[identity profile] sgasesa-admin.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] sga_santa
Title: It's a Kind of Magic, but there is absolutely no scientific proof!
Author: [livejournal.com profile] scarlettandblue
Recipient: Popkin16
Pairing: John and Rodney and a couple of other guys maybe
Rating: Adult (for a lot of swearing)
Disclaimer: I don't own anything except a big minus figure on my credit card which you are welcome to if you want to take it, it all still belongs to MGM.
Author's note: I hope you like it.

Summary: It's like a little bit of SG1 and a big bit of Atlantis met and had a child they called Harlequin, whose favourite TV show was Firefly.

---

A short boring alternative history lesson:

After the Stargate was discovered in 1923 the earth joined the system of worlds linked by the Stargate. Contact with other planets and other civilizations advanced the Earth's technology, and the Ancient City of Atlantis was first explored in the 1930s. When the Ancient gene was discovered research proved there were descendants of the gate builders on earth. Families of people who had the ability to link with Ancient technology. With that the city of Atlantis became a flourishing outpost. But even in alternative timelines some things don't change. Atlantis stayed neutral during World War 2 by declaring itself an independent colony and refusing to supply arms to Earth.

During the 50s and early 60s at the height of the Cold War The Atlantis Project lost much of its funding. There were bi-monthly dial-ins from Atlantis to Earth. They sent reports and requisitions and certain exotic materials that were native to Pegasus. They also sent non military technology developed for earth use, as a means of paying for the supplies they requisitioned. Rarely someone from the original Atlantis Project would return to Earth to liaise or to help research on a larger joint project.

Once every six months Earth would dial Atlantis. They would send the supplies that had been ordered, and allow the return of people to Atlantis, as well any new personnel travelling to work in Atlantis. But as Earth seemed to turn its focus inwards this became rare as the distance in priorities and outlook grew ever more obvious, until one day in the Atlantis gate would not connect to Earth when they dialled.

It was over forty years since their last contact when The Atlantis Coalition agreed to send a mission back to the Milky Way to see what had become of Earth.

As with most things the lofty aspirations of the original mission statement were filtered through the layers of political and fiscal bureaucracy. So the fleet of intergalactic Aurora class ships manned by the brightest and the bravest of the Pegasus Alliance proved a little problematic given tight budgetary constraints.

But there was an old Babosa class tug-ship with a retrofitted hyper drive, it had been due to be scrapped after it's next voyage, but it would probably make it to another galaxy, and if it was lost, well it had been headed for the scrap-heap anyway.

Of course it was always difficult to spare the brightest and the best even in the best of circumstances. However a carefully worded memo to the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Atlantis United Space force and their closest allies on the Satedan Martial Guild and the Athos Council of Elders produced a shortlist of volunteers they would be more than happy to spare for a possible one way trip to another galaxy...


Boring history lesson. The End

Now the fun starts (hopefully)

---

"A little help would be useful! Someone? Anyone? Beckett?"

"I'm no a mechanic, Sheppard!"

"Yeah but its fiddly and there are crystals and the energy flow is blocked, that's similar isn't it?"

"Only if you're a Nox."

"Okay, well get up here and fly and I'll fix the damn thing."

"Oh no no no, I'm nae flying this bloody crate. You know what happened last time."

"Ronon.... Ronon........ Dex! Get your nose out of that book and bring Carson up to the cockpit."

"Get your paws off me you great lummox. I'll nae do it. Hey that's.... Okay, okay! Will you let go of....Okay I'll do it ." Carson Beckett landed on the co-pilots seat. He glared over his shoulder at Ronon and muttered, "Where I come from we respect each other's person and dinnae put our hands where they're no welcome."

Sheppard spared him a glance and a smirk and Carson had the grace to blush as he recalled the last time he'd had Sheppard on his examination table. It had been a medical emergency, the knife wound was perilously close to the femoral artery and he might have been less than delicate as he had moved aside the area of Sheppard's anatomy that had not been in need of medical attention. He squared his shoulders and grumbled, "That is a completely different situation, it was a matter of life and death."

Sheppard quirked his other eyebrow but then the ship shuddered and he grabbed Carson's hand and shoved it onto the controls. "So is this. Take over, just try and keep her on course. I'll be as quick as I can. If she drops out of hyperspace try and miss anything small like a moon, but if you see something big like a planet aim for it," Then he shoved out of the tiny cockpit and headed towards the rear of the ship where the engines and drive mechanics were housed.

He'd been of the opinion that he might be fucked from the moment his CO had handed him his new orders. When he'd seen the ship they were giving him for the mission he though it was more than likely he was fucked. When he'd seen his crew he was pretty certain they were all fucked, their names must have been together on a list under the heading The five troublemakers, screw ups or inconvenient do-gooders you'd most like to get rid of to another galaxy, and the only grain of consolation had been that Teyla and Ronon were the two other members of John's Gateship team.

But now that the hyper drive was on the fritz John was absolutely completely and totally certain that they were fucked.

"Can you fix it?" Teyla had joined him by the hatch that covered the drive gear.

He flipped the door open and they both took a step back waving away the choking, foul-smelling steam and oil smoke.

"No it's fucked."

"You cannot be sure, maybe you should check the crystals, or the connections." Teyla peered into the grimy compartment.

