Characters: Ancient!John/Rodney, Samantha Carter/Jack O'Neill, Vala Mal Doran, Bill Lee
Warnings: #28 in the Ancient!John 'Verse; "The Return, Part 1," thru SG1 s10e9 "Company of Thieves" for safety
Summary: Rodney is on Earth. Iohannes is on Atlantis. No one's very happy about the situation.
Notes: This part was supposed to be longer, but 1) I started to get annoyed by it and it was either post-or-delete time and, 2) even if it did get to the part I wanted, I'd have to break it apart, so this seemed the logical place.
Other things to note include: 1) The Intergalactic Gate Bridge was tested on 2 November, 2006; 2) The Expedition returned to Earth 6 November, 2006; 3) it is 8 December, 2006 in this story. Yes, that means a month has passed. 4) "Exsul" means "Exile" in Latin, and, yes, I've been waiting to use that one. "Proditores" is "traitors." 5) "Star Wars" is the nickname for Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative, which was meant to spy on other countries and protect us from nuclear attack during the Cold War. It never happened. Obviously. 6) Brilliant Eyes was a sub-project of this, mostly the surveillance part of it, and in my 'verse it was what Rodney was working on for the Air Force before he joined the Stargate Program (see "Legati" part 3 if you forgot). 7) Brilliant Eyes became the Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS) in the late '90s. And that is what Oracle is supposed to have grown out of in this 'verse. 8) Qetesh really was known as the "Mistress of All Gods" in Egyptian Mythology. 9) Oh, and the more the story progresses, the more the writing style becomes like "Sunday"...
I think that's it.
Oh, yes, and they've not found the Sangraal yet.
An Ancient!John Story
8 December, 2006 / 35 Days After The Second Exodus -- Area 51, Terra, Avalon
Sam watches Rodney shake a handful of acetaminophen into his palm and swallow it with a mouthful of stale black coffee.
He makes a face and drops both pill bottle and mug to the metal table with an absent, tired clatter. Both are oversized and both, by the sounds of it, are nearly empty. "Do you have a fresh pot? Or at least a warm one? We're on Earth. Supply really shouldn't be an issue here, but it always seems to be. I'm fairly sure the particle physicist in the lab at the end of the hall has been making off with the good beans - you know the one, the one from Texas with the stereotypical big belt buckles and leather cowboy boots. I've not had time to set up surveillance, but I'm sure it's him. He's got a shifty look about him."
She bites her lower lip. It's worse than she thought. "How many of those have you had today?"
"Cups of coffee?" he asks without looking at her, pinching the bridge of his nose hard. Whether it's a caffeine headache he's feeding or caffeine withdrawal he's fighting off, she can't say for sure. "Eight? Nine? Ten maybe? I don't know. No more than usual. Why? What does it matter?"
"I meant pills."
"It's not anywhere near enough to kill me, if that's what you're worried about."
"Well," Rodney says dryly, finally glancing up. His eyes are bloodshot, with bags enough to fill Denver International's baggage claim twice over, and that's just the most obvious sign of his dishabille. To say he looks like death warmed-over would be unfair to the dead. It's probably best to say that he looks less like the smartest man in two galaxies and more like someone whose been living under a bridge of late, "as much as I appreciate your concern, it's unwarranted. I'm fine."
"No, you're not. You look like you haven't slept for days and you haven't left your lab since you got here. People are saying that you seem listless, distracted even."
A scowl quickly forms on his face. "So now you have people spying on me."
"No, not at all. But several of our colleagues and research assistants have come to me with their worries"
"'Proditores'," he murmurs under his breath.
"I'm sorry. I didn't quite catch that."
Waving a hand tiredly, "It's not important. Just like my sleeping habits."
"I only bring it up because I'm concerned about you, McKay. I know what it's like to lose someone you care about-"
"I've not 'lost' anyone," he says, fervent and irascible (and somewhat closer to the Rodney McKay she knows, not this
haggard and stripped-down version that's been making the rounds ever since the Expedition returned to Earth five weeks ago. Sam never thought she'd miss the blunt and brash McKay she'd met years ago, the one that flirted with her and insulted her in the same breath, but this version is just 'wrong'. Wrong in ways she doesn't have words for. "John's 'fine'. He's just on Atlantis. Where I would be if the IOA wasn't blind to everything but their cost-benefit analyses and their petty, Earth-centric politics."
