Lions and Guides and Igigi, Oh My
Elizabeth kept her eyes focused on the wormhole, but John could almost feel her attention on him. "Do you have any idea why the General requested your presence on Earth?" she asked. Her voice was carefully neutral, but she still managed to communicate her unhappiness.
"No, ma'am," John said. General O'Neill always sent him private briefings, so the idea of getting an order directly from the general wasn't impossible. John just had to hope that O'Neill backed him once John showed up on Earth to report for imaginary orders.
She sighed. "Call me paranoid, but I really dislike having you back on Earth. Things tend to go wrong."
John shrugged. "I'm sure you'll do fine. Just make sure that no one locks Samas in the pool on the lower decks or ignores Teyla, and it will sort itself."
Elizabeth laughed. "Ellis did misunderstand the power players. Honestly, I'm used to military people misreading the political situation, but you are the exception to that rule."
That was so not true that it wasn't funny. It was right up there with people who assumed he was charming--another patently untrue conclusion. He didn't know anything about politics, but when Tony and Gibbs told him to deal with something, he tended to believe that it needed to be taken care of.
She turned and looked at him. "Don't get lost on your way back home, colonel."
"Yes, ma'am," John agreed with a grin. "Are you sure you don't want Major Lorne to have a shot at running the place?"
"I'm sure Major Lorne doesn't want a shot at running it," Elizabeth pointed out. She was nice enough to not point out that Lorne did run most of it. John ran his team, signed off on training exercises that Gibbs designed, and tried to avoid most of the nuts and bolts of running a command
"Sir, Ma'am, the last of the broken Ancient doohickies are through, so it's time for the personnel," Chuck said.
Doohickies. If Rodney ever caught anyone using that name for the weekly technology transfer, lectures would be had. John would have to bring popcorn. "I guess that's my call," John said before giving Elizabeth a nod. He'd already said his goodbyes to everyone else, and hopefully he'd be coming back in exactly one week when it was Earth's turn to open the wormhole.
John felt a twinge of guilt. They took turns to conserve the two ZPMs--the Earth one out of Egypt and the Atlantis one from Degan. However, Atlantis really had twelve and didn't need to conserve anything. John just hoped that General O'Neill had a solution because John didn't want to leave Earth defenseless, and he also didn't want to have the IOC order Atlantis to abandon the Pegasus galaxy. He couldn't live with that--not after he'd played such a crucial role in waking the Wraith. Worse, Gibbs' warnings about Earth politics sounded entirely too possible.
"Good luck," Elizabeth said as John approached the event horizon. John gave her a wave and then stepped through with the handful of personnel heading back.
It felt strange, stepping down the ramp in his dress blues while SGC soldiers guarded from the edges of the room. The captain in charge caught his eye and immediately moved to intercept him.
"Sir, we didn't have your name on the roster."
John gave his best "whatcha gonna do" grin and shrugged. "General O'Neill requested a meeting, and here I am. I hope you have some transportation to DC."
The captain almost twitched. In these days of IOC crackdowns and budgets, John understood how hard it was to move people on short notice.
"I'm fine catching a ride on whatever military supply plane you might have heading east," he said. The captain's relief was almost palpable.
"Honestly, the general didn't warn us, so I don't know what we have in the area. It may be a long, bumpy fight with a lot of changing, sir."
"As long as it gets me back here before the next dial up, that's fine. I just want to get back to my command as soon as possible."
"Understood, sir. If you would head to medical to get cleared, I'll start making arrangements for your transportation." The captain gestured toward the door where the other departing Atlantis people were going. John tried to keep his expression neutral as he followed. The second O'Neill heard that John was on Earth, any chance to keep this quiet was gone. And suddenly John saw a lot of value in keeping this quiet.
John was second guessing himself and cursing Rodney most of the two days it took him to fly back to DC using military transports. Part of him appreciated that he had a lover who respected him enough to avoid secrets. On the other hand, John truly didn't want to be in the middle of this. By the time O'Neill's new aide led him into the general's office, John's stomach was tied in knots. He could almost feel an ulcer start.
The aide opened the door to the main officer, and John stepped inside and offered his old boss a salute.
"Colonel," General O'Neill greeted him, a touch of that dry humor seeping through, "so good of you to come with so little notice."
"Yes, sir." John ducked his head. He'd lived with the general for six months, so he knew a carefully worded reprimand when it came flying at his head at warp speed.
"Cooper, give us a little privacy," O'Neill asked. The aide nodded and pulled the door closed so that John was alone with the general. And the general was unhappy.
"So," O'Neill said, drawing the word out, "what brings you to this part of the universe?"
John gave him a grin. "Oh, you know. The beer, the women."
"The women?" O'Neill rolled his eyes. From his tone, he wasn't convinced that John would chase a woman, which was fair because he wouldn't. Rodney made him happy, even when Rodney made him miserable.
"The hypothetical discussions, then," John said.
O'Neill looked more interested now. "Oh, and what are we hypothetically discussing?"
John took a deep breath and tossed caution to the wind. "Whether having additional power would help Earth defend itself from the Ori," he said.
"Hypothetically speaking," O'Neill said, all pretense at joking gone. The man was intense when that outer layer of humor vanished.
John stood a little straighter and reminded himself that he trusted O'Neill. It was O'Neill that had gotten him back into Atlantis, and John would not repay that by lying. "Yes, sir."
O'Neill retreated behind his desk and sat. "Would this be a significant power source?"
"Yes, sir. Hypothetically."
"Well then, I would have to say that hypothetically it would be nice to have a second significant power source, one that might be compatible with the ancient defense platform. I'm just wondering why we're discussing hypotheticals."
Crap. O'Neill thought they'd found a second ZPM, which wasn't anywhere near the truth. John grimaced and tried to find a way to start the most uncomfortable conversation he'd suffered since his divorce. "Well hypothetically--"
"Drop the joke, Sheppard," O'Neill snapped.
"Yes, sir." John was nearly at full attention now.
O'Neill rolled his eyes. "Sit your ass down, Sheppard. I don't want to get a crick in my neck. So, did you find a ZPM that McKay is playing selfish with?"
John sat on the edge of one of the chairs. "Possibly more than one."
O'Neill leaned back in his chair. "How many more than one?"
"Eleven?" John cringed a little. This is where the shit hit the fan and the IOC ordered Atlantis back to Earth, and John honestly wasn't sure which side of that order he would come down on. Worse, he suspected that O'Neill knew that John's loyalty was wavering a little, so if it came to that, O'Neill might not let him go back to the city.
It took O'Neill a long time to answer. "Eleven?"
"Eleven more than one," John corrected him.
O'Neill closed his eyes and seemed to be counting. "And why aren't we playing halvies with these twelve ZPMs?"
"Because it would be really hard to explain where they came from."
O'Neill frowned. He didn't say anything--he just frowned and leaned farther back in his chair and radiated a sort of disapproval that made John want to curl up and die a little. John hurried to explain.
"Rodney found a recharging station on Atlantis, and he and Radek are afraid that the IOC will order Atlantis back to the Milky Way. However, Rodney is really bad at keeping secrets." John decided to leave Samas out of the mix altogether. Yes, he'd found the station, but O'Neill wasn't a fan of snakes in any form.
"He's worked for the most top-secret projects in the country. I think he's just bad at keeping secrets from you," O'Neill said dryly. "Now, why would the IOC order Atlantis to abandon the Pegasus galaxy?" O'Neill asked, cutting right to the heart of John's personal dilemma.
"The station is part of the structural integrity of the city. It can't be removed."
"So your two mad scientists plan to just keep it secret?"
John gave a huff. "That was my first question. Apparently they're working their asses off to find a way to use Earth equipment to recharge a ZPM."
O'Neill blew out a breath and seemed to think about that for a second. At least he wasn't ordering guards to arrest John. Landry would have by now. "Carter said she has a bet going with McKay over who gets there first. I know which geek I'm counting on," General O'Neill said. John didn't comment since O'Neill disliked McKay almost as much as he disliked snakes. It was funny how everyone O'Neill disliked ended up on the other end of the universe.
"Rodney and Radek were going to wait to tell anyone about the recharging station until after someone successfully recharged a ZPM on their own."
O'Neill nodded. "Which would reduce the value of the recharging station. It would become a convenience rather than a vital resource." He rubbed a hand over his face. "Sheppard, you are quickly becoming the most troublesome colonel in the history of the Air Force, and since I'm Air Force, that's actually saying a lot."
"Yeah, yeah. But this time next year, you're going to be dropping another bomb in my lap and casually asking me what I'd like to do with it."
"Probably," John agreed. O'Neill glared at him.
"You know, a year ago I would have told the IOC about it and let them sort it out."
"And there were a few comments that the IOC would take that much power and promptly self-destruct."
O'Neill leaned forward. "So, is that coming from Elizabeth or Gibbs?"
Panic uncurled in John's stomach. "Sir?" he asked. When all else failed, act ignorant. That was John's motto.
"I know you didn't come up with that yourself, Sheppard. You were my aide for six months, and you only noticed politics when you had your nose shoved in them, and sometimes not then."
Sheppard grimaced. That was true.
"So, if I talk to Elizabeth about her new wealth of power, is she going to know what I'm talking about?" O'Neill gave him a sharp look, and John could see the man who had saved the planet more than once. O'Neill had a hard core to him.
"No, sir," John admitted. "I didn't want to put her in the bad position Rodney left me in."
"So, Gibbs warned you to keep this to yourself." O'Neill did not look amused, but there was no way John was letting one of his men take the blame for any of this, least of all Gibbs.
"No, sir," John said fiercely. "Gibbs didn't want me to keep it secret, but he wanted me to be very careful about who I talked to. He seemed to think that the Chinese and Russians would be pissed as hell if they caught wind of any of this."
O'Neill seemed to relax just a little. "I sometimes wonder about who you choose to trust, Sheppard."
"People said the same about you taking on the First Prime of Apophis," John pointed out.
That earned him a small smile. "That's true. Half the Senate thinks I'm crazy. It keeps them from calling me too often."
John leaned forward. "Gibbs is right, isn't he? This would do more damage than good if they knew about it."
"Let's see. There's enough power for the countries to fight over, but not enough for everyone to have a ZPM of their own because we don't have that many empties. Yeah, it would be a nightmare."
"They'd fight over energy while the Ori marched to Earth," John said softly. Sometimes he hated his own poeple. They weren't very logical.
O'Neill shook his head. "They don't want to think the world could fall. They like their delusions."
"And you, sir?" John asked. If he was having a face-to-face with O'Neill, he wanted to know how back this was looking.
For a long time, O'Neill just stared at him. "The others, they don't want to think about evacuations and alpha sites either, but I'm looking at reports, and I'm thinking that you're doing more than Ellis to get Atlantis ready for a massive inflow of refugees."
"We're trying, sir," John agreed. "Lorne had assigned teams to clear new towers room by room, and McKay is using the extra power to bring more hydroponics labs on-line."
"That's a good line Weir came up with--the one about you trying to minimize the damage we've done by providing more humanitarian aid."
"Weir and Teyla came up with that together," John said. He decided to not add that Dr. Weir would leave Teyla in charge when she took a day off or had some event on some allied world. John didn't know if that was her distrust of military in general or a comment on the fact that John had been gone for six months and Teyla did actually know more of the day-to-day operations. Either way, he suspected that neither General O'Neill or the IOC would be amused to know that John had been demoted from second in command to third in command in favor of an Athosian native. The irony was that John thought it was a good move, even if everyone else would be livid at the very thought. Besides, Teyla still took his orders in the field. He just took hers in the city.
"So once you get the gardens up and running, will you be reducing your supply requests?"
John cleared his throat. "No, sir. We're already stockpilling MREs as fast as we can. We're hoping to have a significant supply in case we have visitors."
O'Neill looked slightly impressed. It was a subtle shift in expression, but John knew him well enough to see that he was pleased. "Oh? How many visitors are you planning on?"
"McKay estimates that if you have some warning, you could send us around 15,000."
For a second, O'Neill just looked at him blankly. John was really starting to worry when O'Neill suddenly whistled. "Ellis' best guess was that they could handle six hundred."
"Right now, that probably is what we could handle easily, but give us a couple of months, and we'll be ready for a lot more."
"How many MREs do you have set aside right now, and don't give me the supply numbers you've been turning in for the Air Force. If you want to fake the records believably, Sheppard, you want to change more than the date." O'Neill rolled his eyes like he had just caught John masturbating in the shower. Again.
John cringed. Clearly O'Neill had already caught that bit of bad bookkeeping. "13,300," he admitted.
O'Neill leaned forward fast and slapped his hand on his desk as he stared at John in shock. "Okay, you're officially in charge of the Christmas savings club. Would you like to explain how you managed that?"
John grinned. "Most of the teams are now using local made granola and pemmican. We have happier teams and we put almost all the MREs to one side for true emergencies. The only MREs we're allowing to leave storage are near their expiration date."
"And you have enough local food for that?"
John cringed. This was getting into territory he really didn't want to explore with his commanding officer, especially since John's reports were a little less than truthful.
"Colonel?" O'Neill made a play at sounding unhappy, but in reality he sounded more amused.
"You know the beaming technology that Rodney has been playing with?"
"Do I want to know what he did?"
