Chapter 1

Dear Diary,

I saw Jennifer today for the first time in a little over a year. She's been home from some military mission for about 6 weeks, but wasn't allowed off base until now. We went shopping at the mall, just

like old times. Well, almost like old times... Jen's emails about this Rodney guy have always been serious but watching her talk about him today made me realize that she's really in love this time. It's

bad good news. I think its official...Out of our group of friends; I'm the last single person. I hate it. I know that's horrible but that's how I feel. I'm starting to feel like there is no one on Earth that's

right for me, no one that is my other half. I feel so alone.

And I bet this Rodney guy is a jarhead. She met him on base so he cannot possibly be worthy of her. From what she said, he sounded like a whiney know-it-all soldier boy. Not her type at all.

I stopped writing and looked down at the page. Dr. Jennifer Keller was one of my two oldest closest friends. Jennifer and I sped through school. She'd graduated college by 19, I got out at 19. Unlike me, Jennifer always had boyfriends in college, popular guys who she found time to socialize with while taking courses. She was pretty while I was plain. I'd dated the same guy for eight years while she went through twenty boyfriends. Neither of our relationships lasted in the end, but at least she could say she lived while we were young. Jennifer was the free spirit and I was the goody-two-shoes: Ying to her Yang. Jennifer changed once her mom died. I don't think either of us stopped crying that semester. But, Jen changed more than I did of course. Jen had always been a serious student but it was like she needed to be perfect for her mom. I'm sure that was when she decided to become a doctor but I still didn't understand her wanting to work for the air force. She was a great doctor and a great scientists and she deserved to do great things: not setting bones but cracking DNA codes. Sighing, I read the last part of my diary entry again and added one more line:

I am not going to have a pity party here. I'm off to bed.

:: ring... ring..::

"Hello?" I answered my bedside phone, still half asleep.

"Hi Heather, It's Jen. Did I wake you?"

"No, yes..." I said sitting up in bed and looking over at the clock, "It's 5am, Jen! What, do you think I'm in the army or something? Normal people don't get up at 5am on Fridays."

"I'm in the Air Force, not the Army." she said and I could hear the smile in her voice.

"Same thing!"

"Is not."

I couldn't help but smile as I answered her, "Ok, ok... you Air Force pain, what do you want?"

"Well, I was thinking last night..." she began.

"I just suggested it 5 minutes ago, what do you mean YOU thought of it last night?", I heard some guy say in the background.

"Rodney!" She hushed.

"Jen, tell Rodney I said 'Hi' will you?", I said to her, while rolling my eyes.

"He says 'Hi' back. Anyway..." Jen began again, a little louder, this time. I could hear Rodney in the background murmuring about how he never got any credit. His tone seemed to almost be like the rant was purposely trying to be cute yet annoying at the same time. Rodney didn't seem to have to work that hard at it and I could tell by Jen's voice that she thought it was endearing... "Heather, are you listening to me?"

Opps. "Sorry Jen. What were you saying?"

"Rodney..." she said in an aside and his whining cut off instantaneity.

Wow, I thought, with that much whining I didn't think he'd ever quit.

"Rodney and I were hoping that you'd come out to dinner with us and a few friends on Sunday night... What do you say?" Jen asked.

"Sunday, huh?" I winced, as even I could hear in my own voice that I was just trying to stall.

"No excuses. I want you to meet everyone that I've been working with for the last year. So you can put faces to the names."

"No excuses, but... I mean you aren't trying to set me up with anyone, are you?"

"No. It's just hanging out with friends: Teyla, Ronon, Amelia, John, Mr. Woolsey, Radek, Chuck, and maybe some others."

"That sounds more like a military function then dinner."

"Only John, Chuck, and Amelia are in the Air Force, really. Remember, there are civilians on my base too this time. "

"Right but...Wait, isn't Mr. Woolsey your boss?"

"Well, yea. But, Woolsey's a civilian so he's not really my boss now that we are back."

