head for Earth, we’re going to attack again.’
Way of life my ass. Corruption, lies and economic and environmental suicide. Geez, the brainwashing.
‘You’re outnumbered, Stephen. You’re gonna lose.’
‘We’ll only know that when we try,’ Stephen said, indefatigable. Jack almost admired him, but for the fact that the Daedalus was at the back of the lines and it was other men’s lives he was gambling with.
‘Okay, Stephen, just hang fire. I’ve no appetite for more death. Let’s see if we can’t talk amongst ourselves and come back to you with some sort of deal we all can live with.’
‘Whatever, Jack. We’re not going anywhere.’
‘Comms, cut the channel to Caldwell.’ He waited til he was sure the General was off radio. ‘So, Sam, how long do you think we can stall him before he realises he’s been played?’
‘I dunno, Jack, but the man has never been good at thinking on more than one track. I think that’s in our favour.’
‘We need to keep that fleet from Earth, whatever the cost. But frankly, I’d like it if the cost didn’t get any higher.’
‘Me too, Jack.’
‘We lost a lot of good folks today, Sam. Including . . . I’m sorry but including Evan Lorne.’
Sam went quiet. ‘Dammit,’ she said eventually.
‘O’Neil, may I trouble you for your time?’ Teal’c’s voice broke in over the other comm.
‘Sure, buddy, good to hear your voice. How goes it?’
‘I have had a quite satisfactory campaign, O’Neil, but I am requesting to land my scout ship immediately. I have passengers in urgent need of medical attention.’
‘Passengers? Pretty sure you didn’t come with passengers, T.’
‘Yes, O’Neil. I managed to beam a number of pilots from stricken craft into my holds. Separate holds, I might add, for each side.’
O’Neil held his breath. He didn’t want to value one life over another, but that lovers’ goodbye was still haunting him. Still, he couldn’t ask.
But Teal’c must have read his mind anyway.
‘Evan Lorne and a number of others are in urgent need of medical attention, O’Neil. Are you able to drop your shields?’
‘Shields dropping on my mark, buddy.’ Oh god, let him live. It wouldn’t compensate for the lives lost here today, but it would be something.
John was tingling all over from hours spent in the control chair, but they’d done it – they were coming into a geosynchronous Earth orbit, and this time they weren’t going to crash. The city hovered above the Earth like a beautiful jellyfish – only of course, nobody could see her with the cloak on.
Their sources confirmed the bulk of the US Fleet had moved out of the solar system to engage the Space Corps fleet. Their ruse had worked.
And this pile of junk had turned out to be spaceworthy after all, thanks to his genius spouse and an army of geeks.
Well, okay, so the star drive was pretty well fucked, presumably why it had been abandoned in the first place, but Teyla had been happy loaning the relevant components of the Atlantis stardrive to the cause. Mer still reckoned they would get this stardrive working eventually, just like they had brought everything else online.
Finding a second control chair had been the best bit – sending the spare to be fitted on the Rwanda had helped their campaign of misinformation no end. Sometimes, spies were useful.
The Pegasus was a fine ship, despite everything she had been through. John was reluctant to get out of the chair. He could feel a jitteriness under his skin, thinking about what was coming next. Returning to Earth with Mer after the last time was harder than he realised.
Without warning, he found himself beamed to the control room. He cast his spouse an angry glare as he slumped on the floor.
‘No time, Sheppard. We need to get this sewn up before the US fleet heads back this way.’ Mer ran down the steps looking weirdly unfamiliar and just wrong in the garb they had on, even though it brought back happy memories. He supposed it couldn’t be helped, given what was about to happen. It had been Mer’s choice.
‘It’s my only option, since somebody gave away all my other Earth clothes to refugees,’ Mer had said when they packed. ‘And I’m not going to have my words be lost because folk decide to fixate on my weird clothes.’
Well, inappropriately gendered clothes or not, Mer was still sexy as hell, and John was so fucking proud of them.
‘Is the stargate online?’ John asked. They’d fitted a stargate on the Pegasus just as they had on the Rwanda – one that would supersede the Earth stargate. If it worked, the US had just lost their gateway to other worlds, and Cheyenne mountain had become a very expensive bunker.
‘Of course,’ Mer sniffed, chin in the air – so much back to their old self that it gave John a bit of a thrill. This was quite like old times, as Mer handed him a tac vest and he clipped on his P-90.
Except it was weird, too, the headspace this gear put him into. Relic of a person he hoped he wasn’t anymore.
But they were going to save the Earth, again. That created a buzz of adrenalin underneath his skin. And this time it wasn’t even John’s fault it was endangered. Though he couldn’t speak to his family’s role in the current crisis.
Priya stepped forward. ‘We all know what to do. The world will be watching, and if we get this right, the tide will turn.’
She turned to Radek and Miko. ‘You two have a go. Well done to your team for securing the hack, Miko. Radek, you’re in charge up here. Come on folks,’ she looked at the group assembled before her, ‘Whatever happens, I’m proud of all of you. Transport us now, Radek.’
Shelley Valasquez was fed up of always getting the duff assignments. Here she was, watching the President of the United States play golf with one of his slick business buddies. There on the offchance that something interesting would happen, only it never did, because if something interesting was going to happen, they would not have sent Shelley.
They’d send someone blonde, or preferably male, she thought bitterly.
The most exciting thing that had happened all morning was Leroy, her technician back in the van reporting various odd bugs in his system. Meanwhile, Shelley and Mike, her camera guy, had walked about five miles trailing the president at distance, thanks to a vague tipoff that she didn’t really believe was from anything other than a bored teenager.
