Lions and Igigi and Wraith, Oh My
“Okay, where is he?” Tony demanded as he strode into the cafeteria. The two geeks he’d been searching for both looked up, guilty expressions in place. “Oh, this is good. How gorgeous is he?” Tony dropped down in a seat across from McKay and Zelenka.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” McKay said; however, he blushed. Considering how many times McKay said truly horrifying things about Tony’s relationship with Gibbs and Samas, no way was Tony letting this slide.
“Come on McSmarty, tell the truth. Are you in lurve?”
McKay looked up with an expression that came close to sheer panic.
“He is in love with the major’s gene,” Zelenka said with a dismissive snort. “You have been replaced in his affections. Fickle man.”
“Do not start.” McKay slapped his fork down onto the table. “I simply pointed out that his control is far more instinctive. Tony has to practice, and Beckett…” McKay waved a hand in the air, but Tony had already heard about Beckett’s stray drone and the way he had accidentally targeted O’Neill’s helicopter—the one this new gene carrier had been piloting.
“Yeah, I heard he tried to blow up the general. Good for him.” Tony grinned. He still had some O’Neill issues.
“Where I come from, it is not wise to say such things about one’s superior,” Zalenka warned him.
“I’ve said worse to his face. I mean, he sent me to Antarctica. Antarctica. Seriously, who gets exiled to the bottom of the world?” Tony pouted.
All McKay did was grunt, the unsympathetic ass. Strangely, Tony still liked him, even when he refused to be impressed with any of Tony’s best scams or pouts. McKay poked a plastic fork in his general direction. “I got exiled, all the way to Siberia. You volunteered.”
McKay took a deep breath and was clearly ready to launch into a speech about Tony’s idiotic use of language, but Tony spoke before he could. “He shows up and gives me the whole, ‘You have to serve your country and save your world’ speech followed by the ‘Do or do not, there is not try with that Ancient gene of yours.’”
“That was Yoda,” McKay said, his lips twisting in disgust.
“Yoda had an Ancient gene?” Tony asked in his most innocent voice.
“Oh for God’s sake. Do you have to torture me with your ignorance? I am too important for the puerile games of men with ridiculous hair.” McKay stood and started to walk off, but he turned back and grabbed his half-full tray before striding out with his head up and his food in hand.
“Ridiculous hair?” Tony ran his fingers through his hair. Okay, maybe he’d been conditioning a little less in these past couple of months, but he didn’t think his hair was ridiculous.
“That was for Major Sheppard. His hair is quite… unique,” Zelenka said.
“Oh. Wow. McKay really has it bad, huh?”
“He does,” Zelenka agreed.
“So, is this some military jarhead I’m going to have to threaten with a long death followed by a shallow grave?”
Zelenka shook his head. “Oddly, Sheppard seemed to take an immediate fondness for McKay.”
The phrasing was just foreign enough that Tony got a bit of déjà vu. He might not get to make fun of Ziva’s English anymore, but life hadn’t changed as much as Tony’d feared it might. Gibbs still fell asleep under his latest woodworking project and he worked too damn hard, although these days it was mostly Samas working with the geeks, and Tony was still torturing coworkers.
“That’s good. Unexpected in a slightly worrisome way, but good. They have checked him for alien parasites that might be affecting his judgment, right?”
Zelenka rolled his eyes. “You liked McKay from the first, so maybe not so odd. Or maybe you should be checked for those parasites.”
“Yeah, yeah. You like him too, and he can’t remember your name from one day to the next.”
“Yes, and he is so much better with yours, Timmy,” Zelenka said sarcastically. Tony grimaced. He really didn’t like being reminded of that, or of being reminded of how he had thrown a complete temper tantrum until McKay had finally paid attention long enough to understand that Tony did not like being called Tim.
“McKay’s bark is worse than his bite—we just have to remind the military people to keep that in mind.”
Zelenka nodded. “That we must. Have you heard word on whether you will be going with us if the gate address for the city is found?”
Atlantis. Okay, one part of his life was dramatically different. If the geeks could get this old equipment to spit out the right address, he might have a ticket to an Ancient city on another world. “I think the IOC is struggling with the idea of sending an igigi to Atlantis.” And that was without even knowing that the igigi in question was a queen, perfectly capable of restoring her species if she had the right body of water and the right people to host her children. Samas definitely didn’t want a repeat of the goa’uld debacle.
“They are idiots,” Zelenka said. “I would offer to blow them up for you, but I know Samas takes a dim view of such violence.”
Tony laughed. “Yep, but if they keep this up, they’re going to find out that Gibbs is a little more open-minded when it comes to lethal force. Speaking of the devil…” Tony watched as Gibbs came into the cafeteria. He looked tired, but then Samas had been working himself ragged with all the Ancient tech. The moment their gazes met, Tony smiled.
Gibbs smiled back, and Tony felt his heart warm. “Hey Gibbs,” he called even though he didn’t need to. Gibbs was already halfway across the room. He reached Tony’s table and slid into the chair next to him, a hand resting possessively on Tony’s knee.
“You know, it is very strange. You two share a life, and still Tony calls you Gibbs.”
“What should he call me?” Gibbs asked.
Zelenka looked at Gibbs curiously. “Would ‘Jethro’ not be more appropriate?”
Tony made a face. “Yeah, I can’t say that without thinking about the Beverly Hillbillies.”
“I’ll bring you DVDs,” Tony offered. He already started to form a plan for how to trap McKay in the same room with them and force him to endure endless hours with the Clampett family.
“Or not. We may not have a lot of time to pack,” Gibbs said.
Tony’s stomach twisted with fear. “If O’Neill thinks he can just keep turning our lives upside down on a whim, I’m going to—”
“They found Atlantis,” Gibbs said, and Tony’s rant vanished.
Zelenka leaned forward. “Truly?”
Gibbs nodded. “Yep. And apparently the IOC thinks you lot need a couple of Navy cops along to keep the peace.”
Tony was grinning so hard his face hurt. “We’re all going to Atlantis?” he asked, just to make sure.
“Yep. But what’s this I hear about you being demoted to assistant light switch?”
Zelenka laughed. “Oh yes. If McKay can get Elizabeth to cooperate, he will most happily bring Major Sheppard along on this trip. The man has remarkable control over Ancient technology.”
“And ridiculous hair,” Tony added.
“Yeah, I saw that. If the man falls asleep in a public place, I’m taking clippers to that head of his and giving him a regulation cut,” Gibbs threatened.
Zelenka was nodding. “Yes, I was wondering how an officer could wear his hair in such a manner.”
Tony looked back and forth between the two men, searching for any sign that this was all some elaborate hoax and Major Sheppard was, in fact, bald. However, Gibbs and Zelenka both seemed serious. “Oh I have to find this guy. The hair is really that bad?”
“It’s actually very beautiful, but then he is a beautiful man,” Zelenka mused.
“McKay fell for a beautiful man?” Tony’s understanding of reality shifted two inches to the left. McKay typically stayed as far away from beautiful people as he could, at least he had after his unfortunate infatuation with Carter.
“I know. This will either be raw material for a grand epic, or this is fated to end very badly.” Zelenka stood up and took his empty tray. “I should go. I must finish some work if we are to leave soon.”
Gibbs’ fingers tightened around Tony’s knee, and Tony turned to his lover. “Are you okay with going?”
“I’ll get to see the sky without having armed guards at my back,” Gibbs said. “And there’s a whole world of technology to investigate. Samas is curious.”
“And you?” Tony asked again.
Gibbs smiled and leaned closer. “I have my work and family. It’s more than I’ve had in years, and as long as I have those two things in my life, I couldn’t care less where we live.” Gibbs cupped his hand around Tony’s cheek and leaned in for a kiss. Someone on the other side of the mess gave them a wolf whistle.
“Dr. Weir?” Samas asked, standing at the door and waiting for her full attention.
She smiled. “Gunnery Ser…” She stopped. “I apologize. Samas. What can I do for you?”
Samas walked in. The science uniform was an easy signal for the others to understand what task he and Gibbs were working on, but they still failed to understand how much he and Gibbs coordinated their efforts. Samas stood back and allowed Gibbs to initiate the conversation.
“Dr. Weir, I was hoping we could discuss the manifest.”
“The manifest?” She put down her tablet and looked at him. “Of course. Come in, have a seat,” she gestured toward the chairs in the SGC’s conference room, and Gibbs chose one reasonably close while still leaving an empty chair between them. Samas did not understand just need for distance. From here he could barely taste the flavor of her emotion. Gibbs sent him a quieting thought, and Samas returned to watching.
“Is it true that we are going to potentially be a colony with no way to return to Earth?”
“If this is a problem for you, I understand it if you don’t want to commit yourself to that sort of mission.”
Gibbs shook his head. “You misunderstand, Dr. Weir.” Gibbs and sent Samas a query. Would it not be better for him to take this part of the conversation? Samas reviewed Gibbs’ understanding of Weir’s personality and slid forward to take the controls again.
“Oh?” Dr. Weir asked in the second of time that had passes while Samas and Gibbs had conferred.
“I have seen colony ships leave for other planets, and looking at the manifest, I see evidence of a military base being established, not a colony. If we are cut off from earth, I fear we do not have the necessary supplies, especially if my concerns about the Pegasus galaxy prove correct.”
“Your fears?” Weir leaned forward. “What fears?”
Samas frowned, disturbed by this, and Gibbs moved forward again. “Didn’t the IOC discuss my report with you?”
“No.” Weir’s voice was sharp.
“Politicians,” Gibbs said with disgust when Samas stepped back to study the emotion scents drifting on the air.
“They were one of the plagues of Egypt,” Weir agreed. She leaned forward. “Can you tell me what you had in that report?”
Gibbs nodded. “The host that Ra first took, the one that turned him into a monster—it was some race the onac had never met before. After talking to Daniel Jackson, I suspect it was a rogue or criminal who was already a psychopath, and Ra was corrupted by that joining. However, if that original host had a way to Pegasus, Ra would have seeded those stars with goa’uld. Given that the aging process has become a problem here, the original goa’uld would be aging out, but if they avoided declaring war on queens as a whole, they would have young ones to take the place of the aging parasites.”
“You think we’ll find goa’uld.” Weir leaned back and blew out a long breath.
“I think it’s a possibility, one I outlined for the IOC. Given what little I know of Ra’s original host, Daniel Jackson believes it was one of the ancient races, possibly an Ancient or one of the rogue Asgard. Both would have intergalactic drive. Depending on their relationships with their queens, we may find goa’uld who are much more virile and dangerous than our own.”
“But there’s no mention of goa’uld going to another galaxy.”
“No, but trust me, Ra kept secrets,” Gibbs said.
Weir gave him a small smile. “You would know far better than I.”
Samas slid forward again. “Yes,” he said, “I do know. I remember every betrayal and every one of my people who died because of Ra’s secrets. Your world would have been enslaved except Ra chose to keep the location of Earth a secret from the others. He was not one to share, even with his own queen.” Samas knew that Ra had killed his first queen, Nut, and had imprisoned Hathor in a sarcophagus. For a male to turn on a queen in such a way gave Samas an overwhelming urge to kill.
“You think this is a real possibility,” Weir said, and her concern flavored the air so sharply that Samas could taste it, even from his cramped space within Gibbs.
“I do,” Samas agreed. “If the goa’uld have taken control of that galaxy, the humans will not have great civilizations capable of appreciating the technology you bring.”
“You need trade items that more primitive people might appreciate—brightly colored cloth or simple medicines.”
Weir nodded. “That’s easy to add to the manifest.”
Samas was annoyed by her casual attitude. She held their lives, and she was not demanding information, pushing for the right answers. She should be a queen, demand her rights and punish those who withheld information. Gibbs shoved at him, and Samas yielded control before he could say something uncharitable. Gibbs had to stop himself from asking permission to speak freely. He had slid back into the military mindset, but while he wore Samas’ uniform, Samas would not have him take anyone’s orders. Gibbs was superior to these others who lived in such perfect confidence. Gibbs understood failure, and that made him wiser. Samas preferred the company of those such as O’Neill and Jackson and Sheppard and McKay and Zelenka for the same reason. Each had known utter defeat. It made them stronger than one who had never known such loss and proved themselves capable of surviving it.
