Title: See No Evil
Genre: Gen, Friendship, Action/Adventure, Angst, AU
Summary: Nine months into John Sheppard's early "retirement" from the Air Force finds him working as a test pilot on a groundbreaking new plane for the world's leading defense contractor and being introduced to his difficult new co-worker, Dr. Rodney McKay. However things aren't quite as innocent as they first seem. There's much more to the X-302 Project, John's new employer, and Rodney McKay than first meets the eye.
Author's Notes: This story was written for the 2008 Stargate Atlantis Big Bang Challenge, answering the prompt "The Stargate Program never happened".
The story is also posted over on the Big Bang website -- where you can also find some gorgeous cover art by LiveJournal's mapsandlegends that I highly recommend (as well as all of the other awesome novellas written for the challenge).
Thanks: To everyone who supported me during the writing process, but specifically a big thanks goes to Leesa Perrie for being the best cheerleader EVAH, and my betas Gayle and Kristen, who helped me fill in plot holes, spin scenes, talk me down from the edge, and polish this story into what it is today. Thank you so much!
The world was a blur as he whipped past buildings, high rise apartments and corporate structures alike. Wind tore at him, causing him to hunch a little lower on the Nightrod and tighten his grip on its handlebars as he dodged around the cars clogging up the interstate. Spying his exit ahead, he revved the engine to cut across three lanes—nearly clipping a tiny blue Honda Fit in the process. A loud yip (which may have been a horn from the offended car) blared as he gunned the engine to gather up as much speed as possible while heading straight into the sharp curve on the freeway interchange.
John Sheppard had never considered himself a thrill seeker, but there were few things these days that could get his blood pumping quite as much as combining breakneck speed with precision control. Some might call it road rage; John just considered it a way to liven up his morning commute.
He merged onto the less crowded highway, easing back on his speed as he entered the last long stretch of his commute. Traffic continued to thin out around him as the road took him further from the city center, civilization thinning to a spattering of restaurants, gas stations, and the occasional house or trailer. He let himself get lost in the feeling of the engine rumbling between his legs as the wind blew into the open sleeves of his jacket. All the while the tall shape on the horizon grew until it dominated the landscape.
He had to slow to a stop at the guard gate to flash his ID badge. A flash of color in his peripheral vision had him glancing into one of his side mirrors to see the same bright blue Honda from earlier. The driver sat hunched over the steering wheel, angry scowl pointed in his direction. John lifted a hand in greeting, unable to contain a smirk as the gesture was returned with one less than friendly. Ah well, couldn't please 'em all.
He spurred the engine, leaving his fellow commuter to the guard as he began to navigate the VerTech parking lot. Another day, another dollar.
Dr. Meredith Rodney McKay had a growing list of things in his life that he detested, which included but was not limited to: his first name, grinds in his coffee, freaks on motorcycles, paperwork, commuting, and perky people from HR. It was just fitting that his first day working at Vertrauen Technologies Incorporated—VerTech for short—was an eclectic mix of all of those.
He dragged his tongue across his teeth, scraping another stray coffee grind from his taste buds. Whoever had made the pot of coffee in the HR wing needed serious lessons on how to pour things inside the filter. Surreptitiously he wiped his tongue with a napkin as he stared at what had to be the twentieth form asking for the exact same information he had scribbled out countless times already.
He was going to get carpal tunnel from all of this pointless scribbling. He wrote out his full name for the billionth time, really wishing he could somehow go back in time and convince his mother that he did not need to be branded with a first name that was "distinguished and traditional"; "normal and somewhere-in-the-realm-of-masculinity" would do just fine, thank you very much. It would have saved him the trouble of having to jump through the legal hoops to change it later in life. Or, at the very least, save him the trouble of filling it out umpteen million times on the "previously used name(s)" line on these stupid forms.
