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.

Warning: Some graphic descriptions follow that may not be suitable for all readers.

Chapter 2

Not much shocked a veteran military man like Caldwell, but Colonel Sheppard's statement sure did. He'd seen a lot in his career as an Air Force officer but for him this takes the cake. Genocide: what had the junior officer done? Nothing in Sheppard's report alluded to this sort of thing. Looking over to where the Doctor sat perched on the end of John's bed he too had a similar look of disbelief and disgust all rolled into one.

"Colonel, before you proceed any further I must inform you of your rights. Since you requested to have your testimony recorded it can be used against you if a courts martial is convened."

"Yes Sir. I fully understand my rights and waive them."

"Alright, proceed."

"It started…"

"Colonel Sheppard you and your team have a go." Richard Woolsey said from high above on the little balcony.

"Teyla." John stated coming out of the wormhole after his team.

"Nothing Colonel. I feel no Wraith presence."

"McKay." John said next as he watched Ronon secure their perimeter. "Mc…Kaaaayyyy…which way?"

"Southeast for the particle stream, but I'm getting life signs to the east. Lots of life signs." McKay changed the setting on the hand held detector to run a series of scans. "Looks like two hours walk southeast. The villagers are about 20 minutes east."

"Okay then, Ronon you go with McKay, Teyla and I will say hello to the natives. Radio check every 30 minutes." John pulled out his life signs detector zeroing in on the mass of life signs McKay picked up.

Confirming McKay's estimate John and Teyla would reach the natives long before Ronon and McKay found the source of the particle stream. At a steady pace the two pairs set out.

Teyla and John reached the village to find it barely functioning. John was scanning the people he saw taking in their appearances. Two men had a bloody nose. A child was pulling lose her hair in handfuls staring amazedly at the curly brown tufts in her hand. Someone else was lying over a barrel vomiting. The village smelled of sickness. Almost every member in the village had some type of bruising, redness or open sores on their exposed arms, neck, face and hands.

Teyla scanned the village as well but her attention was drawn to a young woman whose collapse crossing the courtyard had caught her eye. She veered away from Sheppard in order to render aid. John was still cataloging what he saw—reflecting on a time early on in his military career when he'd seen something similar. Teyla was about to reach out a helping hand when John yelled at her.

"Don't touch her! Teyla get back. Get away from her now!" John yelled running to her location because he saw Teyla wasn't moving away fast enough for his liking. As he reached Teyla he pulled her arm away forcefully—pushing her back to the edge of the village.

"Colonel?"

"They're sick Teyla. All of them." Teyla felt compelled to offer assistance. "Ronon, McKay head back to the stargate now. Teyla will meet you there."

An aggravated voice came back through the radio. "We haven't even found the source of the particle stream…"

"I don't care. Head to the stargate now. That's an order! Ronon stun him if you have too but get moving." Colonel Sheppard clicked off the radio to end any further discussion.

"John, why are you doing this? These people need our help. I can see that they are sick so let us help them."

"Teyla, I want you to run to the gate. Once Ronon and Rodney show up dial Atlantis and go home. I have to do something first and then I'll be right behind you."

Teyla didn't know what had the Colonel so distressed. "John, what is it? I do not understand. We should help these people. They are sick. Atlantis could…"

"No. Atlantis can't help these people. Do as I say Teyla. Don't make me make it an order for you too." She stood with a blank stare on her face. "Go! Get to the gate, dial Atlantis. Go home Teyla. This mission is over. Go home to your son."

With a nudge she started running back towards the gate. John could see her looking over her shoulder, back at him and the village until she was out of range.

John walked into the village carefully stepping around the sick and sickness that lay at his feet. Everywhere he looked he saw sickness. Hopelessness. Open sores, skin blistering, a family fighting over the water pulled from the well, babies crying and mothers weeping as they tried to console.

oOo

Teyla reached the gate first as she knew she would. She ran the whole way like John had told her. It confused her that John would not allow her to help. Since her time on Atlantis she had been witness to many miracles. Hannah had a beautiful baby boy, strong now even though coming to them five weeks early. Seth's hand was saved after a cut he received became infected. Halling's leg healed much faster with the cast and use of crutches. All her people owed Atlantis their lives. They had powerful drugs that they traded for food stores. Teyla wondered if that was why John wouldn't help this village. It was not prosperous enough. She was brought out of her quandary with the arrival of her two teammates.

Huffing as if he had run all the way, "what's going on? Where's Sheppard?"

"He remained at the village. He instructed me to wait here for you then told me to dial Atlantis. We are to return. The Colonel will follow shortly."

"Did the village Priestess sink her claws in him again so that he felt he needed to let her down easy?"

"No I do not believe that is the case Rodney. The villagers are sick. John would not allow me to help or seek help from Atlantis. A woman fell to the ground not far from me tired and out of breath. The Colonel would not allow me to touch her, to help her back on her feet. He was most adamant."

"So let's call Beckett anyway." Ronon suggested.

"I fear…"

John's radio call beeped in her ear cutting her thought off. "Teyla? Is Rodney and Ronon there yet?"

"Yes Colonel, they just arrived."

"Colonel what is this about the village being sick? Teyla says you don't want Beckett. He's our most experienced Doctor in this galaxy. If this is the Hoffan disease we need him here." Rodney chimed in.

"Rodney we don't need Beckett on this. I can handle it alone. Just dial the gate and go home. I'll be there soon."

"What do you mean you'll handle it? Since when did you get a medical degree Colonel? I'll radio Atlantis and have a medical team here in ten minutes. Sit tight."

"No Rodney you won't!" Shouted John through the earwig. "You are going to dial Atlantis and go home! That's it. I don't have time to argue about this with you. Go Home! That's an order!"

The three teammates standing at the DHD were at a loss. "Rodney, we must go home as the Colonel wishes."

"We'll wait. He said he would follow soon. So we'll wait for 'soon' and all go home together." Rodney looked to his two teammates not sure what to expect from them. He was surprised when they both gave a nod of agreement to wait.

Over an hour passed and the three teammates were beginning to worry.

Ronon nudged Rodney's shoulder. "Hey," pointing at the horizon seeing a lone figure standing.

A rumble of thunder soon rolled over them. On the horizon black smoke billowed into the late afternoon sky. More thunder rolled past, more black smoke filled the sky. More thunder, more smoke until the eastern skyline was filled with darkness rising above the tree line.

Ronon could see the lone figure turn starting to jog in their direction. When Colonel Sheppard was about a hundred feet from the DHD Rodney was already yelling.

"What did you do? Did you kill all those people? I can't believe you killed all those people. Carson has been working on a cure. You should have let him help them."

"Not now Rodney it's time to go home since none of you can follow orders. We'll be having a talk about that too." John didn't look his teammates in the eye at all. He passed through them, careful not to come into contact with them, to reach the DHD to dial Atlantis; slapping each symbol in the sequence.

"No, we're going to talk about why you murdered a village full of people."

"I didn't…" John seethed in reply but let his thought drop.

"Hello! Colonel, what planet do you think you're on? Look over your shoulder. See smoke. We…" Rodney made a circling motion between Teyla, Ronon and himself. "…we heard the explosions. We saw the smoke. Even Ronon can put two and two together to get four. How stupid do you think we are anyway?"

"Certainly not you McKay." John was reaching for the last symbol in the Atlantean address when Rodney continued.

"Fine. Then you won't mind Ronon, Teyla and I going back to the village to see for ourselves."

John spun around so fast he almost fell over. "No! No one is going back to the village. No one is even going to come back to this planet." John punched the blue half sphere and the gate activated. Once the puddle stabilized he sent his IDC. Atlantis confirmed the shield was down.

"Move! We're going back to Atlantis now." John waited to see who would move first or if he'd have to pull his side arm on his team, which was the last thing he wanted to do right now. Thank god for Teyla. She took hold of Rodney's elbow lightly pulling towards the waiting stargate. Ronon grunted then followed.

Stepping out onto Atlantis with his back turned felt odd. Rodney had already cornered Woolsey between gate operations and his office yelling about blowing up a village, killing, murder, innocent, cure and orders.

"Colonel Sheppard, all that was in the reports I read." Stated a calm Col. Caldwell.

"I know. But the Doc needed to hear that part. And I wanted it on record. Would it be okay if I got back into bed first before I begin again?"

"Certainly Colonel." Dr. Reynolds pressed the call button and Matt came through the door. Between the two medical professionals the Colonel was soon resting in his fresh bed the pressure now taken off his incision by his slightly reclining position.

Once the fuss over getting back into bed was over, John started to recount what was not in his report he had given Woolsey.

"While I sent Teyla back…I stood at the edge of village watching, cataloging."

An older man with the aid of a cane approached John. "Are you here to help us?"

John held up his hands to stop the man from approaching any closer. "I'm sorry. There is nothing I can do to make you and your village well again."

"You've seen this disease?"

"Yes, back on my home world. But there is no cure for this…disease. This is the most devastating type of 'disease' ever developed by man to use against mankind."

"Our healer said something similar. He tried many remedies and nothing worked. All we have been able to do is care for our fellow brethren. Our village was over five hundred strong, now we are half that in numbers. In the first days half our village succumbed to a bright flash of light and are now living with our Ancestors. The other half remain stricken." The villager scanned his once thriving village as sorrow filled his eyes at what had become of it in four days time.

"Did you send any of your people to other worlds?"

"The elders wanted to seek help but we all became too ill to make the journey to the Great Ring of the Ancestors. I am the last of our council."

