Lions and Guides and Igigi, Oh My
Rodney adjusted the radiation hood on his suit and then had to hurry to catch up with John. As far as he was concerned, this was a waste of time. Even if they found Ford, he wasn't going to thank them for hunting him down. The Genii had heard one or two things about Ford and his merry band of Wraith enzyme addicts, and as far as Rodney was concerned, the man was responsible for his own crazy. However, that's not how John saw things. As far as John was concerned, it was all Ellis' fault that Ford wasn't safely at home in Atlantis right now.
Rodney thought that was a little unfair to Ellis, and considering that Rodney hated Ellis with the energy of a star going supernova, that was saying something.
"So," Rodney said, nearly shouting to be heard over the thick plastic in the suit. He hated the heat inside the thing, but he would hate getting exposed to radiation even more. In his job he'd been exposed to so much already that he lived in constant terror of developing some cancer. Hell, the Genii had nearly fried him when he had John had found their underground lair back in year one.
John gave him a look out of the side of his eyes. "Yes?" he drawled.
"We're opening more gardens and hydroponics. Whoever was in charge of the labs ten thousand years ago really should have been fired. Nothing was properly sealed and we're having to disassemble all the equipment." Rodney held his breath and waited for John to ask about the power required for that sort of operation. While Rodney had promised Radek and Samas that he wouldn't tell the whole truth, he'd also said he wouldn't lie to John.
"Uh huh," John said. He wasn't even giving Rodney his full attention.
"We're having to heat sterilize everything."
This time John only grunted.
"And the water treatment systems are requiring the manufacture of new parts altogether. We've had to open a manufacturing plant in Central-West 3 to handle the extra demand. The Genii are talking about sending us another twenty techs to take some of the burden off the Hoff." Rodney held his breath as he waited for John to ask where all that energy had come from, but John just scanned the trees.
It was Teyla who responded. "It sounds like the work is difficult, but to provide emergency supplies for so many who need it is a worthy cause."
"Yes, yes. I know," Rodney snapped.
John turned and raised an eyebrow at him. "Getting a little hot in there, Rodney?"
"It's better than frying my brain with radiation. Some of us have brains to care about," Rodney shot right back. Immediately he could feel his face heat with embarrassment. He hadn't meant to bite John's head off, but he didn't know how to get John to notice the important part of that sentence. They were burning through power like crazy. If they were truly working off the one ZPM from Degan, Rodney never would have signed off on the work they were doing. And since neither Rodney nor Carter had yet won the race to recharge a ZPM on their own, John should be putting two and two together. Should. Clearly John was not giving Rodney his full attention. And now Rodney had gone and insulted his lover. No wonder he couldn't keep relationships going past the two month mark. At least he hadn't before John, and Rodney couldn't help waiting for the moment when he would say something spectacularly honest and cruel and John would walk out.
Obviously this was not that moment. John gave him a crazy grin. "It's the hair. Radiation doesn't dare try and penetrate my hair," he said. He then shoulder bumped Rodney. "If you're too hot, you can head back to the jumper and wait."
"John and I can continue the search," Teyla agreed.
Rodney grunted. "This is a team thing, and I'm part of this team." Rodney wasn't about to admit it, but he'd hated the months under Ellis when he'd been banned from going off-world because he was too valuable.
"Yes," John agreed, "you are, but you're a hot and possibly hypoglycemic member of this team."
Rodney pushed away and took point for the two second it took John to catch up and move ahead once again. Teyla fell in next to Rodney.
"You are doing valued work. Our allies are very taken with the idea that Atlantis wishes to provide for refugees who find themselves in need of food. While other empires have risen, such as the Genii and the Sateteans, none have ever turned their technology toward charitable work."
"Sateteans?" John asked over his shoulder.
"Another civilization that grew too technologically advanced for the Wraith to tolerate. Unlike the Genii, they were not able to save any part of their world."
"This really is a shitty corner of the universe," John muttered.
"It is," Teyla agreed calmly. "However, many attitudes toward the Lanteans are shifting. Much of the anger people felt in the face of your mistakes is fading now that people see that, like a child, you are attempting to mend that which you broke."
John turned around. "They think we're children?"
"They think you are young and idealistic and very used to a world where you had control in a way that is not possible in this galaxy."
John rested his hand on the end of his weapon. "So they think we're kids?"
Teyla gave him a small smile. "You have provided some rather convincing evidence to that end."
"The lack of respect around here is shocking," John said in a voice that was clearly teasing. Rodney wished he knew how to do that--how to criticize people without sounding like he hated them. John might talk about how he was bad with people, but Rodney never saw it.
"I assure you, the things we say to your face are far less shocking than those we said behind Ellis' back," Teyla offered with a tilt of her head.
"You? I never thought of you as talking behind someone's back." John sounded genuinely surprised.
"Had he bothered accepting any of my requests for a meeting, I would not have felt the need. I could have said all those things to his face." Teyla's smile looked a lot like the one she would use right before hitting someone really hard with a bantos rod.
"Yes, yes, Ellis was an idiot," Rodney said. He had a limited window of opportunity here, and he needed John to ask the right questions because keeping secrets from his lover was giving him ulcers. "If the man hadn't been so desperate for more power to get Atlantis up and running, he never would have taken the risks he did."
John started down the path again. "Says the man who filed a request to go back to Doranda."
"That research has great potential," Rodney said in his own defense. "And yes, right now it makes more sense to focus on the ZPM project because we need to get more of the city up and running." Rodney paused, mentally willing John to make the damn connection. Clearly Rodney had overestimated the moron's intelligence. Either that or John was utterly distracted by this wild goose chase. "However, once we have all the ZPMs recharged, I still think the station there shows a lot of potential."
"I'll bring popcorn when you try to get that one past Elizabeth."
"She just think the sun shines out the Ancients' asses," Rodney snapped.
John stopped and turned around to look at him. "Seriously, McKay, what is wrong with you today?"
"Okay, fine. We found the ZPM charging station, okay?" Rodney blurted out. The words flew out like a overstretched balloon that popped. John blinked at him. "What?"
Shit. Samas was going to kill him. Worse, Samas was going to refuse to do any coding related to any of Rodney's projects. And then Radek was going to kill him. "We found the station," Rodney repeated.
John stared at him.
The silence ate at Rodney the way no condemnation could. "We have a total of twelve charged ZPMs, but Radek and Samas said we shouldn't tell you because you're a military officer, and you'll tell your superiors, and your superiors are all idiots. Every last one of them has had all common sense removed as part of the promotion process."
John finally found his voice. "They... what?"
Rodney sighed. "Are you being deliberately thick?"
"Deliberately? No," John said, drawing the words out.
"Radek and Samas said that if Earth knew we had a recharging station they would want to take it, but the station is a critical part of the stardrive itself."
"Which is why you've been having tests on the star drive?" John guessed.
"Yes, yes. Those were recharging events. But my point is that you can't take the recharging station out of the city. Atlantis would literally sink if you even tried, and trust me, it wouldn't fit through the Stargate even in pieces. It's mammoth. And Radek says that Earth will insist that the recharger should be on Earth, which means they'll order us to fly Atlantis back to the Milky Way, and from there it's one short step to telling the entire Pegasus galaxy they're on their own because all the IOC really cares about is protecting Earth and their own sorry asses from the Ori."
Teyla looked alarmed now. "Surely they would not do that."
"Oh, they would," John said. "But this is important, Rodney. Twelve ZPMs would be enough to help defend Earth. Are they willing to sacrifice our home planet?"
"What? No!" Rodney hated that he couldn't explain this right. When he got excited, he always put things in the wrong order--usually whatever order was guaranteed to piss someone off. "We're working to reverse engineer the process and find a way to recharge ZPMs with Earth technology. Once Earth can recharge their own ZPMs, then they won't need our recharging station. And Radek and I had talked about finding a way to claim we found a ZPM off planet. That way we could send it back to Earth."
"You? You would willingly give up a ZPM?" John gave him an amused look. "Elizabeth would suspect something in a heartbeat." He ran a hand through his hair, scrubbing it until the various bits all changed directions. "How did you even find it?"
"Samas did. Once he knew the formulas for recharging a ZPM, he went through every line of code in the database searching for something that used the same formulas. He found the charging station."
"Oh Rodney." John sank down on a nearby tree stump.
Rodney's heart sank. He shouldn't have said anything. He looked to Teyla in desperation, and she was giving him a pitying look that pretty much said it all. Yes, he was a weak, pathetic man who couldn't keep a secret, even when he should.
"John, I believe Radek and Samas have the best of intentions in their hearts," Teyla said gently.
"Yeah, I don't doubt that," John agreed. "But this is... My planet is in danger. The whole reason we're cleaning out these gardens is that it could fall to the Ori at any time."
"And if you defeat the Ori, will you then close these gardens and tell the refugees of this galaxy to go elsewhere?"
John's head snapped up and he looked at her with horror. "No! I would never do that."
"Then you know your calling is to the people of both galaxies. You must do what is right for all the people."
John started shaking his head. "It doesn't work that way. I'm just a colonel."
Teyla gave him a sad look. "Your rank is not as important as your responsibilities to your people, John."
"I think that's the definition of treason."
"Then you must find a way to serve your duty and your people," Teyla said firmly.
When John looked over toward Rodney, Rodney sort of wilted. It was his fault that John was in this position. Worse, this wasn’t the sort of mistake Rodney could take back. John sighed. “We finish this mission, and then we decide what to do.”
“Are you going to file a report?” Rodney asked miserably. Samas was going to kill him, and worse, he was justified.
“Rodney, I’m barely more than a major. This is my first real command. I can’t go making these sorts of decisions by myself.”
“Rodney,” John growled. Teyla gave Rodney her best ‘shut-up or I’ll hurt you’ look, and Rodney closed his mouth. That’s what he should have done in the first place. He hated secrets, at least big ones that mattered. People had a right to personal secrets. Like his first name—that was no one’s business. And the fact that Abby slept in a coffin—that was the sort of detail that could land a person on the psychological review list, which was totally unjustified. Yes it was morbid, but objectively speaking, it was only wood and fabric, just like most Earth beds. But when it came to big secrets he always ended up spilling his guts to someone he thought had a right to know.
“Teyla, take point,” John said.
She nodded and moved forward. Rodney opened his mouth to offer to go back to the jumper or to join Lorne’s team or something, but John held up one finger in a ‘don’t-say-it’ gesture that made him close his mouth again.
“Colonel,” Teyla said, her voice quiet. Rodney felt a shiver go up his spine, and John moved into a crouch and brought his weapon up.