John really wished that he could keep Rodney out of the discussion and out of O'Neill's line of sight, but the only other scientist who had the same level of input into these clandestine preparations was Samas, and John knew that O'Neill would blow a gasket if he knew how much input Samas had into city operations. "In Rodney's defense, he did send a prototype back for Carter, and she shipped it off to Area 51, so anyone who is really paying attention is aware of what we can do."
"And what can you do?"
"Beam matter into a portable transportation device and then take the device through the Stargate or smuggle it on the Daedelus. A while back, Rodney arranged to purchase a herd of about 400 buffalo, and he transported it to Atlantis on the Daedelus."
O'Neill gave him a shit-eating grin. "The biologists are going to draw and quarter you."
"If they find out, probably. The Athosians turned them loose a good distance from the village. So far, the buffalo really like the Pegasus galaxy, and it only takes one or two animals to make a very large batch of pemmican. The Athosians said that it looks like they're going to have a bumper crop of calves in spring, so we think that's going to be a steady source of protein."
O'Neill just shook his head. "When I give you an order, I need to make sure I'm careful about setting up parameters, don't I?"
"Come off it, Sheppard. We both know I asked you to start this ball rolling. If it all went to hell tomorrow, how many people could you handle?"
John thought about their current situation. "A thousand would push us to the limit, but I think we could manage it, although we would have to burn a few bridges with our allies."
"And when this is all over, you really think you'd be able to handle 15,000 people?"
"Rodney thinks that if we can get hydroponics up to full capacity and open the two fishing bays he's identified under the city that Atlantis could handle close to 60,000 people, and if we can secure steady sources of protein through larger animal populations on the mainland, that we would probably be closer to a capacity of 100,000, more if people were willing to bunk together."
After that, there was a long silence--a long uncomfortable silence where John realized that O'Neill had never expected any of this. When O'Neill had suggested that John set up Atlantis as an evacuation site, he was thinking of base personnel. He'd never actually understood the real potential of the city, and now John was dropping it in his lap. If Gibbs was right about people not handling power well, this was a big, hairy ball of power John had just dropped in O'Neill's lap.
"So, as Alpha sites go, you're the deluxe model," O'Neill summarized.
"Yes, sir. And can I say that I truly hope we never have to test any of this."
"You and me both," O'Neill agreed wearily. "But we need tactical options, and McKay is right about the IOC--they would order the city back to the Milky Way." While O'Neill didn't say it, John was willing to bet that O'Neill also agreed with Gibbs about the political dangers. O'Neill leaned back in his chair and looked at John sadly. "If any of this gets out, you and I are both going to be up on treason charges for not reporting this, but we can't. If you are too valuable, you're going to have too many eyes on you."
John felt a kick to the gut, but he'd already known as much. "Tell them that I made the decision to hide all this from you, sir. You're needed in this office, so I won't contradict you."
O'Neill snorted. "Damn you're young, Colonel. First, they're going to know that we're close enough that you wouldn't keep this kind of secret. Christ, we lived together for six months, so I think that's going to give them a hint. They'll assume I know, or at least most of them will. The ones that believe your bullshit story will assume I'm an idiot, and I'd much rather be called a traitor than an idiot. But more importantly, you're not taking the fall when your first instinct was to come running home and report the situation. Take the blame when you screw up, and let me handle my screw-ups."
John felt an unfamiliar tightness in his chest. He'd had officers offer to cover for him before, officers that promised they would be by his side. He'd just never believed them. Part of John appreciated that O'Neill didn't take him up on his offer. The other part was terrified. If the military tried to court martial John, he had options. He had friends in other galaxies. Hell, he lived in another galaxy. If O'Neill's political enemies turned on him, John didn't know what the man would do. Hopefully he could still call on the Asgard if the shit hit the fan.
"The good news is that you'll always be welcome in the Pegasus galaxy. I'm sure Teyla could even offer asylum," John offered, and it was only half a joke.
O'Neill snorted. "Every time I disobey orders they seem to give me a promotion, so I'm not too worried. Go on, get out. And if you get a few extra transfers in the next month or so, you might want to let them start handling logistics, because even I could tell your supply reports were faked, and I don't actually look at the things."
"Yes, sir. I'll remember to lie more effectively or have others do my lying for me."
"Good man. Now head back."
John read O'Neill's report a third time. This was going to be a royal mess. Master Chief Harriman would be the highest ranked non-commissioned officer, which would eliminate Gibbs' main reason for being on the informal council that made decisions on Atlantis. John wondered if O'Neill's hatred for Samas was showing its ugly head again. John admired the hell out of O’Neill, but he wasn’t blind to the general’s faults.
"What's wrong?" Rodney tried looking over John's shoulder and ended up essentially laying on John's back as he strained to see the tablet.
"O'Neill is sending us more people."
"That doesn't usually make you tense up," Rodney said. He ran his hand down John's side, his talented fingers teasing by skirting the edge of John's ticklish spots. John tried to shift over onto his back, but Rodney was pinning him. Considering he was a scientist, he was a lot more solid and a lot stronger than John had thought before they'd started their relationship. He liked that. He liked feeling Rodney's strength, both physically and emotionally. This was one relationship that didn't feel fragile like so many of John's previous relationships.
John set his tablet aside and then used his full strength to push himself up. Rodney had to move off to the side, and when John turned around, Rodney was smiling at him. God but John loved that crooked smile of his. Ignoring the fact they both had morning breath, John leaned in and kissed Rodney. He might have initiated it, but Rodney threw himself into the kiss with all his passion. John had just started to hope for more when Rodney started to pull away.
"Okay, I have to go to work and you suck at quickies," Rodney said, regret in his voice.
"I do suck," John agreed, wiggling his eyebrows.
Rodney rolled his eyes. "How did I fall for such a dork?"
"Good luck?" John asked.
"Some sort of luck. And if you make me late for work again, I'm going to make your shower run cold. I’ll do worse if you make me run late and leave hickeys."
"Then I’ll need you to warm me up."
Rodney rolled his eyes again, but he was still smiling, still running his fingers over John's bare hip. "So what has you so tense? And before you ask, no I am not going to help you relax. Genius here. I have work to do unless you want the entire city to sink."
John dropped the seduction. Getting Rodney in the mood in the morning took a lot of effort because his brain was usually already running tests and mentally preparing diatribes against certain members of his department, although it had been a little better lately. John hadn’t seen anyone go running to Elizabeth in tears in nearly two weeks. Maybe their marathon-long evening sex sessions were mellowing Rodney. "O'Neill is sending Chief Master Harriman."
"And?" Rodney flopped onto his back, but his fingers still skimmed across John's body.
"He outranks Gibbs?"
"So?" Rodney sounded supremely unconcerned.
"So that's a shitty thing to do. O'Neill forced Gibbs back into active duty, and now he sends someone who is going to take the position as the top ranked NCO. That's going to push him out of the meetings."
"Wait. What?” Rodney sat up. “Samas is the first one to stop the worst of the stupidity. Just because you have another military moron doesn't mean you can kick Samas out of the meetings, even if Harriman is slightly less stupid than the average goon."
“Nice, Rodney,” John said sarcastically, making a face at his lover.
“If I stopped insulting your idiots, you’d start looking for the pod and you know it. Now, why would Samas stop coming to our meetings?”
"Officially, we never listed Samas as attending. We didn't want to aggravate the SGC."
"Do we care what those idiots think?"
"As long as those idiots give us orders, yes, we do." Sometimes it amazed John the way Rodney could just ignore all the politics. No wonder he got sent to Siberia. However, now it was John's job to make sure that Rodney didn't get himself in trouble. And that job was harder than it sounded. Rodney could piss off anyone. John had good evidence to prove it. Even with three new team members--Gibbs, Tony and Ronon, Rodney still seemed to get himself in more trouble than the rest of them combined. Luckily Tony was as good as Teyla at talking people out of killing them, and when people couldn't be talked into playing nice, Gibbs and Ronon were both very skilled at making people dead.
"I need Samas in the meetings. Unless you can find someone else who's been alive for five thousand years to give us advice, the SGC can deal with it." Rodney swung his legs out of bed. "I need coffee."
John knew better than to argue with an under-caffeinated Rodney.
“Why is O’Neill sending him, anyway? Harriman is a fixture at the SGC. I thought he’d be down there until he died and then they’d prop his desiccated and mummified body up in a chair in front of the dialing computer.”
“Geez Rodney. Do you practice being offensive?”
“It’s a natural talent,” Rodney shot right back as he measured coffee into his machine. Ever since Rodney and Samas had figured out how to reverse engineer the Wraith dematerializing technology, John had noticed that the scientists were far less careful with critical supplies like coffee and chocolate and good toilet paper.
“The general mentioned that I’m not particularly good at lying on reports. He mentioned that if we got new personnel, I might want to start letting them do inventory.”
“What’s that mean?”
“He caught that we were hoarding MREs.”
“If that pumped up little martinet—”
“He approves,” John interrupted before Rodney could get too far off track. O’Neill’s dislike for Rodney was the minor leagues compared to Rodney’s hatred for O’Neill. “He just thinks I’m really bad at hiding things in the paperwork.” John groaned as he sat up. He really wanted to lay in bed and avoid this newest mess. Wraith were so much easier to deal with than politics.
Rodney gave him an amused look. “You’re just really bad at paperwork. Why don’t you have Lorne do it?”
“He breaks out in hives when I ask him to lie to our superiors.” That was a slight exaggeration, but Lorne clearly wasn’t comfortable doing it, and John disliked ordering a subordinate to do something he felt was unethical. That meant that some of the paperwork John had happily foisted off on Lorne had now drifted back to him.
“Moron,” Rodney declared. “Does he even know how many rules SG1 broke? Hell, it was only their first or second year, and they all disobeyed direct orders, hijacked the Stargate, and took on Apophis’ ship on their own. From what I hear, there were arrest warrants out on all of them up to the point where they saved the planet.”
“Really?” Maybe John needed to read some of those early mission debriefs.
Rodney shook his head and came back to sit on the bed next to John. Their shoulders pressed together, the bare flesh transferring the heat. John leaned into Rodney, basking in this new ability to touch. Rodney felt so safe, and yeah, John understood the irony in that because Rodney was a prickly pear of a man with spines sticking out at every angle. But those spines were so clear and Rodney was so quick to describe any perceived slight in detailed terms that John never felt like he had to tiptoe around in ignorance. If Rodney needed him to know something about their relationship, he would say it in unambiguous terms.
“Sometimes I forget you aren’t one of those officers who came through the SGC. You don’t know all the background on things.”
“Meaning?” John asked without moving. He needed his daily quota of Rodney touch before he had to go out and deal with the world.
“Meaning successful Gate teams can get away with a lot of shit no one else can. SG1 has broken more laws and disobeyed more orders than the rest of the Air Force combined. SG3 is a close second, and SG19 has a reputation for just ignoring superior officers who tell them things they don’t agree with. Considering that they’re experts in covert ops and sometimes their superiors order them to do really stupid things, that’s probably good, but in the rest of the military that would get you kicked out,” Rodney explained. John really didn’t need that last part explained, though. He’d been in the standard military units, and initiative was rarely rewarded.
“So that explains why no one is having a fit about Samas joining a gate team.”
Rodney gave him a look that implied John was the biggest idiot on the entire planet. When John didn’t say anything, Rodney just shook his head with a sort of exaggerated resignation. Clearly he thought he’d settled for someone with a far inferior intellect, and John would be offended only he was fairly sure that there were only two or three people in the universe who would be on the same intellectual level with him.
“I think Samas joined the team because he knows this,” Rodney explained.
“I think Samas joined the team because he didn’t totally trust Ronon and he assumed, and with some good evidence, that Ronon could take the rest of us in a fight if he put his mind to it.”
“Please, he got in a lucky shot. You could take him,” Rodney said.
John raised his eyebrow, but he didn’t actually call Rodney an idiot. John couldn’t take Ronon and he was well aware of it. When Gibbs and Ronon sparred, Gibbs was hard pressed to take him, and Gibbs was a legend in the sparring rooms.
“Okay,” John said, drawing the word out into several syllables. “What point are you trying to make here, Rodney?”
“Samas is on your team. You can pretty much do what you want and the SGC is going to work around that.” Rodney shrugged like it was no big deal. John suspected Rodney was wrong, but maybe he did have more leverage than he’d assumed. Rodney might not be as good with people as he was with nuclear particles, but he didn’t invent things out of the air. For example, when he thought people were trying to kill him, it generally meant they actually did dislike him.
“So, what? We just announce that we’re inviting a snake to our command meetings?”
Rodney poked him in the leg hard enough that it almost hurt.
“Hey, that’s how the SGC is going to see it. I happen to be a big fan of Samas.” John appreciated Samas’ advice, his ability to reverse engineer technology, and his friendship with Rodney. When John had been ordered back to earth, the only thing that kept him from climbing the walls with worry was the knowledge that Rodney had true friends in Samas and Radek. And while Tony and Elizabeth weren't the same sorts of friends, they liked Rodney and protected him from the worst of his own mistakes.
Rodney got up and poured himself a cup of coffee before he headed into the bathroom. “Figure it out Colonel Sheppard,” he called over his shoulder. John scratched his stomach, looking down when something gathered under his fingernail. Come. Clearly they’d done a really crappy job of cleaning up last night. John picked the dried stuff out from under his fingernail and flicked it onto the floor where the automated cleaning system would pick it up.