John let himself rejoice on the inside hearing that news. At least no other worlds would become infected. "Were there any strangers to your world recently?"

"If there were, we did not see them. You are the first since our last harvest. Four days ago many of my people working in the fields witnessed the bright flash in the distant southern sky. We thought it was the Wraith. We took shelter immediately in our caves. We huddled close for nearly a day, but they did not come for us. As for strangers, you are the first."

"It was that bright flash of light that caused this disease. Huddling in the caves is what caused this disease to spread to the rest of your village. You no doubt witnessed some of your people who worked the fields had their clothes burned into their skin. This disease will also cause your planet to die." John stated. "Your people's suffering will only get worse."

"I am aware of what is to come. My son did in fact have some of his field clothes burned into his skin. I watched my wife try to care for our vibrant son but she too fall to this disease."

"Yeah…the real bad part is when your skin begins to slough off…" John saw the villager wrinkle his forehead tilting his head as in acknowledgement. "…your skin melts away leaving only redness, pain and bleeding behind. The end is very close. After that your organs inside liquefy, more blood spills onto the ground." God he hated this.

"I understand of what you speak. My son, along with many others who worked the fields died in the manner you speak. It was very painful for him. It only took one cycle. His mother who had cared for him died the next. What are we to do?"

"I know a way to end your suffering. You need to ask everyone if they are willing to end their suffering sooner than later. If they are I will help you." John pointed over his shoulder to indicate he would wait at the edge of the village. The man nodded, turned, speaking to the group who had gathered behind him while he and John had talked.

Time passed slowly giving Colonel Sheppard time to take more of the village in. The older man walked up to Colonel Sheppard stopping several feet away. "We have considered your offer to help. My people are scared of your weapon."

"My weapon is for defensive purposes only against those who would attack me or those of the Wraith." John informed the man.

"Then how can you help us?"

"I can offer a quick way to end your suffering." John pulled the brick of C-4 out of his pocket to show the man. "This is what my people call C-4. It is an explosive. When detonated the explosive is converted into compressed gas. The gas exerts pressure in the form of a shock wave, which demolishes everything in its path. I know that doesn't sound pleasant, but it will be so fast you won't feel a thing. I promise."

"I see."

"Look, your village; clothes, bedding, utensils, your people, your farmland, and your water supply have been contaminated by the white flash you saw. It's an invisible disease that is so powerful that it not only kills people and animals but also the fertile land. Your crops will no longer grow. I wish I could offer you another solution but this is the only way to stop your suffering."

"We have witnessed our work animals dying in much the same way as my people. Our first crop of babbas turned brown overnight. I believe what you say is true. I believe you only want to help us stop our suffering. Let me return to my people to deliberate."

"If they agree, have everyone gather in one place. I'll be over there out of the way. Mr…uh…"

"My name is Kayell. I am now village elder of Insherusk."

"I'm John."

Kayell nodded hobbling back to the gathered group of villages. John continued to look at all the faces trying to memorize them so they wouldn't be forgotten. It was hard to look at the children but he forced himself to look past the sores, the bleeding and bruises to remember each face. The round cheeks on two brothers who must be twins. The blue eyes of a little girl holding her wooden toy. Brown curly haired kids, red hair kids, black hair kids, green eyes, brown eyes, blue eyes, the tall, the short, the thin and the pudgy, John committed them all to his memory. Every detail of their short life imprinted in his. Then he started in on the adults of the village.

John lost track of time but Kayell was approaching him again. "We have agreed. As we speak my fellow Insherins are gathering the sick from their homes. I have instructed them to go to our worship house. Will this be satisfactory?"

John swallowed down a lump the size of a cantaloupe in his throat so he could speak. "Yes. Kayell I'll need to set similar devices around the village. Since your homes, clothes and supplies are all contaminated they will need to be destroyed as well for the safety of others who might journey here. I'll also need to blow up the well."

"I understand John. You have my people's permission."

"The worship house…which one is it?" John followed Kayell's finger that pointed to the largest building almost in the center of the village. "I'll meet you at the door once everyone has gathered."

"I will be waiting." Kayell hobbled off. He no longer had family, his wife and son taken from him days before. He stood by the doors to the worship house and greeted everyone that came like it was just another Sunday gathering or the Pegasus equivalent.

John shucked out of his backpack, pulled the C-4 from his vest pockets before retrieving the C-4 he had in his pack. Setting the detonators into each brick he methodically placed them strategically around the emptying village for maximum effect. As John passed the worship house to put the final charge in the well he heard singing. It almost brought him to his own knees. How could these suffering people rejoice in a celebratory song? He had Faith, just never practiced it much.

Kayell signaled that all the villagers were now inside the worship house. John carefully handed him a brick of C-4. "When you enter and close the door, place this on the floor. It doesn't matter where you set it. When you and your people are ready you need to lift up this cover, toggle this switch to the upper position then press this button. I want you to put this into your pocket. It's a radio. When I am outside the village far enough I will talk to you through this device. You don't need to talk back or anything. I just need time to get out of the village before you press that red button. Will you be okay with all this?"

"Yes John. We will all be at peace soon. Our suffering will cease. We thank the Ancestors for sending you to us in our time of need. May the Ancestors be with you."

John wanted to shake the man's hand. "I don't want to be unfriendly, but the longer I stay here I run the risk of taking this disease back to my world." Instead he turned away and headed out of the village. Looking over his shoulder he saw Kayell enter and close the wooden doors behind him. John could still hear the singing on the distant breeze. Jogging toward the gate he crested the hill. He could see the gate off in the distance and the village down in the valley from whence he came.

"Kayell, I'm far enough away now." John whispered into his radio. "It was an honor to meet you. You and your people will not be forgotten. I will see that everyone in this galaxy knows of your strength of conviction." John didn't have to wait long before the first explosion thundered over him. He pulled his secondary detonator from his tac vest pocket and set off the rest of the charges. Eight in all. From his vantage point the entire village was engulfed in flames. He'd done what he had to do.

Sheppard set off at a light jog the rest of the way to the stargate. He was, but wasn't surprised to find the remaining three members of his team waiting for him. He skirted past his teammates to begin the dialing sequence with Rodney's rant at his back.

As soon as his team was safely through to Atlantis John turned back towards the east. "You governed wisely Kayell and chose the correct path for your people. May you and your people rest in peace." John snapped off a textbook salute before backing into the stargate puddle that awaited him.

"That's everything. I prevailed upon two hundred plus villagers: men, women, children and babies that had been poisoned by radiation into killing themselves. I don't think even Rodney knew that it was a radiation particle stream he was chasing. If he did, he didn't mention it in his mission report. Since I stayed in the village the longest when I got back I burned everything: my clothes, vest, shoes, and supplies…the works. I took one of the Genii radiation badges we had in storage to check my exposure. It barely registered."

"How did you know Colonel that is was radiation sickness and not a reaction to the modified Hoffan drug or some other kind of illness?" Doctor Reynolds asked.

"I'd seen radiation poisoning before Doc. The villagers were all in different stages. You couldn't miss the bleeding, bruising, fatigue, hair loss, vomiting, inflammation, and open sores. And when Kayell confirmed they saw a white flash in the sky, I knew. At the rate of exposure I guessed that by the end of the week that planet's populace would have been dead. I mean it was only four days before we arrived on the planet that they saw the white flash in the sky and already half the population had died. I'd seen a smaller village like this back on Earth suffering the same way. It's not pleasant for the victim nor to watch it happen and know there is nothing you can do for them but end their suffering."

"Why didn't you put this in your original report? Why let your team and the rest of Atlantis think you killed innocent people." Asked Col. Caldwell.

"Had I told Mr. Woolsey he would have had to put me in the brig until you arrived. This way, I had another week to ten days to get the hanger ready for the new fleet, finish all my overdue reports, get caught up on all my status reports, personnel evaluations, stuff like that. I didn't want Lorne to have to play catch-up nor the new commanding officer when they come. And I guess because I'm Air Force I wanted to turn myself in to another Air Force officer. You and I both out rank Major Lorne." John paused for a moment to try to put together the right words to answer the Colonel's second question. "As for your second question, I knew what needed to be done. I knew what the consequences of my actions would be. I saw no reason to involve my team. Teyla has a son who depends on her now. Rodney is too important to the success and survival of Atlantis. Ronon would have understood and probably helped me, but I needed him here on Atlantis to keep everyone safe in my absence. His skills are needed here. I'm replaceable, besides, everyone has the right to think or believe what they want. And they weren't entirely wrong. I systematically planned the extermination of an entire race of people along with their village. What McKay voiced so loudly was the truth. I did kill all those people. It was my idea, my weapon of choice, my persuasion that talked Kayell and his people into going through with it. I'm just as guilty by my actions, my part in this as I am if I had pressed the trigger. What good would it have done if I tried to state my side only to turn myself in later? That is not an example I want to set for my men."

John looked hard at Caldwell trying to decipher what the seasoned military man might be thinking. Then he looked at his Doctor. "Doc, you going to be okay? You don't look so good. Should I call Matt in here?" John's hand hovered over the call button.

"No Colonel, thank you. I'll be fine. I was just thinking."

"Sir, if you have time later this afternoon I'd like to speak with you again. There's some things I'd like you to do for me...personally. But I'm a bit tired and a little sore right now."

"Just have Doctor Reynolds call me when you're ready."

"Thank you, Sir."