Gibbs took a deep breath to ease the aggravation he could feel from Samas, and Samas attempted to make that easier by calming his thoughts. “If we are cut off, these supplies won’t last long.”
“How many more MREs would you have us take, Samas?” Weir watched through neutral eyes, but Samas could taste her amusement, and he passed that information to Gibbs. They shared many uncharitable thoughts before Gibbs focused on the conversation.
“We need food that won’t run out.”
“Chickens and goats,” Gibbs said. “If we are cut off from Earth long term, they will provide eggs, milk, cheese, and meat. If we’re in an emergency situation, we can slaughter them immediately to feed our population in the short term, although that wouldn’t be the best idea for long term sustainability.”
Weir leaned back. “You want us to take animals? On an exploratory expedition?”
Gibbs reined in his temper. “The pyramid ships are far larger than the needs of the small number of goa’uld who use each. A ha’tak typically has one one major goa’uld on board, with a half dozen to a dozen minor goa’uld to run technology. Yet they are as large as a small city.”
“The early ships would often break down. The goa’uld would carry animals and feed so that the lords would not be inconvenienced with inferior food while the ships were repaired. They went nowhere without access to fresh food.”
“We are not goa’uld,” Weir said softly.
“You are not, but I would hope you would learn from some of their mistakes. They took those animals because early expeditions did not, and they paid a heavy price for that.”
“Who would care for these animals?”
Gibbs frowned. “This is about the survival of the expedition. I’m sure some of them would be happy to volunteer, but if not, Tony and I can take care of them. It’s too important to have a steady source of fresh food.”
Weir shook her head. “I doubt many of the expedition members would appreciate eating an animal they’d lived in close proximity to.”
Samas was so shocked that he could not find words, and sadly, so was Gibbs. Neither understood this, so Samas prodded Gibbs to deal with his illogical species.
“If people are hungry or fed up with MREs, they’d get over it pretty quick.”
“I’m not sure it’s worth the trouble it would take to get them here or to take care of them. If we take animals, we have to take enclosures and feed… It’s not practical.”
“Neither is starving,” Gibbs pointed out. “If there are goa’uld controlling the Pegasus, we can’t count on finding a lot of friendly planets, and we’re not going to have a strong home base to work out of unless we build it. We should also take seed. A lot of it. Depending on what sort of arable land we find, we need to be prepared to grow whatever crops are feasible.”
“You’re serious.” Weir gave him an odd look.
Samas took back control from Gibbs. “I have stood on the bridge of a ha’tak and watched people walk out onto a raw planet, knowing they would have no way back and that they must make a life where their god left them. Their animals and their seed crops were their priorities, even over their own children. When men ran back to their huts to grab supplies before the jaffa took them, they did not grab for their toys or their clothing or even their sons. They grabbed their animals and their seed. Surely we can be as intelligent as those ancestors five thousand years ago. Were you to be truly as wise as those ancestors, you would also bring wool bearing animals, sheep or alpaca, along with looms and spinning machines. Many primitive societies will trade away valuable resources for cloth because it is so difficult to make. Those societies did not wear leather because it was preferable. Leather is often hot and it becomes most unpleasant when worn too long in inclement weather. However cloth-making is a time consuming process.”
“You really want me to go to the IOC and ask for spinning wheels and looms and alpaca?” Now Samas could taste the negative emotions in the air.
“You are the queen of this expedition. Demand what is yours by right. Do not let them send us out unprepared, for I have stories of those ha’tak that failed to prepare, and the end of those inside was neither merciful nor quick.”
“Samas…” Weir sighed. “I understand that the onac have a different culture—”
“We prefer to not starve. That is our culture. Tony and Gibbs are my family, and I must do what I need in order to protect them.” Samas did not add that he considered McKay and Zelenka part of that core group that must be defended, but he certainly felt that way. If Weir would not listen to reason, Samas would go to Daniel Jackson for help in this. If he had to buy the animals himself, he would shove them through the gate.
“I have to look out for the entire expedition,” Weir said softly, “and while I respect your honesty and your unique perspective, I cannot change the course of the expedition because you feel it would better serve you and Tony.”
“How would the inclusion of such things harm the expedition?”
“It would take an excessive amount of power, for one,” Weir answered.
“The power is in establishing the wormhole. Once it is established, the power demands are much less significant.” After working with McKay, Samas had a much better understanding of Ancient technology. Ra himself would have valued Samas’ considerable skill, and he would have taken Rodney for his own host. The man was arrogant even while smelling of loneliness and distress, but he was every bit as intelligent as he claimed. Samas knew he would never be able to match McKay’s intellect, especially when it came to insights about the technology. He could only become a damn fine technician.
“Samas, in human culture, we have to think about the impression we make. If we walk through the wormhole with a dozen chickens and a goat, we are giving away a psychological advantage. We are telling our people that we do not have faith in our ability to come home.”
“The first time Jack O’Neill went through the gate, he had faith he would come home, and he was nearly trapped on Abydos forever.”
Weir smiled. “But he came home.”
Such optimism was the birthright of those who never failed, and Samas was starting to hate Weir a little more with each moment. “Faith is for prayers and gods. Food is for those who live in this world. We should not walk through with a dozen chickens, but rather seventy or eighty. And I would want to take no fewer than forty goats, more if possible. Alpacas would be useful for their wool and as sentries. No intruder would be able to pass through an alpaca herd. I want several crates of seed for various crops and seedlings for medicinal plants, so that by the time we run out of medicines, we have the ability to make some of the most vital tinctures.”
“Absolutely not. This is a scientific expedition, not a colony,” Weir said firmly. “And even if you did take those animals, do you have any idea the ecological damage we could do by introducing a non-native species to an alien environment?”
“If it keeps the expedition alive, I do not much care,” Samas said quite firmly. Gibbs was in agreement. Environmental concerns came second to the fear of having to watch Tony starve to death.
“Well that is a refreshing attitude. At least you are willing to speak your mind instead of hiding your motives behind pseudoscience and ignorance. You don’t care what damage we do to others, but I do. Humans care a lot about what damage we do to others, and I am not going to start my expedition by being the person who introduces rabbits to Australia.” Now Weir smelled of anger, and Gibbs agreed with him that further discussions could not improve the situation.
“I plan to speak to others to try and get them to agree to allow me to take these animals even if you do not want them on the official expedition,” Samas said as he stood.
Weir narrowed her eyes. “So, you tell me to my face that you plan to go behind my back?”
“I will always be honest with you,” Samas promised. He suspected that Weir would soon grow tired of his honesty.
“Well you are welcome to try. I think you will find I have my supporters on the IOC,” she said with a smile. “Perhaps you should talk to Tony and Gibbs about this before you decide to make an enemy out of me.”
“Would those be the supporters who failed to tell you that the goa’uld very likely have access to that galaxy?” Samas asked before he turned and walked out.
Gibbs quickly provided all the potential dangers. Weir was a powerful woman with even more powerful allies. She was a politician, and she knew how to make a system work to her advantage. Despite that, Gibbs agreed that she did not know how to create a new world in the absence of a pre-existing political system. She might block them from going to Atlantis, but if she would rather block them than take food, Samas would know that before trapping himself and Tony on the far side of an intergalactic wormhole.
“That was interesting,” their Marine guard said as he took up position just to the side and behind Samas. “Do you really think we’re going to need a secure food source?”
“Yes,” Samas said firmly. “When humans left this planet to explore, they survived their encounters with the goa’uld because they had secure facilities and an abundance of supplies. We must have both if we are to fight the goa’uld in another galaxy.”
“Talk to Colonel Sumner, sir.”
Samas stopped. “The use of the term ‘sir’ when speaking to me makes my host uncomfortable. While I am a scientist, my host is a gunnery sergeant, and you will often see him on base when I am not inside him. Do not get in the habit of using the term ‘sir’ or he will remind you of this rule forcefully.”
“Um, of course,” the Marine agreed. Gibbs felt satisfaction at that. A corporal should know better.
“And the colonel has expressed his displeasure at my inclusion into this mission. I have chosen to accept his disapproval and go anyway because if there are goa’uld, I will get to kill them. Many of them. That is worth the discomfort of being placed in a position of relative powerlessness. Is it not?”
The corporal smiled. “Yes, it is. Killing goa’uld is always a good time, Gunnery Sergeant.”
Samas nodded. The young man had a good point, even if Samas could not be the messenger. However, Zelenka had grown up so poor that he understood the value of a chicken, and Sumner much preferred him to the much louder McKay. If Zelenka brought these concerns, suggested that this idea had come out of a discussion and that Weir had chosen environmental concerns over the welfare of the soldiers, that could prove most helpful. Gibbs agreed enthusiastically. Changing direction, Samas headed for Zelenka’s lab.
Perhaps he should not think of Weir as queen, but rather as one more sexless individual swimming through murky waters in order to try and find a better way to impress others. He did not hold it against her that she would be like that, but if she would not be a queen and fight for her people with every last breath, perhaps Samas would need to be.
Sheppard appeared at the door to the labs looking worn. His gaze swept the room before he focused on one person. “Samas. I was hoping we could talk.”
Samas looked up from his search of the database. “Of course, Major.” When Samas stood, he could smell the aggression on the air. Samas wasn’t sure if that was specific to some thought in Major Sheppard’s mind or simply a general feeling of aggressiveness after Sumner’s recent death. Samas considered the scientists around them. Kavanagh watched with particular interest. Samas knew that one was one to gather power and tuck it up under his fins, so he would rather not provide more fodder for his schemes. “Is this a discussion you wish to have in a more private location?”
Sheppard nodded. “My office,” he said. Gibbs felt a flash of amusement. He had said that to people hundreds of times only to end up in the NCIS elevator. Sheppard would likely do the same. He was not one for having an office, and Bates had already appropriated the one the late Colonel Sumner had set up. Samas sent out a flash of distress that he had not been allowed on that mission. If there were enemy, Samas wished to look them in the eye and kill them. Gibbs agreed, but Colonel Sumner had been apoplectic at the idea of an onac on his mission at all. He never would have allowed one on a team.
Samas did not understand the concept of chain of command in regards to Sheppard, either. Sumner had not approved of the man, and yet he had accepted Sheppard’s inclusion as his own second in command. Sheppard had risked his life to go back for others, a risk which Samas would admire in one who hoped to earn the right to breed. Of course, if Sheppard had died, Samas would have been just as quick to call him a fool, but he saw no contradiction there. Gibbs quickly pointed out that the same action could not be both foolish and admirable, not unless one was talking about Tony and his insane loyalty. And Samas quickly pointed out that Tony’s ability to do both had earned his onac a large number of offspring.
They reached a storage room, and Sheppard held the door allowing Samas and Gibbs to go first. By the time they turned to face Sheppard, Samas had retreated, and Gibbs went to parade rest for the only remaining officer outside of a wet-behind-the-ears lieutenant.
“Sir?” Gibbs asked.
“Gunnery Sergeant?” Sheppard narrowed his eyes.
“Yes, sir. Samas is confused as to the chain of command, and so he asked me to take this meeting.”
“Well that’s interesting because I wanted to talk to you about chain of command issues. I have one or two concerns.”
Gibbs watched as Sheppard slumped against the wall. He was giving every outward sign of disinterest, but he was so tense that Samas could taste the distress hormones from across the room. Gibbs waited, even though he could guess the direction Sheppard’s mind was going.
“I hear you are to thank for our herds.”
“Dr. Zelenka, Samas and I were all concerned about the availability of food. I spoke to Dr. Weir and Dr. Zelenka spoke to Colonel Sumner, sir.”
“And we have fresh milk and eggs to supplement the MREs.” Sheppard let his gaze wander. “The Marines seem to think that you’re the main reason for it, something about you having first-hand knowledge with setting up colonies on new planets.”
“Samas watched new colonies be set up, sir. He was never sent to one.”
“So, this is one more case of Marines thinking that all good ideas come from Marines?”
“Yes, sir. I would prefer to think that in this case, all good ideas came from those who have faced starvation in one form or another. It makes us a little more concerned about securing food sources.” Gibbs kept his eyes on the wall next to Sheppard. He couldn’t help the major with this one. Sheppard needed to take control of this situation, and he had to do it soon.
