By San Antonio Rose
It's a good thing our mission briefings at ANGCOM only seem to take a long time. I don't know what our charges would do if we were actually gone as long as we think we are. And as this one was to discuss long-term strategy, it promised to feel very long indeed.
In the hall outside the briefing room, I bumped into my old friend Carborundum. He was grousing, as usual.
"Oh, poor Carbo," I said. "Tuttle giving you trouble again?"
"When does he not?!" Carbo replied. "Do you have any idea how much work it is creating sandstorms to keep him on the ground?"
"I do, actually. Mine went to the Sandbox too, remember."
Carbo sighed. "At least I'm able to keep mine on one planet. What's yours done today?"
"Only tried to suffocate himself. Not that he meant to, but he really should have known better. I'm still not sure how I got him into the EVA suit in time."
"Grace," Carbo shrugged. He then caught sight of the sign on the briefing room door. "Sorry, shouldn't keep you. Hope it's an interesting briefing."
"Thanks. Give my regards to Tuttle."
I patted him on the back and turned into the briefing room just as his data pad beeped. Before the door closed, I heard him yell, "ARGGHHH!"
Poor Carbo. Helicopter pilots really are a handful. I know--my charge was one before he came to Pegasus.
I slid into my seat and compared notes with Hananiah about the Midway incident. But the pre-meeting chatter subsided at once when Commander Raphael and Commander Michael walked in together. If the topic required two of the top generals, it must really be serious.
Commander Michael began without preamble. "As you know, there is an individual bearing my name, and no other resemblance, wreaking havoc in Pegasus. Himself has a plan for dealing with him, but it will require a great deal of work from all of you, especially Hananiah, and we will need to discuss the course of action to be taken by Azariah. You will have to guide your charges through a very unpleasant timeline--and then help them to reverse it."
Well, that was new. It always hurt when the Master's plan required us not to act, and from the look on Commander Raphael's face, this would definitely be that kind of mission. But deliberately creating an alternate timeline? Hananiah and I exchanged a bewildered look.
Bani raised his hand. "Sir? I know Himself knows what He's doing, but... why this strategy?"
"They cannot receive the intel any other way," Commander Raphael replied. "At least, no way that remains within the bounds of propriety and reason. Were someone simply to hand it to them, the information would be treated with the utmost suspicion--as well it should."
"Here are the details of the mission, as complete as they can be without compromising free will," Commander Michael stated as he handed each of us a thick notebook. "The amount of data reflects the length of the alternate timeline. You will have an opportunity to review these details momentarily, but first let me give you the basic outline.
"Phase One: we must allow Michael to capture Teyla Emmagan. This event will lead both to the discovery that Michael is poisoning human worlds and to the capture of several of his hideouts. It will also lead to the recovery of Carson Beckett, without whom the altered timeline will not succeed. Atlantis' intelligence sources will soon fail them, however, which brings me to Phase Two.
"John Sheppard must be allowed to enter a wormhole that interacts with a solar flare in such a way as to send him far into the future--roughly 48,000 years." Hands shot up across the room. "I know, I know. But any earlier and we cannot bring him back. Hananiah, your chief task during those years will be to keep Rodney McKay well and sane until he completes the calculations necessary to prepare for Sheppard's arrival and his safe return to the past with the intelligence gleaned in the alternate timeline, especially Teyla's last known location. Many of you will need to allow your charges to encounter tragedy, even to give their lives in battle or otherwise to die tragically. But Himself has already proclaimed the mercy that their ends will not remain the same.
"Phase Three will begin when Sheppard returns from the alternate timeline and contains two stages. We must allow the Atlantis team to arrive early and trigger the self-destruct, though certain lives must be saved; and we must allow Michael to escape from his cruiser before the Daedalus can destroy it. This latter mercy will leave Michael free to fill up the full measure of his destruction.
"Phase Three will carry with it a number of consequences, some of which we may mitigate and some of which must run their course. Phase Four will bring the story to a close. When the time comes, Michael must be allowed to infiltrate Atlantis, though we should prevent as many injuries as possible and preserve every life save his and those of his hybrids. Michael, especially, must die and die obviously--no possibility of escape, no capture, no disappearance."
I tried to remember the last time I'd heard Commander Michael get so emphatic about a death. It might have been Saddam Hussein... it was definitely a tyrant, anyway. Tyrants always infuriate him.