"It was fucked before we took off. I'll re-tape the connectors and it might give us a few more hours in hyperspace but I think we need to check the charts. I realise the intel is forty years out of date, but we should try and avoid popping out of hyperspace next to any know Goa'uld strongholds."

"I will ask Ronon to help me."

"And I'll see if O'Neill's awake. He'll be hung-over, but dropping out of hyperspace is probably gonna shake loose what's left of our guidance systems. It'll be a rough ride and two pilots are better than one."

"Would it not be better to have Beckett, at least you know he is sober."

"I'd trust O'Neill's flying over Beckett's any day, even high as a kite on Geldaran Sex Juice he's a great pilot, remember? A hangover won't change that, it's just gonna make him cranky."

Teyla nodded, "Very well, I will see if Ronon and I can calculate safe coordinates where we can emerge from hyperspace. Perhaps you should pour O'Neill a cup of stout tea before you go to wake him?"

"Yeah, The General does love a nice cuppa tea."

John made sure he stirred five spoons of sweet harva nectar into the bitter tea, that might guarantee he didn't get a full cup thrown at his head this time.

As predicted O'Neill made his usual disgusted face at the smell of the tea, but there must have been enough sweetness to mask the bitter taste because the mug was empty when O'Neill threw it at John as he staggered out of his bunk and slammed through the door of his shower room.

John left another full mug of heavily sweetened tea and a slice of the dark fruited dumpling left over from the breakfast that Carson had made for the rest of the crew.

The next hour and a half were tense. Teyla and Ronon searched through the charts and scanned the data on the various planets while John spent his time hurrying between the cockpit to check on Beckett and the engines and other mechanics as he tried to keep it all running. Eventually they found a likely planet close enough to reach before their hyper drive gave out.

Forty odd years ago Rolan had been a thriving space port and Rolan-built ships were known to be fast and well appointed with some unusual features. The planet also had the reputation for being more interested in commerce than intergalactic politics. Sheppard was hoping that things hadn't changed too much since then.

O'Neill slumped down in the pilot's seat ignoring Sheppard's glare. Beckett all but ran from the cock-pit as Sheppard grudgingly took his place as co-pilot.

Twenty minutes later their craft was juddering and bucking and O'Neill was fighting to hold it on course as they reached the exit coordinates. There was an even more than usually disturbing sensation of being in two places simultaneously, then they lurched out of Hyper-space and into the midst of what was apparently a space battle. They were under fire from the moment they arrived, and it was only luck which saved them, because their shields hadn't failed on re-entry.

O'Neill yelled, "You fly it, I'll fire."

Then Sheppard was diving and turning and generally pushing their old ship into manoeuvres it really wasn't capable of. There were pulsing energy weapons and the bright tracer fire of something like rail guns. A swarm of small craft were attempting to defend against a huge, dark, incredibly sinister looking ship that was raking the surface of the planet with something that appeared to be a rain of fire.

John swerved then reversed the thrust so that they were effectively standing still allowing the huge vessel to sweep over them. He watched as the underbelly of the ship passed above them. There was something wrong with the way the other ship looked. As if it were there and not there at the same time. As if it was an empty, spaceship filled void of negative space. It gave no reflections on its surface, and the lights that gleamed from the various apertures and ports seemed to waver at the dark end of the spectrum. It gave John the same uneasy feeling of fire ants crawling around low in his belly that Wraith Hive ships always gave him.

As it passed overhead John saw a fissure in the hull, bleeding dull red vapour. He turned to O'Neill and said, "These are the bad guys, right?"

O'Neill nodded grimly and said, "Yeah, it's givin' me the heebie geebies."

"We gonna?" Sheppard asked.

And O'Neill replied, "Sure are." And launched seventeen drones, streaking across the dark void at his command.

John peeled away and headed for the cover of one of the planet's three moons. O'Neill had that slightly absent look of concentration on his face which meant he was flying with his drones as they swooped around the target. Seven of them heading straight for the fissure John had spotted, the other ten finding entry points all over the hull where there were smaller breaches.

Explosions are silent in the vacuum of space, but John could still tell the moment the drones detonated and destroyed the other ship. O'Neill shuddered visibly, he was notoriously reckless, always riding his drones to the very end. Then John felt a sympathetic wave of heat through his body and an effervescent shiver up his spine, the back wash of seventeen drones ascending.

"Think we should go and check out the planet we just saved?" John asked after a few moments.

O'Neill groaned and gestured, keeping his eyes closed. John took to mean do what you like, I'm gonna sit here and pretend I didn't just turn my psyche inside out riding a shoal of drones into another plane of existence.

John set a course back towards Rolan with the intent of setting them into a high orbit, but they were intercepted by several of the smaller craft that had been defending the planet.

They received a message, "This is Vantar commander of the Rolan Deep Space Dock, please identify yourself and state your business. Your markings and insignia are unknown to us."

John replied, "Hey Vantar I'm John, we're looking for a place to......"

Teyla who had arrived in the cockpit at a run, snatched the communicator from John and continued in her calm measured tone, "This is Teyla Emmagen, daughter of Turghan, we are peaceful travellers from the far reaches of the galaxy. We are hoping to make new friends and have goods you may wish to trade. May we approach friends?"

"Follow and we will guide you to a suitable berth. You can discuss terms and fees with The Harbour Master."

"Thank you Vantar." Teyla dropped the communicator back into John's lap and gave him the raised eyebrow glare, but John knew on the inside she was pleased.