"I agree, it's been a rather exhausting morning for you Colonel. I think you're due for some rest." Phillip lowered the head of the bed to a comfortable sleeping position then he and the Colonel left the ICU room.

oOo

"Colonel, are you going to accept Lt. Col. Sheppard's surrender and courts martial him?" Dr. Reynolds asked as soon as they both cleared the IUC room.

"That's not up…"

"It is up to you Colonel. You're the one he surrendered to. What he did was not a criminal act. I know that and you know that. I've treated radiation sickness before and it's horrible what happens to a human body. What that man in there did was a humane act of kindness. You shouldn't punish someone who showed compassion and mercy. Colonel Sheppard had the benignity to do what was right. He offered them a painless way out, they accepted and they pushed the button, not him."

"I understand what you are saying Doctor as I too…" Caldwell held up his hand signaling he was getting a call. "Go ahead Marks. What is it?"

"Sir, Atlantis is requesting to have their party beam up so they can visit Colonel Sheppard."

"Stand-by. Doctor, Atlantis is requesting permission to visit Colonel Sheppard."

"No. Not at this time. I'll consider it later on after I have a chance to talk to Colonel Sheppard. He may not want to see anyone after the way he's been treated."

"Marks…Doctor Reynolds said his patient is not up to visitors at this time. Please relay that to Atlantis. Caldwell out."

"I can't believe they have the audacity to even ask to see the Colonel after what they did."

"Easy Doctor, as you know the people on Atlantis don't have the whole truth."

"Yes, of course, you're right which brings me to a proposal I want to run past you."

oOo

"Chuck put me on city wide." Richard Woolsey directed to Sergeant Campbell at the communications console.

Chuck pressed a couple crystals on the console then gave the base commander the signal to go ahead.

"May I have everyone's attention? There will be a movie shown in the mess hall which is part of our audit. Seating will be arranged and attendance is mandatory for all base personnel not on duty. Those members who are required to be on duty, you will be able to view the movie from your laptop or any Ancient screen in your respective areas. The movie will begin promptly at twenty hundred hours. Again, this movie is mandatory for all base personnel to view. It is a required viewing due to the Atlantis audit. Thank you."

"Thank you Mr. Woolsey. I'll see you again at nineteen thirty hours." And in a flash of light Caldwell was beamed back up to his ship.

oOo

John tossed and turned from the nightmare playing out inside his mind. He watched as one of the two twin boys melted away in front of him while his brother stared on in muted wonderment. Then the nightmarish movie moved to the black haired girl sitting by the water well. She stood, said goodbye to her mother and tossed herself down the deep well. The scream as she fell echoed from him as well.

"Colonel Sheppard, wake up! It's only a bad dream. Come on now, wake up." Dr. Reynolds was saying as he gently shook the screaming man awake.

Hazel eyes blinked his doctor's concerned face into view. "Oh god, sorry Doc." John stated in embarrassment.

"There's nothing to be sorry for. Do you want to tell me about your dream?"

"You taking your psychology course for a test drive, Doc?"

"Are you buyin'?"

John gave a healthy chuckle in return only to realize that wasn't a good idea. His abdomen was still sore from the black zipper he sported from stem to stern. "Doc, you're not supposed to have a sense of humor…it hurts to laugh."

Phillip pulled the pillow away from the next bed and laid it gently on his patient's abdomen to hug. "All doctors, Colonel have a sense of humor. It's a mandatory class: Humor 202. In your first year of med school you're not allowed to have fun. It's all about remembering what bone is connected to what bone." Just then the Doc broke into song, "'Your leg bone's connected to your knee bone, Your knee bone's connected to your thigh bone, Your thigh bone's connected to your hip bone, Your hip bone's…'"

"Oh…Doc…that's bad…stop please my stomach can't take much more."

"I'll quit if you tell me about your dream." Phillip started humming the tune while he waited on the Colonel's decision.

"Nightmare. I don't know when the last time I dreamed." John made himself more comfortable. It didn't appear the Doc was going to let this go. "Fine." John huffed. "I watched a little girl jump to a watery death into poisoned water all because she was dying of thirst. And then a little boy melted before my eyes. They were two of the children from the planet."

"It must have been pretty vivid."

"Yeah. I memorized all the children's faces and tried to memorize the adults but there just wasn't enough time." John stated solemnly.

"Why?"

"Someone needed to remember what happened to them. They needed to know that someone cared about what happened to them. They needed to know that someone would be left to tell others what happened and how they met the challenge with pride and conviction. God, their whole culture, civilization was wiped out in a flash of white light. It wasn't their fault someone used their planet to test a bomb. But if I don't remember them then who will? That's why I memorized their faces. That's why I'll have nightmares for a while. But it was the right thing to do."

"Colonel, don't take this the wrong way, it is meant with the utmost respect, but you are the most unconventional, unorthodox military man I've ever had as a patient."

"I've been called worse, Doc."

"Now who's the comedian?"

"Am I interrupting?" Caldwell asked from the doorway.

"Not at all Colonel, we were just visiting. I'll go grab my patient some lunch while the two of you talk."

Both military men watched the Doctor make a hasty exit.

"Something I said?" Caldwell inquired.

"No, I think it was something I said."

Caldwell did one of those minute head tilts in reply. "What did you want to talk to me about Colonel?"

"A couple things actually. On our way to Earth could we stop by P1N-060 and do a little more digging? I'd like to know if Atlantis can tie the Genii to what happened there. Kayell said he hadn't seen anyone but the Genii are the only ones I'm aware of that are experimenting with nuclear weapons. I know Hermiod is good but maybe Lorne could be talked into loaning you one of the jumpers so a science team could take a closer look. Get closer sensor readings and data over the blast crater. Atlantis doesn't have radiation suits so feet on the ground is not an option."

"I had already considered stopping. I'll ask the commanding officer about the jumper when the Daedalus is ready to depart."

"Also, I think it best if the stargate is destroyed. I'm not sure if the naquadah in the gate absorbs radiation or not. I'm sure McKay… Well either way its best that no one goes to that planet again."

"Agreed."

"Secondly, on my laptop I prepared a 'Power of Attorney'. I'd like you to personally manage the distribution of my assets: my pay, my worthy possessions like my skateboard and Johnny Cash poster, that sort of thing. I've included an outline funneling most of my assets back into Atlantis anonymously for military and scientific research. If you follow the plan I've set up, no one will know where the funds are coming from. I've set aside a few thousand dollars in an interest bearing account in case I get released from Leavenworth on good behavior." As if that would ever happen, John thought."Oh, if you could keep my brother Dave from finding out that would be great. I'd rather he think I'm MIA or KIA than in prison. I've been the black sheep of our family long enough and I don't need my decision to ruin his company. I think that's it." John took a moment to reflect. "Wait…did I tell you my password? It's: puddle jumper one. That will gain you access to everything on my laptop, although I've already purged all the other data files and records back onto the Atlantis mainframe."

"You've really thought this through, haven't you?"

"Let's just say I've had plenty of 'quality alone time' to think."

Just then there was a knock at the door. Dr. Reynolds was back with lunch. The Daedalus Commander waved the doctor in.

"Wow…real food."

"Glad you think so." Replied a humorous Phillip Reynolds.

"Hey Doc, do you think that maybe I could get a shower after lunch and maybe do something with this." John rubbed his free hand on his week's worth of black stubble.

"We'll talk after lunch. Eat."

Caldwell and the Doctor left John to his lunch. Outside in the main area of the ICU ward the ship's commander leaned on the bulkhead exhaling a frustrated sigh. His hands rubbed tiny circles at his temples unaware that he was being watched so closely by the ship's doctor. What he really wanted to do was bang his head on the bulkhead…more precisely, Sheppard's.

"Colonel?" Phillip queried.

"He never stops being frustrating."

"Who? Dr. McKay?"

"No, Colonel Sheppard. He's already set himself up with a life sentence at Leavenworth and wants my help to funnel his assets back into the Atlantis military and science departments. He's thought of everything; taken care of everything so that the person coming in behind him will have a clean slate. God! He makes me angry. He's too damn good at his job. Half those people down there would not be alive if it weren't for his 'outside the box' thinking. He's trying to make their lives easier. The same people who almost let him die a week ago. He's so…"

"Frustrating I think you said before."

"Yes…and irritating, aggravating, rational and level headed and... I've never met anyone who has such a high moral standard of conduct. I'm not ashamed to admit it but I can't even say that about myself."

"Then do something about it instead." Reynolds stated as if it was obvious then walked away. He had to arrange a shower and shave for the Lt. Colonel. Along with a surprise for Atlantis.

oOo

The Atlantis mess hall was packed. It was wall to wall people both civilian and military. Three large plasma screens from around the base were hooked up and strategically located throughout the mess hall. No matter where you sat or stood you had an unobstructed view of at least two of the large screens.

At twenty hundred hours on the dot the mess hall lights dimmed and the three screens came to life. Around Atlantis, those on duty either watched from their laptop or from the Ancient crystal screens: like the one hanging at the back of gate operations. For all those under confinement, the attending SO officer outside their doors was instructed to enter and make sure they all watched the movie as well.

The camera shifted to show a representation of a calendar.

Day 1

The film started off by showing a man and women outside watching their two children play. The scene was idyllic even though it was 1950 something. The innocent children played in the park enjoying a sunny afternoon of food and fun. They laughed and squealed with joy as they ran around each other in circles.

