Disclaimer: I don't own anything.
A/N 1: I'm sorry for the delay; I've been focusing a lot on other stories, and had writer's block for the best way to deal with this rather critically important part of the storyline. I'm returning to the 'City of Wonders' chapters' format - one short chapter (this one), then one long (the main part), one short (the aftermath) - in an effort to actually get something published. The next chapter will hopefully come rather more quickly.
The delay isn't just other stories: Summer is a busy time for my reserve training, with two major fortnight-long camps including five day field exercises, one of which was just a few weeks ago, and another one at the beginning of September. Then I had laser eye surgery (LASEK in case you're interested) and have been recovering for a while from that; I needed to have the surgery to join the Navy after I graduate (even though I'm in the Army right now - don't ask, it's complicated), because my terrible eyesight disqualified me from joining before. Now I have better than 20/20 vision, and I'm very, very happy with that, having worn thick glasses for the last fifteen years.
Anyway, here's the beginning of the chapter arc covering the episode 'Suspicion.' WARNING for considerable profanity here; NCOs aren't noted for watching their language unless officers (sometimes), women or children are around. Actually ... Marines in general aren't noted for watching their language at all.
Chapter 10 - Seeds of Distrust, Part 1
"To err is human; to forgive, divine. Neither is Marine Corps Policy."
Marine Bumper Sticker, from a quote by Alexander Pope
Same day as Chapter 9 - Eternal Memory
August 21 2004, Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado Springs, CO, USA
Hermione hated airplanes. She disliked even broom flying, and she was in control of that; being shut in a cramped tube with hundreds of other people and being at the mercy of the unknown skill level of a faceless pilot was far worse. Intellectually, she knew crashes were rare, but that didn't change her misgivings.
Travelling on a rather luxurious USAF Gulfstream V outfitted for VIP transport was better, but not much; Washington Dulles, where her transatlantic flight had landed, to Colorado Springs was still a three hour flight, and she'd already spent eight in the air.
Thus, she was extremely happy when the executive jet touched down at Peterson Air Force Base. This was her second trip to the States this year, and would likely be a permanent move. The first had just been a job interview, really; admittedly one that had blown her mind, once they'd confirmed that they wanted to hire her and she'd signed all the many, many forms. Alien devices for interstellar transport?
Out of this world? Oooh, when I get my hands on you, Harry James Potter, you irritating, cryptic … person!
There was a downside to being well-mannered even in one's own mind, Hermione had found, particularly when she really wanted to curse whatever twisted thing the military had presumably issued Harry as a standard, one-size-fits-all sense of humour. The cryptic, vague wording of his letter had been very unlike him - and Harold Pearce's similarly odd behaviour, like smirking when she said 'what on Earth' - had practically screamed 'THIS IMPLIES SOMETHING IMPORTANT.'
Trying to work out what that was had come to fully occupy her considerable brainpower; it had even kept her awake all night several times during the week from her meeting with Pearce to the interview in the States. Hermione knew she was smart; she'd regarded figuring it out as a personal challenge - and Harry knew her well enough to know that - but that challenge quickly became a frustrating personal failure when she kept going in circles.
Alien life had been on the list, but dismissed very quickly, for what had seemed obvious reasons. When she'd found out he was actually being literal, she'd wanted to wring his neck. Politely, of course. But he knew her well; he'd known how she'd react, and that meant he'd known she'd go in circles, the irritating little ... man.
She was still fuming at his little jape nearly three months later after finishing up her degree and arranging her move to Colorado … although she'd downgraded from killing him with her bare hands to just wanting to punch him in the mouth. She'd apologise afterwards.
Hermione turned to find an officer in a blue USAF uniform walking towards her. "Oh, Major Davis. Nice to see you again."
"Likewise, ma'am." The tallish, dark-haired man picked up one of her bags, but knew better than to take the other. He'd been the person assigned to do the first interview and all the security paperwork since the man supposed to do it, one Doctor Daniel Jackson was unexpectedly unavailable.
Hermione had looked up Jackson that night in her hotel room - she been impressed at his fluent writing and obvious passion, but not the content; he'd seemed to go out of his way to give the impression of being a complete crackpot. Alien landing pads? Please.
Then the next day she'd been cleared for and given the full briefing on the Stargate, the Goa'uld, and Earth's history with them, along with a still-classified and therefore not-yet-publishable paper by Jackson proving the alien landing pads theory.
Needless to say, she'd changed her opinion.
Now, hopefully - well, tomorrow actually, when she started work at Cheyenne Mountain - she'd get to meet the not-such-a-crackpot archeologist who'd be her boss. According to Major Davis, Jackson had specifically asked she be looked into for recruitment; why, Hermione had no idea.
Presumably he'd read one of her published articles, but as far as she knew none of the publications she'd gotten them into were distributed in the States. Jackson might have had contacts at Cambridge, but she knew he'd attended Chicago University; and since most of the academic world thought that a) he was a crackpot and that b) his job for the USAF was as a translator and linguistics expert rather than as an archeologist, it seemed unlikely anyone would have contacted him about her …
Hermione consciously stopped herself from going down that train of thought. She wouldn't know until she met the man, and speculating about how on Earth - damn it, those words again - he'd heard of her wouldn't get her anywhere.
Training Room, East Pier, City of Atlantis, Pegasus Galaxy
Harry's choked words tore at Teyla's own heart. Predictably, perhaps, given Teyla's generous nature, her first thought was not for herself.
How has he gone on? He's been through the fires of Hades itself by any measure, not once but many times. He's lost his family, his love, but he's just gritted his teeth and gone on with it. Where does he find the strength? Could I ever find it in myself not to just lay down and die after such loss?
"Harry?" Teyla's hand rubbed reassuring circles on his back, her cheek against his shoulder; a significant turnaround to the previous dynamic of a few weeks before, where Harry was the stronger, more experienced one who was offering reassurance.
"Can you tell me about her?" Teyla's curiosity was kicking in hard again, but she let that question out, sensing it would be better for Harry to let it out - he'd spoken of the worst part, now she was going to prompt him to remember the good. She was interested in the woman who had captured the Warrior's heart, who he had in his turn loved so deeply he would have traded his soul for hers in half a heartbeat.
She didn't need to ask if that was indeed the case; this was Harry, the Captain, the Warrior. He would do nothing by halves, ever. If he had committed to someone, he would never leave them, short of death or some soul-crushing betrayal. The self-evident strength of his dedication shone through here too, as much as it did in his everyday work or training.
Harry's hand found hers, his larger palm surrounding her slender fingers. "I'm not sure … where to start."
"The beginning is traditional. In your galaxy as well as mine, I believe."
That got a ghost of a smile, for a moment. Good.
"Well ... I think the first thing she ever said to me directly was, 'Good god, Potter, you can be a right moody bastard when you want to be, can't you?'"
Teyla smiled against his shoulder. "That you can."
"Go on. I've heard the darkest times, Harry. Tell me of the lightest ones."
"Plenty of those. How about …
August 22 2004, Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, Colorado Springs, CO, USA
"Welcome to the Mountain, Doctor."
"Thanks," Hermione said distractedly. Her attention was on the ludicrously oversized metal door swinging open before her. "It is something else."
The trip down was however dull. As incredible a facility as the NORAD bunker was, the inside of an elevator was nothing new. Her guide - a senior airman; she had memorised the insignia - ushered her out on level eighteen. "Doctor Jackson's lab is just down here."
The lab of the SGC's senior academic and linguist was pretty much as expected, an isolated dot of not-at-all-controlled chaos in the otherwise perfectly ordered military world of Cheyenne Mountain's subterranean tunnels. Its walls were hidden by many wooden bookshelves, most sagging slightly under the weight of heavy reference books and small artifacts. Those parts of the walls not blocked by shelving were adorned with images and printouts, mostly Ancient Egyptian but she could see some Norse runes too.
Hermione suppressed a small smile. Thanks to Hogwarts' electives, she had been practically fluent in the runic languages even before attending Cambridge.
The centre of the room was dominated by a massive worktable, completely covered by an assortment of books, occasional scrolls, pots, various other artifacts and a computer.
"Ah, he should be here, ma'am." The airman looked around, then up the corridor at another guard. He pointed into the room, an obvious question. The response was a nod; the doctor was in, but where was he?
"Doctor Jackson?" Hermione called.
"What? Who? OW!" There was a bang from under the table; Hermione winced. Apparently she'd just caused her new boss to bang his head pretty hard. The Airman grimaced in commiseration for her own wince before making himself scarce, clearly having the same thought she'd had.
Great start, Hermione, absolutely fantastic.
Jackson poked his head up from behind the desk, getting to his feet, tossing whatever it was he'd been retrieving back in a drawer. He had brown hair cut short, intelligent blue eyes and square-frame glasses. He was, if Hermione was being honest with herself, kind of good looking in a nerdy sort of way.
