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== Chapter 1 -- Points of Origin ==
(May 27, 2009)
John sometimes wondered when going to Earth had changed from something to be happy about to a chore, and then from a chore to something to be worried about. He wasn't concerned about his current situation, though, not in the least . It wasn't as if he'd been unexpectedly summoned back to the SGC by a decidedly uninformative order from the top of Homeworld Security, barely a week after his CO had been ambushed on a similar trip and summarily stripped of her position in about the most insulting way possible. It also wasn't worrying that neither General Landry nor Cam Mitchell had been able to clarify exactly who in Washington wanted to see him and could pull the strings to make it happen, either officially or unofficially. And really, John had been beamed to the White House and stuck in some random waiting room lots of times before, so that wasn't stressful in the least.
Nope, nothing to worry about at all.
John looked up and saw a young flunky in a suit standing at the door. He stood and said, "That's me."
"If you'd come this way, sir." John was lead down a hall and around a corner, idly looking at the various pieces of art decorating the place and thinking that they could really use one of those cool bubbling water columns. Just ahead of them a door opened up and General O'Neill emerged, coming face to face with John.
"Sheppard," O'Neill grunted.
"General," John said, saluting.
O'Neill returned the salute with something that was more of a vague wave towards his forehead. "Try to be respectful for once, will you?" he said before wandering off down the right.
"Um. Okay?" John replied, staring after the general. There was a polite cough from behind him and the flunky gestured toward the open door. John nodded and stepped through, to find himself (a) in the Oval Office, and (b) with President Hayes standing right in front of him. John started to draw himself up into attention, because even he wasn't stupid enough to keep slouching in this kind of situation, but then Hayes stuck out his hand. John took it, figuring that if the President wanted to shake hands John wasn't going to correct him on proper protocol.
"Colonel Sheppard," Hayes said with a broad smile. "It's a pleasure to meet you."
"Thank you, Mr. President," John returned. "It's an honor to be here."
Hayes let go of his hand. "I've been looking forward to this for a while. I've heard a lot about you."
John smiled back instinctively. "Most of it good, I hope."
"Most of it. Jack speaks highly of you, as did Dr. Weir." Hayes waved at a couch off to the side of the room. "Please, sit."
John sat down, keeping his shoulders straight and fighting the urge to sink back into the comfortable cushions, while Hayes took a seat in a chair across from him.
"I hope things are going well in Atlantis."
"As well as could be expected, sir," John replied. He cursed inwardly at the hint of irritation that crept into his voice despite his best efforts, because 'well' certainly didn't match the general feeling in the city following news of Woolsey's appointment.
"Good, good. And before I forget; my condolences on the death of your father."
"Ah, thank you, sir."
"We met a few times during my primary campaign back in '04. He seemed like a good man."
"Yes, sir," John said, keeping his opinions to himself once again.
"So, I'm sure you must be wondering why I asked you here on such short notice," Hayes said.
John nodded cautiously. "Yes, sir, that question had crossed my mind."
"I want to assure you that at the moment your job is in no danger," Hayes went on. "Quite frankly, I wasn't pleased at all with Colonel Carter's removal or the way it was handled, but the IOA had concerns regarding a serving Air Force officer as head an international civilian expedition and it wasn't politically viable to force the issue. On the other hand, I did remind them that so long as the U.S. is providing four-fifths of the forces stationed in the city, not to mention the only means of getting there, the choice in military commander will remain firmly with our hands."
John felt like a weight had been lifted from his chest and slumped back into his seat. "That's very good to hear, sir."
Hayes smiled and chuckled. "Once they heard that, they were quick to assure me that there were no plans to suggest you be reassigned at all. Between you and me, I think that they'd rather have someone who doesn't always listen to them but who's loyal to the expedition than someone who's obedient only because his superiors in the Pentagon tell him to play along."
"I, uh..." John groped for a way to explain that, appearances to the contrary, he wasn't really in the habit of disobeying orders from the brass. "I don't know how to take that, sir."
"Don't worry, I mean it as a complement. I spent enough time in the service to know sometimes the situation in the field calls for more flexibility than the people in Washington recognize. Now, that's not to say I'd have made all the same decisions you have or that some of them haven't been bad calls, but I do like the way you're willing to stick your neck out when the situation calls for something out of the ordinary."