The laughter was cut short when suddenly a siren sounded. The parents scrambled to gather up their children to hustle them to safety. But being so far from home in a public park, safety was too far away. The parents looked fearful while the two children: a boy and a younger girl looked on in dismay. The screen went brilliant white for a moment before it zeroed back in on the showcased spot in the park. It was now empty.

: Oh man, I saw this back in basic training. :

: Yeah, I did too. Wonder why we're watching it again. :

: IOA mandates. Didn't you hear Woolsey? :

: Sshhhh! :

As the foursome gathered their belongings the little girl showed her Mother a blistering burn on her pale skin.

Day 2

The movie returned to show a modest home, one car garage, manicured lawn; the perfect depiction of modern suburbia on Earth circa 1950.

: Is this what your world looks like? :

: Yeah, about sixty years ago. Now it's a lot different. :

Inside the home it was another matter. The camera panned over modest furnishings throughout until it paused on the two children. Two very ill children. Mother and Father were frantically trying to help. The Father examined the thermometer and noticed his son's fever had risen another three degrees. The boy had a bloody nose, his gums were bleeding leaving his teeth and lips stained red, his sister was vomiting blood over the side of her bed. The Mother did her best to fight her own dizziness while tending to her daughter's pain and diarrhea. The parents looked fatigued but kept up taking care of their children who's sores had spread down their neck, arms and legs. The parents cooed comforting words as they worked diligently wrapping clean bandages on the open sores.

Voice over: It was hard to look at the children. A child was pulling lose her hair in handfuls staring amazedly at the curly brown tufts in her hand.

: Was that Colonel Sheppard's voice? :

Blood dripped from the Father's nose now. He darted off to the bathroom only to vomit more blood. The flash they'd see in the park had been too close. He rubbed his hands through his hair as in relief that he was still able to stand. Bringing his hands away he couldn't help but wonder how much longer he would have his brown hair.

Voice over: Two men had a bloody nose. Someone else was lying over a barrel vomiting.

The Children lay in beds, their delicate skin covered in white cloth that all too quickly ran red. The Mother's hair was thinning and her hands were red, swollen and bleeding. You could tell that her hands hurt to wring out the cloth she used to wipe up the blood from the faces of her two children before she continued to tear up another one of her good sheets into strips.

Voice over: Every member in the village had some type of bruising and redness on their arms, neck, face and hands.

: That is the Colonel's voice. :

: He sounds weak. :

: I heard one of the Daedalus Nurses say he almost died. :

: Just our luck they saved the piece of shit. :

The daughter, youngest of the two children, thin and now frail with the fairest of skin, closed her eyes and with her final breath succumbed to death.

Voice over: Babies crying and mothers weeping.

The older son, but not by many years, had open sores, his skin blistering faster than his Father, in his own weakened state, could wrap. The son's light brown hair was already gone. His Father wept by his side.

Voice over: "I'm sorry. There is nothing I can do to make you and your village well again."

Day 3

The son miraculously made it through the night to see the light of a new day. His internal organs liquefying as he cried out in pain to his Mothers loving caresses. His parents tried to comfort him but everything hurt, everywhere bled. Water was no longer a blessing; its taste turned to copper from his continually bleeding gums.

: This is just sick. Why are we watching this? :

: Mandatory…didn't you hear the announcement? :

: This is worse than what the Wraith do. :

The Father pulled a stained sheet over his son's lifeless body.

The Mother succumbed to the same dehydration, fatigue, pain, and fever she'd battled for two days while caring for her children. Blood loss coupled with the inflammation and skin sores finally took their toll.

: Throughout the mess hall—several someone's were puking. :

Day 4

The wife now lies on the floor of their master bedroom no longer able to move. She bled from every orifice, every pore the same as her husband. Her husband joined her at her side. His touch however gentle caused her to scream in agony. This was not her choice of death.

Voice over: "I'd seen radiation poisoning before Doc. The villagers were all in different stages. You couldn't miss the bleeding, bruising, fatigue, hair loss, vomiting, inflammation, and open sores. And when Kayell confirmed they saw a white flash in the sky, I knew. At the rate of exposure I guessed that by the end of the week that planet's populace would have been dead. I mean it was only four days before we arrived on the planet that they saw the white flash in the sky and already half the population had died. I'd seen a smaller village like this back on Earth suffering the same way. It's not pleasant for the victim nor to watch it happen and know there is nothing you can do for them but end their suffering."

Voice over: Why let your team and the rest of Atlantis think you killed innocent people?

: Caldwell. That's Colonel Caldwell's voice. :

Voice over: I knew what needed to be done. I knew what the consequences of my actions would be. I saw no reason to involve my team. Teyla has a son who depends on her now. Rodney is too important to the success and survival of Atlantis. Ronon would have understood and probably helped me, but I needed him here on Atlantis to keep everyone safe in my absence. His skills are needed here. I'm replaceable, besides, everyone has the right to think or believe what they want. And they weren't entirely wrong. I systematically planned the extermination of an entire race of people along with their village. What McKay voiced so loudly was the truth. I did kill all those people. It was my idea, my weapon of choice, my persuasion that talked Kayell and his people into going through with it. I'm just as guilty by my actions, my part in this as I am if I had pressed the trigger. What good would it have done if I tried to state my side only to turn myself in later? That is not an example I want to set for my men.

Voice over: I've treated radiation sickness before it's horrible what happens to a human body. What that man in there did was a humane act of kindness. You shouldn't punish someone who showed compassion and mercy. Colonel Sheppard had the benignity to do what was right. He offered them a painless way out, they accepted and they pushed the button, not him.

: Who's that? I don't recognize that voice. :

: I think that's the Daedalus Doc. :

: Is that what the Colonel saw? :

Voice over: I memorized all the children's faces and tried to memorize the adults but there just wasn't enough time.

: Sheppard. :

Voice over: Why?

: That the Doc again? :

: Yes stupid, now shut up and listen. :

Voice over: Someone needed to remember what happened to them. They needed to know that someone cared about what happened to them. They needed to know that someone would be left to tell others what happened and how they met the challenge with pride and conviction. God, their whole culture, civilization was wiped out in a flash of white light. It wasn't their fault someone used their planet to test a bomb. But if I don't remember them then who will? That's why I memorized their faces. That's why I'll have nightmares for a while. But it was the right thing to do.

Voice over: Colonel Caldwell I respectfully surrender myself for courts martial on the charge I committed genocide.

: A collective gasp carried across the mess hall. :

: He can't! :

: God, what have we done? :

: He was just protecting us. :

: We should never have listened to hearsay. :

: We should have asked the Colonel straight out. :

The movie froze on the last scene of the Mother and Father letting the voice over play out. Right after Colonel Sheppard surrendered the image on the screen changed. The background was obvious: Ancient flooring—it was the solid pool of bright red blood that caught the viewer's eyes first before your eyes shifted down and to the right to read two words written in blood. You're Forgiven

: I'm gonna be sick. :

: I shoved him in the mess line. :

: I took the jumpers and jumper bay off-line. :

: Man am I going to be in trouble for calling my CO a 'piece of shit'! :

: I hit him with a ladder. :

: That was an accident you moron! :

: Yeah, but I didn't feel bad for doing it. Now I do. :

: After all we did, he still forgave us. :

: I feel like crap. :

: Me too. :

: I messed with his environmental controls for his room and office. :

: How are we gonna make it up to him? :

: We won't. :

: Yes we can…we set the same example. :

: I slammed him into a wall…on purpose. :

: I dished him out cold, burnt foods. :

: I wasn't even civil to him. :

: We didn't know the truth. :

: I starched his underclothes. :

: That had to itch. :

: I swapped out his gun cleaning oil with maple syrup. :

Declaration after declaration could be heard throughout the mess hall. Everyone had something to be sorry for; whether it was an action purposely committed against the Colonel in some direct or indirect way or whether it was just giving him the silent treatment. Many people were still stunned by the last image. Others couldn't get out of the room fast enough. More lost their dinner.

oOo

"Thought I might find you here."

John was startled from his daydreaming. As he stood gazing out over the hybrid planes his pilots would be getting his thoughts took him back to the days of his first flight as a child; soaring through the clouds like a bird. His failed attempts to fly using his mother's best sheets as he jumped from the tree in his backyard only netted him broken bones. But it was worth it. As he stood lost in his musings he had calculated the number of different aircraft he'd flown over his military career and came up with the number seventeen. There was nothing like the feeling of freedom that flying managed to give you. John loved getting lost in the wild blue yonder.

"Yeah…Doc let me out to stretch my legs."

Actually he'd had no control over his legs; they just took him against his will until he stood at the threshold of the flight bay three minutes later. Standing near the doorway of the port 302 hanger bay of the Daedalus eight of the most beautiful ships sat before him. He yearned to fly one more time before his wings were permanently clipped. But he had already surrendered for courts martial and had been grounded for more than three weeks, officially or not. It wasn't worth the pain.

Dr. Reynolds was impressed with Sheppard's recovery over the last week. The Colonel's body was healing quickly, the mind not so much. He saw no reason to keep his patient confined to the sick bay. The walk would do him good.

When John left his bed in the ICU sick bay for his walk he was surprised there was no guard stationed at his door. No guard ordered to follow him through the large ship. No guard to stop him from reaching the F-302's, or to stop him from going for a last minute flight. Not that he would of course. Maybe Caldwell thought there was no place for him to go, so no guard was necessary.

