Stargate SG-1 and Stargate: Atlantis, the characters and universe are the property of Stargate (II) Productions, Showtime/Viacom, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, Gekko Productions and the Sci-Fi Channel. The content of this story is solely for entertainment purposes and no copyright infringement is intended.

(Due to technical difficulties with formatting parts of my story for I had to remove my story a few times. My apologies for any inconvenience this may have caused my readers with 'Author Alerts' or 'Story Alerts'. Karen)

Hypothesis

Author: Kwillads

Chapter 1

It had been one hell of a week. The silent treatment, cold shoulders, plus dirty left-handed remarks from the military was bad enough but having your own gate team think you were scum took first prize. Ronon refused to go running. It was amazing how many excuses the Satedan came up with to beg out. Nor would he spar. Teyla had this ever present estranged smile on her lips each time she politely declined his many invitations to spar with her; though her eyes told him a different story. Sparring would have given her the excuse she needed to beat the crap out of him for what she assumed he had done or rather what he hadn't done. Those bantos rods stung even when she was pulling her hits in practice. But at every opportunity she declined. The mixture of regret and pitiable looks in her eyes was too much to bear.

It hadn't taken long for the whole base to get wind of his last mission. Rodney McKay and his two hundred mile per hour mouth just couldn't keep quiet. His view of the mission didn't exactly match Sheppard's. At least Teyla and Ronon just slighted him: keeping their opinion's mostly to themselves. Rodney on the other hand kept ranting about it, over and over to anyone who would willingly listen and even to those who wouldn't. Sheppard tried to curb Rodney's enthusiastic recall of their mission but in the end, each man is entitled to their own opinion. Rodney wasn't about to change his no matter how much John asked him too.

Throughout all of Rodney's ranting and ravings he managed to find time in his busy, busy, schedule to mess with the environmental controls to John's quarters and office. Each time Colonel Sheppard reported an incident involving his room or office, McKay was too busy and so were his minions. Sheppard couldn't even get the easy going Czech to help him out. Colonel Sheppard never knew if he would have hot water for his shower or wake up to sweltering heat or the freeze of the Arctic. Most days it had been cold showers. Quite invigorating combined with Arctic cold temperatures. And spending time in his office was no better; there he melted. Even the desert heat of Afghanistan during the day was not this hot. And no matter how hard he physically tried, how hard he mentally thought, he couldn't get the damn windows opened for relief. Rodney had somehow managed to lockout John's connection with Atlantis. He'd finally taken to doing his work in public places.

His XO, Lorne, whom he had to deal with pretty much on a daily basis with military matters found it hard to be in his presence. Answers were quick, precise and formal: 'Yes Sir', 'No Sir', 'I'll get right on that, Sir'. At one point Sheppard asked his XO if it was something he'd said or did that had his Executive Officer pissed at him. The sharp reply he got was 'Didn't do' before he turned on his heels and walked away. Sheppard resorted to e-mailing his orders, his requests; he couldn't stand the contemptible looks thrown his way any longer. In the last week John felt he'd lost all respect with the base. He'd worked so hard to gain the Marines and military contingents trust over the years. The occasional shoves in the mess hall line or bumps into the wall by passing military were taking its toll on him: mind and body. Snide remarks were said behind his back even though he would be standing in their presence. Everyday since the mission to P1N-060 had become filled with jabs at his character, his leadership and his command.

But life on Atlantis didn't stop just because your men were pissed at you. He himself had had to deal with many CO's he didn't particularly care for throughout his military career. Now the tables were turned: On him. No, there were duties and tasks that still needed to be carried out and overseen. Regardless of what they heard he 'did do' or 'didn't do' or 'hadn't done' on his last mission, he knew the truth and that was all that mattered. He'd been counting the days and couldn't wait for Caldwell to arrive.

The Daedalus was to arrive any day now bringing extra supplies and equipment and Warehouse 2 was in its last days of being overhauled to accommodate the new equipment. Little did the Marine and Air Force pilots know but Atlantis was finally getting their own fleet of F-302's. Sixteen slightly used state of the art hybrid aircraft. Warehouse 2 was being converted into a hanger bay for the sleek ships with room to spare for munitions, mechanics and general maintenance personnel. No one on base knew why the large warehouse was being renovated. Sheppard and Woolsey were the only two people who knew. And Sheppard wanted it to be a surprise. Fuel would be an issue until the science team assigned to the fleet of ships figured a new way of powering them. Hopefully with an abundant Pegasus fuel source. Which John had no doubt would happen. The advancements that had already been made since coming to Atlantis were testament to that belief. Until then the F-302's would be used sparingly. The Daedalus and Odyssey would be re-supplied with the new sleeker F-306's coming off the line in two months. The new ship, General Hammond, fresh off the assembly line herself would also be getting sixteen of the new ships after she completed her shakedown flight. Colonel Ellis's ship, the Apollo, would retain her compliment of 302's for another year or so before Atlantis got them, adding an additional 16 ships to the Ancient base.

As Rodney's version of events spread through Atlantis the cooks eventually took umbrage to what John had or hadn't done and started dishing out cold or burnt offerings whenever John showed up to eat. It didn't matter if he was first in line or the last to show up. He sat at the team table doing his best to swallow what was on his tray. A few times he'd watched Rodney fill his tray then automatically head for the team table only to stutter to a stop a few steps away before quickly scanning the mess hall. When his eyes fell on Radek, Simpson, Miko or some other unsuspecting scientist, Rodney veered off in their direction. Rodney even preferred Kavanagh's company to his. Leaving Sheppard alone at what used to be the 'team table'.

Ronon and Teyla did the same with more finesse. He'd watch them fill their trays but more smoothly than Rodney they walked to another table without giving his presence another thought. This was the hardest of all snubs to take, seeing his teammates walk away from him like he had the god damn plague. He tried to tell them he did it for them but they wouldn't listen. He couldn't wait for the Daedalus to get here. Then his personal suffering would be over.

In addition, none of the scientists working on Ancient tech radioed for his assistance with regards to light-switch duty. Before his last mission, he would have had to turn them down three or four times an hour. Now that he had the time, and plenty of it, they didn't seem to need his Ancient gene.

John found himself more often than not spending his mornings, afternoons, and evenings in some remote area of Atlantis. Balconies, piers, dark hallways, empty rooms around the city were his norm. Loneliness and silence were his only friends. John caught up on his backlog of work. Work he put off for the sake of putting it off until he could find someone else to do it. Once that was done he took to organizing his files; personal, job related, and mission related. He thought once that McMurdo was isolation at its worst, but this past week or so had changed his mind. Nothing could fill the emptiness he was experiencing now.

When his team came back from P1N-060 McKay had taken over the debriefing with his own personal views and assumptions interspersed with Teyla's account of events. Ronon hadn't added much. The Colonel interjected when McKay stopped to take a breath which everyone knew wasn't often once he got started on something. The debriefing had then turned into a yelling match soon after.

"No one is going back to that planet! And since I'm in charge of the military I'm not authorizing a protection detail and that's final!"

"Colonel, sit down! You may be in charge of the military, but I am in charge of this expedition now."

"So, now you're going to go against protocol? I thought that was the whole reason behind the IOA sending you here so we didn't ignore protocols. Now you decide that this is one of those times to disregard them. You can't have it both ways!"

"Colonel! Colonel, come back here!"

After that Woolsey no longer wanted face-to-face meetings about upcoming missions. Everything was handled through incisive e-mails.

He strode down to the medical wing to see about something for his outlandish headache. It was something he couldn't put off any longer. The medical staff handed him pain relievers without question. He felt lucky not having to sit through an exam. A packet of pills were tossed in his direction with a firm look that told him he'd overstayed his welcome.

The Colonel needed to get away from the backstabbing even if just for a little while. So he decided he'd take a jumper to the mainland for a few hours or so. Just long enough to do some serious thinking about his latest mission. Hopefully clearing his mind in the process. He walked into the hanger bay and to Jumper One out of habit.

"Colonel…Jumper down for maintenance."

"Okay, I'll take Jumper Five then."

"No can do Sir. Maintenance."

"Jumper Two then."

"Maintenance."

"What!? All of them?"

"Yes Sir. Jumper Seven came back with a virus. Once it landed on its pad the virus spread to all jumpers."

"Great…just fricken great!"

And every day after when he tried to use one of the jumpers, the jumpers or even the whole bay would be down for some type of routine maintenance. If the base wanted to punish him for his act they sure knew how to do it where it hurt. Keeping a pilot grounded was the worst type of punishment.

Team movie night had been moved to Teyla's quarters but his invitation must have gotten lost. When in his quarters, not even Johnny Cash on his iPod could keep him from feeling abandoned.

God, he hated being alone.

The medical staff was in the process of extracting their own brand of justice. That's where John found himself right now; in the infirmary. The last thing he remembered were biting nails and rough hands strapping him down on a gurney. The more his mind cleared in his waking state, the more he recalled…

"Colonel Sheppard you're needed at Warehouse 2 immediately."

"Roger that."

When he arrived at Warehouse 2 it was a buzz of activity. Marines with cutting torches were high up on scaffolding cutting down overhead electrical conduits that were being rerouted by the electrical engineers. There were Marines working on the warehouse door installing an automatic opener as others worked painting specific markings on the large floor. Half of the large warehouse was finished with its renovations. In the last month Colonel Sheppard had pushed hard to get the other half done before the Daedalus arrived: adding a third crew and a second shift. He didn't want to hear about any more problems or delays.

"What do you need Lieutenant?" Sheppard pointedly asked since there were several conversations going on all around them.

: "We need a ladder over here." :

"Sir. The warehouse door only opens 14 feet. The specs say you need a minimum clearance of 20 feet."

"The whole reason this sight was chosen was because the initial assessment showed the doors opening to be 20 feet. What happened to my 6 feet Lieutenant?"

: "Johnson, move that ladder over here." :

"I don't know Sir. All I do know is that we're coming up short."

"How long to cut the side panels an extra 4 feet and weld each section to the existing doors?"

: "Hold your shirt on…I only got two hands you know." :

"And have it ready by the time the Daedalus gets here…not an option Sir."

"Make it happen, Lieutenant. That's why you're the foreman. Deal with it. It's your job to make things happen. If you need extra cutters and welders see Major Lorne."

"I don't need extra men Colonel. I've got enough of them that their stepping on each other. What I need is extra time. I don't think Major Lorne can give me that…Sir."

: "Hey…watch it!" :

: "Look out!" :

John opened his eyes slowly for what seemed like the hundredth time only to clinch them shut against the bright blinding light overhead. He knew he was in the infirmary from the surrounding sterile smells and familiar clattering sounds. He knew from the bruises left by ungentle hands when they transferred him once more from gurney to soft bed. He knew from each time he'd been woken roughly during the night. Each time he tried opening his eyes a stab of pain shot through his head like a knife in the eye. Groaning, he found the call button and pressed it. While he waited he took stock of his body. Legs move. That's good. Arms…sore…but working. Ribs…seem ok. Head…aahhh…not so good. Bladder…full. Yeah, better take care of that, he thought.

John couldn't see where the staff was in the infirmary so he pressed the call button. His curtain had been drawn but he knew someone had to be here. Keller and Beckett always made sure someone monitored the desk; besides his breakfast tray sat on the rolling tray table next to his bed. That was proof enough someone was around. His bladder was more insistent now wanting relief as much as his eyes wanted the light off. It had been several minutes so John pressed the call button again, mentally excusing the staff for not showing up promptly.