"Thank you, sir."
"In fact, that's one of the reasons why you're here. Tell me, what's your opinion of the IOA?"
"Um." John wasn't sure he liked that question, not in the least, because there were way too many possible ways he could stick his foot in his mouth, and Teyla wasn't around to explain that he didn't really mean to mortally insult anyone. On the other hand, if it was the President asking, he could probably be excused for giving his actual opinion as opposed to trying to weasel his way out of it. "Well, sir, I'm sure they mean well, but sometimes their policies seem a bit... disconnected from our goals in Pegasus."
Hayes chuckled again. "Nicely put, Colonel. I think what you wanted to say is that they tend to be dysfunctional, at best, and now that there's no major threats to Earth's security in the Milky Way, they're becoming increasingly so. And some of their decisions of late, such as the replicators on the Odyssey and their treatment of our off-world allies, have been nearly disastrous. If it weren't for the need to work together in controlling how disclosure eventually happens, I'd seriously consider ditching them entirely. I've even discussed matters with my counterparts in a few of our closer allies and with key members of Congress."
"I can't disagree with you there, sir," John said, cautious still as he tried to figure out exactly where the President was going with the conversation. "I do want to say that the international members of the expedition have been invaluable, sir, and I, uh, strongly urge that whatever happens that be taken into consideration."
Hayes dismissed John's comment with a wave of his hand. "Of course. That's actually the furthest thing from what I'm thinking. Tell me, Colonel, have you ever seen one our Mark Nines in action?"
John nearly jumped at the sudden change in topic. "Not a Mark Nine, no, but I saw some of the smaller warheads in use when we deployed HORIZON at Asuras."
"But you're familiar with them, yes?"
"Of course, sir."
"What would happen if you dropped one on Washington?"
John froze as the image of the massive fireballs he'd seen over the Asuran cities superimposed themselves over the view of North America from space. There wouldn't be the usual iconic blast and radiation effects in Washington and the surrounding states, because they'd be simply be gone. It'd be New York, Boston, places like that where you'd see skyscrapers knocked over and people's shadows flash-burned into walls.
He shook his head as he realized the President was waiting, and said, "You'd wipe half the eastern seaboard, sir. Everything within a hundred miles would be vaporized outright. The fireball would be about five, six hundred miles wide, and you'd get blast effects a lot further. Luckily half the affected area would be out to sea, and depending on detonation altitude the Appalachians might keep it from spreading too far inland."
Hayes' face was grim as he nodded in agreement. "That's exactly what I've been told by others. Hit Paris with one, and France would be gone, probably taking most of Spain, Germany, and England with it. That's the kind of weapons we've got, and there's plenty of aliens with similar ones. They may not be able to do the same instantaneous damage, but we can reliably say that two Goa'uld motherships could wipe out every city on the planet in about twelve hours. Frightening thought, isn't it?
"Yes, sir," John said. He'd only seen a few planets devastated that way in Pegasus, because the Wraith preferred to take their victims alive, but he'd had more than one nightmare of it happening to Earth.
"Of course, the sad thing is that it's not just the aliens we have to worry about." Hayes got up and started to slowly pace back and forth. "I doubt you've ever run across this is Pegasus, but there's been a number of times we've gone through the gate and found a society that had never met people from off-world. Most of those times the societies in question have self-destructed. Beyond that, the Asgard, Tollan, and Tok'ra might have been smug bastards at times, but they had good reasons based on experience to think that handing out advanced technology was a good way to see less advanced civilizations blow themselves up."
Hayes stopped and looked at John. "I'd like to think Earth would do better, and so far we have, but I can't forget that we nearly had President Kinsey -" Hayes spat the name out like it was something rancid "- and that even America could find itself with some nut job who'd end up killing us all, to say nothing of other countries."
When Hayes didn't add anything for a minute, John said, "Sir, that's all interesting, in a frightening and morbid way, but I can't help but wonder what it has to do with me."
Hayes sat down across from John again. "No matter what might happen, be it external attack or internal fuckup, we need to make sure our civilization survives somehow, preferably in a way that will leave someone to come home and get us back on our feet. The Alpha site is a start, especially if we can start to implement some of the colonization plans we're working on, but it would still be vulnerable to attack from inside the Milky Way. Atlantis, on the other hand, is much more secure, has the Ancient database, and even has some infrastructure already in place. Yes, there's the Wraith, but back here we've got the Jaffa, a few remaining Goa'uld, and who knows what else."