I am sure that this isn't a good idea. Civilian or not, there is no way I should say yes. I'd really have to watch what I said if some of her commanding officers were there. I couldn't understand why she was asking this of me, since I don't agree with US policy on foreign affairs most of the time. She cannot expect me to see their quietly as the tell war stories. She knows, first hand, that I've never been good at minding my own business when it came to military issues.

Before she shipped out a year and a half ago, I had asked her where she was going in front of General someone-or-another. She didn't answer me and I'm not she why I asked. She had told me before that she couldn't tell me when she was going. But, saying goodbye, I had a feeling... a bad one. It was like a part of me knew in that second that if she told me, she couldn't go. Somehow, she'd be safe if she stayed on our soil. If I had my way, none of them would be going anywhere. I never understood how America leads and every other country had to follow like we were king of the world or something. When Jennifer joined the military more than decade ago, I never said a word to her about her choice but I never liked it. Her father was so proud and I, as her oldest friend, had to fake my smile.

"Jen, I'd love to b..."

"Great! I am so excited. Rodney and I will come pick you up at the airport."

"Airport? What are you talking about... where are you?"

"San Francisco."

"What!" I yelled, sitting straight up in bed, "That's a 6 hour flight and it's only been... 5 hours since I saw you!"

"Well... eh... You know... military transports."

"That's impossible Jen. The only military transport that could do that would be used by Starfleet and last time I checked it wasn't the 24th century. "

"Ha-ha," Rodney said loudly, "Jennifer, we do have the briefing with General O'Neil soon."

"I know, Rodney... I'll meet you there." She took a breath, exhaled and then asked, "So, will you come up?"

"Jennifer, I cannot just fly across the country for dinner!"

"Hmm... you're right... You'll stay the week then." She said with a smile in her voice.

She's lost her mind, I thought to myself. "Jennifer, some of us can't just abandon their lives at a moment's notice..."

"Come on Heather, I want you to meet Rodney and my friends. Don't you want to meet everybody?" She continued quietly, "Things have been crazy. I cannot begin to say how much. Please?"

I didn't know how to answer that. I wanted to see these people that I heard so much about and maybe I could find out what's really going on. There was so much Jennifer wasn't allowed to tell me. I normally had good instincts but this posting had bothered me more than her last one. I know it seemed worst for me this time as I didn't even know which war she was fighting. I heard of an attack and I had no way of knowing if she was safe. Her father and I talked almost every day because we both felt the same way. She couldn't email either of us enough. Jennifer emailed me every other day but I didn't always get them in a timely fashion. A few times I'd get 5 emails at one time after not hearing from her for 10 days. She wasn't allowed to call me or anyone else. I couldn't understand it. I have a friend from college who had joined the army three years ago: she emailed and calls me every other day.

The secrecy of her job wasn't my only problem with her career. I don't agree with US policy on foreign affairs most of the time, so sometimes it was hard to write. I never understood how America leads and every other country had to follow like we were king of the world or something. Being with these military types I hoped I could keep my opinions to myself, for her sake. "I hope you don't regret my coming but okay... I have two weeks off coming to me, so I'll come to San Francisco... Do you think we could get to Vegas since we're so close? Can you get off base for a few days?"

"Hmm... I can see about Vegas... don't bother booking a flight there though. If we can go, I'll see if I can get something through here. Just text me your flight info; Rodney and I will pick you up."

Today, everything changes. The thought just seemed to pop into my head as I got off my flight and I felt my smile waiver just a bit. Hearing voices in my head is one thing I won't be telling Jen, I thought with a smile. The guy, Rodney, must have me more upset than I thought.

Jennifer and Rodney were standing a little off to the side. Jennifer with a huge smile on her face and Rodney stood next to her looking uncomfortable. Perfect.

"Heather," Jennifer screeched and she ran to my side, "I'm so glad you came... Come on," pulling me back towards Rodney, she beamed as she said, "This is Dr. Mer... Rodney McKay; Rodney, this is Heather Burman!"