Thank god she’d worn sensible shoes. Not that her boss would approve of her footwear, because apparently to be able to inform the world of important events it was essential for a woman to wear high heels, however impractical. Shelley swore the sexism was getting worse.
Well, it was all getting worse, thanks to the likes of the two pale dudes knocking little white balls around a green field.
And then it happened. After, she often reflected on how quietly and casually reality had shifted before her eyes.
At first, she thought she was hallucinating, because well, you would, wouldn’t you? A group of people and an assortment of bulky objects appearing in a flash of light in the middle of a golf course? Hallucination. Except the other reporters who had clearly had the same tipoff as her were running excitedly towards the hallucination, so Shelley thought what the hell, if it’s a mass hallucination, she’s in. And thanks to her sensible shoes and the fact Mike had a track scholarship at university, she made it closest, quickest.
There was no time to talk to camera, because it was all happening. Half a dozen military-looking types in unfamiliar uniforms surrounded the president and his golfing companions and they were putting him in handcuffs. The president appeared to be shouting angrily but not a word he said could be heard, which was not even the oddest thing that was happening here.
One of the soldiers, a cute DILF with seriously non-reg salt-and-pepper hair, was arguing with the golfing buddy like they knew each other. They had an air of family or mortal enemies, Shelley couldn’t tell which.
But the bizarre thing – well, the most bizarre out of many bizarre things, was that the president’s ever-increasing security contingent were standing helpless a few feet away, and they couldn’t get to him. No matter how they tried, there was an invisible barrier between them and him. The lot of them were enacting some sort of Marcel Marceau tribute act as their hands pressed along whatever-it-was that was stopping them.
Shelley gathered herself and did a quick piece to camera, then checked Leroy had the footage of the original appearance, got him to edit it together and put it out. Whatever was coming next, this was probably the most amazing story to break in the history of oh, ever. And boy, did that old asshole look good in handcuffs.
‘Can everybody hear me?’ A voice rang out, loud and confident and true. It was clipped, and very upper crust British, but Shelley rather liked it. It was a bit confusing where the voice was coming from, like it was being broadcast through a high tech tannoy or something. Then she realised the rest of the group within the – bubble? (some sorta forcefield her sci-fi-watching brain supplied) – was separating, leaving one very dignified looking woman alone, speaking at a quickly installed podium, one with the United Nations flag draped over it.
Shelley was close to the woman, in the best position. ‘Are you hearing me okay?’ The woman asked, looking directly at Shelley. She had a striking face – probably of Indian heritage, with short, greying hair. She wore a no-nonsense tailored navy suit and a cream shirt. Practical shoes, Shelley noticed, and it made her like the woman even more.
Shelley nodded. ‘Yes, perfectly!’ she mouthed, riveted to the woman’s voice. The woman looked serene, collected herself, and said:
‘My name is Dr Priya Mirchandani. I am the newly appointed Secretary General of the United Nations, and I bring an important message to all the people of Earth. Today, we have arrested the President of the United States for a number of crimes. Complicity in terrorism and going into battle against UN forces without a declaration of war not least among these.
‘But what will come as the greatest shock to many is that the US government have, for decades, been concealing their use of alien technology and their ability to travel to other planets. What is perhaps most unforgiveable, they have had the technological solutions to many of the world’s most devastating problems for some time and have actively stood in the way of the United Nations implementing this technology for the betterment of all. But today, we stand at the brink of a new era. We have the means to initiate a technological revolution that will save our dying planet and end poverty. I would like to introduce to you Dr Meredith Rodney McKay, Nobel Laureate, and the person who has perhaps done the most to bring these alien technologies within all our grasps.’
A guy stepped forward. Shelley was reeling at what the woman said but took the chance during the handover to say a piece to camera, too shocked not to come over like the cliché she hoped she would never be.
‘Aliens exist! US president arrested! The world is about to change forever! You heard it first on Channel 85 News.’
The guy was preparing to speak, and already Leroy had done his research. In her ear she heard, ‘Dr Meredith Rodney McKay, two PhDs, joint Nobel Prize for advancements in theoretical physics in 2019, didn’t come to the ceremony. Apparently reclusive. Nobody’s seen the man in over ten years.’ Shelley repeated a version of this bio for her viewers.
She tried to form a quick impression. He was a broad-shouldered 50-something with wavy, thinning hair that was too long for the suit he was wearing. It made the light grey suit (or was it pants and a jacket?) not the hair, seem incongruous. It was a nice enough outfit, with a soft blue shirt that matched the man’s eyes, but it looked nearly a decade out of date, and a bit too casual. That seemed odd given the importance of the occasion.
‘Forgive my attire. I haven’t been back to Earth for a long time and I don’t have any other Earth clothes.’ This was clearly said for impact, and it worked. He had their attention.
The man looked nervous and somewhat shy, despite the air of arrogance about him. Shelley decided he’d be an interesting person to interview. She wished she would get the chance.
‘For more than two decades some amazing scientists have been learning about technology that is far in advance of our own,’ Dr McKay said. ‘They have been saving lives without you knowing it. Now, they are making your lives better. I would like to introduce three technologies that are going to be transformative to the people of Earth. The first is a publicly owned global information platform and signal network that is free of the stranglehold of the people who have kept this information from you for so long. Details of how to access this will be shown at the bottom of your screens.’
‘Leroy?’ Shelley whispered off mic.
‘He’s right Shelley, it’s coming up on our feed and that of the other networks here. But Shelley, that’s not all – they’re taking our feed and broadcasting it everywhere. Don’t get nervous, Shel, but there’s billions watching you.’
Shelley paled at that, but she really didn’t have time to think about it.
