Word Count: 4409
Summary: While Sheppard hasn’t left the planet, he is thinking about retiring. Well, resigning, actually. And Rodney can’t let him do that without at least knowing what he’d be giving up.
“So, I was wondering if you had made the decision on going with us?” Weir asked.
Rodney was barely paying attention to what Weir was doing. He was more concerned with getting all the information he could out of the Outposts computers. The SGC was going to be basically on their own while they were gone and he needed to make sure that he left them with everything he could.
It was an added bonus that the information he was getting would be helpful for the Expedition as well.
“I’m still thinking over my options, Dr. Weir,” the hot major informed her. He sounded… wooden. As if he had said the same thing several times before. Rodney fired off a question to the Czech and huffed once at his response. She was hounding the man on the hour, every hour.
“Dr. Weir, I’m sorry to interrupt your nagging session, but I need the Major to concentrate on something,” Rodney cut in.
“This is important, Rodney,” Weir snapped. “If the Major…”
“If the Major doesn’t what? Give in to your bullying tactics? Last I knew, the Expedition was a volunteer group only. And that does mean that the people who agree to come haven’t been press-ganged into coming along,” Rodney reminded her, voice even. He was the number two civilian as listed in the Charter and if she wanted a reminder of why, he had no problems hammering the point home.
“Fine! You talk him into coming along!” Weir said before she turned on a heel and walked out.
Rodney took several heartbeats to breathe, carefully regulating his physical response to her antics. Turning to look at the Major, he cocked his head to the side. “Should I get the General?”
“No, I don’t think so,” the Major admitted. “He’s almost as insistent as she is, he’s just better at it.”
“Fucking fabulous,” Rodney muttered. “Okay. What the hell is your name anyway? I can’t keep calling you ‘the Major’ in my head.”
“John Sebastian Sheppard,” the other man said with a smile. He waved two fingers on one hand and then slapped them back down on the gel pads when the chair changed color. “Okay, this thing didn’t like that.”
“I’m pretty sure it wants your full attention while you are in there,” Rodney admitted.
“So it seems,” Sheppard agreed. “So I heard Weir call you ‘Rodney’? Got anything else to that?”
“M. Rodney McKay PhD, PhD, PhD. Call me Rodney,” Rodney directed. “So what finally got you to come down here?”
“Nice to meet you,” Sheppard said before he stopped. “What?”
“You’ve flown most of us out here,” Rodney explained. “And when I checked, you’ve flown the General out here twice. Besides the drone, what got you down here? The Outpost has to have been pinging your mind for months and you’ve been ignoring it.”
“I’ve been contemplating retiring,” Sheppard admitted. “Well, not really retiring, but resigning my commission. If I gave in to my curiosity and arranged to get down here that decision might have changed.”
“And now that you are down here? Now that you’ve seen what’s down the rabbit hole?” Rodney asked.
“I still don’t know. I mean, I get the whole fighting the bad guys thing,” Sheppard looked up as the Outpost showed something nasty. “What in the hell is that?”
“I don’t know, Sheppard. But why don’t you ask the Outpost if it has any more information on that?” Rodney asked as he stared up at the thing in front of them. “It looks like a cross between a catfish and Marilyn Mason.”
He heard laughter from the control chair and smiled. It seemed that there was someone who liked his sense of humor. “It really does. Okay, the Outpost calls that a Wraith, says it eats ‘life source’ and that that stuff comes from people.”
“And where are these things native to?” O’Neill asked from the archway leading out into the rest of the Outpost.
“Pegasus, sir,” Sheppard reported.
“Did you get that as a name or what?” Rodney asked. He was reasonably sure that no one had uploaded anything into the Outposts computers, so he was curious to know where the name came from.
“I recognized the picture of the galaxy,” Sheppard admitted.
“Please tell me you don’t have a degree in astronomy like the General does?” Rodney demanded.
“Applied math, with a side order of theoretical and some aeronautical engineering,” Sheppard told him with a smile.
“There’s nothing wrong with an astronomy degree, McKay,” O’Neill bitched. “It’s come in handy several times.”
“I’m sure it has,” Rodney admitted. “But what did you use more? The astronomy degree or the mechanical engineering one?”
“The second,” O’Neill admitted. “And the pilot’s license was a great bonus too.”