Caldwell moved into the hanger bay as well. He studied the Lt. Colonel who was studying the sleek ships. Steven mused that after all this time he'd never flown a 302…not even sat in one. And this was his ship after all. Why hadn't he? "Colonel, we need to talk."

"Sure."

"Dr. Reynolds said you're well enough and has released you from sick bay."

"You didn't come all this way to tell me that." Just tell me what brig cell to report to and be done with it. I won't give you any problems.

"No, I didn't." Steven paused for a few seconds to regroup, carefully wording his next question to imply the correct tense. "Do you have a name picked out for the new squadron?"

"No…"

Underneath his current stone façade exterior John wanted to shout that he did. Ever since he found out about getting the hand-me-down fleet he started coming up with names. He spent the last six months trying to come up with the perfect name. He passed on 'Wraith Eaters', 'Pegasus Stallions', 'Vampire Zappers', 'Atlantis Knights', 'Hail Mary', 'Sheppard's Slayers', 'Defenders', 'Bug Eaters', 'Bug Zappers', 'Whack-a-Wraith', as well as 'Iratus Fleet' just because they were nasty bugs and countless other names. He then pulled from Greek Mythology 'Thunderbolts' it seemed fitting, strong and warrior like. John remembered from his High School English days that Pegasus carried the thunderbolts of Zeus. What better way to strike back at the Wraith. He would never forgive himself for waking the Wraith. John wanted nothing more than to strike every last Wraith down since his first encounter. Now he would have to leave that up to the next base commander. An apology letter for the mess he created in the Pegasus Galaxy was already written and waiting.

"We still need to unload your new interceptor fighter fleet before heading back to Earth." Caldwell stated.

John answered in monotone. "Just contact Major Lorne, he's in command, he'll round up sixteen pilots to fly them down to Atlantis. He'll be surprised. I haven't told anyone."

John knew if he hadn't screwed up on P1N-060 he would've turned his fighter squadron into the best trained, best skilled, and most efficient of any unit. They'd throw thunderbolt after thunderbolt at any Wraith that came near Atlantis or its people.

"You're not taking one down yourself?"

"No." Caldwell cringed at Sheppard's hollow rejection. He knew the Colonel lived to fly. Hearing him pass on the one opportunity that would get him in the air was disheartening.

Colonel Caldwell moved to the closest 302, climbed the ladder, situating himself in the rear seat. John heard a sigh of longing coming from the seasoned ship commander. He had one himself. But John had no intention of climbing on board. If Caldwell wanted to continue his talk, he would have to talk loud. John was fine right where he stood at the bottom of the access ladder.

From inside the cockpit the Daedalus Captain started talking. "I miss this. Flying a fast, maneuverable ship like this, though the Daedalus is a dream job come true. I can't believe I've never done this. It's my ship after all and why haven't I flown one of these?"

"Sometimes I miss flying helicopters." John returned. He'd made himself comfortable on one of the steps his back towards the open canopy of the cockpit.

"You haven't asked to go back to Atlantis. Why?"

"Not much point is there? They all made their decision pretty clear. There's nothing left down there for me."

"I wouldn't bet on that Sheppard. A lot has happened in the last week. And for the last several days Dr. McKay has made a great nuisance of himself. He calls practically every hour requesting to be beamed up. He's come up with some pretty darn good excuses for wanting to be beamed up here. His latest one was about a lynch mob."

"Lynch mob? Well…that's seems about right for McKay. Glad I'm up here under your protection."

"Not you…him." Caldwell clarified. "He and the others on Atlantis have seen the error of their ways. Literally. They want to apologize."

John turned his head to look at the cockpit hoping to see Caldwell's face but his angle was all wrong. Was the seasoned officer deluded? "Apologize?"

Caldwell thought he might have the young mans attention now. "As I said, there have been a lot of changes going on in Atlantis."

Colonel Caldwell began his explanation from the beginning briefly touching on all the important details: the audit, confronting those individuals who played a significant role in Sheppard's 'almost death'. Caldwell explained he gave a military talk and about Dr. Reynolds's mandatory movie night. Leaving out the part of the 'voice over' naturally. Caldwell went into further detail detailing the JAG inquiries and verdicts.

Colonel Caldwell arranged for a JAG delegation to come through the gate from Earth. After the report he sent, Earth couldn't get the JAG team there fast enough for their liking. The seven member panel comprised of both military and civilian experts set up offices in the conference room pouring over every detail turned out by the impromptu audit. Interviews were scheduled with the detainees with appropriate council present. Events, actions, non-actions were carefully laid out in detail down to the second.

All of the medical staff that they proved were involved had their licenses revoked. Dr. Dae received six months correctional confinement for his inadequate response time and care of a head trauma victim. Nurse Sheila Edwards had charges filed against her as well. Jail time was certainly in her future. Nurse LaCour wasn't sentenced with any jail time as she did respond to Caldwell's call albeit slowly, but received one year of community service as did Nurse Adams. Nurse Baylor received six months confinement for his failure in responding to the call light which resulted in the Colonel falling and subsequent internal bleeding. Medics Morelli and Rodriquez received a black mark in their military service records. Rodriquez, for his slow response and rough handling of a head trauma patient was discharged from the service. Morelli was allowed to stay in the service but was on probation for three months. The cook's assistant, Josephine O'Brien received a reprimand and 6 months probation but was allowed to continue working in the kitchen of Atlantis.

The rest of the medical staff was given a stern, yet thorough four-hour talking to by Dr. Morris. Failure to comply with medical procedures and set guidelines as governed by the oath they took would be met with harsh consequences. A series of mock drills have been scheduled throughout the coming months.

The JAG lawyers had whittled away the pile of complaints and charges submitted by Dr. Reynolds and Col. Caldwell until they came to Dr. Carson Beckett's file. Carson's case was the toughest. When the JAG lawyers were informed that Carson was actually a clone they took the news in stride. Three of the lawyers present had worked the case involving O'Neill's clone's disposition.

Beckett's case was a might different. He was being charged with malpractice. However, the facts remain, he is a clone. He is officially a Pegasus resident: born and…grown? He had no affiliated ties with the Atlantis Expedition or its mandates, with exception of being friends with several members. The people of Pegasus didn't require their healers to have a license. So revoking a license he no longer held was a moot point. The 'real' Carson Beckett had died and along with him his medical service. Therefore what it boiled down too was that he was not subject to Earth justice.

Dr. Reynolds went through the roof when he heard their verdict. The JAG lawyers had no judiciary grounds to hold the doctor and ordered that he be released from confinement. Since this was out of their jurisdiction they recommended that Dr. Beckett be turned over to the Coalition.

John stood up angrily, climbed the three steps toward the 302's cockpit so he could face Caldwell. He couldn't believe what he was hearing. "What? They can't do that! We need him. Pegasus needs him. Those nutjobs at the Coalition just might kill him. No way am I going to stand-by and let that happen!"

"It's out of our hands Sheppard."

"The hell it is!"

"Mr. Woolsey has been tasked with the disposition of Dr. Beckett. You do realize that you came this close to dying." Caldwell held up his thumb and forefinger barely apart. "He discharged you against his better judgment, didn't follow-up on your care after you fell, nor did he follow-up once you were in your quarters and practically starved you to death. Now you're arguing on his behalf? I don't get you Sheppard."

"Most people don't." He spat.

Sheppard and Caldwell stared each other down. It was Sheppard who broke first. "I need to get down there."

"Twenty minutes ago you said Atlantis held nothing for you."

"That was twenty minutes ago. Before I knew all this crap was going on while I've been up here. I have to stop Woolsey from throwing Beckett to those wolves. It's the least I can do before they lock me up for good."

"About that."

"What!?" John snapped.

Caldwell was taken aback at the young pilot snapped retort. "I had JAG review your last mission report to P1N-060. The 'official' one off your laptop along with mine and Dr. Reynolds reports. No charges are being filed. You've been cleared of any and all liability in the deaths of the Insherusk people."

"I don't understa…"

"Your record speaks for itself Sheppard. You take honor, respect, responsibility and duty to a higher level, a higher standard. You take responsibility for your actions, and the actions of others no matter how misguided they are. I've never met another military man in all my years that has your sense of righteousness, your high moral standards. You not only set the bar high for yourself but you encourage those under your command to reach for it as well. You're always thinking about what's best for your team, for your men, for Atlantis. You're tenacious, you're selfless and you give a damn! That's more than most commanding officers can say about themselves."

"But I extinguished so many lives, obliterated the village, wiped out a whole culture…" John's legs were about to give out under the emotional stress so he sat heavily on the top platform of the ladder. He hung his head down in disbelief searching for answers that were not forthcoming.

"You just don't get it, do you? You saved them Sheppard. You offered the Insherins a solution that would end their suffering. Stop their pain, pain not only from radiation sickness, but the pain of watching their loved ones slowly die. Of watching their children die. Being in command isn't always going to be easy. Being in command means you have to make the hard choices, the tough decisions whether their popular or not. And you do it extremely well. The JAG Corps saw that. They didn't just review your last mission they reviewed several to get a sense of who you are: as career military, as a base commander and as a human being. And in every mission report they saw the same thing that took me a while to see. Integrity."

"'Integrity First, Service Before Self, Excellence in All We Do.' Those are just words." Sheppard whispered.

