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John didn't have time to figure out what it meant nor did he actually care: the sand was whipping up as a storm rolled in, the insurgents who'd been firing at them starting to back away as they ducked for cover. It was the perfect time to get his men out of there, especially the wounded Holland.

Apparently Harris didn't feel the same, his eyes still stuck on the glowing object in his CO's hand. “Sir...”

“Later, Lieutenant,” he ordered; pocketing the stupid thing, he yanked at his gear, his handkerchief and sunglasses, and waited for Clarence and Lee to heft the stretcher they'd cobbled together. “Ready?”

“We're ready, sir.”

They all forgot about the object.

Okay, they all forgot about it until they got back to base, safe and sound and Sheppard having been yelled at while being commended by the Brass, and then they lazed around in his tent, flinging the rod back and forth.

It was dark in Lee's hands and Clarence's, gave a weak glow when Harris touched it, but it blazed a brilliant emerald green.

“You know, that's some trick, sir. What are you pressing on it?” Morganson asked when it was flung at him, twisting and turning it under his gaze.

John shrugged and took a long pull from his beer.

Holland could also make the thing light up, John discovered a few days later. It wasn't as bright as when he touched it, but his friend could turn the cylinder into a decent flashlight.

They agreed not to mention it to anyone else.

Of course, not including the nurses on that agreement kind of negated the promise: the entire base knew inside a week, including the commanders.

The black helo that appeared on base the following Monday could no lead to good things. John was sure as fuck about that, particularly once they slapped a pair of silver oak leaves in his hands.

“Ah, Colonel,” General Landry grinned, clearly enjoying John's promotion more than John was. “How's your new office?”

Dear God, the paperwork. So. Much. Paperwork.

“Any chance I can get an assistant, sir?”

A new voice spoke up, “Ah, kid, they save the assistants for the big boys.”

John looked at the interloper, a tall guy with graying hair in Air Force BDUs; he had the standard 9mm strapped to his thigh, stars on his shoulders.

Great, another General.

“Yes, sir. Should have thought of that, sir.”

The new General—O'Neill, the embroidered nametag read—looked at Landry. “He's politer than you said.”

“Just wait. It doesn't last.”

“Good. The last guys you sent to the Mountain have no personality. Danny's eating them alive.” O'Neill slid into a chair and gestured that John should do the same. “So, I've been told good things about you, John Sheppard.”

“Okay, sir.”

“And some not so good things.”

John shrugged.

“Ha, see? That's what I want! Send me more guys like that.”

Landry rolled his eyes, but John respectfully pretended not to notice.

“Anyway, I looked at your record—not bad—and I heard about your magic trick—“ John resisted dropping his head into his hands at O'Neill's words “—which I spoke to a few people about. It's possible three of the smartest people I know did some unspeakably embarrassing things. The fourth just did them mentally.”

“Okay, now I'm very confused. Sir.”

“Yeah, that happens a lot on my base. You get used to it.” O'Neill smiled, “So you're going to come with me on a little trip, you and Holland, and then we're going to have a little discussion.”

John nodded in understanding.

“And if you like what I have to say, we'll have a bigger discussion. Like one that's theoretically the size of Manhattan.”

(Said theoretical discussion ended up taking place while Jackson, McKay, and Carter all gestured wildly at each other and at whiteboards and Elizabeth Weir looked fondly on, and Holland just shook his head and muttered, “You just had to touch that thing, didn't you?”

“You! Get over here and touch this!”

John winced. “So, um, this expedition is how far off?”

O'Neill patted John on the shoulder. “We only just started looking for it, but I figure with this group it'll only be a couple of years. Until then, I've got a nice off-world team just for you.“

“McKay's on it, isn't he?”

“Ah, yes, I knew Hank wouldn't let me down when I asked him to find me a nice, snarky young pilot.”)