Oh wait, definitely not nerdy. He was dressed in military clothing; black combat trousers and t-shirt, which revealed that Jackson clearly worked out - a lot - which made sense considering the amount of time he spent in danger according to the reports she'd read. Her appreciation level went up a few more notches. Hey, she had eyes, didn't she? Unfortunately she knew he was fifteen years older than her, which kind of put a dampener on that. But hey, at least her new boss wasn't some crusty old septuagenarian professor type. She'd had enough of those at Cambridge.
"Oh, hi. You're Doctor Granger, right? Hermione Granger?"
"Yes; nice to meet you, Doctor Jackson."
"Likewise. You come highly recommended." Jackson said with a friendly smile, moving around the desk. "Leave your bag here. I'll give you the two-cent tour, starting at the bottom. Oh, and by the way, we usually drop the Doctor titles around here, so call me Daniel. Practically every civilian with clearance to get this deep has a PhD, it gets a bit ridiculous. It gets even worse when half-a-dozen colonels end up in the same room, which happens frequently around here; the military isn't allowed the same informality." His tone said how stupid he thought that was.
"Okay." Hermione ended up nearly jogging trying to keep up with the long-legged Jackson, who strode off down the corridor as if there was some sort of emergency, somehow managing to be reading his notebook, playing tour guide to her and also watching where he was going all at once. The man was practically bursting at the seams with energy, but it was rather more focused than any other academic she'd ever met. That didn't mean he didn't shoot out on tangents occasionally, however.
"So, Hermione ... from Greek, derived from Hermes? Your parents' in a similar line of study as you?" By this point they were back in the elevator, having worked their way down floor by floor from 18 to 25; Jackson had just hit the button for the second-lowest level, 27. Apparently 26 was just storage, with nothing interesting.
"Uh ... no, they're both dentists. They had the Shakespeare reference more in mind, I think."
"Ah yes, The Winter's Tale. You'll find life on this base swings heavily from comedic to tragic without warning, I'm sorry to say." Despite the sincere warning, Jackson was grinning slightly. "Although there are periodic shots of romance if you watch Sam and Jack long enough." Hermione had just met Samantha Carter, whom Jackson had greeted as Sam, and he'd also mentioned Jack O'Neil, whom Hermione also knew was the SGC's senior officer. Apparently office romance sparked in the most unlikely of places ... even underground in 28-story deep nuclear bunkers.
"I was warned it might be dangerous ... how often do life-threatening situations occur around here?"
"Less often than they used to. We've gotten a lot better at this in the last eight years. But once or twice a year, something will go wrong. Don't get me wrong, we usually get it under control pretty quickly. But your office is on the same floor as mine, so if the security alarm goes -" here he pointed to two lightbulbs on the ceiling, one red, one yellow, "then get yourself up beyond the checkpoint on level eleven. If the yellow one goes, that's quarantine. If you see that, stay put until you're cleared to leave. The protocols are strict for a reason, and the guards will open fire if someone tries to break containment."
"That's ... not quite what I was expecting, for my first job out of university."
Jackson laughed. "Yeah, I have been a bit, 'welcome to the Twilight Zone.' But you're in my department, and therefore it's my responsibility if you don't know the protocols. All too many of the scientists around here think that just because they have a phD they automatically know better than the very intelligent and experienced Air Force officers who wrote the procedures. You've met Sam; she's saved Earth about twice a year since we started, sometimes more. She's probably the smartest person on the planet, and she still occasionally has to deal with new idiots who think that she must be an idiot or a bimbo just because she wears a uniform." He gave her a much more serious look. "Don't make that mistake, Hermione. If you do, we aren't going to get along."
"Got it." The elevator dinged, and Daniel gestured for her to step out first.
"This is sub level 27. That door is the General's office, this is the main conference room which is ... unoccupied, fortunately. Below us is the control room ... and you might want to take a look out the window over there."
Hermione crossed to the large window ... and stopped dead.
"It's ... bigger than I thought it would be."
"Really?" Jackson stood beside her. "Most people say the opposite."
"Your friend Harry didn't say either." The new speaker was a grey-haired man in uniform, with a star on each shoulder, who came out of an office to her left with flags to either side of the door.
"Hey Jack. Hermione, Brigadier General Jack O'Neil, commander of the SGC. Jack, Doctor Hermione Granger."
"Not yet a Doctor," Hermione corrected. "My thesis hasn't been peer reviewed yet."
"I've read it, it'll pass."
"Thanks." Hermione shot a quick smile at him. "Speaking of Harry, is he around? I haven't heard from him in months. Once I'd been read in on the Stargate, I assumed from his cryptic letter that he'd been posted here."
"Ah. About that." The General looked a little awkward. "Not ... exactly."
"What is that supposed to mean?" Hermione had never been one for beating around the bush; she was no weak-willed bookworm any longer. Harry had been the one to strike the final blow, but she had spent the preceding months hunting the Horcruxes. It had been an ... eye-opening experience. "Major Davis was either unwilling or unable to tell me. Where the hell is Harry?"
"Did they mention the Atlantis Expedition, by any chance?"
"Oh. Yes, yes they did." Hermione took a breath. "Are you telling me my best and one of my only friends is three million light years away with no way home?"
"Well, when you put it like that it seems bad ..."
Hermione had been hoping - expecting - to find Harry here. He might not have any academic credentials but Hermione knew that didn't preclude the fact that Harry was smart. Beyond smart, really, more like genius level. He'd managed to catch up on five years of schooling in eighteen months and pass his GCSE and later A-Level exams at Duke of Yorks not only with straight A's but with a higher than usual number of subjects too. Only his personal desire to join the Forces immediately had gotten in the way of his moving on to University with her. He was one of the few people who she both trusted implicitly and could keep up with her; the inability of most people to fulfil either qualification left her with only a very small circle of friends, which she was fine with.
Still, she'd been looking forward to seeing him more regularly, if he was part of the SG teams. It had been a reason - not the main reason, of course, but a reason for taking this job, but now that clearly wasn't going to be the case.
"It's exactly what I should have expected, really." Hermione shrugged. "One way mission into the unknown? Of course he was going to take that assignment. Harry's got a serious case of chronic hero syndrome; he take suicidal missions just so nobody else has to."
"Yeah, I got that impression from his medal record," O'Neil smirked. "Three medals for valour, and he's only 24. I'm over fifty, and I've been doing this for over three decades, and I'm only on one."
"Hopefully there won't have to be much of that out in Atlantis," Daniel reassured her. "It seemed completely safe when we sent them through."
"Safe? Harry?" Hermione shook her head. "I find it easier to imagine him accomplishing some heroic feat of derring-do than sitting around doing paperwork."
September 3 2004, Level One, Central Tower, City of Atlantis, Pegasus Galaxy
Form 1302 … Ammo inventory … nominal … signed, done. Next. Sergeant Markham's updated reaction team duty roster … switching out Corporal Smith for Billick ... that's fine. Approved, signed. Next …
Paperwork. There was always more paperwork. One of the many joys of being an exec.
Peripherally, Harry was aware of movement in the corridor outside the open office door. Sheppard's team had returned a few hours earlier after coming under contact with the Wraith; Dr McKay had taken a stray Wraith stunner to the face through the gate even after they got back. He was now up and about again, moaning the whole time.
Harry looked up to see Saito leaning in the doorway. The First Sergeant had walked past, then doubled back; the movement Harry had noticed.
"Staff Bates went to a what he said was an important meeting with Dr Weir about twenty minutes ago, just said it was a security issue and I didn't get the chance to ask him any more. I was just wondering why you weren't there, sir."
Harry frowned, turning his chair slightly, putting down the tablet. "The Staff Sergeant hasn't made me aware of any pressing security issues that would require a meeting with Doctor Weir. Is there anything else he's mentioned to you?"
"He's been unhappy with the amount of times offworld teams come under fire, and he's also still unhappy about the security arrangements in the city."
Harry rolled his eyes. "I keep telling him that if he could prove the Athosians had anything less than complete loathing for the Wraith I'd consider more restrictions, but he can't, because they don't, and I'm not about to throw away three months worth of hearts and minds work based solely on his vague suspicions."
"I hear you sir, I've been telling him the same thing. But it's his job, and he takes it seriously."
"I know, and I'm grateful that he is so conscientious about it. As for the offworld teams, well, there he has a point, but he hasn't even mentioned it to me. Which he should have, because I already discussed it with the Major yesterday; Bates should have been on me about it even before that. It is his job, as you said." Harry stood, picked up the tablet and moved to the door; Saito stepped aside to let him out. "How much interaction with the Athosians does Bates have?"
"Not much, sir."
"Change that." Harry ordered. "Switch around some of the secondary duties so he has to work with them some. Maybe shifts as the range or training NCO; he might be impressed by the Athosian volunteers, they're coming along pretty well. He might tone down the mistrust if we give him more opportunities to find reasons to trust them; hard to provide security for people he simply doesn't know."
"Chuck, you seen Dr. Weir?"
