Summary: This is a general fic, no slash or ship, Sheppard-centric, action/mystery, with minor whumpage of main characters, and death of an OC. This can be read as a standalone story, but is the final sequel to my previous stories Paranoiac GQ and Field Trip.

Disclaimer: I don't own any part of Stargate Atlantis, and will not have any capital gain from this story. I just like to play with the characters; sometimes they get a bit roughed up, but I usually return them more-or-less intact.

A/N: I would like to heap praise upon my Beta Golden Starfish, thank you for your insight; and to Keenir, for the parts he reviewed.

Tangled Webs
ga unicorn

The insistent pings of his doorbell pulled Sheppard from a deep sleep. He squinted at the clock on his bedside table, then groaned and rolled to sit on the side of the bed. He grabbed his uniform pants off the back of the chair where he had tossed them earlier, and pulled them on. Picking up the black t-shirt, he pulled it over his head as he padded, barefoot, to the door.

He touched the release, then leaned against the jamb, yawning, as the door slid open. Scrubbing a hand over his hair, he stared at the young airman.

"What is it, Evans?"

"Sir, Dr. Weir wants to see you in her office ASAP. Sir." Evans blurted out his message as quickly as possible, running his hand up and down the length of the P-90 clutched against his chest. When his commanding officer simply looked at him without saying anything, he swallowed nervously, "Sir?"

"Did Dr. Weir say why she needed to see me at 0430?" Sheppard prompted.

Evans bobbed his head, "Sorry, sir. There was a fire on the mainland, sir, out at the research site."

The lieutenant colonel straightened in the doorway, frowning. "Was anyone hurt?"

"I didn't hear the original communication, sir, but Dr. Weir didn't mention any."

"Very well." Sheppard watched as the airman continued to fidget with the weapon. "Evans, is the City under attack?" he asked.

"No, sir." Evans answered, confused.

"Then you might want to engage the safety on that P-90 before you accidentally shoot someone." Sheppard watched as the young man blushed and flicked the safety into the 'on' position. He nodded approval. "Tell Weir I'll be there in ten minutes. Dismissed."

The airman snapped to attention as the door slid closed. Sheppard groaned and turned toward the bathing chamber. He was sure he had never been that young. And tonight he felt every one of his years.

He didn't have time to shave, but decided spending at least a few minutes with hot water pouring over his sore muscles was essential.

He had recently endured two months of physiotherapy following a jumper crash. Beckett had allowed him back on full duty three weeks ago, and he had been working himself back into his usual training regime ever since. Yesterday he had finally felt up to sparring with Ronon, and allowed the man to thrash him around the gym for nearly an hour. He was paying for that workout now in sore muscles and stiffness. He was reluctant to approach Beckett for aspirin as the Scot had been perfecting his lecturing abilities on Sheppard during the last few months.

Twelve minutes later he trotted into Weir's office, his utility vest and P-90 tucked under his arm as he tightened the strap of his watch. McKay was already there, slouched in a chair opposite the Atlantis leader, with a mug of coffee clutched in his hand.

"Good morning, Elizabeth, Rodney." He poured himself a mug of tea from the pot usually kept going in her office. "Evans said there was a fire out at the research site? He didn't have any details."

Dr. Weir leaned back in her chair. "Have a seat, John. Lieutenant Harris radioed approximately forty minutes ago. The fire was deliberate. All of the crall are dead, pretty much burned to ash. They had all been moved into one of the smaller side canyons, and set ablaze. Harris says everyone at the site, scientists, Athosians and military, was unconscious when it happened, and none of them remember falling asleep."

Sheppard paused with his mug halfway to his mouth, and leaned forward in his chair. "How is that possible? I know that there are aerosol sleep agents that can affect a large group, and leave them with a short-term memory loss too. But we don't have any here on Atlantis. And why would anyone want to destroy those birds? It doesn't make any sense."

"I know. That's why I want you and Rodney to go out there and investigate. I've already asked Carson to check everyone, be sure no one was adversely affected by whatever was used, and to see if he can determine what was used."

McKay had sat up straight in his chair, the fingers of his left hand twisting nervously together. "Not that I'm not thrilled to make a middle of the night trip out to the desert, but I really don't see why I need to participate in this. The Parkinsons are at the site. They can answer any questions Sheppard might have."

"Although the Parkinsons input will be helpful to the investigation, there is another reason why I want you to go, Rodney."

Weir got up to fix a mug of tea while she decided how to present the next bit of information. Neither of them was going to take it well she thought while scooping a spoonful of powdered creamer into the hot liquid. Deciding she could use a little extra stimulant, she dropped in another half-spoonful of sugar and slowly stirred.

"You're stalling, Elizabeth. What's going on that you don't want to tell us?" Sheppard managed to sound both amused and suspicious at the same time.

"Yes, Elizabeth. This reticence is not like you at all." McKay just sounded nervous.

She looked across at the two men she relied on the most here in the Pegasus galaxy, trusted the most.

"When we went back to Earth, after the Wraith attacked Atlantis, I was briefed on a group who call themselves the Trust. They are a multinational conglomeration of businessmen and women who joined together with the intention of acquiring alien technology, to protect Earth and to make a profit. This is not a bad thing in or of itself. Unfortunately, they don't feel bound by Earth laws as to how it is acquired or utilized once they have it. Apparently the SGC has been trying to stop their activities for years."

She paused for a sip of tea, acutely aware of the stares being aimed at her. She hoped the indignation attached to it was not going to grow into something larger.

"The SGC had some new information they were able to retrieve after a recent raid on a Trust location. It was very fragmented. The only thing they could tell me was that the Trust had plans to place a scientist with the original expedition group. There was no information on who it was, what the person's specialty was or what they hoped to accomplish here. However, one of the known Trust projects has been gene manipulation and cloning, including accelerated growth. It could be that the crall have been part of that project."

Sheppard got to his feet and moved to stare out the window at the 'gate room below, his back to the room.

McKay sat staring at the corner of her desk. After a moment he huffed out a breath, his head coming up and tilting slightly, lips pinched together. "All right, then. I guess you didn't feel you could trust us?"

Sheppard's shoulder's twitched and he turned back toward the room. "Oh, I imagine she was told to keep the information to herself. And being the stickler for rules that she is, she did. What's changed now, Elizabeth?"

She winced at the biting tone. The frozen look on Rodney's face was nearly as painful.

"Believe me, gentlemen, I wanted to share this with you both. The SGC ordered me not tell you about this until they had a chance to re-vet everyone on the original team, as well as all of the new personnel. I've gotten additional reports whenever the Daedalus made a trip back, but they haven't turned up any new intelligence. I've tried to do my own investigation here in Atlantis, but have been limited in what I could do. This incident tonight has me worried. I want you to investigate this fire and I want you to find the person responsible. If the Trust is trying to set up an operation here I want them stopped now."

Sheppard glanced at his watch, and replaced the mug on the tea table.