His hand started to cramp as he neared the end of the form. Determined to finish his task, no matter how stupid, he pushed past the pain. Rodney dotted his final "I" and crossed his last "T" before letting the pen fall to his lap with spectacular grace. He glared at the offensive object while he began to massage the abused muscles of his palm in earnest. The forerunner in cutting edge technology, yet they had not learned the concept of electronic forms.
Jenny, the sparkling administrative assistant who had grated on his nerves from the moment they met, poked her head back into his personal bubble. "How are we doing?"
"I think the forest of red woods that was slaughtered for the sake of direct deposit died in vain."
Jenny blinked once, twice, and then smiled, all dimples and white teeth. "Looks like you're all done here."
"I have two words for you: electronic filing. It'll rock your world."
She continued to lean into his personal space, and so what if he had extended it to a ten foot radius? He had the sneaking suspicion Jenny had a body odor problem, because there was no way someone who wore that much perfume wasn't hiding something. He covered his nostrils in a valiant attempt to keep from gagging as she collected the small mountain of paperwork that littered the coffee table in front of him.
"I bet you're ready to take your tour," she chittered happily as Chanel No. 1 tried to smother him.
"You have no idea," he replied nasally, not willing to sacrifice his sense of smell for the sake of social niceties.
"I'll let Barbara know," she continued, blissfully ignorant of his sarcasm. "We're all so happy to have you on our team!"
He found that particular line of logic strange, especially since she was trying to smother him with perfume. She took his strangled gasp for air as a happy gurgle and blinded him with another smile. Seriously, her teeth were freakishly white. He wouldn't be surprised if they glowed in the dark.
"Has anyone told you those glasses make you look distinguished?"
Rodney wondered if it was too early in his career at this company to file a sexual harassment charge. He clamped down on the urge to shove her away, and instead leaned back in his chair in an attempt to distance himself from the obnoxious woman. "All the time."
Once again, his sarcasm was lost on her.
"They're very stylish." Finally she had managed to gather the novel's worth of paperwork and started to retreat back into her den of Chanel and lipstick (and no, that was not misogynistic, she quite literally had a Ziploc bag full of flavored lip gloss at her desk. Why, he did not know, nor did he care to find out.)
He let out the breath he'd been holding as the air began to clear of her odious stench and waited with dread for the "Barbara" to make an appearance. He was starting to miss the Air Force with each passing moment he had to bite his tongue. He was even more out of place in these halls than he had been in that room full of scowling generals. He readjusted his glasses as he nervously checked the time on his cell phone. Just a little longer and he could probably escape to a nearby restaurant for his lunch break, as long as none of his new co-workers decided they needed to take him to lunch to "welcome him to the team".
Maybe if he could find a secluded table set far away from everyone else, he could pretend that this wasn't what his life had become, if only for sixty minutes.
He looked up to see a short, plump woman in a business suit addressing him. Thankfully she had the sense not to drench herself in perfume, or perhaps Rodney had already developed anosmia as a self-defense mechanism. Either way, he hoped that his smile didn't look as much like a grimace as it felt. "That's me."
"Ready to see what Vertrauen has to offer a great mind like yours?"
"It's what I'm here for," and that only felt like a small lie buried in a cushion of truth.
Rodney was fairly sure that if he looked up "opulence" in the dictionary, Vertrauen wouldn't be listed as the first reference—but perhaps the second. The design of the lobby itself must have cost a small fortune to build. Especially if he had his company history right (which he most certainly did, having memorized every bit of information front to back before accepting this job), the building had been remodeled and built out from an earlier structure about ten years ago. The lobby itself was a fusion of sculpted glass and metal, encapsulating a three story arboretum complete with sun roof. Sure, Rodney appreciated a nice work area as much as the next guy, but the lobby was just ridiculous. He'd been to five star hotels that couldn't top the thing.
The conspicuous consumption ran along most of the first floor and the areas connecting directly to the lobby, probably any area PR would want to photograph. The walls were a strange fusion of molded, translucent plastic and faux marbling, giving the whole place the feel of some bad science fiction movie from the seventies. Then again, Rodney placed a lot more emphasis on function over form, and none of his PhDs included interior design, so perhaps his opinion on that didn't matter much.