After the third time he pressed the call button and had waited a reasonable amount of time John decided to take matters into his own hands. His head was yelling at him not to move, but his bladder screamed even louder to move. Carefully he tossed back the bedding. Once he was up he'd turn the damn light off himself. John managed to rise up on one elbow letting the room do its spinning thing before he maneuvered his legs off the side of the bed pushing up into a sitting position.

Holding on tight to the mattress John let another brief wave of dizziness wash over him. After it passed he slid off the bed onto his feet still gripping the bed and now tray table with white knuckled security. His eyes landed on his breakfast tray; burnt toast, soggy cereal (was that bran?) with now warm milk and warm orange juice. He manfully swallowed down the nausea.

The Colonel got another reminder from his bladder of what he was supposed to be doing. As he took his first step the curtains whooshed open startling him causing him to catch his moving foot on the tray table he was holding onto for balance. The next thing he experienced was falling. His depressed equilibrium sent him, the tray table and his breakfast crashing to the floor. His previously, otherwise okay torso took the brunt of the fall landing him hard on the overturned tray table.

God, he hated concussions.

Carson tried to intercept his startled, now flailing patient but wasn't close enough. "Colonel you shouldn't be out of bed! You have a mild concussion. The many bumps on your head should tell you that! How many times do I have to tell you to use the call button if you need something? That's why 'its' there! You need to let the staff help you. That's their job. I don't understand why you have to be so pig headed. We're here to help you when you need it. Now let's get you back in bed." Carson made it an art to berate and help at the same time. The doctor put one of the Colonel's arms across his shoulders and gently lifted allowing his patient to get his feet under himself again. "Now what is so important that you couldn't wait for some help?" setting his troublemaking patient on the bed.

John rested on the edge of the bed, hunched over, gathering his wits with his right arm wrapped protectively around his mid-section. When the room stopped spinning, the ache in his side dulled somewhat and he could breathe without feeling nauseous he responded. "I did and I need to use the head." Then he added a firm, "Now!" with a commanding bark.

"Alright, just sit tight while I get a wheelchair." The Colonel didn't like to use the wheelchair; Ronon had told him once it was a sign of weakness. But right now John didn't think he could make it across the infirmary without embarrassing himself. He'd wasted at least a half hour or longer just pressing Carson's precious call button. Carson helped John into the chair. Moments later his achingly full bladder felt instant gratification.

Coming back from the head Colonel Sheppard compelled Carson to release him to his room, on the pretext that he be monitored by the staff periodically; it was a mild concussion after-all. John had had worse and if the nurses weren't going to answer the call button when he needed, then it was better to be in his room. At least there he could crawl to his bathroom in private if he had too.

On the way to his quarters in that damn wheelchair piloted by Carson, Carson reiterated he'd have someone check on him periodically and would arrange for his meals to be delivered for the next three to four days. John's orders were to rest and eat what he was brought. John opened his door and Carson rolled to a stop beside the bed. John stood, twisted and sat down heavily on the edge of the bed. When he looked up to thank Carson he was already gone, his quarters door closing. Dumped, he thought.

oOo

The Daedalus landed three days later. Standard mission supplies were off loaded, held in disbursing overnight before finally making their way to the many departments. Once all supplies were off loaded the Daedalus took up a geosynchronous orbit over the planet. He still had sixteen planes to off load. Colonel Caldwell and Mr. Woolsey spent most of the early morning hours discussing SGC and IOA's new business politics: budget cuts, manpower, supply issues, scientific needs; that sort of thing. Col. Caldwell had a list a mile long of his own problems concerning the new mandates forced on him, his crew and ship. He figured Woolsey, Colonel Sheppard and the rest of the senior staff would have their own too. And speaking of Colonel Sheppard…

"Mr. Woolsey, where is Colonel Sheppard? I thought he would be here for this meeting this morning."

"Oh, Colonel Sheppard has been recovering from a mild concussion he received in Warehouse 2. Doctor Beckett informed me he should be released back to full duty in a day or two. Major Lorne has been filling in for him in his absence."

"I see. And where is Dr. Keller?"

"She's taken leave. Her father isn't doing well from what I've been told. So we recalled Dr. Beckett from off world to sub in her place. He's familiar with how things work."

Giving an affirmative nod Col. Caldwell asked, "Is Sheppard up for visitors? I have some military business to discuss with him."

"I don't see why not. He's been in his quarters for the last several days resting; Doctors orders. Do you know where his quarters are?"

Caldwell gave a tilt of his head and rose, striking out for the base commander's quarters. He approached the door waving his hand over the Ancient sensor announcing his presence. A minute later he signaled the door chime again. Through the door he couldn't hear any movement but Mr. Woolsey sounded certain that Sheppard would be here. Taking another moment a thought occurred to him that maybe Sheppard was playing hooky. He started to turn away when he heard a faint 'help' coming from behind the closed door.

Using the override access code he was given years ago when the Daedalus first started making supply runs he opened the Colonel's door. The room was only lit by the mid-morning light coming through the half open curtains. Caldwell stepped inside, the door closing behind him with a silent whoosh. That's when his eyes fell upon the man sprawled on the floor lying in a pool of his own blood.

"Medical emergency to Colonel Sheppard's quarters!" Steven yelled into his radio at the same time bending down to check Sheppard's pulse. There was so much blood on the floor.

Half conscious hazel eyes fluttered open at his touch. A weak hand managed to grip Caldwell's retreating arm. "No." John rasped, his eyes going from certain death to relief to scared then to pleading all within a matter of a few seconds. "Daed…lus." He managed to whisper with a choked breath.

"Colonel, you need …"

"Ple…ssse." Came another liquid rasp.

Sensing the Colonel's distress, his obvious difficulty with breathing he didn't press the point. "Hermiod, lock on to my signal two to beam directly to sick bay. We have a medical emergency."

Relief washed over Sheppard one more time in a matter of seconds at the same time the brilliant white light engulfed him. The Asgard beaming technology on board the Daedalus deposited him and Caldwell in the ships sick bay an instant later.

Caldwell stepped back so the medical personnel could treat Sheppard. Orders were shouted by the ships doctor while nurses snapped too to carry them out. Vitals were taken and shouted out. Heart and lungs were listened too. An oxygen mask strapped in place. IV started. Competent, gentle hands skillfully examined looking for wounds. It was like watching a tornado: fast moving fury only controlled. Dr. Reynolds was calling for another vitals check.

"Pressure's dropping fast! We're losing him."

"Stay with me Colonel. I need you to hang on a little while longer. Come on people. Terry, push two liters of O negative. We need to get him stabilized. Bren, 100 percent oxygen then type and cross match. I want at least six units standing by. More if we got them. Matt, start a second line and push fluids. I got a distended abdomen and decreased breath sounds. Someone tell the OR staff to be ready in two minutes. Let's go people! You're doing great Colonel. We'll have you fixed up in no time. Just stay with me…okay?"

And within those two minutes Colonel Sheppard was stabilized enough to be whisked off the floor of sick bay, onto a gurney and into the operating room. Caldwell looked on in awe as he watched his people work. Usually he would have been on the bridge during a crisis and only after the crisis was over would he receive any details of lives hurt or lost. Seeing his crew work as they had just done filled him with immense pride.

"Colonel? Colonel Caldwell?" The nurse said a second time trying to draw his attention.

"Yes."

"Dr. Reynolds is requesting any further information you might have on Colonel Sheppard. Did you see…?"

"I found him in his quarters lying on the floor in a pool of blood. I don't know anything more. Oh…according to Mr. Woolsey, Colonel Sheppard was recovering from a mild concussion he sustained."

"How large was the pool of blood?" Bren gave the Colonel time to think but when he still didn't respond, she offered suggestions. "Was it the size of a saucer? A dinner plate? Larger?"

"Larger."

"Thank you Colonel." Bren turned hustling back to the OR area when Caldwell shouted.

"Nurse! Keep me informed of his condition."

Turning to look at the ship's commander she said with a smile, "Of course Colonel."

Steven didn't want to think about the blood on Sheppard's floor. But it wasn't the blood so much as what was written with blood that was really bothering him. Steven turned and headed for the beaming platform talking into his headset. By the time he got there Major Marks and an SO Marine joined him.

"Marks you know what to get?"

"Yes Sir."

"Sergeant Dixon I need you to stand guard outside Colonel Sheppard's quarters. No one is to enter. No one."

"Yes Sir."

"Novak, beam Marks and Dixon down to Atlantis in the hall outside Sheppard's quarters."

A white flash of light had the two men disappearing.

oOo

Dr. Reynolds found the ship's Captain several hours later in the empty commissary staring at a blank wall over a cup of cold coffee no doubt. The Colonel seemed unaware of his presence so he took the time to fill two cups with coffee. Reynolds approached the table cautiously not wanting to spook his commanding officer nor spill the hot liquid he was carrying.

"Doctor?" Caldwell perked up when something moved in his peripheral vision.

Dr. Reynolds set both cups of coffee on the small table before slipping into the seat across from Col. Caldwell. He pushed one steaming cup toward Caldwell. "He's stable for the moment." Picking up his own cup for a quick taste a mellow sigh escaped along with some of the exhaustion. "We almost lost him a couple of times before we could find and repair the damage. It was more or less exploratory surgery to find the cause. Somehow Colonel Sheppard managed to puncture a vein. The perforation allowed blood to fill in his abdominal cavity as well as seep into a tear I found in his lung. That's why he was having such difficulty breathing. I'd venture to guess he'd been bleeding internally for several days due to the extent of blood loss. We used every pint available and I've got Dr. Morris lining up matched volunteers." Phillip picked up his cup to hide what else he had discovered. It made him sick to his stomach just thinking about it.

"There's something else." Steven paid close attention to the doctor's body language and knew something else was wrong. He did an internal ten count before speaking again. "Doctor?"

"The internal bleeding wasn't all. I found evidence of malnourishment. My best guess would be that Colonel Sheppard hadn't eaten in several days as well. His stomach and intestinal track were devoid of matter. You mentioned that the concussion was 4 days ago; mild. There would be no medical reason that I can think of that would cause him to lose his appetite to this extent. I would need to review his most recent medical history to determine the extent of the concussion to further diagnose his condition."

"I'll see what I can arrange. Something else?"

"Why here? Why bring Colonel Sheppard here? Atlantis has the more sophisticated equipment than the Daedalus." Phillip Reynolds had wanted to know the answer to this question from the moment the injured man was beamed into his sick bay.

"There's something going on down there. I don't know what yet but I don't like it. When I saw Sheppard lying there I radioed for a medical team. With what little strength he had left he grabbed my arm and said 'no'. I didn't understand at first what he meant but then his eyes changed. From glassy relief to like they were pleading with me to help him. He managed to say 'Daedalus'. It was almost like he was…"

"Was…what? Colonel."

"Frightened. Scared. Apprehensive maybe. I think he was resolved to the fact that he was dying, right then and there in his quarters. I caught several fleeting emotions in a matter of seconds. I'd never seen him so frightened as I did when I called for help. I don't think he wanted to go to the Atlantis infirmary. He's been here almost nine hours, why hasn't anyone called to see if he was here? Why he's not in his room? Why there is a Daedalus Security Officer in front of his quarters? Something's definitely wrong. He doesn't deserve this…no one deserves this kind of treatment. No one deserves to resolve themselves to die alone like that. Was there any other damage?"

Phillip listened to the string of concern coming from the man sitting across from him. Atlantis is such a tight-knit family that it was very odd no one had checked on the missing man. So Phillip settled for answering what he did know. "Bruising, more recently on his arms and legs, we're watching his kidney output. I'm getting an EKG and EEG. So far I'm not seeing any brain damage or damage to his heart muscle. It'll be a day or two before he's coherent enough to answer questions. I'll let you know when you can talk to him. In the mean time, if you can get me his medical records I'd sure appreciate it Colonel. Breaks over, I better get back to my patient."