“You have something?”
“I do not know.” Before Teyla could say anything else, she was surrounded by a red glow. She cried out and then slowly folded, her body sinking to the ground.
“Teyla!” Rodney cried out.
“Down!” John hissed. Without waiting to see if Rodney followed the order, he started moving forward. He had his P-90 up, but the red beam caught him and he dropped like a puppet with its strings cut—silently and suddenly.
Rodney was frozen. He should run for help, but he couldn’t leave his team. When a huge man stepped out of the shadows and moved toward Teyla, Rodney pulled out his handgun. “Stay away from her!” he yelled. His hand nearly shook as he held the weapon. This was his first time in the field in almost seven months. It was supposed to be a milk run—a quick look around to see if Ford had set up shop. The man looked feral with hair hanging around his face. Worse, he had a big gun pointing right at Teyla’s slumped form.
“I mean it. Get back!” Rodney took a step forward, and the man brought his weapon up. Rodney fired, but his shot went wide, probably because his hand was shaking so badly. Teyla and John might be dead already. Knowing that the red light was coming for him, Rodney tried leaping to the side, but halfway to the ground, he felt the heat catch him. Red enveloped him, and then everything went black.
Rodney groaned as his body was assaulted with pins and needles. Okay, so it wasn't Wraith stunner levels of annoying, but it sure as hell wasn't good. Someone grunted, and Rodney pried his eyes open. Teyla and John were tied tightly, back to back. It meant they were awkwardly sitting up and slumped. Rodney, however, had been tied up and dumped like a sack of potatoes.
The wild man crouched at the mouth of the cave and pawed through their packs.
"Hey! Those aren't yours!" Rodney snapped.
"They are now." The man didn't even have the good manners to look at his hostage when dismissing his complaints.
"What sort of logic is that? Do you really think you can just take people's stuff?"
The guy finally looked over. "Yep," he answered.
Rodney narrowed his eyes. That was his pack the unwashed barbarian was going through. "Look Conan--"
"Ronon," the barbarian interrupted.
The guy looked at Rodney for a second and then went back to rummaging through the pack. "Don't know any Conan. It's Ronon."
Rodney could only blink. An alien barbarian was named Ronon. That was too surreal even for him. "Seriously?"
The guy snorted. "I think I know my own name."
"That's surprising because you don't know how to keep your hands off other people's stuff."
John stirred. "Rodney?" His words were slurred as if he'd been woken up in the middle of the night. As he struggled, he tugged at Teyla, and her head came up.
John's eyes were narrow slits, but he looked around, and Rodney could just imagine him cataloging every potential weapon, enemy and exit. John was kind of awesome that way. Finally John's eyes settled on him.
"Ronon the barbarian is going through my things," Rodney complained. "Hey! Don't touch that. That is a very sophisticated piece of equipment. And wait a minute. Where's my radiation suit? Do you have any idea how much background radiation there is around here? I'm a physicist. I have entirely too much exposure just in the course of my job; I cannot afford any more millisieverts."
"Teyla, you okay?" John asked.
"My head is pounding, but otherwise I am unharmed. Where are we?"
John's gaze travelled to Ronon and stayed there. "I don't know, but I was just about to ask him."
Ronon stood, a P-90 in his hands as he seemed to really look at John. That was not a welcoming sort of gaze. That was a two-millimeters-shy of sane sort of look he had going. The end of the P-90 ended up pointing right at John's middle, and Rodney couldn't breathe. It was almost as bad as when he accidentally ate lemon. He could swear that he could feel the cells in his lungs just shutting down.
"You might want to be careful where you point that thing," John said. "Looks like you have the safety off."
Ronon brought it up to a firing position, and Rodney's throat closed with panic.
"Okay," John said, and he really didn't seem to be taking this as seriously as he should given the circumstances. "Be that way, but my guess is that if you wanted us dead, we'd be dead right now. So why don't you tell us who you are and what you want."
Rodney found his voice. "He's Ronon," he managed to push out despite his tight throat. "And he's stealing our stuff."
"My guess is that it's more like claiming it," John said. "Right?" He looked up at Ronon, but the man had a kill-face that would put Teal'c to shame. And considering that Teal'c had given Rodney his best kill-glare more than once, Rodney could say that with some certainty. Of course, there was also the small fact that Ronon was way more likely to actually do the killing--that might be affecting Rodney’s judgment. "All right. I'll go first since you're not in a chatty mood. I'm Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard," he said, emphasizing his rank as if that was going to impress a barbarian. Idiot. Rodney loved him, but he was an idiot.
"I am Teyla Emmagan," Teyla offered.
Then the cave went silent. John looked over.
"What?" Rodney asked.
John's expression tightened just a little bit. "Would you like to introduce yourself?"
"Oh. Fine. Dr. Rodney McKay, PhD, not MD."
Ronon stared at Rodney for a second, which was not comfortable, and then he turned back to John.
"It's my rank. Military designation.” John glanced over at Rodney. “It means I'm in command." The man was remarkably unsubtle.
Ronon frowned, but the P-90 seemed to lower just a fraction of an inch. "Specialist Ronon Dex."
Ronon grunted. "Soldier, early rank for specialized training. Hand-to-hand and small weapons."
That wasn't what Rodney had expected. What were the odds they would run into a Pegasus equivalent of a Ranger or a Marine in the middle of nowhere? Of course, this planet was a great hiding place, but still, Rodney only knew of one culture with military ranks, and that was the Genii. Specialist wasn't a Genii rank.
"Military?" John asked.
"Used to be." Ronon gave a small shrug like none of it mattered. "It was a long time ago."
John gave him a friendly smile, one of those smiles that usually ended with the chieftain's daughters trying to climb into his bed. However, as the man who did share John's bed, Rodney was officially vetoing any bed crawling in this case. Ronon smelled. Not even John's Aqua Velva or Rodney's sunscreen could block out the sour stench of unwashed body.
"And now?" John asked.
"Now I'm deciding whether to kill you and your friends." The worst part was that Ronon said that the way another man might comment on the weather.
"What?" Rodney squawked. He was secure enough in his manhood to admit to a little squawking.
"Rodney, calm down," John said. "We all just need to calm down and talk about this rationally. None of us mean any harm."
"He does," Rodney interrupted.
John gave Rodney a dirty look. Right. Like this was his fault. "Let me handle this, Rodney."
"He's not a soldier," Ronon commented.
John pressed his lips together, and only then did Rodney remember that one of John's biggest rules in the field was to avoid drawing attention to himself. Too many people needed technology big brains to fix their broken down crap.
"No," John admitted, "he's not, and he's not any danger to you. I promise you that if you untie him, he will go back to our ship and not bother you."
"I--" Rodney just shut up when John's look turned furious.
"He tried to defend you two," Ronon said. For one moment, Rodney thought he might not hate this guy, but then Ronon had to add, "and he was pretty pathetically bad at it."
"At least I got a shot off," Rodney said. That was better than the other two.
"And missed," Ronon said.
Rodney was starting to wish Samas was here to eat this guy's eyes out.
"Hey, how about we focus on one thing at a time," John said loudly. "Look, just let Rodney go back to the Stargate and we can figure everything else out."
Ronon shifted his attention back to John. "Stargate?"
"Stargate. Big circle thing."
"I've always known it as the 'Ring of the Ancestors.'"
Rodney could see John almost visibly flinch at the mention of Ancestors. If Teyla started her spiel about how John was an Ancestor but he had issues with it, that was not going to go over well with this guy. He did not look like an Ancestor-worshipping Degan.
"You have men guarding it," Ronon added.
"Lots of men," John agreed. "Highly trained soldiers armed with deadly weapons."
"No matter. I have to make it through. If I have to kill all your guys, I will." And again, there was a creepy calm to that threat.
"Hey, hold on. We didn't come here looking for trouble. The whole killing thing is really unnecessary," John hurried to say.
"I wouldn't kill a scholar. I'll let him go," Ronon said with a glance over at Rodney. On the one hand, Rodney appreciated not being threatened with death. On the other, he really didn't want all his friends getting shot.
"Letting Rodney live is a good start," John said. "It'd be even better if you let everyone live. I'll tell you what. You take me to the Gate and I'll tell everyone to let you through. No one dies, and you can be on your way."
Ronon looked like he was on the verge of smiling, and it was not a pleasant expression. "Why should I believe you?" Clearly this guy had huge trust issues.
For a second, John actually seemed at a loss for words. It was a pretty shitty time to run out of charm, actually. "That's a good question," he said, clearing his throat. "Teyla, why should he trust us?"
From his position off to the side, Rodney could see Teyla's slight eyeroll.
"We mean you no harm. We are only here searching for a friend."
"People don't live here. It's not safe to stay too long."
"I keep saying that, but does anyone listen to me about the danger of background radiation? No," Rodney complained quietly. Clearly he didn't do it quietly enough because John glared at him. That man was definitely not getting a blowjob tonight.
"He is young with dark skin. Our people saw him here many weeks back," Teyla explained.
"I saw him. He killed a Wraith and then left. Why are you looking for him?"
Rodney interrupted. "Better question, are there any more Wraith?"
John made his huffing-annoyed noise.
"Seriously, that's a better question. If Ford is gone, it doesn't matter that we're just trying to help him. He's gone. If there are Wraith around, that's a little more important!" Sometimes it amazed Rodney that he had to justify what appeared fairly self-evident statements.
"If you're trying to help, why did he run away when he saw your people?" Ronon asked, ignoring Rodney's very legitimate concerns about Wraith.
"He's not running from us exactly," John said, and clearly he was the world's worst liar.
"Then what is he doing?" Ronon crouched down and gave John a fairly threatening look. "Exactly?"
"It's complicated." John did one of those weird head-tilty things that Rodney kept warning him just made him look like he was lying.
Ronon rocked back on his heels. "You can do better than that," he said, and somehow that sounded like more of a threat then when he'd been actually threatening them.
"I could, but it's a long story and I don't want to bore you," John said with another head tilt. They were so dead.
"I have time." Ronon put one knee on the ground and just stared at John.
"Okay, but it's boring. Don't say I didn't warn you. We were attacked by the Wraith, and Ford was out trying to protect our people."
"You run from the Wraith. If you're good, you pick a few off. You can't defend against them," Ronon interrupted.
"What can I say? We're very good," John said, "and a lot lucky. But Ford got caught by one. The Wraith was feeding on him. Apparently they inject some sort of drug into you when they feed. Ford pulled the trigger on his weapon and killed the Wraith, but he got an overdose of the drug. It kind of messed him up."
"It made him strong... fast," Ronon said.