"No they aren't. And you know they aren't. You've lived your whole life by those words. Don't sell yourself short." Col. Caldwell gave his subordinate a few minutes to let their conversation sink in. Sheppard could be so damn stubborn sometimes. "Now I believe you asked earlier about going to Atlantis and defending your friend. I can think of no better way to get there than to fly. So pull yourself together Colonel, get in the pilots seat and show me that we're all not wrong." When the Lt. Colonel hadn't moved fast enough for his liking he shouted, "That's an order!"

oOo

"Bridge, Alpha One is departing for Atlantis. Be advised that Lt. Colonel Sheppard is at the controls."

"Yes Sir. Understood. Colonel Sheppard at the controls. Atlantis control has been alerted." A hint of mischief resounded from Major Marks as he responded.

"What does he mean by that?" Sheppard asked.

Caldwell couldn't suppress his laughter. "You're reputation as a pilot precedes you. I'm ready back here, all systems: check."

"All systems: check. Firing thrusters."

The ten minute flight to Atlantis from geosynchronous orbit to the planet took over an hour. Sheppard, with Caldwell's permission, put the little hybrid ship through her paces. He needed to know what his new toys could do. Tight turns, g-force pull-outs, loop-de-loops, dives…

"Man look at him go. I didn't think that maneuver was even possible!"

"Are we recording this?"

"I'm putting in for a transfer."

"Good luck with that."

"Did you see how tight that turn was?"

"He's got to be pulling 4…5…maybe 6 g's with that pullout."

…spins, aileron rolls, barrel rolls, Immelman turns…

"What ship's he in?"

"Number eight."

"Oh…man, I hope he doesn't try any split-s…"

…split-s maneuvers…

"You never could to do that Gator. You always blamed it on your ship. Well guess what pal…looks like you're back in the simulator."

…Cuban-eight, clover leaf, some maneuvers Sheppard performed defied modern aerodynamics.

The pilots and crew on board the Daedalus were in awe at how Colonel Sheppard handled the little 302. Most were aware of his flying prowess but none of them had had the opportunity to see him in action.

"Hey…where's Caldwell?"

"He's out there with Sheppard." Marks replied to some of the pilot's who had gathered on the bridge toggling the VOX switch on his console.

"Whoo-hoo! This is living!" Caldwell hollered from the rear seat. "YeeHaw! I should go on check rides with all my pilots."

"Oh…man…"

Sheppard performed each standard training maneuver twice; once in space and once again in atmosphere over the ocean. Along with the few maneuvers that defied the impossible. Then Sheppard put the aircraft in a stall to see how she recovered. Finally it was time to land on the southern pier. The southern pier had one of the longest flat decks: perfect for landing aircraft on before slowly rolling into Warehouse 2.

Sheppard had put off landing for as long as possible. Col. Caldwell had whooped and hollered from the back seat almost continuously through the flight from pure enjoyment and the thrill of flying. All pilots seemed to have that deep-seated love inherently born within them. It was the thought of coming down that scared John. What he might be confronted with once he landed. Who would be confronting him? The last time he was on Atlantis he had been alienated and almost died. That was something he couldn't just push out of his mind right now.

The 302 rolled to a stop before the warehouse doors. From the backseat, "I was informed the warehouse has been completed but I wasn't given the code to open the door."

"That's okay, I can get them open." Colonel Sheppard stated as he closed his eyes and thought hard to let Atlantis know about the door he wanted opened. His mental awareness took some doing since it had been a while since he last felt Atlantis in the back of his mind. Soon the doors opened. Once the doors were fully extracted John fired the secondary thrusters to get the little ship moving again and rolled into the hanger. He parked her in the number eight square.

Col. Caldwell was already out of his seat standing on the wing waiting for Sheppard who hadn't even taken off his helmet or oxygen mask even though the canopy had been opened out on the southern deck.

"Sheppard? You alright?" Asked a concerned commanding officer.

Popping off his mask and undoing his helmet he offered his patent, "yeah." He didn't want Caldwell to know he was a bundle of nerves. Sucking down the pure oxygen had helped a little. John moved in slow motion extracting himself from the pilot's seat. Caldwell remained in position to offer a helping hand to the healing pilot.

Once both men were on the ground they started the long walk into the city.

"You've chosen an excellent location to house the 302's. Plenty of interior room, suitable landing area and from the looks of it you have extra storage and fleet maintenance areas."

"We found two of these large rooms. The other one is on the west pier. The scientists think the Ancients may have built the jumpers in here. We had to do some major remodeling. Lt. Ashton deserves all the credit for getting the bulk of the project done. We still have to paint the dock's landing markers and add recessed lighting for night landings. I put Ashton in charge of the work crews since he wants to own his own commercial construction company when his military stint is up. He's been taking classes to get his degree. I've had the engineers here proctoring him in their down time. Ashton's got a future ahead of him." John knew he was rambling but his nerves were getting the best of him.

The two men continued to talk passing Marine patrols every now and then. Three transporter stations later the pair ran across more and more people. The military members were snapping off picture-perfect salutes. A sign that told Sheppard he still held their respect while the civilian side uttered, 'I'm sorry', 'Welcome back', or 'I was wrong', among other sentiments.

The halls seemed to be getting smaller and smaller closing in around him to the point that there was not enough air. More people crowded in to say their apologies. One voice over another voice over other voices all running together into a muddled sound. Words were indistinguishable. It was getting harder to breathe with each slowed step. Caldwell kept the good well wishers at bay with one hand while his other hand firmly gripped Sheppard's elbow. Sheppard had completely closed down. Caldwell steered the Lt. Colonel in a new direction. A door sliding open startled Sheppard out of his panic induced daze. Steven pushed the pilot down onto a soft surface guiding his head down between his knees with orders to breathe.

"Marks, beam down Dr. Reynolds directly to my coordinates. It's Sheppard."

The doctor materialized a few minutes later, medical bag in hand, seeing to his patient's wellbeing.

Caldwell took a look around the base commander's room. The floor had been cleaned up as well as his quarters in general. Steven noticed a small refrigerator now replaced one of the night tables. No doubt if he opened the door he would find it well stocked. Clearly an act of contrition he suspected. Caldwell stepped outside into the hallway that was now crowded with even more people then a few moments ago.

Tapping his earwig, "Marks…"

"Don't Colonel. We'll handle this...Sir." Lorne stated as he shoved through the crowd. "Alright listen up. This area is now off limits to all base personnel until further notice. There's nothing to see here. I'm sure when Colonel Sheppard is ready he'll make himself available. Now, go back to your labs, your offices, your quarters or your duty stations. That's an order."

Reluctantly the crowd disbursed. Lorne stationed two men at each end of the hallway and one at the transporter. He himself planned to stand his post at Sheppard's door ensuring no one would be allowed to bother the Colonel. And that included Dr. McKay.

"Well done Major."

"Thank you Sir. Is…is Colonel Sheppard alright in there?"

"I believe so yes. Dr. Reynolds is with him now." Lorne nodded as Caldwell disappeared into the room.

Sheppard was stretched out on his bed one arm resting across his eyes. A sign he was embarrassed. The Daedalus' Head of Medicine was taking a blood pressure reading on the other arm.

"Doctor."

"Rest Colonel. I'll be right over there talking to Col. Caldwell if you need me." Phillip moved away from the bed tucking his BP and stethoscope into his medical bag. "He'll be fine. It was a mild panic attack he just needs rest. What happened?"

"We ran into a couple of Marines on patrol. They must have spread the word the Colonel was back and the closer we came to the city the more people we incurred. This is my fault I'm afraid. In our conversation earlier I let it slip about McKay having a lynch mob after him. I think that and all the people crowding…"

"Ah…Well from what I've seen of the Colonel over the last ten days is that he's resilient. He'll come through this fine. But right now he just needs peace and quiet and some rest. And as I recall Colonel, I said Colonel Sheppard was released from my sick bay. I don't remember saying he could resume active duty let alone fly."

"Duly noted Doctor." Replied a chastised Colonel Caldwell.

"I think I'll check in with Dr. Morris. See how preparations are coming along in the infirmary for our departure date. I'll check back on Colonel Sheppard in an hour."

"I've got a few things to take care of as well." Stated Caldwell. "In an hour then."

Phillip went to inform his patient making sure the Colonel's comm link was on the nightstand along with a glass of water. Before the Doctor or ship's Captain left the room, Sheppard was sleeping peacefully.

"Major round up fifteen qualified 302 pilots and have them report to gate operations. I'll be in ops talking with Mr. Woolsey."

"Pilots, Sir?"

"I know Colonel Sheppard wanted to tell you and the rest of the base himself but the Daedalus has spent more time here then was planned. Atlantis is getting our fleet of F-302's and in a couple years you'll be getting the Apollo's for the defense of this base."

"Warehouse 2?" Lorne queried.

Caldwell smiled knowing that Sheppard had pulled one over on his XO. "Warehouse 2, Major."

"Yes Sir. I'll take care of it."

oOo

Steven Caldwell sat across from Richard Woolsey over the man's expensive and expansive large desk. He saw to the pilots; eager to please their commanding officer before settling down to talk to Mr. Woolsey. For the past forty minutes the two were deadlocked on the subject of what to do with Dr. Beckett. Caldwell had his own ideas and he knew Sheppard had his own as well. Woolsey was dead-locked on his opinion to follow the recommendation handed down by the JAG inquiry.

Caldwell changed the subject—this was getting neither of them anywhere.

"The Daedalus will be leaving soon. Do you have enough staff to fully operate the infirmary in case of an emergency? If not I can leave my people here on TAD until Dr. Keller returns with replacements."