“I figured,” Rodney said. “But back to the blue catfish people… What do they have to do with us?”
“Well, if this is Atlantis,” Sheppard started as he placed a picture of an obviously Ancient city up instead if the catfish person. “Then the Wraith are what drove them back to Earth. There’s what look like reports in here attached to the images.”
“Can you read them?” Rodney asked. He was curious if the chair would wholesale translate between Ancient and English.
“No, but they have the structure of what looks like reports. Want me to see if I can send them your way?” Sheppard asked.
“Yes,” Rodney kept an eye on his computer and nodded as a number of documents were dropped into the memory. “General, I’ll be sending these to Jackson for him to look at as well.”
“Good idea,” O’Neill confirmed. He walked over to the chair and stared at Sheppard for several seconds. “Let me try that.”
“Yes, sir,” Sheppard confirmed and clambered out of the chair.
O’Neill slid into the seat and it lit up in a deeper blue than it had offered Sheppard. Rodney’s fingers twitched as he tried to control the urge to find out why. If he had to guess from the ease that they both had with the tech, there were only small differences in their ATA genomes.
“So, the Wraith aren’t natural, “ O’Neill reported after several seconds. “Those reports are going to make things very interesting around here. Also, it looks like there’s more to the Outpost than we thought. Getting to the other parts will be a bitch though. I only thawed out what I needed to actually use.”
“I figured there was more to it than just this,” Rodney admitted. “It’s too small to be a useful Outpost as is. Can you drop the rest of the plans in my email?”
“Done,” O’Neill confirmed after several seconds. “We’ve got more drones too.”
“Well, that’s good to know,” McKay admitted. “Did the firmware patch I put into ID stick?”
“So far, so good,” O’Neill told him after several seconds. “And I’m done,” he said before he climbed out of the chair. He looked at Rodney and then the laptop with the new material. “Get that translated and then we’re having a meeting in Daniel’s lab.”
“Will do. Are you telling Weir?” Rodney asked.
“Yeah, I am. Her spot in the expedition just changed,” O’Neill admitted. “Don’t resign your commission yet, Major. I may have something that keeps you in.”
“As you say, sir,” Sheppard murmured. He sounded unconvinced to Rodney’s ear.
From the grunt O’Neill let out, he sounded just as unconvinced to the general. But that didn’t stop him from leaving in search of his scientist.
“So other than whatever reason you were sent down here, why do you want to resign?” Rodney asked. He had the documents from the Outpost open and he started moving them to the shared drive he and Jackson had set up for things like this. “Sheppard?”
“That was a big reason,” Sheppard said after a few false starts. “There was a lot of nasty shit at my last posting and I got caught up in some of it. While being down here has certainly given me time to calm down, it’s done nothing for my career.”
“Okay, I can see that,” Rodney said after a moment’s thought. “But even after this, even after seeing all of this, do you still want to retire?”
“I don’t know,” Sheppard admitted. “But I want the chance to make an informed decision, and having Weir and the General both pressuring me to go isn’t going to let me do that.”
Rodney nodded once at that. “Okay, valid point. But is there anything here on Earth that you want to stay for?”
“I have my dad. Two brothers. We aren’t all that close, but they’re still family,” Sheppard said with a shrug. “From what little I got out of Weir when she was trying to ‘convince’ me, this thing is at least a year long and there’s no guarantee of getting back. How is that a good thing? Add in those Wraith things? Seriously, resigning is looking like a damn good idea.”
Rodney had to think on that for a moment. “So, the Wraith were there when the Ancients were in Pegasus. And that’s about ten thousand years ago. There’s no certainty that they are still there.”
“This is an alien race, McKay. Who’s to say that they aren’t? Because I’m sorry, blue catfish people that eat ‘life source’ is not normal,” Sheppard fired back.
“Okay, I’ll give you that,” Rodney agreed. “But I think you would do well in the SGC. Don’t give up until you get the full picture. I’m pretty sure you’d hate yourself if you did.”
“Maybe, but right now, I don’t know. I don’t actually have enough time in to retire, but I could go into the Reserves. I get out most of the way out, put my time in until I can actually retire and I would at least have an honorable discharge. I have the skills the Air Force trained into me and I can try to get to know my family again,” Sheppard fired back.