"And crazy," Rodney offered. Again, everyone glared at him for no reason whatsoever.
"It made it hard for him to think straight," John said, his glare aimed right at Rodney.
Teyla offered, "But we think we can help him if we can find him."
Ronon stood and whirled around. "What's that?" It took a second for Rodney to realize that one of their radios was making a sound. They did have other teams out searching for Ford, so maybe one was close enough to get a signal through all the radiation.
"Radios," John said. Teyla clarified that with "Communication devices."
Ronon pulled out a huge knife, and moved toward Rodney.
"Hey, you said you wouldn't hurt him. Leave him alone!" John started thrashing in his bonds.
Rodney was too scared to do much of anything as Ronon loomed over him with the biggest knife ever, but then the blade cut through his bindings and Rodney's arms were free.
Ronon turned and gave John a disgusted look. "I said I wouldn't hurt a scholar, and I won't." He then ruined the moment by pointing the knife at Rodney. "Unless you try to fight again. Then I'll gut you."
Rodney had been getting up, but at that he froze.
"Rodney, just do what he tells you. Cooperate," John said, desperation in his voice.
"Do you really think you need to tell me that?" Rodney asked. That was one terrifyingly large knife.
"I think you don't listen to me, and I'm your commanding officer in the field."
"We're lovers. I don't have to worry about you cutting me open," Rodney pointed out.
John sighed. "We seriously need to work on you and secrets, Rod."
"I am already aware of your relationship," Teyla said calmly. "And I am sure that Ronon will take every precaution with Rodney since he now understands his importance."
Ronon reached out and grabbed Rodney by the arm. "I already said I won't kill the scholar," he snapped, and then he jerked Rodney so hard he nearly pulled him off his feet.
"I'm coming. Geez. Use your words," Rodney snapped.
"Rodney!" John practically yelled, and that was his shut-up, shut-up now voice.
Rodney pressed his lips together as Ronon marched him past the packs, picking up a tac vest before they went outside.
"You really don't have to manhandle me. If you tell me where we're going, I can walk on my own," Rodney said as soon as they were out of the cave and away from John's pissy glares.
"Sit," Ronon said, shoving Rodney at a rock.
"Lovely. See, you used words. Now do the same thing without shoving me."
Ronon walked around to Rodney's front and stared at him. "You must be a really good scholar."
"I am," Rodney said, "only how would you know that?"
"Because that one takes you out in the field when you can't keep yourself out of trouble."
"Hey, I'm not the only one who got shot and tied up," Rodney said in his own defense. "Now what do you want?"
Ronon shoved the tac vest at him. "Show me how your communication device works."
"Uh, you push a button and talk into it," Rodney said. "A monkey could manage it."
Ronon put one foot up on the rock that Rodney was sitting on, which gave Rodney an uncomfortably close look at his crotch. But then Ronon leaned in and put the knife right in Rodney's face, which completely distracted him from the crotch. "Show me how the insides of your communication device works, scholar, and if you lie to me about the technology, I might start to assume you're a spy and not a scholar."
Rodney's guts turned to water and he clutched the vest. "I need tools," he said.
Ronon reached into his dreadlocks and pulled out the world's smallest knife. "Don't be stupid," he suggested as he held it out to Rodney, hilt first.
"Right. I'm going to take you on with this." Rodney took the two inch blade and snorted. "Do I look stupid?" He glanced up. "Don't answer that."
He pulled the radio out of the tac vest and used the edge of the blade to start unscrewing the casing. Ronon watched with an intensity Rodney hadn’t expected. “What is the outside made out of?”
"Plastic," Rodney answered.
"What's that made from?"
Rodney looked up. "How technical do you want me to get?"
"Don't use words I wouldn't recognize, but describe the making of plastic."
This guy might look and smell like a barbarian, but he clearly had more under all that hair than the average Conan.
"I'll try. Chemists take oil, which is a black substance from underground that burns very hot and for a long time."
"I know it," Ronon said.
"Okay, they take oil and break it down into..." Rodney frowned, not sure how to explain the next bit without a course on inorganic chemistry. "They use a process called cracking to break oil down into smaller pieces, into monomers called ethylene or propylene."
Ronon grunted, but Rodney figured he couldn't understand all that. "They add different chemicals depending on what they want the plastic to do and heat the mixture until the molecules start to bond." Rodney threaded his fingers to show things coming together. "The bonded molecules have none of the properties of oil. They're hard pellets, little tiny balls. Then those tiny balls are heated and put into molds to make things like radio covers."
Ronon picked up the plastic piece that Rodney had just pulled off the back of the radio. Running a thumb over the texture, he studied it. Most Pegasus natives would have been completely lost, but he looked like he believed Rodney, even if he didn't understand it totally.
"My people had something like it, but it was harder--more brittle. You mixed chemicals used to keep organic material from rotting and you added white crystals and it changed into something you can mold and shape when it's hot and then it holds its shape when it cools.
Rodney sat up. "That's Bakelite. You get it from joining phenol and formaldehyde so that the condensation reaction of the monomers forces the phenol rights to bind with the formaldehyde into rigid polymers. No one in the Pegasus galaxy has any technology near that... no one we've met."
Ronon's expression shut down. One second he was there--curious. The next his face was utterly blank. "This stuff will get you killed," Ronon said, holding up the plastic bit. Angry now, he flung it off to the side.
Rodney could sense the danger, but he still wasn't prepared when Ronon suddenly grabbed him, jerked him off the rock and turned him around so Rodney's back was against his chest. Worse, the knife pressed into Rodney's neck.
John stood there at the mouth of the cave, his P-90 pointed at Ronon. "Let him go and no one has to get hurt. We don't have a problem with you."
"I told you. I have to get through the ring."
"Okay, we can talk about that after you let Rodney go."
Ronon gave a mirthless laugh. "I let him go, and you'll shoot me. Then we're all dead. Your only hope is to let me go through the ring."
John traded confused looks with Teyla. "Okay, I'll bite. Why?"
Ronon's body went perfectly still. "Because the Wraith are coming."
John took a step closer, and Rodney could feel the point of the knife against his neck. "How do you know that?" John asked.
"I know." Ronon said firmly. A slight tremor went through him. "They're hunting me."
John gave a huff of laughter. "Join the club," he said, but Rodney could see how seriously Teyla was taking this.
She lowered her weapon. "You are a runner," she said in a tone that most people used when telling someone they had cancer or their dog had died.
Rodney couldn't see behind him, but whatever Ronon did, it convinced Teyla. She let her P-90 hang at her side, and John was giving her desperate looks. "I have heard stories, but..." She fell silent.
"Um, what's a runner?" John asked.
"I am." Ronon took the knife away from Rodney's throat, but he kept his grip on Rodney's arm. "I was captured during a culling on my planet. I was taken to a ship where a Wraith started to feed on me. Something made him stop. I wasn't good as food, so they operated on me."
"They what? Okay, it isn't bad enough that they eat people, but they play mad scientist too?" Rodney pulled away, and after a brief tussle, Ronon let him go. Rodney turned to look the man in the face. There was no emotion there--just cold fury.
"They put some sort of tracking device in my back and released me. Hunted me." He grinned viscously. "I hunt them back. But I have to keep running. The Wraith will come here and you and your scholar will die."
"Don't do it," John said, but Rodney's brain was already spinning.
"A tracking device? And it can find you on different planets?"
Ronon gave him a strange look. "Yes."
"It must use a subspace signal. That's the only way. This radiation would make the signal weak, but if you've been using this planet for a while, I bet they know that when you go off the grid, you're here."
Ronon gave him a strange look. "There are other radiation planets I use."
"Well, that's remarkable stupid. Do you have any idea how much damage the radiation can do to your DNA?"
"Better that than the Wraith."
Rodney frowned. "Okay, you have me there. Now show me the tracking devise. Snap, snap. We're losing time here."
Ronon started to turn, and Rodney craned his neck, eager to see the technology, but then Ronon kept turning, and then he was in a roll, and red flashed. Rodney turned, confused, only to find Teyla already down, and John on one knee clutching his right arm which hung uselessly. Already Ronon was on his feet, his laser weapon pointed at John's head.
"No!" Rodney cried out.
John looked up defiantly, but on his knees with a disabled arm, he couldn't do much else as Ronon stared down. Rodney was frozen in place. If he had a fraction of John's training, he could take this guy out. Ronon had his back to him even. Rodney looked at John, but John gave a small shake of his head, ordering Rodney to back down.
"You're lucky I had this set to stun," Ronon said.
For a second, John clenched his teeth. "Look, if you want to go through the Gate, go. Give me the radio, and I'll order my men not to stop you."
Ronon took a step back and gestured for John to get on his feet. Slowly John got up, clearly struggling with his right side. "You can tell them in person," Ronon said, "I'm taking you with me."
The logical part of Rodney's brain worked on differences in the energy pattern of this stunner versus zats or Wraith stunners. The rest of him was so frozen with terror that he didn't know what to do. Months without going in the field, and the first time out his team got taken captive not once but twice. If this guy took John, Rodney wasn't sure what would happen. He might not ever see John again. It was bad enough when John was on Earth, but at least Rodney knew he was safe.
"Okay," John said slowly. "I don't have a problem with that, but you know, there's a chance we could help you."
Ronon gave a rough laugh. "Your scholar can't get to my tracking device. They set it so deeply in my flesh that no one can get it out."
"We know a pretty good doctor. Maybe he could take that tracking device out of you."
"Do you think I haven't tried?"
"Oh please," Rodney snapped, "you've seen our technology and you know it's better than anyone else's. You recognized plastic, so you know that advanced technology can do more than most of the witch doctors that feed people on bone dust and magic. I mean, I'm the first to say that medicine isn't a real science, but our doctors have more science in them than anyone you would have talked to."
Ronon half lowered his weapon, which was very good. He looked from Rodney to John, but finally focused on John. "Why would you do that?"
Teyla moaned and started to stir.
John glanced over there before turning his attention back to Ronon. "Because I'm a nice guy. Look, I told you--you hate the Wraith and we hate the Wraith. It's something we all have in common. We came here for our friend, but if he's not here, we're always interested in making new friends."
Ronon backed up a step, and Rodney skittered away to the side to get out of his path. "And what do you want in return?" Ronon demanded.
"Nothing," John said.
"Actually," Rodney interrupted, "access to the subspace transmission frequencies of the Wraith would be very helpful. If I could get my equipment and scan for signals..."
Ronon looked at him oddly. "You want the tracking device?"
"Okay," Ronon said. And then he just shoved his weapon back into the holster like nothing had happened. Rodney really questioned this guy's sanity.