"You almost told her!" Rodney said, sounding horrified.

"Rodney, it's your name. And she's my best friend." Jennifer answered him.

With a smirk, I held out my head, "Meredith, it's truly a pleasure to meet you... Jennifer has told me so much about you. You want me to call you Rodney, I assume?"

With his mouth wide open, Rodney froze and his eyes bugged out. After standing with his mouth hanging open for at least 10 seconds, he shook my hand. "Please, please, please... only call me Rodney."

"Of course Rodney. Don't blame Jennifer, I'm normally really good at getting information out of people... she put up a good fight before she told me your name... well, all of your name." I said with a smile. I was able to get his name that he was ashamed off, but she'd blocked my attempts to pin her down on where she was or even what she was doing. It was quite upsetting. She always said 'Dust-bunnies' which was our private codeword that meant I had to stop asking. It could mean anything from shut up, leave, top secret, or don't tell mom. If either of us said it, the other knew whatever was asked was 100% needed. Since Jennifer had started this position, I'd heard it more times than I could count.

"Really..." he said, looking over at Jennifer. I could practically here him thinking, wondering if she said told me about what they did. That was interesting.

I knew I should stop that thought before she got in trouble for nothing. "Oh, don't worry... I don't know anything about your work. That she's been quite good at keeping from me, for the first time in the twenty some years we've known each other."

"Do not say how many years! It's just scary how many. Oh and Heather, Rodney and I don't work together directly... he's not a medical doctor."

"Right an Astrophysicist specializing in Astrophysics, I remember." I didn't believe it for a second... who studies the physics of the universe in the middle of a war zone? And I was sure she had been in a warzone. A month after she had arrived in her new post, she was very sick and wasn't sure if she would survive. She wrote that it was a bio-weapon that had been used against them but Rodney was working on the answer and I shouldn't worry. What kind of place has an astrophysicist working to counteract a bio-weapon?

"Jennifer says you like Italian food, so I was thinking we'd do that tonight with the gang. That okay?" Rodney asked.

Well that was out of nowhere. Laughing, I replied, "Well, Jen didn't exaggerate one bit... food is a top priority with you."

"It's not my fault... I've got a really fast metabolism."

"You'll love this place Heather," Jennifer says, "They have the best Chicken Cutlet anywhere."

"Sounds good. Lead the way," I said smiling. Rodney turned around and started walking towards the baggage claim.

Once we got there, I was happy to see they had started to offload the bags. I was finally happy to have Rodney there as he could pull my bags off the conveyor belt when they arrived. After ten minutes, I finally saw one of my bags coming down the belt, "The black one with the purple strap is mine."

"Great" Rodney said.

It was almost at us now. I looked over to see if Rodney was going to get it. He was staring at it hard, but hadn't moved any closer to the belt. Sighing, I grabbed it.

"Rodney," Jennifer said, "Why don't you get the next one for her?"

"Really?" he asked, honestly looking like he might not speak English after all.

I looked at Jennifer; I really couldn't see her with this guy. "It's fine Jen... chivalry is obviously dead."

"No... I'll eh... get it for you." He mumbled something like 'should have brought Ronon.'

"Thanks Rodney," I said, "The next one will be purple with black trim and a purple strap." This should be amusing.

Jennifer pointed down the belt and said, "Is that it?"

"Yep," I said moving away from the belt so Rodney could get a good grab on it... I knew he would need it.

"Gee, did it have to be the biggest one?" Stepping forward, Rodney grabs for it and heaved. It didn't move. Straining, Rodney tried again and managed to knock it off of the conveyor belt. Sighing, I wheeled the smaller one over to it and locked them together. Rodney took a deep breath and slowly started to wheel them to the exit. Walking behind him with Jennifer, I leaned over to her, "You need to work on your training a bit more for him yet."

She laughed, "He really is a nice guy, Heather. It's just that he just doesn't always think about that kind of stuff..."

"That's what they all say," I said, "But, he took you on the private jet a few weeks ago so that's in his favor."

