Five Ways It Didn't Go

by Domenika Marzione

One

The dismissal from the SGC is harsh and totally unfair. Rodney ended up being wrong, yeah, but it's not like Major Barbie'd been doing any better until that shot in the dark.

But he's not surprised -- he's been working for the Air Force long enough to know that it isn't a meritocracy, that skill and competence and intellect are not always (or even often) essential to getting ahead. That they are sometimes roadblocks, or at least detriments. Connections matter most -- having friends in high places. And Rodney's had those, right up until the moment he doesn't. Carter's connections are better than his, which is why he ends up with orders to Siberia instead of just a one-way ticket back to Groom Lake.

The thing is, though, there's a difference between being paid by the Air Force and being Air Force. And Rodney left Canada for a reason -- he hates the cold.

He submits his resignation when he returns the travel orders and starts packing. He's not sure how long he's got before the DoD cancels his visa -- he'll be the first illegal alien they actually deport -- so he starts googling storage facilities and real estate ads in Calgary, where it will be cheaper to live than Toronto or Vancouver while he starts looking for a new job. And where it gets cold in the winter, but it's not Siberia and it has Swiss Chalets and a White Spot and he actually does like the Stampede.

His immediate problem is that he can't exactly get a letter of reference from General Hammond or anyone else at the Stargate Program and his publishing schedule's been crap since he started working for them. He will have to apply for post-docs and fellowships, be willing to spend a year or three building up a non-classified CV with references who aren't not-saying that he wasn't willing to risk the world for one alien. Fellowships are the last refuge of the unemployable, so once Rodney can assure people that he's not fleeing from criminal prosecution (or plagiarism charges, which are probably worse), he can promise to teach a few sections of undergrad, write some papers, and nobody will ask too many other questions.

But it's not interview season right now, so he spends his days poring through the notes that weren't confiscated from him and reconstructing the rest, which is almost everything because out of what he saw and handled on a daily basis back at Groom Lake, there was very little apart from office supply requisition forms that wasn't classified.

He's got three articles ready for submission inside a month. They are carefully written to avoid reference to anything that might accidentally or intentionally reveal the Program or the fact that there are aliens and most of them are trying to take over Earth (and a few of them have made excellent attempts). If he spills any beans, he will not only not get published, he'll end up in some dank hole somewhere or given a brain-scramble or whatever the hell the SGC does to people they deem security risks.

None of the articles survive peer review. Rodney knows his science is solid, knows that they are properly formatted and relevant to the journals' scopes and written in flowing and fluent English. There's nothing wrong with them and Rodney starts demanding answers, especially when even the third-tier journals, the regionals and wannabes and glorified fanzines, all turn him down.

"You're kryptonite, McKay," someone finally tells him. "You could give us a way to get to Mars with a toaster and a fishtank and it'd still be a no-go."

Rodney calls his old manager at Area 51, pretending to be someone else until he gets patched through, and rants.

"Say the word and you're back in the loop," Ransard says after Rodney runs out of words. "Siberia's still waiting."

Rodney hasn't quite run out of words. He's got two left. He offers them to Ransard and hangs up.

It takes five years -- which means five winters in Calgary -- before his consulting firm is big enough that he doesn't have to come in every day. Doesn't have to come in at all, actually, which is why he moves to Tortola and builds himself a fabulous home with an equally fabulous office that has windows for three walls and a breathtaking view of Brewer's Bay. He still works crazy hours, moderating them only when Jeannie brings her family down, but they're hours that pass quickly because he loves what he does, which is be brilliant. He's making a ton of money, he lives in paradise, and the only time he's ever cold is when the air conditioning's on too high.


Two

"Sheppard!"

John looks up from his book to see Mullaney in the doorway. Mullaney isn't looking pissed off, which is why John doesn't take his boots off of the table or stand up. Such is life at an ANG base at the end of the world. "Sir?"

"Our prayers have been answered, Major," Mullaney tells him, leaning against the door jamb and grinning broadly, unlit cigar dangling from the end of his mouth. "I have official transfer orders for you."