O'Neill staggered to his feet muttering, "You kids can handle this. I'm going back to my room. Call me if anything else needs shooting."

---

After several hours of talking and talking and even more talking John was beginning to fantasize about radioing O'Neill and asking him to come and shoot him, just so he never had to listen to another discussion about the relative merits of high grade naquadria or syleenium control crystals or silica filaments, but finally the trade was agreed. Teyla was smiling and the Harbour Master was smiling and John was planning on getting back to his ship. But they stepped out of the Harbour Master's office and straight into the clutches of some kind of Honour Guard.

A snooty looking guy who seemed to be wearing some kind of livery handed John a glossy black disc embellished with gold symbols. An invitation to a banquet in honour of their help in the victorious space battle, apparently. John glanced down at his scruffy combat gear and shrugged, saying, "Not sure we're dressed for company, maybe another time?"

The butler guy stared, his expression incredulous, and said, "The reception starts in three hours. Present the invitation at the nexus and you will be transported there directly."

John watched as the guards turned and marched back down the corridor until they reached a central atrium. Livery guy handed something to a uniformed person standing at a console, then they all headed to the centre of the atrium, and stood within the confines of a dull pewter coloured circle marked into the floor From above the circle five metal rings shot down from the ceiling, they made a sound like a cleaver chopping a giant frozen melaton fruit, schwack, schwack, schwack. The group within the circle of rings was bathed in a glow of light then disappeared.

"Huh," John glanced at Teyla.

Teyla turned and said , "I have never seen such devices before, Harbour Master Lescon."

"You really do come from a backwater of the galaxy if you've never seen Transport Rings before." He patted her shoulder, "Don't worry Mistress Teyla, they are perfectly safe to use."

"I am glad to hear that." Teyla said as she stepped gracefully away from his lingering hand. She continued with a smile that anyone who knew her would recognise as dangerous. "Maybe you can advise us what to expect at this grand banquet. As you say we are simple people, unused to the sophisticated customs of your world."

John followed them, as he tried he tried to recall what he knew about the ring transport system. Goa'uld and Ori especially favoured that technology, except his interface with the life-signs detector would have warned him if there had been any dual life sign for a symbiot and host, or the part ascended life signs the Ori gave off. Dr Carter, their Chief of Science had been very careful to set it up to recognise the races know to be a threat at the time they last had contact with earth. They were going to have to be very cautious, all the same.

They were finally able to conclude their business with the Harbour Master. There had been a second round of haggling over the quality of the crystals but Teyla derailed it, using Lescon's own tuning fork to prove they rang true and were in fact higher quality than he had expected.

In the end John had all but shoved the man back through the hatch. For his part the Harbour Master had been very interested in the exotic design of their craft, as well as the exact number of crystals they had, and what other trade goods were in their hold. John realised that even if the Rolans had been know as mostly honest traders forty odd years ago they could not rely on it still being true.

In the end John Teyla and Beckett attended the reception. Leaving Ronon and O'Neill on the ship. John had tried to persuade O'Neill that as the ranking officer and a member of the Atlantis Coalition, he should attend the banquet. But O'Neill pointed out he was retired and they were keeping quiet about the whole Atlantis thing, plus he would probably shoot anyone who annoyed him so for the good of the expedition it would be essential to leave him on the ship. And that way any shooting he did would be wholly justified as a defence against robbery and piracy.

Travelling in the ring device was stranger than John had been expecting, unlike stepping through a Stargate, there was some sensation of movement and a faint prickle like a static build up. And it was dislocating because they arrived in the middle of a party that had obviously been in full swing, but as rings whooshed back up into the ceiling a lull in the conversation descended and everyone at the party turned to look at them.

"Welcome, honoured guests!" A short man with a beaming smile came forward to greet them, "I am Hobey Simmin, Consul of Rolan, and you must be Mistress Teyla Emmagen and Captain John Sheppard," He grasped each of them by the hand.

"We are delighted to meet you," Telya replied, then turning towards Carson she continued, "May I introduce another friend, this is Doctor Carson Beckett."

Hobey grasped Carson's hand enthusiastically, "It is always a pleasure to make new friends, tell me Doctor Beckett, are you a Doctor of Astrophysics by any chance?"

Carson shook his head, bemused and said, "No, I'm a medical man, why, dae ye have need of an astrophysicist?"

Hobey laughed and said, "Oh no no no, quite the opposite I fear!"

At his reply most of the party goers burst into uproarious laughter. John shared a pained look with Teyla because there was nothing worse than weird alien humour. And it was bad enough telling a joke to break the ice that fell completely flat, but the uncomfortable feeling that you were somehow the butt of a joke you hadn't even realised someone else was telling was infinitely worse.

Once everyone had finished laughing the introductions continued and there were tiny, but incredibly potent drinks and huge plates of food and John sailed through it on a kind of auto-pilot. He was careful to nurse just one drink, and he kept his awareness on the edges of the party, letting Teyla and Carson, who was surprisingly good, take the lead, while John waited and watched.

He couldn't have said exactly what he was waiting for, just that there was an edge to everyone's reactions, a flavour of anticipation, or excitement, or maybe even fear. Or perhaps it was just that John had a natural affinity for detecting trouble because he had spent so much of his life in it. But whatever the reason, John knew the instant the small group entered the hall, that trouble had definitely arrived.