Thankfully, the tour didn't linger too long on the front area; just long enough to hammer in the point that Vertrauen had entirely too much money on its hands. Seeing as they had recently outpaced Lockheed-Martin and Boeing in the number of defense contracts, that wasn't much of a surprise. They were like the Wal-Mart of the defense industry with a hand in every single pot they could find, from aeronautics, to weapons development, to medical research. They always managed to be light years ahead of the competition, yet always somehow managed to undercut the rest of the competitions' bids.
One of Vertrauen's German founders, Heinrich Grüper had been an archaeologist by trade his whole life. In his later years he had taken a great deal of interest in furthering the science and study of aeronautics, but somewhere along the way corporate wigs had taken over. The company had actually struggled for a long while; it was only in the past decade had it surged to the forefront of the industry. A little curious to some, a little suspicious to others.
Rodney squirmed uncomfortably as Barbara led him past the small alcove set aside for one subset of accounting. So many people worked here, it was rather... intimidating when he thought about the implications. He schooled a smile to his face as she asked some other inane question.
"I'm sorry?" He prompted, really wishing she'd just stick to the whole tour guide aspect of her job.
"Are you not married, Dr. McKay?"
"Um, no." He followed her lead in dodging to the side as a harried administrative assistant cut through the halls. "Who can find the time these days?"
Five seconds later he caught sight of the sizable rock on her finger and backpedaled. "Er, I mean, my work with the Air Force—there really wasn't much room for socializing."
She smiled, but at least not a blinding one like Jemmy or Janie or whatever her name was. "Well, you never know. There are a lot of unattached people here."
Rodney wasn't sure why Vertrauen's human resources department was convinced that he wanted to talk about his love life and fashion sense. What business was it of theirs? Sure, they filed the W-4s, but honestly, making conversation with these people was worse than grading the abysmal undergraduate proofs he'd been subjected to while working on his Master's. It was like personal boundaries had no meaning. For all they knew he could have been a widower, tragically crushed by his wife's death to the point where he could never love again.
He wasn't, but that wasn't the point. The point was—oh, look there was the next baton holder in this relay race of a company tour.
This man Rodney knew by reputation and his research only. Dr. Brent Langham was Rodney's junior by almost ten years, and had nearly disappeared from the academic circles several years ago after being hired on by VerTech; he surfaced about once a year to tout the virtues of the latest research that the company was willing to part with.
"Dr. McKay!" Langham greeted warmly and extending a hand. "So good to have you on the team!"
Doing his best to hide his reluctance, Rodney shook the proffered hand. "That's what I keep hearing."
"Well," Langham's grip was almost crushing, and his smile almost too wide, "it's about time you joined the private sector. I had become convinced we'd never lure you away from military research."
"Things change." Rodney's smile was tight as he tried to extract his hand from the death grip it was caught in. "Politics, budget cuts—"
"Yes, I heard about your falling out with the Air Force."
"Did you now?" Rodney shot him a look. "I thought that was private."
"We have our sources," Langham said airily. "You'll have to forgive me, but we were more than a little excited when we heard the news. As you're quite aware, we've been trying to hire you for years now."
"Yes, the annual Christmas basket was a little over-the-top."
"Vertrauen is the home of the best and brightest minds our world has to offer." Langham sounded like a commercial, and Rodney fought the urge to roll his eyes. "Isn't that right, Barbara?"
"Oh, yes. I'm sure you'll fit right in here, Dr. McKay."
"Joy," Rodney said unenthusiastically.
"Oh, look at the time. We need to continue your tour if you're ever going to meet everyone." Langham maneuvered Rodney from the safety of Barbara's presence and started him down the hall. "I'll take it from here, Barbara. Thanks for delivering him!"
Rodney gave her a half-hearted wave with his free hand, suddenly desperate for her prying and Jammy's smothering perfume. Langham finally released his hand, but Rodney was very obviously being guided further into the den. "Um, where are we going?"