"Good, it's a deal," John said. "Rodney, as soon as Teyla comes to, I want you two to head back to the Stargate and get Elizabeth to approve Dr. Beckett doing a little field surgery." He started to move toward Teyla, and Ronon's gun was out and pointed at him terrifyingly fast.
"If you go for that weapon, I will shoot you, and this does have a kill setting."
John stopped and held his hands out away from his body. "I'm not going to do anything. I was just going to check on Teyla. She'll go back, and I'll stay with you so you know my people aren't going to try and hurt you."
"John," Rodney hissed.
John rolled his eyes. "Ronon isn't going to hurt me. I'm just sitting with a potential friend until we can get all this worked out, right?"
Ronon grunted. Some days Rodney really questioned John's sanity too.
"Colonel?" Teyla sounded confused.
"You might win with bantos rods, but Ronon here can totally kick your ass with a gun," John said with far more cheerfulness than a normal person. Teyla pushed herself up and looked around, clearly checking the situation.
"So it would seem," she said carefully. Ronon watched her.
"I need you to get Rodney back home and ask Elizabeth to have Carson out here."
Teyla pushed herself up off the ground. "Perhaps it would be best if I stayed with Ronon. We could talk."
John shook his head. "Get Rodney back home. Tell Elizabeth that we have a chance at a good ally here, and get her to send help."
"John," Teyla said, and that was her cranky voice.
"That's Colonel John to you." John emphasized his title to make it very clear that he was in charge here. In the city, John didn’t blink when Teyla gave him some order about taking two new Athosians guides or giving someone a leave from a team. She could pretty much order him to do anything reasonable, and he just added it to his list. But right now he was definitely feeling the need to be in charge.
Teyla sighed. "We will return quickly," she said. She looked at Ronon's weapon and carefully moved around him. She still had her P-90, but she left it dangling from its strap.
"We should all go back. If you stay here, Elizabeth is going to think he's holding you hostage," Rodney argued. He was not leaving John behind.
"I am," Ronon said.
For a second, Rodney really didn't have a good comeback for that. "Okay, that's not a good way to start a friendship. Hostage-taking is rude in pretty much every culture."
"Rodney," John said sharply. "Go talk to Elizabeth. That's an order."
Rodney crossed his arms over his chest. He wanted to argue, to find a way to take John back with them and not leave him behind with an armed mad man.
"I'll be fine," John said. "Promise."
"If you're not, I'm hunting you down and killing you again," Rodney warned.
Teyla wrapped a hand around his arm and pulled him back, and Ronon kept his gun pointed right at John's head. Rodney hated this, but they were the experts when it came to guns and crazy people.
"I can blow you up more ways that you could even imagine," Rodney threatened.
"McKay!" John yelled.
"Rodney, come," Teyla said, and Rodney let himself get pulled away. The second they moved around the large rock that blocked their view, Rodney started trotting toward the Stargate.
"Hurry up," he called over his shoulder. He planned to break records getting to the Stargate and then back again.
John tapped his fingers against the rock he was sitting on. "So, do you want to talk about something?" As openings went, it sucked, but honestly, John didn't have a great track record with starting conversations with captors.
"Your bedmate is a menace in the field," Ronon said.
It really made John uncomfortable that Ronon had chosen to focus on Rodney; however, it made sense. If this guy was from a more technologically advanced civilization than most, he would recognize Rodney's value. "He's actually pretty useful when we run into ships and cities and random bombs."
"That happen often?"
John shrugged. "Often enough that it's worth having him around. And yeah, he tends to offend people, but his heart's in the right place." John decided to try for a little redirection. "So, are there any more of you running around in the woods?"
Ronon gave him a calculating look.
"Hey, I'm already unarmed and I don't have any illusions about beating you in hand to hand combat. I'm just wondering if there are any more as good as you are. We can always use good fighters." John offered up his best smile.
"That kind of sucks." John scooted back on the rock and sprawled out. He didn't plan on trying to physically challenge Ronon and he needed to let the man know that. Strangely, Ronon seemed to get more tense. He shifted, his weapon pointed right at John. John looked at the gun. "You don't actually have to do that."
"You won't catch me off guard."
"I never thought I would. You've pretty much handed me my ass on a plate twice. I'm not looking to go for a round three. I still plan to have Carson get that tracker out of your shoulder, and then I plan to offer you a job. We have a pretty nice set up." With twelve ZPMs, they had a very nice setup, but John really wasn't emotionally prepared to deal with that--not now. Part of him really wished he didn't know about any of it because he was going to have to report to someone. If Earth fell... well, John couldn't let that happen, not when he had the ZPMs they could use to defend themselves. The thought made him ill.
But at the same time, he couldn't imagine General Landry reacting well to the fact that the scientists had hidden the recharging station. Samas and Rodney might even get recalled to Earth, and that would not end well. Both had some pretty significant enemies. John had to mentally set all that aside, though because he had a half-feral soldier holding a gun on him. Worse, the guy had fewer conversational skills than John, and that was pretty bad.
"So, if you come visit, you're going to hear a lot of weird stuff about me. Don't believe any of it," John suggested.
Ronon looked at him oddly. "Weird?"
"Teyla and the Hoff have some religious thing with Ancients. You don't worship the Ancestors, do you?" John really couldn't handle any more religious people.
"Not really. They made good machines."
"That they did. I can't get a car that runs for five years, and they build intergalactic transports that work after thousands of years. It's pretty impressive." And with that the conversation died. John really should have left Teyla, but if someone was going to get Elizabeth to send help, Teyla would. The six months that John had been off working with General O'Neill, the two women had formed a united from against Ellis. No way was John going to try and go up against that.
Nope, he would handle military things and let the women run the city. That meant that Teyla talked Elizabeth into humanitarian missions and John got to handle the fact that the city had twelve ZPMs. Maybe he should tell General O'Neill about the ZPMs. He wouldn't order court martials all around. Hopefully. Now John just had to figure out a way to have a private conversation with someone in another galaxy.
"So, did your people make your technology or use what the Ancestors left behind?" John asked. That should be a safe topic.
Ronon gave him a cold stare that made John's soul just about curl up and whimper. So much for safe topics.
"Why are you keeping it secret that you're sharing blankets with the scholar?" Ronon asked.
John cringed. Rodney had too much mouth for his own good. Of course he had to say something about that.
"You fucking him to keep him in line?" Ronon asked sharply.
"What? No!" John blurted out. He also sat up fast, but when Ronon's gun raised a half inch, he settled back down. "No, I would not take advantage of Rodney. It's just... it's complicated."
Ronon grunted. Never in all of history had so much condemnation come through one grunt.
"My people don't believe that those who are on a team together should... share blankets. They think it makes team members less objective and less focused on getting the job done."
"He shouldn't be out here anyway," Ronon said.
John narrowed his eyes. He had Landry making shitty little comments about John's command choices. He had Caldwall running around making a point of giving John orders that almost didn't sound like orders. He had a lot of people waiting for him to fail—including telling him that Rodney shouldn’t be in the field—and he sure as hell didn't need someone else telling him how to do his job.
"Rodney has earned his spot on this team and you don't know enough about him or my team to make any sort of judgment. Quite frankly, given time, he would come up with a way to blow you up. He could make a bomb out of mud, and yes, he's going to bitch while he does it, but you do not get to pass judgment."
Ronon frowned and studied John closely. It took him a long time to answer. "Okay," he said with a shrug.
"And we keep it secret because they would make him quit the team." John didn't say anything more. If this guy turned out to be an enemy, John didn't want to reveal a rather significant vulnerability. One word in the wrong ear, and he'd lose his command. The rules were stupid and archaic and homophobic, but they were the rules. So if Ronon was an enemy, hopefully he would never realize how explosive this piece of information was. If he was a friend, hopefully he would keep it quiet to protect Rodney's spot on the team.
And once again, that killed the conversation. Part of John had a lot of sympathy for the guy, but without someone to start talking, this was turning awkward. Never before had he missed Rodney's ability to talk non-stop quite so much.
The sun was warm, and John was about to ask if they could go inside the cave when a voice called. "Permission to approach?"
In a blink, Ronon was up and standing behind John, his gun pointed at the back of John's head. That was significantly more uncomfortable than having it pointing at his face.
"Who are you?"
Gibbs moved into sight, his hands held up. "Colonel Sheppard says you're a potential friend, but our leader refused to send the doctor unless she had a little more assurance that the colonel is right. She sent me in to make sure it's safe for our doctor."
“What? She doesn’t trust my judgment?” John said jokingly. At least it was mostly a joke. There was a little butt-hurt in there.
Gibbs gave him a smile. “She doesn’t trust your people skills, Colonel.”
John would have said something, only Ronon demanded, "Your leader is a woman?"
"Yes," John agreed.
"You're not Genii."
John started to turn around, only to get jabbed with the end of the gun. Message received. John settled back down. "No, we're not. In fact, they tried to invade and take our city, but that was a while ago. We have a fairly reasonable treaty with them now. At least we don't shoot at each other." John didn't fool himself. Kolya and Crowley would love to shoot every Lantean and take Atlantis, but as long as they doubted their ability to do that, they would play nice. "Why would you think we were Genii?"
"Genii are the only ones I know about with this much technology," Ronon said.
John traded looks with Gibbs. The Marine was a cagy old bastard, so he probably already understood how unstable this situation was. Ronon was a good guy, but he was pushed to his limits and starting to crumble.
Gibbs moved closer. "We are actually a union of several civilizations and groups. The Hoff and the Degans both have a lot of people with us, and yes, we do have a number of Genii who live among us. We have other cultures you haven't heard of--the Czechoslovakian and Canadian and Igigi."
John wasn't sure he would put those three together, but he also wasn't going to contradict Gibbs, not when the man had Samas to whisper in his ear. Samas was another cagy, shrewd old bastard.
Gibbs lowered his hands. "Teyla says that you're a runner--hunted by the Wraith. I'm impressed."
"You're impressed that they hunt me?" Ronon pressed the gun up to the back of John's head, which was monumentally unfair because John wasn't saying anything offensive. For once.
"I'm impressed you're alive," Gibbs corrected him. "Wraith are powerful enemies, but you are not only surviving, but now you have a chance to escape them."
"And join you?" Ronon demanded.
Gibbs gave a very cold smile, and that was the point at which John realized that it was Samas driving the bus. "Whether you choose to join is your decision. Do not give the colonel or even Dr. Weir your unconditional support until you understand their reality. Both of them are good people that I would kill to protect, but both serve masters who are less ethical. A few of their superiors could best serve the human race by dying without leaving offspring."