"Thank you doctor." Steven gulped down his remaining coffee. He needed to find out what was going on in Atlantis that had allowed one of their own to nearly die. Why Colonel Sheppard reacted the way he did about going to the infirmary. Why the Colonel hadn't eaten in days and a myriad of other questions. One specifically being: why hasn't any of Sheppard's team tried to locate him? "Major Marks report to the commissary immediately."

oOo

"Mr. Woolsey, Col. Caldwell and party are ready to beam down." Announced Chuck.

"Very well." Woolsey headed down the grand stairs to meet them on the gate room floor. A brilliant flash lit up the area and five people were left standing in front of him. "Welcome back Colonel."

"Thank you Mr. Woolsey. I was wondering if we could use the conference room for this and could you contact Drs. Beckett and McKay along with Major Lorne to join us please."

"Of course Colonel, right this way." Woolsey swept his hand up the stairs and began leading the way towards the conference room however Caldwell and his party surged past him taking the steps two at a time allowing him to contact the others.

It had taken Caldwell and Marks five hours to devise a plan. The following morning Caldwell filled in his ship's doctor. Lt. Novak and Capt. Kleinmann remained immune. Caldwell just couldn't get the scene of Colonel Sheppard lying on the floor in a pool of blood out of his mind. Whatever was going on here in Atlantis, it all came back to that picture. Caldwell was determined to find the truth. He owed Sheppard this much.

A few minutes later the requested Atlantis members were seated around the large wood conference table. Caldwell and his entourage remained standing on the opposite side. His people stood just a step behind and to the right from where Caldwell stood looking at the Lanteans.

"I don't know if you've had time to read through all the new mandates the IOA has issued but…"

"Excuse me Colonel," Woolsey interrupted. "If I may, after what you mentioned briefly in my office the other morning about the new mandates I set them aside. I'd thought I'd wait until Colonel Sheppard was back on full duty before going over them with the senior staff. I was in the process of scheduling a meeting to that effect in another day or two."

"I see. Unfortunately I have my orders. They're time sensitive so this can't wait any longer." As it is I've already wasted a day he said to himself. "One of the new IOA mandates requires an annual impromptu audit. I have been tasked to audit Atlantis. I will need the full cooperation of all Atlantis personnel over the next few days. Mr. Woolsey, please inform the expedition that they are to comply completely, turn over any documents requested without delay and answer all questions directed to them by the auditors." Richard gave the Colonel a nod of acknowledgement. "Dr. McKay, Dr. Novak has been assigned to audit the Science Division. Please give her and her team full access. With your full cooperation it shouldn't take too long and you and your staff can get back to what it is you do best."

Dr. McKay took that as his dismissal. "Of course. Come on Novak…times a wastin'." The room was so quiet that everyone heard Lindsey Novak hiccup which was normal for her when she got stressed. But after all these years working together McKay had learned to shove that irritation to the back of his mind. Novak saluted her commanding officer and dutifully followed McKay from the conference room.

"Dr. Beckett, I understand that you are in charge of the infirmary while Dr. Keller is on emergency leave back on Earth."

"Aye, that is correct."

"Dr. Reynolds, my ships Head of Medicine, has been assigned to audit the infirmary. He'll need access to all in-service inventory as well as trade-service inventories, staffing charts, patient files and anything else he requires. Please inform the staff we'll try not to be in the way in case of an emergency. The IOA has also selected at random twenty-five expedition members whose medical files will be audited. I understand there are Doctor/Patient confidentiality concerns but the Non-Disclosure agreement everyone signed when they joined the Atlantis Expedition allows for any member of any medical staff within the SGC/IOA jurisdiction to review files without further patient consent."

"I understand completely Colonel. Atlantis operates a well-managed and efficient infirmary. Dr. Keller would tell you so herself. I don't think Dr. Reynolds will find anything out of place. We pride ourselves in keeping a very good account of things."

"Very well Doctor you're dismissed." Replied Caldwell. As Beckett and Reynolds left the room he turned his attention to Major Lorne. "Major, Captain Kleinmann will be preparing the audit on the military. I understand that you are filling in for Colonel Sheppard at this time so please see to it that Capt. Kleinmann has authorization for what he requires. Any questions?"

"No Sir."

"Then you're both dismissed. Now, Mr. Woolsey, that leaves mission reports and communications. Major Marks will be handling the communication logs and I will need access to all mission reports for the last month. And if you have no objections, we will set up in here until this audit is completed."

"By all means Colonel. Major if you'd come with me I'll have Sgt. Campbell get you the required logs. Col. Caldwell which would you rather have; hard copies of the mission reports or electronic copies? I tend to find myself leaning towards hard copies. I can't seem to get used to everything here being electronic. I guess it's all those years I've spent with paper; can't seem to let it go."

"Electronic copies will do fine." For the first time since the meeting started Steven pulled out a chair and sat down. Hope hung squarely on his shoulders that he would be able to piece together what was or had been going on since his last visit. If word got back to the SGC or IOA of what Caldwell was doing it could end his career. The mandates were clear. There would be audits, but the auditors would be coming from Earth. Caldwell was taking a big risk here. But the man in his sick bay, barely hanging on to life, deserved better. Caldwell had seen Sheppard put his butt and career on the line for his people many times. Now it was Caldwell's turn to put his butt on the line for Sheppard. It didn't matter that the two men had different command styles. Caldwell's by-the-book approach verses Sheppard's fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants style. Each worked in their own way. That they clashed over protocols and procedures almost every visit didn't matter now. What mattered…was at the end of the day you did the right thing.

Colonel Sheppard was still unconscious this morning when he'd checked on him. There would be no answers coming from him for a while longer.

Though seeing the Atlantis Military Commander with a stone gray pallor, numerous IV lines, blood transfusion, feeding tube, respirator, heart and brain monitors and so much more was almost too much for the seasoned Daedalus Commander to handle. The Lieutenant Colonel's appearance to an outsider might indicate that he'd been in battle. Not recovering from the 'mild concussion' that he'd been informed about. Steven's mind kept going back to 'why'. Why had this happened? Who allowed it to happen? When did this all start? What was the cause? Had the expedition turned on Sheppard?

Steven's laptop beeped. He hadn't remembered opening it. The beep was indicating the arrival of the mission reports from the past month. The door to the conference room closed shortly after Major Marks' return. He pulled out the chair next to his commanding officer setting up his laptop with efficiency. Both men looked at each other eyes sharing a single thought 'I hope this works'. Their combined goal was to concentrate their efforts around Sheppard; narrowing the search to a manageable set of parameters. Praying that what they needed would be obvious to find.

oOo

"Major Lorne I'd like to start off with the munitions supply inventories. While I'm working on those if you could pull this list of reports I would really appreciate it. Oh, is there a place where I can work with little interruption to you and the military?" Captain Kleinmann handed the Major a data stick with a long list of reports. (Training evaluations, Duty Rosters, Base Security, Security Protocols, Puddle Jumper Logs, Leave Requests, Team Assignments, Clothing Allowances and much, much more.)

"You can use the room next door. We use it for strategy sessions." Lorne made a motion for the Captain to follow as he spoke.

"Don't you mean 'bullshit' room?" Kleinmann stated with a sparkle in his eye. There seemed to be some tension radiating from the Major and Kleinmann felt he needed to diffuse it. Maybe this was the Major's first audit and was nervous.

"You have one of those onboard the Daedalus?" Evan inquired in return.

"Of course. I haven't had a posting yet that didn't have one. What about you?"

Lorne smiled wide shaking his head in the affirmative. "Same. I'll get these ready for you."

"What's it like working with Colonel Sheppard? Scuttlebutt on ship says he's pretty unorthodox sometimes and lax on military protocol. A lot of the guys have put in for transfers." Kleinmann stated offhandedly.

"For the most part it's been fine." Lorne closed the door as he left not wanting to discuss the Colonel any further.

oOo

Lieutenant Doctor Lindsey Novak divided her audit of the Science Dept. into several key areas. Since science encompassed such a wide variety of fields: Astrophysics, Botany, Metallurgy, Anthropology and so forth, her plan was to assign each of her teammates to a department while she took the challenge of going over the broader scope of the department as a whole. "Would you produce a list of all department heads so I can assign…hiccup …my team accordingly? And a list of your current on-going projects… hiccup. I guess I should…hiccup…start with your…hiccup…budget. How you allocate funds to the many…hiccup…departments you oversee." Dr. Novak stated.

"Yes…yes…fine." Rodney snarked pulling up his admin files from the computer that almost never left his office. "Here you go. As you can see I used a complex algorithm to determine how much each department is awarded based on their overall contributions to the betterment of science." Translation, the department that screws up the least gets the most funding. "It's my version of an incentive program."

"hiccup…Dr. McKay, I don't believe that is a satisfactory…hiccup…way to run a department."

"If you had to deal with the people here who call themselves scientists on a daily basis you would be doing the same thing. I'm supposed to get the 'best' and the 'brightest' that Earth has to offer and yet they keep sending me these…these…idiots! I'm guessing they got their degrees out of a Cracker Jack box! No reputable school would allow these dunderheads to even wipe off the chalkboard."

"I'll take that into consideration. May I work…hiccup…in here?" Lindsey inquired of the CSO. She'd observed in her past visits to Atlantis and to Lab One that Dr. McKay spent most of his time out in the lab part. She felt confident that he wouldn't mind her using his office therefore made the reasonable request.

"Yes of course. I'll do whatever it takes if it will get you out of my lab and back to the Daedalus sooner. I'm sure Hermiod is downright bereft that you're gone."

Lindsey Novak looked over the top of the laptop she'd been studying giving McKay an awkward look.

oOo

"Doctor you have a very nice facility set up here. I'm impressed." Commented Doctor Phillip Reynolds coming to the end of the tour Dr. Beckett had taken him on.

"It serves the purpose. Now what would ya like to start on first?"

"Since you're offering, let's start with the IOA's randomly picked medical files. Here is the list of names that was forwarded to me with my objectives." Phillip turned over a data stick which Beckett plugged into the first data pad he came too.

Scanning the list of names Carson uttered an, "Oh dear."

"Is there a problem Dr. Beckett?"

"No…not such as one I suppose…no. But this name here…Corporal Teeters, he died five weeks ago when his team was caught in a Wraith culling. I'm afraid there's nothing left but ashes to send home to his family. And Bersen here is down in the morgue awaiting transport back to Earth."

"That's alright Doctor, my objective is to evaluate their file, not the person. I just need to be able to determine whether or not the patients care was handled properly. No excessive drugs or unnecessary tests. That sort of thing."

"Aye. I suppose you're right. I just hate losing 'em. And since we've gotten here we've lost too darn many in my opinion. I'll call up the files and you can use this data pad if you like or I can transfer the files to you."

"If you'd transfer the files to me that would be great. Do you feel this way about all the expedition members Doctor?"

"Aye, I do. They're all my lad and lassies."

Phillip nodded, "do you mind if I use that little room off the lab to work in?"

"That would be fine. I'll have Carole set it up with a few amenities. While she does that I'll get started transferring the files along with pulling the inventory lists, staff schedules, duty rosters and the like, like you talked about."