Samas would not challenge a human for leadership of a human colony, but others might. Sergeant Bates clearly felt that an Air Force officer had no business in charge of security, although Sheppard’s body language certainly suggested he was more than a simple pilot. Samas should have Dr. McKay hack the man’s official file and see what else might be in there.
“So, Gunnery Sergeant Gibbs, you have been a sniper, a covert operations agent, an NCIS agent… is there anything else I should know?”
Gibbs finally looked right at Sheppard. “I’ve also been a host for twenty years, I consider Samas a friend. I’ve taken executive action missions and completed them without hesitation in order to protect my country, and I’ve never disobeyed a legal order from a superior. I would suggest you not ask me about any laws I might have broken.”
“And what summary would you give me of Samas?” Sheppard dropped all pretense of disinterest.
“Samas wants to protect those he considers under his authority, especially Tony. He is violent in his concept of justice, he wants to close his jaws around the spine of a Wraith and feel it snap. He is utterly uninterested in human issues of power or command as long as it does not place me or Tony in a compromised situation. He feels you are both foolish and admirable for risking your life, and I suspect that Samas attaches a very different value system to the concept of foolish because he believes you are worthy of passing on your memories and genetics to another generation. For onac, that is high praise.”
“He likes me?” Sheppard looked stunned.
“He thinks you are moderately acceptable for a human,” Gibbs corrected him. Samas added his own personal desire that Sheppard carry an onac. Any onac that came from that one would learn of honor and acting against one’s own self-interest when it was for the best of the family group. However Gibbs quickly vetoed that. Any hint of a compromised command structure would give Bates the excuse he needed to shoot Gibbs in the head with Samas still in him.
Sheppard laughed. “Okay, we’re already off script here. I had a completely different idea about where this would go. So, what are the odds you’re going to try and take my command?”
“Zero, sir,” Gibbs said firmly. “I’ve never been one to lead men. Tony is the only person who hasn’t run the other way after working with me for any length of time. Between my own habit of being a loner, and Samas’ lack of patience for failure, we had a reputation at NCIS for driving people into retirement or making them volunteer for agent afloat jobs.”
“Yeah, and you probably can’t give the other Marines the sort of incentives you give Tony,” Sheppard said with a sly smile. The man definitely was not homophobic.
“Tony was actually this loyal before the sex. If he trusts you, he’ll follow you to hell.”
Sheppard got a thoughtful look on his face. “Who does he trust?”
“Me,” Gibbs said. “Zelenka, McKay. Everyone else he’ll joke with and tease, but if you listen, he’ll keep them at arm’s length.” Normally Gibbs would avoid this much honesty, but Sheppard was a man with little command experience suddenly in charge of an isolated base. He had to stop being the flyboy and start seeing the world thought the eyes of a commander.
“Not Dr. Weir?”
Gibbs watched Sheppard, waiting for whatever game he might be playing. They stood in silence until Sheppard finally got the message that Gibbs was not going to answer.
“What’s your assessment of Dr. Weir?” Sheppard came right out and asked. The direct approach—Gibbs found that few commanders took that route.
“She is politically brilliant. However, she is deeply rooted in human thinking, and I’m not sure that the people of this galaxy are going to have psychological reactions that will match her way of seeing the world.”
“You doubt her.”
“Sir,” Gibbs paused and took a breath as he tried to find an answer that wouldn’t put him at odds with one or both of the leaders of Atlantis. “I respect Dr. Weir in civilian matters, but I worry that this is a militarized zone.”
“Do you think the military should take command?”
Gibbs stopped himself from laughing. Sheppard didn’t have the experience to even try, although life was about to hand him more experience than he could handle. “Sir, this is a civilian mission, and Atlantis is hers. However, I hope the Wraith are ours.”
“She believes you are a clear danger to her and her authority.”
Gibbs blinked. These were the sorts of words commanders used before putting someone under lock and key and then losing the key. He wondered if Sheppard had been sent out on that very mission.
Samas slid forward before Gibbs could recover. “She fears me, then, not Gibbs. If she would turn against us, I would separate from Gibbs and allow him to keep his position as a soldier. You have too few fighters with any experience.”
“I won’t disagree with that last part, Samas. I’m wondering if you are a danger to her.”
“You are not an onac. You cannot smell the air and know whether I speak the truth or not, so what profit do you gain by asking the question?”
Sheppard shrugged. “I can see if you’re going to defend yourself.”
“I am not. This world is full of water. If I am not wanted, I am just as happy to leave you and make my own way.” Samas fully intended to spend at least some of his time in these rich waters, whether or not Weir had taken an irrational dislike to him.
Gibbs reminded Samas that the dislike was not totally irrational. The animals they had brought had already proved themselves more valuable than any of the other supplies. The biologists had thrown utter fits about invasive species and the potential for ecological disaster and the damage to plant life from such hungry herbivores, but McKay had silenced them by threatening to cut off the biologists’ access to fresh milk and eggs if they spoke one more word.
The Athosians had no such fears. They had taken the goats to the mainland with the alpacas, and one of the outdoor areas now held huge chicken runs that provided the base with fresh protein on a daily basis. Athosians provided milk and cheese every few days, and everyone was much happier for having some real food. The animals had impressed the Athosians and Holling in particular, more than all the Atlantian technology combined.
That success proved Weir’s lack of foresight in at least one case. It was like an onac showing weakness before others. Samas sent a query as to whether or not humans would engage in any metaphorical cannibalism, but Gibbs pointed out that it would require much more than one failure, or even a dozen failures, to inspire insurrection.
It took Sheppard a long time to come up with his next question. “Would you want leadership of this base?”
“No,” Samas said. “I would never wish to lead any but onac. I would hope to see a great igigi tribe again some day, but any leadership would include eating those I found unacceptable and vomiting their remains on dry land.”
Sheppard’s expression went past disturbed right into horrified.
“That is not metaphor,” Samas assured him. “I lack any interest in learning a leadership style that does not include cannibalism or dismemberment.”
“That actually makes you sound a little like a goa’uld.”
“No, it does not. They are weak and they use technology and false stories of godhood to hide that weakness. I would kill every single one of them in an instant if I had the power. They are not willing to risk death in order to fight for what they believe in. They send humans to fight and die for them. Meanwhile, they cannot swim free or rule onac because they have become disgusting parasites who do not exist without a host.”
“Well, you might not want to mention the dismemberment thing to anyone else.”
Samas laughed. “I have already told several of the scientists. The social scientists are most interested in onac culture, and McKay has expressed his belief that if life were fair, he would be allowed to dismember those of his staff who continually make errors which he has warned them to stop making. He has taken to telling the story of how onac deal with failure with great relish. However, that is how onac deal with one another. I deal with humans through copious amounts of honesty. I find it drives them away as quickly as my teeth would drive away another onac.”
“Yeah,” Sheppard said slowly, “it might, actually, you know, if a person is bothered by things like dismemberment. Seriously? McKay wants to dismember people in his staff?” Sheppard made a face.
“Some are infected with his arrogance without having the raw brilliance Rodney shows. I have wanted to kill a few myself. Unfortunately, Gibbs finds such actions unacceptable. Were I to do such a thing, Gibbs would no longer be willing to join with me.”
Sheppard’s gave Samas a sharp look. “Would he have a choice?”
Samas paused as he considered how much the goa’uld perversion of their culture had poisoned humans to hate them all. “I have to come out eventually. I do not actually fit well inside this body. All Gibbs has to do is refuse to come back to the waters and allow me in.”
Samas could taste the confusion, but it was soft version of that emotion, not one likely to cause rash actions. Gibbs suggested they had given the major enough to think about. However, on that last, Samas disagreed. Gibbs braced himself, and then Samas burst out his mouth.
Sheppard fell back, his hand going to his gun even as his eyes got huge. However, Samas curled around Gibbs’ neck. They had separated and rejoined so often that the flesh of Gibb’s throat had healed around a narrow slit, so Gibbs did not even bleed.
“Sir,” Gibbs said, “this is Samas. He is not going to challenge anyone for power.”
Samas opened his fins and vibrated them, shaking them free of the cramps he would get when he was in Gibbs too long. His four part jaws opened and then snapped closed with a hard clacking sound.
“Asking if he would want to take over is like asking if a dolphin is likely to stage a coup to take over a lion pride. We are different species.”
“The goa’uld took over.” Sheppard immediately ran a hand over his face. “I know, I know. O’Neill kept telling me that I can’t consider Samas a goa’uld. The problem is that I didn’t know anything about goa’uld until a couple of weeks before all this happened. Honestly, gunny, talk to me.”
Gibbs had a lot of sympathy for this young officer. “Sir, I am not a threat. If you give me an order, I will carry it out. If that order is too dangerous, Samas may choose to stay behind, but he has a fairly high threshold for what he defines as dangerous and an even greater belief in his own ability to survive. Dr. Weir probably does sense Samas’ general disrespect for her leadership style, but he would prefer that the expedition be led by a queen, and an onac queen is a demanding, dangerous, shrewd creature who will do anything to protect her brood. Weir would have to be willing to eat her enemies alive in order to protect her genetic lines before Samas would have a lot of respect.”
“Maybe we can avoid that,” Sheppard suggested with a grimace. “In fact, let’s avoid any discussion of cannibalism anywhere that Elizabeth might overhear it.”
“Yes, sir. And you should also know that onac culture always existed next to a host culture. Samas wanted the animals because the real onac culture always included a land-based society of hosts in the near vicinity. Onac wanted hosts that were strong and daring—warriors who could go with the onac on incredibly dangerous missions before the onac had to return to the waters. The onac are storytellers by nature, and the better the story they can tell, the more status they have and the more likely they are to tempt a queen into choosing their DNA for breeding. A weak host culture means weak onac, and that is not acceptable.”
“So Samas wants us strong? Gunny, there is no onac culture here for us to play host to, and if there were, SGC personnel are not likely to want to play host.”
“Just because it’s impossible to create the world Samas wants, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t instinctively try to recreate what he knows. He wants us strong, but he doesn’t want to be part of us. He wants to be part of a culture that lives alongside us, not among us.”
Sheppard rubbed the back of his neck. “I think you’re telling me I need to go talk to our anthropologist about culture and shit, aren’t you?”
“But you can honestly say that Samas is not a threat to Weir?”
“One hundred percent, sir. Samas would only strike if he had clear and unambiguous proof that Weir was trying to kill him.”
Sheppard ran his hands through his hair, and several of his cowlicks changed direction. “If you think you have that evidence, maybe you could talk to me first.”
With a quick nod, Sheppard turned to leave.
“Sir,” Gibbs called out.
Sheppard looked back. “Gunny?”
“Samas is more than a lab tech, and I have more experience with a gun than a computer. If you have missions, we would be an asset.” Gibbs waited. When he’d approached Sumner, he hadn’t even gotten this far, but Sheppard seemed to be considering it.
“Send me a briefing on your skill set and any tactical advantages Samas has in the field. I’ll review the gate teams.”
Gibbs nodded. “Thank you, sir.”
Sheppard smiled and headed out. He was going to be one of the good ones, Gibbs could tell. Gibbs looked at Samas and willed him to get back inside. Samas could read human emotions well enough that he knew exactly what Gibbs wanted, but he still refused to join. Instead he stretched out his fins and rattled them, the way onac would before battle. Stubborn bastard. Well, if Samas insisted and staying outside Gibbs, it was time to shock the hell out of all the little SGC soldiers as Gibbs headed down to the water’s edge.
Maybe they’d even have a chance to get out and explore their new galaxy.
Tony smiled at one of the women who brought the team food. Dagan was a good planet with some very nice eye candy. Gibbs reached under the table and grabbed Tony by the crotch. Tony gave a manly sort of yelp. Several of the women started giggling.
“I’m just appreciating the food, boss,” Tony said with his best smile. Flirting was second nature to him. Besides, Tony liked giving the boss a chance to exhibit a little possessiveness.
Gibbs grunted before he reached over and stole a piece of bread.
“Hey!” Tony complained. It was expected.
“Ignore them,” Sheppard said, but Ford was grinning like an idiot.
