"It looks harmless enough," said Armstrong, the frankly useless SGC-assigned scientist on John's new gate team, peering up at the carved stone lintel. None of them could read much Ancient, and all they'd pieced together was the usual vaguely poetic stuff about all being one. Or possibly all being many. Or many roads converging. Whatever.
Underutilized, the brass had said. Can't have a First Contact expert like you cooling his heels while the city gets repaired, they'd said – who knows how long that will take? Rodney and Radek were beavering away furiously with a horde of engineers flown in from Area 51 and the SGC, but even so, getting Atlantis flight-worthy again was going to take weeks – maybe months.
Meanwhile, John was back on the gate team roster here in the Milky Way. They got all the missions with any hint of Ancient tech, and at least he'd been able to insist on having his own team and co-opting Teyla and Ronon. They'd both been looking tense and spending too much time beating up marines in the gym, after the initial shopping sprees tapered off. They all missed Rodney, even his diatribes about the weather and cross-country hiking, but he was too busy repairing the city, so they had to make do with Armstrong, a physicist of sorts.
John frowned up at the inscription, then nodded at the others. "Okay, let's go see what's in there. Me, then Ronon, then Dr. Armstrong, and Teyla on our six."
The darkened passageway was narrow enough that they had to traverse it singly, but he could still hear the others. Ronon was humming Love Train by the O'Jays under his breath – Lorne had given him a Greatest Hits of the Seventies CD and he was going through a disco phase. John grinned, imagining the big guy in Seventies San Francisco. Actually, he'd have blended right in – all he needed was a woven headband and a few more beads–
And then there was a flash of blue-white light and John was gone.
John peered around at what seemed to be a grimy back-alley on Earth and winced – he had a killer headache. He managed to sit up, squinting painfully and wrinkling his nose at the smell of overflowing trash cans. What the fuck? One moment he was on P8B-599 exploring a ruined Ancient outpost, the next he'd been dumped on a heap of old newspapers alongside boxes of rotting vegetables.
How in hell had he ended up here? The light – he remembered the bright light, so that meant some Ancient doohickey had misfired. Again. He must have accidentally triggered something – not a wormhole, though; he'd have recognised wormhole travel. John clutched his head, massaging his temples until the headache eased off a little. Was this a virtual reality plucked from his memories? Some sort of matter transporter? Across half the Milky Way? Yeah, right.
He pulled out a few of the ragged newspapers on which he'd been lying and held the pages to a shaft of light angling down from the narrow strip of sky up above. SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE was blazoned across the top. John breathed more easily: at least he was on some version of Earth, although thinking about how he'd ended up here made his head pound. He squinted at the tattered page where a few headlines were visible between the stains.
ANOTHER COPYCAT HIGHJACKING – AMERICAN AIRLINES FLT 119
DEEP THROAT BREAKS BOX OFFICE RECORDS
SPRINGSTEEN EXCLUSIVE - 10 RECORD DEAL WITH CBS
Only the top half of the page had survived, but the date, although smeared, was clearly visible: June 24, 1972. He scrabbled about, pulling up various broadsheets– the San Francisco Examiner, the Haight-Ashbury Free Press, the Berkeley Barb. The dates were all June 1972 or earlier.
So what –had he really travelled back in time? John chewed his lip, considering. It could still be a VR or some alien drug-induced hallucination. He tried to conjure his 5th grade friend Mike into existence. No dice. Then he tried to call up Teyla, because she'd been there with him last time and even a fantasy Teyla would have helped. Nothing. He remained alone in the alley, just the faint scrabbling rustle of a rat in the boxes for company.
He didn't feel drugged – not that that proved anything. But if this was a hallucination,it was seamless and bizarrely detailed, from the muted noise of traffic on the street outside to dust motes dancing in the shafts of light filtering down from above.
John groaned and clutched his head – time travel! Some piece of shit malfunctioning Ancient device had apparently sent him back in time thirty-seven years, and across half the galaxy to boot. At this very moment John Sheppard #1 was five and a half, probably playing in the stables on the family ranch in Texas. More to the point, Rodney was only four years old. Who the fuck was going to rescue him?
"Take a break, McKay." Ronon plunked the mug of coffee in front of Rodney, and Teyla added a muffin, frowning in concern when Rodney pushed it away.
"'m not hungry," he muttered, scrubbing his hands through his hair, which was unwashed and sticking out erratically. "But thanks," he added, reaching for the mug and taking a sip. He grimaced. "It tastes weird. Why does it taste weird?"
"Possibly as you have not slept for three nights, Rodney," Teyla suggested, eyes dark with concern.
"SGC coffee," explained Ronon. "Always tastes like crap. Want me to steal some of the good stuff from Jackson?"
Rodney flapped a hand. "No, no, don't piss him off – we need him to finish the translation." Straightening in his swivel chair, Rodney arched his back and twisted his neck, grimacing.
"Could sort that out for you," offered Ronon. "Amelia's a trained osteopath. She's been teaching me."
Rodney reared back and held up both hands. "Yeah, no. The last thing I need with Sheppard vanished into fucking nowhere is you giving me a back injury while crushing my internal organs. I'll pass."
"Your loss," shrugged Ronon.
"You are no further ahead then, Rodney?" asked Teyla quietly. "There is still no trace of John?"
Rodney sighed and slumped down, grabbing his coffee again. "All we have is negatives. He's not anywhere the long-range sensors can detect. His personal transmitter's not transmitting. There were no signs of a wormhole or alternate universe portal having opened in that chamber, and we haven't yet figured out what the circuits there are supposed to do. Jackson's still working on the script over the lintel and on the panels inside, and Radek and I are analysing the machinery. But it's extremely complex and having to work through Radek is driving me nuts, as we can't risk any more gene holders going in there." He looked up, face stricken. "It's been four days, Teyla. Four days, and we still don't have any idea what's happened to John."
She reached out and took his hands in hers. "You have eliminated many possibilities, and that can only help to locate him."
"Yes, granted, but I wish we had something more concrete – I mean, what if it's another time-dilation field?"
"You said it wasn't," grunted Ronon. "Said there was no field at all."
"No, no, there isn't." He shut his eyes and sighed. "But I'm beginning to question everything. Who knows what damn booby-trap the Ancients built into that room?"
Teyla let go of his hands and gripped his shoulder. "Radek seemed hopeful, earlier this evening. He said you will trial new equipment tomorrow?"
"Mmm," said Rodney, taking another swallow from his mug. "Portable subatomic particle scanner. We found it in one of the South Pier labs last year and Miko's been fixing it."
"Then we must hope the new scanner will shed some light on John's disappearance," said Teyla, taking the mug and setting it aside. She pulled him down to touch foreheads and he rested there with his eyes shut. After a while she drew back. "Come, there's a cot made up ready for you over here. You must get a little rest."
"I can't stop now," protested Rodney blearily. "Have to analyse the crystal frequency results that Radek brought back earlier." But he was walking with her, docile with fatigue, toward the corner of the lab where a bed had been made up. Teyla got him to lie down and they covered him with a blanket. In seconds he was snoring.
"Huh," said Ronon. "Thought he was going to figure out we've been slipping him decaf for a second there." He slid down the wall to sit cross-legged at the foot of the cot. "I'll take first watch."
"Very well," agreed Teyla. "I will see you at five." She turned to go, then paused. "John will be all right, Ronon. Rodney and Radek will find him."
"Yeah," said Ronon, staring at his clenched hands. He sucked in a breath, clearly forcing himself to relax, and looked up, flashing her a feral grin. "And then we'll go get him. Wherever he is."
"Wherever he is," she agreed.
John nursed a beer, purchased with cash from his pawned sidearm. It was similar enough to pistols available in the Seventies, but even so he'd chosen the dustiest, slackest-looking pawn shop in the hope that the gun wouldn't arouse any interest. Selling the P-90 was out of the question – it was fifteen years ahead of existing sub-machine guns and changing history was not the plan.
The past couple of days had been grim, but at least he had a plan. After a dazed several hours wandering from Castro Street across to the Haight and back again with his guns wrapped in newspaper, continually checking that, yes, it really was Earth and it really was 1972, he'd finally pulled himself together and hocked his pistol. The P-90 he'd kept, well wrapped up, until he could hide it somewhere safe. To John's way of thinking, this was a mission gone FUBAR on an alien planet and he was damned if he'd give up both his guns.