"Thank you Doctor Beckett."

oOo

Steven Caldwell rubbed at his temples once again. It was the fifth time Major Marks had caught him doing that in the past hour. The mission report Caldwell was reading was the last filed by Colonel Sheppard and his team two weeks ago. Ronon's account of the mission was short and sweet. The Satedan wasn't big on words. Teyla's report was a bit more detailed with perspective of the village. Sheppard's report collaborated Teyla's. The villagers were sick. Dr. McKay's report on the other hand was filled with innuendos, attacks against Sheppard's leadership and decision making abilities. Assumptions. None of it was making sense to the seasoned officer. Caldwell could tell he was still missing something…but what?

"Colonel, are you alright? Should I contact Dr. Reynolds?" Asked the Major.

Major Marks had been combing through the communications logs concentrating on any entries to or from Colonel Sheppard in the past two weeks. The logs showed numerous such contacts then within days died off substantially. With more dropping as the days progressed. It started out upwards of around 125 vocal contacts or more, died down to barely eighty and then progressively further down until in those last few days prior to his mild concussion he was only receiving or sending five or less. Finally it came down to one. At the same time his e-mail traffic increased over the last few days, but dropped after his concussion. Marks thought this was an odd pattern.

"I think I may have something here but I'd like to confirm it with Colonel Sheppard first. It was their last mission thirteen days ago."

"Thirteen days ago…would put that around the 27th." Marks muttered more so to himself while he brought up the comm's data. "Yes…that would make sense. Fourteen days ago and prior the radio traffic for Colonel Sheppard's comm link specifically indicates the Colonel was receiving and or sending approximately 125 or more radio calls per day. In some instances upwards to a hundred and fifty radio calls per day. The very next day the traffic died down by about one third of that. The logs indicate that most of that one third drop off originated from the science division. Each subsequent day since less and less calls were directed to Colonel Sheppard. Over time even the military chatter decreased. At the same time Colonel Sheppard's e-mail traffic picked up. Going from approximately twenty e-mails a day: mostly notification of meetings and mission approvals to seventy plus e-mails. It appears every order was given via e-mail, every question was asked and answered by e-mail and so on. Now five days ago both e-mail and comm traffic stopped. I did find an outgoing radio call to the mess hall at 11:54 am on the 6th, duration was twenty-seven seconds. Two days ago there was another outgoing signal to the infirmary at zero four twenty one hours. Lasting forty-two seconds."

"Excellent work Major. Can you get me specific details?"

"Yes Sir."

"Good, then I want you to follow up on the radio call to the mess hall. I'll brief Dr. Reynolds and have him follow up on the second radio transmission." Caldwell had the beginnings of a picture forming in the back of his mind. Not a very pleasant one however. Now he just needed Sheppard to either confirm or deny his hunch.

Tapping his radio he summoned Dr. Reynolds to the conference room. A few minutes later the two men were deep in discussion over what each of them had already uncovered.

oOo

Before Reynolds could go back to the Atlantis infirmary to follow up on the radio call his own radio beeped in his ear. Dr. Morris was reporting in, Colonel Sheppard showed signs of waking. Immediately both the Doctor and Daedalus Commander beamed back up to the ship.

Colonel Caldwell copped a chair outside the ICU ward waiting for Reynolds to allow him in. It wasn't much of a ward. Two beds set up in a special room with every imaginable monitoring device known to modern Earth medicine for both patient and staff.

The door opened and Caldwell jumped to his feet. "Colonel Sheppard regained consciousness momentarily but has gone back to sleep. He was disorientated at first naturally but calmed once I told him where he was and that he'd be feeling better in a few days."

"Would it be okay if I sat with him?" The Commander asked impulsively. Dr. Reynolds gave his request scrutiny. It was so unlike the rigid Commander.

"I don't have a problem with you sitting with him. You won't be able to interrogate him if he wakes up. He's still intubated to take some of the stress off his lung. However, a friendly, familiar face may keep his panic level down should he wake again. I don't know if you've ever had a tube down your throat but it feels like you can't breathe. It's best if he stays calm and limits his movements right now."

"If calm is what he needs then I would be the last person he'd want to see when he woke up." Caldwell returned only partially joking. He and Sheppard had had their moments, their differences of opinions on how the military should operate, but over the years they agreed to disagree and keep their interactions professional. Steven couldn't ask one of his teammates to sit with the pilot after the report he'd just read of their last mission. And Hermiod still hadn't forgiven the Lt. Colonel for his 'naked' comment. Steven also knew that waking in a strange place with no familiar friend or family member in sight would be stressful.

Phillip showed the Colonel into the ICU ward. Caldwell wasn't sure what to expect in the coming hours. He took up residence in the chair beside the bed to keep a vigilant watch while he continued to read through the reports he had been given.

oOo

Atlantis's halls were fairly quiet at four am say for the passing Marine guard every now and again. Dr. Reynolds beamed into the city early to test the proficiency of the infirmary staff during a medical emergency. It was part of the standards set by the IOA mandate. At least that's what he kept telling himself. And this was going to be his second infirmary mock drill.

After Colonel Sheppard woke the first time Phillip left Caldwell sitting vigil while he had beamed back into the city in the late evening to conduct his first drill. He chose a remote spot out on one of the furthest piers reporting a head trauma case and used his stopwatch to time how long it would take. The medical crew had shot through the door at a run. Gurney, loaded with a back board and C-collar along with standard medical gear, two nurses and a doctor. Dr. Reynolds noted the response time: seven minutes twenty-two seconds, right underneath the minute and twelve second verbal conversation he had with the on-duty nurse. He had thought, Well Done.

This morning, Sergeant Ortiz was playing the role of victim. He had been released the previous day, hand in tack but bandaged, and agreed to take part in the second mock drill.

At zero four twenty-one he radioed the infirmary. "I'm in trouble……I need a doctor." He said into his comm link.

The infirmary duty desk person replied. "What is the nature of the emergency?" The woman's voice was warm, caring and calm in her inquiry.

"I don't know." Ortiz allowed a long pause as instructed. "Pain…can't breathe."

"Alright don't panic. I want you to take slow breaths as deep as you can without causing more pain. Can you tell me where the pain is coming from?"

Sergeant Ortiz looked to the Doctor standing next to him with wide eyes asking for help. When he'd been approached to help the Doctor he had been supplied him with what to say and how fast to say it. Reynolds shook his head indicating how the Sergeant should answer.

"No."

"Do you have abdominal pain?"

Reynolds mouthed the words 'I don't know' while Sgt. Ortiz verbalized them. "I don't know."

"Does your chest hurt?"

"I need help." Sgt. Ortiz answered after reading a scribbled note from the Doctor next to him.

"Did you fall?"

"It hurts." Coached Dr. Reynolds.

"Did you break any bones?"

"No."

"Are you bleeding?"

Another head shake from the Doctor and Ortiz answered with a, "No."

"Are you sitting down?"

A confirming head shake from the Doctor this time. "Yes."

"Good, that's good. A med team is on their way to your location now. Just remain calm. Help is on the way." Her voice was just as reassuring as her words.

Dr. Reynolds looked down at his stopwatch and saw that just over a minute had elapsed during the brief conversation. The stopwatch was still ticking away the seconds counting the time it would take for the infirmary to mobilize a med team, push a gurney through the halls and arrive at his carefully chosen location.

A clanking sound echoed from down the hall and soon a doctor and two nurses rounded the bend in the corridor towards their potential victim. When the gurney came to a stop Dr. Reynolds clicked off the stopwatch and noted the time. Three minutes and seventeen seconds from time of call to location. Excellent he thought to himself.

"Well done everyone, well done. Sergeant Ortiz you are excused and thank you for playing our injured victim. Doctor, Nurses, you made excellent time. Just over three minutes. Even on the Daedalus our response time to an emergency at this distance is over four. But we do have bulkheads we have to navigate over now and again. This exercise is over and you may all return to your duties. I'll see you all later this morning. Thank you." And with that, the Daedalus Doctor walked away with a smile leaving three stunned and breathless medical staff in his wake.

oOo

"Good Morning, Dr. Reynolds. I understand you put the staff through their paces again earlier this morning." Carson stated with mild amusement.

"I did and the staff performed well. All within proposed guidelines. I've noticed that there are no patients today. Would right now be a good time to get some questions out of the way? If at all possible I'd like both shifts to join in. It shouldn't take much time."

"I'll gather everyone up. Would this area do?" Carson asked gesturing to the empty infirmary area they were standing in.

"This area is perfect in fact." Phillip replied. Carson was doing a great job of corralling the staff. "If you would, I'd like the night shift personnel to my right and the current day shift to my left. Thank you. Now that we're all here I just want to say for everyone's benefit that the night shift did an excellent job on the mock drill earlier this morning." He praised this team just as he had done for the late evening shift who'd responded to the mock pier head trauma drill. "Give yourselves a hand."

Small applause and pats on the backs were exchanged. The infirmary staff looked pleased with each other and themselves. Carson was beside himself with pride. While he had, or rather the 'real' Carson Beckett, had been in charge he had hand-picked each and every staff member. Though he was just the clone of the real Carson, the staff treated him no different for which he was grateful. There were a few new faces that Dr. Keller had hired but all in all, he and the staff got along great together.

"My first question goes to Nurse Sheila Edwards. Last night you took the emergency call from Sgt. Ortiz. Since I was not here to oversee how you handled things, could you please explain to me what you did? How you knew where to send the medical team."

Sheila was a veteran nurse having been around the block a few times in her career. If you had to guess just by looking at her, you would say she was in her early forties. In reality, Sheila was in her late fifties but could keep up with the younger staff members and she offered a wealth of experience and knowledge to anyone who asked.

"When a call comes in the desk nurse is responsible for answering. Dr. McKay and Dr. Zelenka wrote a program that intertwines with our radio system. If the words: help, sick, medical, emergency, doctor, dying…well there's a whole list of key words and phrases, if any of those words are spoken the interface pinpoints the caller and paints a yellow dot on the Atlantis map within seconds. While the desk nurse talks to the potential patient gathering details, the desk nurse also coordinates the medical team. Advises them of what equipment might be necessary, and then gives them the location."

"Remarkable. I'll have to check with our engineers to see if a similar interface would work on the Daedalus. Do you always have a standard list of questions you ask?"

"Yes Doctor."

"Thank you Nurse Edwards. My next question goes to the attending, Dr. Hennery. Doctor how long does it take you and your team to gather your medical supplies?"

"We have standard medical supplies that we keep in three bags. They are packed and ready to go at a moments notice...always. All other supplies or potential equipment we grab depends on what the desk nurse manages to obtain from the patient. For example, if the nurse discovers the patient fell down stairs we would grab a C-collar, backboard and splints. If the nurse indicates the patient is having trouble breathing, we grab an oxygen tank. All our emergency medical gear is stored in one room. The transport gurneys as well; that way we never have to go looking for one. We keep two complete sets of gear ready and as soon as we return any supplies used from our packs are immediately replaced."

"Thank you. That was very thorough. I believe that is all the questions I have for the night shift. Thank you again for staying. The night shift may all leave." As the night shift exited the desk nurse excused herself. Unbeknownst to those remaining, Dr. Reynolds had clicked the stopwatch in his pocket to time the nurse. He watched her walk to bed six and pull back the curtain. To her surprise there was an expedition member holding their hand exposing a small cut.

At breakfast in the mess hall Miko had managed to cut her finger. Reynolds was close by and looked the cut over when he had an idea pop into his head. Miko agreed to help out and he'd snuck her into the infirmary when no one was looking. He hid her behind curtain six until the time was right to press the call button. He figured when he dismissed the night shift the day shifts attention would be split and a perfect opportunity to see how they performed. It had taken the nurse thirty seconds to walk from the nurse's duty desk to bed six. A second day nurse took position up behind the desk. Miko's cut was cleaned and bandaged and Miko was sent on her way with thanks from Dr. Reynolds.