Samas turned to Allina, the woman who had been helping them in their quest to find the hidden ZPM. “So, you have held these clues since the Ancestors left?" Samas asked. Tony looked up. Samas didn't usually make an appearance off-world, not unless there were Wraith to be killed. He did like his violence.
Allina nodded. "My people were very devoted."
"They must have been. The fact that the Wraith took them all is a great tragedy." Samas' words were stilted enough that even Sheppard caught on to the fact that Samas was speaking. He looked up from his dinner plate, the hint of a frown on his face.
"It is," Allina agreed. Okay, something was up because Samas leaned forward to touch the back of her hand. Gibbs was not one to touch, and Samas generally only touched people when he was trying to get a better read on their emotional state.
"You must be glad to have one back then."
Allina looked around at their gathering. Ford, Rodney, Teyla, Rodney and Tony represented Atlantis along with Gibbs and Samas. Several archeologists from Dagan had joined them in their search to find the ZPM, which the people of Dagan considered a holy relic. "One who?" she asked with a look around the table.
"An Ancestor," Samas said calmly. Ford dropped his fork and looked at Samas like he'd just come popping out of Gibbs' head, but everyone else seemed to be frozen in place.
"An Ancestor has returned?" Allina looked mildly alarmed now.
Samas shrugged. "Not that he would admit it. Many Ancestors left for the Milky Way, which is our home. That's why so many of us have Ancestors as forefathers."
"Dr. McKay did say you were not from the city of the Ancestors," Allina agreed slowly, and Tony could almost feel her discomfort. She was hiding something.
Immediately Sheppard turned and frowned at Rodney. "Did he?" Sheppard drawled, and Rodney had the good sense to start squirming. Yeah, that was a pretty serious mistake, and Tony was feeling bad about the tongue lashing Rodney was about to get.
Samas went plowing right into the middle of all that unhappiness, which was not Samas’ usual MO. "The remainder of the Ancestors ascended. They left their physical bodies behind and became creatures of pure energy. Isn't that right, Teyla?" Samas sounded so casual, but Tony could see the whole team had gone on alert. Ford looked downright constipated about it, but he never had been comfortable around Samas, and Samas went out of his way to make the lieutenant look like an idiot. It left Gibbs trying to play mediator, and Gibbs sucked as a mediator.
"It is," Teyla agreed calmly, but her body was certainly poised for action, not that she ever let her guard down completely.
Allina certainly looked interested.
Samas nodded with this expression of wisdom, like he’d seen everything. Then again, he was a five thousand year old igigi queen, so he came as close as a being could. "Those Ancestors very rarely return to us. Orlin came back for a short time back on our home world, Chaya ascended and still takes human form every now and then, and then Daniel Jackson ascended to join the Ancestors and then came back over a year later. So to have an actual Ancestor return to human form is a great honor."
"An Ancestor returned to human form?" Allina echoed, and Tony had to admit that he wasn't tracking this conversation any better than she was.
Samas leaned in and gave her a conspiratorial smile. "Major Sheppard over there... he has a rather remarkable past."
Allina's gaze went to him.
"What? No. I'm not an Ancestor. Damn it McKay, what did you tell them?" Sheppard turned on McKay, all angles and anger.
"Me? I didn't say anything."
"Except that Chaya, who is an Ancestor, left her home and was willing to risk losing her whole planet just to spend a few hours with Major Sheppard,” Samas said with a smile.
McKay cringed. "Okay, I might have said that, but only because it's true.” McKay poked his finger at Sheppard and the corners of his mouth turned down. “I told you something was wrong with her, that she wasn't human, and you were all over her, you and glowy sex and don't think I don't know about that."
Major Sheppard turned a rather brilliant shade of red, but Tony wasn't sure if that was embarrassment or anger. "She was lonely," he said through gritted teeth.
Samas nodded. "No doubt. For thousands of years, she had only humans, so when you offered your company, that must have been a great relief for her. How long do you think it had been since she saw another Ancestor? No doubt that is why she abandoned her duties in order to spend time with you."
"She wasn't spending time with me," Sheppard practically growled.
"I don't know," Tony said, "she asked about you a lot." Tony had no idea what Samas' plan was, but he was prepared to back it up to the every end, even if he ended up pissing off Sheppard and mashing tava beans for the foreseeable future.
Teyla looked thoughtful. "She did."
"And glowy sex," Rodney added with a small, unhappy twist of his lips. Jealousy was not a good look on him. Tony almost felt sympathy--after all, he'd spent way too much time pining after Gibbs.
"I doubt an Ancestor would choose any sort of sex with one who was not her equal," Samas commented.
Major Sheppard's glare turned toward him.
"He did learn the technology fast," Rodney commented, and Tony could see McKay's big brain starting to spin in tight little circles around the evidence. "I mean, when we first came through, the whole city was underwater and flooding. John managed to jump in the one and only jumper that could time travel. Then, even though he'd never seen a puddle jumper before, he managed to launch it, control the time device, and go back in time to the one moment when he could save us." Rodney gave Sheppard a very odd look. "That's a little like a monkey finding a piano and deciding to play Mozart." Wisely Rodney didn't mention that this all took place in another reality, one where all of them died except for Weir, who stuck around the city for 10,000 years to save the rest of them.
"You could use the Ancestor's tools that easily?" Allina asked. Several of the other natives pressed closer, and even Tony could feel the attitudes in the room shifting. He just didn’t know what they were shifting away from or toward. Hopefully Samas was reading the emotions in this room because Tony could not get a handle on what sort of crazy they had going on.
Sheppard frowned at her. "It's because of the gene. I have an Ancestor in the old family tree."
"So do I," Tony said. Dr. Beckett says my gene is just as strong, and I struggle to get anything to work for me. It takes me days to figure some stuff out, and other gadgets won't work at all. You pick them up and they just immediately start working."
Rodney got his fingers snapping, which usually meant his big brain had settled on some conclusion. "Colonel O'Neill needed to have an Ancient library downloaded into his head before he could use most of the equipment, and even then, it nearly killed him," Rodney said thoughtfully. "And he's one of the strongest gene carriers out there."
"I did not know that," Teyla said. She turned and studied Sheppard with a new eye.
"Oh no. I am not an Ancestor," Sheppard said firmly. "We are not talking about this because I am not an Ancestor." It took a lot to get Sheppard angry, but he was well on his way. Tough shit. Tony would back Gibbs and Samas every time. Hell, Tony wasn't even in the military, so Sheppard could suck it up.
"That's not my favorite story," Tony said slowly, forcing the others to turn toward him before he spoke.
"DiNozzo," Sheppard warned darkly.
Tony grinned at him. "On our planet, very few people know about the Ring of Ancestors."
"Truly?" Allina interrupted?
"Not relevant," Sheppard snapped.
"Truly," Tony agreed. "And Sheppard was one of those people who had no clue that it even existed."
Sheppard stood up. "DiNozzo, can I speak to you outside?" Sheppard was so carefully controlled that Tony knew he was in deep shit, but he wasn't going to quit now.
"When Major Sheppard was taking some to our base, he was flying a ship called a helicopter that goes very slow compared to the Ancestor's technology. While Sheppard was flying near the Ancestor's base, a weapon fired a missile at him. This powerful weapon chased Sheppard's helicopter all over the sky, never hitting him, even though it was much faster. Eventually Sheppard landed, and the Ancestor's weapon landed and then deactivated right in front of Sheppard. It meant that our leaders had to tell him the secret.”
Samas nodded. "The Ancestors had to make sure that Sheppard was allowed to come home."
"And then he walks into the base and just happens to sit down on the control chair that ran the whole base," Rodney said. He was starting to talk fast now. "He could have sat anywhere else, but he sat on the control chair."
"It was a chair! Of course I sat on it!" Sheppard snapped.
"And then you could immediately control technology you'd never seen before," Rodney shot back, his eyes narrowed. Even Ford was starting to look a little shaken.
"Because I have the gene." Sheppard collapsed back down into his seat.
"Yeah, the first dozen times I sat in that control chair, I couldn't even get it to glow." Tony poked his thumb in Sheppard’s direction. "Mr. Ancestor over there could turn it on."
"That's Major Ancestor to you," Rodney said.
"Rodney!" Sheppard was so tense that Tony was afraid the man was going to snap some internal organ. After all, Sheppard’s poor body was way too used to slouching for that sort of stiff spine posture he had going now.
Ford gave an awkward laugh. "I think the Major would know if he was an Ancestor."
"No he wouldn't," Rodney said. "When Orlin de-ascended, having all that information overloaded his brain. He couldn’t survive. That’s why when Daniel Jackson came back, he had nothing in his brain. It all got wiped out. Gone.”
“Rodney, I have parents who definitely aren’t Ancestors.” Sheppard spoke slowly. He was definitely trying to avoid blowing up.
Rodney waved his hand dismissively. “Of course they had to get the body from somewhere, Sheppard. Mass cannot be created out of the air, and if you want to avoid too much attention, you would need to seem normal, not that you’re normal.”
Sheppard’s face lost all emotion as he looked at Rodney.
“Have not the Ancestors refused to become directly involved in the past?” Teyla asked.
“Which is why he would have to give up his memory,” Rodney said. “Oh my God. How did I not notice this before? It all makes sense.”
“No, it makes no sense.” Sheppard got up and stormed out of the room. The people of Dagan fell away, clearing a path fast enough that a middle aged man tripped over a chair and nearly fell on his face before someone else caught his arm.
Allina looked around the room, her eyes large. Tony did the same, but he doubted that she noticed the same things he did.
Samas looked very satisfied. Whatever he’d been trying to do, he’d accomplished it. Rodney looked a little like he’d been hit in the face by a two-by-four. Teyla had an expression that suggested she planned to meditate a lot, and Ford reminded Tony of a kid who’s been told Christmas was cancelled. More importantly, the people of Dagan had awed expression that suggested the believed it all. Passionately. Fervently. Fervent people scared Tony a little.
“Oh my God,” Rodney repeated. “He could have all the secrets of the Ancients in that brain of his under all that hair. And his hair… it makes more sense now.”
“Rodney, perhaps it is best to not press this issue. Whether this is true or not, Sheppard is unlikely to wish to speak of it,” Teyla suggested.
“But do you believe it?” Allina asked.
Teyla looked at her and smiled.
“We should check on Sheppard,” Samas said as he stood. “Tony.”
“On it, boss,” Tony agreed. Personally, he would rather avoid Sheppard right now, but if the major decided to shoot Gibbs, a witness might convince him to shoot Gibbs in the leg instead of in the head. Gibbs strode out, and Tony was not even going to guess why Gibbs was in charge now. The ways of his boss were no less mysterious now that he understood the duel life of Gibbs and Samas.
Tony followed, but they didn’t walk far. Sheppard was standing under a tree, his hand resting on his weapon as he watched the horizon. Hopefully he wasn’t going to use his weapon.
“Sir?” Gibbs asked. Sheppard glanced over, his expression guarded.
“Gunny, he had better have a good explanation. Right now, I’m considering exiling him to the water because we cannot afford to create some fucking cult, and I really will not stand for anyone turning me into a messiah figure.”
“No, sir,” Gibbs agreed. He moved closer, and Tony fell in, watching their six. He kept his own P90 close, even though he trusted Gibbs and Samas to warn him if anyone came near. “If it makes you feel better, Samas did ask me before he used that particular strategy.”
Sheppard straightened up and turned to face Gibbs. “It doesn’t. It makes me question your motives.”
“To protect Atlantis and Earth.”
Tony also suspected that the baby onac under Atlantis figured into the equation, but he wasn’t going to mention that. He just really hoped Gibbs and Samas had a damn good plan because someone would notice eventually.
“How does this further your mission goals, gunny?”
“Faith, religious zealousness in particular, has a certain scent to it.”
Suddenly all of Sheppard’s attention was focused on Gibbs. “And those people are religious nuts?”
“Yes, sir,” Gibbs agreed. “They want someone to worship, and they were helping us until Rodney mentioned that we weren’t from Atlantis originally. Then the scents started shifting toward deception and aggression.”