“Look,” Rodney took a deep breath and tried not to yell at the man. Being introduced to the insanity of the SGC and all the attendant issues the way Sheppard had been had to be confusing as fuck. He got that. He did. But what he didn’t get was the lack of curiosity. Didn’t the man want to know what was out there? “Is there any part of yourself that wants to know what is going on out there? Is there a part of you that wants to see what else is over the horizon?”
“Yes,” Sheppard said. He looked… frustrated, if Rodney was going to pick a word. “I always wanted to explore. I joined the Air Force so I could maybe, one day, put my application in at NASA. And then I got the black mark on my record for doing the right thing and I had to let that dream go. I wasn’t going to let them shove what happened under a rug and I sure as hell wasn’t going to like what happened after. It’s not in me to do that. But I got sent here and it broke something in me that I don’t think is ever going to mend.”
“What happened?” Rodney asked before he could stop himself.
“One of the choppers in my command was shot down. The crew was still alive and radioing for help. My CO decided that he wasn’t going to authorize us to mount a rescue mission. I disagreed. I had a phone number for his CO, so I called him as I was spinning up a bird to go get them. I got the authorization as I got in the air and went after them. The delay cost two of the crew their lives. But I got all of them home and the enemy didn’t get to use a repairable helicopter,” Sheppard told him, voice even. “Afterwards, I got raked over the coals for having the balls to go to the General. I didn’t care about that, but I did care when I was told that the Colonel who had made the decision to let six men die wasn’t going to be facing any consequences.”
“I don’t blame you at all for being upset,” Rodney said. “That was…I’ve got nothing. I can’t even figure it out.”
“I’ve spent the last eighteen months trying to figure it out too, McKay. And so far, I’ve got nothing,” Sheppard admitted. “But I don’t want to be in an Air Force where those types of decisions don’t have consequences.”
“Was there any mitigating reason why he didn’t send anyone?” Rodney asked.
“No, there wasn’t. The tribunal found that there was no reason why he shouldn’t have,” Sheppard told him. “But he didn’t. And as far as I know, he’s still in the Air Force, still sending men and women into harm’s way and still getting them killed because he won’t send anyone out to rescue them if they are too far over some line.”
Rodney leaned back against the Ancient console and shook his head. “That sucks.”
“Yup, sure does,” Sheppard confirmed. “So, yeah, I’ve been thinking about retirement, but I don’t know if I want to. It seems too much like letting that bastard win.”
“It would be,” Rodney agreed. He looked at his watch and tried to remember what happened at noon. “So, look. It seems like it’s somewhere around lunchtime. I need to eat. How about you head to the mess, and I bring you a tablet that you can use to read up on the program?”
“Sounds good,” Sheppard said.
Rodney walked into Jackson’s office and cleared his throat. “Please tell me that you two have at least taken the time to look into Sheppard?”
“Yeah, I did that while Jack was talking to the Outpost,” Daniel admitted. “Sheppard seems like a damn good officer, at least up until eighteen months ago. Then something happened that’s got a decent level of encryption over it, and he was sent down here.”
“From what Sheppard told me, he was in the right place, wrong time, did the right thing and got the blame for the wrong thing. And was told to like it. He declined, so he was sent here to think about his future in the Air Force,” Rodney explained.
“Jack,” Daniel demanded. He held out the laptop to the older man and raised one eyebrow. “We need to know. You want him for the program. If any of that is true, we need to know before we take him on. I for one, don’t want another officer who sees the civilians as disposable resources.”
“Fine,” O’Neill took the laptop and spent several seconds typing. He was silent as he read things through and then nodded. “Yeah, he’s a fit for the SGC. None of my officers should be the type to leave their people behind.”
“Well that’s something at least,” Rodney admitted. He had plans to hack Sheppard’s records later that night, but it was good O’Neill at least liked him. “But he’s wary about getting involved with a command where there’s even the possibility of that happening again.”
“It doesn’t happen if we can help it,” O’Neill confirmed. “And in the rare cases where we’ve had to leave, we go back and mount a rescue. It sometimes takes time, but none of us are willing to leave a man behind.”
“Okay, other than the thing eighteen months ago, what does the record say about him?” Rodney asked.