"Nurse Montoya how did you know there was someone at bed six?" Doctor Reynolds asked.

"I didn't. At least I wasn't expecting anyone to be there. Here at the nurse's desk we have indicator lights that come on when the call button is pressed. Originally I thought the call button had fallen off the bed. Sometimes when that happens they activate. The buttons are very sensitive."

"Nurse Baylor what time is breakfast served to the patients?"

Neal answered quickly. "Zero seven hundred hours, Doctor. First shift and third shift overlap by one hour allowing for enough personnel to get everyone's breakfast and basic needs taken care of."

"And what if the patient is not awake at that time?"

"Then the breakfast is held back in a warmer or chiller we have until the patient wakes."

"Nurse Freisen, when Nurse Montoya left the desk area to see about bed six I noticed you moved into position. Why?"

"The nurse's duty desk is manned at all times Doctor. If one nurse leaves to assist with a patient one of the remaining nurses covers. It's SOP for us who work in the infirmary."

"Thank you. When a patient is released to their quarters to convalesce say with a broken leg which still requires elevation how does the patient get their meals?"

"That would be me…well the Chief Medical Officer in charge anyway. The CMO contacts the mess hall and arranges for food to be delivered by one of the mess staff, usually Sara. We know the patients allergies and whether or not they are up for soup or regular full meals. Sometimes, if the medical staff has to check on the patient, say for wound care/dressing changes, they will stop by and pick it up on their way."

"How do you keep track of which patients are recuperating in their quarters?"

Nurse Neal Baylor answered that one. "We have an electronic reminder. Once the patient information is entered into the program, thirty minutes before meal time a reminder pops up on our screen."

"Does this electronic reminder ever fail? Like from a dead battery."

"No Doctor, the reminder application is tied into a naquadah generator as is all of our monitoring equipment: EKG's, Call Buttons, Pulse-ox monitors and the like."

"Impressive. Thank you Nurse Baylor. I believe that is all the questions I have at this time so I'll let you all return to your daily routines." Phillip returned to the small office space he'd commandeered yesterday. Once he was out of sight he had himself beamed back to the Daedalus.

oOo

"Reynolds to Col. Caldwell."

"Caldwell."

"Sir if you have time I'd like to meet with you and Major Marks."

"That's fine. Come to the bridge conference room."

Phillip was the last to enter the conference room all ready in mid-sentence stating his apology for taking longer than expected. He'd stopped by and checked on Colonel Sheppard first who was struggling against the respirator. Phillip had no choice but to remove it replacing it with a mask.

"Major the call to the infirmary at 04:21 hours, how long did it last?" Phillip asked as he slipped into one of the free conference room chairs.

"Forty-two seconds."

"I conducted a mock drill this morning at precisely the same time and learned two things. The staff that was on duty the night of Colonel Sheppard's call was the same staff working earlier this morning. I had Sgt. Ortiz say the exact same wording as Colonel Sheppard, to an extent, and the communication took over a minute. When I asked the nurse if she always asked the same round of questions she confirmed she did. Now Colonel Sheppard was in pain, weak and having trouble breathing. I don't see him spouting answers to her numerous questions in 42 seconds. Do we have her side of the conversation, Major?"

"If you can supply me with her name I can get it. Up till now I've been concentrating on Colonel Sheppard's communications."

"What was the other thing you learned Doctor?" Caldwell asked.

"I stationed Sgt. Ortiz at about the same distance as Sheppard's quarters are from the infirmary: same number of hallways, same number of transporters. It took the emergency medical crew three minutes and seventeen seconds to reach us. From what we know so far there was no medical crew dispatched to his quarters. I've found no record of the event. Why? He was in pain and barely breathing for five additional hours before someone found him. I want to know why and I want somebody's head for this!" Phillip Reynolds shouted, realizing his voice had gone up a few octaves.

"Easy Doctor. We'll get to the bottom of this but first let Marks here find the transcript of the nurse's conversation."

"Done Sir.

Sheppard: I'm in trouble. (pause) I need a doctor.

Marks: There are a few seconds delay in responding.

Nurse: What is the nature of the emergency?

Sheppard: I don't know.

Marks: There's a long pause here before the Colonel continues.

Sheppard: Pain…can't breathe.

Nurse: I'll send someone.

"That's it? Nothing else? No questions?"

"No Sirs. That's the whole 42 second conversation." The Major added.

"I want her arrested this instant!" Shouted the now red faced angry doctor. "Before she does this to someone else!"

"I will Doctor, I promise. Major, what did you find out from the mess hall?"

"I spoke to Josephine O'Brien, she's the chief cook's first assistant. She recalled the call from Colonel Sheppard but it was during lunch. At the time he called one of the cooks dropped a tray of salads on the floor and she had to handle that disconnecting Colonel Sheppard abruptly. She admitted that she forgot about his request. She did tell me that no one from medical, usually the CMO, requested any food to be delivered to Colonel Sheppard's quarters that day or any previous days. I had her pull up the logs to verify. I guess when the CMO arranges for food to be delivered they tell the cooks what the person can and cannot have and they log it."

"The CMO part is correct. Dr. Beckett confirmed that this morning. No wonder the Colonel didn't want to go to the infirmary when you found him. First he's alienated, then starved and finally left for dead by people he thought he could trust. Colonel I want action taken immediately."

"Is Colonel Sheppard up to talking I'd like to know if there is anyone else before we take the SO's and go back down there. And I believe there is. I posted Sgt. Dixon at Sheppard's door shortly after we beamed into sick bay. At minimum ten minutes elapsed between beam in and he and Marks beam out. In his report he stated one of the medical staff from the infirmary arrived at 10:33 am. Now that was close to an hour after I called for emergency assistance. If you say they can respond in three minutes, why did it take this individual almost an hour? And how did he end up with internal bleeding when he was only to have suffered a mild concussion? Marks took pictures of his quarters. There's no indication of a struggle, no tipped furniture and from the way I found Sheppard it appeared to me that he was trying to crawl to his door. I need more answers before I act. But I promise you Doctor I will act. I am not about to sit here and let a good soldier down. Colonel Sheppard deserves more and will get his justice."

"Yes, you're absolutely right of course. I guess we better get all the rotten apples and not just the couple we know about. Dr. Morris said Sheppard's doing much better this morning. I had to remove the respirator since he was fighting it. I think he might be up to a little conversation. And I do mean little."

"Understood. Major, thank you, return to duty and you have the bridge."

"Yes Sir."

oOo

Colonel Caldwell and Dr. Phillip Reynolds entered the ICU room together. As they approached the occupied bed the Doctor scanned the monitors while Caldwell took his place on the left side of the bed. He stood this time instead of taking the chair.

Hazel eyes blinked to clear his vision taking in the two men. Dr. Reynolds was first to speak.

"Colonel, do you think you could answer a few questions for us?"

John nodded his agreement but responded with, "water."

Phillip knew his patient's throat would be irritated by the tube and talking only made that worse. Excluding what coughing would do. Allowing the Colonel a few sips of tepid water the Doctor asked his first question.

"Alright Colonel I'm going to ask some questions, I don't want you to talk unless you have too. Do you know how you ended up with internal bleeding?"

John shook his head no while the Doc gave him another sip of water, slipping the straw underneath the oxygen mask.

"Did you fall in your room? Maybe fall into something? A nightstand, desk…"

"Infirmary." John rasped.

"You fell in the infirmary." Phillip stated for confirmation.

John shook his head to the affirmative.

"Were you examined after your fall?"

Another head shake to indicate no came from John before he said, "room."

Both the Doctor and Caldwell had bewildered expressions on their face. John knew they didn't understand. In a scratchy voice his words were made worse by the mask covering his face he said, "wanted to go to my room."

"Ah." Dr. Reynolds sighed. He'd read in Sheppard's medical file how the Colonel didn't like to stay in the infirmary. This was all making more sense now. "Okay one last question I think. Then you need to rest. We can talk more when you wake up. It's been bothering me since you arrived, Colonel, but why here? Why the Daedalus and not the infirmary? Atlantis has much better equipment."

John thought about what to say to that. Better equipment…yeah…but everyone disliked him at the moment. He hadn't really wanted to say he was scared either—terrified might have been a better word but he didn't want to say that either. All his adult life he tried not to be frightened of anything. Even coming to Atlantis and facing down life sucking vampires hadn't really scared him. John took longer to think about his answer to this question. He really wasn't up to answering. After several minutes the Doc took pity on him giving him an out. Telling him he needed to rest.

Fumbling with the bed controls Dr. Reynolds got what he needed. "Here's the call button. Matt will be in to check on you periodically, but if you need him or me before then just press the button."

"And someone will come?" John asked cautiously.

A grim look appeared on the Doctors face as well as Caldwell's. "Yes. Go ahead and try it."

Skeptically John pushed the call button the Doctor had placed in his hand. Seconds later Matt was at his bedside with a confused, but helpful look. John let go of some of the unease he hadn't been fully aware he was holding on to. The memory of no one coming to his aid the last time was foremost in his mind. One last exhale saw him into a restful slumber.

The three men reconvened in the Daedalus' bridge conference room. Armed with new information supplied by Colonel Sheppard; Marks, Caldwell and Reynolds gathered the remaining pieces of the puzzle. They formulated a time-line of events, list of staff and poor actions.

oOo

John woke in stages. He could feel the sudden pressure and release on his arm from the BP cuff. The beep, beep, beep of monitors, and a rustling noise coming from his left. He could also hear the internal hum of the ship he was on. His right hand found the call button that the doctor had placed there hours ago and pressed it. In the back of his mind he hoped someone would come. His throat was dry and sore and the thought of cool liquid soothing it would be nice.

To a trained professional's eye the monitors gave away John's desire to wake. The nurse was watching the monitors from outside the ICU area. He recognized his patients return to wakefulness and had already been in the process of getting a few ice chips even before the call light activated. A helpful smile adorned his face as he approached the occupied bed caring a small cup.

"I'm here Colonel Sheppard. What can I do for you?" Nurse Matt Matthews asked in a caring tone.

Caldwell hadn't a clue the young man was awake. He must have dosed off. After several hours of hashing out a time-line he had found himself back in the ICU ward watching over Sheppard. The ship's doctor had wanted him to get some rest. It had been a long stressful day for all of them. But instead, Caldwell found himself watching over the sleeping man. From reports turned in by his people on Atlantis it slowly came to light that the Lt. Colonel had had a rough couple of weeks. His staffers doing the audit reported on what they were hearing in passing. It was all conjecture, however, until the Lt. Colonel could confirm or deny what was being said in his absence. Absence; that was another thing that kept bothering him. Not even the Colonel's team had inquired about him. From what he had observed in the past, the Colonel's team was close-knit. Silently Caldwell hoped the Lt. Colonel would wake and feel up to another talk.

He sat up straighter in his chair to watch the exchange between patient and caregiver.

"Thirsty." Came a painful rasp.

"I thought you might be. I have a few ice chips you can have this time. Better than just tepid water in my opinion. And it will help with your sore throat much more." Matt held the spoon next to his bottom lip waiting for the Colonel to open so he could slide the cool chip in. The Colonel didn't seem all that awake just yet.

Once the ice was in relief was instant and John sighed gratefully.

"I'll leave the cup here. Col. Caldwell can give you another spoonful in a few minutes but you can't over do it. Remember what the doctor told you earlier."

"Mem…ber." By this time John had managed to work his eyes open.

"Don't wear him out Colonel. He still needs lots of rest. I'll just be outside the door if either of you need me. Just use the call button." Matt reminded them both before leaving.

Caldwell nodded in understanding. Steven was content to just sit and keep watch but another part of him wanted answers. Answers to all the questions he had running around inside his head.