"Yes, yes, I know," Sam says, quickly putting up her hands in the universal sign of 'I come in peace.' "I know John's alright, but he's also three million light years away. And that kind of separation can be difficult for anyone, even if everything else is fine between them."
"That you don't have to go through this alone. There are plenty of people at Area 51 you can talk to-"
"I don't need to talk to a shrink."
"It doesn't have to be a shrink. It can be anyone - friend, colleague, bartender; whoever you want. I know in the past when Jack's gone missing-"
Rodney stands abruptly, letting his chair skitter back with a clatter. "All of my paperwork has been turned on time, All my projects are progressing at a faster-than-anticipated rate. The day that fails to be true, then - and only then - do you get the right to lecture me about my personal life." He grabs his coffee mug and industrial-sized bottle of acetaminophen. "Now, if you don't mind, I have 'real' work to get back to."
"Alright, but-" she sighs, but it's too late. Rodney's already out the door.
She sighs again and glances at her watch. It's only 1422 MDT. Far too early to home but far too late for her to be thinking about anything else. Sam stands up and pushes in both chairs. Something, somewhere, is bound to need fixing, and that should occupy her until its time to go home.
Twenty minutes later, she's eight hundred miles east and walking into the SGC's main astrodynamics lab with a cup of coffee she probably doesn't need in one hand a sugar cookie she definitely doesn't in the other. But the holiday season is upon them and, even in a place as normally removed from the passage of time as the base, goodies of all kinds are appearing in every corner. After being faced with platters of Christmas cookies and bowls of Santa-shaped chocolates, her self-control is only so strong.
Besides, what's the point of saving the world if she can't have a cookie every now and then?
"Hey Bill," she says, wiping the crumbs off her lips. "Walter said that you had something you wanted to show me."
"Colonel Carter!" he starts, quickly X'ing out of several screens on his computer. "I thought you were still in Area 51 and wouldn't be back for hours."
"Unfortunately McKay is proving to to be more unreasonable than usual."
"Doctor McKay can be very stubborn."
Sam hums. The was one word for it. Intractable is another. Bastard a third. (Heartsick, a forth, is probably the best fit at the moment, and she'd almost feel sorry for Rodney if the third didn't describe him so well.) "So, what was it you wanted to show me?"
"Oh, yes. I was running some tests on the new Oracle satellite system and noticed something odd."
"More curious really," he says, directing her attention to another workspace eagerly.
"Curious? How so?"
"Well, I'm picking up sensor ghosts, mostly. Not all the time either, just every now and then, on no fixed pattern that I've been able to determine so far."
"What kind of sensor ghosts?" Sam asks, leaning over his shoulder to look at the readings. There's nothing showing up at the moment, but that doesn't necessarily mean anything, especially if it's not really a sensor ghost.
"That's just it - I can't tell. Something small, that for sure, hanging about near the Earth-Moon L2 Lagrange point. A F-302, probably, or a runabout."
"It's a type of small shuttlecraft from 'Star Trek'-"
"I know where it's from." Why all the men on this base seem to assume she's completely unfamiliar with the SyFy channel and it's offerings is beyond her. "I was just surprised. Even if Oracle isn't working perfectly, we should be able to pick up a ha'tak or Ori battleship anywhere in the system. And, since we're not, you've got to wonder how such a spacecraft that size might have gotten here on its own."
"Well, I'm definitely not picking up anything that could be a potential mothership anywhere in system, just the runabout - though I suppose there 'are' plenty of places a mothership could hide if they know where the blind spots in our sensors are. Or in the shadow of one of the gas giants, maybe. Or out in the Kuiper belt if it had strong enough shields..."
"Let me take a look at it."
Flustered, Bill protests, "There's nothing there now."