He'd found a used clothing store and exchanged his uniform jacket for a bag to carry the P-90, and a button-down in shades of purple paisley, leaving it undone over his tee. Nobody else was wearing all-black outfits and from what he recalled of the Seventies there was some risk he'd be taken for a terrorist – were they even called that, yet? An activist, freedom fighter, whatever. Protective coloration, John told himself, buying several strands of carved wooden beads from a street vendor and slipping them around his neck. He stashed the black wristband in his pocket and replaced it with one woven from hemp, or so the bearded guy who sold it to him for fifty cents claimed. The aviator shades were fine, but his hair was way too short, of course. At least his lack of shaving gear wasn't going to be an issue – the more facial fuzz he sported, the better.
John scratched his arm and looked around The Mint's bar – which wasn't exactly jumping at eight pm on a Monday night. The décor wasn't quite the same as it had been in 1995 when he'd last been here but it was a point of reference with his old life. Which was thirty-seven years in the future. He sighed, took another drink, and focused on the plan: 1) get survival money, 2) blend in and hole up somewhere, 3) get real money and 4) get a message to Rodney. John had stalled out part-way through 2) and had crashed in a flop-house last night. He had several flea-bites to show for it and was desperate to avoid a repetition. He'd scored $100 for his pistol, but who knew how long that would have to last and the cheapest hotels around probably had their own fleas. Or worse. So, failing the sudden appearance of a sugar daddy or fairy godmother, here he was in The Mint, trawling for a one-night stand.
Five nights on, John was more practised at checking out the talent. Too young, too married, far too many chains. Brian, the guy he'd been with last night, had been perfect. A salesman, passing through and happy to take John back to his hotel room in the Tenderloin and let John blow him, down on his knees in the orange shag pile rug beside Brian's bed as he sucked him off. After, when Brian was face down and snoring, John got to use the bathroom for as long as he liked. He didn't always get a shower out of the deal, but Brian had even slipped a fifty into his back pocket while kissing him goodbye this morning. John kind of wished he hadn’t been moving on to Portland.
He'd drifted back to The Mint more from habit than need. With more cash and more time to recon the area he was feeling less freaked out, although the lack of his team was an aching wrongness, keeping him on edge.
John had seen a few ads in store windows for roommates and had some options to check out if no one caught his eye tonight. Probably he should do that anyway – it wasn't easy persuading the guys who took him home to let him use condoms, and K-Y jelly wasn't in the drugstores he'd checked yet, although the pharmacist in that last one was ordering some in. Mostly he got his dates off with blow jobs – guys found him hard to resist when he was on his knees, turning on the charm, and if he slipped a little protection on at the last minute, he made sure they were too far gone to stop him. One time he took a leaf out of Rodney's book and said he had allergies.
He caught the eye of Marvin, the bartender, and got another Bud, kicking back and enjoying the pianist who was making a decent fist of Me and Bobby McGee. Maybe he'd get a steak here later, now that he was relatively flush – he'd even picked up a couple more pre-loved shirts and splashed out on socks and underwear and a fresh supply of condoms. Not quite enough for a hotel, though, not when he had no income and no contacts yet so as to get a fake ID.
John had just taken a long, cold swallow when someone slid onto the stool alongside him.
"I'll have a Jack," the guy said to Marvin. Then he looked across at John. "And one for my friend here." John saluted him with the bottle of Bud, turning on the stool and leaning one elbow casually on the bar, letting his legs fall open. The guy gave him the once-over, smirking. He seemed okay: mid-forties, shortish, with a wiry frame and dark hair curling on his collar. He had a lush, soft-looking mustache and John eyed it covetously. He'd never admit it, not even if a Wraith queen had him on his knees, but he'd always had a thing for a nice 'stache.
John had stumbled on a box of his father's old porn mags when he was fifteen, bored and messing about in the attic. It wasn't gay porn, but John had spent ages staring at the guys anyway – what he could see of them behind pneumatic breasts and pert asses. Their sweaty, hairy chests mesmerised him, medallions swinging as they thrust determinedly into blondes or brunettes. In John's favorite jerk-off picture the guy was stroking his 'stache with a roguish expression while a redhead sucked him off. The women were interchangeable to John, mere backgrounds showcasing curved dicks and hairy balls, Burt Lancaster chest rugs and the inevitable pornstache.
This guy looked like a prospect for the night – his neck chain was real gold and he had no wedding band. His jacket was a little loud – shiny maroon leather, with super-wide lapels and a striped orange shirt beneath, several buttons undone to show off his chest hair. And that slightly curling mustache.
"Thanks," said John, raising his glass of JD. "I'm John."
The guy grinned. "Me, I'm Larry – Larry Foxx, with two exes. In every sense, as I should know by the alimony bills. 'John', huh? I don't think so."
"That name," explained Larry. "You're gonna need something more colorful as a stage name. Something with zing! With pizzazz!"
"Pizzazz?" Was this guy on something? "Why would I need a stage name?"
"Because, my friend," said Larry, leaning in close, "I'm gonna make you an offer you can't refuse."
"Uh huh," said John. "Your name's not 'Larry the Luger' is it? Am I going to be 'sleeping with the fishes' if I say no?"
Larry grinned. "Hey, that's some great movie, ain't it? Nah, I got nothin' to do with the mob, don't you worry. But speaking of movies, I gotta tell you 'John', you're a natural. I'm a talent-scout. And a producer, and an agent. This is your golden opportunity, believe you me."
John raised his eyebrows sceptically. "You want me to be in a movie? What, a B-movie like Night of the Living Dead? Or Barbarella?"
"Hoo yeah, Jane Fonda is one hot chick," said Larry appreciatively. "Nope, but you're gettin' warm with Barbarella. You heard of Deep Throat?"
"Porn?" said John, blinking. "You want me to be in a porn movie?"
"Gay porn, yeah. I tell ya, you're a natural. I been watching you – you got a cute mouth, and that slinky thing going with your hips. The guys'll love you." Larry eyed him critically. "Gonna have to grow your hair and tidy yourself up some, though, and that name's gotta go." He chewed on his lip, face screwed up in concentration, then brightened. "Got it! Randy Vegas!"
"Vegas?" repeated John blankly. What did Vegas have to do with it?
"Your name!" said Larry, waving his drink around. "It's your stage name."
John frowned, considering. Maybe this would solve part 3) of the plan: get real money. But porn...."I'm…kind of old. Would've thought you'd want young dudes with washboard abs."
"You're hotter than you think," said Larry. "We got younger guys on the payroll as well, but it's your mature audience that buys this stuff, see, and they like a guy they can identify with. We'll get the young guys with all the stamina to fuck you."
"Christ." John swallowed hard, and adjusted himself. Man, this was such a bad idea, but damn it – he was stuck thirty-seven years in the past and already bartering sex for a shower and a place to sleep, what did he have to lose? He thought furiously. What if his old movies turned up years later in the vintage reel-to-reel collection of a closeted C.O.? Well, so what? No one would think it was him, even if he had a porn look-alike from the Seventies. Maybe it was Uncle Jimmy, the skeleton in the Sheppard family closet. Anyway, there was so much porn in the 21st century no one was going to remember some grainy old movies.
He bit his lip, considering. What about AIDS? He was pretty sure that hadn't been around until the Eighties; he'd read about it in college when he first got free of his father and started dating guys. If his team came for him and they got back okay, it wasn't going to matter so much. And if they didn't…well, nothing was going to matter. But still. "Look, Larry, flattered as I am, I've got a real thing about hygiene. I'd want to use condoms. I mean, not for blow jobs, but for fucking." John shrugged: "Take it or leave it."
Larry shook his head ruefully. "Shoulda known you'd be high-maintenance." He looked John over thoughtfully, tapping his fingers on the bar. John sipped his beer, and after a moment Larry sighed and raised his hands. "Actors, sheesh. Okay, we can work around it – Marco's good with camera angles. 'sides, I got a feeling about you. Karma, and all that."
Yeah – there was something vaguely familiar about Larry, although John was sure he'd never met the guy before. For some reason, John felt that he could trust him. He leaned forward and held out his hand, dropping his voice and batting his eyelashes. "Hi there, I'm Randy. Randy Vegas."
Larry grabbed his hand and shook it enthusiastically. "Pleased to meet you, Randy, and welcome to Foxxy Productions. You need a place to stay? I got an apartment for my actors, smack dab on Haight. You get your own room and it's right above an all-night ice-cream café."
"Do I get a mustache?" asked John, grinning.
"Hell, yeah," said Larry, still pumping his hand. "The mustache is compulsory!"
"Oh my god," said Rodney, rapidly scanning the letter he'd extracted from a thick legal envelope. "He's thirty-seven years in the…" He looked up, meeting the impassive gaze of the expensive-looking young lawyer who'd arranged to meet him over lunch at a Colorado Springs restaurant. "Have you read this stuff?"