John forgot there was someone else nearby until the nurse spoke to him directly; though he vaguely recalled the rustling sound from earlier. He was just so damn tired. John carefully moved his head covered in electrodes so he could see Col. Caldwell. "Thank you." He whispered.

"For what Colonel?"

"Finding…me…in time…" John broke off with a cough. Not only did it hurt his throat but his abdomen joined in this time almost taking his breath away.

Colonel Caldwell stood to scoop up an ice chip. "Here." The spoon slipped in and the Colonel looked relieved. "Better?" John gave a confirming nod. "You should rest now, get your strength back. I've got your back."

John nodded knowing he would be safe here with the Colonel watching his six. It was odd having the Colonel look after him, but he'd take what he could get right now.

oOo

Caldwell stayed until midnight watching over Sheppard before calling it a night. Tomorrow was going to be another stressful day.

Rested, showered and three cups of coffee later Caldwell returned to the ICU ward where he found Dr. Reynolds removing the EKG and EEG leads and monitors from a still sleeping Lieutenant Colonel.

"How is he doing this morning?"

"Better…much better. Brain function has been normal. His heart strong—I'm not showing any signs of decreased muscle activity there. His kidneys are functioning well within parameters. I'd say you found him just in time. I don't think he'll have any problems later on at all." Concluded the Doctor.

"Good to know."

Dr. Reynolds and Col. Caldwell were both taken back at the soft raspy voice that interjected itself into their conversation. Both men had thought the Lt. Colonel was sleeping.

"Good Morning, Colonel. How are you feeling?"

"Tired and I just woke up." Reynolds understood that completely. From the amount of blood loss it would have taken several days to recover from just that alone. Malnutrition just compounded his recovery. Reynolds adjusted the bed allowing the Colonel to be in a slightly upright position.

"That will pass in time. Terry is going to bring you some broth from the galley. I think it's time we get you started on the road to more solid foods."

"Are you taking this out?" John lifted a heavy hand towards the nasal gastric tube.

"No, sorry. That stays in a while longer. When you're stronger we'll take it out. But Dr. Morris and I both agree that you're up to something that has some taste to it. Albeit broth."

John would do whatever it took to get that tube out of his nose and throat.

"Colonel, do you feel up to talking? Can you tell me what lead up to you being in my sick bay?" Caldwell asked.

"It's my fault, I'm to blame. I made a judgment call on my last mission."

"I've read your last mission Colonel as well as all accounts from your teammates. I don't accept that and neither should you." Caldwell injected. "I've also read my people's reports which include some conjectures. But that's also not what I meant. Can you break down the specific events?"

John nodded knowing that the report he filed was inaccurate. But now was not the time to go into that. He needed to be a little stronger and clear headed. So he continued on. "I got hit on the head. When I came to I heard the guys talking over me how I deserved what I got and should have been more. When the med team arrived I was handled roughly. I tried to let it go, tried not to read so much into their actions. I told myself they didn't mean it." John stopped long enough for the Doc to give him a drink of water. "The nurses wouldn't answer the call button. Beckett berated me for getting out of bed without help, but that was my only option at the time. I didn't mean to trip and fall. I decided then that it would be better all around if I went to my room. I made him take me there. He dumped me off and left." John took another minute to compose himself, not only for what to say, but he just needed a little time. "He didn't follow through with his conditions. No one came to check on me, not that I thought they would, after… Well anyway, when the pain was so bad that I could barely stand it I called for help. I waited but no one came. I tried to make it to my door. That's when…I coughed up all that blood. I…I…for the first time in my life I was truly scared." John paused to get a grip on himself. His shaky hand reached for the tumbler of water but the Doc was much faster and steadier. After taking a few more sips which allowed him needed time to calm himself down he continued his story. "I wasn't even sure I'd heard the door chime. I thought I was dreaming or hallucinating until it chimed again. After all that time someone was actually coming to help me. I wasn't even sure if anyone heard me call out, I was struggling just to breathe. The next thing I remember clearly is you, Colonel, kneeling beside me calling for help. I guess I let my fear get the better of me. I wasn't thinking straight. Sorry if I caused either of you trouble."

"I'm the one who is sorry. You shouldn't have been treated in this manner regardless of what they perceived. We're doctors…we heal no matter what. I'm just thankful that Col. Caldwell got to you when he did." Terry brought in the mug of broth sporting a straw. "Drink as much of this as you can. Terry will help you if needed. Then rest. That's the best thing for you right now."

John tilted his head confirming he understood his orders. Who knew talking took so much energy.

oOo

After leaving Colonel Sheppard in the very capable hands of Nurse Terry Winston, Reynolds and Caldwell left to make some final notations on what they knew to be truth now that Sheppard was able to give his version of events.

After lunch Caldwell beamed back into the city of Atlantis without warning along with four armed SO unit escorts. In the second beam out, Dr. Reynolds, Dr. Morris, two nurses along with three field medics and Major Marks arrived. The gate room personnel were alarmed. The gate room Marines on duty stood ramrod ready. Had there been a Wraith detection? They held their positions with confused looks covering their faces, but none the less ready.

Colonel Caldwell led everyone up the grand stairs, made a silent hand motion to the large group so the majority of the group headed for the conference room. Dr. Morris, the Nurses, Corpsmen and a few Daedalus Marines headed for the infirmary while Caldwell detoured to Woolsey's office. The sound of so many booted feet along with the unannounced beam in had brought Woolsey to his. He met Caldwell two paces inside his office.

"Colonel, what is the meaning of this?"

"In due time Mr. Woolsey. Right now I require you to contact the people on this list and have them report immediately to the conference room. Should they not comply an armed escort will be sent for them. Don't worry about taking the medical staff away, Dr. Morris, Nurses and Corpsmen from the Daedalus will be there shortly to cover things."

Richard looked at the list of names. All of them were medical personnel with the exception of one name. "Is this due to the audit, Colonel? If it is, I assure you whatever you found wrong we will take measures to correct it immediately."

"Just contact those people." The Commander stated firmly without reservation.

"Yes…of course."

It took some time to assemble the names from the list. As the members arrived they were told nothing and were requested to take a seat. Once everyone was accounted for Col. Caldwell began.

"I know you're all wondering why you've been summoned here. It will be explained in full detail over the course of the next few hours. I would like to advise everyone that these proceedings are being recorded. You are under no obligation to answer our questions. Grievous negligence has been uncovered by the infirmary audit: Offenses serious enough to force me to convene this inquiry."

"Colonel, I cannot believe what you're saying. Dr. Rey…"

"I'm sorry Dr. Beckett, since Dr. Reynolds discovery of these transgressions I feel as senior advisor of this audit I must take action immediately. Adams, Rodriquez and Dae please stand." There was a shuffle of chairs and the nurse, medic and Doctor stood. "Yes or no. On September 4th, did you respond to Warehouse 2 where Colonel Sheppard suffered a head injury?"

Doctor Dae looked between his two fellow medical members; knowing that it was in the logs that they responded so he answered the question on behalf of the three of them. "Yes."

"Doctor Dae, the call for emergency medical assistance came in at 14:37 hours according to the logs. Your team arrived on site at approximately 15:33 hours. Some 55 minutes after the call came in. Why did it take your team 55 minutes to respond?"

Dae swallowed hard. "It took that long to get to Warehouse 2. The warehouse is located on the southern most pier, Colonel."

"Dr. Dae would you believe me when I say that it only takes 7 minutes from the infirmary to Warehouse 2? Records indicate that there were no malfunctions of any kind to the transporter system on said date. Now would you like to recant your previous statement?"

Caldwell and the rest of the room fell silent waiting. Dae, Adams and Rodriquez made no attempt to respond.

"I'll take that as a no Doctor. Doctor Reynolds has a few questions to ask now."

Phillip stood up, heaved a calming breath then asked. "Doctor, are you aware that head traumas are serious?"

"Yes."

"Were you aware that Colonel Sheppard suffered from a head trauma when you and your team responded taking 55 minutes to get there?"

Doctor Dae remained silent as did the nurse and medic.

"I see. Is roughing up a head trauma patient standard medical practice?"

"No! What are you implying? My team responded, we assessed Colonel Sheppard and brought him back to the infirmary for further evaluation."

"I'm implying Doctor, and I use that title lightly, that you and your team purposely took your time reaching your patient and once there exerted more force than necessary getting Colonel Sheppard assessed and onto the gurney."

"What is your evidence?" Doctor Dae asked with a dour expression.

"My evidence was found on the Colonel's arms and legs. Fingernail marks along with bruises. Is that evidence enough for you!?" Shouted Dr. Reynolds, at which point Col. Caldwell had a firm grip on the doctor's wrist.

Caldwell stood. "I think we've heard enough. Nurse Adams, Medic Rodriquez and Doctor Dae you are confined to your quarters until further notice and will remain under guard until such time as formal charges can be brought against each of you. I'd advise you take this time to amend your reports as to why it took you 55 minutes to respond to a medical emergency. Sergeants." Three Daedalus Security Officers stepped forward and followed the three back to their quarters.

"Nurse Neal Baylor please stand. Were you or were you not on desk duty the morning of September 5th, the day after Colonel Sheppard was admitted with a mild concussion? A yes or no will suffice."

"Yes."

Before Caldwell could ask his next question, the Doctor jumped in. "Why did you not answer his call light?"

"I didn't see any call light, Doctor."

"What about the second time he pushed the call button? Or the third time?"

"I didn't see any call light." Neal answered firmly.

"That's odd because the call button works, the light at the desk works and you, yourself, told me that there is never a fault since the indicators are hooked into a back up naquadah generator. Would you like to amend your earlier response?"

"Neal?" Carson Beckett muttered. He was having a hard time believing that his hand-picked staff was derelict in their duties. Now he understood the Colonel's demanding mood better.

"Are you aware that there is a sub-routine that logs each time a call button is used; the duration between presses and from which infirmary station it was used." Dr. Reynolds couldn't believe his luck when Major Marks found that routine when they were putting together the final time-line of events after speaking with Colonel Sheppard earlier that morning. Had he not discovered it, Nurse Baylor might not have been caught.

"Lieutenant, please escort Nurse Baylor to his quarters. Mr. Baylor you are confined until such time as appropriate charges can be filed."

"Yes Sir." snapped the Lieutenant with his hand already on Baylor's bicep.

"Now would Nurse Sheila Edwards please stand. Before we begin Nurse Edwards I must advise you that anything you say today can and will be used against you in a court of civilian law. Though the other medical staff had committed acts against Colonel Sheppard, yours was the most grievous and is presumed punishable by a court of law." Colonel Caldwell stated factually.

"Nurse Edwards, at zero four twenty-one hours on September 8th, you received a call from Colonel Sheppard requesting a doctor. The call lasted only 42 seconds. He told you he was in pain and having difficulty breathing at which time you told the Colonel you would send someone. We have the communication logs that verify this. Now we both know that no medical aid was rendered until the Colonel was beamed up to my sick bay some five hours after his call for help. Your negligence in dispatching a medical team to the Colonel's room in inexcusable. I'd like to know why, but you are under no obligation to answer." Stated a very angry Dr. Phillip Reynolds.

The nurse looked distressed, as she should be. Her whole career thrown away in an attempt to punish the Colonel for something he did that she had only heard about through hearsay. She valued life. Always had. That's why she became a nurse; so she could help.

Carson was reeling with the information. How could the Colonel have difficulty breathing and pain from a mild concussion? "Sheila? Why Lass?"

"I'm sorry Dr. Beckett. He deserves what he got. He should have allowed you to help those people! Everyone thinks so." And then she said no more.