"The only jumper that should be out now is Jumper Two, at the research site. I assume you already checked the bay, Elizabeth, and there were no jumpers missing?" When she nodded, he continued. "You might want to have someone double-check the computer records. Half the people in the City are capable of manipulating the records, trying to cover their tracks, but there may be some way to dig out the information we need. I'd suggest you ask Zelenka, but it's your decision."

Weir nodded. "I'll contact him after you leave."

"I need to brief Lorne – I won't tell him about the Trust, Elizabeth – and get some extra guards down to the lab areas. If they're trying to cover up their activities, they may attempt something similar here in the City. I should be ready to leave for the mainland in thirty minutes. Can you be ready by then, McKay?"

"Sure, I just need to pick up a couple things from my lab. Meet you in the jumper bay." McKay started to hurry out, still clutching his coffee, then stopped and snapped his fingers several times. "You should confiscate all the computers used by anyone who worked on the crall project. Especially Baxter's, if it's still available. No one could have done unauthorized experimentation on those birds without her knowing about it. No wonder she was so concerned about the damned equipment cases when we crashed on Merar."

Dr. Helen Baxter, a zoologist, had been rotated back to Earth on the recommendation of Dr. Heightmeyer after being involved in the jumper crash that had injured the lt. colonel. Sheppard, along with McKay, had been ferrying her and the Parkinson twins to Merar to study the crall in their natural environment.

"That's a good idea, Rodney. John, would you ask Major Lorne to be in charge of collecting the equipment? If anyone objects they can come see me. I'll probably have half the scientists up here today, but I guess it wouldn't be prudent to send an email to let them know the collection was being made. You'll collect the ones out at the site, of course."

"Yes, yes… of course," McKay said. "I'll see you at the jumper, Colonel."

He hurried from the room, a distracted expression on his face.

"Well, I think I'll have Evans go wake up Ronon. It'll be a treat for the kid. We'll pick up Teyla at the village on the way to the site." Sheppard picked up his vest and weapon, turned to leave.

"John, I'm sorry I wasn't able to tell you before. I'm probably going to catch hell for letting you know now."

Sheppard sighed and turned back toward Weir. "Elizabeth, I'm responsible for the security of this base. I should have been informed about the Trust from the outset. I can't do my job properly without knowing about things like this. You pushed them to promote me so that I could remain as the military leader, but if there was a question about my loyalties – "

"It wasn't about trust, John. It was about protocol," Weir said in exasperation. She stood and walked around her desk, reaching out a placating hand to touch his arm.

"You know my record; you know what I'd say to that. And it was about trust." He looked at his watch again. "I need to go roust Lorne. We'll check in by mid-day."

She stepped back, her hand dropping to her side. "All right, Colonel. Be safe."


Sheppard arrived in the jumper bay just as Carson finished making an entry on an electronic notepad and passed it off to his assistant.

"He should nae need any additional medications, but if he complains of pain have Dr. Garcia assess him. I should be back later today. Good morning, Colonel." He watched as Sheppard strode up to the jumper, recognizing the signs of stiff muscles.

"Morning, Doc. You ready to head out?"

"In a moment," he said, holding up a hand to stop the man advancing up the ramp. "I understand you went a few rounds with Ronon yesterday."

"I've been back on duty for three weeks now, Doc. I need to get back to my usual exercise routine." Sheppard fought to keep from sounding like a sulky child caught with his hand in the cookie jar. "I feel fine, just a bit stiff."

Carson sighed and reached into his vest pocket. Pulling out a packet with two ibuprofen tablets, he handed it to the other man. "You might consider working your way back to being thrown about by that man-mountain a wee bit slower. And see me when you need an analgesic, Colonel. Being in pain when you do nae need to be is counter-productive."

Sheppard stared at the packet in his hand and grinned. "A hot shower earlier took care of the worst of the stiffness, but thanks for these. You ready to go? Good, let's get on board."

He stopped in the rear compartment to check the tie-downs on the equipment that Beckett and McKay were taking out to the site. He continued into the cockpit where McKay and Ronon were already settled in the rear seats and Carson was getting situated in the co-pilot's seat. McKay still had a mug of coffee in his hand, and was clearly brooding, as he only grunted at Sheppard's greeting. Ronon was working his way through a large sandwich.

"How did you get a sandwich?" Sheppard asked as he checked the safety on his P-90 and stowed it on the floor. "I stopped at the mess and they said they wouldn't have anything for another hour. All I got was a couple of powerbars."

The large man shrugged. "Don't know. I just went in and asked for a sandwich. They made me one. And gave me some powerbars for later."

"Can't be fear, those mess hall guys aren't afraid of anyone. They must really like you." Sheppard shook his head at the inequity.

He closed and locked the ramp and bulkhead door and sent a command to open the sunroof of the jumper bay. After a final check with the Control room he took off and headed toward the mainland. It was a quiet flight, with Beckett and Ronon dozing in their seats. McKay was still brooding behind him, an occasional snort or muttered phrase reaching his ears.

When they reached the mainland he landed in a clearing just outside the village. Leaving the others in the jumper, he grabbed his P-90 and trotted into the village to Charrin's home. Teyla always liked to stay with the older woman when overnighting on the mainland. He announced himself quietly, and was not surprised to be immediately invited to enter. Early risers, both women were seated in the cooking area sipping cups of tea.

"Colonel, you are up early this morning. Would you like some tea?" Teyla started to get to her feet.

"No, thank you, Teyla; I'm not staying long. Charrin, it has been many days," he gave the Athosian greeting to the elderly woman, and smiled apologetically. "I'm sorry, but if she's finished her business in the village, I was hoping to take Teyla with me."

The old woman looked him over carefully. "You are looking much better since last I saw you, after that crall injured you. I am told you were in an accident, in one of those flying machines of yours, also. You need to be more careful, boy."

Sheppard grinned and shook his head. "I do try, Charrin, but unfortunately my job doesn't always allow me to be as careful as I'd like." He looked over at Teyla. "Are you free to come up to the research site? We'll probably be there most of the day."

Teyla inclined her head. "Yes, I have concluded my business here. Charrin and I have just been discussing the village news. Let me gather my belongings."

She disappeared behind a curtain leading to the sleeping area.

"Gossiping," said Charrinwith a chuckle. "We should call it what it is. But it is a good way for Teyla to keep up with all that is going on here. People still speak to her, of course, but it is not as it was – before all of the upheaval last year, and her decision to stay in the City of the Ancestors when we moved here. The other villagers still think of her as a leader, but she is apart, not within. Do you understand?"

He nodded, frowning. "I do, and I am sorry we have caused this rift."

"Do not be. It was her decision. She is a leader of the Athosians, and did as she felt was best. She is content."

Teyla returned at this point, her coat on and her pack slung over her shoulder. She and Sheppard took their leave of the elderly lady, and began walking back to the jumper.

At the edge of the village, he put up a hand to stop her. When she turned toward him, he grimaced and looked away, into the darkness.