"I meant the records of the old ghosts."
"Oh, yes, right. Of course. That makes senses." There's an awkward moment in which Bill does nothing. Then, noting her pointed look, "I guess I should probably get those pulled up for you."
"Yeah," Sam says, holding back a sigh as she reminds herself Bill really can be an excellent scientist when he puts his mind to it. "That'd probably be a good idea."
It takes her a long time to realise that the sensor ghost is more than a ghost. Too long, actually. At first she wants to say its because she's not had that much of a hand in the Oracle project - most of her time has been spent studying Arthur's Mantle, trying to track down the location of the Sangraal - and, as such, is unfamiliar with the system. But, the further Sam digs, the more certain she becomes that someone's actively trying to hide something at the Earth-Moon L2 Lagrange point.
But who? And what? It's hard to tell. Oracle is a very new program, only having gone online in the last two weeks, but its one that involves dozens of governments, hundreds of satellites, and nearly a thousand personnel.
Sam had come up with the idea on Atlantis after hearing to John talk about the orbital Maginot lines that the Ancients had put in place during the Siege: a series of hundreds of mines, satellites, and space stations all designed with the sole purpose of slowing the Wraith's inexorable advance. After nearly two hundred years of war, all had been destroyed, but she had liked the concept. It would be impossible to replicate in the Sol system, of course, without modifying existing treaties on the placement of nuclear warheads in outer space, but they could at least take the idea of a space surveillance system and apply it to their own planet.
With the Ori Crusade advancing at a frightful rate, it had been easy to convince the Secretary of the Air Force to turn the Space-Based Infrared System that had grown out of Reagan's Star Wars initiative over to the SGC. Where SBIRS had been designed for missile warning and detection on Earth, as Oracle they had turned it's capabilities outwards to detect alien threats-
-at least, that had been the plan. Sam had been forced to hand the project over to Area 51 to keep from being spread too thin. McKay, a veteran of the the original Brilliant Eyes project, had taken over for her. Using the knowledge of Ancient technology he'd picked up on Atlantis, he'd manage to extend the sensor range of their existing satellites and program patches that would allow for better information sharing between the military satellites they'd repurposed for this reason from various IOA member nations. It was far from perfect and would eventually be replaced by a network of dedicated satellites, but it would do until then.
And now someone was actively trying to hide 'something' in the shadow of the Moon. It could be something as simple as a foreign power trying to hide some asset they don't wish the rest of the IOA to know about, or as dire as some convert to Origin attempting to mask the next Ori beachhead. Thousands of possible threats lay between.
Sam runs a hand across her face and reaches for the coffee.
Which is, of course, when Vala chooses to march into her office, clap her hands together loudly, and declare loudly, "It's two o'clock in the morning."
The coffee cup skitters out of her hands and slips off the desk, managing to avoid most of her research but not her pants. Luckily, it's only lukewarm at this point, but pants covered in lukewarm coffee are still about as far from enjoyable as it can get.
"And this is why we don't do science in the small tiny hours of the morning. C'mon. Leave that for the burly young men with mops." She tugs on the sleeve of Sam's jacket, dragging her out into the hall. "Let's get you in in some dry clothes and into bed, where all good little scientists belong at ungodly hours like this one."
Sam blinks. She's not entirely sure what's happening. "What are you doing up? I thought you said it was 0200."
"Well," Vala drawls, now pushing her towards the elevator bank, "I 'was' asleep." She gestures with one hand at her pink-and-yellow pyjamas and mussed pigtails, using the other to usher Sam into the elevator. "But Daniel's still up, and for some reason he was talking to that bald Master Sergeant, the one with the glasses, and 'he' mentioned that you were still in your lab. Which Daniel took as an excellent reason to call down to 'my' room and wake 'me' up so 'I' could make sure you got some sleep before tomorrow. I, of course, asked why he couldn't do it and he said something about Camelot that didn't make much sense, so I got the impression that he's not going to be getting much sleep either tonight."
"And you're not drag him out of his lab and force him to go to bed?"
"That seems awfully unfair."