Simmin bustled over to the late arrivals, the contrast was jarring. The Consul was wearing bright blue and was clearly dressed for a party, he was smiling and welcoming and attentive to his new guests. The man at the centre of the new group was in dark utilitarian clothing, dressed for work not for a social gathering. He ignored the Consul as he looked first at Teyla then Carson before he finally met John's gaze. John had looked into the eyes of Wraith worshipers and he had once been a prisoner of the Renegade Gennii outlaw Kolya and they held the same cold calculating avarice.

As the man headed towards him John was aware that Teyla had moved to his side, their years together as a gateship crew made threat assessment and watching each other's backs second nature. She stepped forward and Simmin made the introduction.

"Second Pitrok, I present Mistress Emmagen and Captain Sheppard."

"Madam." Pitrok glanced briefly at Teyla then focussed on John again, "Captain Sheppard. I understand you have paid your fees to the Harbour Master, but you have forgotten to pay your dues to the Alliance."

Teyla moved fully between John and Pitrok and answered,
"In fact you are mistaken, Second. The Harbour Master was careful to include the tax which the Alliance requires in the calculation of our fees, and the blue control crystal was included in our payment to cover this."

Ptirok's lips thinned and his distaste at having to conduct his business with Teyla was obvious. But Teyla simply continued, ignoring his bigotry, the same way a person would ignore bad manners in a child in order to teach them better. "I have the receipt here, we can go through it now if you wish. I am sure consul Simmin will be able to assist us to ensure that everything has been done correctly."

John glanced around the room noting that three men, who were clearly Pitrok's guards had placed themselves by the exits, while the fourth man had followed Pitrok and was standing behind him watching Teyla closely. He must have felt John's eyes on him and looked up to meet his gaze. John had been in battle, Atlantis had been waging a war against the Wraith and the renegade Genii, and he had seen many survivors of a Wraith culling, and he recognised the expression in this fourth Man's pale blue eyes, he was in torment.

As John watched, Pitrok seemed to loose interest in his negotiation with Teyla. He turned abruptly and spoke softly to his companion. For his part the blue eyed man did nothing to disguise the fear and disgust in his expression as he replied quietly, but Ptirok didn't seem to care as he listened. Eventually Pitrok turned away and strode out of the gathering his companion and the three bodyguards following in his wake.

After that the party seemed to really liven up. The meal was served and there were huge flagons of wine and a kind of beer to drink. Most people seemed tipsy, if not outright drunk and it was pretty obvious everyone had been on edge until Pitrok had left. John was convinced it was only a matter of time before there was more trouble from The Second, and he decided to speak to Teyla once they left the party, so they could organise their repairs and get away from the planet as quickly as possible.

They were almost back at their ship when a figure stepped out of a corridor to walk beside Them. The person was swathed in a dark cloak that covered them from head to foot, even their face was hidden in the deep recess of the hood. John's hand was already on the stunner he had concealed in his jacket when the man spoke.

"I mean no harm, and please forgive the melodrama, but it will be better for everyone if they can't prove it's me."

"Okay." John glanced across the corridor to Teyla, he nodded and she returned the gesture, she would keep her distance and listen, and she would keep watch in case this was some kind of elaborate ambush.

"If anyone asks, say I approached you to trade."

He produced a small bag and tried to hand it to John. But if there was one thing John had learned, born into the strongest bloodline of the descendants and growing up in Atlantis, it was to never grab anything until you knew what was, and what it did, and whether it could kill you if you accidentally thought on while you were holding it.

After a few moments when it was obvious John wasn't going to take the bag from him he sighed and mumbled, "You won't..... Hhhmm that must mean.... Oh my...Oh that makes it so much easier...." Then, as if he hadn't realised that he'd said the last part out loud he continued, "I suppose I can't fault you for being careful," and opened the bag himself to show John the glittering black powder it contained.

John glanced at it and said, "Well this ain't my first rodeo, and that stuff looks nasty."

"Not your first.... Yes, well this is just Skell, low grade narcotics, nothing very illegal or dangerous."

John took a step back and said, "I don't want it."

"I know you don't, this is just for the surveillance screens."

John pulled the stunner out of his jacket and pointed it at the man, "So is this, now put it away."

The man hastily closed the bag and hid it away again and said, "I understand you have no reason to trust me, and I've told him I don't know where you're from, but he's already suspicious. The design of your ship, the weapons you used, they're like nothing he's seen. The Lucian Alliance may be little better than a criminal cartel, and Pitrok is certainly a greedy, vicious thug, but he's no fool, and The Consul can't act directly against him, no matter how much he disapproves. Not as long as Pitrok follows the laws. Because out here The Alliance offers a remote planet like Rolan some measure of safety which they can't afford to loose."

"I appreciate you telling us, but I'm not sure..."

"Pitrok's planning to take your ship. Either he'll find a way to charge you with crimes against the Alliance, or he'll arrange an ambush once you leave the planet. Then you'll be his prisoners and he'll have all the time he needs to get what he wants."

"And what's that? We don't......"

The man interrupted John and said, "The Lucian Alliance has spread far and wide in this galaxy, but if Pitrok could persuade new allies to join, could find new enemies to plunder, if he were the one to spread The Alliance to a new galaxy his place as favoured second would be secured. It might even guarantee his succession as First, in time."

John had already figured out most of Pitrok's agenda, and he'd planned on discussing what they should do when they got back that evening. But there was something he didn't understand, so he asked, "Why are you here? Why are you warning us? If Pitrok's as bad as you say won't you be in serious trouble if he finds out? Why should we trust......"