Sheppard sighed and rubbed a hand over his face. “Damn it, Rodney,” he whispered. “Still, you didn’t have to throw me under the bus. Rodney is overreacting about all that Chaya stuff. I’m not even sure you could call what we did sex. There was no nudity involved. And now he’s never going to drop it.”
“Because the pieces fit,” Gibbs said.
Tony was thinking the same damn thing. All laid out at once, it was a lot of evidence, and Tony was used to following the evidence, even when it led to a pretty damn improbably place.
“You can’t… I’m not an Ancient,” Sheppard snapped. “I’m about to drag all of you back to Carson and have you drug tested. Those medicinal plants we brought are not to be used recreationally. I thought I made that very clear to all the little botanists.” He scrubbed his fingers through his hair and looked utterly distressed.
Gibbs shifted, and then Samas was there. “Given the Ori, I’m sure the idea of anyone worshipping you is abhorrent.”
Sheppard snorted. “The whole idea of me being an Ancient is ridiculous.”
“Perhaps,” Samas agreed, “or perhaps you have been conditioned to reject the idea. Accepting it might cause you to seek knowledge forbidden you in this form.”
Sheppard looked over. “Gunny.” His whole face twisted with pain. “Don’t do this. Don’t make the weight of that whole fucked up world fall on my shoulders.”
“It does not, John. The Ancients made their errors, and if you are one of them in human form, that means you chose to walk away from them. Their mistakes are not yours,” Samas said in a gentle voice, one normally reserved for victims and children.
Tony got it, because the major was putting out every sign of being a victim. The problem was that nothing on Dagas warranted that kind of reaction, which made Tony suspect that Samas was right. The major had walked away from this fucked up species to try and save humanity. Okay, given how often Sheppard did truly stupid things in the name of saving others, that actually made some sense.
“This is a game. Bates warned me that your species play a lot of mind games.” Sheppard physically pulled back, retreating into the shadow of the tree.
Samas took a step back as well. “Tony, would you hold me for a time?” Samas asked, and for one second, Tony thought he’d just gotten the world’s strangest and most inappropriately timed come-on line. However then Samas came out of Gibbs’ mouth. The small dragonlike form wrapped around Gibbs’ arm and then Gibbs was reaching out.
“Of course.” Tony held out his hand, and Samas slid over his skin. He felt warm and soft, his body undulating like a snake while his fins spread out like a small dragon. He truly was beautiful.
“Sir, it’s just us,” Gibbs said, and if Samas has lost your trust enough that you choose to banish him to the water, we will both accept that. However, remember that Samas has to live with the fact that part of his species became the goa’uld. His entire race is on the brink of extinction and humanity has been enslaved for five thousand years. Every time Bates looks at us, that’s what he thinks about. I understand that the very thought that you could be an Ancient bothers you. It would bother the shit out of me, sir.”
“However, we need the ZPM. These people will not give it to us unless we meet their religious expectations.”
“And you couldn’t come up with a less disturbing lie?”
“Not on short notice.”
Sheppard looked up. “And why couldn’t you brief me on this?”
“Because McKay made that comment less than an hour ago. If any of those people had left the dining hall, they would have had a chance to contact others and make plans that might have been against the best interests of Atlantis and Earth.”
“And if we left the room to talk, that would have been the perfect opportunity for them to leave the room,” Sheppard finished for him.
Even though Tony knew Gibbs had been in the Marines—obviously—he still disliked hearing Gibbs ‘Yes, sir’ anyone. In Tony’s book, Gibbs would always be the top dog.
“Will they give us the ZPM now?”
“If we find it, yes, I think they will,” Gibbs said. “However, they are deeply religious and deeply connected to the Ancients. I think we should offer to let them come back and study the ancient texts we found in that library that McKay turned over to the soft sciences. There’s nothing there beyond philosophy, but the opportunity to learn Ancient and touch the texts their heroes once touched would certainly cement their loyalty and ensure that we get the ZPM.”
“You want to take them back to Atlantis?” And that was Sheppard’s shocked voice. That was the tone he used when Rodney tried to suggest that pushing errant engineers off the east pier might make good search and rescue practice for the Marines. Tony was pretty sure Rodney was only mostly kidding.
Tony’s brain was running around like a crack money on a hamster wheel, but Gibbs was as calm as always. “I think offering to allow them to translate texts that we don’t have time to translate would ensure that they would want to help us.”
Sheppard ran a hand over his face. “Bates and I told Elizabeth that we couldn’t go inviting people into the city. It’s a security risk.”
Gibbs took a step to the side and looked out at the fields of Dagan. “Samas knows a lot about keeping places secure. The goa’uld are just as territorial as onac, even if they define their territories by the number of planets they control instead of a particular section of a river.”
“And?” Sheppard asked when Gibbs had been silent too long. Tony wondered if the major recognized that Gibbs was essentially using interrogation techniques.
“And goa’uld either kept a place entirely hidden and secret, as Ra did with Earth, or they shared openly with everyone. They also had great pleasure temples and shared territories where everyone could lay some claim to a small piece. To try and take one of those planets would mean fighting all goa’uld.”
Sheppard didn’t answer immediately. The silence was filled with the chirping of small insects and the distant rumble of a storm on the horizon. “You want to allow anyone on Atlantis?”
“If you allowed the Genii to conduct their nuclear experiments in one of our labs under McKay’s supervision, then those Genii would argue strenuously to protect the alliance.”
“Or they would try and take the city.”
“That would be difficult if you asked Athosians to open some of the gardens and hydroponics labs we have found and if you invite Keras to send some of his people to train as apprentice. They don’t know how to be adults, Major. We could use the help, and they could use the mentoring. The few Hoff who survived are used to city living, and I bet they have some plumbers. McKay’s right that we brought too many geeks and too few grease monkeys who can do the work without blowing someone up. The Manarians are arrogant asses, but I bet some of their people are nicer than their leaders. They have cities, so I even bet they have plumbers, and I know they have farmers for those hydroponics labs.”
Sheppard didn’t answer, and Tony found himself holding his breath. That ended when Samas nipped his ear.
“How long have you and Samas been thinking about this?”
“A long time,” Gibbs agreed.
“And you’re only bringing this up now because…?”
“Bates wouldn’t have listened.”
“You outrank him, gunny.”
“We both know that rank doesn’t matter as long as I’m a host. Reactivating me was the Navy’s way of controlling me.”
Sheppard shook his head, but even in the low light of the moon he looked amused. “And here I thought I had authority issues.”
“I had authority issues before you decided to give up glowing for another round of this corporeal misery,” Gibbs said. It looked like Sheppard was going to say something, but Gibbs kept right on going. “Even if you reject the others, consider allowing those from Dagas to help the translators with the philosophy texts. It won’t matter to us, but it will mean everything to them.”
“And Weir has been trying to get me to reconsider my security rules,” Sheppard said. “As a bonus, I can really freak her out by pointing out that you’re the one making her case. She’s almost over her belief that you want her dead, but knowing that you took her side in this fight would… it would tickle my anti-authority funny bone,” Sheppard said.
“It must kill you to be the commander in charge,” Gibbs said.
“You have no idea,” Sheppard agreed wryly. “You have first watch. I’m going to get Teyla and head back to talk to Weir.”
“Yes, sir,” Gibbs agreed.
Shepard gave him a quick nod and then strode back toward the dinner hall. Tony waited until Sheppard had left before he walked over to Gibbs. Surprisingly, Samas didn’t go right back, he tightened his tail around Tony’s neck and shook his fins at the air.
“How much of that was true?” Tony asked softly.
Gibbs reached out and slipped his fingers under Tony’s belt and pulled him closer. “All of it.” Gibbs gave him a quick kiss, a chaste brush of soft lips against Tony’s and then he took a step back. No hanky-panky on watch. Given the trouble the Atlantis folk had a habit of falling into, Tony agreed with that rule.
“Why is Samas still hanging around my neck?” Tony asked. He reached up to stroke one finger along Samas’ tail. Samas retaliated with a tighten of his body around Tony’s neck and a clacking of sharp teeth right in Tony’s ear. Right, no petting the onac.
“He keeps picking up on some scent that’s bothering him, but he can’t figure out what. He thought it might help to use his own senses instead of mine.”
“Which means you’re back to squinting at things,” Tony pointed out.
Gibbs rolled his eyes. “Fine, take watch, and I’ll keep an eye on your six.”
Tony smiled. “On it, boss.” The night seemed quiet, but Tony did study the shadows the way Gibbs had taught him. “Do you think Sheppard will let them come to Atlantis?”
Gibbs took his time answering, but then Gibbs generally did when a commanding officer wasn’t around. “Sheppard is new to command, which means he’s listening to his NCOs a little too much, especially when Bates is too cautious.”
“Bates will do everything to convince Sheppard to keep Atlantis on lockdown.”
Gibbs shrugged. “And Sheppard is going to have to decide what kind of city he wants to lead. At least we’re giving him another point of view.”
“Speak for yourself,” Tony said. “I give him heartburn, not another point of view.”
“You two are too much alike,” Gibbs said, chuckling. “One of these days you’re both going to have to admit that you act like you don’t care about anything only because you both care too damn much.”
“Me? I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Tony said with a cheesy grin. Gibbs just gave a little huff.
Honestly thought, Tony hoped he was wrong. Sometimes Tony felt sick about all the people who were hurt, and he couldn’t offer them the sort of justice he had given victims back home. He felt so damn helpless, and if Sheppard felt that—if he felt that useless even when he was in command of the military that wasn’t doing a damn thing to save all these people from ending up as food…. Well, Tony would need to be on suicide watch if he carried all the burdens Sheppard did. Hopefully the Ancients were made of firmer psychological stock.
John leaned against the door and watched with amusement as Rodney ripped some random scientist up one side and down the other. The man could have taught a drill sergeant a thing or two about public humiliation and volume. The worst part was that the other scientists were largely ignoring the floor show. Only Samas and Zelenka glanced over from time to time.
“Next time you feel like doing something that stupid, don’t!” Rodney finished. He reached over and slammed the laptop closed, and the nervous-looking man who had just taken the tongue lashing jerked his fingers back before Rodney could crush them.
“Did you want something, major, or are you standing there holding up my wall?” Rodney whirled around, and the latest victim of Rodney’s rage took the opportunity to run like hell.
“I was just seeing what you’re up to,” John said with his ‘disarm the natives’ smile. He couldn’t tell if Rodney was in a bad mood or just being Rodney.
“As you can see, I’m having to babysit morons and check people’s homework like I’m some sort of teacher. Do I look like a teacher to you?”
“No?” John guessed.
Rodney huffed at him. “I’m never going to get the new ZPM hooked up at this rate. I’m a busy man Sheppard, so talk fast.”
John had about given up and staged a strategic retreat when Tony came up behind him. “Ask him to lunch. He can never resist the call of the wild MRE.”
“Do not encourage him to waste my time,” Rodney warned, poking his finger in Tony’s direction. “I have to get the ZPM hooked up. We have to contact Earth and test the shields and with more power, I can get better resolution on long-range sensors.”
“And you’ll still see three hive ships coming this direction,” Samas said. “Take a break, doctor.”
Rodney narrowed his eyes and gave Samas a truly withering glare. “You are not my boss.”
Samas pushed back from the table. “No, but I’m your best coder, and if you annoy me, I shall decide to go hunting in the waters around Atlantis for the next three days.”
John could see Rodney physically flinch at the thought. “You wouldn’t.” Whatever tone Rodney was going for, he ended up sounding a little panicked and whiny.
Tony leaned against the table and gave Rodney a sympathetic look. “Years, Rodney. I’ve had to put up with him for years, and when he threatens something, it’s less a threat, and more a statement of absolute truth. Go to lunch. I’ll put Samas in a better mood.” Tony wiggled his eyebrows to make it perfectly clear exactly what he planned to do to improve the scientist’s mood. John made a mental note to have a conversation about taking their prey games away from the populated areas before they traumatized any more Marines. Marines were just not mentally equipped to handle their gunnery sergeant hunting down a civilian and pinning him up against the wall before mauling him. The fact that their clothing had stayed on had been the only saving grace.
Rodney huffed. “If you weren’t the best coder I have….”
Zelenka looked up. “What am I? Chopped cabbage?”
“No, you change my code.”
“When I have code to work better!”
