Characters: Jennifer Keller, David Telford
Warnings: #31 in the Ancient!John 'Verse; "The Return, Parts 1 & 2," thru SG1 s10e9 "Company of Thieves" for safety), SGU s1e01 "Air"; mentions of genocide.
Summary: In which the Second Expedition is formed.
Notes: So this one... surprised me. Nothing I tried at first worked for this installment, but I decided to take a step back and, well, Keller just proved to be just a wonderful POV for this that I couldn't help myself. I've had a lot of fun making her into a real girl, (a drabble included), and while it's been difficult to do so with the information provided, I kinda like what I've made of her. Really.
1) I see this as being 3 parts, but it was getting longish and I wanted to post because the next bit should be really long and this worked well together. 2) Yes, I'm working SGU characters into this. I've always wanted to and, well, I've never seen SGU past "Earth," for obvious reasons if you've seen that episode, despite trying, but I feel between what I've seen and extensive Stargate Wikia-ing, I've got a grasp on the characters enough to muddle through. 3) In USAF, a group is made up of two to four squadrons, each squadron containing twelve to twenty-four aircraft and between 60 to 400 people. A group is 1/4th of a wing. The 512th is entirely made up, but seems to be a natural continuation of naming based off of what wikipedia tells me. 4) Yes, it's that Doctor Wallis. Because I've wanted to do this since "Somniati". 5) This was fun. Expect more soon. 6) For my sick, ever-suffering cheerleader popkin16. Probably not the ideal gift for a McShep-er, but....
An Ancient!John Story
27 December, 2006 – Colorado Springs, Terra, Avalon
The snow is hard on the ground and the heater is working furiously against it, but that seems to mean nothing to the man waiting for her inside the town car. It's a black Lincoln – the stretched kind, made to fit five or six passengers – and it looks like something out of every political drama she's ever seen. The man is equally cliché, wearing a dark, military issue peacoat and dark, expensive leather gloves. His boots are highly polished, as are the eagles on his epaulettes. If pressed, she'd describe him as of Filipino descent and in his late forties, with a face that's seen a hard life and a presence that seems to take up more space than it really should. It's vaguely terrifying, and if she didn't need this job so badly Jennifer thinks she'd climb right back out of the car and find the nearest crowded place to lose herself in rather than see what a man like that might want from someone like her.
"Hello, Doctor Keller," the man says.
"Er, hello," she says awkwardly. What else is she supposed to say? "Who are you? What are you doing here? What do you want from me? Please, I'll do anything you want just don't hurt me. Please." Yes, that is bound to go over real well. There's something shark-like about the stranger. She knows without consciously realizing it that she'll be lost forever at the first sign of blood in the water with this man, and so she must stumble blindly through whatever it is he wants of her to reach the safety at the other end.
If there is safety at the other end. She's here in Colorado Springs two days after Christmas for what promises to be a long two weeks of preparatory meetings and debriefings regarding the International Scientific Initiative mission to Antarctica she's signed on to. But people signed on to work for international NGOs aren't picked up from the airport by US Air Force lieutenants with unmarked town cars and ominous men in the back seat. She'd thought something was not entirely right about the whole situation – surely the application process for a billet at a remote research station shouldn't be so rigorous, nor the compensation quite so lavish – but the money is just too good for her to walk away from. Her school loans are coming due, to say absolutely nothing about Dad's medical bills. They need the money.
God, did they need the money.
It wasn't supposed to be like this. It was never supposed to be like this. She was supposed to become a doctor and that was supposed to fix all their money worries forever. It wasn't supposed to make everything worse. It wasn't supposed to make it so bad that working for the mob, or human traffickers, or God only knows what else a man like this might be involved in, is the only option she has if they want to keep the house and pay the bills and-
Jennifer takes a deep breath.
The car begins to move.
"I am Colonel David Telford with the Air Force's 512th Aerospace Fighter Group," the man says, eyes a little too sharp as he watches her struggle out of her coat, as if he knows the suit underneath is the best one she has, but even then is almost four years old and starting to show its age. The watch this stranger – this Colonel – is wearing probably costs twice as much. At least, "and I'm here to offer you a job."
"Oh," she laughs, nervous, uncomfortable, relieved. "That's- That's really wonderful of you, thank you, but I've already got a job. Actually, I'm on my way-"
"You are on your way to the Cheyenne Mountain Complex," the Colonel answers for her, "where you will be told that the International Scientific Initiative you have applied to is, in truth, a front for an organization known as the International Oversight Advisory, which administers the civilian components of the Stargate Program and Atlantis Expedition. You will be informed that your posting will not, in fact, be at McMurdo, but rather a top secret base constructed upon the remains of an alien outpost. There your primary responsibility will be to ensure the health of the other researchers and aid in creating a more effective gene therapy for activating dormant genes left in our DNA by an Ancient forbearer known on this planet as Janus so as to allow a greater percentage of our pilots to operate the highly advanced weaponry his people left behind."
"I- Oh," she says faintly, relief gone. Forget Air Force officer or mob boss, the man in the car with her is completely delusional. "Aliens, huh?"
"Yes. We call this particular species The Ancients, although they are also known as The Gate Builders and The Ancestors depending on which planet you're asking upon. The continent was once home to one of their massive city-ships. The outpost is one of the only structures that remain."
Jennifer's done her psych rotation. She knows the cardinal rule of these sorts of things is not to play into their delusions. But she can't seem to stop herself from asking, "What happened to them?"
"There was a plague. The survivors migrated to the Pegasus Galaxy." There is a folder in Telford's hands, deep grey with words like classified and do not copy printed in bold letters across the front. He hands it to her. "Conveniently, this relates to the job opportunity I mentioned earlier."