"That certainly seems reasonable, sir. Are you talking about setting up Atlantis as a colony as well?"
"Ideally, we would be, but I think we're going to be lucky to keep the expedition running, let alone expanding it on that scale. In fact, in many ways it's even more vulnerable to politically-caused disaster than things here at home. We need to approach the situation from an oblique angle, which is where you come in, colonel."
Hayes leaned forward. He was smiling and his tone was still casual enough, but there was something in his posture that reminded John of a cat waiting to pounce. "General O'Neill tells me that when it comes down choosing to do to what's right and necessary and what's legal, you'll come down on the side of what's right. He also, when pressed, grudgingly admitted you might feel that Atlantis is your real home now. Is that right?"
John squared his shoulders and took a deep breath. "Close enough, sir."
"Good. Now, before we go on, I should tell you that what I'm going ask you next could be interpreted as being highly illegal, and possibly a violation of your oath as an officer. Should you act on what I say and get in trouble for doing so, I'll deny this conversation ever happened. As such, I'll give you a chance to leave now, no hard feelings."
John watched the President carefully for a long, draw-out moment as he weighed his options and wondered if Hayes was saying what John thought he was saying. Then he slowly said, "All right, sir. I can't guarantee I'll do whatever it is, but I'll hear you out."
"Excellent, Colonel. In that case, I have a job for you...."
(June 11, 2009)
It was evening in Atlantis, and in one of the meeting rooms near the mess a motley group of expedition members had gathered for a private dinner. Most of the senior staff was there, along with some of the key members of their departments. Conspicuously absent was Richard Woolsey, Samantha Carter's recently arrived replacement. Woolsey wasn't a terribly popular person at the moment with anyone in Atlantis, although even if John had liked the man this was definitely one meeting that he wouldn't have invited him to.
John was sitting at one end of the table and noticed that the rest had unconsciously sorted themselves out more or less along civilian and military lines. Down one side were himself, Ronon, Lorne, Stackhouse, and Chuck; down the other were Rodney, Teyla, Zelenka, Keller, and Kusanagi. All but Lorne and Keller were from the original expedition, and he couldn't help but think that wasn't a coincidence.
As most of them finished up their meals, John stood up and tapped his glass a few times. The effect wasn't exactly as dignified as it should have been thanks to the fact that the glass was a cheap plastic military-issue cup, but everyone still quieted down.
"So, uh, I know you probably all are wondering why I asked you guys here," John said once he had their undivided attention. "I've been thinking about a few things lately, what with Carter being recalled and Woolsey taking her place. I don't know how much you all know about what happened to me a few weeks ago, but the gate shot me into the future because... actually, I can't even remember why. The important thing is what I got told there, which was that in the not too distant future -- maybe a year, maybe longer -- the IOA may be thinking about essentially abandoning Atlantis."
That drew shocked looks from around the table, which quickly turned to anger. Across from John, Rodney said, "Yeah, but we fixed that, didn't we?"
"I hope so, but now Woolsey's here, just like in that timeline. I could see the IOA deciding to pull most of us out and leave just a skeleton crew, and the SGC wouldn't fight them. You all remember how they treated us like crap last time." John's tone grew mocking as he repeated words they'd all heard before, when the Ancients had occupied the city. "They said they SGC didn't have room for everyone coming back and that it would do us all good to spend some time away from each other to adjust. They deliberately separated us from our friends, our families, and gave those they deigned to allow to remain in the program positions that were way below what they deserved."
John looked around at her colleagues and remembered each little insult. John hadn't really expected to get the best team in the world, but it had still stung to be demoted from base commander to C-list team leader. Lorne had been reduced to doing whatever minor off-world assignments popped up but didn't need a full SG team to take care of, while Stackhouse had gone from a team leader and trade negotiator to guard duty. Rodney had his jumper research given to a man who'd never seen one in his life, and Radek had been 'temporarily' dismissed from the program entirely. Teyla and Ronon had been abandoned outright.
John took a deep breath as he prepared to drop his bombshell. "Now, I don't know about the rest of you, but I for one don't feel like dealing with that again. So, um. What I'm about to propose... well, it's pretty damned illegal. You can probably see where this is going, and if it bothers you, I'd ask you to leave. No one will think any less of you."