"Ahh... well, that was from one of his friend's."

"I know, the guy who was trying to save the world. How did that go, by the way?"

"I thought I told you the conference was okay and I got to meet some of Rodney's friends."

With a smile, I said, "No, silly... not the conference... the green part... you know, saving the world."

"Oh... that went well."

I laughed. "One comet at a time, I suppose. By the way, do the military drive around in Hummers on US soil?"

"No," she replied, "We just have a normal car today."

"Thank green goodness!"

It looked like driving military vehicles had their privileges, as it was waiting for us right at the curb. Getting in the car with Jennifer, I watched Rodney roughly haul my suitcases into the trunk. Jennifer and I laughed quietly at his production. Once he was in the driver's seat, Jennifer bent over and gave him a kiss. "Thank you Rodney," she said.

"You know, I don't know why girls pack so much."

"Because," I replied, "we change underwear and even clothes every day."

Jennifer laughed. Rodney didn't reply. Jennifer turned around to me, "Vegas might be an option next week, but this week I need to stay on base. I hope that's okay... General O'Neil had to pull strings so we could come pick you up, so he doesn't want to push it right now."

"He had to pull strings... why didn't you just tell me to get a cab?"

Rodney said proudly, "That wouldn't have helped; Jennifer wasn't the issue. I was working on important things that are top priority but I wanted to be able to do this for Jennifer."

She smiled at Rodney and turned to me, "See, I told you he was sweet." Rodney smiled.

About an hour later, we arrived at the port. "Jennifer," I asked, "Aren't you in the Air Force?"

"Yes. But, we'll get to the base from here through. I do need you to do me a favor... I need you to put this blind fold on..."

The blind fold that she was holding was a mask that would cover my whole face. Rodney put up his hand, "Wait, first she has to sign."

"Oh... Thanks Rodney, I almost forgot about that. "Jennifer pulled out a stack of papers and handed them to me, "The first page summarizes it but all this is a non-disclosure agreement. I need you to trust me, Heather, sign it."

"Are you kidding me?"

"No."

Reading through the top page, I realized it says a lot about what I can't do but nothing about why I'd need to sign it in the first place. "Jennifer..." I begin.

"Heather, you like Star Trek right?" Rodney asks.

"Star Trek?"

"Yea, you know Star Trek, the prime directive crazed people that save the universe every week.

"Rodney, just because you study the way the universe was created doesn't make you Captain Picard! Well, you could never have been Picard anyway from what Jennifer's said... maybe Data..."

"My dear, I'll have you know..."

Jennifer smacked him on the arm, "Rodney!"

"She started it!"

"Heather," Jennifer looked me straight in the eye, "I've known you for 23 years; please just sign the papers."

"Okay, yes, you've known me since we were six. But, that you think that means I should feel completely at ease with signing my life away, that is ludicrous."

"I swear it will be worth it."

"Great," I said, "Now tell me more."

"Heather, we can't tell you more."

"If, I sign them Jennifer, you'll tell me everything? Everything that you've been hiding from me for the past year?"

"No, not everything... but, you'll be able to see things that we've only been imagining. I cannot tell you everything, but it will still be worth it."

Taking a deep breath, I went to tell them no. :: buzz, buzz:: It was my cell phone vibrating, I looked at the number. It was my other older best friend, Billy. "It's Billy," I said by way of apology as I pressed talk. I knew Jennifer would understand. I'd know Billy my whole life and he's been there for me for as long as I could remember. She was used to me taking his calls no matter what.

"Hi Billy. What's up?" As I listen to him talking about plans for next month, I saw Rodney and Jennifer exchange a look. They weren't done trying to get me to sign then... maybe they'd try a Star Wars analogy next, I thought. Star Wars! "Billy, I... eh... have to go... I'm fine. Jennifer and I were in the middle of a discussion... Thank you. Talk to you later. Love ya too, bye."

"Tell you what, I'll make this easy on the both of you...