John takes his boots off of the table, wary and hopeful both. He's closing in on the anniversary of his arrival, true, but this is an exile, not a deployment, and there'd been no end date given when they'd punted him on to the ice. "Where'm I going, sir?"

"RAF Lakenheath," Mullaney tells him, amusement in his voice. John can't tell if it's appreciation of the irony or of karma. "You're getting attached to 56 RQS."

"Hunh."

"Figured you'd be a little more giddy than that," Mullaney drawls in his Hell's Kitchen twang. "Soggy beef and warm beer may not do it for you, but not needing half an hour to liberate a woman from sixteen layers of fleece before you get to see her tits ought to count for something."

"I'm giddy on the inside," John assures, smiling a little. "I'm just a little surprised is all."

He'd been half-expecting separation papers, not an assignment pulling drowning sailors out of the North Atlantic.

"Me, too," Mullaney admits. He knows John's sob story, knows John came to him as an official problem child, and treated him like an adult anyway. John hopes he's sufficiently rewarded that faith. "But we'll get you on transport outta here before they get a chance to change their minds. If it's a mistake, worse comes to worse, you should get a couple of days in Christchurch before they turn your ass around."

There's a cargo plane coming in next Thursday, he'll be outbound on that. He's got eight shifts between now and then.

He's got nobody to tell that he's getting transferred... no, that's not true. He sends an email to Dave, who will tell Dad. He starts writing one to Nancy, too, but deletes it without sending it. The last time they spoke, it had been out of pity -- hers, not his -- and if she wants to know where he is, she has ways to find out that don't involve him telling her. He finds the contact emails for the relevant parties at the 56th; they're expecting him, which is nice because it means that this isn't a mistake, and the XO sends him links to orientation and other relevant material. Which is more than the usual because it's a joint base and not just a little piece of America on foreign soil.

There are pictures with grass in them. John needs a moment to remember that that's not weird.

He's got very little to pack; he gives away his books and his winterover gear to whoever wants them and his bottle of scotch goes to Mullaney, who understands what it's for without John having to say so. Most of the rest is uniform parts and stuff he'll need to use on the trip back to the world. It's not until he's at Williams waiting for the bird to come in that he really appreciates how little he carries with him. At least that everyone else can see.

"That's all you've got?" the NCO in charge of passenger-herding asks him. There are nine of them who are waiting, seven civilians, a technical sergeant heading off for leave, and him. Even the sergeant's got more crap and he's coming back in two weeks.

"The Ferrari's being sent by FedEx," John replies. The airman gives him a look, then laughs.

Once the plane lands, they have to wait for it to be fully offloaded, which takes more than an hour of forklifts driven by thickly-swaddled airmen because there was a belly-full of supplies and the Hercules is a very big plane. There are passengers, too, some of whom know where they're going and leave directly and a few who are new and are waiting for someone to direct them. One of the former is Buzzer, who had already departed for his mid-tour break by the time John found out he was leaving.

"No shit?" Buzzer exclaims, pleased. Then he frowns. "You weren't going to head off without saying anything, were you?"

His tone indicates he thinks John would do exactly that.

"I knew you had to get here before I could leave," John replies. "I wasn't going to interrupt your beer-and-bikini fest just to tell you that you were going to have one less sucker on poker night."

Buzzer nods, accepting the answer without assigning it a truth value. "You don't still owe me money, do you?"

John laughs. "Nice try."

They talk for a few minutes more and Buzzer extracts a promise for John to actually email once a year or so before heading off. John actually intends to follow through on the promise, but knows that Buzzer won't believe it until he sees it.

"Major Sheppard?"

John turns around to see Fliegel, the squadron gopher. "What's up?"

"Have you seen anyone with stars on their shoulders, sir?" Fliegel asks, despondent. "I'm here to pick up a General O'Neill and I can't find him."

"That would be me," a voice says and they both turn around. General O'Neill is dressed in civvies; John had noticed him earlier and pegged him for military, but he hasn't spent a year on the ice driving brass around to undisclosed locations without learning to not ask questions.