‘The second is transporter technology,’ the genius went on, ‘You saw us perform a Star-trek style beam-down here today, and we can make a similar technology available to massively reduce the pollution from transportation. But the final, and most important technology is a little thing called a zero-point module, or ZedPM.’
Aw, he’s Canadian! Though Shelley, and now she was beginning to think this doctor was kinda cute in a nerdy way. Not as cute as the DILF who was restraining a pointlessly shouting (but totally inaudible) president ten feet away while eyeing the geek with excessive fondness, but still.
‘With ZedPM technology we can provide the planet with all its energy needs at an incredibly low environmental impact. This will herald a clean energy revolution and should put a halt to global warming within a decade.’
Oh my god, this was huge – bigger than terror attacks, aliens and the rest. Her world was finally coming round to global warming but it seemed way too late. A solution was beyond imagining.
‘Which, by the way you could have done a dozen other ways if the political will had been there,’ the scientist went on. ‘But obviously this is going to change things, and a few very rich folk are going to have to move with the times and suck it up.’
Dr Mirchandani reappeared at his elbow.
‘Thank you, Dr McKay.’ The scientist looked somewhat abashed, and stepped aside, but Shelley had enjoyed his honesty. She decided she liked the guy, and she also decided that the DILF was probably his boyfriend. Cute.
Oh Shelley, you’ve been too long in the News gutters, scrabbling around for the human angle. This is too big for that, girl.
‘I understand that people will be frightened of the changes that are coming,’ the Secretary General continued, ‘and I want to reassure you all that this technology will be held in joint ownership by all the people of this world, meaning that now everyone has an equal share in this technology. This will mitigate the economic and employment changes that will inevitably arise, and the UN has spent a long time planning other protections and safeguards to support those most affected through these times. We have trialled this joint ownership method on other worlds, and it is most effective in increasing wellbeing and equality for all. All your lives will be better, and the planet will begin to heal before it’s too late.’
Dr Mirchandani looked round at the still shouting president.
‘Now, if you’ll excuse me, we need to secure our prisoner. We will be available in half an hour to answer questions from the UN Headquarters in New York, we’ll arrange transportation for you shortly.’
‘But we’re in Texas!’ Leroy exclaimed in her ear and then said ‘oh,’ as the people, the podium, the strange box-like device that must have been some sort of forcefield generator, the president and his businessman friend all disappeared leaving only a pair of bemused caddies and a team of panicking security crew behind them.
Shelley turned back to the camera, taking a deep breath. Now was her chance. ‘Well, this is truly a momentous day. If what we heard here is true, and the evidence of our eyes would suggest it is, we’ve been kept in the dark for a very long time. This feels like waking up from a long nightmare to a better world. This is Shelley Valasquez, channel 85 News, reporting live from the scene of the president’s arrest by the United Nations.’
She tried to keep the glee out of her voice, she really did.
John was happy to get out of earshot of the president. That man thought he could control everything with the power of his voice, and he didn’t stop. It was almost funny to see him suddenly so powerless, though John guessed, the way these things go, the guy would wriggle out of most of this somehow.
Including kidnapping and planning to kill Mer. His blood boiled at the thought.
He left the secure accommodations they had made for the president and strode down the hall to where the president’s buddy was installed. The guards on the door let him in without question. He strode up to the familiar face and threw a punch so hard it may have broken something.
But honestly, the pain felt good.
It would have felt even better if his fist had made contact with his brother’s smug face instead of the wall behind him, but John’s impulse control wasn’t that far gone.
To his credit, Dave was smart enough to stay still. He took a deep breath, dropping his eyes aghast to John’s bleeding knuckles.
‘John, I can explain. . .’ he put his hands out, pacifying.
‘I know you’re our informant,’ John said coldly.
‘Mum would be so ashamed of you.’ It was the most hurtful thing John could think of to say.
‘That’s a low blow, John.’ Typical Dave, ever the one to negotiate for better terms. Just like their father.
‘Low? Seriously? Just how bad did it have to get, just how much pure evil did you have to sign off on before it was too much for your conscience?’ John could barely look at him. Dave looked so normal, but the things he had done . . . the things every billionaire on earth had done, and the corrupt politicians that were in their pockets . . . how were these people still human?
‘Or do you even have a conscience?’ he added thoughtfully, ‘Is this you backing the right side, or is this you switching to the side you suddenly realised were going to win? Are you just blowing with the wind, Dave?’
‘No!’ Dave said fiercely, eyes blazing. ‘Look, I just did what everyone was doing, I didn’t see . . . didn’t know . . . hell, in my world there wasn’t much choice even. You have no idea how much it took to break free – what this will cost.’
John wondered if he meant surrendering part of his fortune or if he was thinking of his family, who were being taken into protective custody at that moment and would soon be beamed aboard the Pegasus.
‘You’re full of shit, Dave. You chose to swim with sharks and now you’re complaining they bite.’
‘Don’t give me all this sanctimonious crap, John, you grew up rich, same as me, you have a fortune sitting offshore, same as me. Your money has blood on it, same as mine. Least I own up to it.’
‘Huh. Folks like you really do believe everyone has the same fucked up morality, right? You couldn’t trace my money, so you thought it was offshore.’ But okay, maybe not so very long ago, John could see he’d been part of the same machine that had Dave caught.
Still. Times had changed. ‘I gave it all away, Dave. That money was gonna do more good in other pockets than mine. Money corrupts you. And you chose to let it happen.’
‘Bro . . .’ Dave looked confused and scared. John had never seen him look like that before. But he wasn’t ready to give a shit.
‘Fuck you,’ he said, but something was hurting in his chest. ‘I understand you’re coming back to Pegasus with us, unlike that pile of shit two doors down, but don’t think you get to be my brother.’