"The rest of your tour, of course! Barbara doesn't have full clearance for the next part of the building. I assume you have your access badge with you?"
Rodney half-heartedly fished said item out of his pants pocket. "She mentioned it was only provisional?"
"We'll be visiting security soon enough to get your permanent badge. We deal with very sensitive research here, so we have to control the flow of information. But you understand all of that from your work with the military, don't you?"
"I think the novel length non-disclosure agreement made it pretty clear." The opulent decoration had transitioned to a normal, bland corporate maze of hallways. Rodney peered over his shoulder as they passed by another set of doors. "Do you have to organize search parties for new hires?"
"Occasionally," Langham grinned, "but there should be a map in your welcome packet."
"Does it have GPS?" Rodney asked seriously. "Because I promise you, one day I'll leave for lunch and you won't see me for a week. Maybe you ought to post more signs?"
"You'll get the hang of it."
A double set of glass doors partitioned the end of the hallway a few feet from another intersection, and a sign requesting proper clearance was prominently displayed on one of the doors. A quick swipe from Langham's badge allowed them access, and without any hesitation, they were off once again.
"This here is the entrance to the R&D wing of the building, where most of our breakthroughs are made."
"Is that so?" Rodney eyed the hallway branching out in three directions skeptically; the right two wound off into the distance and bore a few small signs labeling the various departments beyond. The other one curiously led to a single, steel door that more resembled the entrance to a bank vault than something in the corporate world. A small sign declaring "authorized personnel only" was bolted above what appeared to be a biometric hand sensor.
"What is that?" Rodney asked, unable to contain his curiosity.
"Right now," Langham hesitated, "...right now, that's not on the tour."
"Now?" Rodney asked skeptically as they chose the middle fork, leaving the mysterious door behind.
"For the moment, we've already got a special project in mind that we'd like you to consult on." Langham idly indicated the sparse decorations that began to line the hallways depicting Vertrauen's rise in the aeronautical world. "Tell me, Doctor, what kind of work have you done with pulse detonation engines?"
Nine months into life as a civilian, and approaching his six month anniversary at VerTech, John still was unsettled.
His extended tour in Antarctica had chased away the lingering sunburn from Afghanistan, and managed to chill the heatstroke that had overtaken him when he had decided to go chase after Holland against orders.
Sixteen months on that chunk of ice and John had a "newfound appreciation" for the chain-of-command, but it came a little too late for someone in the higher echelons of the Air Force. As his long sojourn in the Antarctic Circle neared an end, it became fairly obvious that he was being ushered into early retirement. He had only a quiet party from a few people he had chosen to socialize with for extended lengths of time at McMurdo to mark the occasion.
That was the way his military career ended; not with a bang, but a whimper.
His severance package was nice enough, but it wasn't enough for him to make a living off of comfortably enough and to his great consternation, he had lost some part of himself out in those desert sands along with Holland, Mitch, and Dex—and the hole only seemed to widen as he stepped onto the Continental Forty-Eight without a rank in front of his name. He had been John Sheppard long before he had been Lieutenant, Captain, or Major, and he honestly couldn't put his finger on why he was having such a hard time going back to it.
The first month had been hell, watching the phone, almost wanting it to ring. He had put in for the reserves when he had "retired", although the chances of being called back into duty were slim. As things stretched into the fourth week, he stopped watching. The second month unfortunately wasn't any better, and that was when he had bought the Harley.
The Nightrod was a dangerous looking machine, but fit John in a way that the clunky car he had acquired after moving back to the States couldn't. There was some sort of temporary peace to be found on the long stretches of highway in the Southwest, but it was akin to putting your finger on a leak sprung in a dam. He had too much time to think when the highway rumbles faded away, and as much as he loved the bike, the absolute freedom that the open road offered wasn't enough to fill the gap.