The lawyer – Goodman, Gillman, some damn thing – looked shocked. "Certainly not, Dr. McKay. The material is confidential. I wouldn't dream of–"
"Yes yes," said Rodney, silencing him with a curt wave as he read on. Bright light (fucking Ancients)…alley…San Francisco…pawned my sidearm…
"Porn? He's a porn star? Oh for fuck's sake!"
The lawyer winced and looked around to see if anyone had overheard. "Ah, perhaps the contents of the envelope are better kept between you and the client, Dr. McKay? Mr. Sheppard left strict instructions with my grandfather that no one was to read the material in his safe deposit box. Goodwin and Sons is a long established and reputable legal firm and we have carried out his–"
"Randy Vegas?" muttered Rodney under his breath. "Oh my god, he's got a porn star name as well!" He fished several folded-up magazine pages from the envelope and unfolded them. The layout and photography was dated – very Seventies. They were ads for movies – gay porn, from the look of it, and every one featured John in lewd poses and a state of undress. One involved chains. Randy Does Vegas, Nevada Heat, All Tied Up, and Randy by Name… "Jesus fucking Christ!"
The lawyer stood. "I think, Dr. McKay, that you should read the rest of the historical documents in a more private situation. My firm's role is now at an end, having delivered the stored material on the date as contracted by Mr. Sheppard. If you'll just sign these documents acknowledging receipt…"
"Yes, yes, all right, give them here." Rodney scribbled his signature in several places. "Jesus, that asshole," he said, staring at the ass in question. "I can't believe…"
"Quite so, Dr. McKay. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a plane to catch back to San Francisco."
"And I've got a time machine to figure out," muttered Rodney, distracted. Then his eyes widened. "No! Er, hah, just joking. I meant…um…I've got a prop to make for the movies. Just a fake. Time Machine. Not a real one, because that would be–"
The lawyer, Gribben, whatever, picked up his briefcase and backed away, smiling nervously.
"Wait, wait!" Rodney lurched to his feet. "Can you tell me, is he, um, was he all right - the guy who left this stuff? Mr. Sheppard?"
The lawyer frowned. "I'm afraid I don't have any information other than the contents of the safe deposit box and the instructions in our file. My grandfather dealt with the matter personally, and he died ten years ago. I'm afraid no one else in the firm ever met the client."
"Right, right," said Rodney, crestfallen. "Well, thank you, ah, anyway." He gestured to the envelope. "For, for, keeping it safe. All this time."
"Happy to oblige, sir," said Gibbon with a polite smile, then he turned and marched away.
Rodney sat down at the table and sank his face into his hands. Thirty-seven years. How had John ended up back on Earth, though, when he'd vanished on the other side of the damn galaxy? Time travel, Jesus. It explained the tachyons the subatomic scanner had picked up, which had baffled him and Radek, and all the references to years unfolding and across the ages that Jackson kept finding in the inscriptions.
"Excuse me, sir," said his server, Rhonda, who at least had a name-tag. Rodney decided to make them mandatory for all his scientists: Hi – my name is Parrish! Rhonda pulled out a notepad and pencil. "Would you like a dessert, sir? Coffee?"
"God, yes," said Rodney. I can't possibly read any more of this without a triple-shot cappuccino and a chocolate mousse. I'll take them to go."
"You got it," said Rhonda.
"Kinda hot for this outfit," complained John, plucking ineffectually at the too-small paisley dress shirt that Dana from costumes had poured him into, back in the house. It wouldn't do up all the way, so the neck chains and Capricorn medallion Dana had made him put on were displayed to advantage. What with his white, ass-hugging pants and patent leather two-tone shoes, he was starting to sweat, even in the shade of the patio.
"Don't you worry, Randy, you'll be out of it in no time," smirked Larry, watching as the camera crew finished their set-up by the swimming pool. He'd borrowed the house from a movie-crazed fan who thought they were filming a Raymond Chandler classic.
Beth, the make-up and hair person, grabbed John's chin and dabbed a sponge over his face, then combed the neat little mustache on his upper lip. "You better get going Mr. Foxx, or Randy here's gonna melt," she said, grinning.
"He'll be okay once we get him in the pool," said Larry. He raised his voice. "Hey, Marco, you done there? Randy's gonna need an ice-box to get hard if you don't move it along already!"
A stocky man with a thick mustache and longish dark hair in a ponytail waved and held up five fingers.
"Jesus wept," muttered Larry. "Fucking perfectionists." He turned toward the house. "Gina, get us some sodas, pronto." Larry swivelled around. "And where's Tony got to, huh? Don't tell me he's still yakking with his goddamn boyfriend on the phone. Tony! Get over here, we're about to roll cameras!" He turned to John, who'd accepted a can of soda gratefully from Gina and was chugging it, throat working. "Oh, very nice. Gina, take a note. We gotta get footage of Randy drinking, just like that, with his head thrown back."
"Yes Mr. Foxx," Gina said, pushing round wire-rimmed glasses up her nose and scribbling in a notebook. She looked at John consideringly. "Maybe he could drink some water then tip the rest of the glass over his head."
Larry pointed at her. "Good thinking. We can get some shots of him shaking his head, drops of water flying. In slow-mo – it'll be real artistic." Gina nodded and scribbled some more.
John sighed. At least it'd cool him off. San Francisco in August was hot, even with a light breeze, so Larry was cashing in with pool and beach movies. John preferred the pool locations – sex on the beach was a lot less fun than it sounded, what with sand getting in places it was never meant to be. He remembered what Rodney had said about beaches: Fried by toxic ultraviolet radiation while my sensitive skin's abraded by quartz granules? I think not, Sheppard.
Rodney. He hoped the plan would work, but it hinged on Rodney being able to figure out that chamber, and then making it work both ways. The time-traveling jumper had been blown up about 10,000 years ago and Rodney had defeated the years last time John was displaced in time by turning himself into a hologram, not by making a time machine, unless you counted the Stargate. Couldn't do the same trick here, even if there was a solar flare at just the right time. That guy Ernest Littlefield was already stuck off-world somewhere and there was no Stargate programme yet – John didn't think it had gotten underway properly until some time in the Nineties. He had an idea that SG-1 had gone back in time once or twice, but he couldn't recall the details, and anyway, he'd never get into Cheyenne Mountain with no ID, and there was nothing he could do without Rodney. John clenched the empty soda can, wishing he could feed it into a flux capacitor. C'mon, guys, he thought. Come and get me.
At least this time he knew what the hold-up was and didn't feel resentful as he had when he was stuck behind the time-dilation field. It had taken six weeks before he had enough cash saved to hire a classy lawyer from a firm he'd used in San Francisco to sign some documents for Dave, back in 2009 before the brass redeployed him to Colorado. He'd set it all up: the letter to be delivered to Rodney at the SGC soon after the date he'd gone missing, the safe deposit box. Every so often he added another update about his exploits and last week he'd gotten drunk and put in some ads for his movies, thinking that'll hurry him along. Stupid thing to do, but if fretting about John's virtue was what it took to get the McKay brain into top gear…
"About goddamn time!" said Larry, grabbing John's co-star Tony's arm and hustling him out onto the lawn beside the pool. Tony, playing the pool-boy, was six foot three of blond beefcake in cut-off shorts, flexing his biceps as he trimmed the already pristine hedge.
"Action!" shouted Larry, and John wandered over to lean against the pool cabana and eye Tony lasciviously. As directors went, Larry wasn't big on subtlety.
"Hey, kid, what's your name?" he called, following the script.
Tony paused and turned, faking surprise, one hand on his hip in a move that would have made John smirk if Larry hadn't been scowling intently from the sidelines. "Tony, sir," he said. He was cute, still innocent looking even though John knew he was twenty-six and had his own fan-club, having made a bunch of movies. Larry had to be raking it in to afford Tony Lovegood – largely due to John, or rather, Randy Vegas, who was fast developing his own following.
The weird lack of sleaze about Foxxy Productions was what kept John from walking – that and the money. The whole thing had an oddly amateurish, old fashioned air, with the film crew in tie-dyed velvet and beaded headbands, drinking and toking up together once Larry called it a wrap. It felt more like Woodstock than hard core porn, and Larry bossed them about like the paterfamilias of some fucked-up extended family.
"Why don't you come over here, Tony," John said, smiling seductively and jutting his hips out. "I've got a bonus for you if you'll help me with a little problem." He wasn't hard yet, but by the time they had this take in the can he sure as hell would be.
