"What's going on?" John Sheppard asked when he and Rodney McKay reported to Samantha Carter's office. They were due to return to the Pegasus galaxy soon, and John had expected to spend the next few days on vacation. He'd been at the airport, picking out a mystery to start reading on his flight, when Sam summoned him back.
"Yes, I thought we were done with meetings," Rodney added.
"So did I, until I got a call from New York." Sam sat down at her desk. "An astrophysicist died last night. Her name was Marie Subbarao. She worked at the Aubrey Science Center on projects for NASA and SETI."
"So?" Rodney asked.
John elbowed him. "Remember how you were going to work on empathy?"
Rodney cleared his throat. "Yes, I realize a human being and lesser colleague has died, and it's a loss to the scientific community and to any family she leaves behind, but what does that have to do with us?"
Sam handed them a photo.
"Ugh!" Rodney glanced away and scooted his chair back. "What happened to her?"
"This looks like she was exposed to a zero atmosphere environment." John was puzzled. "How did that happen to an Earth-bound scientist?"
"Extrapolating from the police reports, I think she got hold of some kind of alien technology, possibly Ancient. She managed to activate it, and it sent her above Earth's atmosphere. Then it detected she was in distress, and returned her to her vehicle in New York City," Sam explained.
"But it was too late," John said.
"I need the two of you to recover the alien artifact," Sam told them.
"What's our cover?" John asked.
"Men in Black?" Rodney complained when he returned to Sam's office in the black suit that had been supplied.
John straightened his own jacket and pulled on a pair of sunglasses. "I like it."
"Well of course you would. You look like James Bond. I, on the other hand, look like a bloated penguin."
Richard Castle looked up as Javier Esposito slid into the chair next to him. "Any new leads?"
"Couple of guys just left the Captain's office, and now they're going over the evidence we've gathered. They want to see everything the vic had on her when she died." Javier glanced around to make sure no one else was listening. "I heard they were from a government agency. I didn't see badges, but they were dressed in black suits."
"Men in Black!" Rick loved it. "Does Beckett know?"
"Yeah, and she's not thrilled that no one will tell her who they are. One of them was carrying a satchel and she got a look inside. He has a copy of your latest book."
"At least he has good taste."
"So, Beckett suggested you might have better luck than she did getting them to talk about who they are."
Rick chuckled. "Lay on a little charm for the fans? No problem."
The visitors were in a conference room, with the evidence spread out on the table. One guy had his feet up on the table, and looked like a character Rick should write into an upcoming story. There was a definite hero vibe going on. The other guy was scowling.
Rick reached the door in time to hear the scowling guy say, "I thought you were supposed to help. Why, exactly, are you here?"
"I'm the people person," the potential hero explained.
Rick opened the door. "Mind if I watch?"
Hero-guy stood up. "Captain Montgomery said his officers would leave us alone."
"I'm not a cop," Rick explained. "I'm a writer. I've been following this case for inspiration." He whistled the tune from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. "It's really out of this world."
"Wait a minute." Hero-guy picked up a book and checked the back cover. "Rick Castle?"
"That's right. Want me to sign it for you?" Rick always carried a pen for book-signing opportunities, and he pulled it out now. "Who should I make it out to?"
He handed the book to Rick and said, "John."
Rick wrote a quick note to John, wishing the guy had a more distinctive name.
The scowling guy said, "We do have a job here. Can you fanboy later, Shep —"
"Rodney," John interrupted in a warning tone.
That was better, Rick thought. John Sheppard, perhaps? And a Rodney — that could be a first or last name. "I hope you enjoy the book," he said as he handed it back to John. "Have you read the rest of the series?"
John nodded. "I have to ask, given your interest in this case, why don't you write science fiction?"
"It isn't for lack of interest. I call it the sci-fi curse. Producers asked me to write episodes for two series, X-Files and Firefly, and each was cancelled before my episode could be filmed."
"That could be a TV curse," John suggested. "You should really think about writing a mystery set in outer space. Like, suppose Atlantis was a real floating city in another galaxy, and a group of intrepid explorers from Earth found a way to access it."
"A gate, perhaps?" suggested Rodney.
"I was thinking more like a portal, but yeah, a gate would work."
"Let me guess," added Rodney, "the star is a pilot who doesn't like to follow rules?"
"Well, I was going to suggest a genius scientist," John said. "Someone who tends to blow things up and blame his team. You're right, though. They would need a hotshot pilot."
Rick enjoyed spinning potential science-fiction plots with the two men in black, and his main regret was that he was too distracted to catch Rodney stealing a piece of evidence. He was certain after they left that something was missing.
The story idea stuck with him, and a few months later he received a call from his publisher, who said a television producer would like to talk to him. "Can you tell me what the show is?" Rick asked.
His publisher said it didn't have a title yet, and was still under development. "They want you to co-write the pilot."
Standing on the bridge of a ship, looking down at Earth, Rick took a deep breath. "This isn't just amazing special effects, is it?"
"It's real," John confirmed. "It's amazing and scary, and we need volunteers. That's why we want to start a TV franchise about portals to other worlds."
"Gates," Rodney corrected.
"Everyone calls them gates," John admitted, "but that's because I wasn't around at first to give things cool names, like portals. Obviously portal is a better name."
"It is a cool name," Rick agreed.
"It's still wrong," Rodney said.
"As I was saying," John said, "we need more people for the portal team, and I convinced the bigwigs around here we need a TV show to introduce people to the idea and give them a sense of what we do. That would lead to fans gathering at conventions where we could host challenges to see who has what it takes."
"Recruitment events," Rick said. "As cool as this is, I'm not sure I want to be part of a military recruitment scheme."
"Not military," Rodney said. "What we need are nerds. Budding scientists to help us unlock the potential of alien discoveries. Specifically, we're looking for people with the Ancient gene, which helps unlock devices from an advanced civilization. Like this." He gestured toward what looked like an abstract stone carving.
Rick picked it up. "What does it…" He trailed off when the carving lit up and a 3-D view of a galaxy appeared in front of him. Some of the stars blinked.
"Concentrate on one of the blinking stars," John said.
The map zoomed in on the star, and showed the planets in the system. One of the planets blinked, and Rick focused his attention on it until the map zoomed again. Information was displayed in a language he couldn't read, and images of people and buildings appeared.
"It's displaying coordinates," Rodney muttered. "Spatial coordinates and a gate address."
"You didn't know it could do that?" John asked.
"No one's been able to zoom in that far. Did you know he had the Ancient gene?"
John ignored Rodney's question, and asked one of his own. "Don't you want to introduce people to this?"
Rick placed the carving back on the table. "Can we make it Nikki Heat in space? Solving mysteries while exploring the galaxy?"
"That's stupid." Rodney said.
John cleared his throat. "We're talking to a best-selling mystery writer. Of course we want to play to his strengths."
"It's supposed to be about scientists," Rodney complained.
"It can be both," John said.
Rick started making mental notes. Add a couple of squabbling sidekicks for humor. Maybe give Nikki a girlfriend? A second female lead would be good. His daughter had pointed out he needed to get better at passing the Bechdel test in his books. There would need to be a recurring villain, of course… Modeled on his mother, perhaps? Or even featuring her? She'd love to chew the scenery as a dastardly nemesis. "I'm in," he announced.