"You may now take a break to review the mission specs," Commander Raphael stated. "We will reconvene when you have finished and discuss details. Dismissed."
Hananiah and I took off together to read through the notebook, our charges being both best friends and the central figures in this plan. We groaned. We wept. We laughed. We wondered how many card games we could invent in eight hundred years.
When we reconvened, Commander Raphael asked my opinion on the trickiest part of my mission, namely how to handle the shift in timelines. I stood to report.
"As far as I can tell," I said, "there are three ways I can proceed. I can leave John's side before he steps through the wormhole and return to Atlantis to await his arrival in both timelines; I can move between timelines from here; or I can accompany him through the wormhole both times. The third option seems least disorienting, and it would allow me to ensure the stability of the wormhole. Forty-eight thousand years is such a great leap that I don't know whether the wormhole can connect without help. In any case, Hananiah and I will both keep watch over the city while John is in stasis and ensure that Rodney's hologram is able to complete the necessary reprogramming to get John out of stasis and back to the Gate. We can even make the changes ourselves if we have to."
Both commanders nodded. "Good thinking, Azariah," Commander Michael replied.
I sat down again, relieved that they approved.
Hananiah was next. Rodney's future would take considerably more planning, even with the details already provided by the Master, so everyone weighed in with options. I hated leaving Hananiah to deal with Rodney alone for so many years and to guard Atlantis alone for millennia, but Bani noted that the Pegasus detachment would have little to do soon enough and could at least take turns coming to keep the dust at bay for a decade or so.
Ultimately, I decided as the discussions dragged on, mine was the easiest part of the mission despite being the trickiest. I would get to miss the worst of the carnage--not that maintaining wormhole stability was a cinch, or that I thought the Master was wrong, but... well, as I said, these missions hurt. Of course, they hurt Him even more than they do us, but still.
When everyone finally had a working plan for accomplishing the mission, the commanders dismissed us. Hananiah and I made a quick stop at the PX to pick up several decks of cards before heading back to the intergalactic void to wait with our charges for the Daedalus.
"Oh, it's a good thing the Timeless Halls are timeless," Hananiah sighed as we slipped back into the Jumper to find John and Rodney exchanging the same exasperated look they'd had when we left.
"Long meeting?" asked Zabud, who still looked exhausted after keeping his charge from becoming Wraith fodder. (Marines are almost as bad as helo pilots--I had one once, barely got him through Tripoli--but at least they stay on the ground most of the time.)
"When they say 'long-term,' they aren't kidding. And these two--" Hananiah pointed to our charges--"are at the center of it. How will we keep everything straight, Azariah?"
"My guess is that we won't. Himself will," I shrugged. "Sure is a challenge, though."
"One day at a time, I suppose," Hananiah agreed. "At least they're safe here for now."
"If Kavanaugh doesn't drive them to homicide," Zabud observed.
Conaniah, guardian of the aforementioned Kavanaugh, groaned. "There are times I wish I weren't restricted to guarding," he stated. "Lad needs talking to. I mean, if he annoys me this badly, it's a wonder his fellow humans haven't killed him yet!"
"Not for lack of motive," Zabud replied dryly. "So far all the ones he's met know better."
John was beginning to look rather the worse for wear and near the end of his patience, so Rodney and I suggested (at about the same time) that he go forward He did, taking a bag of supplies with him, and I followed just before he shut the bulkhead doors. It didn't take any prompting from me for him to make himself comfortable, settle in with some tunes, and fall fast asleep.
Somehow, the ten days of waiting for the Daedalus didn't seem as long as that strategy briefing. It gave me hope for the eight hundred years of stasis that lay ahead.
You get to know your charges' associates and their guardians fairly well over time, but you get to be especially close with team members. So I was very glad when the time came for Teyla's abduction that we'd all been briefed about the eventualities. When the message from the Genii came through, I said my goodbyes in short order and tried not to think about poor Hananiah's part of the mission. Maintaining a wormhole across 48,000 years of space-time really was the easy part.
When John dialed Atlantis for the return journey, I entered the wormhole ahead of him and traveled its length to ensure that it connected properly. Oddly, the wormhole didn't seem to be any longer than usual; I would have to ask Hananiah why. But we made it back to Atlantis safely, and though I was more prepared than John for the sight that awaited us, even I was taken aback at the state of the city and of the planet.
"Azariah!" Hananiah called from the control room, clearly relieved. "I was beginning to think I'd lost count of the years!"