"Welcome to Antarctica, sir," Fliegel greets him brightly, faith in humanity restored. "Can I take your bag?"

"I'm not that far gone, Airman," O'Neill assures dryly. "Lead the way."

The two of them head off. It's another two hours before John goes outside to board the plane since new pallets have to be loaded first. And another hour after that until they are locked and loaded and rattling down the runway. John is sad to leave, surprisingly so considering the circumstances behind his arrival and where he is headed to now, but he feels his heart lift a little along with the plane as they climb into the skies. He'd given up on redemption, on forgiveness, on making things right and good again. And yet here he is, being handed a second chance anyway.


Three

"You, sir, are a frozen hot dog."

Lorne puts down his glass. He hasn't had enough for Griff to start making sense. "A what?"

"A frank-in-waiting," Griffin elaborates, gesturing with his beer bottle. "There are group commanders hovering like vultures to pluck you and put you on their barbecues and roast you up as their very own staff weenie."

Everyone at their table laughs, but not too hard. It's only a matter of time before they're where Lorne is now. Which is facing a long stint as a desk jockey. He's been incredibly lucky thus far, all of his staff duties coming in squadrons where the paperwork was a minor part of the job, which was flying. But his luck has come to an end; he's a senior captain now, approaching promotion to major, and his time to consider flying the most important part of his job is drawing to a close.

Which is why Lorne is considering changing jobs.

Eddie Franco has been his buddy since his first assignment, the guy who showed him the ropes, who turned him from a kid who'd been taught how to fly into a pilot. Eddie has the smarts and people skills and friends in high places to be anyone's decent guess at making general officer, but he left the Air Force as a captain, unwilling to make the transition into bureaucrat and watch everyone else slip the surly bonds of Earth while he stayed behind and updated PowerPoint slides. He'd considered going over to the Army as a warrant officer and spending the rest of his career in a cockpit where he belonged, but ultimately he'd gone over to the civilian side. He flies for Continental now, all around the southeast, and he has told Lorne that there are open spots for pilots, especially if he is willing to do long-haul flights for the first year or two.

He flies refuelers; he's used to long-haul flights. A frog leap like Orlando-Huntsville would feel like a waste of gas.

Getting the necessary licensure taken care of wouldn't be hard and the airlines tend to like military pilots, especially guys who fly big birds. And going commercial had always been on Lorne's radar as an option -- it had been one of the reasons he'd chosen tankers in the first place. (That and a strong dislike of getting up at oh-dark-thirty for mission planning as well as a certain amount of comfort and self-respect with regard to the size of his penis.) But he likes being in the Air Force, likes the camaraderie, likes the feeling that he is a pilot for more reasons than just someone is paying him to soar in the sky. The ridiculousness of military life amuses him most of the time, even. Flying commercial is a lonely job in comparison, especially when it's long-haul and you're not coming home every night, and that's nothing like being in an aviation unit, which does not go where there's nobody waiting for them to land.

A couple of weeks later, he finds out that there's a real strong likelihood he's going to get named to their own Group staff. A two-year hitch. That, or some space research program ('Deep Space Telemetry,' whatever the hell that is) is looking for staff officers, which ultimately isn't any better because he was a history major and doesn't want to spend two years filing for science geeks.

Lorne calls Eddie, asks him what he has to do.

He's completed his commitment time; he can separate without penalty or problem. He begins the transition to reserve status -- it'll be the best of both worlds, or so he hopes -- and starts picking up paperwork necessary to start flying people around instead of fuel bladders.

Instead of intercontinental flights, he winds up on the Denver-Newark run, which is actually not bad once he's outside of New York airspace and its endless congestion and delays and pissy air-traffic controllers. But it's still the New York City skyline on the way out and mountains on the way home and it could be worse.

He's at home asleep on a day off when he gets the call about planes going in to the Twin Towers; when they re-open the skies (and then the NY airspace) and he makes his first trip to Newark, he can see the smoke still rising and the gap in the skyline and it's the first time he really regrets leaving active duty. It's all he can do to keep his voice steady as he makes the cabin announcements. The entire flight has been tense and quiet; it's a ghost ship that he brings down to the tarmac.