"It was pointed out to me earlier tonight that leaders sometimes have to make decisions that can be, well, detrimental to subordinates. I knew when I asked you to be on my team you would have to relinquish a lot of your leadership position with your people. Charrin pointed out tonight that it has also affected your relationships within the Athosian community, that some people treat you as something of an outsider now."

"Colonel Sheppard, you do not need to be concerned about this matter. I made my choice to work with the people of Atlantis, and to live within the City, fully knowing that my life would be irrevocably changed. The people who matter the most to me have not changed in their attitude toward me."

Sheppard sighed, and ran a hand over the back of his neck. "I just wanted to let you know that I know you made a sacrifice for us, and that I am sorry it has affected you in this way. But I appreciate all that you have done for us, you're an invaluable part of the team, and very important to Atlantis."

Teyla smiled serenely. "Sometimes I miss living in the village - hunting, trading, mediating disputes. But I do much the same things for you and Dr. Weir, for Atlantis; it is important, needful work. And I still am able to do those things here, with my people, occasionally. I am very contented with my life."

Sheppard stared at her for a few moments, and a crooked grin flitted briefly across his face. "So, we're good?"


"Okay, then. Let's get back to the jumper. I imagine McKay and Ronon are starting to bicker by now."

But when they arrived at the jumper McKay and Beckett were both outside the jumper. Ronon was slumped in his seat, head back and snoring.

"Listen to that," McKay waved a hand toward the interior of the craft. "How did he ever manage to evade the Wraith for seven years making that kind of noise?"

"I never slept, little man," the former Runner's voice echoed out of the craft.

Sheppard chuckled. "Haven't I mentioned that he has really good hearing? Let's all get inside. I have a couple things to explain before we go out to the research site."

He urged everyone back into the jumper, and had them sit in the cockpit area while he stood in the doorway leading to the rear compartment.

"McKay already knows what I'm about to tell you – "

"Are you sure you want to tell them about…?" McKay waved a hand vaguely. "Elizabeth won't approve."

"Yes, McKay, I'm going to tell them. They need to know what we're looking for and why. Besides, do you really think Teyla or Ronon would belong to a group like that?"

"I'm just saying…" McKay let his voice fade away.

"I appreciate the warning. This is on my head." He stared out the windshield, collecting his thoughts. "There was a fire out at the research site tonight. It was sabotage. We know this because everyone at the site was rendered unconscious. When they woke, they found the crall had been herded into one of the smaller canyons, and killed in a fire. Dr. Weir has asked that we investigate, try to find the person or persons responsible. What Weir didn't tell you, Doc, and what I am asking all of you to keep to yourselves, is that the saboteur is possibly a member of a criminal group based on Earth."

He gave them all the information he had on the Trust and their possible motives for coming to Atlantis. Teyla looked intrigued and Ronon cynically amused. Beckett was indignant.

"I don't see why you have nae told us about this before, Colonel. This is something that all the department heads, at least, should have been briefed on. We could have – "

"You don't get it, Carson," McKay interrupted the sputtering Scot. "No one, except Elizabeth, knew about the Trust before tonight. Well… except for the Trust agent, of course. We've all been kept in the dark. Hmmm, I wonder if Caldwell knew?"

"I don't know, McKay. It's not important at this point, since the Daedalus is halfway to Earth right now. Dr. Weir was told to keep the intelligence to herself, and she has done so until this morning."

Sheppard paused, watching the slowly lightening landscape through the forward window.

"When we get out to the site, the first thing I want to do is have all the computers collected. Carson, you can start examining the personnel. Elizabeth hopes you'll be able to determine what was used to knock them out. I'd also like to know if you can determine if any of them was not affected by the sleep agent.

"Aye, I can take various samples. See if anything shows up. But it will depend on how long it takes the substance to breakdown in the human system."

"I understand. I know you'll do the best you can. Teyla and Ronon, I'd like you to scout around the site, especially the various pens. See if you spot any unusual tracks, anything out of place. McKay and I are going to debrief the personnel and do a quick scan of those computers."

He looked around at the faces of his team. "Anyone have a question? No? Then let's go."

They had been in the air for nearly five minutes when Atlantis Control contacted them. "Jumper One, this is Atlantis."

"Go ahead, Atlantis."

"Colonel," Major Lorne's voice replaced that of the communications tech, "Dr. Zelenka has finished going over the computer records. Apparently the person responsible didn't manage to compromise the data in all the diagnostic programs. There was an unexplained spike in energy usage in the jumper bay just after 2300, and again at 0315. Whoever did this didn't waste any time, sir."

Sheppard stared grimly out the windshield as their destination came into view. "Yes, Major, they definitely had a tight time-table. Is someone checking the labs' computers?"

"Yes, sir. Zelenka is checking them. Is there anything else you want us to be working on?"

He glanced around the compartment at his team members and raised an eyebrow. "Anyone?"

McKay spoke up, "Just a thought. Have Zelenka check for other energy spikes – in the labs, personal quarters, and so forth - around those times. See if he spots any unusual comings-and-goings."

When no one else had any suggestions, Sheppard said, "Other than that, just stay on top of those patrols as we discussed. We're at the site now. Be in contact in a few hours. Sheppard out."

He keyed his mike off and concentrated on landing the jumper.

When the incredible growth of the cralls was discovered it had been decided that additional research was needed, beyond the initial testing and quarantine performed when the Athosians wanted to import the birds from Merar. The birds, now too large and numerous to be brought back to the City, were moved to a small desert in the interior of the Mainland. There was a series of small canyons that had been used to define pens for the birds. The camp, a line of tents used for everything from sleeping to lab facilities, was set up at the opening of the main canyon. A small stream flowed out of it, providing water for the site.

Sheppard landed the jumper beside the one already on site. By the time the ramp was completely lowered, Lieutenant Harris was there to greet them.

"Good morning, sirs, ma'am. If you want to head over to the mess tent, we have coffee and breakfast." He gestured toward a tent at the far end of the line.

The other team members started walking down the row of tents, but Sheppard stayed back. He gestured for Harris to remain with him.

"Go ahead and give me your report, Harris."

"Yes, sir. I'm not sure when it all happened, sir. The last thing I remember, it was around 2300 or so, and I was in my tent working on my daily report. The next thing I know I'm waking up, about fifty yards up the main canyon. I've got a pounding headache and I smell barbeque. Then Sergeant Bales' is on the comm calling for medical support for one of the Athosian hunters – you know Errak, sir?" When Sheppard nodded, the lieutenant continued, "They had been out on perimeter patrol. Errak was still unconscious, but he had come around by the time I got to their location."

He paused to pull off his cap and rub his forehead. "By the time I round up Bales and Errak, the comm is jammed with people back at camp yacking. I manage to sort out Tinsley, order her and Ramirez to grab everyone and keep them in the mess tent until I can get back to camp. You're probably going to get some flack on that, sir." Harris smiled apologetically at his commanding officer, pulled the canteen off his hip and took a long drink. "Sorry, sir. Whatever they used, the headache is a killer. Anyway, Bales, Errak and I hot foot it down to where the barbeque smell is coming from and discover what's left of the birds. I don't know what was used as an accelerant, but there isn't much left, sir. A few blackened bones, that's it. There wasn't much to do. Threw some sand on the remaining hot spots and headed back to camp. Reported to Atlantis, and waited for you.