"Sergeants Talb and Murphy, please escort Nurse Edwards to her quarters. Consider yourself under arrest Nurse. Sergeant sweep her room."

"Yes Sir." Rang out from both Sergeants.

"Josephine O'Brien please stand. Ms. O'Brien…" Caldwell began before his Chief Medical Officer leaned in to whisper into his ear. A moment later Reynolds was gone in a flash of light.

"Ms. O'Brien on September 6th you received a call from Colonel Sheppard requesting food. The call lasted 27 seconds at which point I believe you disconnected the call to aid a fellow worker. Is this true?" Asked the Colonel.

"Yes Sir, it is. As I already explained to Major Marks."

"Ms. O'Brien you're dismissed. You may return to work. You will be notified later of any non-judicial punishment. I suggest that in the future you should follow up. Nurse LaCour please stand."

Josie left the conference room ashamed that she had failed to follow up on the Colonel's request after hearing what he had gone through in the days before.

"Nurse LaCour, could you tell me why when I requested an emergency medical team a single medic showed up an hour later? I remind you that you are under no obligation to answer although your actions for sending someone will be taken into consideration."

Robin LaCour said nothing. It was only because the Daedalus Commander requested medical help that she eventually sent someone; although it had taken her most of an hour to decide.

"You are confined to quarters pending charges. Lieutenant, please escort Nurse LaCour to her quarters." Receiving a nod from his Lieutenant, Caldwell pressed on. "Medic Morelli, though you responded to the call once you were made aware by the duty-desk nurse I have no other option but to confine you to your quarters until your case can be reviewed by a JAG panel. Captain please escort Medic Morelli to his quarters."

The only people remaining were Dr. Beckett, Mr. Woolsey, Major Marks, three Marines from the Daedalus and Colonel Caldwell.

oOo

"Colonel what is going on here?" Reynolds stated as soon as he walked into the ICU ward. Matt was doing his best trying to keep the Lt. Colonel in bed. Under the circumstances, Reynolds was amazed at the strength the Colonel possessed. He wouldn't have fathomed he had the strength of a newborn from all the blood loss. "You can't get out of bed yet and you know that. Now please, lie back." Dr. Reynolds spoke soothingly as he and Nurse Matt gently pressed down on the Colonel's shoulders urging him to lie back down.

John was breathing heavy from the exertion. He'd gotten himself tangled up in the many tubes entering and exiting his body. Phillip reached for the oxygen mask and gently placed it over his patient's mouth and nose. "Breathe slowly. Try to take a deep breath and let it out slowly. You're just a little disoriented." Reynolds cooed.

"Temps 101.7 Doctor." Matt informed along with the Colonel's other vital statistics.

"Colonel, I'm going to check your incision. I think you might have developed an infection. I've been giving you antibiotics since your surgery to prevent this but it doesn't always work. We're going to need a little bit of your blood for testing. Matt here is going to take a sample but it won't hurt. Are you okay with that?"

John nodded his consent. From under the mask John muttered, "I need to talk to Caldwell." He was in his room all over again: the weakness, pain and panting breaths. He needed to talk to the Colonel. "To tell him the truth… Before…Before he…"

"Colonel Caldwell is on Atlantis right now. But when he returns I will have him come see you. Will that be alright?" John gave another nod. "Good, now lie still for me it won't be but a brief look." He advised his patient. "Matt, get me a culture slide kit please."

Matt exited the room to get equipment he needed for the blood draw as well as the culture kit the Doctor needed.

"We're done Colonel. Once we test this culture and your blood I'll know more about what type of infection you have and how to combat it. For the next few hours or so you're going to feel pretty lousy. But you will be okay. Keep the oxygen mask on for as long as you need it and rest if you can. Okay?"

"'kay."

oOo

Rodney sat facing Novak who had taken over his office, his chair and his favorite coffee mug. Novak had been grilling him over some inconsistencies she'd discovered while doing the audit of the science department. "I see you have Dr. Kelly working in the Horticulture department and you have Dr. Hunter working in the Botany lab. How did you come to this arrangement?"

"What's the problem with it?" McKay asked dumbfounded.

"Well for one, Dr. Kelly specializes is Botanical plants. hiccup I would think her talents would be better spent working with the variety of new species of plants you've discovered, while Dr. Hunter's specialty is gardening—Horticulture. His talents would be better suited in the hydroponics lab trying to grow our Earth crops here in Pegasus."

Rodney was flustered. He remembered perfectly those two doctors. Their names made him think of the color green. He was sure he assigned the two green Doctors to the correct departments. No wonder they didn't make any progress. "I'll change that immediately. Next question."

"Alright, on your last mission to P1N-060 you mention…hiccup…tracing a particle stream. I don't see where in your report you identified it." Lt. Dr. Lindsey Novak questioned. She was down to her last few items she uncovered during her audit.

A bellow of hot air escaped Rodney as he answered yet another one of Novak's questions. They'd been at this for several hours now. With a heavy sigh, "that's because I never got the chance to investigate it. Sheppard pulled the plug on that mission so he could play G.I. Joe and blow the place to smithereens before I got a good enough reading. If we ever get back to that planet I'll be sure to document it for you." Rodney grabbed for his coffee mug in disgust. As he slid his hand around the cooled mug, a page from his unorganized stack of science journals cut his finger. After a howl of sheer pain, "I have to go to the infirmary." He stated to Novak and left the office in a rush.

He needed his hands to do his work. He couldn't allow a paper cut to get infected, get gangrene and be amputated. Not in his line of work; he needed all ten digits.

oOo

Doctor Reynolds beamed back into the conference room after making sure his patient was resting as comfortable as he could considering his rising temperature and newly developed infection. He left Matt sponging down the Colonel in an attempt to reduce his fevered body. Reynolds sent a sample of blood along with a partial sample from the culture to Dr. Morris who was working the Atlantis infirmary. With his help and access to the Ancient Medical Database maybe they could knock this infection out before it got any worse.

Colonel Caldwell was just finishing up his conversation with Director Woolsey when he retook his seat at the table.

"Dr. Beckett I must remind you that you do not have to answer our questions. However…"

"Aye Colonel Caldwell I understand. But I won't be silent. Not after what I've heard here today. You'll get an honest answer out me regardless of the consequences. I can't believe the staff…"

Dr. Reynolds jumped in cutting off the Highland Doctor. "Doctor Beckett, what is the procedure for when a patient falls when in the custody of a medical facility?"

"The patient is checked over by a physician and if warranted x-rays are taken."

"When Colonel Sheppard fell in the infirmary on September 5th, were either of those actions you mentioned carried out?"

"No. No Doctor they were not." Carson stated sadly.

"It is my understanding that Colonel Sheppard argued his release from the infirmary to return to his room. Is this correct?"

"Aye, it is."

"Is it normal procedure to allow a patient with a concussion, mild one at that, to return to his quarters?"

"Not really no, but the Colonel was quite adamant about it. I only allowed it under the condition that he would be checked by the medical staff periodically." Explained Dr. Beckett.

"And was the Colonel checked on by you or the medical staff?"

"I'd have ta look that up. I know I didn't check on the lad but I'm sure one of the other staff did."

"Would it interest you to know that not one of your staff checked on Colonel Sheppard."

"That can't be right." Carson whispered more to himself than to make a statement for the whole group.

"Why did you just drop Colonel Sheppard off at his room without making sure he had his comm link nearby, or a glass of water on his bed table? He was still suffering from bouts of dizziness. Those are common health care courtesies Doctor."

"This is not an excuse by any means, but just after the Colonel and I entered his quarters an emergency call came in. Sgt. Ortiz had been working in the kitchen repairing the disposal unit when his hand got mangled. I was the closest so I rushed off to see what I could do in order to save his hand."

"So saving a hand is more important than saving a life." Doctor Reynolds stated.

Beckett shot out of his seat like he was strapped to a missile. "No! Of course not! The Colonel had a mild concussion he just needed rest and time."

"Are you sure about that? You said you didn't follow up with an exam or x-rays. We've already established that Colonel Sheppard contacted the infirmary stating he was in pain and having difficulty breathing." Dr. Reynolds stated.

Dr. Beckett's head hung down in shame and disbelief at what he was hearing. He'd made a huge mistake in letting the Colonel talk him into being released to his room.

Dr. Reynolds pressed on. "In our Q and A you stated that the CMO contacts the mess hall to arrange food for any patient recovering in his or hers quarters. Why was Colonel Sheppard denied this simple courtesy?"

Carson gave a startled, "What?"

"In reviewing Colonel Sheppard's medical records there were no notations made by you, the acting CMO or any staff member as a matter-of-fact. There were no orders requesting meals, as you've heard confirmed by Ms. O'Brien earlier. There were no orders for follow-up care. No reminders queuing the medical staff."

Carson sat back down heavily into his chair on the verge of a meltdown. He couldn't believe he'd forgotten to order meals or follow-up care for the Colonel. This shouldn't be happening. None of this should be happening.

oOo

A ruckus outside the conference room doors brought everyone's attention together. There were two swift pulse blasts followed by two thuds before one of the doors opened.

Dr. McKay, Teyla, Ronon and Major Lorne entered unasked, unannounced and unwanted.

"Dr. McKay, what is the meaning of this? This is a closed meeting and you and your associates were not invited. And what happened to my men outside?" Demanded Caldwell.

"Ronon stunned them. They'll be fine in an hour or so. And just why wasn't the 'Head of Science' invited? I know more about Atlantis then anyone here! I want to know what is going on. Its bad enough your men are crawling all over this place but I've had to spend the last two days with Novak and her incurable hiccups! This stupid 'audit' isn't allowing any actual work to get done. My staff are all walking around on eggshells. I went to the infirmary to have Carson look at my injury and found your people there instead of him. What the hell is going on in the infirmary Carson? That 'witch doctor' of yours, Caldwell, just blew me off. Said it wasn't a medical problem for a doctor to handle. Well I beg to differ. I need my hands to do my work. Any small injury on this base can turn bad all too quickly. He tossed me a band-aid…a fricken' band-aid. So after he bullied me out of the infirmary I decided to find Lorne to see what in the hell was going on and low and behold he didn't have the faintest idea. He didn't know you were here or even that this meeting was taking place nor had any idea your men were scattered all over the living quarters and in the infirmary and here in gate operations. What the hell is going on around here anyway? Then I decided to inform Sheppard he was losing control over this base but that 'goon' of yours you had stationed outside his door wouldn't let me in to see him. Then when Sheppard didn't answer my hails over the comm link I ran a quick scan of his quarters. Guess what I discovered? He's not in there. A city wide scan for his transmitter signal showed he's not even on the base. Where the hell is Sheppard?!"

Teyla reached a hand out to still her teammate. "You must calm down and breathe Dr. McKay." She told him politely with a hushed undertone in her voice.

Ronon stood with his hand on his blaster just itching for someone to make a wrong move. Lorne looked lost and yet frustrated all at the same time. McKay had valid points and he wanted answers just as much as he did.

The Daedalus personnel in the room, including Caldwell and Dr. Reynolds were amazed that McKay actually used finger quotes to highlight some of his points. This had been the first ever rant that Dr. Reynolds had witnessed coming from the arrogant scientist and was thoroughly astonished he managed to say all that in one breath and with such speed and accuracy.

With a firm, calm, but exasperated voice Caldwell started speaking. The arrogance of the man before him had his cockles raised. "And why are you suddenly worried about Colonel Sheppard?"

"What?...huh…you're not making any sense. Why wouldn't I be worried? Sheppard's missing!"