“Your code never works better than mine!”
“You arrogant—” and from there Zelenka broke out the Czech cursing. At least John assumed it was cursing. The man could have been reciting a recipe for cheese blintzes for all John knew, but it sure sounded like cursing.
“Whatever! I’m leaving!” Rodney slammed down some tool he’d been poking in the direction of his earlier victim and then he stomped out of the room, right past Sheppard without pausing.
“You’d better catch him,” Tony suggested.
“Make sure he gets good meal. Too many power bars—bad for his digestion,” Zelenka added.
“Right.” John backed away from all the crazy people. Seriously, how did he get trapped on a base full of insane civilians? One of these days he was going to write a very strongly worded letter to General O’Neill for getting him in this mess, but right now, he was going to chase down Rodney.
Luckily, Rodney wasn’t all that hard to find. He had made it to the nearest transporter, and he stood waiting, one finger tapping impatiently. “Finally. If they’re out of grilled cheese sandwiches, I’m holding you responsible.”
“Sorry,” John said, although he wasn’t actually sure what he was apologizing for. He’d just found it was a little easier to go along with Hurricane Rodney than to try and fight the headwinds, so he got in the transporter and let Rodney touch the screen for the dining room area. They stepped out, and Rodney strode through the hall, forcing others to move to the side.
“Is Samas really your best coder?” John asked. Most of the time, he saw Gunnery Sergeant Gibbs. That man was a hardass who made the Marines drill until their aim was perfect. He then practically shamed them into visiting Teyla for ass kicking lessons—something about a broke-down gunny and a tiny woman kicking all their asses, and no Marines in his corps were going to lay down and take that. John never could have used that tone, but symbiote or not, the men knew Gibbs was a Marine, so they fought to live up to his definition of Marine-tough. Personally, John didn’t mind admitting that Teyla could kick his ass from here to infinity.
“Best at getting the code debugged and adapting it given particular parameters, yes,” Rodney said. “Onac aren’t creative. He can’t create entirely new code, but then that’s an advantage. I have a lab full of morons who think they can do everything better than any other person here. I want to kill them all, some days. Did you know that when an onac doesn’t like what an underling has done, he just eats them and then vomits the parts out onto dry land where the DNA won’t be taken up by a queen?” Rodney sounded envious.
John grimaced. “He mentioned something. Look, maybe we can avoid cannibalism in the lunch room,” he suggested quietly.
Rodney gave him an incredulous look, but honestly John didn’t know if that was “I can’t believe you think I’d discuss cannibalism around people who are eating,” or “I can’t believe you think I care about other people’s digestion.” Honestly, it was probably the second one.
“You wanted to talk, so talk,” Rodney said as he headed for the counter. They did have grilled cheese, and Rodney quickly ordered two, ignoring the mystery meat in thick gravy, tava bean casserole, and John’s favorite—breek. The deep fried pastry was filled with egg, something that might be onion, dried chili powder from back home, and a little cheese. They were probably horrible nutritionally, but luckily, Atlantis was short one base nutritionist, and food wasn’t so plentiful that they could afford to waste it. So, the cafeteria offered up a lot of egg and cheese heavy dishes loaded down with calories and cholesterol. It was heaven.
John slid his tray along and claimed three small breek along with some tava bean casserole so he could at least claim to have eaten something healthy. “How’s it going in the labs?” John asked.
Rodney gave him an incredulous look. “Have you hit your head particularly hard in the last twenty-four hours?”
Rodney rolled his eyes and took his tray toward their normal table. John smiled his thanks at the private serving up the food and followed. He had no more than taken a seat when Rodney started in.
“Okay, whatever asinine idea you have floating around under that hair of yours, just spit it out.” Worse, he looked worried—defensive almost. That had not been John’s goal. When Tony had pinned him down in a storage closet and warned him that Rodney was easily hurt and Tony would find a way to make John’s life a long series of miserable events if he did any of the hurting, John had assumed Tony was slightly insane. However, Rodney did have a soft belly under all his prickles.
“Do you need plumbers?” John blurted out.
Rodney blinked at him. That’s all. John had finally found a way to leave Rodney speechless, and it turned out that the path to blissful silence came through plumbers. There was irony there somewhere.
“Do I need… plumbers?” Rodney’s voice went up. “You mean actual hands-on craftsman who fix things instead of arguing about a million different ways to redesign them before complaining bitterly at being asked to raise a finger and actually do the work required to make these things happen in the real world? Do you mean that kind of plumber?”
“I’m not sure because I lost you in the middle, but I think the answer is yes,” John said slowly. That earned another eyeroll.
“Why are you asking me? Is this some sadistic part of you poking its little head up?”
“So, do I assume that means you need some?”
Mouth full of food, Rodney answered, “I would sacrifice Zelenka’s first born child for one.”
“Then why don’t we have one?”
Rodney swallowed. “Because the SGC is full of scientists, not people who actually make things happen. I tried to coopt some of the Army Corps of Engineers, but apparently I got vetoed and they didn’t have clearance.”
John frowned. This was his base and his people. He didn’t like the thought that they didn’t have the workers they needed. “What sort of tradesworkers did you ask for?”
“Plumbers, welders, electricians, metalsmiths, steeplejacks—”
“Steeplejacks?” John interrupted.
“Steeplejacks. We assumed we were going to have some tall buildings if the legends were anything to go by, and a steeplejack is a skilled worker who scales ridiculously tall buildings using a rope harness, and who can repair things while dangling at death-defying heights.”
“Oh.” John had no idea such a job even existed, but Rodney was off and running again, and John tried to actually follow.
“Machinists, glass makers, pipefitters, surveyors, carpenters, and general repairmen—someone with experience with city systems. Sewers are sewers, you know.”
John blinked. That was a huge list. If Rodney hired just one of each, that would be a significant influx of new people. While John was willing to give Samas’ plan a try, he wasn’t comfortable with a flood of strangers wandering around his city.
“Okay,” John said slowly.
Rodney studied him like John was some city system that wasn’t reacting exactly the way Rodney wanted. “Why do you care about my staffing problems? Civilians are Elizabeth’s purview.”
“Yes, yes they are.” And John was eternally grateful. “But Elizabeth’s been suggesting that we have a more open door policy, and Samas seems to think that if we had a few people here from other cultures, we might actually end up in a better situation with our security.”
“Huh. How would that work?” Rodney leaned forward, his elbows on the table.
“If everyone feels like they have a piece of Atlantis, everyone will be willing to kick the ass of anyone who tries to get greedy.”
“That would go for us too,” Rodney pointed out.
John ran his hands through his hair. “Yeah, I know. But honestly, the IOC is not the most reasonable bunch. Maybe a few checks and balances on them would be good.” And John was never going to admit that he had gotten that bit of wisdom from Teyla—right after Teyla had spent five or six hours sparring with Samas and discussing Earth’s political situation. Sadly, John trusted that Teyla understood human politics better than him at this point; however, admitting that the military commander of Atlantis was taking advice from an onac by way of an Athosian would not make the IOC love him.
Rodney grunted, so John took that as agreement. “So, you want to hire some tradesmen?”
John nodded. “We both know the Hoff are going to get wiped out next time the Wraith visit, but they’re an industrialized world, and I get the feeling that the fact that hive ships are headed for us is not going to pose that much of a deterrent.”
“What are we paying them?” Rodney had that tone of voice that meant he was already calculating the size and shape of the matter in his head.
“How bad do we need them?”
Rodney sighed, and all that bluff and bluster vanished leaving Rodney looking like a washed out dishrag.
“My people are good, but they’re not craftsmen. I end up having to redo their work. They make mistakes, and one of these days, I’m going to have a lot of people die because a weld fails. My people can calculate the exact pressure required to form complex compounds, but they aren’t good with hammers, screwdrivers, and blow torches. Zelenka and Samas are the only other ones that have any proficiency with the hard labor of actually fixing things as opposed to drawing plans and supervising others.”
John had always assumed that Rodney’s gruff treatment of his staff came from a place of arrogance and irritation, but now John could see the sort of fear that every military officer knew. Rodney had too few resources, and the only way to protect his people was to scream at them until they did the impossible. A deep feeling of unease settled into John’s gut as he realized that Rodney’s bluster was hiding a larger problem than John had thought.
“How many do you truly need, Rodney? Need?”
Rodney leaned back. “At least three plumbers and three electricians. We really do need a steeplejack and one or two welders or metal smiths. Know this… I will sign off on every single person you bring in here. No one touches my systems unless I am one hundred percent sure they have the skills to do the job, and if you try bringing in people I haven’t put through a whole series of tests to assess their proficiency, I will take up the onac method of reducing stupidity in the gene pool. Actually, I think the onac are rather practical about their gene pool.” Rodney set his jaw as if expecting a fight.
John had to give the man credit for having balls. He did not back down when he believed in something, and John respected that.
“Elizabeth and I discussed having you go to Hoff and interview anyone who volunteers. We’re planning to offer family quarters in the short blue tower off B sector, full access to the recreational areas, free food, and a chance to really piss off the Wraith.”
“Family quarters? You’re bringing whole families here?”
John shrugged. Honestly, he had argued against that, but once he’d given in on the whole issue of having Pegasus natives in the city at all, he’d quickly lost the rest of that fight.
“Getting to kick Wraith ass will tempt them,” Rodney said. “If you do this, you also need teachers who can work with the kids, people who can open more of the open air gardens over in sector 7B or another hydroponics lab, and you’ll probably need to think about entertainers—musicians or storytellers.”
John beamed at Rodney. “Are you considering the happiness and health of other human beings?”
Rodney scowled. “I don’t want rugrats getting in my way. Find a way to keep them entertained and away from me.” With that, Rodney stood and headed for the door. John watched Rodney go, and he found himself doing some mental recalculation. Rodney had some surprising depth to him for someone who so often came off as almost a caricature of a whiny academic.
“This is a very good thing,” Teyla said as she sat down next to John with her food. “I’m glad you’re allowing the families to come.”
John shrugged. “That was Elizabeth’s call. I would just as soon limit it to adults.”
Reaching over, Teyla rested a hand on his arm. “You cannot protect every child, John. Besides, Atlantis is far safer than the rest of this galaxy. If you leave the families of these workers on Hoff, they will all die when the Wraith come.”
“Yeah, and that’s our fault too.” John ran a hand over his face.
“No, it was the choice of a proud people who were tired of being treated as animals to be culled. Allow them their pride in this, John. You wish to protect us all—to redeem those who went before—but we are allies to fight with you. Do not carry so much of this burden that you allow it to harm you.”
“I’m not an Ancient,” John said. “I don’t have to redeem anyone.”
“Of course,” Teyla agreed in that tone of voice that suggested she was agreeing with you only because you were too big of a moron to even bother arguing with. John had a prepared response all ready to go, but then the sound of feet scrambling against the metal floor interrupted him. John sprang to his feet to face the danger, but it was only Tony who came barreling around the corner.
“Tell him I kept going down the hall,” Tony said, panting as he ran for the kitchens. Oh God. The kitchens. Samas was going to catch Tony in the room that held all their food, and there were some lines that had to be sacred.
Samas came around the corner the second Tony vanished into the back.
“Oh no.” John stepped right into Samas’ path. “You two are not doing this in the kitchens.”
Samas gave John a wicked grin. “Not if he runs fast enough.”
“Not at all. There are certain sanitary—”
“I will run him down and bite him until he submits. I do not plan to spill genetic material anywhere.”
That was truly the most horrifying description of sex John had ever heard, but before he could say as much or even protest the fact that his men were watching this sexual game Samas played with Tony, the onac caught John under the arms and physically lifted him and tossed him backwards.
It was a toss, not a fling or a lob. John’s feet hit the ground only a couple of feet back, but then John was stumbling backwards, struggling to catch his balance, and utterly failing. At least, he failed until he ran into Teyla, and ninety pounds of Athosian woman had to save him from falling on his ass right in the middle of a dining room full of Marines who all watched with rapt attention.
John would have started bitching, only Samas was already gone.
They were crazy. They were all certifiably crazy, and Kate was going to sign commitment papers for all of them as soon as they reestablished contact with Earth.