"Well, mostly because it's that I don't care enough 'what' Daniel does or does not do in his free time anymore. But you're also far more more reasonable when it comes to these sorts of things. Do you know," she adds, aghast, as the elevator doors open onto one of the residential levels, "that I've done everything short of march naked into his office before trying to get him to leave and it's never worked, not once?"
"Daniel can be stubborn."
"'Daniel' can be stubborn?" Vala repeats, sniggering as she drags her down the hall. "Try 'everyone on this planet'. That's the problem with Earth. No one here knows to have fun. You know what we should do after we get you in pants without coffee stains on them? Have a movie night - or movie morning, whatever the chronologically correct turn of phrase is. I've got the latest season of that show with the improbably handsome brothers and the even more improbable story lines on tape, or, if you're not in the mood for that, Teal'c left his entire collection of 'Star Wars' with me while he's on Chulak."
"How about a rain check?" Now that she thinks about it, she's actually exhausted. All she wants to do is sleep, preferably in her own bed, but since she doesn't quite trust herself to drive in her current state, that's not likely to happen.
"If you insist. But it 'will' happen. Preferably at your place, with lots of popcorn and lots of those fruity drinks with the tiny umbrellas."
"We'll see," Sam smiles tiredly at her as she's ushered into Vala's quarters. They're bright and cheery and full of personality in the way most the accommodations aren't, almost like a real apartment. Almost.
"What were you working on that was so important you forgot to go home anyway?" she asks, riffling through her dresser drawers. "You're usually pretty good about remembering when it's time to leave this little underground fortress of yours and escape into the world of malls and movies and takeout pizza for awhile." She tosses Sam a pair of Alice blue pyjama bottoms and a worn University of Chicago sweatshirt that had probably at one time belonged to Daniel. "Also, weren't you supposed to go to Area 51 to have this same conversation with McKay yesterday?"
Sam starts changing. "I'm well aware of the irony. Though I've got to say I'm still better about it than he is. When I got there he was mainlining coffee and painkillers like there's no tomorrow. I'm worried about him."
"Which just goes to show that you Tau'ri scientists need to leave your dark underground holes more often. I mean, what's the point of trying to protect your planet from the Ori at all if you don't take advantage of some of it's perks every now and then? By which I mean preferably once a week, with lots of popcorn and even more alcohol."
"In all honesty, I don't think McKay cares about the Ori or even Earth anymore. At some point in the last two-and-a-half years, Atlantis became his home. And now he's furious with us for taking him away."
"Yes, well, with a boy toy like Colonel Sheppard, who wouldn't be? I mean, have you seen his ass-"
"What?" she nettles, bouncing into the exact centre of her bed and crossing her legs. "He's an attractive man. A little too pretty for my usual tastes, but certainly worth making an exception over should the occasion ever arise. Granted, we'd probably kill each other before we made it a week, god, but the sex would be-"
-something Sam never wants to hear about, fantasy or otherwise. (The goa'uld Vala had once been host to, Qetesh, had been known amongst the System Lords as 'the Mistress of All the Gods' and rather than repress these memories, as Sam had done with Jolinar's, Vala had chosen to embrace them. This, while possibly healthier, has too often led to her sharing such detailed descriptions of her daydreams that they've left Sam unable to look at certain coworkers for weeks without turning beet red.)
Desperate for a change of topic, she says quickly, "Maybe you should talk to him?"
"Colonel Sheppard? I would, but its not like Atlantis has dialled Earth since the Ancients took it back, which makes it a little difficult, darling. Though we were having the most 'fascinating' discussions via email before about-"
Sam cuts her off there. "I meant Doctor McKay."
"Oh," Vala says, sinking back onto her small mountain of pillows. "Him. I suppose I could, though I don't think it would do much good. I don't think he likes me very much."
"He likes you a hell of a lot more than he likes me at the moment. If you could just do what you were saying earlier and drag him out of his lab for a little while, I think everyone in the Program would be immensely grateful."
Vala appears to consider this.
Sam ups the ante. "I'll give you my credit card."
Continue on to Pars Dua