He stalked out of the room and strode down the corridor towards the control room, only to feel his skin tingle and be surrounded by the light of the second unexpected beaming of the day.
‘Hey!’ he said to Rodney, trying not to fall over from the momentum of his previous pace.
‘Two minutes! Jesus, Sheppard it’s like herding cats with you today, did someone turn your ADHD up extra high?’ Mer’s voice was snappish, but their eyes were saying something else entirely.
John actually considered this possibility, given the throb in his hand and the way he was surreptitiously struggling with the fastenings on his vest. He was certainly off-balance today.
But he just pouted. ‘I could have been in the head.’
‘You weren’t. I know where you were, and we’ll talk later.’ Mer gave him a quick kiss and then in seconds they were in New York.
That’s when the merry-go-round really got going.
After New York, they beamed to the UN Offices in Nairobi and after that they were in The Hague. By the time they returned to the Pegasus they’d lost all concept of time and the space lag was intense.
‘We all need to rest,’ Priya said, ‘but I want to tell you all how grateful I am for such a professional group of people. I’m proud of you all. Now go get some sleep!’
John and Mer lingered til everyone else was gone, and then Mer sidled up and gave Priya a hug. ‘You’re amazing,’ they said. Priya sagged against them. ‘Really? Because this whole thing is blowing my mind. Throwing your homeworld into chaos is a power I never wanted to wield.’
‘If people are sleepwalking off a cliff, you have to wake them up.’ Mer said, and John nodded.
‘Oh Mer, I don’t know what I’d have done without you today.’ Priya took Mer’s hand and squeezed it tightly. ‘Your ability to cut the crap is just what the situation needed.’
Mer’s cheeks pinked a little. ‘Really? Because when you said “professional group of people” just now, in my head there was an “except for Mer” tagged silently on the end. I was sure I was performing awkward and inappropriate autie rather well for most of the day . . .’
‘There’s nothing wrong with being obviously autistic. You did good, Mer. Tell them, John.’
‘S’true.’ John used his undamaged left hand to stroke Mer’s neck reassuringly.
Nobody had yet noticed he was injured, and he was too embarrassed to say anything.
‘Oh, you’re biased.’
‘Take a compliment, McKay. Both of you – you’re incredible.’ Not for the first time, John felt inadequate next to the people in his life. It didn’t make him anything but grateful to have them, though. Even though once they’d got out of enemy territory, he’d exchanged his vest and gun for a suit and had a speaking part in the ensuing meetings, he wasn’t going to pretend he was in the same league as Mer or Priya.
‘Folks, it’s time for bed. Thank god they fed us at that last meeting. We need to be in Geneva at 11.00 local time.’
‘Night Priya.’ Mer kissed her goodnight, and John followed suit.
They retired to a room that had obviously been a royal bedchamber, though thankfully not the one Maya had seduced John in so many years previously. Like much of the Pegasus, it was decorated hideously in that medieval-meets-regency style that its recent tenants had adored.
Mer shrugged their jacket off. ‘Do you think it’ll be safe to go shopping in Geneva? At the bare minimum I’m going to need a new shirt.’
John crowded up to them, touching the soft blue fabric he’d been forcing himself to leave alone all day. Mer’s eyes looked extra blue in that shirt, just as they had on the day of their marriage. John had very happy memories of this particular garment on their wedding night.
‘You know, this isn’t really very you, but that doesn’t mean it’s not kinda hot seeing you in your wedding outfit.’
Mer leaned in for a kiss, slow and searching, but then pulled back and pinned John with those bright blue eyes.
‘So. When were you going to tell me about why you went to visit your brother and came out unable to properly use your right hand?’
John blushed. Of course Mer hadn’t missed his little incident. ‘Erm . . . ADHD impulse issues got the better of me?’
Mer rolled their eyes. ‘Please tell me you didn’t punch him?’
‘Wanted to,’ John said sulkily. ‘The wall seemed like a more sensible option.’
‘Jesus, Sheppard, sometimes you’re such a cliché. Was it the gun and the uniform that reconnected you with the notion of expressing your feelings through physical violence, or is it just being back on Earth?
‘Do we have to talk about this? I kinda have other things on my mind . . . like helping you sleep . . .’ John clumsily unbuttoned Mer’s shirt and started kissing his way down their chest.
‘What, you’re going to blow me to avoid talking about your feelings? How very 2005 of you.’
John winced, and this time it wasn’t his hand that was smarting. He couldn’t disagree – it was like he’d defaulted to the man he was before he’d ever set foot in Atlantis. Mer was right, he was seriously off-balance. And what was weirder, Mer wasn’t. Mer was the one returning to the planet he’d been held when he was kidnapped, Mer was the one speaking on camera to billions of people and getting misgendered across the globe.
‘How are you not freaking out, Mer?’
‘Wow, you are a piece of work, John Sheppard. We are talking about you.’ Mer managed to look both pissed and fond in equal measure. ‘We’ve talked about me enough to last a lifetime this last year. Tell me what’s going on.’
John sighed. What was wrong with him? He felt unsettled and so, so angry, but he wasn’t sure it was really at Dave, or the president. Kinda felt like it was more with himself. He sighed. Yeah, that was it.
‘I acted like I’m better than him,’ he finally confessed, ‘but what makes me so angry is that I’m not. I mean, maybe on paper I’m a little less evil but I think that’s just because of the company I keep. And I’ve turned a blind eye to a lot of bad stuff in my life when it wasn’t in my interests to see it.’
‘Well, maybe that’s true of all of us – that we’re only as good as the company we keep,’ Mer said thoughtfully. ‘I know I’m a better person for having been around people like Teyla, Ronon, Elizabeth and Priya.’