The gun pressed to the back of John's head vanished.
"Many have tried to remove Dr. Weir, but she is too clever for their tricks. They did succeed in removing Colonel Sheppard, but others with more honor found a way to send him back."
"Not all Taskmasters and Leaders deserve the title," Ronon said with a grim tone to his voice that made John think he'd learned that lesson the hard way.
"Yes, but John has earned our respect and you're pointing a weapon at him," Samas said. "If you do him any permanent harm, I will tear your eyes out and leave you to wallow in darkness until the Wraith take you." Samas delivered that line with a coldness that John rarely heard from the Igigi. Normally Samas was more personable than Gibbs. Today, not so much.
There was an ominous silence from behind John. It seemed to take Ronon some time to think about Samas’ threat. "You could just let me go through the Ring," Ronon finally suggested.
Samas moved a step closer. "The Wraith want you; therefore, I will either use that to lure Wraith here so I can kill them or I will take their prize away by removing that tracker. I will not help a Wraith get any sort of prize it might want, and they want you running through that ring."
John added, "That and we do like to help people. We're good that way."
Samas gave him a fond look. "John is good that way, as are Rodney and Teyla. I am more interested in moving a battle in the direction I want."
"I do not ask that you disarm yourself. I only ask that you holster the weapon before Dr. Carson comes in. He will remove the tracker."
"You're armed," Ronon said.
Samas tilted his head to the side. "I don't need a weapon to kill you faster than you can defend yourself, but if it makes you feel more comfortable, I can put my weapons on the ground."
John figured these two definitely had some sort of weird vibe going that he did not understand. Usually when people threatened him, he felt less comfortable around them. However Ronon moved to the side and holstered his gun. "Nah," he said as if it didn't matter. "I might challenge you to spar later. I'd like to see if you're as good as you think."
Samas grinned. "I'm better. I've been alive longer than any creature you've ever met, and I've had enemies that would have destroyed the Wraith, and I'm still here." Samas took a step back and leaned against a rock.
Giving John a shove, Ronon ordered, "Move over."
John was more than happy to. He scooted over and Ronon sat beside him. This guy needed therapy. John tried to play nice and he got all tense. Samas threatened to rip his eyeballs out and he relaxed. Heightmeyer was going to have a field day with this one.
"Dr. Beckett, it's safe to come in," Samas said. He looked at Ronon. "How many Wraith have you killed?"
Ronon propped his foot on a rock and rested his arm on his knee. "Sixteen."
Samas grinned. "Impressive. One at a time or in groups?"
Just then Carson inched his way into view. "Hello. I don't make house calls like this, but I suppose this isn't a house, is it?" He smiled at his own joke, but even John could tell he was nervous.
Immediately, Ronon's attention shifted. "What's in the case, Doc?"
Beckett looked down as if he had to check to see what he was carrying. "Um, surgical implements, diagnostic tools, various drugs, analgesics, antibiotics."
"What?" Ronon looked over at Samas.
"Healing tools," Samas translated. Sometimes the Stargate translator worked wonders, and other times it seemed to fail.
"Specialist Ronon Dex, this is our own Dr. Carson Beckett," John introduced them. "Carson, this is the guy who is stuck with a Wraith homing beacon in his shoulder."
"I have to say that sounds unpleasant," Carson said with a grimace. But then John could almost see him put his professional gameface on. "Well then, off with your shirt. Let's have a look."
Ronon stripped his shirt off, and John swallowed as he looked at the necklace of Wraith bones and teeth... either that or Ronon had a streak of canibalism that led him to kill and dismember really long limbed people with sharp teeth. Before John had suspected the number of kills to be exaggeration. Men sometimes tried to count it as a kill every time they took a shot. But this... this suggested he had that many confirmed Wraith kills.
Carson moved around to the back. "My God! Tell me you didn't try to cut this thing out yourself."
"Yeah. I tried once with a mirror. Couldn't reach. Most of it's from two different doctors."
Carson huffed, and that was definitely his unhappy face. It reminded John of the time one of his nurses and gotten frustrated with Rodney and tried to kick him out because he was complaining of a rash. She hadn't checked it and hadn't realized what Rodney had known--that it was the first symptom in an allergic reaction. Carson had used that same face on the nurse when he'd described in detail all her professional flaws. "No one I know who calls himself a doctor would do this." Clearly aggravated, Carson moved tools around with a little more force than really needed. John made a note to go to one of the other docs for his post-mission checkup. Whatever Ronon's back looked like, it had put Carson in a bad mood.
"Is that Ancestor technology?" Ronon asked.
"Indeed it is. I had to promise Rodney that I would scan the frequencies being used. Otherwise he threatened to come in here and do it himself. Elizabeth—our leader—was very insistent about keeping Rodney away from any potential hostage situations. Now I need you to lie down.”
“Not a chance,” Ronon said firmly.
For a second, Carson just stared at him. No one talked to Carson that way because as nice as Carson was, if you pissed him off, the man got even. “Now you listen to me,” he said in a tone that usually got even John to shut up and get into a bed, “I’ve located transmitter. It's in the soft tissue next to the second thoracic vertebrae.”
“Good. Cut it out.” Ronon said with almost no emotion.
“I can't do that with you sitting up like this, and I'm gonna have to give you some anaesthetic to make you sleep.”
John could have predicted Ronon’s, “No you're not.”
“Excuse me?” Carson gave Ronon a nasty glare and then looked over at John.
John held both hands up, “Don’t look at me. I’m the hostage.”
Carson then gave John the dirty look.
“Just get to work, Doc.”
“This will be horribly painful.”
“Okay,” Ronon said. John could almost see the smoke coming out of Carson’s ears.
“So painful it could cause yer heart to stop. The human body isn’t designed for that sort of agony.”
“You’re likely to move around, and this is close enough to the spine that if you don’t hold perfectly still, I could do you real damage.”
“Try not to,” Ronon suggested.
“Of all the bloody minded stubborn…” Carson’s voice trailed off into muttered curses, but he started getting his equipment set up. John looked over to see what Samas was doing, but he just watched calmly. If Samas wasn’t panicked, John figured there wasn’t a lot of reason to worry. His ability to smell human emotions meant that John trusted him to know about any danger long before it appeared. If Samas thought Ronon was calm and not an immediate threat, John trusted his judgment.
“So, any idea when the Wraith are going to show up this time?” John asked.
“Nope,” Ronon said.
Carson slipped a headpiece with a focused light over his head. “Okay, I'm ready. Look, I just want to say one last time that I really don't think this is a good idea. I'm going be cutting very close to your spinal column here. If you were to flinch—”
“Then I won't flinch,” Ronon cut him off.
Carson muttered a few more choice words before flipping down a magnifying lens attached to the headpiece. “I certainly hope you’re right.”
“If you paralyze me, just make sure you kill me before you leave,” Ronon said.
Carson froze in the middle of raising his scalpel. “You canna…” Carson ran out of words.
“I’ll make sure of it,” Samas promised.
Ronon looked over and nodded. “Okay.” He glanced over at Carson who was still frozen. “Should get it done quick before the Wraith show up.”
“The Wraith. Right.” Carson took a deep breath. “Here we go.”
John felt helpless as he watched Carson work—his full attention on Ronon’s back. Every once in a while, Ronon would give a grunt or close his eyes, but for the most part he bore the pain of the surgery without flinching. John couldn’t have done it. Considering that Ronon was a fairly young man, John didn’t want to even think about what sort of horrors it took to harden him so much.
“Colonel, would you mind holding this up for me?” Carson asked, gesturing toward a tray.
“Of course.” John took the tray and held it closer. Unfortunately, that gave him a close look at the scarred and bloody mess that was Ronon’s shoulder.
“I think I've got it,” Carson said. John watched as Carson pulled a round chunk of metal out of Ronon’s back. Ronon slumped forward, rested his hands on his knees and then breathed out slowly. Then, without warning, he just toppled sideways and fell to the ground.
“Bloody idiot. I did warn him,” Carson said. He shoved the device at John and knelt down next to Ronon and checked his pulse. Samas was there, pulling field dressings out of the med kit and handing them over.
“Sir, if you would let me,” Gibbs said, holding out his hand.
John happily surrendered the technology before crouching down next to Ronon to offer some help with the first aid. “Is he going to be okay?”
Carson nodded. “I think so. He’s as tough as a Scottish red deer, this one. Is that tracker still broadcasting?”
John looked over to where either Gibbs or Samas was scanning the tracker. The small piece of metal sat on the rock looking utterly insignificant, but that was the thing that had driven Ronon to run from one planet to another until he couldn’t trust anyone. John felt a little ill just looking at it.
“It’s dead.” The second he spoke, John could tell it was Samas. Good. The onac knew Wraith technology and if he said it was dead, it was.
“We have to assume we have Wraith inbound,” John said. Ronon had mentioned that the radiation weakened the signal, but John suspected that having the leash cut would catch their attention. “I assume Lorne is somewhere close with a jumper?”
Samas nodded. “The nearest clearing is a quarter mile down the path.”
“Can we move him?” John asked Carson. Ronon was a big boy, and if they had to carry him, it was going to be slow going, even with Samas’ strength.
“Can walk,” Ronon muttered without opening his eyes. He started to roll, and Carson put a hand on his back.
“You most certainly will not,” Carson said sharply.
Ronon ignored the touch and continued to roll right onto his injured shoulder. “If it’s a choice between walking and getting taken by the Wraith again, I’ll walk,” Ronon said. He pushed himself to his feet and nearly toppled over again. Instinct had John reaching out for him, and Ronon clasped hands with him, using that to steady himself.
For one second, John thought Ronon might thank him. They stared at each other, and John could see the hope and the suspicion and the weariness all laid out in his gaze. Then Ronon gave a huff and pulled away. “Where’s this ship of yours?” he asked, but without waiting for any answer, he headed toward the path. John really hoped that he decided to stick around. Yes, he was a good fighter and John could always use a solid soldiers. But more than that, Ronon needed a place to heal, and the shoulder was the least of the injuries the man was carrying.
Tony arched his back, and Gibbs chuckled. "You're like a cat trying to get its butt scratched," Gibbs said.
"Now that you mention it," Tony said, pushing his ass up into the air. Gibbs obliged by running his hand over the round of Tony's ass. Tony groaned. He would have done more but he was tired, tired, tired. Gibbs had tied him down and touched and tasted and fucked him until Tony was a big pile of mush. "I think you broke me," Tony muttered.
"You'll recover," Gibbs said without much sympathy.
"Maybe. But maybe I won't, and you'll be sorry then."