"Sure, Mr. Vegas," said Tony, dropping his hedge clippers and practically scampering across the grass. He stopped before John, acting shy, and batted his eyelashes. "What's your little problem?"
John took Tony's hand and pressed it to his crotch, feeling his cock stir. "Maybe it's not so little," he said, smirking.
"Cut!" yelled Larry. "Okay Tony, feel him up some. That be enough, Randy, or you want a fluffer?"
Tony grinned and traced John's lengthening cock with two fingers. "Reckon he'll be fine, Mr. Foxx," he said, leaning in to lick the sweat from John's neck as he worked John through the thin material of his pants. John tried not to pant.
"Take two!" called Larry. "And this time, Tony, bend over that hedge while you're cutting it. I wanna see some ass."
Tony gave John a parting squeeze, making him gasp, and winked. "Sure thing, Mr. Foxx."
Another few takes, and Tony was sucking John down with maximum cheek-hollowing, slurping and moaning. John bit his lip and combed his fingers through thick blond hair. "Yeah, that's right," he rasped, shivering as a soft blond mustache brushed the shaft of his dick. "Deeper, take it all," he groaned, and it would have been hilarious if Tony hadn't been a goddamn genius with his tongue, keeping John right on the edge while Marco got footage from both sides, then close-ups.
The scripted frolic in the pool cooled them both off and let Marco shoot the artistic slow-mo shots of water droplets flying from tan skin. Several takes later and a time-out for condom and lube application while Larry rolled his eyes, and John was on all fours on the lawn, naked but for his unbuttoned paisley shirt, medallion thudding against his chest as Tony pounded into him. A few grunted "Yeah, harder!" and "C'mon, fuck me!" lines, and John hardly had any time at all to think how surreal his life had become, before he was pulled up to straddle Tony's lap while his cock was fisted for the money shot. The embarrassment factor of the film crew watching him writhe and arch just made it all the hotter, and really, forty-two was stupidly late in life to discover you had an exhibitionism kink.
They got to swim and laze around the pool for a while after, sharing a joint, and Gina brought them more sodas and some shrimp salad. All in all, if you had to be stuck thirty-seven years in the past waiting for your team to come rescue you, John figured there were worse ways to make a buck.
"Four fucking months!" Rodney bitched, flopping back on the bed in his temporary SGC quarters. "And who knows how much trouble he's Kirked himself into, back in pornoland."
Teyla sat down in his desk chair. "He must have had a good reason to tell us not to come for him before November 4th, Rodney, and in any event you have needed several months to analyze the Time Room mechanism."
Rodney had missed the crumpled form on his first rummage through John's envelope. It was scribbled in familiar slanting handwriting on the back of a CPD property receipt stating that a watch and $43.50 in cash had been returned to John Sheppard on his release on bail from the Park Police Station holding cells. The address of Goodwin and sons was scrawled at the top. Under it, John had put: Dear Mr Goodwin, please add this to the rest of my stuff. Been nice knowing you. Sincerely, John Sheppard. It was signed, and dated November 4th, 1972. Below that, in caps, John had written:
GUYS - THERE'S A THING I HAVE TO DO HERE – IT'S IMPORTANT, SO YOU CAN'T BRING ME BACK TOO SOON. COME GET ME NOVEMBER 4th 1972, OKAY? – NOT BEFORE
They'd argued to and fro about whether to follow John's hastily dashed off instructions, and especially whether he was planning on changing history in some stupidly quixotic way. Miko scoured the net for anything that had happened around then but no one seemed to be riding nukes into enemy territory or flying virus-corrupted fighters into the sun. As Radek pointed out, however, if Sheppard was preventing something bad from happening there'd be no record of it at all. In the end, the "well it can't have been too major because, look, we're all still here" argument prevailed, and then the chamber mechanism was slow to yield its secrets, so Rodney's impulse to go back for John the moment he got the damn thing operational ended up coinciding with John's timing anyway.
He still worried. "Anything could have happened in four months! He's probably been mugged by a crazed stalker, or run over by a tram. Or he might be sick, damn it. Not that they had AIDS then, not in the early Seventies." Rodney rubbed his face tiredly. "I hope the idiot's been having safe sex, but you know John Dangermouse Sheppard. Safety's not his strong point."
Teyla's brow furrowed, then she shook her head slightly, probably filing the remarks in her overflowing incomprehensible-but-probably-irrelevant-things-John-and-Rodney-say basket. "John is no fool," she said. "He is doing what he needs to survive until we can locate him."
"You almost there with the Time Room?" asked Ronon, who'd been pacing restlessly over by the door to Rodney's quarters. Rodney had in fact named the chamber the "Temporal Displacement Unit" but as usual, everyone ignored him.
"We're just waiting on Jackson's last translation, but only to check what we've already figured out about how the TDU operates." He pointed at his head and made a twirling motion. "It's thought-controlled, of course. From what Radek and I can make out, it'll take you to wherever and whenever you're thinking about, once the chamber's activated. The damn thing was faulty and it triggered even though Sheppard wasn't thinking "on",but we've fixed that. Why the Seventies? Who knows what goes on in that man's head." Rodney shrugged and lifted his hands helplessly. "The ambition to be a porn star, apparently."
"I'm sure John is only doing what he must to survive, Rodney," Teyla said reprovingly. "As have we all, when on missions to other cultures."
Rodney flushed, trying not to recall M4X-337 where he'd had too much of the local ale and been forced to compete in a Pegasus version of Pop Idol. He lifted his chin defiantly – the locals there had been all over his Celine Dion renditions and he'd sealed a lucrative trade agreement. Just because he could sing falsetto was no reason for Sheppard and Ronon to–
"Might know about the Seventies thing," muttered Ronon, looking sheepish.
Rodney frowned. "You never mentioned anything before."
"Didn't know it mattered," said Ronon, slumping down on the couch. "When he went in there, I was humming. Love Train, off that Seventies CD Lorne gave me." He looked up at them sheepishly. "What? It's a good song."
"Yeah, and one of the hits of 1972, which is exactly when he ended up," said Rodney, sitting up. "He must have been thinking about San Francisco as well, for some reason." He raised his eyebrows at Ronon, who shrugged and spread his hands. "Oh well, at least it's consistent with our theory about the TDU mechanism."
Teyla frowned. "Will it transport non-gene holders, Rodney? Ronon and I should accompany you to retrieve John, in case there are…complications."
"Yeah, like crazed stalkers or muggers," added Ronon helpfully, cracking his knuckles. "It'll bring my knives with me, right?"
"Your knives?" protested Rodney. "We've got to infiltrate the porn industry, not lay waste to greater San Francisco. And we don't know what it can transport yet, okay? As soon as Jackson's finished I'll test it – send myself back five minutes, then forward again. For a short time there'll be two of me but as the second version's not from an alternate reality there's no risk of entropic cascade. And we have to check that the TDU works in reverse, or we'll never –" he stopped, appalled at what he'd been about to say.
Ronon grinned. "Get 'back to the future'?" Teyla hid a smile.
Rodney groaned. "You just had to, didn't you? God, why am I even trying to rescue Sheppard. It's quite bad enough with just one of you!"
The TDU did, as it turned out, transport clothes and weapons, and also non-gene holders, but only if they were all holding hands and thinking about the same destination while Rodney activated the system. They tried several short hops to and fro, Radek and Miko taking readings and video. It felt uncomfortably like a spiritualist prayer meeting and Rodney was tempted to hum Kumbaya, but Teyla's serenity kept him in line, and even Ronon took the process seriously, screwing up his face in ferocious concentration.
It was surreal to jump back five minutes to a chalked area on the other side of the chamber, wave at their doubles and then jump forward, ten minutes into the future. It was safer to overshoot a little on the return trip, and Radek confirmed that they'd vanished for a few anxious minutes before reappearing.
Biro scanned them all after the test run but other than slight headaches, no other problems arose. Jennifer was away, having taken a short-term post at Johns Hopkins to help with a research project linked to her work in Pegasus. Rodney tried to keep her up to speed, but he couldn't talk freely by phone. She understood about Team, though, that they couldn't leave Sheppard trapped back there in the past.
The SGC had put Teyla and Ronon in the VIP suites, so they gathered in Teyla's room that evening. "I think we can calibrate the TDU precisely enough to hit November 4th squarely on the nose," Rodney told Teyla, as Radek passed some beers around.
Ronon took a swig then wiped his mouth. "Why can't you just go back to when we first hit that planet and stop Sheppard going into the Time Room?"
"What, apart from the fact that he told us not to?" demanded Rodney.
"Don't usually do what he says," Ronon pointed out, with some justice.