After stretching, he reached for his radio and clicked it. “Dr. Weir?”
“Private channel 3,” John suggested.
There was a pause and then an electronic click. “Okay, you have my attention,” she said. Suddenly John realized he was buck naked with drying come on his stomach. And Rodney could come out of the shower at any time, potentially saying something compromising. He was an idiot.
John headed for the door to their living room. Their hidden quarters were a lot more spacious than the rooms they kept half-furnished for show, and their balcony faced out over the ocean where no one had a view in. So John moved to stand near the open balcony door. “O’Neill is sending us some more support personnel, and I have some concerns about one in particular.”
“Oh?” On the other end she was typing, probably pulling up a modified version of the command report he’d gotten from O’Neill.
“Sergeant Harriman is going to be our new ranking NCO.”
Elizabeth didn’t answer immediately. “He’s a very competent man. I’m actually not sure why the general would transfer him out here.”
John wasn’t sure what she had in her report, but he didn’t intent on lying to her any more than he had to. The ZPM recharging station was a secret best kept far from any Earth officials, but Elizabeth deserved to know everything else. “There are two reasons. The official reason is in a report attached to his transfer file. It looks like someone tried to stage a kidnapping. His home was attacked. He was able to hold them off and call in for reinforcements, but it meant that the Daedalus had to beam soldiers directly into his house to secure the location.”
“I see the report now.”
“His two teenage sons were in the house and were exposed to a lot of classified technology.”
“Oh.” Just from her tone, John could imagine the sympathetic grimace on her face. “I can see that would pose a problem.”
“A huge one considering that Sergeant Harriman’s wife died recently, and clearly his family is now a target. Knowing how vital he’s been to SGC operations and knowing that his wife’s death most likely leaves him emotionally vulnerable, the latest theory is that some group on Earth is trying to take advantage of that.”
“I don’t see how transferring him to another galaxy…” Elizabeth’s voice trailed off, and John knew exactly what she was seeing. “I must be reading this wrong.”
“Yep, they’re sending Kyle Harriman, nineteen, and Gary Harriman, seventeen, along with him. Gary is finishing some school work from home while under guard. Kyle was studying to become an electrician, but the SGC figures we can put him in with some of our local technicians and train him here.” John didn’t add that at this point, Atlantis might be safer than earth. At least, Harriman and O’Neill seemed to be betting on that. Unless the SGC figured out a way to neutralize a Prior’s powers, it might even be true. However, having Stargate personnel bring their families made him feel twice and desperate to get Atlantis up and running as a full city. If Earth fell, he wanted to save as much of his homeworld as he could. The very idea of forcing people to worship the ascended made him nauseated in a way he couldn’t even explain.
“I’m not sure this is the best place for teenagers,” Elizabeth said, but her voice was weak and had a little shake in it, so John suspected she’d reached the same conclusion he had.
“By appointing Harriman, that knocks Gibbs out as the top NCO. How do we keep Gibbs and Samas in on the command meetings?”
There was a sigh. “You mean, how do we keep Samas in on the command meetings?”
“Yep,” John agreed easily.
“The SGC is unlikely to have softened their stance.”
“Funny enough, I don’t think they hold all the power anymore,” John pointed out. He waited to see if Elizabeth would laugh and contradict him. He half expected she would. Instead there was a long silence.
“They don’t, but when people are losing power, sometimes that’s when they are most willing to act in order to try to prove that they still have enough power to control you.”
“But wouldn’t they risk proving the opposite?”
Elizabeth laughed. “Yes, but I don’t think that’s how they see it.”
“Then do something to make it seem like a good idea.”
“We could start adding Samas’ names to the report. If they manage to not notice for a period of time, it would be hard for them to object later.”
“Sounds good,” John said. “So we’re still going to have them at the meeting, right?”
“I am not infected with the SGC’s prejudice against Samas or Gibbs. Their insight, particularly Samas’ has proved invaluable. So, you said there were two reasons. What’s the other one?”
“General O’Neill said that I was a terrible liar.”
Elizabeth laughed. “You are, but what was he talking about and what does that have to do with Harriman?”
“He said that my supply reports looked fake, and suggested that other people could see it even more easily than he could.”
“Ah. A month or two of falsified reports might be an officer too busy to do an actual inventory. More than that, and people might start wanting more accurate numbers. I can understand the general’s concerns. So, Harriman is supposed to solve that?”
“When General O’Neill met with me, he said that I needed to learn to falsify reports better or let other people do my lying for me. He then said that if I go new personnel in the next month or so that I should let them handle my paperwork.”
“So Harriman is here to help us stockpile supplies for evacuation without getting caught,” Elizabeth said. “That makes sense. He understands the system better than either of us. That also explains why General O’Neill called you back to Earth for a meeting. Preparing for the loss of Earth is a step that the IOC does not seem willing to take. They continue to push the SGC to produce weapons, sometimes to the point of making very dangerous decisions, but they won’t consider any alternatives.”
John felt more than a little guilty about lying to Elizabeth, but he knew he would rather not know about the ZPMs, so he soothed his conscience with that.
“That still makes things difficult on our end. I have to tell the gunny that O’Neill screwed him over again.”
“Good luck with that,” Elizabeth said, and then with a click of the radio, she was gone.
John thought about what she’d said. At this point he had to consider his Air Force career essentially over. Between the falsified reports, the lying to his superiors and the big gay love affair, he had broken enough rules that he just didn’t see himself as Air Force. He was a warrior focused on preparing his people for the fight against the Wraith or to save as many as he could from the Ori. If O’Neill had given him orders to report back to earth while someone else took command of Atlantis, John suspected he would disobey that order in a heartbeat. And that opened up certain options that he hadn’t had before.
Moving over to the Atlantis intercom system, which Tony had found and John had figured out, he mentally sent out a request for Radek. Unlike Tony who would feel the request immediately, Radek would only realize he was being called when he interfaced with a piece of Ancient tech, so it could take a while. John wandered back into the bedroom. The shower was off, but the bathroom door was still closed. John headed in to find Rodney in a pair of work pants brushing his teeth.
“Did you just send out a call for someone?” he asked, splattering toothpaste everywhere.
“Radek,” John said before he got in the shower. “And you’re not in charge of clean up next time. I have dried come on me.
“You probably still have come in you, too,” Rodney said with far more smugness than required. John shook his head. Rodney had been under some strange delusion that John would want to top all the time, so every time he took the driver’s seat he still tended to act like a rooster strutting around. John probably did have come in him, but it didn’t itch. The stuff on his stomach did.
John turned on the shower with a thought. In the middle of his shower, Atlantis gave him the little jolt that meant someone was calling him. “Radek?” John shouted above the shower.
“Colonel? Sound is very bad.”
“I’m in the shower.”
“Omlouvám. I call back later.”
“No!” John shouted before Radek could vanish. It was too hard to contact him on the system, and John didn’t want this conversation on the Earth radios. “How much work would it take to create a computer virus that inserted one or two words into an official SGC document?”
“You ask for hypothetical reason, yes?” Radek asked, his voice suspicious.
John finished rinsing his hair as he answered. “Yes, hypothetically if a person wanted to add the name Samas to all command minutes from the time I came back on Atlantis, how much effort would that take?” John turned off the water, and the door opened without John doing the opening. Rodney stood there looking at John oddly. Usually Atlantis kept all internal messages private, but John was starting to think the city understood the idea of mates because Gibbs and Tony could always hear each other’s conversations and Rodney could always hear John’s. At one point John had been subjected to Rodney’s, but John had ordered the computer to shut that down.
“Maybe a good programmer could do such a thing,” Radek said, his paranoia front and center.
“Could a good programmer create the virus so that it interacted with every system that downloaded anything from the SGC and made the same changes?” They were on such dangerous territory now. The President downloaded reports from the SGC. All the presidents in the IOC countries downloaded those reports. John was essentially asking Radek to commit treason by infecting their respective leaders’ computers.
There was a long pause. “Would take genius programmer.”
“Would that genius programmer be able to upload his virus with the next dialout?”
“If his boss is not tyrant about the time it takes to create this work of art,” Radek said carefully.
“Then since we have just identified a computer vulnerability, we should test it so we can set up safeguards to make sure no one does exactly that,” John said.
“Ano. Is a very good idea. Testing security of system is always important. I will get to work.”
“You may be getting another call in a second, but I do appreciate this, Radek.”
“Is for Samas, so he will owe me the fee in coffee.” Radek vanish with a little pop that John could almost feel like a quick change of air pressure.
“We’re hacking the White House?” Rodney asked. It was an almost admiring tone.
“And you are going to be late for work,” John answered.
“I know my body is irresistible, but you cannot just announce that we’re having sex without asking whether I have important meetings that I can’t cancel.”
“I’m calling Tony so we can have a meeting. We need to talk about how things change now that General O’Neill knows about the ZPMs and the extent of our preparations.” John sent out a quick mental query for Tony and got an almost immediate response.
“Hey, what’s up?”
“I need you, Gibbs, Samas, Teyla, Radek and Rodney to meet me. Can we use the NCIS conference room?”
“Sure,” Tony said. “Is there trouble?”
“No, just more change on the way, and it’s easier for you to contact everyone without being noticed.”
There was a pause. “I just buzzed Radek on the intercom, and he’s coming. Gibbs and Samas are with me, I assume you have Rodney.”
“Yeah,” John smiled at the wording. “I do.”
“Then I’ll go get Teyla and meet you at my office.”
Rodney frowned as John terminated their call. “We’re having a meeting?”
“Things are changing Rodney. We need to be prepared to change with them.”
Gibbs was taking the news fairly well, but since Tony had his girl in him, he could feel Samas’ aggravation. Because they were of the same genetic line, the pheromones and hormones that revealed emotions and even communicated images from one onac to another were particularly vivid. Jo added that she was particularly good at reading such thoughts because she was a strong queen. That was his girl, always confident in herself. Tony had originally named her Jo after Joanna, the first born daughter of the incomparable Tony Bennett. However, he was starting to think that Jo from Little Women was the better allusion.
Jo sent out a small query about whether or not she could simply kill the newcomer, but Tony shut that down immediately. The fewer waves you created, the easier the swimming. But Jo didn’t need easy swimming. She could handle turbulent waters. But killing was a last resort for those that would threaten the genetic lines, not for any annoyance, Tony thought firmly. Samas supported that with a wave of hormones that best translated as “settle before I bite your fins off,” which seemed to be a threat to let someone die slowly of starvation as they could no longer hunt. Jo quieted.
Tony gave Gibbs a dirty look. He could handle Jo without Samas jumping in. Gibbs rolled his eyes.
John looked from Tony to Gibbs and back, clearly confused but not willing to make a big deal out of it. “Gunny, you will still have direct control over all training. Harriman is going to be in charge of the enlisted who are in technical fields only. He might outrank you on paper, but in person, I’ll make sure he knows that you have the experience and my backing.”
“Yes, sir,” Gibbs answered calmly, nothing hinting at the thoughts he was having, but Tony picked up a flash of Samas eating O’Neill’s guts. “I don't think I have a lot of choice.”
“No, and I don't either,” Sheppard said with some annoyance. “But I'm not letting O'Neill change the way we run our city. Elizabeth and I agree that you and Samas need to keep coming to command meetings. You may not be the highest ranking NCO, but you know the men. Harriman doesn't. And Harriman doesn't have the advantage of having Samas around to provide advice.”
Teyla leaned forward. “John, you have some larger concern or you would not have called this meeting.”
“O'Neill is also sending Harriman's two teenage boys,” Sheppard said. Now that was a shock. Tony looked around the table to see how the others were reacting. Radek seemed alarmed and Teyla was surprised, but Rodney didn’t seem to be reacting much at all. Maybe he didn’t understand the significance of this.
“Your people have not sent children before,” Teyla observed. “This is a change of policy, is it not?”
“A huge one,” John agreed. “It means that O'Neill thinks there's a good chance Earth might fall.”
“No,” Gibbs said, “he’s thought that for a while. Facing an enemy as powerful as the Ori, he would be a fool to ignore the possibility. This means that O'Neill trusts that we can protect our people. That will change his strategy.”
Rodney snorted. “Excuse me if I question your ability to predict O’Neill’s plans. It’s not like you and O’Neill are buddies.”
Gibbs gave Rodney an unfriendly look. “I know O’Neill. I’ve fought with him, and Samas has seen the losing side of enough battles to understand his strategy. Up until now we have been a possible source of weapons—”
“A Hail Mary play,” Sheppard interrupted. “He invested just enough to pay off if we found something to fight the Ori.”
Gibbs nodded. “And he kept the majority of the resources on Earth, probably to invest in ships he could use to either fight or evacuate people. We were not part of his strategy to protect Earth, but if he believes we are stable, that will figure into his decisions.”
“Will this be beneficial or dangerous?” Teyla asked.
“He’ll send more people,” Gibbs said.
Sheppard nodded. “Lorne and I can handle any military assets, but Teyla, you and Tony are going to have to handle more civilians. I don’t even know what to do with teenagers.”
Teyla gave him a smile that had a touch of pity in it. “The same things you do with adults, John. You find them work they enjoy and help them get settled.”
Tony wished it was that easy. “Earth teenagers are different,” he warned. “Some have been so safe and secure their whole lives that they don’t know how to handle danger.”