The Canadian control room tech sergeant looked up, then at the Director's clearly empty office. "Uh … oh, yes sir, she's in the conference room."
"Anyone else in there?"
"Major Sheppard, Lieutenant Ford, Dr McKay and Staff Sergeant Bates, Captain."
"Okay, thank you, Sergeant."
The conference room's slatted doors didn't open at his approach, as they normally did. That meant someone had engaged the privacy setting from the other side, to stop them from opening every time someone walked past, but they weren't locked; Harry just touched the manual control to one side, which opened the door closest to the end.
Inside, the five occupants looked up. "Captain, uh …" Weir started, but hesitated. Harry ignored her. It was insubordinate, but she'd get over it.
"Staff Bates, did you convene this meeting on a security related matter without first discussing it with me?"
Bates had a distinctly unusual expression; half rabbit-in-the-headlights, half like he'd bitten something sour. "Yes sir."
"And why was that, Staff Sergeant?" Harry's tone was almost pleasant. Almost. Combined with the scars, it gave the distinct impression that he was a few seconds from hurting somebody badly if he didn't receive the correct answers.
"Because you're too close to the Athosians, Harry." Weir said, in what she presumably imagined was a calming tone. If Harry had been angry, it might have worked, but he rarely let emotion into his work. "The Staff Sergeant is in charge of security. Major Sheppard's team has been attacked by the Wraith five times out the last nine missions; he has concerns, which I share."
So when I interrupted it was 'Captain,' and now it's 'Harry.' Rather transparent attempt at manipulating me, but she's just doing her job. As am I. And as Sergeant Bates isn't.
"Of course I'm close to the Athosians, it's my job. Assigned to me by you, if you recall. But that isn't the point, Doctor Weir."
"Then what is?"
"Chain of command." Harry's tone went from almost pleasant to definitely icy in a heartbeat. "Staff Bates hasn't even approached me with any significant security issues, including the one about Major Sheppard's team, which I happen to have already discussed with the CO. The problem, Staff Bates, is that you jumped the entire chain of command. Not just me, and believe me we'll be discussing that in greater detail later. You could have taken your fears and suspicions to the First Sergeant - which you didn't, because I just talked to him, and he seems to be under the impression you were just grousing - or any of the platoon commanders, or the CO, or me," Harry stressed the last word, "because I am your direct superior and you report to me first. If you had done that, and if I had rejected your suspicions out of hand, then you might have had evidence to suggest I was biased, or unwilling to consider a spy amongst the Athosians whom I'm friendly with, Staff Sergeant. But you did not, and I am not, so you have no excuse for jumping the chain of command, Staff Sergeant!"
The repeated use of the NCO's rank was deliberate, a reminder of his supposed experience and position of responsibility in the company; as was Harry's move during his little tirade, delivered in an arctic-temperature tone, to stand between Sheppard, sitting on one corner of the triangular conference table, and Ford, in the middle of one side immediately to his right.
By placing himself there, and with all eyes now looking at Bates for an explanation, the security noncom was under the pressure of not only explaining himself to Harry - his direct boss, and an intimidating presence at the best of times - but to the other two most senior officers in the company, with all three now arranged in a single line, subconsciously implying solidarity, directly opposite the Staff Sergeant.
All three were staring at him with distinctly unimpressed looks. Just because Major Sheppard and Lieutenant Ford were 'nice guys' and easy to get along with didn't mean they tolerated any bullshit. Harry was guessing the only reason the CO hadn't already jumped down Bates' throat already was the fact Dr Weir was present, and such chewings-out as Bates clearly needed to receive were best delivered without ladies present. Preferably by the First Sergeant, who could be extremely creative with his profanities.
Harry, however, wanted to make it clear to the Director that, while yes, she was the top of the chain, neither was she supposed to act on an NCO's paranoia without even bothering to call in all of the senior staff. That undermined their authority, which was very nearly as harmful to discipline as the officers undercutting her.
"The Staff Sergeant is responsible for security, Harry." Weir tried to interrupt. "He brought valid concerns to me …"
"I'm not debating his concerns, Doctor Weir. We'll get to those in a minute, because I agree. There is a security problem. My issue here is that the Staff Sergeant seems to think his entire chain of command is either too biased or incompetent to deal with the problem; that indicates either that we are suffering from a severe failure of leadership, or he has an inflated sense of self-importance." Harry really didn't like having to slap Bates down like this, because it might undo all the work he and Sheppard had put into winning the respect of the company's rank and file - but the man should have known better, and if he didn't, then he had to learn better.
"Because while Staff Sergeant Bates is responsible for security, ma'am, he is responsible for it to me. I am his superior officer in the company staff. I meet with the Staff Sergeant to discuss security regularly, usually on a daily basis. I report his concerns to, and discuss them with Major Sheppard, and the Major reports to you; and before it reaches you, all three of us get together and work out some options for dealing with any problems that arise, so that when the Major informs you of it he can also present some solutions to implement that you can take a decision on. That's how the system works, and it does work unless one of those two reasons - bias or incompetence; or a crisis of some sort, I suppose - throws a spanner in said system."
Harry directed his attention back to the security NCO who, credit to him, was sitting to attention rather than trying to sink through the floor. Irritating though Bates' paranoia could be sometimes, he was a conscientious if somewhat overeager SNCO and a Marine to the core; he'd made a bad call - Harry could see that realisation in his eyes already - but he'd take his dressing down and learn from it. Harry could respect that sort of integrity; it didn't mean he was going to take it easy on him. "Explain yourself, Staff Bates. Explain exactly why you jumped not just one, but four levels of the chain of command. Because that means you are implying that I and the others you bypassed are either incompetent or unprofessional, and I personally do not appreciate having my competency or integrity as an officer of Her Majesty's Armed Forces being called into question."
Harry wasn't kidding; integrity - or rather failures of integrity - were one of the main causes of people washing out of British military academies: Sandhurst, Cranwell and Dartmouth for the Army, RAF and Royal Navy respectively. Being found to have lied during basic training, even if it was about whether or not you shaved that morning was an instant fail, as in: pack your bags, go home, you're not wanted if we can't trust you to tell the truth about even the little things.
Once out of the Academies, integrity was usually defined by something called the service test: "Have the actions or behaviour of an individual adversely impacted or are they likely to impact on the efficiency, reputation or operational effectiveness of the Service?" Such an accusation needed to be solidly backed up with facts - first of all, it was a near-grievous insult to any conscientious officer, and thus tended to cause long-lasting grudges; and second, in the more serious cases, if proven correct it might end the accused officer's career entirely (or the accuser, if it was false).
"I believed that both the Major, the Lieutenant and yourself might be … too close to the problem to hear any … concerns I might have fairly, sir."
"When it became clear that only Major Sheppard's team was being regularly targeted by the Wraith, my first suspicions fell on …" Bates hesitated, but ploughed on, "On Teyla Emmagan, sir. As the only non-Earth member of AR-One, and the only Athosian likely to know tactical details of deployments of that team, such as which worlds and what times they were visiting, sir."
"And you thought that all three of us were too close to Teyla to hear any hint of that theory."
"Yes sir. Major Sheppard and Lieutenant Ford are on the same team with her, and …" Bates hesitated yet again; probably because Harry intimidated him, "well sir, there's a pool for when the two of you will … become an item." Sheppard's protest in defence of Teyla's presence on his team died on the tip of his tongue as he blinked at Bates in surprise, and looked up at his XO.
Harry was mildly impressed by the tact Bates had shown there, but … looking down, he noticed Lieutenant Ford didn't seem quite as surprised at the news as he should have been.
"You didn't happen to organise that pool as well, Lieutenant Ford?"
"Uh, possibly, sir."
"Hmm." Harry added Ford's apparent gambling problem to the list of things to deal with later, and refocused on Bates. "While I suppose those are valid to a point, Sergeant, you still could have gone to the First Sergeant, couldn't you? Unless you feel that Sergeant Major Saito has worked with Teyla too much, or has too much unresolved tension with her."
All present winced at the biting tone that was delivered in.
"Yes sir. I could've."
"Could ... have?"
"Should have, sir." Bates corrected himself.
"And my original point stands; if you had brought this to me, and if I had rejected it out of hand, then you would have valid reason to jump the chain. But you didn't bring it to me, did you? So you went over my head, and the Lieutenant's, and the First Sergeant's, and the CO's for crying out loud, without any real evidence beyond some suspicions of UST and of coworkers actually having a working relationship." Something you don't do so well on, Harry didn't say aloud. Bates' aggressive attitude and stubbornness could be grating on some of the other staff members too, not just Harry, as his conversation with Saito earlier had indicated.
"So next time?"
"I'll bring it to you, sir."
Harry had always measured his success as an officer against a quote from the presently serving US Secretary of State - and former four-star general - Colin Powell:
"Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership."