"We must disrupt the past as little as possible," Radek said. Ronon raised an eyebrow and Radek shrugged. "Yes, Colonel Sheppard has already done that – we hope, minimally. But in our time, we have evidence he stayed until November 4th so we should stick to what we know happened as closely as possible. Is why we also cannot go back to the time when the Colonel arrives there, and bring him straight back. He needed to be there for some time, to send us the messages. Without those we would not have located him, so If you disrupt that chain of events then everything changes." Radek shrugged. "Also, we do what he told us."
"Yes, yes," said Rodney, "and given the number of times Sheppard's saved Atlantis, not to mention the Earth – as have we all, in our various ways – we can't risk him being stuck in the Seventies forever."
Radek tilted his beer from side to side, thoughtfully. "Although some would argue that Colonel Sheppard being temporally displaced should have altered timeline immediately, and yet here we still are."
Rodney threw up his hands. "We've been over this! Obviously it means we rescue him successfully, so the overall effect's minimal. I mean, worrying though his choice of occupation is, at least he's blended in with no effect on, on historical events, or the state of technology. I trust he knows better than to try to alter history in any significant way. It's evidence for Silkowsky's theory about the resilience of n-dimensional space-time to alteration."
Radek nodded. "Even Einstein saw the past, present and future as co-existing seamlessly, and if retrocausality–"
"Oh, don't give me that unscientific clap-trap again," scoffed Rodney. "It's no more than a thought experiment, and–"
"Please," Teyla said, putting a hand on his arm. "Can we focus on the mission to retrieve Colonel Sheppard?" She was wearing her humoring-the-aliens face. "Fascinating although this discussion is." Ronon snorted.
"Right, yes," said Rodney. "Sorry. Well, if we all focus on the exact day and date, and some place that hasn't changed like in Golden Gate Park, we should be able to make the jump okay. We'll need pictures of our destination from 1972, to make sure."
Miko bowed her head briefly. "I will research those for you."
Rodney nodded, then frowned at Radek. "We'll only be gone very briefly from this end, no matter how long it takes us to locate Sheppard and get him to the TDU." He frowned. "That's the real problem, now. We have to use the Stargate back in 1972."
"Was there no Program then?" asked Teyla. "I thought that the Ancestors' Ring had been discovered on Earth quite some time ago."
"Yeah," said Rodney, "but they didn't really know what it was. The first test in 1945 was a bust – the guy who went through the Stargate had no idea what he was doing. Plus, he hit a planet with a non-functioning DHD so he never came back. They gave up and locked the Stargate away, unused. It's in an old armory somewhere in Washington DC, back in 1972. Probably no dialing device, and no power source connected. Without it we can't get back to P8B-599 to use the…" Rodney shot a nervous glance across at Ronon, who smiled with teeth, "the, ah, Time Room."
There was a long, grim pause, then Radek held up one finger. "But, 1969," he said. "I do not know details, but we are at SGC. There must be records."
"Yes, yes, of course – they went back in time as well," said Rodney, brightening. Teyla cocked an eyebrow. "SG-1. They got stuck in 1969 by accident and Carter used the Stargate and a solar flare to bounce them back–" he clamped his lips shut on the hated phrase, mouth slanting stubbornly.
"Ah, said Radek sagely. "The movie which must not be named." Miko giggled.
"Yeah, yeah," said Rodney sourly, "laugh it up. Meanwhile, Randy Vegas is getting his butt spanked by large hairy men. On camera!"
Ronon rolled his eyes and Teyla looked pained. Radek and Miko exchanged baffled glances and then Radek stood, clapping Rodney on the shoulder. "You are tired, Rodney – we all need sleep. Tomorrow we ask SG-1, or at least Daniel Jackson, since he is available. We will find a way."
"You can ask me now," said a voice from the door. Daniel stepped inside, clutching a printout. "But after our exploits in 1969, we can't be sure they left the Stargate where it was, in that same armory. There are probably records, but it could take a while to trace them." He shrugged. "Paper files from thirty-seven years ago?"
Rodney sagged down on the bed, deflated.
"Rodney, hey, no. It's good news." Daniel pulled up a chair, turned it around and straddled it. "I finished the translation and I don't think you'll need access to the Stargate at all – not if you can use the room as the maker intended. It's thought-operated, yes, but you know the Ancients – there's never just one system."
"Multiple redundancy," said Radek, nodding.
"Fail-safes, yes, of course!" echoed Rodney, snapping his fingers.
Daniel nodded. "Seems it can be programmed so it's like a return ticket or a boomerang. Well, not quite like a boomerang, since it's not a weapon–" Ronon perked up and Rodney gestured impatiently. "Anyway, you can set it up to bring you back from the arrival point in space-time. If you go back there at the pre-programmed time, and focus on returning, it'll snap you back into the chamber just seconds after you left." He paused. "That's if you guys can figure out the crystal matrix, now that I've translated the inscriptions. The builder was a renegade. She wanted to research time travel but the others wouldn't allow it, so she went AWOL." He pushed his glasses up his nose. "No promises, though, because some of what she wrote is pretty whacked. I don't think she was entirely sane there, at the end. Still, it's worth a try."
"Indeed, Daniel, thank you. At least there is some hope," said Teyla. "How long will it take you to research the programming, Rodney?"
Rodney looked at Radek, who rocked his hand back and forth. "A day, maybe two. Three at most. We'll have to test it once we've figured it out." Radek nodded.
"Time enough, then, for Ronon and I to go shopping," said Teyla.
"Look. Far be it from me to get between you and Ronon and a lifetime's supply of leatherwear," said Rodney testily, "but we've got bigger fish to fry right now."
Teyla stood up and shooed them from her room. "Certainly, Rodney. But we are going undercover, are we not? I am reliably informed that it is necessary for us to 'get down with that funky vibe' so as to blend in. We will need costumes and Colorado Springs is too small, so Ronon and I will find something suitable in Denver. Miko will accompany us for cultural support, and General Landry has arranged a driver."
"Get down with that funky what?...oh no no no." Rodney stared at her, horrified. "I've got a very bad feeling about this," he moaned as Teyla maneuvered him out the doorway.
"I'm sure I do not know why," she said, giving him a gentle push. "Sleep well."
"Retro's cool, man," said Ronon, grinning as he backed away. "Can you dig it?" and he wandered off, humming the theme tune from Shaft.
"Oh, for…" Rodney trotted after him, then turned and called back. "I'm not wearing orange! Or purple!"
"You want another toke, Randy?" asked Dana, offering him the joint.
"Nah, I'm cool," said John, taking another swig of beer and sprawling back on the couch in the apartment he shared with Dirk Strong, another of Larry's actors. Dirk was dating Dana, and Gina had called by to tell them about a change in next week's shooting schedule. "Old dudes like me haven't got the stamina of you young things when it comes to partying."
"Oh, I don't know," Dana grinned. "You were Mr. Shagadelic with Brad this afternoon in the hot tub scene." She passed the joint to Gina, who sucked in a lungful and held her breath, eyes goggling behind her granny glasses.
John shrugged and grinned. "Yeah, well. Larry loves to get us wet for those artistic shots with the flying water droplets." He pointed at Gina. "All your fault, I might add." Gina giggled.
"Seriously, man," said Dirk. "I hate doing it underwater – I always get chafed. Got this great comfrey ointment; I'll lend it to you."
John rubbed the back of his neck. "Ah, yeah. Thanks, Dirk, I'll give it a try."
"Right on, man," said Dirk solemnly, tipping his beer at John. "Gotta look after the equipment."
Dana rolled her eyes and nudged Gina. "So what're you doing this weekend, babe? Out campaigning?"
Gina handed the roach off to Dirk who began slotting it into a small metal clip. She exhaled slowly, watching the curl of smoke with dreamy satisfaction. "Yeah. Dropping off pamphlets, helping out at the community center. The election's Tuesday, so the campaign staff'll be pretty wired."
"There's an election?" John asked lazily.
Gina frowned at him. "Have you been living under a rock, Randy? I know you actors are hopelessly square, but now you're just bullshitting me. I bet you're even planning to vote for Nixon!"
"Tricky Dick?" John smirked. "Heh. My old man would have loved it if I did, that's for sure. So, no. Anyway, 'm not registered." Dana nodded understandingly. The story he'd put about was that he was a draft dodger from Texas, hiding from the authorities. John thought for a moment. Nixon, November 1972. Shit, it was the general election. He quirked an eyebrow at Gina. "You really think McGovern's got a chance?"