No one moved at all and the room fell into silence. A few people glanced at each other and it was them he watched most closely. He knew how his team would react, and for that matter Keller and Lorne, but it was the rest that mattered because without their support nothing would be possible.
After a few more moments of silence, Miko Kusanagi stood up and said with her soft, quiet voice, "I believe I speak for all when I say I am greatly honored that you choose to include us in your confidence, Colonel Sheppard. Even if we end up disagreeing, I am sure none will betray your words."
She bowed slightly and sat, and the entire table relaxed again. Lorne shook his head and had a wry smile as he said, "You're not scaring us off that easily, sir."
"Thank you." John smiled in relief. "Atlantis is our home. Pegasus is our home. We must act to protect that home now, and safeguard the other humans in Pegasus from the Wraith and whatever else is out there. We're the only ones with the technology to challenge them and prevent another ten thousand years of Wraith domination, and so it's up us to make a stand against them. We have a chance to make a difference here, maybe turn Atlantis into something more than just an outpost of Earth. I'd like to say that we could manage that without any trouble, but I think we all know that sooner or later we may be in a situation where what's expedient for Earth or the IOA and what's good for Pegasus may conflict. We need to be prepared for either outcome."
"It won't be easy. Most of you remember what the first year was like, but we're far better off now than we were then. If we get caught before things are ready, it won't go well for us. But I think it's worth the risk." John looked at the others, all watching her and a few nodding slowly. "Well. Obviously there's going to be a lot of work and planning to do, and I'll try to speak with each sometime soon about what our goals should be."
John gave them all a few moments so what he had said could sink in, then he cleared his throat and raised his glass. "Now I'd like to propose a toast. To absent friends."
"Absent friends," everyone murmured.
"May they not be forgotten." He drank, took a breath, and said, "Marshall Sumner."
He was followed with, "Brendan Gaul," from Rodney, "Charles Abrams," from Zelenka, and a quiet, "James Markham," from Stackhouse. The list went on, sixty-seven names in all, nearly one out of every six who'd ever set foot in the city. Many had been newcomers, for Atlantis was always most dangerous to the inexperienced, and twenty-three were marines who'd come during the siege to die within hours of arriving. John had long regretted never getting a chance to meet those men, and even if they'd never lived there they had always made a point of remembering them. If he had anything to say about it, their sacrifices would not be in vain.
A short time later, the group broke up and went their respective ways. John and Evan left together and eventually ended up in their shared office, taking a bit longer to get there than usual thanks to Evan's broken leg. To all external appearances they were just the expedition's two senior officers about to start an evening of planning and paperwork. For the most part that was the case, although there were a few minor differences in their relationship compared to that which most commanders had with their executive officer.
John helped Evan get settled onto the couch they had near the window, propping his foot up on a low table he'd dragged over there a few days before, and then sat down himself. John put his arm over Evan's shoulder and stared out across the city at the moons hanging low in the sky.
"So," Evan said, after waiting a while until it was clear John wasn't going to say anything first, "Been planning that a while?"
John shrugged. "More or less. I had a lot of time in the infirmary to think, then the IOA pulled this shit with Carter. Then on Earth..." John stopped for a moment and shook his head. "Let's say that I'm not the only one unhappy and I got a few ideas to consider."
"I thought so. You seemed a little preoccupied lately," Evan said with a nod. "You do realize you just took a pretty big risk there, right?. What if someone had said no? Or worse, said yes and then reported it?"
"Eh, I knew I could trust you guys. Everyone but you and Keller came with the first expedition, and I knew you two wouldn't stab us in the back. I figured that if this group wouldn't go for it, no one would, and I'd have to find some other way of doing things."
"Fair enough." Evan sighed, crossed his arms, and leaned against John's side. That sounded like exactly the sort of reasoning John use, even though he knew the man could and did use careful planning when he felt like it. On the other hand, he couldn't fault John, because he had always been a good judge of character.
"Listen, uh. If you're not comfortable with this, just say something," John said, his face lined with concern. "No one will blame you, hell; it might even be a good idea for someone in command not to know." He shifted awkwardly in his seat and opened and closed his mouth a couple times. Evan gave him time to find the words he wanted, and eventually John continued waved between them and said, "And, uh, all this. You know. What we've got."