He doesn't get activated for the initial invasion of Afghanistan, but he does later on. It's a staff job, spending his days giving weather reports at Bagram Air Base, but Lorne doesn't mind. Later on, back in civvies, he ends up flying a couple of charter flights bringing in marines and soldiers to Kuwait for military transport up to Baghdad. He stands outside the cockpit door, greeting them as they enter and enjoying the surreal view of a passenger cabin full of camouflage and M16s being wedged against armrests. He makes his cabin announcements in military-speak and occasionally gives the marines crap just because he can.

"Are you sure you want to be riling up a plane full of marine infantry, sir?" One of the leathernecks asks him as they disembark in Kuwait City. The marine is huge -- he completely fills the passageway and, with his seabag and his rifle, has to turn this way and that to squeeze through. He's smiling, though, so Lorne doesn't take it as any kind of threat.

"In my other life I'm a field grade officer," Lorne replies with a shrug. "I'm not bright enough to know better. Also, I have stewardesses to protect me."

Lidia, standing next to him, cocks an eyebrow. "I'm not sure I like you that much."

Staff Sergeant Ortilla smiles at her and accepts Lorne's offered hand to shake.

"Give'em hell," Lorne says.

"Always do," Ortilla promises and heads off.


Four

"Doctor Weir, I really wish you'd reconsider."

Elizabeth smiles gently and, hopefully, with humility. It's not every day that you get the President of the United States begging you to stay.

"I appreciate the sentiment, Mister President, but the SGC is not my place. It is a military installation and a military program and--"

She'd thought about it long and hard, talked about it with everyone who was important to her -- her mother, Simon, her mentors back at State -- and they'd all agreed with her. She was unhappy and needed to do something about it, even if it meant stepping off of the fast-moving career track she'd been riding.

"--and that's why I think it is precisely your place. Doctor Weir. The military does things a certain way because it's how they've always done it, not because it's the right way or the best way or the most efficient way. Fresh eyes and a formidable will are an excellent antidote; there's a reason every chain of command ends with an appointed civilian at the top."

Elizabeth's smile turns wry. "There are exactly three civilians who have the ability to effect change at the SGC. You, the Secretary of the Air Force, and the Secretary of Defense. Any innovation I introduce, any change of protocol or culture or mission I suggest can -- and will be countermanded by a convenient general officer. I am an outsider, a civilian, and, worst of all, I have spent my professional life working for the enemy."

That she'd come from Foggy Bottom had been universally known by the time she'd first entered the facility as its head. She'd tried hard to prove that she wasn't a typical FSO, that she wasn't one of those kinds of people from State, but she'd been found guilty by association and there'd ultimately been no appeal. It had been a long, hard fight with herself to admit that it wasn't quitting to recognize that as a truth and not a personal failing on her part.

"The fact is," she went on, "that there isn't a single person who can do this job as it stands. There's nobody you can bring in who won't be a lame duck and dismissed because of it. There was General Hammond, there will be General O'Neill, and anyone in between is just a placeholder, to be endured and survived. If I might be so bold as to make a recommendation, I'd tell you to simply promote Jack O'Neill to the position and save the program's energy and resources. Otherwise, they are just going to go into bunker mentality until he does get the command. The SGC has performed wondrous things and will continue to do so; I see no reason to hobble it for the sake of window dressing."

There's a pause then and Elizabeth fills the silence by stirring her tea and placing the spoon carefully on the saucer.

"What will you do now, if I may ask?"

Elizabeth does not sigh with relief. She came here with the very real expectation that she'd be told to stop whining and go do her job. To be granted this reprieve -- and that's what it is -- is a blessing.

"I will go back to Foggy Bottom with my hat in my hand," she answers with a wry look. "It's almost time for the annual shuffle. I will throw myself at the mercy of the bidding process and hope my 'reward' for my dalliance with the Pentagon won't be getting named DCM on a pleasant tropical island."

Laughter. "Only you would turn down an appointment to Bermuda. Which was why you were considered for the SGC in the first place."