"Dr. Hennery has temporary control over the infirmary and has reported they can and will make due. Your, Doctors' Morris and Reynolds concurred. And speaking of…I want to personally thank you for saving Colonel Sheppard's life. I don't know how I let it get out of hand and that far. No matter if he left out the truth in his report or not, I should have done something. I've informed the IOA of my deficiency and inadequacy of handling this issue. I've been put back on probation."

"I…"

"You don't have to say anything Colonel. It's the least that I deserve. In fact I requested it. When I first arrived I was a stickler for protocols and it came to my attention that some protocols just don't seem to work with the situations we encounter out here. I've allowed myself to be too lax. I don't want this to happen again. I just hope Colonel Sheppard is in a forgiving mood."

"Mr. Woolsey, I think you know the answer to that already."

"Yes, but that was a dying man's last words. I'm sure the Colonel feels differently now, now that he's had time to reflect. I believe Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: 'Our distrust is very expensive'."

"Indeed it is. If you'll excuse me I have to see my ship's doctor. We'll continue this in an hour."

oOo

John had slept solidly once the panic eased off. When he woke he was disoriented for a minute or two before his surroundings coalesced. He was used to waking in the ICU ward aboard ship with the hum of the engines around him. This time he woke with the hum of Atlantis in the back of his head. A feeling he hadn't had for the last week and a half. First he saw his golf bag sitting in the corner, then his skateboard and knew he was in his quarters. John bolted up—his heart now beating fast and furious in his throat. A fine sheen of sweat broke out on his forehead. Immediately his eyes went to the floor where he'd lain in pain, said his goodbyes while wishing for the end. There was nothing there, no blood, no finger marks. He scanned his room to find it orderly. Dirty laundry that was piled by the bathroom door was gone. One of his bedside tables had been replaced with a small refrigerator. Looks like Rodney's. He was about to investigate the contents when the Doc came in making him jump slightly.

The jumpiness was not lost on Reynolds. "Colonel, how do you feel?"

"Embarrassed, stupid, mortified, self-conscience, foolish…"

"I get the picture. There's nothing for you to be embarrassed about. It was a perfectly normal reaction to the situation you found yourself in."

"I panicked. Atlantis' Military Commander panicked like a newbie. I'm not supposed to panic. I'm supposed to hold it together and panic later…or not at all preferably. All those people…they saw…"

"They saw the man they turned their backs on over someone's misinterpreted events on a mission then became overzealous in their attempt to apologize."

Before John could form a response to the Doctor's statement his door chimed. A quick sizzle of anxiety flowed through his body making him tremble and break into a cold sweat before he realized it was Col. Caldwell on the other side. John thought 'open'.

"How is he Doctor?"

"'He' is right here." Sounding annoyed.

"So I gather you're doing well then." Caldwell stated with a raised brow.

"I'm…fine." John washed his hand over his face trying to hide his moment of panic.

"Colonel Sheppard is correct. He is fine. A little on the jumpy side I might add though." Phillip smiled while his patient grimaced.

"Colonel, your team is waiting down the hall."

Panic raced through him a fourth time sending an artic chill down his spine. "Teyla. Just Teyla."

"Very well." Caldwell left the room to retrieve the Athosian woman. As he sent her off he placated Dr. McKay.

"Hi Teyla."

"It is good to see you well John."

An awkward moment passed between. No head tilt, no forehead touching greeting, nothing. Neither one knew exactly what to say.

"Teyla…here's the thing…I want to say I'm sorry." John held up his hand to stop her from interrupting. "Let me finish. I'm sorry I didn't explain what was happening on P1N-060. It was for your own protection and your son's that I sent you away. I'm sorry if I was rough with you. I didn't want the same harm to come to you that befell those people. If you had touched that women… I had to get you out of harms way. I had to get all of you away. I couldn't let Ronon and Rodney continue to track the particle stream. The closer they got the worse it would have been for them. You all had to leave quickly to be safe. You and your people celebrate life. What I was planning to do was end life. I knew you would want to try and help those people because that is who you are. You wouldn't have believed me then if I told you there was nothing that could be done."

"You are correct. I wanted to help those people. They were sick, they needed my help…your people's help. I have seen your people perform many miracles John. When I heard the explosions and saw the smoke I was confused… hurt… that you denied me…denied your people the chance to help them. I was unsettled by your actions. Resentful towards you for what I saw…assumed you had done what I saw since you would not speak in your defense. There are some things, we Athosians…we Pegasus natives, are still naïve about. It was not until Dr. Reynolds showed us the movie that I fully understood your actions or your concern for our welfare."

What movie? Caldwell mentioned a movie too. "I'm sorry Teyla for putting you through all that. And I don't blame you for being mad or angry at me. It was something I had to burden alone."

Teyla considered his words thoughtfully but something still bothered her. "Why did you not stop Dr. McKay from speaking out against you? Surely he is aware of this…affliction…on your world. Yet you allowed him to voice his displeasure of you, to criticize your motives, your leadership."

"When I was a little boy my brother and I would get into these fights… arguments. I was older so naturally I was right and he was wrong. My take on things was all that mattered. Well one day my mother overhead us fighting. She sat us both down and one at a time we had to tell her our side of the fight. Then she told us her side. You're not supposed to have three sides in a fight: there's right and wrong, good and bad. But my mother offered another side. From then on anytime there was a disagreement in our house we all sat down and talked about it. After a while I realized that everyone has their own opinion, their own view about stuff and it's not necessarily about being right or wrong. On Earth we have this thing called the First Amendment. It allows anyone to voice their opinion. Rodney was just voicing his opinion. Loudly."

Teyla interrupted, "you did not kill those people John. What Rodney…"

"…what Rodney was saying wasn't entirely wrong. At least not the way I saw it. It was my idea Teyla, my weapon, my words that persuaded them to end their lives. Rodney wasn't saying anything different. Just because I didn't push the button that actually ended the Insherin's lives doesn't mean I'm any less guilty. That's why I kept everything to myself. I didn't want to drag you, Ronon or Rodney down with me. On my world we don't take to kindly to people who go around exterminating whole cultures. I knew what the consequences of my actions would be. It was my choice. I'm a soldier; I was prepared to live with what I did. I know you and your culture value life above all else. I couldn't take that away from you Teyla no more than I could have let them take you away from Torren had you been a part of what I did. I'm sorry for wrecking our friendship. I hope one day we can be friends again."

Teyla had had time to contemplate what she had learned in the last week. She reexamined her fragile relationship with John and with Rodney. Teyla considered John's words now. They weighed heavily on her soul. If John could forgive them, she was going to forgive him. "I am free this afternoon. Would you like to spar?"

"Sure." John replied with a gleam of excitement in his eyes. Then there was a clearing of a throat in the background. John had forgotten all about the Doc sitting at his desk. "Maybe tomorrow." The clearing continued. "Next…" More clearing. "How about I let you know."

Silence filled the small room but Teyla's smile overpowered it.

"Very well, I will wait." This time Teyla placed her hands on John's shoulders and bowed her head. He was forgiven. John returned the gesture touching her forehead lightly, realizing just how close he was to giving Atlantis, Teyla, and his friends all up. "If it is acceptable with you I will speak of this to Ronon and Rodney."

"I'd like that very much."

"Very well." She said with another smile.

oOo

After Teyla returned and not another team mate was summoned, Caldwell sent them packing. Rodney refused to follow Teyla and Ronon no matter how much she tried. Rodney wanted to argue.

"Doctor, I'm sure the Lt. Colonel will see you. In. Due. Time. Until then I suggest you go about your day."

"But…" Rodney waved his hand in the direction of the Colonel's room revving up for another volley of vocalized ranting.

"Now, Doctor." Caldwell instructed sternly.

Rodney McKay stomped off with a huff. You could hear his mutterings down the long hall. "Who does he think he is?", "Go back to your ship and stay there!", "What gives him the right to tell me I can't see Sheppard.", "Lorne's in charge here, not him.", "Why Teyla?", "Why not me?", "It's my refrigerator!" , "Damn it, Sheppard! I'm sorry.", "Let me expl…" His mutterings continued as he turned the corner.

Steven Caldwell shook his head and wondered, not for the first time, how Sheppard could put up with the cranky scientist. Maybe he should have requested Sheppard to be 'Sainted' instead of being awarded a commendation. Then again, maybe the Air Force needs to create a new medal: Falling on your Own Sword or something like that, because Sheppard did that in spades.

And Colonel Caldwell wasn't the only one who thought Sheppard deserved a commendation for his actions. Not for the actions on P1N-060, but for his virtuous actions as an Officer in the United States Air Force. The JAG panel wholeheartedly agreed after reviewing his records. The black mark on his service record seemed infinitesimal to what he had aspired to and accomplished since coming through a wormhole on a one-way mission.

When he walked into Sheppard's room he found his Doctor in heated discussion with said virtuous man. Arguing it seemed about his return to physical activity and active duty status.

"Am I interrupting?" Caldwell knew he was.

"No." Both men stated curtly simultaneously. Caldwell could barely hold back a grin and chuckle.

"If Colonel Sheppard is well enough to argue, we have a meeting with Mr. Woolsey in twenty minutes." He addressed the question to his ship's physician.

"Twenty minutes? I need to shower, shave and change. Doc you got something to cover this?" John motioned toward his abdomen's healing surgical scar.

"Go ahead and shower. I'll redress it when you're done. Just be careful."