"I-" she swallows. She's jetlagged and had been too nervous to sleep well last night and had been the subject of too many tearful goodbyes this morning. She feels stupid and underdressed and more than a little browbeaten, but she's not going to let that stop her. She can't. "I'm sorry, but I just don't see what this has to do with me. If, as you say, I've been hired to do research in Antartica, then that's what I've been hired to do. I don't know what Ancients and spaceships and The Pegasus galaxy is supposed to do with me. I'm a doctor, not an astronaut."
Telford gives her a predatory smile. "Doctors are exactly what the Pegasus galaxy needs. It is, for various reasons, highly undeveloped. We had been conducting goodwill missions amongst the populations of various planets until recently, when one of the Ancients – one who had, until this point, been instrumental to the survival of our Expedition there – staged something of a coup. He's installed himself as the emperor of the galaxy; a majority of the populace worships him as a living god. Our Expedition was eventually forced from its base under his rule, but recently he has come to the realization that he cannot hold power with the forces currently at his disposal and has invited the Expedition to return. We believe he wants to use our goodwill missions to, among other things, expand his influence and solidify his powerbase."
"It sounds like you're planning to go back."
"We are," he confirms, offering her a predatory smile. "I have already been named as the Military Commander for the Second Expedition."
Jennifer fiddles with the folder in her hands – not opening it, just picking at one of the corners. "Why go back at all if this guy is so bad?"
"Because Atlantis is a treasure trove of alien technology that humanity needs to guard itself from other, more terrible enemies."
"More terrible than some alien dictator?"
"Others will debrief you further, but yes."
Swallowing again, "And just what does this have to do with me?"
"Most of the civilian scientists for the Expedition have already been chosen. Many are carryovers from the previous Expedition or had been slated to join the staff on the next transport. We are, however, decidedly lacking in medical staff, particularly a Chief of Medicine."
Jennifer rapidly figures out where this is going. "What? Whoa. Hang on a tick, buster. I'm just- I'm barely out of medical school. I've spent three of the last five years since getting my license out of the country-"
"-in the Ivory Coast as part of the Doctors without Borders effort there. You returned to Wisconsin in January of 2005, following your father's diagnosis of colon cancer. For the last two years you have worked at Sacred Heart Hospital in Eau Claire, but recent monetary pressures forced you to search for options farther afield. You were encouraged to apply for your current position by Doctor Simon Wallis of Georgetown University Hospital, your former attending and the ex-fiancé of the former Atlantis Expedition leader, the late Doctor Elizabeth Weir. You are currently two hundred ten thousand dollars in debt and maxed out your credit card purchasing the plane ticket here. I know everything about you and know that you are the best choice for a Chief of Medicine I have."
"But-" she stutters. "But why me?"
"You are the least politically upsetting of vastly limited choices. Your collogues may be better qualified, but you, Doctor Keller, have the distinction of being unthreatening. To everyone:
"The Chinese contribute almost a quarter of the project's budget and want greater representation in this Second Expedition, which the Europeans are firmly against, but while they may have the political clout to block the confirmation of the Chinese candidate, their internal squabbling is enough to keep them from agreeing on either the Russian or the Spanish candidate. While normally a non-American would be a better alternative, the next-best candidate is Canadian, which has all of them fuming, as Canada is one of only three IOA nations to support the defection of several members of the First Expedition and has even offered dual citizenship to any of those émigrés who want to retain their ties to Earth.
"So, you see, you are nonthreatening politically. You also have a history of humanitarianism and strong ties to your father – and, thus, Earth. More importantly," Telford smiles again, "you need us, and, if you agree to be our Chief of Medicine, I can personally guarantee that not only will your father be well provided for in your absence, but all your debts will be cleared as well."
Jennifer is smart. She finished high school at fifteen and earned her Bachelor's shortly before her nineteenth birthday. She speaks English, French, and three of the Ivorian dialects. She's preformed surgery in the rough and under fire and in some of the best surgical suites in the country.
She's also desperate – but not so desperate not to ask, "What's the catch?"
"Catch?" Telford repeats, somewhat amused. "There's no catch. All we ask is that you do what you've been trained to do. And if, perhaps, you overhear something that one of the Emperor's men would not feel comfortable sharing in front of military personnel…"
"You want me to spy on them."
"Nothing so crass. Nothing that you feel might violate your oaths, only what you feel comfortable sharing. This alien may be the least of all possible evils, but he's still evil, Doctor Keller. He's a tyrant. A self-proclaimed god. He massacred over a hundred of his own species to secure his position and abducted nearly two-dozen of his sympathizers from this very planet not two weeks ago just to prove that he could. All we are doing is keeping an eye on him the best way we can."
"The best the United States Air Force can do is a twenty-eight-year-old doctor from Chippewa Falls?"
Telford doesn't answer her question. Instead he says, "We're approaching the Mountain," in a way that's both casual and menacing all at once. "I'll need your answer before we reach the gate."
She wants to ask: "Will my father be safe? What if I refuse? What happens when it stops being 'only what I'm comfortable with'?" but those are questions she can't share. They're blood in the water. They're choices she doesn't have. Instead she says, "Alright. I'll do it," and hopes to God she doesn't come to regret it later, although Jennifer already knows she will.
A little while later, as she's digging her driver's license out of her purse, Jennifer thinks she's going to come to regret her whole life one day, and she'll be too weighted down by everything that's happened and everything she must do to change it. She can see it coming, as surely as the sun will rise tomorrow, but she's powerless to stop it. All she can do is try to ride it out and, with luck, she'll make it out alive.