There is a little bit more chatter, but the President is a busy man and Elizabeth has gotten what she's come for. He wishes her well and godspeed and she spends the rest of the day touring DC, which she hasn't done in forever, before catching her flight back to Colorado.

The next morning, she asks Walter to tell O'Neill that she'd like to see him when it's convenient. He looks at her thoughtfully, as if sensing that this isn't an invite to a chewing-out (SG-1 has proven, yet again, that they can get up to a ridiculous amount of trouble if left unattended for twenty-four hours), and O'Neill is knocking on her door waiting for permission to enter within ten minutes. She normally has to wait much longer than that.

"Come in, Jack," she says, gesturing at the chairs in front of her desk. "Sit down."

Walter might have realized that this isn't a Stern Talking To, but O'Neill isn't telepathic like Walter is and he's survived a very dangerous career by using caution when necessary (her problem, of course, being that they have very different ideas of 'necessary'). Warily, he sits down.

"Now, Doc," he begins, prepared to explain his team's actions. He never offers excuses, which she respects, and he never lets anyone else but him take any blame, which she respects as well even though it occasionally requires a great leap of faith to believe that a particular action was his idea and not Carter's or Jackson's (Teal'c being the least likely culprit, except when he's not) when he cannot even explain what they were doing, let alone why.

"I've tendered my resignation," she cuts him off. "It's been accepted."

O'Neill looks up sharply and blinks. He doesn't ask why or whether she'd be willing to change her mind; he knows the reasons as well as she does. "I'm sorry," he says instead.

He's not apologizing for fighting with her, she knows. Or for aiding and abetting the run-arounds and contradictory orders from on high. He's not sorry about those things, which is part of the reason he really needs to be given this command. He wasn't doing it for the power games or out of any disdain for her civilian status or State Department affiliations; he was was doing it because he believes in the Stargate Program and he absolutely believes that he knows what's best for it, or at least that he knows better than she does. He's apologizing for her being in the wrong place in the wrong time.

She does not tell him that she suggested him as her replacement. For all of his abundant self-confidence and clarity of vision with respect to the SGC, he doesn't imagine himself as appropriate commander material for this base. She hopes he's around when he finds out otherwise.

She is not; she's in DC for the day, filling out paperwork and accepting her placement as DCM of Embassy Moscow. It's a plum position, one not completely out of line with her career trajectory before she was sidetracked by the Stargate Program even if it's out of her regional specialty area, and she is under no illusion that there is not a higher purpose involved. In a separate meeting with General Hammond, she is told that she will occasionally be required to serve as a liaison between the US and Russian Stargate Programs.

Hammond wishes her well and exhorts her to pack warmly. She leaves his office and smiles up at the sun. It's already getting uncomfortably warm in DC, but with the formalization of her liberty from the prison under the Mountain, it still feels like a beautiful day.


Five

There's a buzz around the base the minute Doctor Jackson and Doctor McKay figure out about Atlantis. It's a quiet hum that builds almost into a roar by the time General O'Neill is on his way down (a roar that is temporarily silenced when they accidentally try to shoot him down) and then when it turns out that Major Sheppard is a really big key to getting there.

Aiden's not sure how the science goes or how possible all of this is -- he's still learning how to discern between the crazy shit they talk about that they can already do and the crazy shit they talk about that's just crazy shit -- but he can't help but feel a part of the excitement. He and his marines have been with the project for almost a year and he isn't the only one who assumes that this means that they'll be going along whenever they get approval to go.

Aiden's platoon is transferred back to Colorado early on in the mobilization planning process -- it's too hard to train down on the ice -- and Colonel Sumner comes aboard as their new commander. He's an old school marine, tough and salty and sarcastic as hell. They all love him, which is good because he's a proper sumbitch when it comes to training. He gets himself a first sergeant Beale whose imagination knows no bounds when it comes to ways to tucker out the marines in his charge. Which includes Aiden and Sumner. Aiden's a little embarrassed that he's got to struggle to keep up during the first real session. And the second.

In hindsight, maybe he should have been prepared for what came after the three-week mark, which was a request for him to appear at Sumner's office door at 1500.