Fifteen minutes later Colonel Sheppard was showered, shaved and donning half his Atlantis uniform while the Doc was placing what he hoped would be the last strip of adhesive tape over the clean bandage. Easing his black t-shirt on pulled at his stitches. As the trio left his quarters, John was buttoning up his Atlantis uniform shirt which completed his uniform. The guards in the hall stood at attention as they passed. Others who they passed kept their distance for which John was thankful. It probably had more to do with being flanked by Caldwell and Reynolds. They both were taking the roles of protector to the extreme.

Up the grand stairs, through the control room, across the small bridge the trio entered Woolsey's office right on time.

Richard stood offering the men a seat in the more comfortable chairs he had in his office.

"Where's Dr. Beckett?" Sheppard asked before taking his seat.

"In his assigned quarters." Woolsey answered blandly.

"You don't have him still under guard do you? I was told the JAG inquiry told you to release him." Sheppard's tone went up an octave in spite of his self control.

"He has been. He just won't come out. Dr. Beckett feels responsible for everything that happened. Not only for what happened to you Colonel but with the infirmary staff as well. He said the 'real' Carson wouldn't have let this happen."

"Bullshit! Carson being a clone has nothing to do with this. Even the 'real' Carson Beckett would have jumped on the band-wagon over this. Probably would have broken out his large needles just for the occasion." John tapped his earwig, "Lorne, escort Dr. Beckett to Woolsey's office and don't take 'no' for an answer." John clicked off abruptly not waiting for the automatic 'yes sir' reply. He sank slowly into one of the comfy chairs cautious of his injury. "Now… Colonel Caldwell tells me you're considering turning Beckett over to that pack of wolves that call themselves the Coalition. Like hell you are. You've dealt with them and know the Coalition better than the rest of us. You know they'll lock him up and toss away the key. The Pegasus Galaxy needs a competent doctor like Beckett. He has the skills, know how, he can take care of himself whether he believes it or not. We still have the Hoffan disease that Michael twisted in his attempt for global domination that we need to cure. Beckett is this galaxies best hope in doing that. The people out there trust him and so do I."

Little did Colonel Sheppard know that Lorne and Beckett had entered the office behind him while he clearly stated his opinion of the whole situation.

"Furthermore, Atlantis is going to continue supporting his efforts. We are going to provide supplies, medical support, use of medical facilities here on Atlantis whenever he needs it. Nothing is changing. Now if the IOA can't get behind us on this, then I will personally finance whatever supplies he needs. We're not… I'm not going to let the people of this galaxy suffer for what I did. Taking Dr. Beckett away from them would certainly cause the inhabitants of this galaxy to suffer. They need him." John finished with an exhaustive sigh.

Woolsey toyed with the pen and tablet he had on his lap while his Military Commander stated his views on the matter. "I see Colonel that you are very passionate about the outcome of this topic. What do you think, Dr. Beckett?"

John gasped, twisted in his chair wincing when he turned a little more than his stitches allowed trying to stand. Standing now, John faced Carson.

"Hello Colonel. It's good to see ya looking so well. I see that Dr. Reynolds has been takin' real good care of ya."

"Yeah, I guess." John winced in pain. Somehow his mouth had shifted into over-drive while his brain was stuck in park.

"Colonel, you alright?" Carson asked with concern but didn't move to offer any aid.

"Fine, Carson. Just a case of hoof-in-mouth disease." John turned to where the Daedalus Doc sat and apologized. "Sorry Doc, didn't mean it like it sounded. I appreciate everything you've done for me…really." The Daedalus Doctor gave a nod that he wasn't upset if the smirk on his face wasn't enough of an indication.

"Dr. Beckett, now that you're here please take a seat and we'll continue." Offered Mr. Woolsey.

oOo

Colonel Sheppard's door chimed at precisely zero eight hundred the next morning announcing the arrival of a visitor. The chime startled him for the briefest of moments. He wondered if he would ever get past this jumpiness. Sounds, people they all sent shivers down his spine. He tried to hide the trembling in his limbs—the only thing he could do was shove them in his pants pockets out of view.

After his meeting with Woolsey and forcing his opinion, or rather personal views of Beckett's disposition on him, John needed some time alone. He felt eyes on him the whole time. Like everyone was cataloging his every move and it made him nervous with the shakes. John was annoyed with himself that he couldn't gain control over his sudden urge to panic. At least people kept their distance. He didn't know what he might do if someone actually got too close or touched him.

The chime sounded again thinking 'open' once he'd calmed his nerves he allowed his visitor to enter.

"Sir? I wasn't expecting to see you again." John stated casually.

"I was told I needed to ask the Military Commander of Atlantis if I could get a loan on a puddle jumper. The Daedalus will be leaving this afternoon and as I recall P1N-060 needs to be investigated further."

"Yes Sir, it does. And you have permission to take a puddle jumper. I'll have Major Lorne prep one. Have your ATA pilot beam down to the gate room and I'll have Lorne do the check ride on their way to the Daedalus. That is if you don't mind beaming back my second-in-command."

"Not at all Colonel." Caldwell tapped his comm link to request four ATA gene pilots while Colonel Sheppard tapped his own earwig communicating his orders to Major Lorne. When both men finished their brief conversations Col. Caldwell spoke first. "How was your evening, Colonel?"

Caldwell was still playing the role of protector; acting much like an over-protective parent. He had noticed the tremors in the pilot during their meeting with Woolsey yesterday afternoon. He had noticed how quickly the Lt. Colonel left once the meeting was over and how his eyes scanned his surroundings like at any moment they would encapsulate him. Caldwell had wanted to check on Sheppard before beaming back to the ship but his ship's doctor held him back whispering in his ear. "He needs to find his own way of dealing. You can check on him in the morning."

"Fine, Sir." John said a little too quickly. Caldwell gave him a look of disbelief. "Alright, maybe not fine, but okay." John caved.

"You want to get anything off your chest?"

"As a matter-of-fact I do." With a long sigh John sat down on his bed motioning for the Colonel to take the desk chair. John rubbed a hand through his already spiky locks making them stand up even more. "Thank you." He blurted out rather quickly. John calmed before continuing, "I had the chance to read over everything. And when I say everything, I mean everything. I want to thank-you for what you did. You and Major Marks both put your careers on the line. I don't know too many people who would do that. Especially for me. We've never…you and I…well, we rarely see eye-to-eye. So thank you." John had read through all the new mandates coming from the SGC and IOA, realizing that what Col. Caldwell initiated was against protocol mandates. That he had put his career on the line for a screw-up like himself. He'd read through the after-action reports submitted by Col. Caldwell and Dr. Reynolds showcasing what happened from the time he was found. How fast Caldwell, Reynolds and Major Marks acted to come up with a plan to get to the truth. How Marks put his career in jeopardy as well. John had only talked with Marks in passing while on joint missions. Yet he helped get to the truth. He read the audit findings; noting that Atlantis was operating within the new guidelines. With exception to some infirmary staff, the infirmary itself ran well. The JAG recommendations seemed fair. John had read everything.

"I did what you would have done under the same set of circumstances."

"I don't know if I should take that as a compliment or be frightened that I'm rubbing off on you."

"A little of both." Caldwell stated, pleased with himself.

"What will the fallout be?"

"Nothing."

John was concerned for the two officers. "That's good."

Caldwell thought that a change in topics was warranted. Neither was very good at expressing their feelings and the conversation was getting dangerously close to their non-comfort zone. "How are things between you and Dr. McKay?"

"Awkward. Strained maybe. We had dinner last night in the mess hall. Teyla and Ronon were there too. Things will be different, maybe difficult between us for a while, while we readjust to one another, but overall I think things will turn out to be okay. Rodney apologized. It's going to take time. I hate to admit this, and by god don't repeat this to the Doc or he'll have me back in your sick bay, but I still panic."

Over the past three weeks John lost some of the self confidence he'd always had. Coming so close to death by people he thought he could always count on to have his six did something to him—inside. What happened to him wasn't even in battle…or doing battle with an enemy…what happened to him was caused by the people he'd lived with, people he had protected, laughed with, played with, fought side-by-side with. Ultimately it was because John had kept silent about the truth that had led to him almost dieing. It was as much his fault as theirs, if not more. His dying words written in his blood: 'you're forgiven', still haunted him. Would he ever truly forgive them? He hoped so.

"Under the circumstances I think you're allowed. Just don't let them control you. How's it going with the military establishment?"

"Not real sure yet. I don't know if I can win back their trust."

"Just give it time. It will get easier. You've set a good example. Hell, three quarters of my fighter squadron just put in for a transfer after your little demonstration." Caldwell paused for a moment. "We'll make a full report of our findings on P1N-060 for Atlantis. I've already recommended to Mr. Woolsey that he should send a copy of the report to the Coalition. If the Coalition wants to be this galaxies version of 'police'…there's no time like the present. The Daedalus will be in the star system for another day. If you need to talk…"

"I'll keep that in mind." John stated soberly. It was nice having Caldwell around to talk things out with. Although not his style, Caldwell had offered a different perspective; gave him some things to think about, to change. John looked up at his commanding officer, a grin spreading across his worn, panicked face. He couldn't help it. So with raised brow he asked, "Only three quarters?"

The End.

A/N: Thank you one and all for reading my story and submitting reviews.

Over the past several years of reading Stargate Atlantis FanFiction, I discovered there was not a lot of 'general stories' featuring John Sheppard and Steven Caldwell. Both these characters have a strong dynamic in their own right. I hope this story filled that void.

Best to all, Karen