Harry didn't think either of those things had occurred in the company as a whole, just with Bates. If Bates had acted like he'd done nothing wrong he would have gotten a much worse taste of Harry's temper than he already had. Fortunately, that didn't seem to be the case; he was regretting not having thought it all through first, and the subsequent putting his foot in it, and was probably resigning himself to being on the Exec's shitlist for a few weeks at least.
Harry however had no intention of alienating a senior NCO like that. He couldn't transfer Bates out somewhere else, because 'somewhere else' was on the other end of a three million lightyear wormhole they didn't have the power to generate, so he was stuck with him, and would have to work with that. At least this wouldn't happen again.
"Good. That dealt with for the time being -" Bates winced slightly, "- Staff Sergeant Bates is correct. There is a security issue. Five out of nine planets isn't a coincidence."
"Two of those were unpopulated." Weir said. Harry couldn't read her expression; her diplomat's expressionless poker face had slid into place, indicating either she was surprised or, worse, extremely annoyed by what had just happened. She could have interpreted Harry's dressing-down of Bates as cutting her out of the conversation, undermining her own authority. It wasn't - discipline was an internal matter, and one of an XO's primary responsibilities - but Weir was a civilian who, despite commanding the SGC, still had relatively little experience of the workings of a military unit, and might interpret things differently.
If she is annoyed … well, I guess we'll cross that bridge when we get to it.
"Meaning any leak had to be on this end." Bates finished.
"If someone on the base is communicating with the Wraith, why hasn't Atlantis been attacked?" McKay asked.
"And not one we can answer yet." Harry interrupted. "Suggested options, Staff Sergeant?"
"Full lockdown. Stop using the gate indefinitely."
"We need the gate to find a ZPM to get the AI and the city online." Sheppard objected.
"City seems to be running fine without a ZPM at the moment, sir."
"Yeah, because we're sitting fat, happy and defenceless on the surface, Staff Sergeant." Harry snorted. "We need a ZPM to power defensive systems for when the Wraith show up, because they will eventually, with or without a spy."
"And without one how do we get back to Earth?" McKay put in, urgently. Well, his priorities are clear.
"This is the only Stargate in the Pegasus galaxy that can even reach Earth," Weir reminded them of the rather high stakes, "and if it comes to it we're going to have to use the self-destruct before the Wraith take the city."
"Next option, Staff Bates."
"We have to find out who is responsible. I suggest we start by confining all non-base personnel to the south side of the complex."
"You're kidding!" Sheppard exploded.
"That's the absolute minimum we should do. If Colonel Sumner were still -" Bates cut himself off. Too late.
"He's not!" Sheppard almost shouted, before continuing more calmly. "I am."
"Yes sir." Bates replied evenly, but he'd gone too far. Again.
And that's the issue isn't it - Bates hasn't adjusted to the leadership change yet; or to the Major's and my own style of leadership, which is just as important. He's used to having a chain of command that sees eye-to-eye with him, and that means he's used to getting his way on security matters. Sumner was a hard-ass, and probably regarded security as the be-all and end-all of any issue.
But it's more complex now; we've got avoid offending the Athosians, because we're far from home with no way back. Local allies will be critical for resupply and intel. Security also has to take a backseat to moving forward with the primary objective - finding a ZPM - even at the expense of risking lives, but Bates can't comprehend either of those things. He's only a sergeant; a senior one, sure, but he isn't trained to see the bigger picture, just his part in it.
He's only seeing the security issue, not the strategic ones. If we offend the Athosians, we loose the opportunity for them to put in a good word for us with all their contacts, and thus let us accelerate the building of good relations with many of the cultures in this galaxy. Even after three months of sending teams out we've only covered about half of their network. We can't shut off the gate either; we need ZPMs and the city doesn't have any. We have to take the risk to get the reward.
"So … it wasn't just that the Major, Lieutenant Ford and myself are too close to Teyla is it, Staff Sergeant?"
Bates met Harry's eyes, then blinked and looked to the side, staring over Harry's shoulder at the wall. "I suppose not, sir."
"Well I can sympathise with that, Staff Sergeant. Losing a CO or other unexpected changes of command almost always have negative repercussions for the morale and operations of any unit. But that, to rehash what I said earlier again, is no excuse for jumping chain of command. If you had issues with your new commanders or our way of doing things you knew we weren't going to bite your head off if you approached us about it."
"No sir." I'll have to get Saito and Santorini to give him a talking to. I don't think this is getting through his stubborn skull.
"We're not going to start treating anyone like prisoners ..." Weir began carefully.
"Well, that's good." Sheppard replied sarcastically.
"That said, steps should be taken to safeguard the more sensitive areas of this facility. It's only reasonable."
Bates jumped in again. "I recommend no go zones start with Stargate operations, the labs, power generators and the jumper bay."
"I want to meet with every Athosian on this base." Weir stated, looking at the NCO. "They've been here three months, but I only know a handful of them by name." The three military officers were practically being ignored now.
Sheppard and Ford exchanged a look, then the CO looked up at Harry and lifted an eyebrow slightly. The message was clear; 'This is a bad idea, but Weir's clearly made up her mind, any thoughts on what can we do to change it?'
"I can start setting up interviews - " Bates stopped as Harry held up a hand.
"Staff Bates, do you have any specific training concerning counter-intelligence?"
"Not exactly sir, but - "
"Thank you." Harry interrupted. "Doctor Weir, in your diplomatic career you mostly conducted high-level formal international meetings and conferences, yes? I believe you were involved in the most recent round of START disarmament treaties, for example. Also some updates to the Geneva Convention concerning child soldiers."
"Yes, that's correct."
"Permission to speak freely, ma'am?"
"You weren't already?" Weir said dryly.
"The new security regulations and the interviews are both enormous mistakes."
Harry's flat statement made Bates sit up again, this time apparently in barely-concealed indignation; Weir's eyes narrowed at the insubordination, but since she'd invited the comment, she waited for him to go on.
"Staff Bates, your position as company security NCO, like most military positions, comes with a manual. I know that, because I am your supervisor, and I have, in the last three months, fully read through said manual in order to be capable of overseeing your duties. What, Staff Bates, does your manual and original training have to say about hunting suspected enemy agents?"
Bates looked like he wanted to grind his teeth. "To call NCIS if in the states or navy counter-intelligence when on deployment, sir. But -"
"So," Harry spoke over him again, "by your own admission, your own training is not sufficient to track down enemy spies, and as company security NCO your usual action would be to pass your suspicions and already gathered evidence on to the Navy's security specialists, or federal police when stateside."
"Which is why you would not know that normal counter-intel procedure is to avoid alerting the target to the possibility of discovery, which is exactly what your new security arrangements would do. More on that in a minute."
Harry turned to his boss's boss, aware that he had to handle this part of the conversation very, very carefully, lest he have to deal with a pissed-off Doctor Weir for the rest of their time here.
"Doctor Weir, you asked me to be the point of contact to the Athosians, to get to know their culture, so I'm surprised you didn't ask if interviews were appropriate. They aren't." Harry went on as Weir opened her mouth, presumably to object. "Small, informal cultures like that of the Athosians do not have bureaucracy. You won't be able to get to know them in interviews, because while they do not have bureaucracy, they are familiar with the idea of interrogations. A formal environment will make them nervous, and in more extreme cases defensive. They aren't stupid; they'll know something's up if you suddenly drag them in here, especially if any new security arrangements go into force at the same time."
Harry caught Bates' slight shift in his chair. "Oh hell. You put them into effect already, didn't you?"
"Yes sir." This was a whole different level of bad; Bates hadn't only jumped over the officers' combined heads to go straight to Weir, he'd issued a new set of standing security orders that would, under normal procedure, have to be approved by the XO or CO prior to implementation.
He might've gotten Weir to sign off on those regulations in the first meeting they'd had, before this one that Harry had just crashed, but Weir herself seemed surprised that they'd already been implemented ... which meant Bates had done it on his own recognisance, and that was going too far.
It was one thing for Bates to bypass the military hierarchy out of professional conscientiousness - which up until that point, Harry had been prepared to believe was the case, if for insufficient and incorrect reasons - but massively exceeding his own authority and issuing company-wide standing orders without clearance was well beyond the pale, even if he had thought it an emergency.
"Wait a moment, I won't be long." Harry turned and stalked to the door, his temper now simmering, close to bubbling over.
How many things can Bates fuck up in one day! Not now, deal with him later. When Weir isn't around and I can let all this out with the appropriate language.
Leaving the conference room door open behind him, Harry walked quickly over to the control room, noting the presence of two extra marines on the stairs below him, and found Sergeant Barroso - second squad leader, Ford's platoon, he reminded himself - on watch, sitting at the communications desk.
"Has Staff Bates changed the security arrangements?"
"Yes sir. I'm still working out the new roster, but I've already posted extra guards on Stargate ops."
"Just on Stargate Operations?" Harry confirmed.
"Yes sir," Barroso confirmed.