"Oh I don't know Dr. McKay maybe it's the way you and the rest of the Atlantis Expedition have turned against him, withdrawn from him that gave me the idea you didn't care. He's been onboard the Daedalus for the past three and a half days. You didn't seem to miss him before so why now? Why would I think you're concerned?"

"He's…what…why is he…I didn't…" Rodney sputtered.

"Maybe we should all sit down and let Colonel Caldwell explain; if that would be acceptable with you Colonel and the others?" Teyla offered, calmly bowing her head with graciousness.

"Of course Miss Emmagan." Caldwell swept his hands indicating to take one of the open chairs. Teyla tugged on Rodney's arm to get him moving. Major Lorne sat down with them but Ronon preferred to stand at their back; his hand still on his blaster.

While the newly arrived Atlantis personnel took their seats, Dr. Reynolds checked on the two SO's that had been stunned. Both men were doing well under the circumstances but he called to have one of his medics from the infirmary come to keep an eye on them. Phillip retook his place next to the Daedalus Commander and waited.

Caldwell had taken this opportunity to study the four additional persons who barged into his inquest. Dex looked ready for a fight. Major Lorne appeared to be in control but the bouncing knee under the table gave his calm exterior away. Teyla on the other hand truly looked concerned. She kept a tight rein on McKay's arm. McKay himself looked just plain constipated. Caldwell went over in his head what he wanted Sheppard's team to know. Thinking through how he should approach the information with the least resistance. Seeing that his Head of Medicine had returned he cleared his throat to begin.

"You were not invited to this meeting Doctor McKay because so far freedom of speech is not a punishable offence. Your particular 'expertise' was not needed nor wanted. Discrepancies were uncovered during the infirmary audit: serious enough to warrant that I step in to handle the matter. I'm sorry you don't like the idea of my men here but right now I don't give a damn what you like." Caldwell was blunt and to the point. He didn't hold back his distain for the arrogant scientist. He'd had enough of the man even though it had mostly been through the reading of the last mission report he had filed.

"How dare you…"

Teyla held her teammates arm firmly in her grasp essentially cutting his reply and presumably his accompanying tirade off. She didn't like the way the Daedalus Commander talked down to her friend but her intuition told her there was more to what was going on here. She wanted to know why John had been on the Daedalus. She gave Rodney a glare, its meaning was loud and clear 'keep quiet'. "Please Colonel, continue."

Caldwell tilted his head in acknowledgement. "First off let me say that Colonel Sheppard is resting comfortably from his ordeal of the last few days. Dr. Reynolds and Dr. Morris have taken excellent care of him."

"What ordeal?" McKay asked with less venom then his earlier tirade had encompassed. Teyla continued to keep a firm grasp on his arm grounding him.

Dr. Reynolds opted to answer that question. "Colonel Sheppard was bleeding internally Dr. McKay. When Col. Caldwell discovered him he was having difficulty breathing. My staff and I aboard the Daedalus performed emergency surgery, found and repaired the damage. We almost lost him twice because his injuries were so severe. Colonel Sheppard is now resting comfortably and regaining his strength."

Carson couldn't stop the gasp from escaping his lips. It was making sense now why Dr. Reynolds asked the questions he did. He hadn't followed procedure and Colonel Sheppard paid the price for his negligence.

"How did this happen?" Teyla inquired. Her teammate looked shell-shocked as did most of the room's occupants.

"Miss Emmagan in answer to your question a series of events perpetrated by the occupants of this base led to the Colonel's emergency medical situation." Answered Caldwell.

Ronon straightened from his lean against the wall. "Tell me who they are and I'll take care of them." Ronon gnarled from his position ringing his hand over the butt of his blaster.

"Then you can start with yourself and your teammates Specialist Dex." Caldwell returned sharply.

"What?"

"It started with your last mission to P1N-060. It has come to my attention that there are those who think the Colonel acted inappropriately. Instead of filing a complaint and letting the U.S. Air Force investigate the matter unsubstantiated rumors were allowed to go unchecked and soon all of Atlantis turned their backs." Caldwell stared at McKay the whole time. He hoped the scientist realized he was a major contributor to this situation. Though Mr. Woolsey allowed the accusations to go unchecked, he too was at fault in Caldwell's book. "Eventually those in a position to help or even prevent what happened took it upon themselves to teach the Colonel a lesson. A lesson in what I'm not sure. Over the course of four days Colonel Sheppard received a mild concussion when struck by a construction ladder. A medical team was slow in responding and roughly handled the Colonel. Once in a place where he thought he would be safe and taken care of he again was treated to unkindness thus making his request to leave the infirmary paramount. But before he left he'd fallen and the doctor in charge of his care sought no further examination. This same doctor failed to provide the necessary comforts we take for granted: like food, water and medical care. For three days, most likely longer, Colonel Sheppard went without food. He managed to call the mess hall asking for food but nothing was brought. His friends had abandoned him or should I say his 'team' had abandoned him." Caldwell paused to see if his comment would facilitate a response of any kind. To his dismay the three team members and Major Lorne looked at odds with themselves. "At this point he was still suffering the effects of the mild concussion but with added weakness. He was not able to reach the mess hall on his own accord. Had no one he could call. No one he could count on. Had the medical staff followed up on his care they could have prevented his further decline. On the third day he called for a doctor. He was weakened from blood loss, in pain, having difficulty breathing. He was told someone would come. Five and a half hours after he made a call for help I discovered Colonel Sheppard lying on the floor of his quarters in a pool of his own blood."

The room was stunned in silence. Caldwell made a gesture to Major Marks and a photo taken of the blood pool filled the plasma screen in Technicolor. A collective gasp circulated from the stunned people sitting at the table.

"One of your own had been dismissed. Was what you 'think' he did worth letting a man die?" Caldwell allowed the occupants to think about it for a minute or two. Underneath he was a ball of flames just waiting for someone, anyone to say something so he could release his fury. However, the room remained silent.

"I think we're done here. Lieutenant Johnson, make a sweep of the doctors quarters. Sergeant Gribbs please escort Dr. Beckett to his quarters. Dr. Beckett you are confined to quarters until further notice. Your infirmary is now under the medical guidance of Dr. Reynolds and his staff until such time as Dr. Keller returns from leave or an adequate replacement is appointed. Mr. Woolsey please inform those members of the Atlantis medical profession not being brought up on charges they can return to duty to help supplement the Daedalus staff. Advise them they will be taking orders from Dr. Reynolds or Dr. Morris. My Security Marines will continue to stand guard in the hallways. I have taken the liberty to ensure those confined to quarters receive meals and medical care if needed. I do not want a repeat of what happened to Colonel Sheppard. Major Lorne you have temporary Command of Atlantis's Military. If you should require any assistance please contact me. The Daedalus will be here for a while longer. As for Colonel Sheppard he will remain on the Daedalus to recuperate under Drs. Reynolds and Morris's care. I'll leave you with one last thought regarding your recent actions."

Caldwell stood, Reynolds stood and Major Marks hit two keys on his laptop before he stood. In a flash of light the three men vanished.

On the plasma screen was another picture in full Technicolor of the blood pool left behind. Only difference was two words had been written with a bloody finger:

You're Forgiven.

oOo

After rematerializing onboard the Daedalus Dr. Reynolds headed for the lab to check on the Colonel's blood work and culture. The two military men headed in the opposite direction. First order of business after evaluating Sheppard's current condition would be to call the ship's commander down to his sick bay for a check-up. Phillip knew his own blood was boiling and could only imagine that Colonel Caldwell's was too.

Turns out the infection Colonel Sheppard contracted was a strain common to the Pegasus Galaxy. Dr. Morris, who was stationed in the Atlantis infirmary confirmed the diagnosis and had the appropriate antibiotic beamed up. Dr. Morris had stated the antibiotic worked fast so they should expect Sheppard to be back to normal by morning.

His patient was sleeping comfortably.

Caldwell reported to sick bay as ordered. When he arrived he was directed to the nearest bed and told to hop up. After a quick physical the Daedalus Commander was released with orders to take it easy. Caldwell returned those same orders to his Head of Medicine.

The next morning Phillip found John Sheppard wide awake and alert. No sign of any infection.

"How'd you like to get rid of a few tubes?" Reynolds asked after examining his patient.

"As much as I'd like to get rid of the Wraith in this galaxy, Doc."

Phillips chuckled. It was a pleasure to see the Colonel in such high spirits. "Well then, as soon as Matt brings in what I need we'll take care of that NG tube and your catheter. How does breakfast sitting in a chair sound to you? I think it's high time you got out of bed."

"Couldn't agree more Doc."

Matt entered the ICU room carrying a tray covered with a cloth. Doctor and Nurse set about getting everything ready. Dr. Reynolds wasted no time at all getting the NG tube out. After a few gagging breaths later, John was free. The catheter was removed just as swiftly. Getting John into the chair was an act of patience. He was using muscles he hadn't used in about nine days, besides moving pulled on his stitches but the three men persevered. John still sported an IV.

Matt left to get breakfast and Dr. Reynolds stripped the bed of bedding.

"Why didn't you ask what happened?" John stated out of the blue as he watched the doctor work. John figured his doctor must have been a hotel maid at one time or at least an orderly. The bed had perfect military corners.

"I know what happened to you Colonel. You were neglected by the medical staff."

"No, I mean what happened on the mission. The mission that started all this. Why didn't you or Caldwell ask about that?"

Phillip snapped out the light blanket letting it float down onto the bed before answering. "Medically speaking you weren't up to it. You almost died Colonel; twice in fact, while I was trying to save your life."

Matt brought in a breakfast tray positioning it for the Colonel snagging the bundle of soiled bedding on his way out.

"Is Colonel Caldwell back from Atlantis yet?" John asked taking his first bite of real food even if it was runny Cream of Wheat. Not much different from what the NG tube fed him, but at least it had a little flavor and he got to feed himself this time.

"He is. Would you like for me to call him?"

John gave a nod for his reply. The food tasted so good to him. About half way through breakfast Caldwell joined them in the small room glad to see the Colonel sitting up and enjoying some breakfast.

Caldwell sat on the corner of the second bed that was in room. Phillip figured the two men needed privacy.

"Doc, can you stay? What I have to say to Colonel Caldwell needs a third party present. If you're busy maybe you could ask Matt to step in or we could get one of the Marines."

Confusion played across both men faces. "I can stay. Are you sure?"

"Yeah. Take a seat Doc, this could take a while. Colonel if memory serves I believe the Daedalus is equipped with an internal monitoring system. Can it be programmed to record?"

Caldwell wasn't sure so he tapped his radio contacting his communications expert Major Marks on the bridge. A few minutes later Marks radioed back confirming the device was now recording everything being said in the ICU ward section of the ship. Caldwell wondered what could be so significant in the Colonel's report to warrant such measures. For now he would placate to the Colonel's requests. Both Phillip and Steven made themselves more comfortable and John began his tail.

"P1N-060 didn't have a lot to offer in way of scientific discovery or military application. But the MALP sent back an unknown particle stream that McKay said we'd better check out. So we did."

"Colonel, that's all in your mission report. I've read over the report; along with each report submitted by your team members. Although Dr. McKay apparently has not made it easy for you these past couple of weeks; if you're concerned, we'll leave it up to a board of inquiry."

"It's what's not in the file that concerns me. I had every intention of telling you the full details, those which I left out of my report to Mr. Woolsey, right after you arrived…well...right after we brought the 302's down anyway. On my laptop in my room is a date and time stamped copy of my 'official' mission report. Password is: puddle jumper one. Along with a couple other documents you'll need. Colonel Caldwell I respectfully surrender myself for courts martial on the charge I committed genocide."

TBC