"One thing we discovered after reporting to Atlantis, sir, is that they didn't kill all the birds. I sent Corporal Ramirez and Beyra to run a quick perimeter. They found the control group of cralls, the ones they brought back from the site on Merar, still in their pen and alive. Considering how careful the arsonist was to get all the other birds, I think they were missed on purpose. I think the firebug didn't care. Any idea why someone hates these birds so much, sir?"

"That's what we're here to find out, Lieutenant." Sheppard pulled his sunglasses out of a vest pocket and slid them on. "Beyra is one of the Athosian's best trackers. He see anything?"

"Yes, sir. One, possibly two, sets of unfamiliar tracks. There was an attempt to cover them up. He thinks it's a male. Tall, from the length of stride, but not heavy."

"Okay, Harris, I'm going to send Teyla, Ronon and Beyra out to check the tracks, take pictures, and so on. I want to collect all of the computers at the site, bring them to one of the tents for Dr. McKay to look at. What?" He stopped as the Lieutenant started shaking his head.

"You can collect them, sir, but they aren't going to tell you anything. They've all been wiped. Every laptop, notepad, diagnostic pad, PDA is useless. The perp was very thorough about the things he was concerned with."

"We – or rather, Dr. McKay – will collect them anyway. I'm going to want to interview everyone separately. Can I use your tent for that?" Receiving an affirmative reply, he continued, "I want you to keep everyone in the mess for now. No one goes anywhere alone. If they need to use the latrine, they get an escort."

"Yes, sir. "

"Besides your team there are the Parkinsons, Dr. Lane, and the two Athosians, correct?"

"Three Athosians right now, sir. Myall, Errak's wife, came with him and has been cooking for us. Sure beats MREs."

"Okay, after everyone has been checked by Dr. Beckett, I'll start with your team. Let's go get some caffeine."

The two men walked down the line of tents. Most of them had two or more sides rolled up to allow breezes through. The cook tent had all the canvass sides retracted. Besides the cooking equipment there were two folding tables and a dozen camp chairs, most of which were currently occupied.

The hunters, an unfamiliar Athosian female and Ronon were congregated next to the camp stove; Ronon was helping himself to a meat-roll from a plate piled high with the aromatic food. The scientists, minus McKay, were waiting to be checked over by Beckett who was being assisted by Teyla. The marines were outside the tent and obviously on guard. To Sheppard's eye, the "locals" all had the pallor and pinched look of a headache sufferer.

As soon as he appeared, the Parkinson twins and Mathias Lane surged to their feet and began firing questions at him. Holding up a restraining hand, he stepped under the tent canopy and removed his sunglasses.

"Whoa. I'm going to try to answer your questions, but the reason we're here is to find answers ourselves. So, let's try a little patience." He looked around the tent, located the coffee pot and went to get a mug. "Where's McKay gotten to?"

Micky Parkinson spoke up. "He said he wanted to check the computers. I told him it looked as if everything has been wiped, but he wanted to see for himself. He's in the lab tent."

"Thanks, Micky. How are you doing?" He took a sip of his coffee and picked up one of the meat-rolls. Teyla had given the recipe for these to the Master Chief Petty Officer in charge of the mess hall, but they never seemed to taste the same.

"I think I can speak for all of us when I say I have a killer headache, Colonel," Micky said, her usual good cheer somewhat dimmed. "But Carson has promised us some good drugs."

"I'll try not to keep you all out here in the sun too long. Carson, can I take Teyla away from you? I want to get her, Ronon and Beyra moving."

"Aye, you can. I've got all my samples. I'm just going to take a quick peek at them, make sure it's safe to prescribe a painkiller." Carson released the tourniquet he had wrapped around Dr. Lane's arm, then folded the arm up to hold a cotton ball in place against the hole left by the needle. He carefully packed up the samples he had collected and disappeared into the lab tent.

Sheppard pulled Teyla aside, along with Ronon and Beyra.

"You have the camera and sample bags?" When Teyla nodded, he continued, "If you can find any clear footprints, get pictures of them. Anything out of place goes into the sample bags. And get samples of whatever is left of the burned cralls. Any questions?"

"No, Colonel, I believe we know what you need."

"Beyra, do you feel well enough to go out right now? I'm sure Teyla and Ronon can manage on their own."

"I feel fine, Sheppard. I would like to help in apprehending those responsible for this waste."

"Thank you, I appreciate your help in this matter." He smiled at the older man, then glanced at his watch. "Check in every half hour. Take your time, but let's try to meet back here by mid-day."

He watched the three of them leave with Beyra taking the lead. Turning toward Harris' tent, he called for Bales to follow him.


Four hours later Sheppard stood at the entrance to Harris' tent, trying to placate an irritable Dr. Lane.

"I understand perfectly why you're upset about being confined to the mess tent all morning. Unfortunately, Doctor, we didn't have enough people to provide a security escort for everyone. And your safety is my first concern. The easiest way to provide that this morning was to keep everyone in one place."

"Far be it from me to tell you how to do your job, Sheppard," Lane said, his nasal drawl dripping with disdain. "However, I fail to see why we could not be allowed to return to our tents to rest. There are only the three of us. There are more of you military types on site, enough to provide individual protection while we were in our tents. Instead you compromise our rights by forcing us to stay in the mess tent."

Sheppard could feel the smile freezing on his face, and forced himself to take a deep breath before replying. "I'm sorry if you feel you've been mistreated. However, I am responsible for everyone's safety; that includes the military and all civilian personnel, not just the scientists on the team."

"But it's your job to – "

Sheppard interrupted, "Dr. Lane, I'm not going to give you a lecture on everything my job entails, the training required or the years of experience that enable me to carry it out. If you feel I've abused my authority, please feel free to file a complaint with your boss, the Chief Science Officer. "

"That would be me, in case you've forgotten," McKay said, sticking his head around the corner of the flap. He flicked a dismissive glance over the fuming scientist before looking at the lt. colonel. "If you've finished with him why don't you send him back to the mess tent? I've got something I want to discuss with you."

Sheppard turned his face away, coughed to disguise the chuckle that threatened to escape. "Excuse me, Doctors. Did you have any more questions for me, Dr. Lane?"

The man sneered, turned on his heel and stomped back to the tent at the end of the row.

Sheppard paused in the doorway, listening to his comm as Ronon reported they were approximately ten minutes out from the camp. He acknowledged the transmission and then asked Carson to meet them in Harris' tent. Rubbing his forehead, he turned back into the tent. He pulled out the ibuprofen Carson had given him earlier, tossed the pills to the back of his throat, then looked around for his coffee mug. Finding it empty, he grimaced and did his best to swallow the pills dry.