Mer seized John’s good hand. ‘The thing is, John, you make me a better person too. You’re good company to keep. And maybe your brother’s going to need that company to detoxify himself.’
‘Oh, because I’m the paragon of non-toxic behaviour,’ John said, waving his damaged hand.
‘Hmmm. That wasn’t a good example of much of anything other than a tired, keyed-up ADHD person not managing their impulse control.’
‘With a side-order of toxic masculinity thrown in.’
‘Well, true.’ Mer conceded. ‘But don’t forget that the only reason we were able to do this, the only reason Atlantis wasn’t lost to the Americans was that you took a stand back in 2012, against the military and against the whole culture you’d been raised in. That was quite something.’
‘And if it wasn’t for the wake-up call you gave me . . . if it wasn’t for what you taught me about myself, Mer, I never would have.’ John realised, not for the first time, just how much he owed, just how much a lot of people owed, to the person standing in front of him.
‘That’s kind of the point, isn’t it?’ Mer cupped John’s face and looked at him earnestly. ‘We’re both here because we’re more together than we are separately. We make each other better.’
‘Maybe you’re right,’ he admitted finally, putting his left hand over Mer’s.
‘Of course I’m right. And I think you and Atlantis will be good for Dave. And the girls are going to be freaked out and mad as hell, they’re going to need all of us – Jeannie, Maddison, you, me, Selin, Brad. Tell me you’ll at least try to work things out with him?’
‘You know it’s not him I’m mad at. It’s the fact that it could have so easily been me. Is me, in many ways. If I hadn’t had ADHD, if I’d been straight, if I’d fitted, hell even if my hair had been more tameable . . . what if I’d never felt like an outsider in their world? What if I never looked at the world another way, Mer? And what have I still not looked at that I should?’
The fleets arrived in orbit a little after 6am GMT. John and Mer were already up, having been warned an hour ahead of time by the long-range scanners. Both UN and US Fleets arrived side by side, and there was little damage to be seen. No sign of the Rwanda, though.
‘Hello Pegasus, this is the UNSC Kilimanjaro, we request permission to beam aboard with General Caldwell of the US Fleet.’ Mer would recognise Sam Carter’s voice anywhere, and it gave them as much joy to hear it as it gave them displeasure to hear the name Caldwell.
John looked up at Priya and she nodded. ‘We’re synching the frequencies now, Kilimanjaro, you have a go.’
Sam, Jack O’Neil, Daniel Jackson, Teal’c and a very angry looking Stephen Caldwell materialised in front of the gate. Mer smiled – this was obviously just an excuse for an SG1 reunion trip, but they didn’t begrudge it. So many times they missed the way John, Teyla, Ronon and themself had worked together as a team, even if now they were family.
Sam hugged Mer and John, and there were friendly handshakes all round. Even Jack made an effort with Mer, though his dislike still showed through. Mer didn’t blame the man – Mer had made an unrecoverable first impression on the guy, but it was a long time ago.
They repaired to a meeting room that had been a banquet chamber. A huge solid wood table ran the length of it, incongruously surrounded by plastic chairs – the previous tenants had only taken the more moveable furniture.
Jack briefed them on the battle, looking sorrowful at the losses, and sending daggered looks at Stephen.
John was listening with increasing concern. ‘Cam? Evan?’
Jack looked sombre and Sam put a hand on his arm. ‘Evan’s in bad shape, but they think he’ll make a full recovery in time, John.’
Mer could see John’s breath catch, ‘And Cam?’
‘Has gone back to BP6-3Q1 with Evan, on the Rwanda. They have a state-of-the-art hospital there. He’s in good hands,’ Sam assured him.
John let his breath out slowly. Mer thought back to John’s long recovery after his chopper crash – stuff like that wasn’t easy on a relationship, but the two men had been through a lot worse in their time. They squeezed John’s hand under the table.
‘Anyway, this brings me to our ceasefire agreement, which was that the Rwanda would return to BP6-3Q1, and the rest of us would come to Earth and negotiate a way forward with the politicians. Stephen graciously agreed to join us for initial talks, but I don’t think he was expecting this. I take it your guest is secure?’
They all nodded.
‘Okay, Stephen,’ Jack went on, ‘here’s the thing. The US president has been arrested for a number of crimes, one of which was giving the order for your fleet to attack the UN Fleet without declaring war, or any hostility on our part. Unless you want to call coming to our own damn planet hostility.’
Stephen looked enraged but sat tight-lipped.
Priya interjected. ‘While you were away, there have been some developments. The world knows about the stargate and is watching what happens next. The UN has taken control of stargate travel on behalf of all the people of Earth. We are offering asylum off-world for anyone who needs it, but we are also offering support, technology and safety to the people of Earth to transition away from a course that is quite literally killing the planet. We expect the cooperation of the United States and we have been reassured of that cooperation by the former vice president, who is now your commander in chief,’
Reluctant cooperation, thought Mer, and we’ll see how long that lasts.
‘Basically, Stephen,’ Jack sat forward with his hands steepled on the table, ‘we do have the superior position, but we also have the moral high ground. We’re not doing anything here other than halting corruption, declassifying the stargate programme as was agreed back in 2013, and making some technologies available to the people of Earth. Now, I know you know that bad things have happened on your side and I know you know that you could be held personally accountable for some of them. We don’t want that. We want the US Fleet to stand down and for everyone to be able to go home to their families, secure in the knowledge that for all but a very small group of very greedy people, things are about to get much, much better.’
‘And option two?’ Stephen asked, looking tense.