"I'm here because it's the right thing to do, and because I know a way out of this. A way to use their own code against them. And of course he'll know, he'll absolutely know I was the one who told you what to do. But you'll be headed back, you'll be safe back where you came from, so it won't matter to me what he does."

John couldn't see the man's face, all he had to go on was his voice, but there had been a stark honesty to that last part that convinced him. But John needed more so he said, "Back where I come from we like to be able to look some one in the eye before we make a deal with them. Come and speak to my crew, they'll need to hear your plan anyway, and I need to see who I'm dealing with."

"I'm sorry I can't, it's part of the code. If you detain me, or take me aboard your ship without permission it's theft of Alliance property."

"You're a slave? That's....." John had been lucky enough never to have dealt with slavers in the past and although it wasn't completely unheard of, even in Pegasus, John still found it shocking.

"No, not really. We're more like resources. My skills, my area of expertise has some use to the Alliance. I belong to the Guild of Companions."

"That sounds like a polite way of saying..."

"It's a polite way of saying my time is contracted, tonight my contract was with Pitrok and I did what he asked. There are worse things, believe me. And we really don't have much time, you need to listen and I'll explain how this can work."

As he listened, he realised it was either a brilliantly simple escape plan or an elaborately complex trap, and John didn't think Pitrok was an elaborately complex kind of guy. He was also hoping that Teyla would be able to verify some of what they were hearing, and if they needed to she might be able to finesse more information from her new best friend, the Harbour Master. She was going to see him the next morning to negotiate for the supplies they needed for the ship's repairs.

Then they got to the last part of the plan, and John finally understood the reason for the whole offer of help. It was a mutual escape plan. John was fine with helping someone to escape. He was more than fine with the idea of a sneaky move that created an indirect but legal bond preventing the Alliance from moving against them. But he was absolutely not fine with being part of a sham ceremony. Even if it was a fake, the idea of it made him intensely uncomfortable and he wasn't prepared to go along with it. And so he said, "There's no way I'm gonna be part of some fake..."

But the man interrupted him, again, John was getting a little tired of the way this guy kept interrupting him.

"It won't be fake. But you won't take advantage of that. I can tell."

John was still trying to think of some way of saying no fucking way that didn't involve actually saying 'no fucking way' but the guy was already leaving.

When he had stepped beyond the junction of the corridors and was hidden from whatever surveillance there might be, the man turned back to face John. He let the hood fall back until his face was in view and John recognised him. There was a mixture of fear and certainty in his blue eyes as he said, "You're a Sheppard, I trust you." Then he pulled his disguise back over his face and left.

John just stood there for a second and watched as the cloaked figure walked down the corridor, turned left half way down and disappeared around the corner. It was a surreal moment. Like a scene from a retro film noir. The kind the science geeks on Atlantis were forever making, by re-cutting and splicing, dubbing and re-scoring copies of the old films and TV shows the original Atlantis expedition had brought with them, to create ever more bizarre yet compelling new films. Once they had been cut off from earth it was the only way they had of creating new earth-style entertainment.

"Perhaps we should return to the ship." Teyla moved to John's side her hand rested lightly on his arm for a moment, she knew him well enough to guess he was probably freaking out. "There is much to discuss."

"Aye, lad, we should get back, Dex will be wanting his share of the feast." Carson held up a bag of treats from the feast that he'd been given by their host, when they'd explained that some of their crew had stayed behind on the ship.

John nodded and pulled a face, it was never a good place to be, between Ronon and a good meal. He might have been disowned by his family because he chose Poetry instead of The Craft of Espionage or The History of Statecraft as his third minor subject when he first went University at the start of his military career, but Ronon Dex was still a Guard, and when it came to feeding time the Satedan Guard had a reputation that rivalled a plague of locusts.

As they made their way back to the ship John's mind was turning circles trying to think his way out of this plan. Because he couldn't. He wouldn't. It was one of the biggest reason he was at odds with his family, he just wasn't that kind of man.

---

They spent hours talking about the plan, whether it was true, whether that even mattered because John and O'Neill would know at once if it was true. And if it was true, then even if it was a trap it wouldn't matter because they would have a level of access no one else did. They'd be able to take it over and disable anything harmful. Locate and destroy any kind of tracking device. And if it wasn't true then they could make out they bought it long enough to get clear of the planet, then once their ship was repaired John was certain they could out run anything he'd seen docked on Rolan.

And when they were clear of the planet they'd only needed a small window to jump into hyperspace. When they were in hyper space, travelling in the void there was no way to track them anyway. But they would have burned their bridges, and if Atlantis ever wanted or needed to contact the Milky Way again they would likely find themselves the enemy of The Lucian Alliance.

O'Neill was very amused by the fact they were going to be doing all of this because of a Pirates' Code. He also seemed to be taking a dark kind of satisfaction from John's lack of success in finding an alternative to his part of the plan.

---

By late morning Teyla had returned from her meeting with The Harbour Master, and it was clear that most of what they'd been told was true. She had found out a lot of details and seemed to have a good understanding of the Laws especially the areas that could be used to trick them into wrong-doing. She had also made them an appointment with Simmin for the early evening, and it looked like John had no choice. He was going to have to go ahead with it.