"Belay those orders. The Staff Sergeant didn't clear them with me or the CO, and has significantly exceeded his authority in issuing them. The new arrangements will cause more problems than they solve, so cancel any orders you've already sent out and return to the previous security SOPs for the time being."
"Aye aye sir."
Back in the conference room, Weir waited for the door to shut before asking Harry, "So, instead of interviews, what would you recommend?" Thankfully, Harry's brief absence from the room had given Weir a few moments to think about what he said, and consider his point with a professional viewpoint.
"Engage with them when they're relaxed. Mealtimes mainly, or during the evenings when they tend to gather down in the rec area like they would in the village, like a social. Or read bedtime stories to the kids, like the Major's been doing."
"Trying to do, more like," Ford muttered. Harry held back a grin at Sheppard's aggrieved look. The Major's storytelling abilities were … less than impressive.
"Regardless of Major Sheppard's storytelling qualifications … or lack thereof," Harry added, blithely ignoring the CO's look settling on him, "the point is that the Athosians are an informal people, so if you want to really get to know them, you have to engage with them in an informal setting."
"Okay. I'll do that. But won't it take too long?"
"Too long for what, ma'am? Finding the mole?"
"That's not a problem Director, because you aren't getting to know the Athosians to find the mole - that's our job. You're getting to know them for the long-term benefit of having our Expedition's most senior member being on good terms with one of this galaxy's apparently most-widely known and travelled nomadic tribes. The Athosians have friends and trade contacts on dozens of worlds, and that's just Teyla's Primas clan, not counting the other twelve tribes."
"Why are relations with the Athosians so important, sir?" asked Bates.
"Because trade networks also double as information networks, and information will be key to combating the Wraith; more precisely, key to avoiding them when we can't win. We're the guerilla's here, we need to pick our battles carefully."
"So … how do the Athosians' various friends help with that?"
"Because, Doctor McKay, by being friends with the Athosians, they will introduce us to their friends, and their friends to their friends." Harry's tone was very close to patronising, which was probably a rarity for McKay to be on the receiving end of. "Eventually, if they like us enough, and if there aren't any risks - or if we make the risks worth it, all those various friends will start passing information that they think might be of interest to us along those lines of communication. Information like Wraith movements, attacks, new technologies, allies we should reach out to … or rumours of ZPMs. You see now?"
"Yes." Great, McKay was grumpy again, about being talked down to. What a surprise.
"Also, we will eventually need to trade for food outside Atlantis." Sheppard interjected. "Our rations will only last another three months without cutting back on consumption. Which is why," he emphasised, giving Bates a hard look, "we much absolutely not overreact on this. Yes, there is a security issue. Yes, it must be dealt with. But not at the expense of three months of effort towards good relations with the Athosians, Staff Sergeant. There is far more at stake here."
"So, how do you intend to find the mole, Captain, Major?" Weir asked. Sheppard looked at Harry.
"You seem to be the man with a plan."
"The beginnings of one, yes sir. The first move is technical. Doctor McKay, can the new sensors you've unlocked pick up transmissions from within the city? Unauthorised transmissions, I mean."
"Yes, it'll take some recalibration though. But it's easier said than done. Our own radios are putting out a lot of signals, as does a lot of equipment in the city, even the dormant stuff. Going to be hard to sort through the chaff."
"Do your best." Harry told him. "Start watching the subspace bands first; that's the most dangerous, as it's the most likely means of FTL comms, and means our location here might well be compromised. However, it might not anything so long ranged, so we might still be secure. Once we have sensor overwatch ready to intercept and locate any transmission sources, we'll schedule AR-1 for a mission, since they're the ones who seem to be the trouble magnets."
"Shake the bushes, see what falls out." Sheppard nodded, "It's a good plan. Doesn't tip off the spy, gives us a chance to observe them in the act, still undetected."
"All right then." Weir began to stand up. "Rodney, get right on that."
"One last thing, ma'am." Harry waited as Weir sat back down again. "There's some other possibilities to consider."
"Major, how is most of our intel these days generated?"
Sheppard caught on immediately; so did Ford. "Technical. Signals intercepts, satellite imagery, and so on. Human agents and assets are pretty rare these days. And since the Wraith are more advanced -"
"And have been in sole control of Pegasus for ten thousand years," Harry finished, "it isn't beyond possibility that the Wraith have a strategic-level surveillance network, maybe even on the gates themselves. It stands to reason they haven't discovered every single gate everywhere; the Goa'uld certainly didn't, and that would explain why there were worlds AR-1 was not attacked on, or maybe responding forces were out of range."
"But that's the issue, sir." Bates said. "AR-1, specifically AR-1, has been fielding the most contacts with the enemy. Only three other teams have encountered the Wraith, and only on one occasion each; and both of them had Athosian tag-alongs. There's a pattern, there; there must be a link."
"Teyla?" Weir wondered aloud. "I don't know, Staff Sergeant. I admit I don't know the Athosians in general very well but I have come to know Teyla well. I just don't see it. Teyla lost her parents and her extended family, along more than a few friends to Wraith culling raids. And the Athosians as a whole have been hunted by the Wraith for generations, they hate the Wraith with an intensity I found almost disquieting; it's almost completely at odds with the rest of their normally peaceful culture ... although very understandable."
"The hypothetical surveillance network does explain that too. It doesn't explain the anomaly of AR-1's contacts directly, but I agree, the Athosians animosity to the Wraith is long-standing and well-founded. If there's something specific to Teyla or other Athosians, maybe an implanted tracker, or maybe something genetic, like Major Sheppard's ATA gene, that might explain it. It's a rookie mistake to jump to the conclusion that it must be a traitor; enemy action is a more likely explanation than betrayal."
"Let's game that through." Sheppard said, frowning. "A gate has a hypothetical surveillance device on it. The Wraith usually showed up an hour or so after our arrival pretty consistently; what about the other three contacts?" This question was directed at Bates, who checked his notes.
"One was six hours, one around eight hours, sir. The last was a full thirty-six, the geology team had started a survey which was why they were there so long."
"And there's another anomaly. Why did it take so long in all those cases?"
"I'm sorry, but I'll play devil's advocate here." Weir leaned forwards. "I like Teyla, but it's pretty clear there's something different about AR-1, and she's the only non-Earth member. If she was working for the Wraith, willingly or otherwise, wouldn't that be the point? That we like her? To ingratiate herself into our command structure and decision loop where she could get information, become friendly with us, divert suspicion away from herself?"
Harry looked down at the table; Weir's words had come down on him like a hammer.
Truth was … she was right. If Teyla was an enemy, that was exactly what she would be doing. If she was as well-trained and as objectively ruthless as Harry knew MI-6 or CIA agents could be, Teyla's actions would have checked all the boxes for doing her job perfectly. She had established friendly relationships with all the senior staff, and most of the Marines through helping Harry and Saito with the unarmed combat sessions, and her focus on Harry, through sparring, socialising with him more than any of the other Earth personnel - not to mention flirting with him regularly - could indicate she had picked him out as a honeytrap.
And what had he done, if that was indeed the case? He'd walked right into it. He'd given her information about Earth - nothing relevant to Earth's defence, but still the Wraith would sure to be interested in anything about the planet - and taught her how to handle their weapons, trained her in basic military tactics and procedures.
And he'd divulged personal details to her too; about Sierra Leone, and Hetty, and a few other small experiences in Afghanistan that were more humorous than important, but he'd told her. Even Hermione didn't know the details, although she could probably guess, because even though he hadn't seen her much after being expelled from Hogwarts, and even less since he joined the military she still knew how to read him like a book, much like Hetty had.
So, if Teyla was a spy, he'd fucked up big time. But, and it was a big 'but', that statement contained an if. And that was important, because Harry believed himself a better judge of character than that, and he knew Weir and Sheppard were too. The Director had been right before.
"Like you said before, Director, I just don't see it. Teyla has every reason to hate the Wraith and none to collaborate with them. But … we'll keep an open mind."
"All right." Weir watched him, judging him. "All right. Captain Potter does seem to have the requisite background for this kind of work, more so than anyone else on the base. It's your show. How long do you think it's going to take?"
"A few days, probably, ma'am."
"All right." Weir got up to leave. "I'll leave you to it, to 'plan some solutions.' We'll have another meeting this afternoon to see what you've got."
"So what's the plan?"
"Three-stage. One, identify. Two, confirm. Three, neutralise and exploit."
Weir raised an eyebrow. "You make it sound easy." They were in the Director's office, four hours after the last meeting. Bates and the two senior officers had spent the time analysing the situation from every conceivable eventuality, and putting together a plan that would deal with as many of them as possible … and backup plans for the less-likely possibilities the main one didn't cover.
"Well, it won't be, ma'am. A lot will depend on how it progresses, what we learn in the process. We won't bore you with the vast amount of contingency planning we've already done, but the gist of it is to exploit the pattern of attacks on AR-1. Stage one is Doctor McKay's responsibility, and he'll be done with recalibrating one set of sensor antennae by this evening. With that done, we can pick up any outgoing unauthorised transmissions."