"Our relationship?" Evan supplied helpfully.
"Yeah, that. It's not contingent on you helping out with this." John froze. "Unless it is for you. I mean, if you don't want me doing it, that could be a problem. I'm pretty much committed to this, but I wouldn't want to lose us, not after this long."
"John, stop worrying. I'm with you. And I wouldn't try to come between you and Atlantis any more than I would between you and your team." Evan reached out and grabbed John's hand. He grinned and squeezed it, and got a dazzling smile in return. "Besides, I'm already going to be violating Air Force Instruction 36-2909. What's a little mutiny and treason?"
"Wait a second. Did you just suggest that it's okay to break rules?"
Evan was compelled to point out, "You know, just because I like having my life a bit more ordered than you doesn't mean I have a stick up my ass."
"I hope not." John's grin turned to a dirty smirk. "I was planning on sticking something else up there."
"No, stop. This is a serious conversation, none of that right now." Evan glared until John held up his hands in surrender. "Do you really think this will work? There's a lot of things that could go wrong, especially once we start involving more people."
"Well... I think we can rely on about half the population for sure," John said, and Evan knew he was probably thinking of a number closer to 48%. "All the old-timers came out here half-expecting to found a colony, most of the new ones have the same kind of frontier spirit, and those who don't typically end up rotating home the first chance they get. We'll need to screen people coming in a bit more carefully, make sure they have the right attitude. And we'll want to keep the actual, um... conspiracy sounds so evil. Rebel Alliance?"
"Browncoats?" Evan suggested.
"That works. We'll keep our numbers down and recruit just the most trustworthy and essential personnel into the actual browncoats, maybe have a few more people working for us who don't know it. Then when the time comes, we'll be ready to secure the city. I think most of the population will follow along, but we can send everyone who doesn't want to stay back to Earth or the Milky Way Alpha Site. If we do it right, no one even gets hurt."
Evan raised one of his eyebrows as that sentence sank in. "You're assuming it's going to come to forced secession, aren't you?"
"I wish it could happen some other way, maybe by talking the IOA into giving us independence to maintain neutrality," John said, but he shook his head and laughed darkly. "Elizabeth probably could have pulled that off, but you and I both know it's not going to happen anytime soon as things stand right now."
"You've been thinking about this a lot, haven't you?" Evan quietly asked.
"You have no idea," John replied. "Honestly, it was tempting to just tell the SGC that we weren't letting them replace Carter and be done with it."
John sighed and his head slumped down a little. "But even I know we can't go about this half-assed. We need time to get prepared, especially if we're going to do anything more than sit under the shield and think happy thoughts at the Wraith."
Evan nodded slowly. Even with the help of Earth, it would be hard to effectively eliminate the Wraith, and he had little doubt that was one of John's ultimate goals. They needed to have time to become self-sufficient and convince people to join them, both in the expedition and off-world. They'd need supply sources, not just for food but other raw materials, some way to manufacture spares, ships to actually fight with... without Earth, they would need to effectively build an entire support infrastructure from scratch. Evan knew that as much as John let him manage all that, underneath his carefree exterior John was just as aware of all that as he was.
"Well, whatever happens, you've got my support," Evan said after a few seconds' thought. "Hmm. We'll probably need to start thinking about who to bring in from the military. You've known Captain Barnes for a while, can he be trusted?"
"Alan? Yeah, he'd love this kind of thing. I'm thinking Miller too, he's been with us from the start."
Evan nodded, names running through his head along with other requirements. He would have to touch base with Radek soon to start laying out the groundwork for long-term plans and determining priorities. Energy production was at the top of the list, followed quickly by food, but there were a thousand other things they would need. Still, it seemed doable. Evan and the geologists had long since scouted out some possible sources for naquadah and other metals, and he knew it wouldn't be too hard for Dave Parrish and the other botanists to covert the greenhouses over to vegetable production. In fact, if they phrased things as increasing self-sufficiency for emergencies and cost-cutting, they could probably even get official okay for the work.
In any case, it was all something he, Radek, and Teyla would need to figure out. It wasn't that John and McKay couldn't be trusted to deal with that sort of thing, but Evan knew from experience that nothing could put John Sheppard to sleep faster than a spreadsheet.