“That he’s a decent officer, good to the men under his command and a damn fine pilot. He’s not the best at the discretionary paperwork, but will get all the required stuff in ASAP,” O’Neill said.
“Sounds like you,” Daniel poked a bit at the General. “You hate paperwork.”
“Most line officers do,” O’Neill admitted. “Doing it takes us away from the front lines. And as we get up in age and rank, we get more and more. It’s a nasty confirmation that we’re getting old.”
“Sounds dreadful,” Rodney commented.
“Not the most fun, no,” O’Neill said. “Look, I can get being slightly lazy with the silly bits of paperwork the Air Force generates, but Sheppard doesn’t seem to have let any of the really important stuff slide. The men and women under his command have all had good things to say about him and there seems to be a great deal of loyalty up and down the chain in his commands. Until this last one. And I get it. If my CO had done that, I would have been just as likely to go over his head. I’m just glad he was here for us to pick up.”
“Speaking of picking up, he’s in the mess getting lunch. I have a tablet with the history of the SGC on it, so I’ll be giving that to him for some light reading. I figure he’ll need something to let him know we all aren’t insane,” Rodney explained.
“Good idea. We’re going to be here for a few days. A blizzard just blew over and everything’s grounded. Don’t keep him in the chair more than three hours at a stretch,” O’Neill directed. “We’ll be up for lunch in about twenty minutes.”
Rodney slid his tray into the space across from Sheppard and tried to figure out what the look on the man’s face meant. He seemed happy enough to see him, so… “Are you okay?”
“You just missed Dr. Weir,” Sheppard informed him. “She’s trying, again, to get me to go on this thing. I’m really tempted to say ‘no’ just to see which way she jumps.”
“If she tries for blackmail or just works around O’Neill to get you ordered onto the Expedition?” Rodney asked as he slid the tablet over to him. “The password is an equation. Have fun working it out.”
“You give good gifts, McKay,” Sheppard said with a smile and then he got sucked into the tablet.
Rodney watched as he stared at the equation he had chosen for less than sixty seconds before inputting the answer. Once he was in, the Major got right into reading the report keyed up. He had made sure that the history of the program was listed, in all its horrific glory, for him to read. It would take the man a while at least.
Settling down to his meal, he tried not to taste it. None of the cooks assigned to the Outpost were all that great, but at least they didn’t burn the food. And they labeled everything. He hadn’t seen a single citrus item in the three months he had been stationed there.
As he scraped the last of the reconstituted mashed potatoes and gravy off his plate, Rodney tried not to dream of the last meal he had eaten stateside. Steak, a baked potato as big as his head and all the fixings… He made a mental note to have that as soon as he got back to Colorado Springs.
“I miss real food,” he bitched quietly as he laid his utensils on his plate.
“I know what you mean,” Sheppard murmured. “But these guys aren’t that bad.”
He seemed distracted and Rodney tried not to grin. As insane as it was, the history of the SGC was incredible reading. He could totally understand why the Major was engrossed.
“If you ever get to the Mountain, make sure to eat at least one meal that Chief Cooper and her people make. They make some of the best food I’ve ever had in a military installation,” Rodney shared. “And she’s damn generous on her portions.”
“Sounds like a hell of a cook. You said Chief? Is she in the Navy?” Sheppard asked as he looked up from the tablet.
“Yeah, and the reason she’s part of the program is in there. Keep reading,” Rodney promised.
“This should be good,” Sheppard mused as he leaned back in his chair and sipped on the cup of coffee in his hand.
When one of the mess specialists dropped a carafe off, Rodney filled the other man’s cup before topping his own off before pulling out his own table. If Sheppard was going to take the time to read, so was he.
When the General and Jackson got to the mess, they were both deep in their respective reports and Rodney only noticed them arriving when their trays hit the table and the General slid in beside him.
“Sir!” Sheppard looked like he wanted to stand and salute O’Neill and couldn’t quite figure out a graceful way to do so.
“At ease,” O’Neill muttered before poking the mess on his plate. “This looks less than appetizing.”
“It tastes better than it looks,” Sheppard tried to reassure him.
“That’s not a high bar, Sheppard,” O’Neill said. He poked his meal once more before he started eating.
Sheppard eyed him for several seconds before he went back to his reading. Rodney had barely looked up. The information the Major had found in the Outposts database was nightmare inducing and he needed to get everything translated so decisions could be made on what they were doing next.