"Are you sure there will be any?"
"No, ma'am, we're not. A spy could be passing information on through physical meetings offworld. It's also possible they've passed the entire mission schedule for the next week or so already. Counter-intel doctrine calls for, basically, scientific method; establishing exactly what is going on through making small, innocuous changes, changing the situation a little bit each time and seeing what happens in response to those changes."
"What changes will you make?"
"First, any teams with Athosian advisors - except AR-1 - will have their upcoming mission be cancelled for various plausible reasons, in order to prevent any spy from reaching a hypothetical physical meetings with contacts offworld. By closing that line of communication, and combined with the sensor overwatch on the city, the enemy will be unable to learn of any changes to the mission schedule."
"Which, since you mentioned it, will also be changed, I take it?"
"Very slightly. It's clear there's a pattern around AR-1 as I said; they've been attacked more often than any other team, and although most of their initial missions were clean, the Wraith attacks did get more frequent as time progressed."
"So an attack on AR-1 will be the 'confirmation?'"
"In a way. We'll move AR-1's mission back by an hour, preceded by a covert sweep of the planet by a Jumper. By covert I mean both cloaked on the other side but also secret back here in Atlantis, so that any spy can't know - which means we'll need a nice, convenient way of emptying the Gate room. Or we could just pretend it was going elsewhere, like a check up on the Wraith Hive planet - the only person who would know would be whoever was dialling."
"And the purpose of the sweep is …?"
"Is to establish how and when the Wraith arrive." Sheppard took over. "My team has consistently been attacked within somewhere between an hour to an hour and a half of arrival - another statistical anomaly when compared to the other teams' encounters. If the Wraith have been pre-informed of our existing mission schedule, we can expect them to either be in place well in advance, like any ambush force, or to arrive around the time we are supposed to show up - both of which seem unlikely given the pattern observed."
"What if they're already in orbit when the Jumper goes through?"
"If they were already in orbit all the other times, why did they wait an hour before attacking?" Sheppard asked rhetorically. "It can't possibly take a race as advanced as the Wraith an hour to get troops from orbit to ground; even without beaming tech, Earth's first vessels could land troops faster than that. In addition, it would be a major tactical vulnerability in an attack on a well-defended planet, and we know the Wraith have done a lot of those those from the records of the Lantean-Wraith war. However, we need to cover all the bases, so the Jumper will be in place to conduct surveillance prior to, during and after the mission. It should net us some useful data on Wraith operating procedures too. Provided the pattern holds and the Wraith actually attack, of course."
"Probably, ma'am, but with such an alien enemy … sorry, I meant in thought processes rather than actual biology, though I will claim the pun as deliberate anyway." Sheppard and Weir just rolled their eyes at Harry's irreverence in a supposedly formal briefing. "The pattern should hold. We're working off thin data, Doctor, assumptions are risky but unfortunately some are necessary."
"The Jumper won't be the only thing on overwatch over AR-1." Harry went on. "While the Jumpers have good sensor capabilities, we'll still need eyes on the ground directly, and to provide overwatch if AR-1 gets trapped."
"So send more Jumpers?"
"There are a few reasons why we don't want to do that." Sheppard answered. "First, we don't want to risk more than one. They're limited in number, unless there are other hangars in the city which we haven't yet found. Second, if something goes wrong it will be far harder to extract a jumper against opposition via a ground gate than a spacegate. Third, the only weapons a Jumper is equipped with are Ancient drones, and they're more than a little overpowered for this mission. Plus, while the Jumper's sensors are good, they're not capable of distinguishing more than life-signs or human-sized thermal signatures from orbit, which means we'll need boots on the ground to actually watch Teyla on the mission. That will be provided by a sniper team, led by Harry."
"Is the additional deployment because you're suspicious of Teyla or because you're covering all the bases?"
"The latter, ma'am. While in some ways Teyla has behaved exactly as a trained spy from Earth would have done, working her way into our confidence and so on, there are so very many factors that weigh against the likelihood of her cooperating with the Wraith as to make it seriously implausible."
"What about blackmail? Threatening her people? Or brainwashing, mental programming? The Wraith seem to have some abilities in that area, over humans anyway." Weir's short stint at the SGC had clearly been very good for playing the role of cynical devil's advocate. God knows Cheyenne Mountain had been attacked by every kind of infiltrator available, ranging from various species of body-stealing parasites to invisible insects. Compared to all that, simple brainwashing wasn't just unusual, it was run-of-the-mill ordinary.
"Possible," Sheppard thought out loud, "but the Athosians have always been under the threat of extinction, even now - that's nothing new to them, and they've always taken it in stride. Hell, avoiding the culls and trying to find happiness in spite of them has shaped their whole culture, it's why they're so touchy-feely."
Harry chuckled. "That a technical term?"
"So I'm not an anthropologist, so sue me. And you seem to enjoy it, Harry. At least when it comes from Teyla?"
Ouch, zinger. Harry had no comeback to that, or grounds for protest.
"As for brainwashing ..." Sheppard continued, smirking at Weir's exasperated glare at their informal banter, "it would take time, surely. Teyla was never away from the sight of the other prisoners when on the Hive, which would be the most likely time it could have happened - and the prisoners still had their watches on, even if their other equipment was removed. Bates and the other marines captured turned in a full report; actually, Bates woke up first out of everyone, including Teyla, just half an hour after they were kidnapped, and she was with them the whole time until the rescue. The timeframe for brainwashing is too short."
"But we can't be certain of that." Weir grimaced. "Seems like we can't be certain of anything. Okay, so it's either a human spy in Atlantis, or an autonomous transmitter of some sort?"
"Or a remote surveillance network, yes ma'am." Back to Harry again. "Basically this will test those possibilities. If it's a transmitter or surveillance on the arrival gate, they'll show up on the same schedule as the previous attacks. If they're working off an out of date mission schedule passed to them by a human agent, they'll be early."
"So you have a jumper and snipers in place prior to Major Sheppard's arrival." Weir summarised. "From there?"
"From there the snipers will provide overwatch. When the Wraith show up, we observe their arrival, deployment and approach tactics, all of which will be useful in the future. When the attack actually starts - and Major Sheppard will have to act surprised - then AR-1 will behave as normal, and fall back to the gate. The sniper teams will provide support if required, but hopefully won't have to. They will return with the Jumper. I should point something out however."
"If Dr McKay traces a transmission source conclusively, none of this will be necessary."
"I hope he does then." Weir said, then leaned forward, resting her arms on the desk. "Where is Teyla, by the way?"
"Probably with Halling. He's been taking on more of her clan leader duties now she's out and about with AR-1, but she still needs to deal with some of the stuff that comes up."
"All right. It's going to be hard to keep this from her. She's very perceptive."
Sheppard and Harry traded a look. "Yeah. It's going to be a bit awkward," said Harry. "We'll manage. Is there anything else Director?"
"No, you seem to have this under control. Keep me updated." Harry missed Weir's small gesture for Sheppard to stay behind as he left.
When the Major had settled back into his seat, Weir broached a rather more personal topic. "John, do I need to be worried about Harry and Teyla's relationship?"
"Well, for starters, while I know they haven't done anything yet, if they do will it against regulations?"
"That was very tactfully put, Elizabeth." Sheppard teased, but then he frowned - knowing the regs off the top of his head had never been his strong suit. "I don't think so. Harry's under both the UCMJ and whatever the British equivalent is, as he's serving as both a USAF and RAF officer right now. I'm pretty certain the UCMJ regs only cover personnel in the same chain of command, and Teyla's not technically in any chain of command. I've no idea what the RAF ones say."
"What about setting an example for expedition personnel?"
"It's not a bad example, is it? Teyla mostly seems to be the one taking the initiative, and she's being pretty subtle. Harry isn't forcing the issue, neither is it particularly public, for all that everyone seems to know about it." Sheppard rolled his eyes. "Damned jarheads gossip like old ladies."
"No, not at all … I meant more as an example for the Marines; will it lessen Harry's standing in their eyes, or adversely impact his ability to command?"
"I don't think so," Sheppard shrugged. "If they actively disliked Teyla, maybe. Since they don't, because Marines usually respect anyone who can go hand-to-hand with someone of Harry's skill and actually win occasionally. Plus, objectively speaking, she's hot. If anything, it'll endear him to them; their opinions will be more along the lines of 'lucky bastard' rather than just 'he's a bastard,' if you'll pardon my French. Jarheads are simple carbon-based life forms like that."
Weir shook her head, laughing tiredly. "Of course. 'The Marines I have seen around the world have the cleanest bodies, the filthiest minds, the highest morale, and the lowest morals of any group of animals I have ever seen.' Eleanor Roosevelt said that, and she's been right for sixty years and counting."
"Don't think it's just the Marines," Sheppard joked. "I think it's a general male thing. The problem won't be in their relationship, but what results from it."