"What's our status?" I asked, keeping an eye on John even as I headed up to meet Hananiah.
"Not good. There isn't enough power left for all the systems we will need. John will have to talk Holo-Rodney into using the naquadah generator for the shields and setting up the solar generators to power everything else."
"Will that cover the full eight hundred years?"
Hananiah sighed. "It has to. Otherwise, we'll have to uphold the shields ourselves."
I sighed, too. "Better wake up Holo-Rodney. John ignored my hints about breakfast; he won't have much strength left to get through the sandstorm if they wait too long for it to subside."
Hananiah hurried off to the hologram room, and I returned to John's side to wait for the radio signal from Holo-Rodney. Then Hananiah and I both guided John and Holo-Rodney to the blocked corridor and back, waited with John while Holo-Rodney adjusted his calculations, whispered hints to John that he turned into suggestions to Holo-Rodney, and made ready to get John across the plaza to the building he needed to be in. I shielded John from the worst of the sand while Hananiah led him in a straight line.
That was a terrible sandstorm, though, worse than we'd ever encountered in the Sandbox. John collapsed as soon as we got him in the door, and Hananiah and I plonked ourselves down beside him to catch our breath. Holo-Rodney panicked, knowing that he was unable to help his creator's friend.
We made ourselves visible. Hananiah had obviously interacted with Holo-Rodney before, given his reaction to us:
"There you are, Hananiah! And I guess you're Sheppard's guardian angel?"
"Azariah," I nodded.
"Where have you been?! He nearly died out there!"
"Go to sleep, Rodney," Hananiah sighed. "Azariah and I will keep watch. John will be fine."
Holo-Rodney wrung his hands. "Are you sure you won't need me?"
"Rodney," Hananiah said sternly.
"Right, right." And the hologram was gone.
I shot Hananiah a sidelong glance as we both returned to our usual state.
"I wake him up once a century to run diagnostics," Hananiah explained, leaning back against the wall.
"Diagnostics on what?"
"Him, mostly. It's usually just a brief conversation, nothing that would use much power; I haven't let him use the long-range sensors for several millennia. Just enough to make sure he hasn't got any sand in his wicket."
"I see." I checked John's pulse and brushed the sand away from his face. "How have things been?"
"For me, not as bad as I'd thought. Most of the Pegasus crew stops in a few times a year and my biggest enemy has been the weather, though I do get the odd shade coming through to try to sabotage Holo-Rodney. The galaxy's a shambles, though. Even Michael fled a few millennia ago. Most planets are dead or dying. I hear bad things from other galaxies, too." Hananiah sighed. "I know it's killing Himself to let all this play out this way, but at least this timeline can be fixed. One of your counterparts from another reality came through a few centuries back--that Sheppard got the Duck Dinner and lived a terrible life on Earth as a homicide detective until Himself called on him to stop a Wraith signal from getting from Earth to Pegasus. Poor guy died in wanhope."
I took the sand scarf off John's face and shook it out. "That's one of the hard parts of the job. We can guard them and sometimes guide them, but we can't save them. That's between Himself and them."
"Mm." Hananiah helped me replace the sand scarf. "I'm glad you're here, Azariah. Not that I was worried or losing hope, just... well, you know."
"Yeah. I know."
And we settled into a companionable silence to wait for the dawn.
Hananiah woke Holo-Rodney early the next morning, just before John came to. The three of us ushered John into the stasis chamber, and Holo-Rodney went to sleep on his own. After some brief commiseration about Rodney's fate in this timeline, Hananiah went off to patrol the city and I stood my watch over John.
The next eight hundred years passed without much incident. Our old Pegasus buddies still stopped in from time to time, and Hananiah continued to check Holo-Rodney once a century. An imp by the name of Slubgob showed up during one such test and snidely wondered if we were bored enough to attempt to answer the old question about how many of us could dance on a pin's head. Holo-Rodney immediately asked whether Slubgob were offering his services.
The look on Slubgob's face was priceless. I hadn't laughed so hard in decades.
In the end, the atmosphere lasted just over six centuries. Hananiah allowed Holo-Rodney access to the sensors at the five-hundred-year mark, and he was able both to configure the shields to provide a corridor from the stasis chamber to the Gate and to calculate when to turn on the shields and how long they would last with and without our assistance. Knowing how long we still had to wait, Hananiah decided to augment the shields from the Gate to the outer door while I augmented them from the door to the stasis room. That was a bit trickier than maintaining the wormhole had been, but at least it was something to do.