That earned him nearly an hour of Rodney-level ranting, which John rather enjoyed. He only managed to shut her down in the end by promising to help deliver flyers door to door at the weekend. Anyway, he felt kind of bad about the way Nixon was going to wipe the floor with McGovern.
"I can't believe these outfits," hissed Rodney, peering around a tree at the edge of Golden Gate Park, across from the Panhandle. "I said no orange!"
"You said no orange for you, Rodney," whispered Teyla, giving Ronon the all clear signal as they left the trees ringing the drop-off point and headed south along the border of the park. "Miko assures me that these clothes are correct for the period. I am used to leather and it allows freedom of movement, should something more strenuous be required. Are you not comfortable in your own costume?"
"Oh sure. It's just peachy, as long as I can stay upright under the weight of enough neck chains to throttle a giraffe. The chest wig's a real keeper, too. What am I, your pimp?"
"You are our manager, Rodney," Teyla said, giving some wolf-whistling hippie kids a flat stare as she passed them. Ronon loomed dangerously and the offenders scooted away down a side street, sandals flapping.
"And Rod Stargate? That's the best name you could dream up for me?" Rodney pouted. "I didn't even get a black leather jacket, just this silver vinyl monstrosity." He tried not to mince. The pointy-toed shoes pinched his feet, but John's apartment was only a few blocks away.
"It seemed best to choose names we would easily remember. I am Taylor Merchant and Ronon is Ronnie Dixon."
"Ronnie 'Big Guy' Dixon," added Ronon with a leer, as he swaggered along beside them in obscenely tight jeans and chaps.
"Right, right, yes, of course," Rodney muttered, rolling his eyes sarcastically. "Because all this costume drama will come in so very handy when we collect John and take him straight back to the drop-off point." He wondered how many knives were concealed in the fringed leather jacket draped over Ronon's purple lamé shirt. His guess? Too many.
"We cannot return there immediately," Teyla reminded him. "Radek was clear that the Time Room will not draw us back until midnight." She looked at a rhinestone-covered wrist watch. "It is now 3pm, so we have several hours in which to find John. Is his transmitter registering?"
"Huh? Oh, yes, yes, He's on my radar, so to speak." Rodney pulled the scanner from his pocket and studied it again. "I configured it to look like an early hand-held Football game," he explained to Teyla, who smiled in polite incomprehension. "Damn," he continued, peering at the screen and poking a few buttons. "I don't think he's here, though. Can't tell until we get closer, but his signal looks further away."
They turned off Oak and down Masonic Ave, and made their way to the address of the apartment from John's messages, at the intersection with Haight.
"No," said Rodney, frowning down at the hand-held. "He's definitely not here. Looks like he's about two blocks further east." He pointed with his chin. "Over thattaway." He looked up to see Ronon and Teyla taut as bowstrings, staring east along Haight Street. Ronon cocked his head, listening intently.
"What? What is it?" Rodney asked anxiously, because he'd seen them like this before, on the very worst of missions, and it was generally followed by Wraith worshipper ambushes, erupting volcanoes or attacks by giant lizards. None of those seemed likely in Haight-Ashbury on a Saturday afternoon, but Rodney was sure something equally nasty was in store.
"Sounds like a crowd," Ronon said. "People shouting." Teyla nodded, frowning.
And then Rodney could hear it too, quite faint but getting louder. A few people nearby began heading toward the disturbance, picking up the chanting as they went. "NO MORE WAR! NIXON OUT! NO MORE WAR! NIXON OUT!"
"Oh for fuck's sake," said Rodney. "It's a protest march!"
"What war are they fighting?" asked Teyla, pulling her bantos out of Ronon's duffel.
"No, they're not fighting, they're protesting against the fighting," explained Rodney. "Against the war in Vietnam." Ronon and Teyla looked at him blankly. "You had to be there," he said, and shrugged.
"Are we in danger, Rodney?" asked Teyla, listening to the crowd. "Is John in danger?"
"Well, they're supposed to be non-violent, all about peace and love…" He trailed off uncertainly.
"Crowd that big, that worked up, there's gonna be trouble," growled Ronon.
"Yes, I'm inclined to agree," sighed Rodney. He looked down at the screen again. "And of course, Randy Vegas, porn star extraordinaire, is right in the thick of it." He stuck the scanner back in his pocket. "I hope he's wearing clothes."
John brushed the sweaty bangs out of his eyes again, taking a firmer hold on Gina's arm as the crowd surged. He might blend in more with his hair almost collar-length, but the way it flopped about reminded him why he hadn't minded cutting it short for the Air Force.
They were stuck in a mass of protestors on Haight, a couple of blocks from the apartment. He should never have let Gina drag him into a damn "Peace March" right before the Nixon-McGovern showdown when feelings were running high. Hell, Republican plants were probably inciting a riot right now – this was the crew that that brought the world Watergate, after all.
Gina coughed beside him, her eyes wide and fearful. She seemed to be panicking, her breathing fast and laboured as the crush around them worsened. John bent and shouted in her ear: "You okay?"
She clutched his leather waistcoat, rasping "Asthma, can't–" then broke off to wheeze again.
Jesus, no. John looked about wildly. A green hill loomed just ahead to the left: Buenavista Park. The steps up into the park were jammed with people, probably also seeking escape from the surging mass of the crowd. The garden alongside the steps was clear, though, so John lifted Gina into his arms and forced his way through, cursing and shouting "She's sick, let me through, let me through!"
They might not have made it if Larry hadn't been standing on the steps, scanning the crowd frantically. He saw them and charged in, elbows flying. Huh, John hadn't realised he knew judo. And kickboxing, too from the look of it. Larry grabbed his arm and dragged them up onto the sidewalk, then they scaled the hillside garden which was fairly free of people.
"What the fuck!" shouted Larry. "I been looking for you all around here. Gina was supposed to meet me!" John shook him off and laid Gina down between a couple of low shrubs. "Oh crap!" said Larry, dropping to his knees, then lifting Gina gently and propping her against him. "Gina, honey, I'm sorry." He patted her hand helplessly as she fought for breath.
"Asthma," said John. "It's scary down there, all the pushing and shoving. It brought on an attack."
"Babe," said Larry, frantically. "Gina, honey, you're okay now, you're safe."
"Larry…" gasped Gina, coughing weakly. But she was still wheezing, fighting for breath, her face pale and her lips bluish.
Fuck, thought John, this is not good. He stood up and cast about but there was nothing but the crowd, wherever he looked. No help in sight, not even any cops. "There a doctor here?" yelled John. "She's sick, we need a doctor! Medical emergency!" A few people nearby shook their heads, but hardly anyone even heard him and no doctors appeared.
John squatted down again, kneeling in the dirt beside Larry, who was stroking Gina's face, muttering "Breathe, baby, you can do it, breathe for your Larry!"
He looked up at John, stricken. "I never seen her so bad. Where's her bag? She always has her inhaler with her."
John glared down at the crowded street. "It was a mess. She lost it when the cops did a baton charge. I got her away unharmed but we were swept up in the thick of it."
"Shit!" Larry patted Gina's face, but she was struggling to breathe, her eyes shut, looking on the verge of collapse. Her lips were distinctly blue now.
"Wait," said John, patting his chest where the Tac vest usually was. Just his waistcoat now, over a floral shirt. But he still had it, stashed in the inside pocket. He'd had one in his jacket when he got zapped back to 1972: ingrained habit after years of missions with Rodney. He pulled out the Epi-pen and fumbled it out of the plastic tube, then pushed up Gina's long muslin skirt, exposing her thigh.
He was so focused that he never saw it coming when Larry punched him in the face.
Ronon took point as they headed east along Haight Street, with Rodney behind him and Teyla bringing up the rear. The first wave of marchers, a chanting mass of placards with peace signs and slogans in a rainbow of colors, pressed them back into the doorway of a bookstore advertising Tarot readings, but after a few minutes they were able to struggle on against the flow of the crowd, Ronon clearing a path by brute force.
They tried to cross an intersection where the crowd swirled chaotically in the wider space, more people pressing in from the side streets. There were shouts off to the right, and a line of police with batons began herding the crowd back into Haight Street, away from the park. "Oh, here we go," moaned Rodney as Ronon felled one cop with a punch and Teyla took the next one out with her bantos. She pulled Rodney with her as Ronon barreled through the yelling protestors. Behind them more skirmishes broke out along the police line.
"He's not far along now, maybe 300 meters," shouted Rodney, checking the scanner as they pushed through the crowd. "On this side of the street, which is unusually good planning for Sheppard." He pointed at some trees off to the right. "There – see that park? Must be somewhere further along there."