“Then we teach them,” Teyla said. “It sounds as if the danger is no greater here than on Earth. They will simply be more aware of it.”
“I wonder if I could get Jeanne to move here,” Rodney said. Tony had no idea who Jeanne was, and he looked at Sheppard. There was a definite lack of jealousy, so Tony was guessing it wasn’t an old girlfriend. Jo tasted the emotions on the air and could sense grief and guilt. Tony assumed that meant family. His own father was still back on Earth and in the crosshairs of the Ori Priors, but Tony had given up that life when he’d chosen to follow Gibbs. He didn’t regret it now.
However, if things got too hairy, maybe he could talk someone into sending them McGee. Jo sorted his memories of his old probie and dismissed him as a host. Tony firmly reminded her that the world was not divided into people who could host for her children and people who wouldn’t. Host cultures had a rich variety of individuals, and she needed to understand the entire tapestry or she would fail as badly as Ra.
Gibbs looked over as Jo felt a stab of fear. Samas was probably picking up on some of their silent conversation. Jo insisted that she would never fail that way.
Tony reminded her to understand the larger picture if she wanted to avoid it. Keeping focused too tightly on that one goal or one suspect or one target meant that you missed too much. Jo settled back, willing to admit that Tony and Gibbs and Samas understood more than she did. In the water, focus meant better hunting.
Once Tony refocused on the conversation taking place around the NCIS conference table, he realized he’d missed part of the conversation.
“Why would they do that?” Rodney asked.
Sheppard answered. “Rodney, if you were had two lifeboats after your ship sank, would you put all your smartest people in one boat?”
“I don’t know. Is one of the boats in significantly better shape?”
Teyla raised her eyebrow. “I believe General O’Neill has only now realized that Atlantis is just as secure as Earth. It does make sense that he would send at least some of his people here for safety.”
“If he sends us several hundred scientists, we could still evacuate back to Earth fairly quickly, but if the Ori show up at his doorstep, trying to gather up people from all over the planet could prove very difficult,” Gibbs agreed. “It’s a logical move, and O’Neill is a brilliant tactician, even if he sometimes downplays his intelligence.”
“Well I don’t need legions of idiots taking up lab space,” Rodney declared firmly.
“Come on, Rodney,” Sheppard wheedled, “you know you’d love a big department with all the little scientists begging for your approval.”
Radek snorted. “Or begging to be sent home after they figure out that Atlantis is not as much fun as having lab full of students to order around. Scientists can have big ego.”
“No, really?” Sheppard asked with exaggerated shock.
Rodney glared at him, but Sheppard just grinned at him. Tony really did not understand their relationship, but he could feel the love and joy radiating off them, even as they aggravated and annoyed each other. If Tony spent that much time trying to get under Gibbs’ skin, he’d have brain damage from all the head slaps.
“Bottom line,” Sheppard said as he looked around at everyone, “when Earth opens the wormhole in one week, we have to expect a change in policy. There will be more people coming through, and some of them will be taking refuge here.”
“Do we tell Elizabeth why we’re getting more transfers?” Tony asked.
Sheppard frowned unhappily, but he also shook his head. “The ZPM secret needs to stay secret. That means we don’t put her in the middle of this.”
Rodney sank a little lower in his seat. So he did feel guilty about putting his lover in the middle. Good. He should. Tony liked Rodney, but sometimes he was worse than McBlab ever had been. Huh. McGee, McKay, maybe people of Scottish ancestry were just missing the common sense gene. But then again, Carson seemed to disprove that.
Teyla turned to Tony. “Would you have time to discuss Earth customs regarding children? This is the time to consider how our customs may cause misunderstandings.”
Tony nodded. “I can do that.”
Sheppard nodded. “I’ve already told Elizabeth that O’Neill is aware of our preparations, so she’ll put any change down to that. Gunny, could you coordinate with Lorne on training schedules?”
Gibbs nodded. “Yes, sir.”
“I shall work with Tony on making sure that our people understand the challenges of dealing with young people who have been kept from the truth.” Teyla’s tone made it clear that she didn’t approve of sheltering children that much.
“Rodney and I can start looking at our training,” Radek said.
Sheppard nodded. “Okay. One week. In exactly one week it’s Earth’s turn to open the wormhole, and whatever O’Neill has planned, that’s when it’s going to start.” Sheppard had an expression like he was ready to walk into a war. Tony wondered what he expected. Jo wondered if any of the new people would be good hosts or if they would pose a threat. She disliked being unable to show herself and he strength, but Tony reminded her that the strongest onac grew in the shade of the shallows. Sometimes hiding was best, just as Samas spend centuries hiding on Earth until he met Gibbs.
Jo sent back a fervid hope she would not have to wait centuries to take her place battling the Wraith and bringing children into the world who could do the same.
One week later, Tony stood by while Harriman introduced himself to Sheppard. Gibbs had found an excuse to be on the mainland with a group of Marines when the wormhole opened, so he missed the show as forty soldiers escorted almost seventy scientists and assorted civilians into the city. It was more than the previous week’s report had led them to expect, and Tony could feel the general state of alarm in the Gate room.
“Welcome to Atlantis, Sergeant,” Sheppard said with a tight smile. “This is our Agent Afloat, Tony DiNozzo. Tony, this is Sergeant Walter Harriman.”
“Sirs,” Walter nodded his head. “My boys are waiting for me, but I promised General O’Neill I would escort this to you personally.” He gestured toward a crate that an airman was pushing.
Sheppard eyed it suspiciously. “Why do I suspect a practical joke?”
“I don’t know, sir, but General O’Neill asked you to open this with Dr. McKay. Permission to get my boys settled before I report for orientation, sir?”
Sheppard nodded. “Granted. And if you need anything…”
“We’ll be fine sir.” He turned and headed back to his two sons, both of whom stood looking around with huge eyes. Harriman’s wife must have been a tall woman, because both boys were taller than their father by at least four inches. Tony watched Teyla make her way over to them. Ronon stood on the balcony looking down at the crowd. Tony suspected the Marines were about to discover they weren’t actually the toughest men in the universe. Ronon liked fresh meat for the training mats. That was one reason Jo was looking forward to the day she could reveal herself. She wanted to test Ronon’s strength for herself instead of simply watching. She already knew he was worthy of a host, but she wanted to prove her own strength to him, to show that she was equally worthy.
“Do you want me to get McKay?” Tony asked. Normally he had a chance to hang with any new people and get to know them, but there were so many that Tony was going to be hard pressed to even remember their names.
“Yeah,” Sheppard said. “He can terrorize the new scientists later. Better yet, he can have Radek do the orientation. That way we won’t be sending back half of them next week when it’s our turn to open the wormhole.”
“Are you suggesting that Rodney scares people away?” Tony asked.
Sheppard rolled his eyes. The nice thing about the colonel was that he didn’t let his own feelings blind him to reality. Tony worked his way through the crowd, greeting people and helping to sort some supplies. Lorne was in the thick of it, checking off boxes and talking to someone at the SGC through his radio, and he gave Tony a quick smile.
Jo would like to have both of them host. John Sheppard and Evan Lorne were strong, and they had the moral center that Tony valued so. She was starting to understand humans well enough to see why that ethical code was necessary. Unlike onac who could only affect those they could touch with their teeth, humans had a reach that went far behind the length of their own arm.
Tony liked the path of her thoughts, but he reminded her that any hint that either of them had been compromised would lead to them losing their status. As much as Jo wanted to taste the blood of one who had been joined with one of those two, she agreed that the outcome was not worth the risk.
When Tony had first realized that his girls were ready to take a host, he had been afraid that his onac’s desire for genetic material would translate into him having lust for random people. Instead he found he could feel Jo’s interest in certain individuals without being affected himself. And that was good because Jo liked Abby, and if Tony ever developed a sexual interest in the woman he essentially thought of as a little sister, he would stab his own eyes out. Jo found that concept ridiculous. She planned to mate with her brothers, and Tony immediately pushed that thought aside with a lot of humming.
“Rodney!” Tony called. He had a civilian backed into a corner, and from the expression on the guy’s face, he’d already been subjected to one of Rodney’s harangues.
“So next time you think about smuggling something into my city, don’t!” Rodney finished. He whirled around to glare at Tony. “What?” he demanded.
“Whoa, slow down, Rod. I didn’t do anything wrong today, so save that expression for the next time I poke some Ancient device.” Rodney frowned, but Jo could smell the guilt start to drift through the air. Tony slung his arm around Rodney’s shoulders. “The general sent a crate and said you were supposed to be there when Colonel Sheppard opened it.”
“Me?” Rodney demanded.
“Sheppard suspects a practical joke,” Tony said.
Rodney snorted, but his emotions shifted immediately to curiosity and suspicion, the guilt of a mere second ago already forgotten. Rodney’s emotions seemed to pass through so much more quickly and with so much more intensity that sometimes it caught Tony off guard.
Tony looked at the wide-eyed scientist who had already brought Rodney’s ire down on himself. “Whatever you did, don’t do it again. That was the nice version of McKay,” Tony warned him. The guy looked ready to piss himself, but Tony had no doubt that whatever he’d done had been dangerously stupid so he probably deserved it. Warning delivered, Tony hurried after Colonel Sheppard and Rodney. They were heading for one of the side rooms Elizabeth sometimes used for visiting delegations, and Tony followed. If this was a practical joke, he guessed it was going to be worth watching, even if that meant getting caught in the path of it.
By the time Tony got to the room, Rodney had pulled the front off the crate to reveal a Wraith beaming unit. Tony had one of them at the foot of his bed for weeks as Samas has worked to understand the various parts.
“Rodney?” Sheppard asked.
“Clearly he’s sent us something,” Rodney said.
“Yeah, but what?” Sheppard asked.
Rodney stood and gave Sheppard a look that made it clear he didn’t think much of the colonel’s intelligence. “How am I supposed to tell without remateralizing it?”
“Doesn’t that have some sort of display that reveals what’s inside?”
“This is the first retrofitted model that Samas and I created. We sent it back to Earth for Area 51 to study. It doesn’t have the display because we figured they would just shove it into storage and forget it. We didn’t want to waste the spare parts.”
Tony started considering all the things that could have been beamed into it. Jo started feeling an urge to shake her fins as she considered the potential threats. Tony told her to settle before she did something stupid like damage his spinal cord. She did settle, but she was still desperately unhappy.
“What if he’s sent a hundred buffalo? We can’t turn it on in here,” John said.
Rodney made a dismissive noise. “That shows your lack of understanding of the technology. The beam scans the available area and then only rematerialized as much as is safe given the open area.”
“And if this is O’Neill’s revenge and he’s filled it with snakes?” Sheppard asked. Rodney didn’t answer, but he did inch his way closer to the door.
“Why would he do that?” Rodney asked. “I mean, I know he hates me, but I thought he liked you. He let you live in his house for six months.”
“I’m not sure ‘let’ is the right verb,” Sheppard said, but he sounded distracted. “He wouldn’t send anything that was actually dangerous, so turn it on.”
Rodney gave him a suspicious look. “Are you sure?”
“Well that’s reassuring,” Rodney complained, but he pressed the code to activate the machine and then retreated to Tony’s side near the door.
The rematerialization light flashed and a dozen or so people stood in front of them, luggage stacked up high behind them, and even a dog in the center. Tony hadn’t expected that. He looked to see how the others were taking it. Sheppard looked confused, Rodney didn’t.
Rodney took a step forward. "Jonas?"
"Dr. McKay!" The man smiled, which was not most people's usual reaction to seeing Rodney. "Where are we?"
"You don't know?"
Jonas looked around, and when he saw the woman next to him, he smiled and took her by the hand. "No. I only know that Jack said that when we came out of the machine we'd be in a place that was safer, although he did suggest that safe might be a relative term."
Sheppard stepped forward and offered his hand. "I'm Colonel John Sheppard, military commander of Atlantis." Jonas took it and shook with the solemn dignity of someone who didn’t normally shake hands as part of their culture.
"Atlantis?" Jonas' eyes got large and he turned to the woman. "Shea, do you remember I told you how the Tau'ri were seeking the city of the Ancients? If this is Atlantis, it is the greatest of those cities."
"Honestly?" She looked around. "It's beautiful." Tony had grown so used to the city that he hadn’t really thought of this room as beautiful. It didn’t have the lit Ancient text or soaring ceilings of some of the other rooms. It did have a window that ran the length of the room and a beautiful view of the other city spire, though.
"Yes, yes, the city is beautiful. Why are you here?" Rodney demanded.
"Rodney, manners," John chided him.
"Whatever. John, this is Jonas Quinn, one time member of SG1 and the scientist who pioneered some of the work on naquadria, including killing Jackson the first time around or maybe the second."
"That wasn't my fault," Jonas said, immediately flushing bright red. Shea moved closer to him and hugged his arm.
"Radiation happens in science, and sometimes things blow up. It isn't about fault," Rodney said. Maybe he was learning a few social graces, although he still put a McKay twist on things. Tony felt sorry for Jonas being the center of that sharp tongue.
“Ignore Rodney. Shock turns of the switch in his brain that warns him not to say something,” Tony said as he stepped forward. He didn’t offer his hand, but he smiled at the entire group. “Very Special Agent Tony DiNozzo at your service. I’m sort of the local cop.”
“Cop?” one of them asked.