When the time was right, Hananiah didn't have to wake Holo-Rodney; we had programmed the long-range sensors to do that during the previous century's diagnostic. There was just enough power left in the naquadah generator for me to leave the shield and catch John as he stumbled out of the stasis chamber. Then Holo-Rodney and I hurried John back to the Gate, collapsing the shield behind us as we went.
"Are you ready for this?" Hananiah asked as Holo-Rodney began dialing the Gate.
"Getting here was no problem," I replied. "Getting back shouldn't be hard. Beats watching a dead city, anyway."
Hananiah grinned. "Glad I won't remember this. See you then."
Holo-Rodney finished dialing, and I sped along the wormhole as soon as it connected. John followed as soon as his IDC was acknowledged. It wasn't easy to keep him in line with medical protocol, to make him wait while his story was confirmed, to slow him down enough to remember to put on his tac vest... but at least we made it back in one piece.
Keeping him alive long enough to get Teyla off Michael's cruiser and then bringing him through the recovery and the hive-seed infection, now that was a challenge. After that, the mission didn't require as much in the way of solo heroics; even the need to protect John when the Stargate exploded was a joint effort between Bani and me, as John shielded Radek and we shielded both of them. But it had been many centuries since I last had a charge so persistently ignore near-fatal wounds as John did in his pursuit of Teyla.
Helo pilots, I tell you!
The nine intervening months sped by, however, and it seemed all too soon that Hananiah and I were herding John and Rodney down to the east pier to play with their toy cars. For once, they kept our job to a minimum for the majority of the adventure, even managing to avoid the stun field without our help--but then John, as planned, took off after Michael and chased him to the roof of the Jumper bay. I hurried ahead of John to catch him when Michael attempted to throw him off, and I made sure both that his hands caught on a climbable ledge and that Michael would not attempt to kick him off. The fistfight was tricky, especially when John jumped at Michael and missed, but I managed to keep them both away from the edge long enough for Teyla and her guardian Hephzibah to arrive. Though John got in a few shots more, I mostly held him back long enough for Teyla to knock Michael off the ledge and kick his hands away.
It's always hard to watch anything die, even when the end is a just one. The four of us simply stood there for a moment watching Michael fall, knowing that his reign of terror was over and mourning the losses he had caused.
Barely had Hephzibah and I gotten our charges back indoors, however, when we were summoned back to ANGCOM for another briefing. Once again, both Commander Raphael and Commander Michael were present.
"As some of you know," Commander Michael began, "the Wraith known as Todd retrieved a number of Zero Point Modules from Asuras last year. His subordinates have been working since then to interface a ZPM with a hive...."
Hananiah and I shared a grimace. If we thought dealing with an alternate timeline was rough....
A/N: This story was inspired by, though not written for, the second prompt in the Last Fic Writer Standing competition on sgahcchallenges, to write a story from an OC's POV. The concept of ANGCOM (Angel Command) and the Guardian Angel Corps, along with the character of Carborundum, belong to Bad Cat Robot of Snark Patrol. "Tuttle" is CW4(r) Bill Tuttle over at Castle Argghhh!, my favorite milblog. Angel names, apart from those of the archangels, have been pulled semi-randomly from the Old Testament. Catholic tradition names Raphael as chief and patron of the guardian angels, and while Scripture names Michael only as the commander of the angelic host, Catholics consider him one of the patron saints of soldiers and peace officers. (For the record, I'm not Catholic, just a medievalist.) Slubgob belongs to C. S. Lewis.
The title comes from the first words of the medieval Latin Vulgate translation of Luke 1:26 ("Missus est angelus Gabriel a Deo in civitatem Galilaeae," "The angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city in Galilee"). I've been reading Bernard of Clairvaux's sermons on this passage for my dissertation, and the idea stuck.
Wanhope is a Middle English term for despair, specifically despair of salvation; you might encounter it in Chaucer's "Parson's Tale" or in Piers Plowman. I chose it both to counter the fairly modern parlance the angels mostly use and to be more technical than simple despair, which can have less severe connotations in today's speech.
And because I'm a sucker for name meanings:
Azariah = He Whom the Lord Helps
Bani = Built (okay, I chose this one because it's close to Sam Gamgee's name in Westron, Ban Galbasi)
Conaniah = Made by God
Hananiah = Gift of God
Hephzibah = My Delight Is in Her
Zabud = Given