"Thanks for rescuing me from Lane, Rodney."

McKay snorted. "The man has an over-inflated idea of his importance. And his intelligence. You can guess who he hangs out with when he's in the City."


"Of course. Do you think you found out anything new during the interviews?"

"Let's wait for … Ah, here he is. Hello, Carson. I hope I didn't pull you away from anything interesting."

"Nay, I was sitting in the mess tent with Myall. She's pregnant. We were having a celebratory cup of tea. I'm going to want to keep an eye on her, run some additional tests, make sure this gas – whatever it is – does nae have any deleterious effects." Carson squinted at Sheppard, then reached into the backpack slung over his shoulder, pulled out a bottle of water and passed it to the other man. "You need to keep hydrated in this heat. Let me get you something for that headache."

"Thanks, Carson, but I just took the ones you gave me earlier. This water is great." Sheppard took a big gulp of water, washing the chemical taste off of his tongue. "Did you find anything with your samples?"

"Nothing conclusive yet, except Myall's pregnancy. From the symptoms, the soporific looks like a variation of fentanyl, with something added in. I need my equipment back in the City." The Scot gave a tired sigh and sat on the edge of Harris' cot.

"Well, I think we'll be leaving for the City as soon as Teyla and Ronon get back. I didn't learn anything more from all the interviews. Everyone says they were winding down for the night at around 2300, then around 0330 they woke up with no idea what happened in between. McKay, did you get anything from the computers? Or pick up on something from the interviews that I missed?"

"That would be 'no' on the interrogations. And I might be able to recover something from the computers when we get back to the City. But I don't think it'll make a difference."

Before Sheppard could reply, Teyla and Ronon entered the tent. They brought with them the unmistakable smell of smoked meat. Ronon dropped a bulging backpack near the flap, and accepted the water bottle Teyla passed to him.

"Did you guys find anything new?"

Teyla shook her head. "No, Colonel. We did not find any other tracks besides those which Beyra already reported. There was nothing else out of the ordinary. We collected the samples you requested."

"Thank you. I know you were thorough." Sheppard gestured for them to sit, and turned back toward McKay. "What were you about to say? About how recovering information from the computers wouldn't make a difference?"

McKay shifted his feet nervously, his arms crossed. "Yes… Well, I've been thinking, ever since Elizabeth told us about the Trust. We've been trying for the last four months to figure out why the crall imported to Atlantis grew so large. No one considered gene manipulation; it just wasn't on the radar. Now that we know about the Trust's experiments in that area it is all too obvious. And there aren't all that many people on Atlantis who would be able to do that sort of work, have the access to cover it up and the ATA gene so they could fly a jumper. Carson is one," he said, gesturing toward the Scot, who sat up indignantly. McKay waved him back down.

"I don't mean to imply you're behind this, Carson. I'm just listing who has the expertise to do gene manipulation. There's Carson, and Dr. Hoescht in medical. And Dr.s Sakai, Luca and what's-his-name?" McKay snapped his fingers impatiently. Carson started to answer, but was again waved back. "I've got it – Williams. They're all in the biology section. We can eliminate Carson, just because we can't believe he'd do something like this."

"Why thank you, Rodney," the disgruntled doctor muttered.

"Think nothing of it, Carson. So Carson is gone. Cross off Sakai, because she's a girl, and Beyra was sure the tracks belonged to a man. Right, Teyla?"

She nodded. "Yes, that is what we still believe. From the partial footprints, and the length of the stride, we determined it was most likely a man."

"That leaves us with Hoescht, Luca and Williams. I think we should concentrate on those three."

He looked at Sheppard to see his reaction. The lt. colonel stared at the floor for a moment then nodded his head.

"I can agree with your conclusions up to a point. I'm not ready to rule out anyone. The Trust could have more than one person here."

He got to his feet and started gathering belongings. "We can discuss where we want the investigation to go when we report to Weir. I want to get the scientists back to the City and arrange to have another team relieve Harris'. Let's pack up and head home. We'll meet at the jumper in ten minutes."


Over an hour later Sheppard brought the jumper to a landing in the bay. It had taken more than forty minutes before he managed to chivvy the scientists on board and close the ramp. Although they had all been reluctant to leave, Dr. Lane had again been the squeaky wheel. The Parkinsons had wanted to personally pack up all the equipment, but had agreed to leave it in the hands of the military team who would be assigned to the site for the remainder of the investigation. Lane, however, felt ten minutes was insufficient time to pack all of his personal belongings. He had spent more than the allotted time explaining why it was impossible to do so, ignoring all of Sheppard's attempts to get him moving. He finally started packing only after McKay pushed his way into the man's tent and began throwing everything he could lay his hands on into a carryall.

Sheppard watched the activity in the bay as he finished the power-down process. Captain Bingham was supervising the loading of a jumper. She was to command the expanded team at the research site. The two jumpers now assigned to the site would be making several trips to ferry back all of the lab equipment and Harris' team.

He heard the others exiting the craft as he completed the checklist. Grabbing his P-90 from the deck, he turned to go and was surprised to find McKay still in his seat.

"You coming, McKay?"

The scientist tapped his fingers nervously on the case of the notepad propped in his lap. He flicked a glance up at Sheppard, then returned to contemplating the back of the pilot's seat.

"I'm no good at apologizing," he muttered. Tap-tap-tap…

Sheppard's lips twitched. "You're not good with a lot of the so-called social graces, Rodney. Who do you need to apologize to, and why?"



"Over how you reacted to her briefing earlier?" Sheppard asked, surprised. When McKay nodded, he stared at the man in amazement. Who was this man, and where had he hidden Rodney McKay? "Rodney, I don't remember you being especially rude toward Elizabeth. I could tell you were upset, but I thought you handled it in a very low-key manner. Not like your usual self at all. Unless you snuck back after I left and committed atrocities, I don't think – "

"I'm trying to turn over a new leaf here," McKay interrupted impatiently. He had stopped the nervous tapping and was glaring up at Sheppard. "If you won't help me with this, I'll just have to think of something on my own."

"You're worrying me, Rodney," Sheppard said, then held up a restraining hand when McKay started to get to his feet. "Okay, okay… hmmm… This wasn't a really egregious error; I think you can get by with just a quick verbal apology. Why don't you try: 'I just want to say I'm sorry; I realize my actions earlier might have made it harder for you to do your job.'"

He paused and watched in amusement as McKay scribbled on the electronic notepad.

"This is good stuff," McKay said. "What should I say then? Should I ask Katie to give me some flowers?"

Sheppard smiled and urged the other man out of his seat. "No flowers. After you pick Elizabeth up off the floor, you're on your own. Come on. She's going to be waiting for us, and you don't want to have to apologize twice in one day."

He stopped to speak to Bingham before heading to Weir's office, so missed the actual apology. But he was in time to watch the dazed expression appear on Elizabeth's face, and then the growing irritation on McKay's when there was no immediate reply. Sheppard paused in the doorway and cleared his throat to disguise a chuckle.