He had gotten fully sucked back in when O’Neill dropped his fork on his plate. “Okay, that wasn’t as bad as it looked, but it was close. I’m assuming that McKay gave you the tablet and it has the reports?”
“Yes, sir,” Sheppard admitted. “He started me with the oldest thing first. What do you suggest?”
When O’Neill glared at him, Rodney shook his head at him. “If he doesn’t know what happened at the beginning, he won’t have any idea why he should be horrified about what happened three months ago.”
“Point, but he still needs to know,” O’Neill fired back. “We went up there,” he said and waved a hand up towards the ceiling of the dome over their heads. “We’ve made friends, enemies, people who just want us to leave them alone and others who want everything we have. One of our enemies has decided that we are too advanced, too much of a threat and need to be taken care of. Brought back into the fold of worlds under their control. We’ve been objecting to that.”
“I can see where we might not be happy to rejoin something like that,” Sheppard allowed. “Can we tell them no?”
“We have before and we did three months ago. It cost us a lot, but we managed to keep the forces who want to take control of this world from doing so. But it was close. Far closer than anyone wants to contemplate. The reason McKay and his people are even thinking about heading for Atlantis is because the people who built the Outpost below us, also built her. And the City of Atlantis might just have in it the things we need to allow us to defend our planet without it coming so close,” O’Neill told him. He was leaning on the table looking at Sheppard and there was nothing in his gaze but painful honesty. “It’s gonna happen again. We can’t stop our enemies from coming here and right now, we don’t have enough to keep them from doing damage if they do.
“We’re working on ships, on fighters, but thanks to having to hide this secret, getting the supplies for everything is a struggle. To the point where we went out after the last battle and salvaged every single bit of metal and assorted shit from the battlefield. We can’t afford to leave it be. It all is getting reforged and will be used to make new fighters,” O’Neill said. “I’ve got plans for ships that will act like an air craft carrier, but so far, they’re only plans. I hope to get one built in the next year. But we can’t wait a year. Which is where the Expedition comes in. We’re hoping that they can find enough tech to help us out.”
“And if they find the Wraith?” Sheppard asked. He tapped the tablet. “Catfish people who eat humans. Not exactly a rousing endorsement for exploration.”
“True,” O’Neill agreed. “And if that was the only thing we faced, I would be just as hesitant as you are to head out and explore. But you’re going to find a lot of things in those reports that we’ve met and overcome. Not always easily. Or without cost, but we still kept moving forward. Do I know if these ‘Wraith’ are still out in Pegasus, waiting to eat us if we show up? I’ve got no idea. But I know we need to go. If we don’t, we run the risk of losing the planet from the enemies we do have now.”
“And we’re forearmed,” Rodney cut in. “I can’t see the IAO not letting us go armed for bear.”
“Fuck bear, McKay, I want you all armed for T-Rex,” O’Neill snapped. “If I have to send you all out, I want to make sure that you will be where we left you when we get Prometheus finished.”
“We’ve got thirty-eight minutes to fit enough food, arms and science stuff through for two hundred people, General. It’s gonna be tight,” Rodney reminded him.
“It’s doable, but only if Atlantis is there,” O’Neill said with a shrug.
“She’s out there,” Sheppard cut in. “I could feel something in the computer when I was in the chair. I can only assume that was Atlantis.”
“Same,” O’Neill confirmed. “So. Do I process your retirement? Or do I work to get you attached to the SGC and maybe, if you feel you can help, the Atlantis Expedition?”
Rodney watched as Sheppard looked down at the tablet in his hands before he leaned back in his chair again. “I’m in.”
“Good choice. What was the deciding factor?” Daniel asked. He had been quiet for the whole conversation and was sipping on his coffee.
“Spaceships that I can fly,” Sheppard admitted. “Is there any chance I can try out the ones you said were defending the planet?”
O’Neill burst into laughter. “Sheppard, we’ll sit you down in everything we have. I’m glad you’re in.”
“Thank you, sir,” Sheppard said.
Rodney took another sip of his own coffee and nodded to himself. Things were looking up. It was fanciful, but he could almost feel a bit of fate be locked into place. His impromptu rescue of the Major was a success.