"We should take a route through the trees," Teyla called to where Ronon was parting McGovern supporters like the Red Sea. "It will avoid the policemen." Ronon nodded and grabbed Rodney's arm, hauling him squeaking up the far sidewalk and a grassy slope, then into the trees. Rodney looked around wildly to make sure they hadn't lost Teyla, but she was right there, eeling through the press of people and joining them in the shrubbery, where hardly any of the marchers had so far ventured. "This is much better," Teyla said, looking about her as they caught their breath. "Are there any large predators we should be wary of in these wooded areas?"
"Nope, just the human variety," said Rodney. He pointed up the slope. "Okay, that's where we're headed, to hunt the wild Sheppard. Try not to deck any more policemen, okay?"
Larry's punch knocked John back into a lavender bush, but he kept his grip on the pen. "The fuck you doing?" Larry yelled, crouched protectively over Gina's limp form. "Get your hands off my Gina!"
John pushed himself up and rubbed his jaw, working it from side to side experimentally. Ouch. He checked the Epi-pen cartridge hadn't broken or been accidentally discharged. It looked okay. "It's medicine, Larry. Emergency stuff for allergies and asthma. I have to inject it into her leg. It won't work fast enough otherwise." Larry still looked like he wanted to punch John, and of course, why would Randy Vegas know anything about injections?
"Look, you know I said I was a draft dodger? Well, I'm actually a deserter. I get allergies too, and the military gave me this – it's a new thing, works better than an inhaler. I promise it's safe! Larry, she'll die if we don't–"
Larry looked down at Gina, whose face was ashen. He swallowed and gestured John forward. John knelt and pulled the safety off the Epi-pen, jamming the tip against the outside of Gina's thigh until the dose was delivered. Nothing happened at first, and for a sickening moment he thought they were too late.
How had this day gone so wrong? All they'd been doing was door-knocking with McGovern pamphlets, then the stupid fucking protest march, and now Gina was dying in the dirt just a block from his apartment. He rubbed his face and pushed his stupid floppy hair back, vowing to get the damn bangs hacked off the minute this was over.
Gina took a gasping breath, and then another. She was still very wheezy but her breathing was definitely easier and her face a little pinker. Larry crouched beside her, knuckling wetness from his eyes and murmuring encouragement. John let out a long breath and slumped back on his heels, watching Larry stroke Gina's hand as she smiled wanly up at him, pale and exhausted, but alive.
It figured they were together, not that he'd realized it until now, but then John was crap at noticing that sort of thing. Gina was always there at Larry's elbow, his right hand, anticipating his every need like Radar and Colonel Henry Blake. And now that he thought about it, Larry had more than once waxed lyrical when sharing a drink with John after a day's shoot, saying how artistic Gina was, how creative.
John hauled himself up, his knees protesting. The crowd was still bad, choking the street below. He looked back at Gina and tried to formulate a plan. "She's not out of the woods yet, Larry – we need to get her to a hospital. You got your car?"
"Yeah, couple blocks north of here," said Larry, squinting down at the mass of people. "The other side of the fucking crowd. We're never gonna get her through this, Randy. We'd have to carry her – I can't get the car in, not while it's this bad. Even if we could call an ambulance, they'd never make it through, either."
"Yeah, I know. Bummer." John frowned. Maybe they could they take her the long way around if the park behind them was clearer than the road. He swivelled around, intending to climb to the top of the steps to check, and there was Ronon in jeans, bounding down the hillside garden, crushing shrubs underfoot, his leather jacket flying. Rodney was behind him, scrambling down the slope clutching a scanner, flanked by Teyla in a skin-tight orange bodysuit.
Rodney looked up from his hand-held, saying "He should be right–Ha! There he is!" and then John was enveloped in a bear-hug, face mashed into Ronon's neck, and his throat seemed to have closed up, all the words trapped inside as he blinked furiously. Teyla – wow, she had an afro too and she looked amazing – pulled him in to touch foreheads and he had to swipe at his eyes after she drew back, beaming.
Rodney glanced at Larry, who was staring at Ronon and Teyla as though he'd discovered the Holy Grail, and quickly pocketed the scanner. "Randy Vegas, I presume?" he said to John, grinning crookedly, so John had to hug him as well. Rodney was solid under the ludicrous silver vinyl jacket, patting John awkwardly on the back while the ton of gold chains around his neck clanked against John's beads.
"What the everloving fuck are you wearing?" asked John, holding him back at arms' length.
Rodney bristled and pointed his thumb at the rest of the team. "I could say the same to you. I'm their manager, I'm Rod Stargate." He stared meaningfully at John, eyebrows raised. "Get it? Rod St–"
Teyla stepped forward, gesturing to Larry and Gina. "Are these friends of yours, J– Randy?"
"Oh, yeah, I'm sorry. This is my boss, Larry Foxx of Foxxy Productions, and Gina, Larry's boss." Larry managed a tired smile at that, but he was preoccupied with Gina, who was still wheezing faintly.
Teyla hunkered down beside Gina and took her hand. "I am Taylor Merchant, a friend of…Randy's. This is Ronnie Dixon, another friend." She gestured at Ronon, who John now saw was wearing chaps. He raised his eyebrows at the big guy, giving him an obvious once-over.
Ronon grinned, teeth white. He pointed at his legs. "Chaps," he said proudly.
"Yeah, I noticed," said John, dryly. "And a hat to match." Ronon pulled the brim down and smirked.
"And this is our manager, Mr Stargate", Teyla continued, gesturing at Rodney. John managed not to roll his eyes, but it was a close-run thing. Teyla put a hand on Gina's forehead. "You are unwell?" Gina nodded, still too breathless to speak.
"She gets asthma," said Larry, his voice strained. "It was the crowd – she had a bad attack."
"Had to use a pen," said John, showing the empty cartridge. "Lucky I still carried one."
Rodney bustled forward, frowning, every inch the expert. "She's just had the one?" He pulled another Epi-pen from the inside pocket of his jacket and brandished it, then put it back. "I've got more, but it's risky to use more than one if it's not anaphylaxis." He stared down at the crowd then looked all around, clearly wishing a cloaked jumper with a full medical team would materialise out of thin air. "She needs a hospital."
"Yeah, we know," said John. "We were just kind of stumped by the massive crowd down there, in between us and Larry's car." He pointed across the protestors. "It's two blocks north."
"Didn't have us before," said Ronon. "Do now." He turned to Larry. "Can you carry her?"
"Yeah, sure I can," said Larry, blinking, "but…"
"We will clear the way," Teyla assured him.
"Ah, yeah," said John, rubbing the back of his neck. "It's okay, Larry, they've got a few skills as well as being, y'know, hot as fuck." Rodney looked smug.
"Who the hell are they?" asked Larry bemusedly, lifting Gina carefully in his arms.
"We're his Team," said Ronon. Teyla nodded serenely and they led the way down the hill and carved a path through the crowd below.
"She's gonna be okay," said Larry, limp with relief now that Gina was safe. They were clustered in the St Mary's ER waiting room where Teyla and Ronon's outfits were turning a few heads, despite the place being crammed with bruised and limping protestors. "The doc just wants to have a word with you about that injection."
"Look, Larry, about that," muttered John, glancing anxiously at the swing doors to the treatment area. "See, I'm not really supposed to have it, or, like, use it. It's kind of experimental and I may have liberated a few of those pens when I…parted company with the military. Plus there's the whole deserter thing, so, y'know, we're gonna split." He grabbed Larry's hand and shook it. "But hey, man, it's been real. You give my love to Gina, now."
Larry's eyes narrowed. "I'm gettin' a bad feeling I may not be seeing you on the set come Monday, Randy? What gives?" He looked down his nose at Rodney. "This jerk make you a better offer? I'll double it!" Larry turned to Teyla and Ronon. "And you guys, we barely even met but I would love to have you on the Foxxy Productions payroll. You two are hot stuff and I'm tellin' you, whatever he's paying you, it ain't enough."
"Oh yeah?" said Rodney, pushing in between Larry and Teyla, his mouth an angry line. "You already poached John, I mean Randy, so just keep off my turf, Larry, or, or, you might end up in the harbour with cement shoes!"
"I'm quakin' in my boots here," snapped Larry, nose to nose with Rodney as they glared each other down.
"Whoa, kids, let's all be cool," said John, as Teyla drew Rodney back and murmured to him soothingly. Ronon was too busy snorting with laughter to be any use. "Larry, what Rod says is right. My first loyalty's to him – and to Taylor and the big guy here, sorry about that. I hate to let you down but I've just been getting by here until I could hook up with them again. I gotta go. Say so long to everyone for me, okay? Especially to Gina."