‘You can join your president in our brig,’ Priya said solemnly. They didn’t have a functioning brig, and the president was housed in a rather pleasant suite, but Caldwell didn’t need to know that.
Caldwell sighed, and then seemed to relax. ‘I don’t think that will be necessary.’
After the Geneva meeting, Mer made John go see a clinic about his hand. They said they were sick of the stoic look he’d been getting and the watery eyes every time he shook hands with anyone.
Mer was looking both beautiful and incongruous in their very expensive new suit, bought at 9 that morning in an exclusive little Geneva shop, fully adjusted by 10.30 so it fit as much as anything so masculine-coded possibly could. It was one more thing that made John ache for home, for lives that fit them better than anything on Earth ever would.
‘It’s going to need a cast,’ the doctor said in perfect English, no trace of an accent, after explaining to John that he’d got a break in the neck of his fourth metacarpal bone. She sent him to a nurse for the cast. He left Mer in the waiting room, immersed in their laptop.
The nurse was six foot three, and almost as broad – all muscle, no fat. He should have been a marine, John thought, but he was surprisingly sweet and gentle as he fit John’s cast. His Schwarzenegger accent was incongruous with his manner. John felt like a fool for breaking his hand in a classic brawler’s fracture – it was like he’d forgotten how to throw a punch safely, or maybe he’d just chosen to forget. But the nurse went easy on him, gently acknowledging that he must be under a lot of stress.
John just nodded, not wanting to give anything away.
‘I know who you are,’ the man said eventually, after explaining the cast and its care. ‘And I don’t care what they all say, you’ve done the right thing.’
What they all say. John was prepared for that, but it still burned. He knew the tactics of the enemy, had been briefed on them interminable times. The enemy excelled at making people believe “everyone thinks X” because people were herd animals and if they thought “that’s the way the herd is going”, they’d follow pretty much anywhere. That was how things like Hitler happened. Their job (him, Priya, Mer, and a whole army of Earthers secretly recruited for over a year now) was to convince folk that there was another, better way for the herd to go, but the corporations and the corrupt politicians in their pockets weren’t going to want to lose their power.
‘Keep it on for six weeks. And good luck – I think you’re gonna need it.’
John had thought the battle was over and, in a way, it was. Both fleets had returned to orbit under a ceasefire agreement, more bloodshed had been averted. But the battle for control of information – for control of hearts and minds – was just beginning, and the enemy played dirty, he knew that. Hell, it was the world he was raised in; an implacable, cutthroat universe where loyalty, friendship, what’s right were all sacrificed at the altar of profit.
He thanked the man and went to find Mer. When he found them, he saw Mer had abandoned their laptop, and was staring at someone’s discarded newspaper, looking pale. John prised it gently from their clenched hands.
Le secret transgenre du scientifique, ran the tabloid-style headline, next to an unflattering picture of his spouse, dressed in a Lantean suit, strolling through the North Park on Atlantis. Fury washed though him. John didn’t need Mer’s fluency in French to know it said scientist’s transgender secret, but he was almost relieved to not be able to read the accompanying article. No prizes for guessing why his own name came up, though, or why an equally unflattering picture of him was inset, next to one of Ronon. Later in the article he could see the name Ronon Dex and the word polyamour.
John took the paper and dumped it in the recycle bin. Ignoring the security detail that were following them everywhere they went, he hunkered down in front of Mer and kissed their forehead.
‘I know what you’re thinking.’ He said gently.
‘Really? Because I’m actually thinking why the fucking hell did I bother to adapt myself for these ignoramuses?’
‘Exactly that.’ John said with half a smirk. ‘C’mon, Mer, let’s go home and get you a change of clothes.’
‘Home? Actual home?’ Their eyes lit up in a way that once could only have been brought about by the prospect of a fully charged ZPM or a Nobel prize.
‘If Priya says yes, and she will.’
They beamed back up to the Pegasus but were disappointed to arrive in the gate room to a film crew.
Priya ran to meet them. ‘John, Mer, this is Selena Valasquez, the reporter who broke our little story all over the world. We’ve given her exclusive access to the Pegasus, and we’re hoping you’ll both consent to being interviewed.’
John had liked the look of this woman when they were down on that golf course. Something about her said “switched on and takes no shit”. She had a broad, practical face and wavy hair cut mid-length to frame it. Her brown eyes communicated intelligence but also street-smarts. Dressed in a classic-looking fitted suit with a pair of brogues on her feet, she also clearly went her own way, which was refreshing in her business. John knew that Miko’s team had tried to ensure the credentials of the reporting team they hacked into, but they’d lucked out with Shelley.
John looked at Mer and they shrugged. ‘Have you got a Lantean suit here that’s halfway decent?’ He asked. The suit they’d arrived in the Milky Way wearing was Mer’s utility suit, all baggy pockets, grease stains and tears.
‘Actually . . .’ Mer blushed, and it was cute. ‘I have my grey-bluey one in the bottom of my bag, and that little ancient steamer.’
‘Cool,’ John grinned. He turned to Ms Valasquez. ‘Can we take twenty minutes to get changed?’
‘Sure,’ she said, ‘I’m on your timetable here.’
Mer felt more themself by several orders of magnitude once they’d slipped into the freshly steamed suit, and John didn’t seem able to keep their hands off – not even the one in a cast, so they guessed he felt the same way.
‘So fucking hot, McKay,’ John whispered into their neck, nibbling their way into Mer’s collarbone.
‘Don’t you dare give me a hickey, Sheppard, I’m in trouble enough as it is.’ Mer sighed, thinking back to the newspaper article. They knew that shit was on its way, but it had hit much quicker than expected, and it creeped them out knowing that someone had been in Atlantis, spying on their life and taking pictures, readying this story. The nasty little cabal of billionaires John’s brother had been affiliated with would do just about anything to discredit the people who had the power to turn things upside down for them.