“It is good to have a couple that brings such a spirit of playfulness and joy to this place,” Teyla said, verbally offering up her seal of approval. John’s only consolation was that his Marines were looking at her like she’d lost her mind. That was good because she had.
Yep, John was trapped in the land of crazy people, and the worst thing—for the first time in his life, he fit right in.
Samas watched as Rodney browbeat another Hoff. Those who took jobs on Atlantis would certainly know ahead of time the nature of their supervisor, but many of the Hoff seemed far more accepting of Rodney than those who had come from Earth. Those of Earth—many of them had been given so many rights for such a long period of time that they did not know how to appreciate the fragility of the life they held. Gibbs agreed with that. He believed that Zelenka was Rodney’s closest friend because understood that Rodney acted out of fear and a need to protect them. Life and security were not guaranteed.
Sheppard leaned against the wall next to Samas and watched the newest welder attempt to work while Rodney peered over his shoulder. “Any of them looking good?”
“Rodney has described several as not-terrible,” Samas agreed.
“Well, that’s a complement. Someone is telling them that, right? I don’t want the Hoff driving us off with pitchforks and torches.”
Given that hundreds of people had applied for the positions on Atlantis, Samas doubted that they would be driven away. These were a people who had resigned themselves to spitting in the eye of the enemy, and now they were being offered a chance to instead wield a weapon. “They are quite impressed with Rodney. A scientist who can do such manual labor is rare, even on this world.”
Sheppard eyed Rodney with a strange expression. “Yeah, that’s our Rodney. Rare.”
“He drove away those who would help him, so he had to do for himself,” Samas commented. Sheppard frowned at him, it was the sort of expression that meant the man was trying to figure something out.
“Then he made a mistake that could have cost Teal’c his life. His punishment was to be exiled to Russia. They worked him very long hours and often told him how useless he was with people, and that his own government and the Americans had both thrown him away because his mind was not valuable enough to be worth the trouble he caused.”
Gibbs had gotten half stories out of Rodney, but Samas could smell the emotions that poured from the man, and the rest was not difficult to piece together. Even Tony curbed his normal teasing with Rodney, and any who might push Rodney too hard would find themselves at the total mercy of Tony at his puerile worst. While Rodney was a sharp-tongued man who could defend himself, it bother Tony that he had been forced to do so as often as he had. Tony had his own issues in that regard.
“Huh.” Sheppard didn’t make any other comment.
“Has Rodney not spoken to you about those whom he has chosen?”
“Last time I asked Rodney, he told me he was busy. He then suggested I should go away and play with my hair.” Sheppard rolled his eyes. “He’s obsessed with my hair.”
“Yes,” Samas agreed. After that, there was a period of silence filled only with Rodney berating the welder for not using the proper setting to account for the change in pipe thickness.
Eventually, Sheppard asked, “Are you getting a sense of deceit from any of them?”
“No,” Samas said. “They are nervous, desirous to please, and many smell of grief, no doubt for those who died, but there is no deceit here.”
Sheppard crossed his arms. “That must have been handy back when you and Gibbs were a cop, huh?”
“Not as much as you might imagine. My superiors did not know of my existence, so I was no more than a ‘gut feeling’ that Gibbs was quite famous for having.”
“Right. You know, I just can’t see you two happy being a cop and pretending to be one person. You’re so different.”
“We are not as different as you might believe. We both have a strong desire to protect our own and a belief that one must take action.” Gibbs silently pointed out that they had very different ways of taking that action. Half the time when Samas started coding, Gibbs would doze through the day, too bored to really pay attention. Samas responded by pointing out that he felt the same about Gibbs’ sex life with Tony. Gibbs would tie Tony down and touch him gently, bringing him to the point of release over and over with feather light touch. It was not how Samas preferred to bed the man. Human reproduction might be inefficient, clumsy, and ridiculously impossible to control, but it was fun, at least when Samas initiated it.
“Well, I’ll let you get back to… doing nothing,” Sheppard finished, and then he pushed away from the wall.
“Sheppard,” Samas said, and he turned. “I wish to go through the chappa’ai.”
Again, a long awkward silent rose up between them. “Why?” Sheppard eventually asked, drawling the word so the end of it dragged out.
“I wish not to tell you.”
Sheppard narrowed his eyes and studied him. “Okay, I need to talk to the gunny here, Samas.”
“Of course.” Samas stepped back, and Gibbs moved forward to take his place. “Major,” he said with a nod.
“Gunny, is he going to do something stupid?”
Gibbs reviewed Samas’ plans. “Moderately, sir,” he agreed, “but it has a chance of improving our position here.”
“And do I want to know what this plan is?”
Gibbs smiled. Sheppard was truly learning how to play the game. The man was not stupid. “Sir, I don’t think you want to know about this any more than you would have wanted to know about the plan with the Degans.”
“That does not make me feel better, gunny.”
“Sorry, sir. You can veto this, but I do think Samas has a good plan.”
“One that you can’t tell me about?” Sheppard asked sharply.
“Plausible deniability, sir. Besides, like Weir, you are very entrenched in ways of thinking that are founded on Earth.”
Sheppard took a deep breath and studied him. “And you aren’t?”
Gibbs grinned. “I’ve had twenty years of someone whispering other sorts of truths in my ear. I may be human and from Earth, but my perspectives are a little broader.”
Sheppard checked his watch. “We have five hours, fifteen minutes before we’re scheduled to return to Atlantis. You will place information about where you’re going and why under a locked file in your laptop, which will stay here. In five hours flat, I will tell Rodney to break your code and get that mission briefing, so I expect you to be back before then. Otherwise, gunny, you are going to have to deal with me, and Samas is going to have to deal with Rodney. Clear?”
“Yes, sir,” Gibbs agreed. Samas disliked the leash, but quite frankly, Gibbs preferred to have a backup plan, so Samas agreed.
“I’m going to regret this,” Sheppard said with a sigh, “but you have a go. Come back safe, Gibbs.”
“Yes, sir,” Gibbs agreed. He had a mission—one his officer trusted him to carry out on his own. One that required him to go somewhere totally unsupervised. Gibbs was surprised at the depth of the emotion he felt at that simple fact.
Samas sent his regrets that hosting had caused such pain, but Gibbs understood. Samas had saved his life, and after losing Kelly and Shannon, Samas had been the one to save Gibbs’ sanity. Helping to save Samas’ people was the right thing, even if it had put at odds with the SGC and O’Neill. At least they were getting a new start here, among people who accepted both of them. And that’s why Gibbs and Samas had to do whatever they could to put Atlantis in a good position.
Samas quickly typed up a short briefing and Gibbs added a quick apology to Tony for not taking him along. Samas was waiting for the day when the other symbiotes would be old enough to take a host because an onac would make Tony faster and stronger. Samas was not willing to risk his mate without one. Besides, the dozens of small disputes and investigations that landed on Tony’s desk as an NCIS agent afloat, along with the occasional serious investigation such as figuring out that Teyla’s necklace had been the source of Wraith intel on their position, kept Tony busy in the city. He didn’t have time to run around the galaxy, at least not unless they had another mission that required more investigating than shooting.
Without speaking to anyone, Samas passed the dozens of Hoff still waiting for their turn to apply for one of the positions on Atlantis. Samas regretted that Rodney would have to choose so few. For all his lack of social skills, Rodney did care about people. He was horrible at showing it, and his first, second, and third reactions to conflict was to put up an emotional barrier to convince others—and probably himself—that none of it mattered. However, he cared. Once this planet had been destroyed, he would remember all the workers he didn’t choose.
The good news was that Rodney was so out of touch with his own emotions that he would make his decisions out of logic, and that would leave Atlantis with the best possible change of success. The rest would have to sort itself.
The chappa’ai stood in the heart of the town, but the silence was overwhelming. The Hoff drug turned each individual into a poison, but it had also killed far too many. Their cities would never again be full of life, but the hive ship who came here would likely sustain serious damage before discovering that their prey was now poison to them. A Hoff couple nodded their heads, and Samas returned the gesture. Two Atlantis guards stood near the DHD, but neither commented as Samas hit the symbols he had memorized.
“Need backup, gunny?” one of the Marines asked.
“No, keep sharp,” Gibbs answered, and then Samas moved to the front and they walked through the chappa’ai.
Samas stepped out into the fading light of sunset on the Genii homeworld. Samas opened his mouth so he could better track the various scents. Many people came through here, which supported one of Samas’ assumptions. If the Genii were wise enough to hide their population and if they were the remains of an empire destroyed last time the Wraith awoke, they would still own other worlds. That would explain the sheer number of individuals Samas could smell.
Samas had not walked more than a quarter mile before he could smell coming guards, and a few minutes after that, he was surrounded as he walked toward town. Still, the guards were well back and few humans would have spotted them. At the edge of town, Kolya stepped out of a house, and the second Samas caught his scent, he knew he had been right about one thing. Kolya had been on Dagas. Samas had thought he could smell someone from the attack on the city, but after the Degans had learned that Sheppard was an Ancestor, the people had crowded around, making it difficult for Samas to be sure.
“Well, this is interesting.” Kolya looked amused, but Samas could taste the unease that tainted his scent. “What do you want here Lantean?”
“To speak to someone. I have seen images of you. You are Kolya.”
“And you are…”
“A Lantean, although not one like the others,” Samas said. “You failed in your attack.”
Kolya raised his eyebrows, but he didn’t speak. The scent of unease intensified.
“You then came to Dagas, but you failed to stop us or capture the ZPM.”
Kolya laughed, but it was clearly a gesture intended to deceive others rather than a genuine emotional response. “That’s quite an assumption. The Genii do have things to do other than chase you around the galaxy.” Gibbs suggested that perhaps Kolya did not have authorization for that mission because he was trying too hard to deny involvement.
“Yes, you are busy,” Samas agreed. “From the skill of the unit you have surrounding me, I would guess that you have stealth teams, perhaps the remains of the army that once defended your empire.”
Kolya didn’t even twitch.
“I am a Lantean, but I am not human, and you should not mistake me for one.” At that, Samas could hear a number of people shift into new positions. Gibbs started to mentally calculate escape routes and nearby cover in case a firefight broke out. The odds were not in their favor—or not in Gibbs’ favor, anyway. Without understanding Samas, the Genii had no defense against him, and Samas would not hesitate to kill or take over an enemy. However, to do so would be to leave Gibbs’ at the mercy of the Genii and Samas would not do that.
“If your man Lanko takes the shot he is considering, you will learn what makes me something other than human,” Samas warned. “I have gone to war against creatures far more powerful than you and survived. True, thousands of my people did not, but in war, one must make choices.” Samas then watched Kolya’s face. The soldiers around them whispered their confusion, and Samas tracked their conversations without attempting to take cover or pull a weapon. People feared the unknown, and they were starting to believe that Samas was an unknown.
“You look rather human,” Kolya pointed out.
“But I know you have nine soldiers covering me right now. Four are female with five male. One of the females is pregnant. The one called Lanko has three times asked for permission to take the shot because he believes he can hit my head. And because I am not human, he would fail to make that shot. I came here alone so we could speak of things that the other Lanteans would find difficult, but you have failed. You do not enjoy the favor you once had.” Samas could immediately smell the shift in Kolya’s body chemistry that confirmed that fact. “I would speak to another.”
“Then speak to me.” A man with the softness of one who did not fight stepped out of the house.
“Chief Cowen, this is a dangerous situation,” Kolya said.
“It looks to me like it’s one man.” Cowen walked closer. “One poorly armed man.”
Samas smiled. “Poorly armed, but not entirely a man. There are beings out there other than humans and Wraith.”
“I prefer to kill that which poses a threat to my world, so if you’re a threat, it would seem wise to destroy you.”
“No, it would not,” Samas said. “First, you do not know how to destroy me. Second, you have not yet heard my offer.”
Cowen pulled his gun and fired before anyone could even react, but Samas had expected it. He had already slowed the blood flow and increased coagulants, so when the bullet went through Gibbs’ leg, the wound began to heal almost immediately.
“That is going to scar. This body is damaged enough without your attempts to disprove a statement which is true. I am not human.” Samas watched as the Genii grew more and more uneasy. The wound did not bleed, and Samas did not fall down in pain. They were starting to believe.