The only surprise was O'Neill insisted he was going to come with them. In fact The General, resplendent in his full dress uniform had been lying in wait for John when he stepped out of his cabin. He had taken one look at the same dark outfit John had worn to the previous nights reception and shoved him back inside with an order to change into dress uniform. John protested that he hadn't brought his dress uniform with him.

O'Neill barked "Stay!" at John like he was some kind of poorly trained puppy, and had retreated out of his cabin, and then returned a couple of minutes later with another dress uniform, probably his second best dress uniform as it was slightly less resplendent, more severe and in a darker shade of blue.

He shoved it at John and ordered, "Change into that. Can't be undertaking Piracy and making alliances out of uniform."

John was forced to take the uniform but he glared at The General and said, "You're enjoying this, aren't you?" He deliberately left a long pause before he added "Sir." After all the man was retired so strictly speaking he wasn't John's CO.

"Yep." O'Neill glared back at John, then he smirked and added, "Best fun I've had since I attended the Satedan Bi-centennial five years ago. They have very big guns you know? Let me shoot 'em too. We used Wraith darts for target practice. Oh yes, good times Captain. Now hurry up and get dressed. There's pirate shenanigans afoot!"

John wondered where O'Neill's rather disturbing obsession with pirates had come from, as he hurried undressed then redressed in the General's spare uniform. It was a surprisingly good fit, a little too wide on the shoulders and at the waist, but the belt mostly took care of that. John carefully removed the General's insignia from the shoulder then glanced at himself in the mirror.

He looked about how he felt, pale and wondering if throwing himself out of an airlock might not be a preferable alternative. But there was a General waiting for him, and he had people who were depending on him to get them back to their galaxy without starting a war with anyone. So he ignored the sick feeling in his stomach and figured he'd just better get out there and make it happen.

It seemed that everyone was dressed in their best, because Carson was wearing a dark suit, buttoned high to the neck, he looked sober and elegant. And Teyla was dressed entirely in tawny doe-skin, with a jacket that plunged low at the front and was tightly laced in the back, and pants like a second skin. It was all the more disturbing to John because he knew that she was concealing at least one gun and three knives.

They left Dex behind, because if John had to choose between leaving Carson to defend the ship, in case of trouble, and leaving Dex well it wasn't really a choice. Plus Beckett kept throwing worried looks at him, which only added to the feeling that this was all some terrible mistake. John kept waiting for O'Neill or Teyla to say, Hey, no worries, we've figured it all out and you don't have to go through with this. He was still waiting for them to say that as they arrived in the consul's reception hall and approached the dais where he sat receiving visitors.

"Mistress Emmagen, Captain Sheppard, Doctor Beckett and....."

"Consul Simmin, this is General O'Neill." Teyla made the introductions.

"General O'Neil, it is good to meet new friends."

"That's O'Neill, with two Ls, Consul." The General waived his hand in that vague way he did when he was unable to shoot someone he rather wanted to, and added, "Friends are good?"

There was a brief moment when John would swear he saw Teyla's shoulders sag, as if under the weight of having to deal with not one but two idiots who appeared to be genetically unable to hold a normal conversation. She was well used to covering up for John's inability to talk about anything bordering on an emotion, but she had clearly not realised the General was a one trick pony. He didn't have company manners it was just live and unfiltered.

John actually started to feel a little better, because there was a distinct possibility that this time he might not be responsible for how badly this was going to be fucked up. Normally on John's gateship team, Teyla handled diplomacy and negotiations, Ronon handled silent menace and John could be relied upon to say exactly the wrong thing at absolutely the worst moment and be responsible for the inevitable fuck up. Or as Teyla usually phrased it, diplomatic crisis.

John's CO was well aware that when the phrase diplomatic crisis was included in a report it was actually short-hand for, John totally fucked up and then we all had to run as fast as we could back to the Stargate while the indigenous population chased us and tried to kill us with rocks/spears/arrows/guns/hand-grenades/nuclear weapons (delete as appropriate) and Ronon provided non lethal covering fire. Except in the case of the indigenous population unleashing their weapons of mass destruction on us in which case you can bet your bomb-shelter he went totally lethal on their asses.

John was quietly basking in the glow of not being the likely cause of the latest inevitable fuck up when Teyla jabbed him sharply in the ribs with her pointy elbow of doom. John stumbled forward slightly and everyone looked at him, his manly groan of pain must have been louder than he thought.

John glared at Teyla. She glared back eyes narrowed and a distinct frown between her eyebrows. John looked away quickly meeting the Consuls' enquiring gaze and realised this was the part where he had to follow the plan.

"Er... Consul Simmin, I er... we ummm. Your code, The Alliance. We kicked those guys asses. Isn't there supposed to be a reward?"

"Well I organised a very splendid banquet in your honour." Simmin didn't look annoyed, but his answer wasn't helping John.

"The thing is you have a code, don't you? The Alliance code?"

"We have many rules and codes of conduct, can you be more specific?"
It seemed to John that Simmin was being unhelpful on purpose like he might be enjoying this a little too much.

"He means the Pirate Code." O'Neill butted in, helpfully.

"The Pirate Code?"
Simmin was almost smiling, John was beginning to suspect the consul was having a lot of fun at his expense.

"Ships in the night." That was O'Neill, being helpful. Again. Not. John already knew he was having way more fun than a retired General ought to be.
But John needed to take control of this thing before it went completely off the rails.

"A prize. We can claim a prize, can't we?"