“Enforcer of laws,” Jonas translated. “It is a pleasure to meet you Very Special Agent Tony DiNozzo.”
“Focus people,” Rodney snapped. “Why did O'Neill put you in one of my demateralizers?"
Jonas' smile vanished, and John noticed the others shifting uncomfortably.
"You know, we're being bad hosts," Sheppard said. "Let's see if we can't find you some quarters and maybe show you around." His smiled was a little too broad and his words a little too loud. In his own way, he was as unsubtle as Rodney.
Shea smiled at him. She was a small woman with round hips and a baby bump that looked like it was about ready to turn into a baby. Whatever happened, she had risked using unfamiliar technology on her unborn child. Tony figured that made her pretty damn gutsy. "Thank you," she said, tilting her head toward Sheppard. "It has been a difficult time, and we have brought a lot, although I suspect we didn't bring enough." She looked at the stacks around them.
One of the men behind her took a step forward. "We salvaged what we could. I am Tolmach and I've trained on energy systems back on our home planet of Langara. This is Ziau, my wife." He held out his hand and a tall woman stepped closer to him. "She is a glass artisan, although I doubt you have need for such a craft."
"I can do whatever is needed," Ziau quickly added.
"I am Sen," a shorter woman said. "I worked with Jonas in the physics and weapons lab."
Rodney perked up at that, but Tony was more focused on O’Neill’s motives. He was sending them non-Earthers, and Tony was guessing, these were allies. Why would O’Neill send them through the machine when they could have simply stepped through the gate? Something was wrong, but Tony kept silent as the rest of the group quickly introduced themselves. Atlantis had inherited a teacher, two botanists--one of which specialized in poisons--six physicists, a glass blower, a house husband, a computer coder, and two business owners. Around them they had crated up everything they could save from Kelowna, their home nation-state. Tony wasn’t surprised when their story quickly turned to the Priors.
"The Ori took the entire planet?" Rodney sounded lost when he'd heard their story, told in pieces as each person added a bit. "But the Langarans are logical people who understand science. They aren't backwards peasants who follow some ridiculous religion." Rodney looked lost, and Sheppard took a step closer to him before resting his hand on Rodney’s back. Jonas watched the movement and Jo could smell his relief and satisfaction. Jonas not only liked Rodney, but he liked that Rodney had found a place with people who offered him comfort. That moved the man up a little in Tony’s good opinion. Jo started showing more of an interest.
Jonas sighed. "My people were forced to choose between Origin or death. The priests performed miracles that convinced many, and others simply hid their doubts in order to avoid dying. When I contacted Jack, he said that the Tau'ri leadership had changed, and the new counsel had said that no one could take refuge on earth. They feared being overwhelmed as the Ori pushed farther into the galaxy." Tony felt a helpless rage that politicians had turned their back on allies.
"Bastards," Rodney snapped, and Tony agreed with that. John’s back was stiff. Jo could smell the aggression from the colonel.
"Jack offered to try and smuggle me onto Earth, but he couldn't find a place for all of us, and I wouldn't leave my people." Jonas looked around at the small group around him, and Tony got the feeling this small band had endured a lot together.
"So he sent you here?" Rodney demanded. "Did he mention the Wraith who try to eat people or the crazy natives or the way we sometimes find abandoned Ancient experiments that try to kill us?"
"Sounds like fun," Sen said with a smile that suggested she was only half joking. "At least it's a lot more fun than being asked to pray to egomaniacal aliens twelve hours a day."
Jonas grinned at her. "You can even build big guns to blow up the Wraith."
Sen rubbed her hands together. "Say 'big guns' and I'll follow you anywhere Jonas Quinn." Jonas' wife rolled her eyes.
Rodney was looking around with a bewildered expression, but Tony got it. When you escaped certain death, you had a giddiness that sometimes sounded a little crazy. He remembered the day after Tony had been kidnapped and chained in a sewer to die. That had come not long after Kate had been taken captive by Ari in the middle of NCIS headquarters, and it was like they’d had one too many close calls. They’d gone out for a simple drink and had ended up scamming a group of guys out of their money at the pool tables. They’d both had a strange sort of giddiness at just being alive.
"Rodney, be nice to your new scientists,” Sheppard suggested. “After all, they didn't come out of the American universities you hate so much, so there's a small chance you might not want to kill them all after their first day of work."
Jonas laughed so hard that it turned into coughing. It was Shea who answered. "We've heard about McKay's brilliance and his intolerance for stupidity. I have to admit that we sometimes joke that someone should put you in front of an Ori priest and let you scare them back to the world they came from."
"The power of Rodney-bitching," Sheppard said thoughtfully. Rodney glared at him, and Sheppard threw an arm around his shoulders. "We'll save that for last resort. Right now, we need to find you quarters and show you around. Tony, do you think you could ask Lorne to find them some rooms while I explain to Elizabeth?”
“Sure,” Tony agreed.
“Rodney, maybe you could pack up the rematerializer and send it back to Sam along with a note that General O'Neill accidentally forwarded it to us."
"Why would..." Rodney stopped. He got it.
O'Neill couldn't stop the IOC from running the war the way they wanted to, but he could work around them. Tony wondered how many people were going to end up living in Atlantis. Tony looked at Sheppard, and he could almost taste the man’s determination. If he had to hold up Atlantis on his own shoulders, he was determined to live up to the faith O’Neill was putting in him. Tony just hoped that O’Neill didn’t demand too much. Jo whispered that this gave Sheppard a chance to prove his worthiness as a leader. Difficult waters improved the swimming muscles.
“Come this way,” Tony invited Jonas and the others. “I’ll introduce you to Lorne and we can watch the vein on the side of his neck throb when he has to find more quarters.” The truth was that Atlantis had a lot of space, but every new set of quarters they used created the need for more patrols. The new soldiers should make that less of a burden.
“Hopefully we won’t be too much of a bother,” Jonas said. Tony had read enough of the SG1 reports to know that Jonas would be a useful man to have around. Jo looked forward to not only evaluating the strength of these individuals, but seeing what other strong humans O’Neill chose to save in such a way.
Jonas Quinn of SG1. Tony had never expected to meet him.
Then again, it would have to be a pretty messed up reality for O'Neill to allow a former teammate to get captured or killed by the Ori, so maybe he should have expected it.
“I’m sure you guys are going to fit right in,” Tony said.
Rodney pulled his foot free of the grasping tentacles of the shin-high weeds. “This is ridiculous,” he announced to the team. Tony tried to keep a straight face, but Rodney’s exaggerated misery made it difficult, especially when he kept glancing at Sheppard’s ass and then sending out little waves of lust hormones so strong they made Jo twitch.
“Well, keep complaining about it, and we may get there faster,” Sheppard said over his shoulder.
“Well, couldn't we have met these people on a tropical beach planet, something with tropical drinks?”
“Like lemonade,” Tony offered. Rodney shot him a particularly vicious glare, and Tony grinned back. Rodney’s glare power had long since worn thin with him. Besides, Tony had witnessed Rodney so twisted around on Abby-logic that the man had fled, so that took some of the shine off his scary street-cred.
Teyla sighed and managed in that one sound to make it clear that she found herself far better than the baby-sitting duty life had relegated her to. “Whoever wants to speak with us obviously values their privacy.”
“Yes, well, I value my time, and this is a waste of it,” Rodney muttered.
“Sir, this is a prime place for an ambush, and I’m catching a lot of random scents,” Gibbs warned. Immediately Jo started scenting the air. Tony opened his mouth a little to let more of the air in, but he could only catch random wisps of scent that came from strangers. More than one, but other than that, Jo couldn’t identify much. Tony enjoyed her frustration when she realized that she couldn’t keep up with Samas.
Yeah, Tony had felt the same about Gibbs for years, so Jo could just suck it up and realize that sometimes experience trumped everything else. Jo didn’t take that well, but she did settle down with a grumble. However, he could also tell that she felt a little better knowing that he blamed her lack of experience and not her genetics for any failure.
“This is the mission,” Sheppard said to all of them. Tony could tell that Gibbs was uneasy with it. They had a lot of eggs in one basket with this team, and Tony knew that Gibbs wasn’t particularly thrilled with it. Jo sent out a burst of aggression scent. She would kill any enemies.
Gibbs stopped and gave Tony a warning look.
“Yeah, yeah. I’m on it,” Tony said. Ronon gave him an odd look, but the rest of the team ignored them.
“It strikes me that this is a mission better suited to one of the lower echelon teams,” Rodney said. Yeah, it was an arrogant thought, but Tony could tell that Gibbs agreed. They were putting their leaders at risk for a tip that seemed to offer very little chance of delivering the promised intel on the Wraith.
“Lower echelon?” Ronon asked.
“He means to say less important,” Teyla said with an unhappy look in Rodney’s direction. Of course he completely missed it. With Rodney, you had to slap him in the face with a dead fish if you wanted him to notice anything other than technology or the colonel’s ass.
“Do you have any idea what all those new idiots could be doing back at Atlantis? Those arrogant newcomers think that just because they’re the best and brightest in the SGC that they should—” McKay ended in a yelp as Gibbs tackled him to the ground. Tony had no idea what was going on, but his body had moved before his brain could even catch up with reality. Stunner fire flew through the trees, and Sheppard and Teyla were already down. Ronon seemed to vanish, which wasn’t easy for a man that large.
Jo sent up sorry-sorry-sorry thoughts about taking over Tony’s body at the same time she prodded him to kill the enemy that had attacked them.
“Hey!” Rodney protested, but Tony couldn’t see him or Gibbs. Tony slowly eased back into the forest, hoping to circle around and find the enemy, but suddenly the air was full of Samas scent. Play dead. Play helpless. Tony’s mind was full of the image of a queen floating in the water, her fins hanging lifeless and her body limp as a challenger approached.
Tony heard the footsteps behind him, far quicker and more surefooted than any human, but Samas’ image held him captive. Then a strong arm caught him around the throat and pulled him up. Tony put up a token resistance, holding back Jo’s strength as Gibbs and Samas had ordered.
“Sergeant Gibbs, we know about your symbiote. Surrender or we’ll hurt your lover.” Tony felt the end of a gun press against his head and he went utterly still. He suspected that without Samas’ scent filling the air, Jo would have panicked and gone crazy, but Tony worked to reinforce Samas’ message, calming her. He’d been captured a lot, and Gibbs had always come for him. Trust the team. It went against every instinct Jo had, but she remembered those times as well. She’d been born with his memories, and now she dived into them, bringing up thoughts of every time Tony had ever been kidnapped. Those weren’t the memories Tony wanted to relive right now, but if it calmed Jo, he’d live with it.
“Sergeant Gibbs?” Tony’s captor called.
“Gunnery Sergeant,” Gibbs corrected him as he stood. He was using a tree for cover, and now that Tony knew where to look, he could see the faint outline of Rodney hiding in the bushes at Gibbs’ feet.
“Gunnery Sergeant,” Tony’s captor said. Two other men appeared on either side of Gibbs, but he didn’t twitch. Gibbs knew how to play it cool, and he was the only person at NCIS who had been kidnapped or taken captive more than Tony, so Tony told Jo to follow his lead.
“Let him and McKay go back to the Stargate and we can talk,” Gibbs offered. Tony really didn’t think Gibbs should be offering to sacrifice half the team, but he did understand the need to get Rodney out of a volatile situation. Rodney was stronger than he gave himself credit for, but that didn’t mean he didn’t do some flailing and panicking along the way.
“No,” Tony’s captor said. “Surrender or we’ll kill this one. We were told to bring Sheppard, Teyla and McKay alive. We don’t have any orders about any others.”
Gibbs made eye contact with Tony long enough for Tony to understand that something was going on. Then Gibbs held his weapon out to one side in surrender.
“What are you doing?” Rodney yelped. One of the bad guys stunned Rodney, and he rolled halfway into the path. Tony’s captor gave him a good shove, and Tony let himself fall forward, anticipating the hit of the stunner as it turned his nerves to fire. He let his body go lax although Jo was already at work eliminating all the effects of the weapon. If anything it helped her to have something to do.
“Ford sent you,” Gibbs said. Samas sent out approval scent. Jo was making him proud, playing the smart game instead of trying to overpower with brute strength.
“How did you know?”
“I can smell him on you. I can smell your addiction, too.”
“Should we stun him?” one of the others asked.
“We don’t know how well a stunner works on someone who has a symbiote. Tie him up and only bring him through after we’ve taken the others. He can cooperate or we can kill his lover.”
Jo had another ripple of fury, and Tony hushed her. They were gaining intelligence, and that was more important than eating the enemy’s guts, at least for now.
“The snake in his head can come out his mouth, so make sure to gag him.”
“You’ll regret this,” Gibbs warned, but then he went silent. Jo was desperate to see if Samas was in danger, so Tony resorted to making fun of her. If she thought Samas needed help from a kid who wasn’t even three years old, she needed onac therapy. Jo wasn’t happy, but she did understand his point. She stayed quiet as these guys picked up Tony’s body and loaded him onto some sort of stretcher.
“What about the one who got away?” Someone asked. So Ronon had escaped. Given the split second of warning Gibbs had provided, Tony was more than a little impressed, and Jo was determined that she would have children by the symbiote who first made it into Ronon. Tony tried to keep her distracted by that thought as another body was loaded onto the stretcher next to his. Sheppard.