Gibbs just snorted.
"I used that line before, haven't I?"
"Yep," Gibbs agreed.
"Well you've come close to breaking me before. You're just lucky that I really, really like being broken."
"Hedonist," Gibbs accused him in a fond voice that made a shiver go up Tony's back.
"Guilty as charged." For a time, Tony lay there with the sweat drying on his skin and a sizable wet spot under him. They were really rough on sheets.
About the time Tony was nodding off, Gibbs asked, "Did you finish Tower 14?"
"Yep. All the rooms are open, and nothing tried to blow us up. Life is good."
"We're just lucky that Atlantis talks to you or these room searches might have led to a lot more casualties."
Tony knew that to be true. "Ten thousand years of neglect leads to some pretty unstable conditions. People really should have shut down their experiments and done something to secure unstable materials before leaving."
"They were in the middle of a war with the Wraith. If they hadn't secured weapons, Atlantis would have blown up before we ever got here."
Tony huffed. That was probably true, but he still didn't like the condition that the city had been left in. Too many of the labs they'd opened had hidden dangers and unstable reactions ready to go off. They'd found an ascension machine and a nanobot lab that looked suspiciously like someone had made replicators there. There had been a biological weapons lab and a genetic lab growing a sort of gray gunk that had multiplied rapidly the second it hit oxygen. One lab had a machine ready to blow up after ten thousand years of missing maintenance checks, and another had microfractures in the wall from some sort of explosion centuries ago. Without the city sending him feelings--general anxiety about one room or outright panic at another--they would have suffered more casualties, especially given that Rodney was trying to clear space quickly.
"Does Rodney finally believe that the city talks to you?" Gibbs asked.
"No." Tony laughed. "He has decided there are too many coincidences for dumb luck--even my extraordinary dumb luck--but he's been asking if anyone else thinks I might be another deascended Ancient. He seems to think that's more reasonable than a sentient city."
"According to you, the city isn't all that sentient."
"No, not really," Tony agreed. "I get more feelings than actual thoughts. However Rodney insists that if there were any sort of AI system, that he would have seen some sign in the coding--or that Samas would have."
"Samas doesn't know what AI coding looks like. He has no idea if the city has one."
"That's what Radek says too," Tony said. "Actually it was closer to, 'If we found a storage crystal labeled city AI, we still would not recognize the code because there is no reason to believe the Ancients would use the same basic architecture for the personality.' And then Rodney starts in with the fact that a hammer has to look like a hammer no matter what culture makes it. Once they start the function versus artistic vision argument, I always find a reason to leave."
Gibbs chuckled. "Smart man."
"To stay out of the middle when those two get going? That's not smart, Gibbs. That's just common sense. I don't know how Samas stands those two when they fight."
Gibbs moved his hand up to rest on Tony's shoulder before laying his head down on the pillow. "Samas considers them no different than two posturing symbiotes shaking their fins to impress him. He's actually fairly amused by the display. So, what is the city saying right now?"
Tony listened. He could tell that Sheppard was safe somewhere above them, either sleeping or resting. He had a couple of other echoes, probably Lorne or Miko or Carson. They were the next strongest gene carriers, and Atlantis did tend to track them, not that the others noticed. Well that wasn't exactly true. Tony was almost sure that Miko did notice, but she didn't want to say anything, either because she thought it was stepping on his territory or she didn't want to be thought odd. With Miko it was hard to tell what she had going on in her head.
Atlantis had extra sensors on the medical wing, and Tony could feel a vague sense of alert, but no alarm there. He tried reaching for that elusive sense of 'more' in that empty hallway that always gave him the strangest sense of being watched, but Atlantis didn't seem to be paying it any attention. That meant it seemed to drop away from Tony's awareness.
"Sheppard's safe. I think I can feel a couple of other gene carriers, and there are no problems there. Atlantis is keeping an eye on the medical wing, which I assume means she's watching Ronon Dex, but there's no sense of alarm there."
Gibbs nodded. Reaching over Tony, he grabbed his communicator. "Gibbs to Major Lorne."
Their heads were so close together that Tony could hear the response. "Lorne here, Gunny."
"Want to try that status update?"
"Now?" There was a pause. "Everything's quiet."
"Listen for more than just an alarm," Gibbs said.
There was another long paused, and then Lorne answered, "She's keeping an eye on something."
Gibbs smiled. "Yes, sir. Tony says she has sensors turned up in medical."
"Dex. Is Atlantis concerned?"
"No, just keeping an eye on a newcomer. Tony says she's alert but not upset."
"I would not have been able to get that detailed of a message. This might be a Tony thing," Lorne said. He sounded pretty frustrated about it.
"He's been here a lot more years, and his background has trained him to be open to new ideas. It may just take time, sir," Gibbs said.
Even after all these years, it still bothered Tony to hear Gibbs call the officers "sir." Gibbs was Gibbs. He rose above any rank and was a force of nature by himself. However, that's not how things worked. Gibbs was coming up on fifty, and he was stuck in the military with no way to retire like a normal person. Sometimes Tony really harbored a few homicidal feelings for O'Neill, even if technically he had been trying to help them.
"Thanks, Gunny. Call when you've got another status. Lorne out."
Gibbs took the radio out of his ear and leaned across Tony again to put it on the table.
"Lorne hears her?" Tony wasn't sure how he felt about that.
"Clearly not as well as you can," Gibbs said. "After you tagged that ascension machine, Major Lorne asked how accurate your sense of the city was. We started talking and he admitted that he could sometimes feel something that didn't match any of his emotions."
"So you talked him into trying to connect to her?"
Gibbs pressed his lips together. Tony knew that look. That was his, 'I have a clue that I don't want to share with you,' expression. Tony and Kate would see that face and then look at each other in despair because they just knew he was about to shut them out.
"Gibbs, don't do this," Tony asked. They weren't just working together. They were lovers. They were unusual lovers who sometimes included an alien third and Tony still couldn't find any name that fit Gibbs other than Gibbs. LJ was stupid, Leroy was more stupid, and Jethro was... Gibbs just wasn't a Jethro. So they had a few quirks, but shutting each other out should not be an option.
When Gibbs looked over, he seemed almost amused. "I'm starting to think you're just psychic."
"No, I know all your faces."
Gibbs grunted. "Your sense of the city is getting stronger. I don't know if you're refining your skill at listening or..." Gibbs stopped.
"You think the city is getting stronger," Tony said. Rodney had plugged a second ZPM in and then made the ZPM room off limits to anyone who wasn't part of their inner circle. Radek, Samas, Miko, Rodney, and Coleman were the only ones allowed in. Tony thought it was interesting that each of them had been excluded and discriminated against, and now they were the core of the hard sciences. Two women, an alien, a man who'd grown up without running water, and Rodney. And Rodney was so abrasive that he had practically invited people to shut him out. And now they were "The Man," at least when it came to the sciences.
"It's a possibility. I'd rather know for sure."
Tony nodded. He understood Gibbs' concern, but he also believed that Atlantis had their best interests in mind. She was happy to have people in her. "What does your gut tell you now?"
Gibbs took more time to answer than Tony had expected. Clearly he was not sure--either that or he didn't want to tell Tony something. It was funny. It used to be that Gibbs was the master of keeping secrets. Tony hadn't even found out about his dead wife and daughter until a goa'uld had started poking around in Gibbs' past and Tony had done some research on his own to try and get ahead of the psychopath. But now Gibbs sucked at keeping any sort of secret. "I think," Gibbs said softly, "that you're more open to hearing her. However, that doesn't mean that she isn't getting stronger and more capable of reaching out for you. Hopefully she knows that if I even suspect that she's a danger to you or starts thinking of you as hers, I will take you off Atlantis so fast that she won't be able to stop me." Gibbs said that fiercely. Then he went silent and lay beside Tony, his muscles taut.
"Trying to provoke her?" Tony finally asked.
"Seeing if she can be provoked."
Tony listened. There was still a sense of peace from Sheppard and the general state of alert on the medical wing, but nothing else. "Either she's not listening or she doesn't think it's worth responding to."
"Or she doesn't speak English," Gibbs countered.
Tony frowned. Huh. That actually would make sense, but he'd never thought of it before. "The translation protocols in the Stargate have learned English well enough to provide translations, shouldn't she be able to access them?"
Gibbs grunted. That usually meant that he didn't have another answer, but he didn't like the one Tony was bringing to the table. "Dex is interesting," Gibbs said in the least subtle subject-change in history.
Tony rolled onto his side and looked at Gibbs. "Define interesting." The fact was that Ronon Dex was hot. A blind man could tell that. In the last couple of years, Tony's insecurities had moved to the backseat, but he still had one or two or twelve.
After a quick, confused little frown, Gibbs reached over and headslapped him. "Idiot."
"Hey, he's seriously hot."
Gibbs' expression turned disgusted. "Maybe I should be the one who's worried."
"You have nothing to worry about, boss."
"Neither do you, DiNozzo." With that, Gibbs reached over and caught Tony by the back of the neck and pulled him close. "Samas likes the idea of him carrying a symbiote. He's strong, but as tired and scared as he was, he didn't strike out randomly."
"He didn't look scared."
"He smelled absolutely terrified," Gibbs said softly. It was the voice he used when he talked about victims. Tony settled down against Gibbs' chest and tried to make that jive with what he knew of Ronon. While Tony believed Gibbs, he had to admire how well Ronon hid any fear. The man acted like nothing bothered him.
"I'm going to ask Teyla to talk to Colonel Sheppard."
That seemed like a detour off subject, but Tony knew Gibbs well enough to know the subjects had to relate. "About what?"
"Sheppard wants Ronon for his team. I want to see how well he really handles himself."
"You and Samas both want to check him out?" The two of them might share a body, but they didn't always agree on what was admirable... or right. Gibbs was quietly furious about the science department keeping the ZPMs secret, but since it was Samas and not him that had made the discovery, he didn't feel like it was his place to unilaterally veto their plan. Tony suspected that if Earth had even a hint of danger heading at it that Gibbs would tell all of them to fuck off and send the ZPMs to Earth.
"We both think he has potential, but putting him on a team with our military commander, our city's second in command, and the head scientist seems foolish--especially when he's already proven that he can take them all hostage if he feels the urge."
"You plan to join Sheppard's gate team," Tony said. He could feel the stone in his stomach at the very idea. Sheppard seemed to attract all the weird. If some plan was going to blow up in their faces, Sheppard would be in the middle. And now Gibbs wanted to put himself in that line of fire. And actually, that wasn't all that surprising.
"I want both of us on that team," Gibbs said.