"Oh a prize."

"For the Ship's bounty."

"Well of course there is the salvage of the ship? Debris that fell to the planet, valuable alloys and metals. Shipment crates that are still intact. Would you care to take a share of that? Fifteen percent is the usual figure we allow for a bounty" Simmin was smiling, and there was just a hint of smug satisfaction to his expression that made John realise the plan was actually working.

John turned to look at Teyla and asked. "Could we do anything with a share of the salvage?"


She shook her head and said, "I am sorry Consul Simmin, but we would have little use for the ship's salvage. Are there no other assets?"

"There may be other assets." Simmin replied blandly.

"Other assets are definitely our thing." John hoped he didn't sound too eager.

"What are these....assets?" O'Neill waved his hands in a gesture that suggested something bigger than a breadbox and vaguely distasteful, but maybe worth something.

"Well, before their unfortunate misunderstanding of our billing system regarding unexpected additional costs relating to materials and labour that we regretfully have the right to pass on to our valued customers, the DashiKari Dynasty had placed five battle cruisers and another ship with us for a complete refit."

"Battle Cruisers, you say."

"Very inferior, poorly maintained Battle Cruisers, General O'Neil."

"And the other ship?" John tried to sound off hand, like he didn't already know this other ship was a real sweet ride.

"Oh, the other ship is magnificent. Technologically advanced. The most ingenious means of propulsion, totally free to run, it literally runs on air, or clouds or sunshine, something free anyway, so no fuel costs at all. Engines so smooth you can hear moonflower buds opening."

Simmin pointed towards a vase of big white flowers tastefully arranged nearby and they all watched as a bud opened and bloomed in complete silence.

"Is that usual to have vases of flowers on your space ships?" O'Neill eyed the flowers suspiciously, like he expected them to sneak our of the vase and try to brain him.

"It can be. The DashiKari Dynasty were notoriously rich and you know what they say about the rich and their money General O'Neil?"

"Better out than in?" O'Neill bared his teeth at Simmin and then turned to Teyla and continued in a loudish whisper, "Is this guy a simpleton? He keeps mispronouncing my name?"

Teyla sighed and said, "It's a cultural misunderstanding, pay it no heed." then to Simmin she added, "Tell us the value of this ship?"

"It is difficult to calculate. It has a capricious cargo hold. Very luxurious accommodations. There are so many features. We had only just finished adding a very special additional." He paused as if searching for the right word, "... feature."

"Really? That sounds great." John finally managed to insert himself back into the conversation.

"And the value of this ship with it's many features?" Teyla was like a dog with a bone when it came to trade negotiations.

"It's a beautiful colour, Star-Spangled Black I believe, very desirable I'm told." Clearly Simmin was a seasoned negotiator as well.

"And all this means the value would be what exactly?"

"It would be around sixteen point five percent of the total asset worth we seized." Simmin smiled like a shark that could taste blood in the water. "Which just happens to be the exact figure the code specifies for bounty."

"What a fortunate coincidence." Teyla smiled in return.

"Maybe we could go look at it, take it out for a test flight? Check out all these features."

"Before we can do that Captain Sheppard, there is something I must explain to you."

John actually felt his heart stumble and skip a beat, this was it. This was the thing he had hoped would turn out to be a mistake.

"We have some traditions that are rooted deep in the past. Ideas about alliances and kinship. The taking of wards, a marriage of strangers and the exchange of favourites, these are all traditions we use to build alliances. To show good faith."

"We normally go with a handshake."

"I wish to give you the gift of a favourite to bond with, it will seal our alliance."

"I don't..."

"The Companion is already accommodated onboard."

"I thought you were refitting this ship for some one else?"

"Our alliance was to have been with the DashKarians. But since you vanquished them clearly it is more favourable for us to ally with you. And it is a great honour. This companion was entrusted to me by a great ally, many would considered it a great dishonour to refuse the gift of a favourite."

"But it's okay to pass the gift on?"

"Not once the bond is completed!"

"So you didn't?"

"Alas I am bonded to another, a childhood arrangement you understand. Our parents brokered the alliance while we were both still in our cribs. But you are unencumbered, Captain Sheppard. I recall this distinctly from our conversation last evening, free as a bird, I believe you said, although your world must surely be a perplexing place, because on Rolan birds tend to be rather expensive. I have a very fine Paratee Warbler myself, and the down payment alone was exorbitant. "

Simmin pointed to the corner of the great hall and sure enough there was some kind of golden cage John hadn't noticed the previous evening. Perched inside was an odd looking bird, a kind of multicoloured dodo.

"Aw, you poor wee thing!" Carson, who had been so remarkably quiet during the whole conversation that everyone had forgotten he was there, practically skipped over to the cage and poked his fingers inside.

"Just mind that beak Carson, it looks sharp." Like everyone else on Atlantis, John had heard the rumours about Carson and his test mice. But the man was still part of his team.

"Have no fear, Captain a warbler never bites."

Simmin watched fondly as Carson billed and cooed over his pet bird, until.

"Ach No. Och ye skanky wee boggin. Ach, that's disgusting." Carson backed away from the cage looking deeply disturbed, when John got an eyeful of what had happened he looked away too, with a shudder.

"Yes it is a unique defence mechanism isn't it?" Simmin was smirking again.
"Once Doctor Beckett has washed his hands shall we go and see your new ship? You can meet your companion and complete the bond."