Close to the eleven-week mark John had received a call out of the blue from a VerTech recruiter looking for a test pilot for their X-302 project. John still wasn't sure how they had found his number, but the interview process went by faster than anything he could have imagined, and he soon found himself with a decent-sized office and attached to a project that he honestly wasn't sure he would have access to had he still been in the Air Force.
That might have been part of the reason he was still perturbed nearly six months after the fact. The resources at VerTech were incredible, almost limitless from what John could tell. It had been years since he had been a test pilot for the Air Force, but the specs for this prototype seemed light years beyond the jets and stealth fighters that he had helped break in.
His computer chimed, indicating the arrival of a new message. He switched out from the proofs he had been staring at for the past hour to the inbox for the last minute meeting request. Smothering an annoyed huff, because he had already allocated part of that thirty minute period in his afternoon for glaring at the snack machine down the hall, he scanned the message.
More of the same corporate nonsense. It was yet another meeting to discuss the pulse detonation engine, and it also looked like they were getting a new egghead on the project. While it didn't ring any bells, John couldn't contain the snort of amusement as he read the full name of their latest team member:
Dr. Meredith Rodney McKay.
Two distinct personalities were conjured up in his mind. The first of which was some impossibly old academic who had somehow managed to wheedle his way into the corporate fast lane. The second was a little more appealing: an attractive petite blonde that had inherited her mother's maiden name for her middle name, and possibly a little wild streak to go with it. Sure, that was wishful thinking on his part, but a guy could dream.
John had wanted to get a little time examining the glider's prototype in the wind tunnel that afternoon, but that was probably going to be delayed because of the new guy. Or girl.
Maybe an it. He could be open-minded.
John noted the time, mentally adjusted his schedule for the day, and then physically moved himself away from the computer. The temptation to try and find the latest offering of "Strong Bad Email" on Homestar Runner was strong this close to the lunch hour, and he really needed to get some sort of work done.
His position here felt largely ceremonial, and some days John honestly wondered if there really was a need for a full-time trained test pilot on staff when they already had a whole team of flight test engineers. The pay was nice, but John liked to earn his way.
So he pulled out the latest schematics and printed out a copy of the proofs. Hopefully the flaw he had pointed out at last week's update meeting had been addressed. It had earned him a few dirty looks from some of the design team, but they weren't the ones climbing in the cockpit of the thing when it was all said and done. John preferred his air inlets working properly. An engine stalling at Mach speeds just wasn't a situation he liked to find himself in.
He pushed his motorcycle helmet further down the desk so he could lay out the schematics fully. It was a gorgeous machine, truly; all sleek lines and accented angles. Its basic design wasn't too radically different from the general shape of some of the jets John had first trained on, and the impressive wingspan jutted out a good ways from the cockpit, their folded edges giving the whole craft the look of a stealth fighter.
He was roused from his appreciation at the feat of engineering by a knock at the door. He looked up to see the lead egghead himself, Brent Langham, leaning into his doorway. "Sheppard."
"Langham," he returned the succinct greeting. "What brings you to my neck of the neighborhood? Decide to inject a little reality into your theoretical world?"
Langham looked like he wanted to ignore the bait, but his chest still puffed out a little at the jab. The error on the air inlets had been from one of his last minute changes. "You ever get tired of hearing your own jokes, Sheppard?"
"Nah, I'm a mile a minute," John drawled as he spun his chair to face the other man, leaning back ever so slightly. "What's up?"
Langham moved aside and another individual, middle-aged and probably a scientist if his nervous demeanor and the way he kept readjusting his glasses was anything to go by. He seemed vaguely familiar, although John couldn't quite place him. He knew he hadn't seen the man in the Research and Development wing of VerTech headquarters, that was for sure.
"I'm showing our latest hire, Dr. McKay, around."
"McKay?" John rose to his feet, trying to keep the curiosity from leaking into his voice. Definitely not the petite blonde he had imagined. "Meredith McKay?"