That was surprising. "Really?" Tony pushed away so he could look at Gibbs' face. "You said I was never going on a gate team."
"I said you couldn't go on a gate team unless you could fight at a level that would make it possible for you to defend yourself."
"Yeah, and then the Wraith showed up, and you decided that I had to be able to defend myself from a Wraith. Newsflash Gibbs--you and Ronon are the only two that can actually meet that standard."
"And now you'll be the third."
It took Tony several seconds for his brain to process that and reach the most logical conclusion--the only logical conclusion. "They're grown?" Tony felt a stab of... apprehension? pride? fear? joy? Actually, Tony had no idea how he felt.
"Both your daughters are going to want to be the one to join with you. They'll fight."
Tony's gut churned. "And one will die."
"Not necessarily," Gibbs said. "Samas said they are both very strong and very stubborn, but they aren't as quick to go for the killing blow as Samas or the onac he used to know. They have some of you in there, and you've taught them to look for unconventional solutions."
Tony wasn't sure how he felt about that. He was uncomfortable at the thought of having a kid at all--at having a chance to completely screw up the life of some innocent rugrat whose only mistake was getting born a DiNozzo. But now he had changed the direction of an entire species. Whatever he was feeling, it was definitely a close cousin to fear. Terror even.
Gibbs rested his hand on Tony's cheek. "You don't have to do this. Your life is yours and you don't have to share it."
"I already have, Gibbs. I'm not afraid to host a symbiote."
The smile he got was almost indulgent, as if Tony had said something amusingly wrong. "Joining with a regular symbiote is nothing like joining with a queen, Tony. There will be another personality in there with you. This isn't a blank slate that will form itself to your psyche."
"But she'll have some of my memories in her already. She's my daughter--both of them are."
"Yes," Gibbs agreed, "and she's going to learn a lot about life from joining with you, but she'll bring her own opinions to the joining. The first time someone pisses you off, she's going to want to rip their eyes out."
"That's why you get so intense when you're pissed, isn't it?" Tony asked. He'd seen that look, the one that said that Gibbs was millimeters away from tanking his career and going to prison all for the pure joy and ripping someone's intestines out through their neck. Tony had seen suspects nearly piss their pants when they recognized the danger they were in.
Gibbs shrugged. "I wasn't exactly patient with stupidity before Samas, but he does make it harder."
"Are you ever sorry?" Tony asked. Gibbs' emotional barriers snapped into place so fast that Tony had to fight an instinct to pull back. He knew Gibbs well enough to know that the man had a knee-jerk reaction to talking about feelings, and Tony was confident enough in their relationship that he didn't take it too personally.
"Not exactly sorry," Gibbs said. "I don't regret it, and I still believe that Samas is worth any price I've paid."
He went silent. Tony waited, but the silence continued long past the point where it was comfortable. "But?" Tony prompted him.
"But it's like a marriage you can't get out of. You make it work because there's no other choice, but sometimes you really want to walk out the door and slam it behind you. Only unless you're in a place where it's safe to separate, you can't do that. You get angry and frustrated, and you're locked in the same head together. This is not an easy decision to live with, Tony. I don't want you to make it and then regret your decision."
"Are you saying you don't want me to host?"
Gibbs sighed. "I wish it was that simple. I do want you to host, but I don't want my loyalty to one friend--to Samas--to compromise my loyalty to you. Make this decision for yourself, and I will support you no matter what."
Tony gave a little huff. "Samas is going to want to kick your ass for having this conversation with me while he's in the water."
A wry shrug from Gibbs was all the answer he got.
"I know you and Samas have different ways of doing things," Tony said slowly, "but I respect and love both of you. Can you handle me being a host? Can you handle having a more aggressive person in here without that destroying our relationship?" Tony hadn't even realized he was worried about that until the question was out his mouth and hanging there in the air between them.
Gibbs wrapped his arm around Tony's waist and pulled him close. "When we first started, I think I needed to be in charge all the time. I can handle a more aggressive partner now because ultimately I will always be charge. I'm Gibbs. I'm Samas' equal and your daughter has more sense than to try and challenge that." Gibbs sounded almost amused, but then he turned serious. "I don't know how our relationship will work out, the one between the four of us. However you and I are always solid, Tony. If we have to limit the Igigi so that we can keep our own relationship healthy, then we will."
"Why would you have to limit Samas?"
Gibbs sighed. "Because he is entirely too used to trying to kill his kids when they annoy him too much. He already knows that he's going to have to control himself more."
Weird. "I don't actually think of Samas as being dangerous."
"He is," Gibbs said, "which is his way, and I've always respected that. But he has to follow my code when he's in my body."
"Right. No murdering innocents for annoying you. You can only scare them into thinking you might." Tony ran his hand over Gibbs' chest. "You want me to carry one of the girls when I go on Sheppard's team. You want her to be able to see Ronon too, don't you?" Tony could feel a distant sort of panic. This was worse than being a father. This was being a father of a creature who was ready to give him a thousand grandkids and who was going to be riding around in him while picking prospective candidates. And true, no Igigi would actually use human DNA, but they would use the symbiote who learned about the world from a host. Tony tried to imagine a symbiote learning about pain and loss and strength and hiding fear from riding around in Ronon.
"He might not want to host," Tony said. He didn't believe it, but he felt the need to play devil's advocate.
"Teyla's people want to."
"What?" Tony pushed himself up onto an elbow so he could look down at Gibbs. "You told her? When were you planning on telling me that you told her?"
Gibbs tugged at Tony's arm until Tony had to choose between struggling against Gibbs or letting himself get pulled back down. He surrendered, and Gibbs pulled him close and then pulled the covers over them.
"I didn't tell her. You can hardly be surprised that she put the pieces together. We've both dropped hints, and she came to me this week and said that whenever Samas' people were ready, hers were very open to discussing a joining. To have someone remember you for thousands of years is a blessing for them. They are always on the edge of dying, not just as individuals but as a people. That makes them value what the Igigi can bring."
Tony thought about what he would do if he thought that his whole culture was at risk of dying. "Ronon will want to host." If Teyla's people were that concerned about saving their world, Ronon would be twice as determined. From what he'd said, Sateda had been a beautiful, well-developed world, and now it was burned out ruins and broken husks of buildings.
"Maybe," Gibbs said, but he didn't sound confident in that.
"No, definitely. The Wraith tried to wipe out his whole world. This would be a way to strike back at them."
"I hope you're right. The first step is to get a better sense of who he is as a man. I plan to tell Teyla that I want you on the team with me because you are better at reading people."
"Than you?" Tony huffed. "Not really." Given Samas' ability to smell deceit, Gibbs and his famous gut made a lot more sense now that Tony knew the truth.
"I can spot lies, but you're quicker to understand why people lie. You are better than I am, and that's why I want you on the team to help assess Ronon if you decide to host. If you don't, you'll have a chance to get to know him in the city."
Tony sighed and stared out into the darkness. "Things are changing," he said softly.
"Hopefully for the better," Gibbs agreed. Gibbs held him tight as some emotion dropped over them, and from there it was silence until Tony finally fell asleep a long time later.
Tony stopped to check on Abby who had set herself up in a very small but very private lab on the lowest of the science levels. The room used to be for unidentified specimen storage, but Abby had put her foot down and insisted that specimens would not remain unidentified in any lab that she was associated with. Unsurprisingly, Kavanagh had thrown a fit at her getting her own lab, but Rodney had backed her. Abby cleared the lab; Abby kept the lab. Besides, she had to study for her PhD.
A quick psuedo-soda delivery later, and Tony was on his way to the command tower. Rodney had been twitchy over breakfast, and Tony needed to do a little investigating.
"Hey, Grodin!" Tony called out.
"Tony," came the oh-so formal and British response. In another thirty years, Grodin was going to be another Ducky, only he'd be doing autopsies of broken machines.
"Other than the drama that follows when two individuals like the same young man, it's been remarkably quiet. Not one system has gone mysterious offline in at least two days."
"Ten thousand year old equipment," Tony said with a shrug. "I have the feeling our computers aren't going to stand up to time this well."
Grodin laughed. "I am sure they will not. Rodney is in fits over our latest replacement laptops. Apparently the SGC saved money by using a chip that is last year's model."
Tony cringed. That was so not good.
"Exactly," Grodin said. "Had I not been required to man the station, I would have shown an abundance of common sense and fled. As it is, I fear that General Landry is not a fan of anyone on Atlantis right now."
That actually might account for Rodney's weird mood. He did understand that his temper tantrums cost the city a lot of good will back home. Not that knowledge was enough to keep him from throwing a fit when he perceived some general stupidity that he felt duty-bound to point out. Rodney was Rodney.
Tony rested his hip against the edge of the control station. "So, who is fighting over who?"
Grodin leaned toward him. "Hafta and Tasjha, do you know them?"
"Hoff. Hafta is an electrician and her baby brother has been training to become a welder."
"Clearly he is not a baby anymore. He has been making eyes at Croft."
"The Genii scientist?" Tony asked. God he hoped there was some other Croft in the city because the Genii by that name was a schmoozing idiot.
Unfortunately, Grodin nodded. "Yes. Apparently he has been dating Hafta, but recently he has been seen on the docks with Tasjha, and some people are saying it did not look like an avuncular relationship. The two siblings had a spectacular fight just outside the science labs and rumor has it that they are both accusing the other of manipulating Croft."
"Well crap." Tony rubbed his hand over his face. He definitely needed to jump on this before he had an assault to deal with. As much as he loved being part of the community on Atlantis, he really didn't need to deal with this sort of stupidity, especially when Croft was likely the real guilty party. "I think I might need to suggest that Ladon make a few changes in the Genii contingent."
"To hear Croft explain it, this city would not function without his brilliance." The tone was clearly a warning, so Grodin knew something about the Genii that he wasn't saying. Grodin might act all proper, and he would never speak out of turn or repeat hearsay, but he certainly did know more about what was going on than most people.
"He thinks he's that good?"
"You haven't heard his boasts?" Grodin gave Tony an amused look.
"Oh, I really haven't. You know who else hasn't heard that? Rodney or Samas or Abby... this could actually be amusing. I mean, Radek would quietly mock him, but I bet we could arrange for a certain Genii scientist to spend a little quality time with someone who would give him a more accurate assessment of his talent." And if Tony knew one thing about people who had egos it was that they couldn't handle having their egos pricked. Tell them they were wrong, and it was like using a magnifying glass on an ant--they just curled up and died. Rodney destroyed people like that without even noticing. They were stupid; therefore, Rodney crushed them beneath his intellect. Tony was pretty sure Samas and Abby noticed--they just enjoyed doing the damage. Tony would definitely arrange in a little play date for Croft.