“Don’t worry about him. We’ll jump through several gates before we head home." Tony didn’t doubt Gibbs and Samas, so he knew Ford was behind this, but he sure couldn’t figure out the lieutenant’s game. Kidnapping superior officers and random NCIS agents generally didn’t look good on the service record.
“Get them to the gate before their sixth team member does something stupid.” Tony felt the stretcher get lifted and then he was moving through the air. Gibbs was close, Jo knew that because she could smell the queen scent, but no one spoke as they went through the gate over and over. After five or six jumps they finally started walking. Tony felt Sheppard start to twitch, but then their captors put the stretcher down, and suddenly Tony was caught in the fire of another stunner blast. Damn it. His whole body shivered in the pain of it, and Jo silently screamed.
Safe-safe-hide in the shadows-safe drifted on the air. Tony sent mental thanks out to Samas as he worked to soothe his girl. She didn’t like pain, but there were worse fates than suffering a little pain. Jo wanted to separate. She wanted out of the human body that trapped her, but Tony hushed her, and Samas’ hormones smothered her until she fell to repairing the stunner’s effects. She wasn’t happy, but she followed her mother’s lead.
The stretcher started moving again. They moved into something that smelled damp and cavelike, but Tony kept his eyes shut as he was moved into a hard chair and his arms pulled behind him. He was tightly tied and then a hood was pulled over his head. Only then did Tony open his eyes. He watched through the dark fabric as they pushed Gibbs down into a chair. He had a thick rope of fabric tied around his mouth and head several times. Samas could still get out, but he’d make a mess of Gibbs’ neck if he tried.
Jo was furious, and Tony hushed her again. Gibbs and Samas would have their revenge, and she would not take it from them. Gibbs allowed himself to be tied and then a hood was put over his head. They were definitely in a cave, and from the thickness of the hood, Tony guessed the others would be blind even after they woke up.
It took a while, but first Rodney and then Sheppard and Teyla started making small movements, their heads swinging from side to side as they tried to figure out where they were. Tony took that as a sign to lift his own head.
Men walked in, their weapons looking fairly modern while their clothing looked primitive and worn. Samas called them scavengers, and Tony tended to agree. They put food on the table in front of each of the captives. Tony had Jo sent out a general query about whether it was poison. Communicating this way took a long time because air was not as useful as water for transferring onac thoughts, but luckily the enemy had sat Tony next to Gibbs so he fairly quickly got back a suggestion that Jo sample the food before McKay could poison himself with it.
Two more men came in, again armed to the teeth. Whoever these people were, they had paranoia down to an art, and now that there were several of them in the room, Jo could smell that wrongness to them. Gibbs had accused them of being addicted, and Tony could only hope that was an exaggeration because addicts were the crazy-scary end of the suspect pool.
A dark haired man pulled the hood off Teyla and Rodney before whoever was standing behind Tony pulled his hood off. A half second later, a third guy pulled the colonel’s hood off.
Colonel Sheppard shook his head for a second and then looked around. “You guys okay?”
Rodney gave him an incredulous look. “Oh yeah. Fine. Great.” His eyes were focused on Gibbs who had been cruelly gagged.
“You know, this seems like a whole lot of trouble to go through just to get us to dinner,” he commented, “and Gibbs is going to have some trouble eating. It’d be a nice gesture to take that off.” Sheppard looked around, but no one was reacting to him. Tony scented the air, but Jo didn’t understand what she was smelling. Not-right was the closest she could describe it. Samas sent over an image of a Wraith superimposed over a human, and then Tony thought about the fact that Gibbs had mentioned smelling Ford on them. Crap. Ford had gotten more people hooked on the Wraith enzyme. This was not a good thing. “Not a talkative bunch, are you?” Sheppard asked, clearly not aware of any of this.
Tony looked over at Gibbs, but he sent back an image of a queen playing dead, so Tony closed his mouth.
“If we release you from your bindings, do you promise not to attack us?” one of them asked.
“Yeah, we promise,” Sheppard said, and no wonder O’Neill accused him of being a bad liar. He was horrible at it. Tony might have pointed that out, but a new sound distracted him.
Ford came into the room, chuckling like Sheppard had just made a great joke. “Before we untie them, they have to know that they're among friends.”
The regret smell from Sheppard was enough to make Tony sneeze. “Ford?”
“You thought I was dead, didn't you, Sheppard?” He walked over and pulled out his knife. Jo stirred unhappily, but neither Jo nor Tony saw any sign that Ford was feeling homicidal. Sure enough, he leaned down and cut the rope between Sheppard’s hands. His men did the same for the rest of the team. That just left a whole lot of Wraith-addicted fighters with guns between them and freedom.
“I was afraid you might be. I hoped you weren’t.”
“But you replaced me on the team. I’m actually complimented. I hear that it took the famous Gibbs and Tony and some third guy, all to replace me.”
“You have big shoes to fill,” Sheppard said, but he was watching Ford warily. He knew something was wrong. Okay, so the twisted side of Ford’s face and the all-black eye made that clear, but he knew that there was more than met the eye here.
“Guys… Guys, please, eat. Eat.” Ford smiled at all of them.
Tony picked something up and tasted it, letting Jo really analyze it. She found the unusual chemical almost immediately and visualized the entire chemical compound before sending the image over to Gibbs and Samas. The longer Tony had Jo the more he had to respect Gibbs ability to stay focused when he had that kind of distraction in his head.
“It’d be nice if you took the gag off the gunny.”
“The problem is that he has a symbiote in there that could come out. Now I know that’s not a permanent solution, but I have one of my guys working on something, so that just has to stay for now. But don’t worry. You’re all safe.” He leaned over and stole a potato off Rodney’s plate.
Rodney looked at the food and then at Sheppard, his expression clearly pleading. It did smell good. Tony took a bite of the meat and found the same unusual compound in it. Jo was busily tracking what parts of Tony’s body the chemical tried to attach to, but that kept her busy, so he took another bite.
Sheppard gave a small nod, and Rodney started to eat.
Ford smiled. Bastard.
“Well, men, this used to be my team. Well, not those two, but that is the infamous Gunnery Sergeant Gibbs, the trainer of the Atlantean soldiers, and this is our local Agent Afloat. He went after some good men just because they weren’t following the rules exactly.”
“They broke the law,” Tony said. “My job is to enforce the law.”
Ford sat on the edge of the table and looked at him, that one black eye creeping Tony out like mad. “Sometimes rules are meant to be broken,” he said.
“What’s all this?” Sheppard asked loudly. He was clearly trying to redirect Ford’s attention to him, and Ford gave Tony a conspiratorial ‘whatcha gonna do’ sort of smile at the colonel’s clumsy attempt.
“Just some local vegetables, a sort of alligator thing. It tastes like salted meat. It's good. Try.”
Sheppard narrowed his eyes. “I'm not talking about the food. What the hell is going on?”
“Who are these men? And why bring us here like this?” Teyla asked.
Ford held up his hands. “Whoa. That's a lot of questions. But first, congratulations. Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard. Good for you, sir. That’s impressive. I was surprised when I heard Everett was gone, but I suppose Earth wanted someone who could work with the civilian leadership, huh?”
“Something like that,” Sheppard agreed, clearly aggravated.
“I am glad,” Ford said, “but it would have been easier to talk to Everett. I mean, look at me. I can infiltrate Wraith hives. I’ve faster, I heal stronger. Everett would have been the first one to jump on this because this has a real chance to help turn our wars around. This could make a difference on the front line.”
“Like Super Soldiers,” Sheppard said dryly.
Ford opened his mouth, but then he stopped and slowly smiled. “You’re trying to annoy me. It’s not going to work. You see, I’m building something here. Do you see these men? I told them about the enzyme, how it makes you stronger, more aware, more resilient, how it would give us a fighting chance against the Wraith.”
“How it makes you crazy,” Rodney said quietly, but everyone looked at him. “Just thought I’d point out the obvious.”
“Wait,” Sheppard said. “Did you give all your men the enzyme?”
Ford smiled. “Of course. We harvest it from the Wraith the way the Wraith harvest our life force. It’s an eye for an eye… Biblical, you see?”
“I see you’re crazy,” Rodney complained, but Teyla spoke before Ford could answer that.
“Aiden do you mean to tell us that there are live Wraith here in this cave?” Teyla had her best talk-to-the-crazy-person voice, but Jo couldn’t smell any shift in Ford’s emotions at all. Either the enzyme masked normal human pheromones or nothing they said was getting through.
Gibbs sent another image of a queen playing dead, and Tony turned to glare at him. Yes, he’d gotten that message the first twenty times Samas had sent it. Jo was fine. Gibbs raised an eyebrow.
“That's right. We have several Wraith here,” Ford said proudly.
Teyla leaned forward and gave Ford an earnest look. “The Wraith can communicate with each other over a distance.”
“But not between stars. They'd have to be in this solar system.” Ford smiled at Rodney proudly. “You taught me that.”
“Well, good for me,” Rodney muttered
Ford laughed. “They can't communicate if they're unconscious.” Clearly he had all sorts of crazy going for him, and Tony did not like where this conversation was going. He looked over at Sheppard, not sure what advice to give, but Sheppard was the only one Ford was even a little likely to listen to.
“Why'd you jump us?” Sheppard asked.
“Yeah… Yeah, I'm sorry about that. It was the only way to get you here.”
“You could have just contacted one of our allies and told us where you were,” Sheppard said. “You know we would have come.”
“Yeah, you and a special ops team.”
In another case of pathetically bad lying, Sheppard protested that he wouldn’t have, but Ford was already talking again. “I know you think I'm crazy. I brought you all here to show you that you're wrong. I mean, do I look crazy? Do I seem…out of control?”
“Are we speaking in relative terms, or, um…” Rodney made a gesture that could have meant anything.
Ford gestured to one of his men. “Look… Jace here has really fine-tuned the enzyme. We know how to administer it now, how to regulate it, refine it… We've gotten so good, we can even lace food with it.” Tony stopped eating because the others had. He hadn’t expected Ford to reveal that information so quickly, so either he had a plan that he considered foolproof or the enzyme was seriously compromising his judgment. You just didn’t tell people your big evil plan like that. It was stupid, and the Aiden Ford that Tony had known wasn’t stupid. However, addicts rarely kept any part of the common sense they were born with. Jo reassured him that she was already countering the enzyme and had traced its pathways to the aggression centers of the brain.
Great. They were not only addicts, but addicts with a chemically altered aggression center. They were so screwed.
“Excuse me?” Rodney asked.
“Congratulations. You've just had your first dose.”
Rodney spit out his food and stood up so fast his chair went flying. Several of the men tightened their grips on their weapons. “What?!” Rodney demanded.
“Hey Rod, don’t aggravate the guys with the guns,” Tony suggested.
“Rodney, sit down and we can figure this out like friends,” Sheppard added, but he gave Ford a look that made it clear they were no long any sort of friends. Ford had given his lover an untested and addictive substance and the kill-protect scents rolling off him were enough to make Jo want to shake her fins. She was definitely in Sheppard’s camp on this one.
Tony quieted her and sent her back to try and synthesize a substance that could neutralize the enzyme.
Ford, however missed all the subtext and just went on his merry little way. “I thought long and hard about how to show you that the enzyme was safe… Convince you that it was the first step to defeating the Wraith, so you'd convince Weir, convince the military.”
“Are you out of your mind?” Rodney demanded.
“Hey, settle down, McKay.” Ford said. He gave Sheppard a look, like they were together against Rodney’s case of overreacting. However Ford didn’t notice the deadly calm look Sheppard was giving him.
Rodney didn’t noticed the increasing danger either because he kept screaming. “No, I will not settle down! I have been drugged against my will, you little punk!”
“You should not have done this, Aiden,” Teyla said.
“Hey, be as mad as you want. Couple of days, you'll be thanking me. We'll all have a good laugh about this. Now, eat up.” Ford looked at all of them expectantly. The stress hormones and violence was increasing, so Tony grabbed a piece of meat and popped it in his mouth.
Ford gave him a bright smile and patted him on the shoulder. “I knew I liked you for a reason. See, Colonel? If Tony can be reasonable, you all can. This is for the good of Atlantis—for the good of Earth.”
The worst part was that Tony and Jo could taste his utter certainty that he was telling the truth. He was delusional, but sadly he was still trying to be a good officer defending his world. Tony looked over and Sheppard’s eyes were absolutely dead. He was staring ahead at nothing. He knew. He knew Ford was trying to do the right thing and he knew he was going to have to kill him. This was so not ending well.
Tony was really developing a deep hatred for Ford. He'd kept Rodney hostage and threatened to shoot him when he'd sent Sheppard and Teyla off to watch his boys raid a Genii safehouse. If that wasn't bad enough, he had one of his people create a thick metal collar with a metal hood that looked like one of those old fashioned diving helmets, only made out of a metal grid. It meant that Samas would have to go down and break out through Gibbs' chest if he wanted out of the body.
Jo was having fantasies of ripping Ford's eyes out.
Sheppard walked around leaking fury-fury-fury scents, and while he had talked Ford into taking Rodney off the enzyme, Teyla was near manic. Tony was pretending, but Teyla's natural talent at sparring and the extra strength from the enzyme meant that Tony had taken more than a few hard hits, even with Jo helping him out.
And still Ford had a cheerfulness that made Tony question his sanity. No, that wasn’t true. Tony knew he was as nutty as a pistachio tree. And Tony was having to fake being just as loony toons.