‘Come on, you, let’s get this done and we can go see our daughter.’ John took them by the hand and led them reluctantly to the interview.
Mer quickly warmed to Ms Valasquez (call me Shelley, she said). She didn’t ask them personal questions, staying on the science and Mer’s extensive resume. She helped them paint an inspiring picture; she asserted that much of the technology that was about to transform her planet would not be available to them had it not been for Mer, and Shelley ensured her viewers understood just what they had accomplished and what it would mean. Mer found themself genuinely blushing to hear her acknowledge what an impact their work was going to have. They were impressed with Shelley, too – she had done her homework and understood a lot more than Mer expected her to.
Mer also noted that Shelley had avoided gendering them throughout and was truly grateful for this.
‘And I understand that you’ll be contributing to the building of the space station that will replace this facility?’
‘Yes, along with an international team of scientists and oversight personnel. We have the Pegasus on loan for a year, but it belongs to another galaxy. What replaces it will be a stargate terminal the whole world has access to, and the opportunity for the people of Earth to travel and live offworld if they wish. We already have three Earth colony planets, including one that has been gifted explicitly for all oppressed, displaced and persecuted people to be given sanctuary.’
‘And can people come to Atlantis?’ Shelley asked.
‘Of course. Atlantis and Lantea itself have been taking refugees from all over the Pegasus galaxy for years. When people come to us, we help and support them, and it has always made us stronger. People come to Atlantis and some stay, but many move on to better places. The stargate network is immense, and there’s room enough in the universe for everyone. Resources too. There’s no reason to be afraid and selfish.’
Then, Shelley asked the question Mer had been dreading. ‘Is there anything you’d like to tell us about yourself? Please don’t feel you have to, but I’m sure our viewers are interested to get to know you as a person.
Mer took a breath and acknowledged the sudden nerves that arose in them. Coming out to loved ones was one thing, coming out to a whole planet? That was something else.
‘Sure. Well, what can I say? Firstly, I’ve lived in another galaxy, and with people from another galaxy, since 2004, and I guess it’s broadened my outlook somewhat. I’m happily and monogamously married, since 2013, to my partner John. I have an adopted daughter, who we co-parent with a good friend and colleague, Ronon. The papers seem to think he’s my lover, and I would be honoured and proud if that were true, but it’s pure fiction. I’m just a boring, middle aged married person. I like chess and sci-fi and am pretty much the dullest human in the universe when I’m not being a scientist. And perhaps the most uninteresting thing about me of all is that I feel “in between” genders and like to use gender neutral clothes and language for myself. What I’m wearing now is typical dress for all genders in Lantea. I’m astonished, to be honest, that when we could be talking about near-unlimited clean energy, an end to global warming, instantaneous travel all over the world and the existence of life in other galaxies that anyone would be so dull as to be interested in what clothes I wear, who I love or what pronouns I use. I’m sure there are some characters who think so little of people on Earth as to believe they can be distracted by such trivialities, but I’m certain people are better than that.’
‘Thank you, Dr McKay.’ Shelley looked pleased with this answer. ‘Now finally, I’d like to talk to you about the political situation. I understand that you did not come back to Earth to pick up your Nobel for security reasons?’
‘That’s true. I haven’t been back to Earth for a long time, apart from my sojourn here when I was kidnapped.’
‘A crime the US president has been charged with giving the order for.’
‘Yes, and the terrorist atrocity – the deaths of over 200 delegates at an interplanetary conference – that disguised my kidnap and ensured nobody was looking for me.’
‘And I understand – forgive me, that you were subjected to torture.’
‘Quite brutal torture, yes,’ Mer could say this almost matter-of-factly now. They weren’t over it, but it was easier to talk about, safer to think about without drowning in triggers. Their face had tensed, they knew, their eye contact may have dropped, but their hands stayed steady and their mind stayed present.
‘And what were they hoping to gain from this?’ Shelley asked.
‘Well, we’ve tried one of the people responsible, a former aide of the president, and she has confessed. I think she can shed more light on that than me.’ Mer knew their voice had become taut, had gone a little high.
‘Yes,’ said Shelley. ‘We have a recording of her confession. But it would certainly help us understand if you could explain what you think they wanted from your kidnap.’
Mer thought about this. ‘Having lost control of Atlantis and access to ZedPM technology, they kidnapped me in order to develop this technology for themselves. I was tortured, then shut in a lab for a month, forced to help them develop the technology. As soon as I’d done so, I believed they would have executed me, so I naturally obstructed them.’
Shelley allowed a pause and watched Mer’s face with compassion. Mer realised their breathing was shallow, their heart rate elevated. They took that long out-breath Martin always reminded them to do, and anchored their gaze on John, who was standing off-camera, looking anxious.
‘Dr McKay, I am sorry for making you relive that,’ Shelley said at last. ‘Forgive me, but what we’re hearing is coming as a great shock to many people. The level of corruption at the highest level is astonishing if true.’
‘And yet I think we’ve all had plenty of evidence of this going on under our noses for years and just haven’t wanted to see it,’ Mer responded. ’Perhaps not the space aliens bit, but the corruption? That’s pretty hard to miss.’
‘Perhaps you’re right. Thank you, Dr McKay, for an enlightening interview.’
As soon as John was done with his much shorter interview (the UN was trying to edit the Wraith and the Goa’uld out of the narrative for as long as possible to avoid panic, but his moment would surely come), of course Priya gave permission for an overnight trip home. It would be a chance to return the Atlantis stardrive component as well. With close to unlimited ZPM power there was no problem gating back to the Pegasus galaxy.