"You are an evil man. That is why I like you," Grodin said with a smile.
"Careful, your reputation as a stuffy Englishman is in danger."
"If these cretans think the English are stuffy, they have clearly never seen English comedies, or for that matter, visited England. Just because we have a dry wit does not mean that we are any less likely to admire a well-placed insult."
Tony grinned. “And that is why I like you.”
“DiNozzo.” Sheppard blurted the name out and then stood near the hall entrance looking like a kid caught with his whole arm elbow deep in cookie jar.
“Colonel,” Tony answered. He gave the man a smile, and sure enough, Sheppard got en expression of near panic on his face. The rest of the Pegasus galaxy might think Sheppard was a bad-ass, but Tony liked to think that they were close enough friends that Tony was allowed to see that John was actually a giant dork. He was as bad with secrets as Rodney, and that was saying something. “I was hoping we could talk.” Tony had no idea what they were going to talk about, but given John’s flinch, they clearly needed to talk about something. Either he really wanted some secret to come out or his poker face was getting worse.
Sheppard looked around. “I have stuff to do. Colonel stuff, you know.”
As excuses went, that was lame, even for John. Some days Tony wondered if the man didn’t have a symbiote of his own. It would explain how he could go from cool and deadly to utter dweeb in under two seconds. Gibbs and Samas didn’t switch as fast as one Colonel John Sheppard. “Okay,” Tony said with a shrug. “I guess I can follow you around and we can talk… or I can go talk to Rodney.” It was a wild stab in the dark that Rodney’s weirdness and the colonel’s were related, but clearly it was a good stab. John just sort of deflated.
“Conference room,” John said, and then he headed that way with every line of his body screaming that he’d rather take on a hive ship full of Wraith.
“He’s in a mood,” Grodin whispered.
“Colonel stuff,” Tony said with a wink.
“At least his colonel stuff doesn’t lead to rebellion and funerals,” Grodin pointed out. That sobered Tony pretty damn quickly. Jessica and Private Cooper had been good people. They weren’t the only ones they’d lost out here—not by a long shot. But they were the two who had died because of human arrogance and stupidity. Earther arrogance. Ellis thought that the Pegasus galaxy would bend to his will. Hell, so had Colonel’s Everett and Sumner. See where that got all of them.
The only colonel who seemed able to adapt well enough to avoid horrible mistakes stood in the door to the conference room looking back at Tony like he was awaiting execution.
Tony followed him, suddenly a lot more serious about this. Something was going on, and Grodin was right that when colonel’s got some bad idea in their heads, they made some really dumb mistakes. Well Tony wasn’t going to let that happen to John.
He strode by John, ignored the table and chairs, and headed for the couch. Dropping down, he sprawled out and just looked at john. Gibbs had taught him the value of silence.
Slowly John narrowed his eyes. “What?” he asked. The doors rotated shut at the same time so either John wanted privacy or Atlantis wanted them to keep this private.
“Feel free to start,” Tony suggested. Then he raised his eyebrows in that look that invited someone else to take a turn and waited.
He could see John shift uncomfortably. It only took a few minutes, and the man broke. “I can’t believe Rodney told you,” John said, and with a heavy sigh, he dropped into the nearest chair.
That was an ambiguous statement. That could be “I can’t believe Rodney told you we have a secret love nest” or “I can’t believe Rodney told you we’re lovers” or “I can’t believe Rodney told you that I’m the one who keeps stealing Lorne’s pens.” In John’s defense, Evan was pretty amusing to watch when he couldn’t find a pen. John could even be talking about the hallway he and Rodney had coopted for a secret remote control car racing course.
“Rodney’s Rodney,” Tony said.
John sat up. “Wait. Do you even know what I’m talking about?”
“I will when I track down Rodney and ask him why the hell he told you. About two seconds later, I’ll know everything.”
John closed his eyes and rubbed his hand over his face. “Shit. You have his number. Some days I don’t understand why I even like him.”
“Because he’s likeable, in a prickly sort of way. You just have to be careful about how you hug him,” Tony said with a shrug.
John laughed. “Yeah, that’s one way to put it.” He took a deep breath and seemed to brace himself. “He told me about the ZPMs.”
Tony’s stomach dropped and he felt like every drop of blood in his veins turned to ice.
“I can see you already know. At least I don’t have to explain it.” John leaned back and stared at the ceiling. “Why did he have to tell me?”
“Because he’s a dork and he loves you and he probably felt like shit every second he didn’t tell you,” Tony said. He reached for his radio. “DiNozzo to Gibbs. We could use you up in the conference room.”
“We?” came the answer.
There was the briefest pause, but it was enough to let Tony know that Gibbs was worried. Tony couldn’t say anything to reassure him because he didn’t know what Sheppard might do. “On my way,” Gibbs said. “Gibbs out.”
Tony turned off his radio.
“So, Gibbs knows too?” John asked.
This was dangerous territory. Technically Gibbs was committing treason by keeping vital information from a commanding officer. Everett and Ellis would have used it to hang him. Possibly literally. “Gibbs is mad as hell that Rodney didn’t report it to Earth. However, he doesn’t have access to the information as Gunnery Sergeant Gibbs, and he has enough respect for Samas to not use privileged information lightly. I think he’s hoping that Colonel Carter figures out a recharging protocol fast enough that it doesn’t make a difference.”
Sheppard looked at him with concern etched all over his face. He might have said something, except the door slid open and Gibbs was there. Either he’d been in a transporter when Tony had called or he’d run most of the way.
“Colonel,” Gibbs said, nodding politely at Sheppard. Then he stepped inside, and the door quickly slid closed, so quickly that Gibbs took a quick step forward to avoid getting caught as it thumped heavily shut.
“Gunny,” Sheppard said, his voice weary.
“Rodney told him about the ZPMs,” Tony explained.
“Oh.” Gibbs pressed his lips together, and if Rodney had been in the same room, the man would have suffered a full-on Gibbs glare in potentially lethal doses.
Sheppard gave a rough laugh. “Christ, Gunny, this is a little too big to keep secret, don’t you think?”
Gibbs gave Tony a concerned look before he moved over to stand closer to Sheppard. “Permission to speak freely, sir?”
Sheppard seemed to sag a little more. “Don’t get all formal on me, Gunny. I need real answers, not military ones.”
“Your real answer just may be your military one, sir.”
John turned his chair to look at Gibbs. “Gunny?”
“If you send all those ZPMs to Earth, what will they do? I know you just finished war college, so think hard.”
“Allocate resources,” John said, but he sounded confused.
“Who gets the ZPMs? China? The US? There’s only one chair in Antarctica, so how are the others allocated given the international nature of our mission?”
John sat up a little straighter. “Legally, there’s no way to keep China or Russia from claiming a ZPM, but unlike those of you who went through the Cold War, I’m actually not all that concerned—”
“But who would be concerned?”
There was a half second pause as John seemed to consider that. Then he stood and leaned back against the table. “General Landry, probably. General O’Neill would definitely be concerned, and probably most of the Armed Forces over the age of forty.”
“And will they hand over ZPMs easily?” This was Gibbs at his finest—forcing other people to make the connections for themselves because he was not the giver of easy answers. However John didn’t get frustrated. If anything, he seemed to be getting more and more engaged with every question.
“No, which doesn’t mean they won’t be forced to.” A lightbulb seemed to go off over John’s head. “And that would increase tensions. The other countries in the IOC would have to know that the United States had, again, threatened to keep technology and power for themselves. Given that the gate belongs to the Russians, anti-American sentiments or even coalitions could be very bad.”
Gibbs nodded. “And what would the smaller countries do when they weren’t given a ZPM, but someone they considered a traditional enemy was?”
John was nodding now. “And what would happen if we gave a ZPM to Egypt, who has been one of our largest supporters, and then Israel found out? Gunny, you just took a horrible problem and turned it into an unsolvable one.”
Gibbs gave a half smile and shrugged. “That’s it. It is an unsolvable problem.” Tony watched his lover, and he suddenly realized that Gibbs had known all this before he’d decided to go along with the plan to keep the ZPMs hidden. That actually explained a lot, and Tony was now firmly in Radek and Samas’ camp on the ZPMs. Earth didn’t need that kind of power.
However John was shaking his head now. “If Earth falls because they don’t have the power to run the ships at full capacity or power the chair…” John grimaced before sinking back into his chair. Tony could feel the fear gather in the room. All of them were afraid of exactly that. Part of Tony worried about Abby being out here with Wraith, but another part figured that he’d rather have her in the path of a Wraith invasion than an Ori one. Those people did something worse than kill people—they perverted their whole lives in order to serve a sick and twisted religion. Tony had enough of that while fighting terrorism. He didn’t need to see it on an intergalactic level.
Gibbs came and sat in the chair next to John. “I search every communication for some sort of sign that they’re desperate and they need the power.”
“Radek and Rodney have been coming up with plans for supposedly finding one off world,” Tony said. “That would let us argue that we should keep it, but we all know we’d be overruled. Earth would take that one ZPM.” He didn’t have to add that with only one ZPM, the political fault lines would be easier to navigate. Give earth a dozen ZPMs and the political landscape would shatter. Tony could see that now. A dozen ZPMs would destroy Earth as surely as the Ori.
“They don’t tell us everything,” John said.
“They don’t tell us most things,” Gibbs countered. “Only seems fair to keep a few secrets of our own.”
John scrubbed his hand through his hair, forcing clumps to change direction so they stood out at all angles. Tony understood Rodney’s obsession with it. “Someone should know. If they’re in trouble, they should know what we have to offer them.”
Gibbs leaned forward. “Whoever knows on Earth, they’re in a worse position than we are. They’ll be in the middle. If they don’t call for the ZPMs, they’re going to always wonder how many more battles could have been won if they’d only confiscated them. If they do call for the ZPMs, they’re going to feel guilty for the political fallout which is likely to destroy alliances and possibly take down governments.”
John nodded. “And it has to be someone who understands how dangerous this could be. I think I need to head back to Earth and personally brief General O’Neill.”
Gibbs smiled. “I couldn’t happen to a more deserving guy.”
As much as Tony had mixed feelings about O’Neill and everything he’d done to get them exiled, even he didn’t deserve the crap that was about to land in his lap. However, Tony couldn’t image anyone else handling the news well. If John had to tell someone, that was the only person who might avoid helping crazy Earthers blow themselves to pieces.
Tony just wondered when he’d stopped thinking of himself as being part of that craziness.
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