"Ah. You mean if the Marines, or any of the expedition personnel form attachments with Pegasus natives?"
"Yes, particularly if some idiot Earther were to get one of the Athosian girls pregnant." Sheppard grimaced. "The Athosians are, fortunately, very liberal in that regard; very unlike the patriarchal structures of most still-existing 'tribes' on Earth, like in Arabic culture where women are closely controlled - hijabs, walking three paces behind their husbands or fathers, and so on and so forth. The UCMJ has some pretty clear regulations for getting local girls pregnant, because the Marines on Embassy guard duty have a habit of doing it regularly, but those regs assume that we can actually return to Stateside, which would give both mother and child American citizenship. Nor do they take into account having to explain the girl's origins in another galaxy if she does go back to Earth. And if word got out we had an escape route from the Wraith …"
"Then it may provoke a flurry of women seeking to seduce Earth natives in an effort to get a free ticket away from the Wraith." Weir concluded. "That would be a serious problem. One or two we can handle maybe, quietly, but not more, and that's even if we had a route home. Do make sure the Marines understand that."
"Sure thing," Sheppard said, with false cheer. "I can't think of anything more enjoyable than giving a company of Marines the 'when a boy meets a girl something happens' speech."
He got no sympathy from Weir, who just laughed at his put-upon expression.
As the senior officers of the Atlantis detachment were presenting their plan to seal the security breach, Bates also relayed an abbreviated version to the First Sergeant and the MGS, which would be followed up by a full briefing from the XO … then explained his own earlier screw-up.
After the First Sergeant was done bawling him out - as expected, loudly, at length and with great creativity, as he didn't repeat himself once in a five minute tirade - the more laid back Santorini just shook his head in resignation.
"I'm not sure he gets it, Ed. He still thinks we're being commanded by normal Air Force officers. Show him the file."
Saito looked at the Gunnery Sergeant, and back at Bates. "I know you and Colonel Sumner served several tours together, Staff Sergeant. I realise you've been told over and over that Marines are stronger, faster and tougher than everyone on Planet Earth. We all like to believe that, we're trained to think that in boot camp, it's a core part of the Marine ethos. But you're an E-6 now, and past E-6 rank you don't have the luxury of believing all Devil Dogs are invincible, so you should know better. You can't afford to have your professional judgement impaired by any Hollywood-style stupid-ass perceptions of all Marines being supermen. Yes, we're are trained to be some of the toughest people anywhere, but there are some people in this line of work who are quite literally inhuman. And, as hard as we Marines are, most of those people ain't Marines. We are fortunate, however, because one of 'em happens to be the XO."
During his speech, the Sergeant Major had unlocked a cabinet, pulled out two manilla files, and now tossed one on the desk next to Bates.
"You have now seriously pissed off a man who can outrun, outshoot, outfight and outthink any and all standards you choose to set. He's an SAS officer, Brad. They wrote the book on small-unit everything, and they've kept their edge over every other rip-off wannabe special forces group out there despite sixty years of people doing their best to copy and outdo them. That there is the XO's file, which technically I shouldn't have access to, but since I'm the acting S-1 personnel administrator I do. You definitely don't have the clearance, but have a look anyway, because if nothing else works, this will certainly get my point across."
The file was thin, and mostly redacted. 'Date of Birth,' 'Schooling,' 'Family/Next of Kin' and most of Flight Lieutenant Potter's training and operational service history including dates were all covered by thick black marker, obscuring the text.
One of two parts that weren't was 'Qualifications.' It was a long list, and contained an unusual fusion of RAF, Army and even MI-5 notations.
Infantry Battle School (Brecon Beacons) - SAS Selection, SAS Continuation Training, Platoon Commander's Battle Course
Combat Infantry Marksman's Badge (Current - Yearly Qualification)
Sniper Badge (Current)
Close Quarter Combat (Instructor)
Survival training by type/nation: Jungle (Brunei), Arctic/High-altitude (Norway), Desert (Kuwait)
HVI Close Protection and Hostage rescue
Plainclothes Counterterrorism (MI-5)
SERE (RAF St Mawgan)
Parachutist's Wings (HALO/HAHO)
Combat/Evasive Vehicle Driving (Advanced)
Field Military Intelligence (Advanced)
Linguistics (Middle East/Central Asia specialty)
Field Medic (Advanced)
Pilot Qualifications - Jet: Tornado/Hawk; Helicopter - Lynx/Gazelle/Squirrel.
There were several entries amongst the list that were also blacked out, suggesting he'd been trained on systems or in specialties so classified they couldn't even be named, even obliquely, on a personnel file itself classified Top Secret.
Under 'Decorations' however, it had 'VC (Classified, Date: Classified, by VOHMER/approved PM), CGC (OP TRENT, Date: 21 Nov 2001, put forward by CDS Adm. Boyce), CGC(2) (OP CONDOR, Date: 19 May 2002, put forward by Brig. Lamb, DSF), OSM with bars for Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Iraq. UN Service Medal (UNAMSIL).'
"I'm not … familiar with the British acronyms." Bates said, after he'd scanned it. "OSM seems to be some sort of campaign medal, but other than that ..."
"I'll enlighten you, then, shall I?" The Sergeant Major practically snarled. "That," he tapped the 'CGC', "is the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross, which is equivalent to the Navy Cross."
Bates blanched. It wasn't a good look on him.
"Yes, Staff Sergeant, you questioned the professionalism and integrity of an officer who has been awarded Britain's second highest decoration for valour under fire not once, but twice. But as if that wasn't bad enough, it gets oh-so very much fucking worse. For you, at least. That," he tapped the 'VC', "is the Victoria Cross … which is the equivalent of the Medal of Honor."
If it was even possible, Bates blanched even more. Although not actually enshrined in any formal regulations, the US military encouraged its members to regard Medal of Honor recipients with a considerable amount of awe, and expected them to render salutes and other normal military courtesies to Medal of Honor recipients regardless of rank or retired status. While this probably didn't extend to the British equivalent, Staff Bates was now acutely aware that the hole he had dug for himself was considerably deeper than he had imagined. Any negative reports on his conduct from an officer with such a medal - and the reputation it brought with it, which would not be reduced at all due to the close relationship the US and UK militaries maintained - might well kill his entire career, provided they got back to Earth.
"It doesn't say what he got the Victoria Cross for," Saito went on, "but the other two have the medal citations included in this file. In Operation Trent in November 2001, the SAS mounted a major assault on a fortified opium storage facility garrisoned by a company sized force of Al-Qaeda terrorists. A fire team from Captain Potter's Troop were fragged by several grenades thrown at them during the final approach on foot. He personally charged the position, cleared it, killing four Al-Qaeda fighters, one of them with a knife, then went back to give give cover fire and medical aid to his downed troopers.
"After a reserve team arrived and had evac'd his casualties he continued on with his remaining soldiers, clearing three more enemy-held buildings. He and his eleven men accounted for twenty-five more enemy KIA's, captured the AQ leader and secured the headquarters building, held it for fifteen minutes against an enemy counterattack despite being outnumbered five to one and evacuated under heavy fire with a significant cache of intelligence documents - documents which, incidentally, led to the locating and only-just-missed-capture of fucking Osama Bin Laden himself by Delta Force in the Battle of Tora Bora a month later. Not only that, but on the extract back to their vehicles, they started taking mortar fire, seriously wounding another soldier, who was then carried by the Captain personally for five hundred metres, in full gear and under machine gun and continuing mortar fire to the RV before an airstrike took care of the mortars and the storage facility. For this the Captain was recommended personally for the medal by the Chief of Defence Staff, aka the British equivalent of the Head of the Joint Chiefs. Impressed yet?"
Bates just nodded.
"The second was for Operation Condor, May 2002, where his four man patrol was ambushed at night by twelve Taliban fighters. They opened the ambush with two grenades, one of which the Captain somehow managed to catch before it landed and threw back, before diving on the other, landing backwards so his rucksack took the blast, saving the lives of his entire team. Protected by the ruck, which of course contained a lot of equipment as well as a heavy duty radio, and his body armour, he still took shrapnel wounds to both legs … and then fucking got up after a grenade blast went off twelve fucking inches from his back and, while wounded and still disoriented, led his patrol in a counter-ambush charge, which was the only viable tactic available, killing all twelve Taliban. During the process he was shot twice with an AK-47, but survived and was back on duty in four months, although I have no idea how he recovered so fast. This medal recommendation came directly from Potter's own CO, the Director of Special Forces.
"You have a long think about what he had to do to get both those medals … and then have a think about what he did to get the VC, which we don't know but was probably infinitely more insane. Does that sound like some pansy-ass chairforce blue boy to you?"
"I'm glad you think that way, Staff Sergeant. Because if you persist in disrespecting the XO, you will be getting fucking bruised."
Considering that Saito was still the company's designated unarmed combat instructor despite being two decades older than the younger marines, that was not a mild threat - and this was in a company of Force Recon marines, too.