"What?" The nervousness evaporated from the man as McKay speared Langham with a peevish look. "I thought I specifically told Jeremy in HR—"
"Jeremy?" Langham shook his head. "We don't have a Jeremy."
"Jerry? Jenny? Whatever. I was very specific—"
John couldn't help the beginnings of a smirk as McKay started to lay into Langham.
"I assure you we didn't mean anything by—"
"It's abhorrent that you can legally change your name and still have it haunt you from one place to the next because of a stupid line on a form that's supposed to be confidential—"
John was finding it harder to suppress the amusement bubbling up now. It was more than a little fun to see someone give Langham a little tit for tat. John pursed his lips together in a valiant effort to control his mirth, and decided that perhaps he should bring the conversation back to the original topic. "So, Dr. McKay is it?"
"—and furthermore... oh, who are you again?"
"This," Langham tried to cover his flummoxed state with a smarmy political smile, "is our test pilot for the project I was telling you about. Dr. McKay, meet John Sheppard."
John extended a hand, and he could see McKay hesitate before accepting it. The grip was clammy, as if he really didn't want to put much effort into the action. John watched as McKay's eyes flitted to the documents he had just been poring over.
"You keep up on the designs?"
"Like to make sure it's not going to blow when I fire up that engine."
"Sheppard's lack of faith aside—" Langham tried to butt in.
"Please," McKay snorted, pulling his hand free, "if I was him, and I had the technical know-how, I'd probably triple check every single calculation that ever went on paper."
John wasn't sure, but there was a chance he could have just been insulted somewhere in that. He flicked a glance at Langham, who was watching the proceedings with a mild interest.
"To this date, all pulse detonation engines have been test beds. One small enough to fit on this glider..." McKay trailed off as something behind John caught his eye. He leaned forward, gaze narrowing. "Is that a helmet?"
John tossed a look over his shoulder at the object on his desk. "Oh, yep."
Real genius at work here.
His eyes then flicked to the leather jacket draped across John's chair, then back to the helmet, and to the riding gloves discarded haphazardly a little ways away before his gaze narrowed dangerously. "Do you happen to drive a motorcycle?"
John gave him a look. "Which one of your PhDs led you to that conclusion?"
McKay flushed as his cheeks puffed out in what appeared to be genuine outrage. He pointed a shaky, angry finger at John. "You!"
"Me?" John pointed a finger at himself.
"You tried to kill me this morning!"
"What?" John dropped the finger, and knew he was staring at the other man like he had lost his mind. "I did not!"
"Yes, you did!"
"No, I didn't," John stressed. "I generally remember that kind of thing."
"You mean you don't even remember nearly taking off my front bumper?"
"Your front bumper—wait..."
"Coming back to you, is it?"
"Do you drive a Yaris?"
"No I—how many people did you cut off in traffic this morning?"
Langham's head bounced back and forth between each participant of the conversation as they volleyed barbs back at each other.
"Now I wouldn't say cut off—"
"Then what do you call that sudden move this morning? Did you just so happen to magically teleport into my lane?"
"I was going to miss my exit—"
"And had you decided that you could take the next one and u-turn like normal people, you might have missed me!"
"I did miss you!"
"By two inches!"
"Oh, c'mon, it was more than that." John widened his hands to indicate the distance. "It must have at least been a foot."
"So you do admit that you came alarmingly close to my vehicle!"
"Dr. McKay," Langham cut in nervously, "why don't we move on to meet some other members of your team?"
"Wait, I have to work with him?" McKay sputtered as he was not so quietly ushered out.
"Well, that is what we meant by liaison—"
"Oh, no no no, I'm bringing this up with HR!" McKay tossed a withering look at John over his shoulder. "You just better keep to yourself on the road, Sparky."
"Sparky?" John sputtered. "How the hell did I become Sparky?"
"Look in a mirror, bed head!"
With a parting wave and a quick shuffle from Langham, John was left to the solitude of his office, a sudden silence, and an irrational urge to preemptively file for a departmental transfer. What the hell, he was taking lunch early. He was going to need every iota of patience he could muster before the forced meet and greet with the good doctor that afternoon.