When they gated home, it was coincidentally early evening on Lantea. Teyla was in her office, but she ran down to greet them, first in the Athosian way, and then by pulling them both into a long three-way hug.
‘It is good to see you home. I am glad the dangerous part is over.’ John wasn’t sure she was right about that, but they had certainly won the first battle.
‘Go,’ Teyla said eventually, ‘your daughter is missing you.’
‘Come to dinner?’ Mer asked, looking at John for agreement. Yeah, that would be good. Things had clicked back into place at last and John was relieved beyond words.
‘We can get takeout of there’s nothing in.’ John affirmed.
‘I would like that. I have a few things to finish – say, an hour from now?’
They got back to their apartment and it was empty, quiet. No Ronon or Selin. John felt unsettled by their absence, but it didn’t stop him from pulling Mer into a long, slow kiss, and wishing they could just climb into bed and snuggle. He felt exhausted and jittery all at once. But he desperately needed to see his daughter.
‘Next door?’ Mer suggested, and they slipped through Selin’s empty room into Ronon’s apartment beyond.
Sure enough, their daughter and co-parent were there, making a big mess together in the kitchen. The smell of Satedan spices permeated the room, and their hands and fronts were covered in flour.
‘Pa! Da!’ Selin threw herself at her dads, covering them in kisses. I missed you so much!’ She was clinging a little, John noticed, and she fussed over John’s cast, but without asking about it. Although they hadn’t been able to tell her where they were going, she had clearly been worried. They’d need to give her the whole story later. Arresting the guy who got her Pa kidnapped? He was pretty sure that would make her happy. And Pa the big hero on Earth News. He squeezed them both, his heart feeling suddenly full.
Ronon joined them, bear-hugging each of them. ‘She didn’t want to be in the other apartment, I’ve been keeping her distracted,’ he said softly. John nodded, raking his fingers through Selin’s brown hair and feeling a pang of hurt on her behalf for their secretive away mission.
‘Everyone’s safe, Sel,’ he promised.
‘Think there’s enough for Teyla? We kind of invited her.’ Mer confessed.
‘There’s enough for an army,’ Selin confirmed. ‘We were going to put it in stasis for when you got back. We made kaljee, Satedan kebabs, sala gan, chocolate cake and halva.’
Damn, Ronon was good – all their favourites so she knew they would be coming home. John could feel himself welling up, and he buried his head into Mer’s shoulder, still gripping Ronon’s hand with his left and holding his cast arm around Selin’s shoulders.
‘Can Charyn come? And Kanaan. And Torren and Brad, and maybe Jeannie, Caleb and Madison?’
Mer looked at him and then at Ronon and got two nods. ‘Sure, Comet, why not?’ they grinned. ‘Hey, let’s put on the News, and you can see what your Da and I have been up to. I think you’ll be proud of us,’ Mer said.
‘I’m always proud of you both, Pa.’ Selin said simply, and John’s eyes did their misty thing again. He watched Mer sink, exhausted, onto Ronon’s tiny sofa with Selin cuddling up to their side and felt a wave of love so strong it nearly toppled him. He tossed his phone to Selin so she could message everyone.
Mer found the new UN News channel on a nearby laptop. It wasn’t live, but it would be downloaded up to the time they gated home. Mer clicked around and found the footage of the president’s arrest, let Sel slowly gather the story, and her eyes widened and widened. John just watched the two of them for a moment, drinking them in.
Ronon was working quietly in the kitchen when John joined him. John slipped his good hand along the other man’s shoulders.
‘I’m sorry. Must bring stuff up.’
‘Yeah,’ the man said gruffly, pushing back his short dreads with floury hands. ‘But don’t think your win doesn’t make me happy too. I’m glad your world got saved.’
Out of nowhere, John could feel the tears that had been hiding behind his eyes begin to spill. Ronon just leaned on the counter next to him, pressed close.
‘I’m sorry, buddy.’ John tried to smear the tears away with his good hand. Ronon passed him a dish cloth to mop up his face. ‘Back on Earth . . . I lost touch with what grounds me here . . . scarily fast. I think . . .’
Ronon just patiently waited for his halting words to come out.
‘. . . I think I’m done.’ John said at last, and some tight thing in his chest unclenched. ‘I think I need to never pick up a gun again.’ John added, not even knowing that was what he needed to say until he had said it.
Ronon nodded, wisely. ‘You need to talk with Nana Muezero,’ he said. ‘Someone who can help you understand what happens when the guns get put away.’
John slung an arm around Ronon and tipped his head against the other man’s shoulder. After a while, he heard a cough from behind him.
‘Mind if we join you?’ Mer was smiling, Teyla by their side. Ronon opened out his big arms and pulled them both in next to John.
‘Family,’ Mer said with a happy sigh.
‘Yeah,’ said John, all misty again.
Selin bounded in and wriggled into the middle of them. ‘Everyone can come over,’ she said. ‘Oh, and Da, there’s a message on your phone from Evan – he says he’s okay but he’s damn well retiring from the field this time, no take-backs.’
‘He’s not the only one, Sel, he’s not the only one. I think we’ve finally paid our dues.’
Tomorrow, he and Mer would be back on Earth, talking to politicians, NGOs, reporters, UN recruits. Working for a liberated planet. Talking was the hard part, but without meaning to, John had gotten okay at that over the years, if only because he knew how to listen to people wiser than him.
But much as he felt he owed his planet of origin the effort he was about to make for it, John knew where home was. He pushed himself further into their little huddle, sharing breath with Mer, Teyla, Ronon and Sel, letting the rush of emotion take him wherever it needed. Home was right here.