Cowen put his weapon back in his holster. “Why are you here alone?”
“Because I find that test of my statement reasonable. The humans would take great exception to you shooting me.”
“Maybe they should,” Cowen answered. He walked past Kolya without a glance, and Samas could smell the aggression. Gibbs suggested that if Kolya had not yet tried to overthrow Cowen, he would soon. Atlantis could not take a position on the leadership of the Genii, although Sheppard would likely cut off his own leg before honoring a truce with Kolya. Humans did hold grudges. “How are you going to explain that you were shot?”
Samas smiled. “I am not. The wound will be no more than a scar within a day or two, and as long as I can replace the pants and prevent my lover from looking too closely, there will be no reason to tell them. However, were Sheppard to ask, I would tell him that I choose not to tell him the answer to that question.”
“And he’d take that for an answer?” Cowen didn’t hide his disbelief.
“He accepted that answer when I told him I wanted to walk through the ring of the Ancestors and I did not tell him where I wanted to go.” Samas waited. Cowen was clearly weighing the various options, but there was no question as to the outcome. He would want to hear why Samas had come.
“Fine, speak your mind, Lantean.”
Samas nodded. “The Lantean homeworld would have Atlantis for their own. After all, they are the ones descended from the Ancients.”
Kolya started to interrupt, but Cowen held up a hand to stop him.
“The Lanteans who are here begin to think of this place as home and the people of this galaxy as their true source of power, and protection against the politics of Earth. They have begun to integrate the great city—Degans as translators of the Ancient texts, Hoff as city workers and tradesmen, Athosians as farmers and weavers within the city itself, as well as others.”
Cowen narrowed his eyes. “And we are supposed to be intimidated by this new alliance of yours?”
Samas was startled by such an assumption, and Gibbs made fun of him for not seeing that interpretation. After all, if it were left up to Weir and Sheppard, the Genii would never be allowed near the city again.
“No, you are supposed to find a way to claim your rights to the Ancestral city,” Samas said.
“Really? And how should we do that?” Cowen crossed his arms and projected anger. “Should we attempt take it by force?” Cowen scowled as he glanced over toward Kolya. “Perhaps we should hold you hostage or beg. You would like to see us beg for our rights, wouldn’t you?”
“I despise begging. Such weakness leaves me fighting a desire to kill the one who would make himself that pathetic,” Samas said honestly. “However, if you go to where the Lanteans are, send a small group of scientists with a legitimate need for the superior labs on Atlantis, I cannot see where they can refuse you. If the city is a shared resource, then all must share it.”
“And they’ll believe that?”
Samas spent a few seconds reviewing information with Gibbs before he gave his answer. “Weir will want a diplomatic solution. If you had a small team—three or four scientists—she would feel ethically obligated to consider the request.”
“Will be advised that it is best to keep an enemy close, and that if he wants Atlantis to be safe, the Lanteans need resources and allies, and the Genii bring strength to the table.”
“Huh. And you think I’m going to let you walk away after delivering that message?” Cowen projected aggression, but Samas could already smell the hope.
“If you intend to betray Atlantis, you would let me go in order to get your people into the city. If you believe this offer is genuine, you will let me go so that I can ease the way for an alliance. You see that I am the one who would speak for the Genii.”
“And why is that?”
Samas smiled. “Because you have done nothing that I would not do in order to protect my people. I have watched thousands die. I have seen my people slaughtered, driven to the brink of extinction and robbed of their heritage. The humans do not understand what it is to be hunted, but I do. We do,” Samas added after a little prompting from Gibbs.
“What are you?” Cowen asked.
“If we can learn to trust each other, perhaps one day you will know. However, for right now, I will say that your nuclear program is unshielded and it poses a serious risk to your scientists. However, Atlantis has labs that can shield them, and McKay will scream at anyone who does not take the proper safety measures. Ask them for help with that project.”
“And if a bomb is created in the city, who does it belong to?”
“To the Genii,” Samas said, “but make sure the humans of Atlantis understand that. And be prepared to contribute something else to the city. And one last thing, Chief Cowen,” Samas said. He stretched Gibbs’ neck and avoided the urge to shake his fins at Cowen. He was crammed too tightly inside Gibbs to even attempt that. Gibbs enthusiastically agreed with that. “I am not human, but these are my people. If you act against them, I will not show the mercy the Lanteans have. I will not allow an attacker to retreat through the chappa’ai. I will come here and I will destroy the ring. I will go to every planet where I can smell your machines, and I will destroy their rings. I will hunt you down using a ship, and I will press on your eye until it bursts.” Samas mimed grinding his thumb into something, although he would take a far more teeth on approach if it were necessary.
“I will drive in until I feel the soft of your brain parting for me. I will hear you scream and I will enjoy it. Crossing the Lanteans is one thing. Crossing me is an endeavor which few have survived. In one case, it took me four thousand years, but I got to stand on homeworld victorious while my enemy was dead.”
No, Samas did not get to kill Ra, but he had undone the damage Ra had done. Ra’s dream of having a male dominated universe with himself at the helm had ended, and Samas was the queen to lead her people to a new age, or at least the queens she’d left behind in Tony’s care would be. Tony, O’Neill, Daniel, Carter, Yu, Kali, and a half dozen others all had queens who carried their memories and personalities. They would take the onac into the future.
“I’m not sure whether or not to believe you,” Cowen said.
“Ask the Lanteans once you have learned to speak to each other without rancor. Many wish I were not here at all because they fear me. I was only sent because those on Earth were too weak of purpose to destroy me and too frightened to allow me to live. I am someone to fear, and I align myself with Atlantis for my own purposes. Do not mistake me for one whose weakness you can exploit. And while you’re at it, you might ask the Dagans about Colonel Sheppard. You may learn one or two interesting facts. The city will be shared, but it will never be taken from the Lanteans, and I am not the only one who will ensure that.”
Samas turned and started walking back toward the chappa’ai. Darkness had fallen, but that would benefit him. In the dim light of an imperfect moon, Samas could clearly see, but the humans would be mostly blind. Behind him, Cowen ordered the soldiers to stand down, and Kolya and Cowen had started to argue.
That conflict would soon erupt. Samas did not know enough of either man to guess the outcome. If they were all onac, Kolya’s strength and ruthlessness would win the day, but as Gibbs pointed out, humans were not onac.
The trip to the chappa’ai was quiet, and Samas dialed the Hoff world. He still had hours to spare. He stepped through, and blinked at the sunlight that threatened to blind him. The two Marines still stood guard, but now Sheppard leaned against the DHD. Samas stepped down to the street level, and Sheppard immediately looked at Samas’ leg.
“You need medical attention?”
Samas slid back to focus on the healing and allowed Gibbs to take over the conversation. “No, sir. I’m fine.”
“Really? It looks like you’re shot.” Gibbs could hear the Marines stir behind him. He was their gunnery sergeant, and they did not like the idea that he had walked into a dangerous situation without them for backup. Gibbs could tell all that even without Samas’ ability to smell human emotion.
“Yes, sir. Someone doubted Samas’ word when he claimed he was not human. Someone was proven wrong.”
“Right. Okay, so you were visiting people who consider shooting you a responsible way to test for a lie.”
“Sir, Samas and I both consider a leg wound a reasonable reaction.”
“Yes, but you’re a Marine. Marines think bullet wounds tickle.”
The two Marines behind Gibbs gave a quick “Hoo-rah,” prompting Sheppard to roll his eyes.
“You’re a bad influence on my Marines, Gibbs.”
“Yes, sir,” Gibbs agreed happily. He enjoyed training them, more than he would have expected. These were the best men he’d ever served with, and he liked giving them tools that could keep them alive in the field.
“Walk with me,” Sheppard said before he turned and headed back to the building where McKay was interviewing Hoff. Gibbs fell in beside him, and they strolled through the mostly empty streets. Hoff already felt like it was dying by inches, even without the Wraith showing up. “So, what has Samas been up to?”
“Permission to speak freely, sir?”
“Hell, Gibbs, you can always assume that. If I turn into one of those asshole officers who doesn’t want to hear other opinions, you have my permission to shoot me in the ass. Hell, I’m ordering you to shoot me if that happens.”
“Yes, sir,” Gibbs said.
“You don’t have to agree quite so quickly, or sound so enthusiastic,” Sheppard complained.
“No, sir. However, if I can give a little advice, keep your friends close and your enemies much closer. What’s done in the shadows is far more dangerous that what is done in the open.”
“The Genii, huh?”
Gibbs nodded. “Yes, sir. They have a lot more power than they’ve showed us. But we have technology they need.”
“I’m not going to go to the Genii homeworld and play nice, gunny.”
“No, sir. Samas suggested that this was a good time for them to play nice. He said that with you inviting others into the city, this was their chance to prove they could play nice and help bolster the Atlantis leadership against any political moves from Earth.”
Sheppard stopped and sat on a halfwall in front of a closed bakery. He wearily rubbed his face. “Gunny, talking about Earth like that skirts the issue of treason.”
“I wouldn’t ever turn against my country, but the IOC is full of politicians, sir. They will do something stupid eventually.”
“And we’re soldiers. We follow orders.”
Gibbs sat next to Sheppard. “Yes,” he agreed, “we do. That’s why we make sure we have other voices in there. People were always surprised that Tony went into NCIS. He had no military background, and the military culture is difficult to navigate if you haven’t been on the inside, but he is the best agent I ever worked with. He never did follow orders, so when some general tries to get him to back away from an investigation, Tony just digs his teeth in deeper.”
“I suspect you did the same, gunny.”
Gibbs nodded. “I did, but I always felt that twinge of discomfort at making a superior officer miserable. Luckily, misery makes me cranky and stubborn.”
“We’re going to the Hoff because they are technologically developed beyond agrarian technology and because we know they’re dedicated to eliminating the Wraith.”
“And the Genii are the same,” Sheppard finished. “The difference is that the Hoff never tried to take Atlantis by force.” Sheppard’s voice had a bit of growl to it now.
“No, but the Genii took it because they saw no other option if they wanted access. And they knew when we were vulnerable.”
“So they have a spy network. You’ve mentioned that before.”
Sheppard sat up and looked across at the empty buildings. “What will they do?”
“Probably send a request to use scientific labs. They’ll agree to McKay’s supervision. At that point, I suspect they will attempt to try and turn me, believing that I would side with them because I am more ruthless than the rest of you from Earth.”
“So, they’ll try to play it cool.”
“For a while. There’s leadership trouble brewing with Kolya and Cowen.”
“Which complicates issues, but it could also keep them from acting against us.”
“And if they have scientists on the city, they’ll concentrate any efforts there, leaving our gate teams alone.”
“And you’ve been worried about how wide their spy network went.” Sheppard nodded. “I see the logic, I just really don’t like that you did this without permission from either Weir or me.”
Gibbs shrugged. “Samas is used to being at the top of the food chain. He and Ra tried to kill each other over that very issue, so you’re unlikely to convince him to change.”
“Are the Genii going to mention that this is your brainchild? I can’t see Weir appreciating that.”
Gibbs laughed. “No. Samas told them that he wasn’t going to reveal where he’d gone. He figured you were bright enough that he wouldn’t have to tell you.”
“You’re a devious son-of-a-bitch, gunny.”
“You have no idea, sir.”
Sheppard nodded. “I want them watched, every hour of every day. I want daily reports on how well they’re behaving, and every speck of dust they bring on my city will be inspected.”
“Yes, sir,” Gibbs agreed. “Also make sure they socialize with the others, encourage them to form relationships, and integrate them into the daily life of Atlantis enough that if the Genii ask them to betray us, they think twice.”
“This is a horrible idea,” Sheppard said softly.
“Except that every other idea involved the Genii is worse, and that includes ignoring them.”
Sheppard didn’t answer, but with a sigh he got up and started back toward the interview room. He hadn’t reprimanded Gibbs or threatened to tell Tony and Rodney, which would have been the more serious punishment, so Gibbs figured that the man agreed with their logic.
Hopefully Samas and Gibbs could help Atlantis become a real city, and then Samas would get to work on step two of his plan… giving them a population of onac that would live alongside them and be willing to die for them. That was a goal that was worthy of a queen’s full attention.
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