“One of the added bonuses of killing a Wraith is, every now and again, you get your hands on a couple of these,” Ford announced proudly. He held up a Wraith data device.
“Yeah, we have a couple of those,” Sheppard said. His patience was wearing thin quickly. Three days of Ford’s attitude, and Tony was actually a little impressed by the fact that no one had died yet. Jo was learning about patience.
One of Ford’s guys, Jace, spoke up when Ford seemed genuinely confused by Sheppard’s attitude. “I've been able to calculate that, in the next several days, a major hive will be forced to make a hyperspace pause very near an uninhabited planet that happens to have a Stargate.”
Kanayo picked up from there. “We gate to that planet, get on the hive ship, plant the C4 in the Dart bay, and get out.”
“We could save thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of lives.” Jace was practically bouncing with excitement, and that seemed to reenergize Ford because he looked at the rest of them.
“So?” he asked with all the optimism of a mentally damaged puppy.
Sheppard just stared at him. He was doing that a lot
“Yes, great plan. Just walk up to a hive and plant a little C4. Why didn’t we think of that?” Rodney muttered. He was sitting at one of Jace’s work tables and he picked up a piece of equipment and started turning it in his hands. Sheppard had been keeping his distance, probably to avoid giving Ford any more leverage. Tony was playing at being an enzyme addicted meth head and Teyla actually was one, so Rodney was bearing the brunt of their captivity without any support, and Rodney tended to self-destruct without support. For someone who was so bad with people, Rodney really did do best when he had friends.
“We have a plan. We've got a spaceship,” Ford said in a conspiratorial tone.
“Oh yeah? Really?” Rodney slammed the borrowed equipment down on the table. “What's it made out of, huh? Bark?”
“Come see,” Ford said, and then he was practically prancing out of the cave.
Tony looked over at Gibbs, hating the contraption around his head, but also needing to connect with his lover. Gibbs came over, his usual armed shadow right behind him. These people really did have paranoia down to an art. The second Gibbs touched his arm, Tony felt the relief of that rush of communication. Samas was fine—Gibbs was fine. Ford and his henchmen were shortly going to be less than fine, and it was only a matter of whether Sheppard or Gibbs got there first.
“Let’s see what insanity Ford is up to,” Gibbs said. Tony bounced on his toes, mimicking the same sort of wild energy Teyla really did have. Jo was at the edge of her limits, frustrated with being in the body too long and surrounded by enemy she wasn’t allowed to eat. Tony let Samas deal with that for a second while he watched the group. Clearly the body adapted to the enzyme because Ford’s guys weren’t jumpy, but they also hadn’t been too concerned about one of them dying in the raid against the Genii. Tony wished he understood how that would affect them in a fight.
They were outside when Tony saw what Ford’s guys were doing. “Is that a Wraith dart?” Tony asked.
“Okay, I’ll bite. Where'd you get it?” Sheppard asked.
“Does it matter?” Ford walked around it looking at it like it was a pile of gold.
“None of us have had much success flying it. Banged it up pretty bad the last couple of landings. It's in need of some repairs,” Kanayo explained.
“And a real pilot.” Ford looked right at Sheppard.
The cold emotional detachment interrupted by bouts of fury-fury-fury Sheppard had been radiating over the last couple of days vanished under a pure wash of hate that made the air stink. Tony had to fight to avoid recoiling from the chemical onslaught. “This is why you brought us here,” Sheppard said in a calm voice that didn’t match his emotions.
“It's the reason I waited ‘til now, yes. Samas and McKay can get it flying, and Sheppard, you can fly anything. You’ve said as much.”
Kanayo was nodding. He told Sheppard, “Look, you fly it, you scoop us up, you take us to the hive, you drop us off. All we need is time to lay the charge. We'll be in and out of there before the Wraith have any idea what's going on.”
Ford grinned maniacally. “It's perfect.”
“If you’re three years old and playing make believe,” Rodney said, but just as Ford was turning toward him, Samas stepped forward.
“You have the wrong pilot, Ford.”
Ford shook his head. “If I do, then maybe there’s no reason to keep everyone alive.”
“It’s possible I could fly it,” Sheppard was quick to say, the smell of hate intensifying. He shot Gibbs a nasty look, but Gibbs had stepped back and Samas was there, and he didn’t back down to anyone, not even the military commander of Atlantis or a kidnapper.
“You might fly it,” Samas agreed, “you might even work the transporter, but you could never work the fine controls. Wraith are like onac. They use chemical markers as communication. So a human might be able to turn a dematerializing beam on or off, they might be able to scoop you up and drop you off, but they wouldn’t have much control. You might end up getting rematerialized twenty feet up in the air or right in front of an armed Wraith unit or halfway in a wall.”
Ford looked like he might actually be listening.
“Gunny, I can fly this,” Sheppard said, his voice tight. There was also an undercurrent of deception there. Maybe Sheppard was angry enough that he was finally lying without telegraphing the lie to everyone, but Tony wasn’t sure what big plan he thought he had cooked up.
“Gibbs has stepped back,” Samas said, “and I promise you that I understand Wraith at a level that you can’t comprehend. Every control panel, every piece of equipment, ever communication is overlaid with a chemical scent pattern that you can’t even perceive. If you want that dart to fly, I am the only person who can fly it.” Samas looked right at Ford.
“Okay,” Ford said with that obnoxious cheerfulness he’d developed since getting overdosed.
“I want the whole team on this,” Sheppard blurted out. I know my people, Ford, and I want Teyla, Tony and Rodney on the strike team.”
Ford looked at him suspiciously. “It's not a good mission for McKay or DiNozzo. Didn’t you always tell me to look out for the civilians?”
Oh the irony of Ford making that comment was really killing Tony.
Sheppard was shaking his head. “If we need a door open or a computer hacked, McKay should be there to do it. And next to Samas, Tony is the next best expert we have on Wraith language. That's why he's on my team in the first place.” That was oddly true, although Sheppard didn’t know it. Tony had inherited that ability from Jo’s memories of Samas’ work. Tony glanced over at Samas to see if he was reacting, but he was watching Ford.
Tony had Jo send out a query, and Samas sent back an image. Sheppard getting everyone out in the open where he could scoop them up into the dart. Tony immediately realized the advantage of that. Sheppard could then use the dart’s DHD to get to a friendly planet. However, the second Tony started feeling a little hope, Samas sent the image of Ford standing off to the side, laughing at Sheppard and pointing a weapon at him. Shit. Ford knew. And that meant he had another card to play.
“Okay, we can take everyone,” Ford agreed easily. He didn’t smell like a lie to either Tony or Jo, but they were willing to trust Samas’ judgment. Now they just had to figure out how he planned to double cross them. And they needed to figure out how to fix the dart, and Tony needed to figure out how to not only keep faking an enzyme addiction but deal with the fact that a super-strong Teyla left a lot of bruises. And he had to figure out how to keep Jo from losing what little patience she had left.
Yep. This mission was going great. It was going so great that Tony was going to put in for a month’s vacation to recover.
Oh shit. Teyla loved how the enzyme felt and had gone a little Exorcist when Ford’s guys had been late with the last treatment. She was going to have to detox. Tony was taking that vacation on a planet far, far from Atlantis.
Tony hadn’t changed his mind two days later when Ford’s men jumped them. There were back in the same field by the dart, and with one word, Ford suddenly had all his men pointing weapon at the Atlantis team.
Sheppard had a gun pointed right at his back. “What the hell are you doing?” he demanded. Gibbs was sitting on the edge of the dart, that thing finally off his head, but Ford’s men were standing far back pointing far too many weapons at him.
“Tony and McKay are going to stay here.” Ford nodded and several of the men moved to stand guard. They forced Tony and Rodney back away from the rest of the group, and Tony sent a query to Samas. In response he got that same damn image of a queen playing dead. Jo gave a mental hiss, and Tony didn’t blame her. He was getting sick of this, but with projectile weapons aimed at everyone’s heads, Tony wasn’t sure what to do other than follow Gibbs’ orders.
Sheppard took a step toward Ford. “This isn’t part of the plan.”
“Neither was Gibbs heading back to Atlantis. You didn't really buy the whole ‘I wanna go home’ speech, did you, huh?” Ford laughed, unable to even see the death that was looking at him through Sheppard’s eyes. “You always underestimated me, Sheppard. Everett understood. He was a Marine. He understood that you do what you need to in war. But you… you never did get it. You got promoted because of your gene, because you can play nice with Dr. Weir. Well now you’re going to play nice with me. Complete the mission and Tony and McKay live.”
For a second, Sheppard didn’t answer, and Tony braced himself for violence to break out right there. Sheppard had a dangerous temper when you finally got through the outer layer of laid-back surfer, and Ford had scraped away every façade to leave the man who had single-handedly killed sixty Genii. Sheppard was something Ford couldn’t understand, and yet he had an utter confidence in his ability to manipulate the man—and manipulate an onac who was five thousand years old. The enzyme was clearly eating his brain.
Eventually Sheppard said, “We can't complete the mission, Ford. It's a bad plan!”
“You said it was a great plan.”
“You didn't buy the whole ‘it's a great plan’ speech, did you?” Sheppard demanded, sarcasm doing little to hide the genuine fury.
Ford raised his weapon and pointed it right at Sheppard’s face. Sheppard didn’t even blink.
“Order Gibbs to get this dart in the air. Oh, and in case anyone feels like sacrificing the two pawns over there,” Ford said with a gesture toward Tony and Rodney, “the Stargate will only dial the planet where we’re going. I had Jace make a couple of modifications to the dart last night.” Ford took a step backward and looked over toward Tony and Rodney. “Get them out of here and keep them under guard.”
Tony allowed himself to be ushered away from the dart. Rodney was almost frantic with a need to go back for Sheppard, but there were too many guns pointed at them. Tony kept Rodney in front of him and he asked Jo for plans that didn’t involve full frontal assaults on armed men. He wanted to kill these guys quietly. One at a time. Preferably painfully.
Jo sent up an option that Tony had never considered. It would take her a little time, but she could make nishta. Then they could enslave Ford’s men and torture them slowly.
Tony vetoed the torture, although not the nishta or the killing. However, with them hopped up on Wraith enzyme, the nishta might not give them full control. Tony was still making plans when the dart passed overhead on its way to the Stargate.
“If he gets killed, you’ll all be sorry,” Rodney warned their motley crew of guards. Tony didn’t bother warning them. He figured the time for that was over. He was ready to take a more direct course of action. Their guards pushed them back into the cave, and the second they were behind a closed door, Rodney started pacing as if he was the one who had been dosed with enzyme.
“I know you can’t think straight, but we have to do something,” Rodney said.
“I know,” Tony agreed. Jo was working on the nishta as fast as she could. Her body strained to make the required shifts so fast, but she felt a vicious sort of pride that she could do it. The pain didn’t matter. Tony winced as he felt her pain, but he immediately stopped her from trying to segregate it to herself. She needed to focus on nishta, and let Tony handle the rest.
“This is a workroom. What can we use as a weapon?” Tony asked.
“Almost everything in science can be turned into a weapon,” Rodney said dismissively.
“Like what? I need specifics, Rodney.”
Rodney looked around before settling on a large section of machinery. “If enough pressure built up in this system, it could explode.”
“Can you control the explosion—aim it at them and not us?”
“Maybe,” Rodney said, but he had that distant look like he was trying to figure something out. “I don’t know if we have time.”
“Gibbs and Sheppard are too damn smart to let themselves go down easily or quickly. We work smart, Rod. Now what can I do to help?”
Rodney looked around. “That box. I need those tools,” he said.
Tony looked to where he was pointing and grabbed the box. Jo whined as he turned his head and managed to press on a part of her that was swollen with nishta, and he sent in an apology as he started his work helping Rodney. This had gone far enough.
“How do we run the DHD without the crystals?” Rodney asked.
“After we kill the guards, we search until we find them,” Tony said.
Rodney looked at him, doubt clouding his expression for one minute and then he nodded. The guards had chosen a side, and now they would have to live with it… or not. The best Tony could offer was a quicker death than Jo would have allowed them.
“These blood pressure numbers aren’t back to normal yet,” Carson commented as he looked at the machine monitoring Tony.
Tony ached. The nishta had left his system, but not until making him feel like his head was two sizes too big. Jo had promised that was the only time it would affect him. He would have been immune if Samas had used a full dose the one time he’d used nishta on Tony, but the partial dose meant that Tony had only partial immunity. Tony couldn’t complaint about the headache though, not when Jo was still a secret.
Hopefully she was, anyway. Tony had done a good job of hiding Jo up to their great escape, and he could blame the enzyme for some of his physical feats, but he didn’t know how much Rodney had seen or understood. He’d seemed more distracted by worry over Sheppard, honestly. Tony hadn’t had much time to care because they’d both been focused on making sure the guards were dead—slowed down by the nishta and then blown apart by Rodney’s improvised bomb. The one guy who’d survived had gone down to a broken neck.
And now Tony was sitting in the infirmary hiding Jo in his pants as Carson did a physical. Tony had a near-hysterical thought about explaining to social services that he hid his daughter in his pants. Thinking about that was easier than thinking about Gibbs trapped on a Wraith hive.
“Carson, it’s just the enzyme. I need to move,” Tony said. Jo had been smart enough to create a small amount of enzyme for Carson to find.