Elizabeth finally murmured a reply, reaching out and patting McKay on the arm. Sheppard could see the scientist struggling to find something appropriate to say, so he stepped into the office.

"Sorry I took so long getting here; I needed to speak to Bingham for a minute. Have I missed anything?" He placed his vest and P-90 on a side table and sat on one of the chairs in front of Elizabeth's desk. Both McKay and Weir shot him grateful looks.

"No, no, we were just… uhm…" McKay finally gave up and flopped into the chair next to Sheppard, his left thumb and forefinger rubbing together.

"No, Colonel, we were just discussing a… uhm… project that Rodney is working on." Weir took a sip of her tea, and sat in her own chair. "So what did you find out on the mainland?"

The two men took turns filling her in on their slim findings and where they were contemplating taking the investigation. She nodded as they concluded, and leaned back in her chair.

"I can tell you we haven't found much more here. Several of the computers, as well as some diagnostic equipment, in the biology section have been wiped. The equipment in Baxter's lab was treated in a similar fashion. We found that she took her personal laptop and a PDA with her when she returned to Earth. If she was part of this Trust project, as seems possible with the information we have now, she will have been able to pass her findings along to her bosses already." Weir's lips tightened in anger. After a moment, needing something to do with her hands, she got up and started to fix a fresh pot of tea.

"Zelenka has been checking all the power utilization records. I had no idea of the minutiae that project was collecting. It's coming in handy now. We can confirm when the jumper was taken and returned. And we can pinpoint when people were in their quarters, or when there was someone in the labs. I'll see if Zelenka can concentrate on those three – Hoescht, Luca and Williams. We don't have enough evidence to justify searching anyone's personal quarters."

Wrapping her hands around a cup of tea, she returned to her chair and gazed across the desk at the two men. "So, gentlemen, where do we go from here?"

Sheppard leaned forward and planted his elbows on his knees. "I know you're not going to want to do this, but I think we need to set a trap. Try to draw the saboteur out."

"You're right, I'm not happy with the thought of a trap. A trap has to be baited, and I'm not willing to risk anyone in that capacity. Don't you think it's a little early in the investigation to be resorting to this?" Weir asked.

He rubbed a hand over his tired eyes. "I think we're doing all we can with this investigation. Unfortunately, as Rodney has pointed out before, you've put together a team of brilliant scientists and they know how to cover their tracks. It's just a fluke that we're able to track certain movements by power consumption. I'm sure that once we have the culprit we'll be able to fill in some of the blanks evidence-wise. But I think that the longer we delay in catching this person, or persons, the less evidence there will be to collect."

"And until we know who it is, we're not going to know why they suddenly decided that the evidence of their activities had to be eliminated," McKay added, patting at his vest pockets. Sheppard snagged his vest off the table, pulled a powerbar out of one of the pockets, and tossed it to the scientist. "Thanks."

"You're welcome."

Weir watched the interchange between the two men and smiled briefly. "I understand why you want to do this, John, and I agree with you in principal. Can you do it safely?"

"I can't guarantee it'll work or that no one will be hurt. But I can make arrangements to control the situation as much as possible, without tipping our hand. The first step of which is… I don't want to tell anyone about this plan except us three. I don't want to alert the saboteur by changing any of the security we've already put in place." He saw Weir about to protest, and held up a restraining hand.

"They obviously have some sort of monitoring capability, something triggered this cover-up attempt. Before I came up here, I left orders for all the equipment we've confiscated to be taken to your lab, McKay. What I want to do is have you go to your lab when we're finished here and start working on the equipment, just act normally. Late this evening, after most of the City has turned in, I want you to call Elizabeth on an unsecured comm and tell her you've found something. Don't be specific, and say you need some more time to pin it down. Elizabeth, you'll just acknowledge what he's told you, and then stay put."

McKay stared in dismay, the bite he had just taken turning to dust in his mouth. "I'm the bait?"

Sheppard grinned and clapped the other man on the back. "You'll do fine, Rodney. All you have to do is act like yourself… Go get some dinner in the mess, then hole-up in your lab. You were going to work with the computers to see if you could recover data anyway. But you'll probably miss the finale."

"What do you mean, John?" Weir asked.

"Yeah, what do you mean by that?" McKay's voice was muffled, as he seemed to be having trouble swallowing his latest mouthful.

"I'm counting on them still having a supply of that sleep agent; I think it's a safe bet. If they can't retain their anonymity, they'll never get out of the City, let alone back to Earth, except in the brig. I think they'll use it on you. I'll be hiding in your lab with a gas mask and a Wraith stunner. When the bad guy shows up I stun 'em."

He got up to get a cup of tea, pretending to ignore the dismayed gazes from the other two. He needed to convince them both to cooperate with this plan. He truly felt this was their best chance of catching the Trust agent.

"John, I'm not sure I want to approve this plan. There are an awful lot of 'ifs.' And Rodney may not want to be your bait." Weir, as always, was the voice of caution.

"I can be the bait," McKay said, nervously indignant. "I, I want to do it. I never said I didn't want to be the bait. Sheppard, you know I can do this."

"I know you can, Rodney. Elizabeth, I wouldn't have suggested this plan if I thought there was too great a risk attached. So far the agent has gone out of his or her way to not injure anyone. I'm going to do my best not to give them an excuse or an opportunity to change that."

He looked at the leader of the Atlantis expedition, doing his best to radiate confidence. Weir stared right back, eyebrow raised. When it became apparent he was not going to back off of the plan, she sighed and nodded.

"All right. We'll give this a try. When is this going to take place?"

Sheppard glanced at this watch. "Why don't you and I meet in the mess in about two hours, McKay? We'll eat like normal. Then you can go back to your lab and start playing with the equipment. I'll meet you there. Around 2330 you'll do the rude-absentminded-scientist thing and call Elizabeth, tell her you're onto something. Then we wait. Anyone want to bet the saboteur doesn't show up before dawn?"

"How are you going to get to Rodney's lab with no one seeing you?" Weir asked.

He smiled confidently. "Believe me; I know lots of ways to get around this City without being seen. Do either of you have any questions? I don't want to talk about this outside of this room."

Both of the others shook their heads. McKay exited Weir's office, his left hand going through its entire repertoire of nervous gestures, the right tucked behind his back. Sheppard watched the scientist disappear down the stairs to the 'gate room, while he collected his vest and P-90. He turned to face Weir.

"I should probably tell you that I told Beckett, Teyla and Ronon about the Trust. I need to apologize for doing that without telling you first, but also for venting at you earlier today."

Weir looked surprised, then slowly nodded. "I appreciate that, but I don't blame you for being upset earlier. I understand your resentment at being kept out of the loop on this Trust business."

"Elizabeth, I realize that you have a hard time dealing with both the civilian committee and the SGC, and that you were acting as you felt best in this situation. And I know that the person in charge often has to make decisions that the rank and file won't agree with. I don't always agree with the decisions you make, but I do my best to abide by them. I'm sorry I allowed my irritation with the powers-that-be to spill over onto you this morning." He paused for a moment, to be sure he had covered all the points. "That's all I wanted to say."