"As for Major Sheppard, well, his record's almost as black as the Captain's, if probably a bit less spectacular." Saito tossed down the other folder, and crossed his arms.
"He's clearly the kind of officer who does the right thing and damn the consequences, which frankly is something I can respect, even if he pissed off a lot of the brass back home for doing so. You've heard why he was in Antarctica - for going off the reservation and trying to rescue Captain Potter. Not to mention that he's got considerable ground experience, which would have been fucking obvious if you had been paying attention at all the last three months instead of bitching about how we'd be better off if the Colonel hadn't bought the farm. And although Sheppard does have the requisite capabilities on the ground, he's also a good enough leader to recognise that the rest of us are infantry specialists, he's made it very clear to me in command meetings that Captain Potter will likely be delegated to command the tactical side of any larger-scale planned infantry operations we mount, with Sheppard having overall mission control. Because while Sheppard is good, Potter is better, and the CO recognises that."
"What the Sergeant Major isn't saying, Brad, is that we're probably better off with the Air Force officers." Santorini said from where he was leaning on a filing cabinet.
Bates glared at him, incensed at the implied disrespect to their late CO, but the phlegmatic Master Guns just shrugged. "I know Atlantis seems secure, Brad, but it isn't. We need local friends, and Captain Potter has been handling dealings with the Athosians with some seriously impressive skill. I mean, when he originally suggested bringing in the Athosians as 'local advisers' on the offworld teams we all thought it was a good idea, and I still do, current security concerns aside, but he and Stackhouse have turned those dozen 'cultural advisers' into a squad of fairly decent auxiliary infantry. He's defused several major faux pas by the Director and other expedition members who weren't even aware of their mistakes and knows the name of just about every Athosian on the base. Do you think Colonel Sumner would have bothered with that? Or Lieutenant Ford, who would have been XO if things had worked out as planned?"
Bates opened his mouth, presumably to protest again about the Athosians even being on the base but shut it again when Saito glared at him.
"The original plan was that the zoomies would just be the 'walking ATA gene carriers' for the scientists," Santorini continued. "The Colonel didn't have enough trust in them to give them any company duties, so they weren't given any slots in the original chain of command. And yes, there was something of a pissing match going on between him and Weir over their addition to the roster. Weir probably did want some military people around who she felt were on her side and not going to walk all over her, and would give her advice free of what she probably sees as Marine gung-ho 'we are invincible' bullshit - and it often is bullshit, Brad. We aren't supermen. But even though Sumner didn't like either of them, and he sure hated having Sheppard around, the last two and half months have proven that the colonel was badly wrong. Yes, things went all up shit creek without a paddle, the Colonel got killed, and the Air Force boys ended up in charge ... but they've both turned out to be damned good at it."
"Basically, Bates," the Sergeant Major took over, "you've been bitching long enough, and now it's time to get used to the fact that things have changed, possibly for the better. We've been tolerating your stubbornness because any unit needs some time to grieve after losing anyone, let alone a commanding officer we all respected, but it's been long enough. Now … it's time to get with the fucking program, or else we're going to be having a lot more of these … friendly little chats. And next time, I won't be so fucking polite."
"Understood, Top. It won't happen again."
Sergeant Major Edward Saito left Bates and Santorini in the Company offices to get back to work, feeling considerably happier; yelling at Bates had been kind of therapeutic. He very nearly stopped dead, however, upon exiting the room.
Captain Potter was leaning on the door frame to own his room down the hall, left knee bent so the sole was against the wall, regarding the Top with a neutral expression.
The Sergeant Major let the door slide shut behind him, and walked down the hall as if nothing was wrong.
"I suppose it was inevitable," the XO mused, "Given you marines' collective appetite for scuttlebutt."
"How much did you hear, sir?"
"Quite a bit. Voices carry rather well here, Top. All the metal walls. Nice good cop, bad cop routine you had going on there."
"Want me to pass the correct version around, or let the rumours grow?"
Potter came upright, and waved his hand over the door control. "When they start getting a bit outlandish, feel free … but let 'em talk for the time being." He smiled slightly. "Doesn't hurt to have the lads believing their officers can spit nails, eat lightning and crap thunder."
"You quoting Rocky at me now, sir?"
"I'll quote whatever I damned well want, Top. Just so long as they don't start thinking less of the Major because of some mythical reputation they build me up to. I wouldn't be here if he hadn't crashed and been around to help in Afghanistan last year."
"Got it, sir. If I may ask something …"
"I knew most of the acronyms in the file … but what might VOHMER mean?"
The Exec paused for several seconds before answering - and it sounded reluctant. "I doubt you'd see it anywhere else in the entire British military, since it means 'by Verbal Order of Her Majesty Elizabeth Regina.'"
"Jesus." The First Sergeant rocked back on his heels. "The Queen gave you a VC directly? I thought the English royals couldn't do that any more, like they were just figureheads and didn't do anything but wave."
"Technically, you're right, de facto executive authority over the armed forces is vested in the Prime Minister and Minister for Defence, but the Queen is the ultimate Commander in Chief of the armed forces, and the Armed Forces all still swear our oaths of allegiance to the monarchy, not to the Constitution or Parliament. However, the PM has weekly audiences with the Queen about the 'State of the Nation,' at which she is entitled to speak her views, which are taken very seriously. Elizabeth is popular with the public because she's well known to be very hard working, and is very clued-in to day-to-day issues and trends arising within her nation - which of course it still is, legally speaking. I know that Mr Blair thinks very highly of her dedication, and I also know that she receives regular briefings on military and foreign affairs - including British participation in the Stargate Program, because she was in the same briefing where I found out about it. So, if the Queen were to express a wish that a specific soldier were to receive a medal for a specific reason at one of those meetings …?" The captain shrugged.
"But if she doesn't have the authority …"
"It was the first, and I believe still the only time she'd ever exercised the Royal Prerogative that way. Even though the PM isn't actually bound by law to follow her orders - nor are military officers, for that matter - it's still technically a verbal order from the monarch, and I think Mr Blair has decided it's best not to get in Elizabeth's way on such things. Even if she can't order something to happen, she's intelligent, eloquent, persuasive and quite unbelievably stubborn."
"Personal experience, sir?"
Captain Potter raised an eyebrow. "Fishing expedition, Top?"
"Just curious, sir. Isn't every day you meet someone with first hand knowledge of a royal family of any nation, let alone the UK, who are kind of the most high-profile."
"Fair enough. Yes, I do have personal experience, since I spent a significant amount of time trying to persuade her not to give me the VC. I did the same for the CGCs too, since she was giving behind the scenes approval for those too. I got steamrollered, obviously. The medals were all … unnecessary." He shrugged again. "I did what needed to be done, because no one else was available to do it. Right place, right time. Or wrong time, wrong place in the case of Op CONDOR. No special amount of valour about any of it."
"What's that supposed to mean, Top?"
"Just that more than a few Medal of Honor winners have been known to say the same, skipper. And they're all wrong as well. Later, sir." Having successfully got in the final word, the First Sergeant left before the XO could argue. SNCO's were noted for their stubbornness, too.
Well, Harry reflected, that was interesting. I may have failed to win Bates' respect, but I've clearly got Saito and Santorini's. Which will good enough, frankly, since the rest of the company takes their lead from the two of them. And it should be entertaining to find out what the Marine gossip machine turns those citation stories into. No doubt by the end of the week the number of kills, wounds and bullets fired will have tripled.
Now, however, he had a more pressing issue. How to avoid telling Teyla for the next twenty-four hours that she was - reluctantly - under suspicion, without breaking his promise not to lie to her?
YES, I'm aware Harry is 24. Yes I'm aware that that particular medal haul is ridiculous for such a short career - I'm going with the list of decorations established in Khaveyrim, simply for consistency. BUT I'm going to emphasise that he's an EXCEPTIONAL soldier. The decorations mostly result from a combination of Harry's hero syndrome, being the Queen's favourite (the VC was for nuking Voldemort, of course), as well as being on reasonably close terms with a much larger number of very senior officers than most personnel of his relatively low rank, which of course is itself a knock on effect of being a VC holder who is on first name terms with the Queen of England. So yeah, maybe it's a bit of nepotism/cronyism/whatever the word is, but that's the way things work. It's not what you know, but who you know.
The last bit? Well, I thought a bit of general knowledge about the role of the monarchy wouldn't go amiss. In all the furore about the royal baby, everyone seems to have forgotten that the Queen (or King, in the future) really is a head of state, and not just some figurehead or tourist attraction. Elizabeth II is well known for spending most days trawling through government documents, keeping up to date on HER nation, and for that dedication alone she gets my respect and allegiance.
I realise there wasn't much Teyla in this chapter; it's scene setting, and probably not what you were looking forward to after waiting for such a long time. I'm sorry about that, but I have a life, and other stories to spend some attention on. The next chapter will, however, be rather more action-y, be assured.
As always, please Read and Review!