"I'm dropping you from the mission," Sumner tells him. "I thought you should find out from me instead of through one of the airmen handing you transfer orders."

Aiden reels back, but recovers quickly. "Is it the PT, sir? I know I can do better. I'll--"

"It's not the PT, Lieutenant," Sumner says, not unkindly. "Although I can't say you couldn't use some work in that area. You have to earn your marines' respect through word and deed. Keeping up with them in PT'll go a long way on the latter."

Aiden can only nod. He's not sure he can say anything without it coming out as either a whine or a sob. He's stunned, numb with failure like he hasn't been since the first days of OCS.

Sumner holds up what Aiden recognizes as his SRB. "You've been in the Corps almost three years and you haven't had a single deployment to a war zone. There aren't very many 302s who can say that."

It's a statement, spoken in an even tone of voice, but Aiden takes it as a challenge.

"No excuse, sir."

Sumner frowns at him. "I'm not accusing you of anything, Lieutenant. You go where the Corps tells you to go, whether it's Anbar or Djibouti or through a fucking wormhole. But I don't know what's going to be on the other side of the wormhole I'm traveling through and I would feel better if my XO had popped his cherry before we got there."

"Understood, sir," Aiden says. And it's the truth. All of his marines have at least one combat tour, some two. He's always felt that experience gap, but it's never really been held against him before this. He was a young lieutenant and they were seasoned NCOs and that's the way of the world. Especially in details such as the one they were on, protecting a covert civilian research base on the bottom of the world.

"You've got the makings of a good officer, Ford, and I don't want you turning this into an excuse to piss that away." Sumner has a way of looking at you that just pins you in place, like he can see everything you're thinking or ever thought or ever will think. And he might be judging you on it. "But if you want some friendly advice, I'd take this opportunity to get out and get back to the Corps for a little while. Get yourself some experience, place yourself into the custody of an NCO who is willing to teach you all he knows, and come back here a better officer and a better marine. These pansy-assed airmen can use all they can get."

Aiden doesn't think he'll have any chance in hell of getting reassigned to the SGC after getting bilged out like this, but Sumner chuffs a laugh that isn't at Aiden't expense at all. It's a little bitter, even.

"These folks aren't done with you yet, Ford. They have long memories and even longer arms. Believe you me."

Aiden knows nothing of Sumner except that he'd been commanding a rifle regiment out of Pendleton before this, but he suddenly realizes that Sumner would rather be back in Oceanside than here.

"I do, sir. Thank you, sir. For everything."

Aiden is relieved that he doesn't see his platoon again before he ships out -- Beale's got 'em running ragged on a week-long patrol. He meets his replacement, a Captain Baxsom, and Sumner's rationale is reinforced by the experience. Baxsom carries himself in a way Aiden hopes he someday will -- he's only a couple of years older than Aiden, but he doesn't look anything like the kid Aiden sees in the mirror.

He has orders for Lejeune, platoon leader for a weapons platoon in a rifle company that's already got warning orders that they're deploying by the end of the year. His platoon sergeant is a good guy, which means he doesn't look too horrified when Aiden shows him the mission plans he's developed (and that he'll have to unscrew before Aiden presents them to the skipper), and his marines are... interesting. His marines in Antarctica had all been NCOs, chosen for their proven responsibility and command of necessary skills. His marines here are mostly younger, a mix of the competent and the potentially competent and the how-the-hell-did-they-make-it-through-boot. They are occasionally stupid, more occasionally hilarious, and once in a while make Aiden want to either hug them or use them for target practice. (If Cavalcado bounces one more check, he and Staff Sergeant Louis are going to put him on an allowance.) They learn him as he learns them and as they all learn what they need to know in preparation for the deployment.

Aiden is training these men for war and the growing weight of that responsibility to best prepare them for what will come, to look after them and return them to their parents and wives and children, is a lesson that keeps him up more than one night. He understands now, in a way that he didn't in Sumner's office, why he got dropped from the Atlantis mission.

feed me on LJ?


back to the yearly index | back to the main SGA page

15 August, 2009