"Thank you, John," Weir said. "But you were right this morning. I should have pushed Landry harder to bring you into the loop. It did compromise your responsibilities, your not knowing. I won't make that mistake again."

Sheppard grinned. "I'm glad we cleared the air. Now, I'm going to go get my gym bag, have a quick work out, then it's off to the armory to abscond with a gas mask and a stunner. Wish me luck."

She laughed and murmured "Luck" as he left her office.


At 2035, Sheppard dropped out of the ventilation opening in the ceiling of the lab that connected with McKay's. He picked up the gym bag containing the "borrowed" gas mask and Wraith stunner and edged over to the door connecting the two labs. Peering around the corner he saw the door leading to the hallway was open. Praying the corridor would remain clear, he slipped into McKay's lab. Moving as quickly and quietly as possible, he crossed the lab, snagging one of the rolling equipment carts as he went. He was maneuvering the cart against the wall shared with the corridor when he heard a crash behind him. Whirling, his hand automatically dropping to the 9-mil, he saw McKay gawking at him in amazement.

"Where did –? " McKay started in a surprised squeak.

Exasperated, Sheppard jerked his hand across his throat. "Ignore me," he spoke almost soundlessly, using exaggerated lip movements. He jabbed a finger at the door leading to the corridor, where a group of scientists was passing by.

McKay rolled his eyes. Picking up the notepad he had dropped on the ground, he grabbed a screwdriver off of a nearby table, brandished it and announced loudly, "Ah, there you are."

Sheppard shook his head and settled into the hidey-hole he had made. He wished there was some way for him to see more of the corridor, but had to be satisfied with the limited view he had.


At 2347 Sheppard brought an improvised straw to his lips and launched a spitball across the lab. A split second later, McKay slapped a hand to the back of his neck. When the scientist turned – trying to appear "normal' – to glare at the grinning lt. colonel, Sheppard gestured for the man to approach him.

Grabbing the ubiquitous notepad as a prop, McKay stalked across the room. "You are so juvenile," he hissed. "I know you have the pent up energy of an entire roomful of two year olds, but can't you sit quietly for just a couple of hours?"

"It's time to contact Elizabeth. Do you remem-"

McKay waved a dismissing hand. "Fine." He turned back toward his workbench, tossed the notepad down, and keyed his comm mike. "Elizabeth, it's Rodney."

Sheppard, who had started the spitball attacks an hour ago as a way to keep himself alert and to keep McKay from imploding from nerves, was pleased to see the scientist acting in his normal arrogant manner. A second later he frowned as he heard the man's words echoing out in the corridor. He tried to get McKay's attention.

"Rodney?" Elizabeth sounded tired. "Do you know what time – "

"Yes, yes, yes," McKay interrupted. "You can go back to doing… whatever, in a moment. I just wanted to let you know that I found – "

"Rodney!" Now Weir interrupted, sounding amused. "You're on the City-wide comm."

McKay turned to smirk at Sheppard as he adjusted his comm, and his conversation stopped repeating out in the corridor. "Sorry, Elizabeth. I just wanted to let you know I've found some data on one of the hard drives. It's pretty corrupted, but what I've recovered so far is about those birds. I should be finished recovering what data is still recoverable by morning."

"Fine, Rodney. We'll meet in my office at 0730. Weir out."

Sheppard shook his head in admiration, and gave McKay a thumbs-up. Picking up the gas mask, he pulled it on and adjusted the straps.


At 0313 McKay wandered by Sheppard's hidey-hole, kicked the equipment cart. "I'm tired and want to go to bed," he muttered.

Sheppard, who was sure there was a small lake of sweat gathering inside the mask covering his face, made a rude gesture as the scientist walked away. He shifted position for the third time in the last fifteen minutes; it was getting harder to stay alert despite the discomfort of the gas mask and the cramped position he was forced to maintain. He hoped the bad guy decided to show up soon.

Almost as soon as the thought flickered through his head he saw shadows moving in the corridor. Suddenly, a tall figure came rushing into the lab.

"Dr. McKay!"

The scientist jerked in surprise. He had just begun to turn away from his workbench when a gaseous cloud erupted in his face. Raising a hand toward his face, his eyes rolled back in his head and he collapsed.

Sheppard, rising from behind his improvised wall, winced as McKay's head thumped against the edge of the workbench on the way to the floor. Pulling the stunner to his shoulder, he squeezed the trigger and watched in satisfaction as the Trust agent staggered and dropped to the floor.

He knocked over the concealing cart as he crossed the room and knelt beside the pile of scientists. Rolling the stunned intruder over, he yanked off the concealing gas mask and looked into the glaring eyes of Willem Hoescht. Pulling out a set of restraints, he bound the man's hands before turning to McKay.

"Tsk, tsk, Dr. Hoescht," he said as he pressed a field dressing against the laceration on the astrophysicist's forehead. "Beckett is going to be so disappointed in you. And I guess you know that you're in a boatload of trouble otherwise."

Observing that Hoescht appeared unaffected by any lingering gas, Sheppard pulled off his own gas mask. He rocked back on his heels preparatory to rising, right hand reaching for the stunner he had dropped at his side and his left moving toward his comm.

"Please keep your hands in front of you, Colonel."

Sheppard froze, cursed himself for not having already turned his comm on. He raised his head to stare at the man pointing a 9-mil at him.

"Harris," he said in resignation. "You work for the Trust?"

"Yes, I do, Colonel." The Marine lieutenant stepped out of the doorway. He continued to aim the automatic at his commanding officer as he moved closer. His eyes flicked between Sheppard and the floor, searching for something. "Ah, there it is. Sir, I'm going to ask you to drop your comm on the table. Then I want you to back up two steps and then move to your left until I tell you to stop."

Sheppard glanced at the area Harris had been scanning and saw the aerosol can Hoescht had used on McKay. He shook his head, and finished getting to his feet.


"What do you mean 'no'? Either move or I'll shoot you."

"Harris, I don't want a face full of that gas. I'm not letting you out of this lab, and you and Hoescht certainly aren't going back to Earth except in the brig of the Daedalus." Sheppard shifted his weight, allowed his right hand to drop slightly.

Harris took a step closer, the gun still trained on Sheppard's 'center mass.' "Colonel, please don't try anything. We've been very careful so far to make sure no one was hurt during all of this. I don't want you to be the first casualty. Now, back up."

Sheppard shifted his weight again and shrugged, his right hand dropping lower. "I really couldn't give a rats ass what you want, Lieutenant." He allowed his contempt to show clearly on his face. "From everything I've heard about it, the Trust isn't a group a Marine should be proud to associate with. They must have offered you a mighty big pay increase."

"You really don't know what –"

"And again, I really couldn't care." He fisted his right hand and made a sweeping gesture. When Harris started to track the movement with his eyes, Sheppard took a quick step forward, swept the notepad off the workbench and hurled it at the Marine. As soon as he released the projectile he threw himself to the left, trying to get behind the workbench.