The final leg of the Tour de Vertrauen had Langham passing the Rodney-shaped baton off to security. He traded in his temporary badge from HR for a permanent employee ID, complete with a horrible picture taken of him right in the middle of asking a question.
He stared at his open-mouthed sneer and wondered if his face really looked that chubby or if the heat transfer to the badge just smeared his features. He handed it to the overly buff individual behind the desk and let his gaze wander around the office. It was almost barren for the most part, except for a departmental photo of the unusually large security staff.
Even from across the room, Rodney could tell that most of the individuals in the picture were similar in size to his friend at the desk. Maybe they all worked out at the same gym.
He watched as the card was slid into a slot, and was barely able to see a screen turned from him with a long list of various security privileges. He could also make out an image of the finger and palm prints the machine had scanned from him. He was sure the retina scan had its own little tab somewhere. These guys gave a whole new definition to the word "thorough".
And there was something new Rodney could add to his list of things he detested: people who spoke using onomatopoeias.
The onomatopoeic individual stood in the open doorway. As Rodney was still sitting, the man's tall frame seemed to tower over him, and the smile that was offered revealed a row of shark-like teeth that made all of the hairs on Rodney's neck rise.
"Well, hello there. You must be the new hire." The voice was warm and practiced, but the sharp gaze seemed to cut right through the bluster and walls that Rodney tried to erect, and he found himself sitting straighter in his seat.
"Yes," Rodney said, far more confident than he felt under that unwavering stare. "Dr. Rodney McKay."
Like every other person in the office building, the man extended his hand, although this one was with a tight-lipped smile. Rodney stood and reluctantly accepted the gesture, having to bite back a yelp of surprise at the crushing grip.
"James Marrick, head of security. Pleased to meet you, Dr. McKay."
The grip tightened, and Rodney fought to smother his knee-jerk reaction to try and pull away as Marrick continued to try and stare him down. Steeling his quivering nerves, Rodney met the other man's gaze head on.
"That's quite a large security department." Rodney was going for casual, although he wasn't able to tamp out the nervous waver completely. "They're all very... strapping."
The dead eye stare made his skin crawl, and Marrick's tight smile was less than friendly. He was sizing Rodney up and not afraid to show it. When Rodney finally regained use of his hand, he idly tapped his watch as he tried to figure out a way to break the staring contest. Something told him he did not want Marrick to consider him a threat. McKay would put money on the man having a past that involved some sort of black ops. If not with the military, he had probably been a spook at some point in his life.
"I hear you and the Air Force had some recent... disagreements," Marrick remarked casually.
"You too? Was it on the eleven o'clock news or something?"
"No... but I make it my business to know who's in my building."
"That's very dedicated of you." Rodney swallowed dryly.
"Langham and his team are very excited for what you can do for us," Marrick continued, somehow managing to make the casual chit-chat sound far more menacing. "They seem to think your expertise will suit our—unique working conditions."
The fact that he had excluded himself from those lauding compliments did not go unnoticed, but Rodney wisely didn't comment on the fact. He did not need to rock any boats, especially on his first day here. "What makes them so unique?"
Marrick only twisted his lips up in a fake smile as a reply.
"Here's your card, Doctor." The brute behind the desk offered it, and Rodney accepted it meekly.
All the while, Marrick never took his eyes off of him. "I hope you enjoy your time with us, Dr. McKay."
"Oh, me too," Rodney said lightly. "Sounds like a fun place to work."
"Oh, it is." Marrick's eyes crinkled with his mirthless chuckle. "Say, it's about noon. You better hurry and take lunch so you can be on time for your meeting this afternoon."
That was Marrick's subtle way of telling Rodney that his every move on the company grounds was being watched. He returned the empty smile with one of his own, and took the vague dismissal as an invitation to quickly extricate himself from the room and flee to the safety of his car and the relative freedom of his lunch hour.