Larry grabbed John and pulled him into a hug. "I ain't never gonna forget you, Randy," he said earnestly, holding him at arms' length. "You saved my Gina's life back there and if you didn't have such a crap name I'd call our firstborn after you. But with the industry I'm in, it can't be 'John' or 'Randy', no offence." He shrugged, and patted John on the arm.
"Hey, no, that's cool, no offence taken," said John.
"His middle name's 'Dangermouse'," offered Ronon helpfully.
"Yeah?" Larry said, grinning. "It suits him."
"What the fuck?" said John, then, "oh shit, c'mon guys, let's scram," as a white coated figure emerged from the swing doors. They scrammed.
It was only five o'clock when they emerged from the ER, and since they weren't due at the drop-off point for a few hours, Ronon insisted they eat.
They found a deli south of Golden Gate Park and over sandwiches and coffee, while Teyla sipped iced tea, Rodney told John about the TDU. "The Time Room", clarified Ronon around a mouthful of meatball sub, while Rodney gritted his teeth.
Rodney explained how Daniel had figured out the boomerang effect, and that midnight was when they had to get back to the drop-off area. "So you can take me back with you?" asked John, after brushing off Rodney's questions about life as a porn star with "Need to know basis only, Rodney, and you don't need to know".
"I beg to differ," said Rodney, "but with the TDU, yes. It's not linked to specific individuals." He signalled the waiter for more coffee. "The field covers a point in space-time, and as long as we're there and all in tune, holding hands and thinking about returning to the chamber, it'll bounce us back together."
"I don't have to click my heels together three times?" asked John with a smirk.
"We're not trying to get back to Kansas, Dorothy," said Rodney. "Just toe the party line." Ronon frowned at Teyla, who shrugged and drank her tea.
"One thing I still don't get," added Rodney, "is when you left that last note."
"What last note?" John took a bite of his turkey on rye.
"With the rest of your letters, in the safe deposit box. That last one that told us not to come and get you until today, because there was something important you had to do."
"Don't know anything about that, but it's a good idea. I must have meant using the Epi-pen on Gina. I can write something and mail it to the law firm, no problem."
"No, it was written on a form from the police," said Rodney, frowning.
Which was when the cop Ronon had punched out came into the deli with his partner, to pick up the nearby police station's dinner order.
"Well, this is familiar," muttered Rodney. "Back in the local lock-up after pissing off the natives."
"At least we are together again," said Teyla firmly, and yeah, John was thankful for that.
He winced at the thought of the deli, which had been pretty trashed by the time the cops had subdued them all. Ronon had been damn lucky not to be shot, after pulling a knife from his boot. John had wielded a chair to good effect until the officers drew their guns. He hadn't been armed. He'd buried his P-90 in the park wrapped in plastic several weeks ago; too risky to keep it in the shared apartment. Rodney had probably just been arrested by association, and for mouthing off. The cops had had a very trying day.
John stood and went to the bars of the holding cell again. "Hey! I want my phone call!" he yelled. Nothing happened.
"Oh, that's fantastic," said Rodney with an edge of plaintive panic. "We're going to miss the deadline and get trapped here and we'll all end up working in the porn industry for real. How is this my life?"
"Could we not simply wait and see if someone else comes through to collect us a little later?" asked Teyla.
"Well, yes," said Rodney. "But what if they don't? Landry might decide it's too risky and not be prepared to let anyone else try. It might be a very long wait." John shivered, thinking of the time dilation field and how he'd stayed in the cave, first patient, then anxious, then increasingly desperate, until thirst and hunger drove him out to fend for himself.
"I could leave another message through that lawyer," John suggested.
"Yeah, but you didn't, I mean you don't," insisted Rodney. "Oh sweet fuck, I hate time travel. I mean, there was no extra message telling us we'd missed the first deadline and to send someone else later."
"There might be, if we get it separately delivered after you guys have already left to come get me. How would you know?" John thought that was eminently logical.
Rodney gaped at him. "Wait…that's... There must be something wrong with that," he muttered, eyes glazed and brow furrowed.
A key clanked in the lock. "Hey, you!" A balding cop who'd had a few too many donuts beckoned John over. "You the one wanting a phone call?"
John scrambled up. "Yeah, thanks."
Ronon looked up, his dreads dishevelled and the cowboy hat lost for good. His shirt was gone too, torn off in the struggle, and he was sporting a few more bruises. The bald cop grabbed John and beat a swift retreat, locking the door after him.
John looked up the hospital's number and dialed, crossing his fingers. After a series of agonizing delays and several transfers, a nurse told him to wait, and after a long pause, he heard Larry's voice.
"Yeah? Who is this?"
"Larry – It's me, Randy. Look, we got busted. You know what you said about naming your firstborn after me to say thanks? How about bailing us out instead?"
"You sure you wanna hang out with those guys, Randy? Seems to me life was a lot quieter for you when you were just making porn."
"Tell me about it," said John with feeling. "But yeah, man, I'm sure."
He gave the others the update, back in the cell. "It's going to be a close call, but I think we can just make it."
"That is good news, John," said Teyla. "This costume is not as comfortable as real leather and I am keen to remove it."
There was a reverent pause, and then Rodney cleared his throat. "Er, yes. Well at least that solves our problem." He turned to John. "That note – you wrote the last message that told us not to come for you before today, November 4th, on the back of your property receipt from here."
"Larry'll put it with the rest," John said. He frowned. "It'll cost him, us skipping bail, but he can have what I've earned here. It's under the mattress at my apartment." He saw Rodney's face. "What? I'm a draft dodging deserter, remember? Don't exactly have a bank account."
"It's just as well we're rescuing you, Sheppard," said Rodney, shaking his head. "How much have you got stashed there?"
John looked shifty. "Enough." His ears flushed. "There were quite a few movies, okay?" Rodney went to speak and John held up a finger. "Nuh-uh. Need to know, remember?" Rodney clearly thought he did need to know, but John ignored that, changing the subject. "Hey," he said, grinning at Rodney. "I just realised. When we're doing that hand-holding visualization thing, we’re gonna be going b–"
"Say it, and I'm leaving you here in PornWorld forever," snapped Rodney.
They had a small party to celebrate their successful return. Just a few old friends from Atlantis or the SGC like Lorne, who was on another gate team, and Daniel and Vala. Miko and Radek had returned to continue repairs to the city.
John and Lorne were chatting about San Francisco in the Seventies. "I was just a kid then," said Lorne, "but I've got photos of my mom in a long velvet skirt and a headband, holding me when I was a baby." He grinned at John. "Can't imagine you in tie-dye and flares John, I gotta say, although I see you kept the mustache. It suits you."
"Thanks, Evan," said John, stroking his upper lip. His 'stache was a little longer than the Air Force regs allowed, but then, even with a new haircut, so was his hair. "I had a waistcoat," he admitted. "And beads."
Lorne snorted beer up his nose. "Christ, warn a guy," he said, grinning. "What'd you do to get by, all that time?" he asked. "I mean, without a green card."
John shrugged. "This and that. Worked in the movies a little."
"Yeah, really?" asked Lorne, cocking an eyebrow. "Thought that was mostly down in L.A."
"It was a small…independent film company," said John, fiddling with the label on his beer.
Lorne grinned. "Mom always told me my dad was an 'art movie producer'. He died when I was ten so I only remember him a little. He had a mustache, too – I guess lots of guys did back then. I used to like playing with it when I was really small." Lorne looked across at John and made a wry face. "You know, when I was on leave a few years back I found an old projector and two boxes of his movies in the basement at Mom's. 'Art movies' my ass – it was porn, really dated and kind of hilarious. My dad: the pornographer. I don't care. He was a good man and he and Mom loved each other." He took another drink, lost in thought.
John picked off some more of the label on his beer. He cleared his throat. "So, your dad's movies, did you watch all of them?"
Lorne shook his head. "Might have, if I'd found them when I was fifteen, but no. They were old, and dated like I said. I just watched a couple starring this guy Dirk something. Dirk Strong, that was it. Mom was moving house so I threw them all out with the rest of her junk, in a dumpster." He raised his eyebrows. "What – you think I should've kept them for posterity?"
"Nope," said John. "I think posterity'll be just fine without them." There'd be other copies out there, but he felt a rush of relief that at least his XO hadn't seen them. He grinned across at Lorne. "Your dad ever call you 'Dangermouse' when you were a kid?"
Lorne narrowed his eyes. "Yeah, as a matter of fact he did. How'd you know?"
"Just a lucky guess," said John breezily. "Oh, hey, there's O'Neill. I better go say hi."