"I have to do it today? Now? Don't you have to prepare, what about your next appointment?" John seemed to have lost control of his mouth, he never did that but the situation was spiralling out of control.

"Everyone is different, Captain Sheppard, but I believe for you it will only take a few seconds to complete."

"Yeah, I'd heard that about you too, Sheppard. No wonder you've never been hitched."

John felt himself blush a deep dark red. He'd heard the ugly rumours they whispered about him. About how General Patrick Sheppard couldn't find anyone willing to marry his younger son. That if no one would have him despite his having hit the jackpot, genetically speaking with his pure Ancient's bloodline, then it suggested there must be something pretty disgusting wrong with him.

Rumours spread of John being covered in a pelt of hair from neck to toes, or having an uncontrollable body modification fetish, apparently he'd started with his ears and was working his way down, or that he needed to wrapped in wet muslin and stored in a wardrobe every night, or that he was so emotionally stunted he could only express his love for someone thought the medium of sock-puppets. He had hear them all. But it was really painful hearing it from the General.

Teyla glared at O'Neill sternly and said, "That is simply not true, General."

She continued, clearly trying to reassure Simmin who was looking a little concerned. "John is very discerning, maybe he has simply not yet met the right person. Where we come from, not every one marries, or bonds. In fact the General is himself unbounded."

Simmin looked at O'Neill, there was a new and very disturbing gleam in his eye. "Surely this cannot be right? A man of your advanced years."

"Hey, not so advanced I can't kick..."

"I meant of course a man of your advanced experience, an important man, a General, surely it would be an honour to bestow you a companion."

"We don't really do the giving people as gifts thing."

"Hhmm, that is a very simplistic view. Companions are highly trained, they often choose a life with the Guild to further their studies. There are worlds where access to higher technology is forbidden. And of course even in your distant corner of the galaxy you must have heard of the planet that called itself Earth. Bent on a course of self destruction until the intervention of The Nox, Tollan and Aasgard collective."

Now that the moment had arrived, John found he could not speak. This was the purpose of their mission, to learn the fate of the Earth, but he couldn't say a word.

Thankfully Teyla asked, "I'm not sure I have ever heard the full story."

"Well I suppose it was the fault of Those Damned Ancients. Of course they were marvellous engineers, but they were unbelievably careless when it came to everything else. They isolated the planet that had been part of their empire. They hid the technologies, the Stargates, their outposts. They simply took off and flew their city away and left those people to develop at their own pace. Some ridiculous experiment in social engineering no doubt. Doomed to fail.

"Oh they were probably happy enough for millennium fighting amongst themselves, as you know they are a notoriously argumentative race. And utterly clueless, I mean they called their world The Earth, as if there was only one. Then, less than a hundred years ago, they discovered one of the Stargates. It was a downward spiral from then, so they say. They were worse than the Ancients for their meddling in other peoples business.

"I will grant that they played their part in breaking the System Lords' strangle hold on that part of the Galaxy, but as to the rest. They became increasingly divided on their home world, and worse still their leaders kept the whole thing secret. They used the Stargate to discover new technologies and weapons and they invented new weapons by combining different technologies together. They were soon at a point where they were poised to start a war amongst themselves, and with the weapons they had stockpiled they could have easily annihilated the entire planet.

"Eventually the collective intervened. Their weapons were confiscated and the stargates were locked down, The leaders had to sign a pact and the people who had known about the Stargates had to make a decision. They could stay on their home world, or they could leave and make a life elsewhere. Some chose to leave, adventures who felt they could never be content now they knew how many worlds there were, how much more there was to see and discover. Scientists who could not unlearn what they had discovered. And for the most adventurous of all the Companions Guild was a perfect choice."

"And this companion?" Teyla asked what they were all probably thinking.

Simmin smiled and said, "Oh yes, from The Earth. One of their finest."

"But the bond?" John could not get away from it, and now he knew this companion was from earth that somehow made it even worse, even more wrong. "How does it work?"

"It is spontaneous. And don't forget there are benefits to both parties. The bond protects the companion just as it benefits the person they are bonded to."

"But the companion has no choice. I just can't do this. I'm sorry."

Teyla gripped John's arm tightly and said, "John, you are not thinking this through. Surely this companion, this person from earth, might want the opportunity to travel with us, back to our home?"

"I guess, but..."

"John, just listen." Then Teyla asked Simmin, "You said the bond is spontaneous, what happens? How does it work?"

"When a person joins The Companion's Guild they indicate a preference. Some choose to make contracts with clients, some remain part of the guild, some become freelance operatives, and a few were chosen for the Bond. If they were found to be compatible to bonding and they continued to want this once their training was complete then the the Bond was conferred on them.

"Before you ask I do not know what it is, or how they do it. But I have observed a bond or two, and it seems the bond it both a chemical and a mystical process. It only works if both parties are compatible to it. No amount of coercion can force a bond, because to be bonded is to already be of a single mind."

Simmin stood up and walked to John, taking his arm and guiding him towards the ring device. He continued to speak, more softly so that only John could hear him, while the other followed them across the room.

"You seem to be afraid, Captain Sheppard, do you fear that you will hold power over this person? You are afraid that you will coerce them, force them to do something they do not want. I do not understand why you think you would be capable of such a thing. It is very clear to me you an honourable man."

( It's a Kind of Magic, but there is absolutely no scientific proof! - Part 2 of 2 )
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