He heard the 9-mil fire, felt an impact in his right arm that spun him around as he fell. He scrambled, trying to get around the corner of the bench and pull his own sidearm at the same time. He managed finally to turn his comm on.

"Colonel, you need to come on out before I have to come get you. We knocked out all the patrols in the nearby corridors. No one will have heard that shot. No one will be coming to help." The lieutenant's voice had taken on an anxious quality.

He heard Harris moving toward the end of the bench where he was crouched and scooted around the next corner to get to the opposite side of the bench from the lieutenant. He heard the overnight communication tech speaking to him over the comm, but didn't bother to try and respond.

"Bad bluff, Harris. I still have my comm. Lorne will be here with reinforcements in a few minutes. There's no way you're going home, except in chains."

He waited for the lieutenant to reply, but heard nothing, not even any movement. Frowning, he switched his 9-mil to his left had as he tried to wipe off the blood that was making his right hand slippery. Shifting the gun back, he looked around for something to use as a distraction. Spotting a thermal scanner on a nearby shelf, he picked it up and prepared to get to his feet.

"Harris? You got anything else to say for yourself?"

There was still no answer. Cautiously raising his head, he could just barely see Harris standing at the far end of the bench. Getting his feet under him, he lobbed the scanner into a high arc toward the outer doorway. He rose to his feet as it reached its zenith.

Harris had tracked the piece of equipment with his eyes, but made no other movement. When Sheppard emerged from behind the bench, 9-mil in a two-handed grip and aimed at the saboteur's chest, he still did not move.

"Drop your gun, Harris, and get down on your knees," Sheppard barked the order.

The lieutenant took his eyes from the doorway, and turned back toward Sheppard.


"Damn it, Harris, you can hear them coming now. Drop your gun."

Harris glanced toward the door where the sound of running feet could be heard, then back at Sheppard, and shook his head.


Harris jerked his gun up, and two shots rang out. He staggered back a step, then abruptly sat down, his gun sliding out of his limp grip. A moment later Sheppard dropped to his knees by the man, yelling into his comm for a medical team.

He yanked the bandana from his vest and pressed it against the holes in Harris' chest. It was immediately soaked through, and he cursed as he looked around for something else to staunch the flow of blood.

"Hold on, Harris, a medic will be here in just a minute." He looked up to reinforce his assurances and saw only emptiness in the young man's eyes. Sitting back on his heels, he let his hands fall to his sides.

Seconds later a half dozen SFs poured through the door.


A few hours later Weir entered the infirmary and found Sheppard parked in a chair next to McKay's bed. The lt. colonel was still hooked up to an IV, with his right arm in a sling, but was dressed in a clean uniform. He even had his 9-mil, the holster moved to his left side. Currently he was slumped in the chair, his boots propped up on the bed's side-rails, chin on his chest and eyes closed.

She turned to leave, but he raised his head and blinked at her sleepily.

"How are you doing, John?" she asked, pulling up another chair.

"I'm good," he said, sitting up a little straighter in his chair, and dropping his feet to the floor. He rubbed his left hand over his eyes, then gestured toward McKay. "I'm just waiting for him to wake up. It should be any time now. After I've let him berate me for allowing him to be injured, I'm heading down to the brig to speak with Hoescht."

"You don't have to do that today, John. I already spoke with him. I wanted to know why they suddenly decided to try to cover up their activities. According to Hoescht, the Parkinsons were starting to move their research in a direction that would lead directly to the illicit gene manipulation he and Baxter performed. Hoescht could control the results of any genetic testing the Parkinsons requested. But, neither he nor Harris had the access to change all the different tests' results – and keep it hidden from the research team – now that Baxter was gone. So they decided to dispose of the evidence as best they could."

She looked at Sheppard, waiting to see what his response would be. When he simply nodded and continued to stare at a point on the floor, she reached out and touched his arm.

"Are you sure you're okay, John? Would you like me to ask Kate Heightmeyer to come and speak with you?"

A quick smile flashed across his face and disappeared. "No, if I need to see Kate I know where she is. This isn't the first time I've had to kill someone. I just need some time to absorb everything."

He slid his hand into a pocket, and clenched his fist around a set of dog tags.

Weir sat with him for a few more minutes, in companionable silence. She finally rose to return to her office to work on the copious paperwork that was such a large part of her position.


Sheppard's voice stopped her at the infirmary doors. She turned and saw he was staring at the floor again.

"Yes, John?"

He was silent for a few moments, then sighed and looked up at her. "You realize Hoescht and Harris may not be the only Trust agents on Atlantis?"

She nodded. "Yes, as much as I would like to think this is an isolated incident, I know we have to consider that it is not."

"We're going to have to change security protocols." He scrubbed a hand over his face, wishing for a cup of coffee; but Beckett had already denied that request. "As much as the scientists are going to complain, we're going to have to put blocks on who has access to certain information, and how it gets distributed. We need to – "

Weir put a hand on his arm, stopping him. "I know we need to make changes, John. We can discuss it when you're more awake, tomorrow. Why don't you go on back to your quarters?"

He indicated the IV still attached to his left arm, then gestured at McKay. "I'll go in a little while."

She nodded, patted his arm, and left for her other duties.

He dozed off again, waking when a nurse came to check on his and McKay's IVs. She was about to leave when the sleeping scientist started to wake up. Promising to inform Beckett, she disappeared into the recesses of the infirmary. Sheppard got to his feet and leaned a hip against the side of the hospital bed.

"Mmmmm… Where…?" McKay gazed blearily up the smiling man.

"You're in the infirmary. You got gassed by the bad guys," Sheppard told him cheerfully. "You were really brave."

"I was?" McKay tried to smile, but ended up grimacing. "My head hurts."

"It's the gas. Carson will be here to give you something soon. You want some water?"

When McKay nodded, Sheppard raised the head of the bed slightly and handed him the glass from the bedside table. He took a sip, and then pointed at the sling.

"What's that for?"

Sheppard wiggled the abused limb slightly. "I got shot. It's not very impressive. Carson's not even making me stay in the infirmary. I get to leave as soon as I finish this," he said, indicating the IV.

"You want to tell me what happened?" McKay asked.

"Let's wait for all the details until your headache is gone. But I can tell you that we caught the Trust's agents. It was Hoescht – Carson is seriously ticked about that – and Harris."

"Harris? The Marine?" When Sheppard nodded, McKay winced in sympathy. "Sorry."

He shifted uncomfortably in the hospital bed, and reached up to rub his aching head. When his hand encountered the bandage on his forehead he looked at Sheppard accusingly.

"What did you let them do to me? I thought you promised I wouldn't get hurt? How bad is it? Was there permanent damage? I need my brain, you know." he said anxiously.

Sheppard rubbed a hand over his beard, hiding a smile. He put a sober expression on his face and looked at the nervous McKay.

"Before I give you the details, Rodney, just remember – women love scars."


The End