Carson let his hand rest on Tony’s shoulder. “We don’t know the effects, lad.”
“The effects are that I’m jittery and that I broke a man’s neck with my bare hands. It’s not a big mystery.”
Lorne stood watching from the door, and Tony could see glimpses of Abby as she paced the area outside the infirmary. “Tony, we need to know how accurate your report is. Are you sure about the planet's address?” Lorne asked.
“Yeah, ask Rodney if you’re not sure,” Tony said. “They stopped giving him enzyme.”
“Because Ford wanted him to work on the stolen dart?”
Tony glared at Lorne. The man was doing his job—checking the accuracy of a report given by someone who was potentially compromised by a mind-altering substance. However, Tony wasn’t in the mood. “You’d better be getting a rescue together, Lorne.”
Lorne nodded. “We are. We have jumpers being prepped and Radek and Rodney are loading a few experimental weapons we haven’t tried before. Ladon has sent to the Genii homeworld to see if they can get us any intelligence on whether the hive is still in the same system.” Tony looked up. That implied the Genii had more resources than they were admitting to, not that Tony was surprised. Ladon was a tricky bastard in poker or politics.
“I’m going with you.” Tony stood. He could feel Jo’s head slide close to parts that no man wanted sharp teeth anywhere near. He had to force his body to not react.
“No, you aren’t,” Lorne said.
“I’m not so compromised that I can’t help. You don’t have anyone else who can read Wraith as well as I can.”
Lorne couldn’t hide his shock. “You read Wraith?”
“I don’t exactly have a lot of murders to track down in the average day. Yes, I learned Wraith, and I learned from the best Wraith linguist we have in the city, and that makes me the second best expert in the language. If you want on that hive, I can help.”
Lorne shook his head. “You’re a civilian.”
“Bullshit,” Tony said. “There are no civilians out here, Lorne. Not me. Not Rodney. Not Ronon. This is Atlantis. We’re a city. If Earth falls, we’re the last city. If Earth doesn’t, we’re the one outpost between them and an enemy that would eat them. Everyone here has one job, and that’s to protect the city. I don’t care who wears a uniform and who wears a civvies. So I’m going with you or you can deal with it when I stun your guys and steal a jumper to follow.”
“You wouldn’t,” Lorne said.
Tony gave him a nasty grin. "Do you really want to make an enemy out of me? Trust me, I stuck it out with Gibbs at NCIS when every other agent ran for the hills because I'm just mean enough to go toe to toe with him. So you think about that when I threaten to hijack your jumper. If you want, I can even give you the name of a certain FBI agent who will tell you how unreasonable I can be. I stole a body right out from under their noses, and I'm pretty sure that's worse than stealing one of the jumpers."
"I'll put you in the cell," Lorne warned.
The lights overhead flashed brightly and then dimmed down to half power. Tony was startled, but he just crossed his arms and looked at Lorne. He didn't mind taking advantage of a well-timed power surge.
Lorne made his frustrated face, the one that Abby said made him look like a chipmunk, not that Tony would repeat that. Eventually, Lorne sighed. "I’ll ask Dr. Weir.” With a last unhappy look, Lorne left.
“Do that,” Tony called after him. He was fairly sure that Elizabeth would support his position as long as Carson said he wasn’t too compromised by the enzyme.
“Oh lad, was that really required?” Carson asked.
Carson might have had more to say, but suddenly Abby was flying across the room. "Tony, Tony, Tony! You're okay! We were so worried. Ronon came back and said that you guys were captured, but we couldn't figure out where they'd taken you!" She wrapped her arms around him, and Tony hugged her back.
"I'm okay, Abbs. A little dinged up, but fine."
She pulled back and looked at him. "Gibbs?"
"He can take care of himself."
"But you're going after him? Right?" Abby turned to look at Ronon who had been standing in the corner like a statue the whole time. Ronon looked at Tony.
"Sure we are," Tony agreed. "But if I know Lorne and Weir, they're going to want to plan this, and I need to run off some of this enzyme. It's making me a little jumpy. And I hear Rodney is installing some good weapons on one of the jumpers. We're going to go after him, but it's going to take a little time." And Jo needed to get into the water and swim and work off some of her stress. Maybe Samas was used to staying still in a human body, but Jo had been one knotted cramp after being stuck inside Tony for so long. She needed to swim.
"Won't take too long," Ronon offered.
Abby looked back and forth between them. "I don't like Ford," she said, so clearly she'd been eavesdropping on someone. Either that or she'd been visiting with Rodney. Since he didn't have any enzyme in his blood work, Carson had kicked him loose fairly quickly.
"He's addicted. You know what happens with addicts. I think part of Ford really does like and respect Sheppard and Gibbs and Teyla." After all, it was Rodney that Ford kept threatening to kill, and of course Tony had gotten one or two threats. They were the pawns. Tony was so not happy about that. Jo stirred. Maybe she was picking up on his annoyance and maybe she was just tired of being trapped, but Tony really didn't need to get caught with an onac down his pants.
"Abby, I really am feeling jittery. I have to move. Carson, the best way for me to work this off is for me to go running. You can have Ronon follow me if you want," and Tony really did hope he did, "but I have had my limit of sitting around or standing around or doing nothing."
Carson sighed. "It seems like you don't have much in your system."
"I was doing my best to steal Gibbs' food and not eat much of what they gave me. It's just going to take time to work off the traces.”
“And Teyla had more in her?”
Teyla had shitloads more since she didn’t have a symbiote to process the poison. “Oh yeah,” Tony agreed. He started edging around Abby. “When she gets here, you can have a long-term victim, someone who can sit hooked up to machines, but Carson, I’ve got to move.”
Carson rolled his eyes. “Go on with you then. You’d just sneak out when I had my back turned anyway.” Tony gave Abby a quick kiss on the cheek, and then he was running toward the spawning waters. He had to drop her off and then go talk to Ladon. If the Genii had a way to track a hive ship, that meant they had ships or monitoring stations or something more than they’d admitted to. When he hit the transporter, Ronon slipped in behind him, and Tony hit the command for the lower level.
There weren’t any transporters terribly close to the spawning waters, so Tony started running as soon as they arrived.
“So, you have one of those things, don’t you?” Ronan asked.
Tony glanced over. “If I did, some people on Earth would want to kill it and put me in prison for letting it in.”
“They don’t trust onac because their cousins the goa’uld have enslaved humans.”
“Gibbs doesn’t seem the sort to keep slaves.”
Tony stopped and looked at Ronon. “Gibbs would never enslave anyone, and neither would Samas. Onac are a warrior species. They join, they fight, and then they go home to share the stories.”
“And they make you stronger?”
“A lot stronger,” Tony agreed.
“I saw you move out there. The others might have missed it, but you’re faster than the humans, and you were faking being knocked out by the stunner. You could have taken them. Why didn’t you?”
Tony reached into his pants and pulled Jo out. She shook her fins, happy to be free, but annoyed by the dryness of her skin. “She makes me stronger, faster, and a lot more dangerous. However, I can also feel Samas’ emotions—it’s like he can send images to me. He told me to play helpless. He wanted information on Ford.”
“I wouldn’t have let them take you if I hadn’t thought you and Gibbs could free the team.” Ronon sounded guilty about that.
“We needed Atlantis to know what was going on—that Ford had attacked us. It was the right move.”
Ronon studied Jo. “Can I have one?”
Tony turned and started running toward the waters again. “They also share our minds. If you take a symbiote, it’s going to know you—everything about you. It’s going to find your favorite memory of Sateda and sing about it in the water. It’s going to brag about whatever fight you get into and probably spend a lot of time trying to convince everyone that he should get most of the credit for your success.” Tony stopped at the door that led into the half flooded area. “Don’t follow me in here, not yet, Ronon.”
Ronon grunted, watching as Tony headed into the room and let Jo go into the water.
“That’s where they are?”
“Yeah.” Tony turned around and looked at Ronon. “Sheppard can’t know, not yet.”
“I can keep a better secret than McKay.”
Tony assumed that was an implied promise that he wouldn’t tell Rodney either.
Ronon waited a second. “Teyla know?”
Tony nodded. “Yeah. The Athosians like the idea that a thousand years from now someone who knew them might still be singing about who they were and what they did.”
“You mean, if I have one of those, it might still be singing about some Wraith I killed a thousand years from now?” Ronon looked at the waters, and Tony had no doubt that Ronon was going in there one way or another. While Tony had suspected that Ronon would want to host, the hunger he saw in Ronon’s face surprised him.
“That’s how they determine status,” Tony explained. “The onac with the best stories, who have done the most dramatic feats of bravery, demand the most respect. They’re the ones the queens will chase and bite in order to get genetic material for the next generation. Onac don’t care about dying. They only care that their stories will be told and either their songs will be repeated or their genetics will be chosen.”
Ronon grunted. “On Sateda, the elder warriors write war songs to celebrate their victories.” He took a step toward the water. “They ever take over?”
Tony looked at the water. “Jo did when Samas tackled Rodney. Human reflexes weren’t fast enough, so she got me out of danger and then turned control back. Gibbs turns over control and lets Samas take a turn when he’d doing something complicated with machinery. I don’t think the other symbiotes will want to actually take control, but they may react instinctively.” The only other onac that might want control was Jo’s sister, but Samas had forbidden her to take a host for now. She lost the fight and she would yield to Jo and give her time to establish herself as the dominant queen of her generation.
Ronon gave him a curious look. “Samas has to be female for there to be more, but Jo is too, isn’t she? That’s why you talk about them taking over—the females are more aggressive?” he guessed.
While Rodney might joke about Ronon being a barbarian, the man wasn’t. He didn’t miss much. “Male and female don’t really line up with their reality,” Tony said. “Jo and Samas can reproduce, but they are the ones who penetrate the other onac, piercing their skin and taking blood. Female doesn’t quite describe it, and Samas is opposed to being identified that way. Jo does think of herself as a girl, probably because I see her that way.”
“You influence her?”
“So, what do I have to do to earn the right to claim one?” Ronon watched the water.
“You have to fight them off,” Tony said.
Ronon looked at him, clearly startled.
“The strongest will wait—they’ll want to see how you fight before committing themselves to your quest. The weak will hope for surprise to win the day for them. If you want the strength of a mature and strong onac, you have to fight off the first contenders. The longer you fight, the stronger the onac that you’ll end up pairing with.” Tony hadn’t even finished talking before Ronon was pulling off his leathers.
“How will they attack?”
“They prefer to go in through the mouth where they have a direct route to the part of the brain where they join. They can also get in through the neck.”
“None of the ones who come at me will be kids, will they?” Ronon looked concerned for the first time. Intellectually, Tony knew he was in another galaxy, but until this moment, he had never felt the sharp difference between the world where he’d been born and this place. Right now, watching Ronon’s reactions, he knew Ronon was as alien to him culturally as Jo was different biologically.
“The immature hide from the larger ones. They’re cannibalistic, and the strong will kill or eat the weak. They’re born in such numbers, that dying is not seen as bad in the same way we see a human death as bad.”
“So you’re saying I can kill them?”
“I’m saying if you don’t kill them, the other onac will see that as encouraging weakness in the community. If you kill a foolish onac, that improves the species. They’re alien on a level that I can’t explain.”
“But they’re warriors and they’ll help kill the Wraith. That’s enough for me,” Ronon said as he pulled off his boots. That left him in just a Satedan version of a loin cloth. He moved toward the water, a knife in one hand on his fingers spread wide and ready to defend himself with the other.
Tony wasn’t sure how he felt about the knife, but he suspected the onac would consider it a fair trade for the human lack of killing jaws. One of the first emotions Tony had sensed from Jo was a general sense of horror at the lack of offensive weapons on a human body.
“Should something be happening?” Ronon asked as he watched the water. It was full of ripples, but nothing was coming out.
Tony crouched down to put his hand in the water, and immediately Jo was there, running her flank against his palm. “He wants to host. He wants to go straight into a Wraith hive and take Sheppard back. He wants to fight beside Samas.” Tony knew the words wouldn’t translate, but he also knew she would get some images.
Suddenly a symbiote sailed out of the air toward Ronon. He brought his hand up and the knife flashed through the air and he cut it. It fell back into the water squealing, and there was a small ball of activity as other onac devoured it. Its knowledge of Ronon and the feel of his knife would travel through the water.
Tony’s joining with Jo had been much calmer. Only two symbiotes had fought, and most of their battle had taken place in the water, with Tony as nothing more than a spectator until Jo had won and then leaped into him. Ronon’s joining was more like what Tony had experienced on the onac homeworld when he’d first carried a symbiote. They were coming at Ronon hard and fast, and he fought like a demon.
Older and larger symbiotes were churning the water now, attacking three and four at a time so that Ronon had to spin around constantly to defend himself. Jo brushed against Tony’s hand again, and he could feel her satisfaction. The symbiotes were herding Ronon farther into the water where it would drag against him and slow him down.
Then it happened. Ronon turned too slow, and a symbiote sliced into his neck, driving its body in through the hole. Ronon froze, his knife still held out defensively, but suddenly the waters around him calmed. He blinked and then slowly turned to look at Tony. “That’s it? I have one in me now?”
Tony nodded. “You have a strong one in you.”
Ronon slowly smiled. “Then let’s go kill some Wraith.”
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