Title: Cross Product, Part 1
Rating: PG for this part, NC-17 eventually
Spoilers: Specific references up to Conversion, vague ones up to Allies
Date written: July 2006
Length: ~3800 words
Summary: Sheppard goes surfing and doesn't have amnesia.
"All this sand," said John as they exited the jumper, "and no waves, no surf shop --"
"No bleached blondes to hang adoringly on your arm," Rodney added dryly.
"Yeah, what's up with that?"
Ronon and Teyla ignored the Earth in-jokes as they started scouting the area.
The outpost they had come to check out was intact, but empty. It had been thoroughly plundered, either by the Ancients as they left or by more recent scavengers. Sand was everywhere, piling into drifts in the corners. Various oddly-shaped sockets in the walls and cannibalized consoles made McKay groan as he described what had probably been removed from them.
There was one door which opened only at Sheppard's touch, revealing a clean, pristine chamber to the flashlight on his P-90. Unfortunately, it was hardly bigger than a walk-in closet and almost completely empty: just some Ancient text engraved in a semi-circle around something on the wall.
"Wait, don't touch that," McKay snapped, waving a scanner in each hand -- one Ancient and one mostly Earth technology. "Back up, get away from it!"
"What is it?" John asked, backing up half a step but negating that by leaning closer for a better look. It didn't look dangerous at first glance: no sharp parts, no tubes for projectiles, no large power banks or crystal arrays. Just a weirdly-textured thing like a piece of art with an overly ornate frame.
"Hmm," said McKay, and "Wait, maybe it -- no. Hmm." He plied his scanners around the thing, looking increasingly puzzled. Teyla stepped up to the doorway and added the light of her weapon to the subject, Ronon looming over her shoulder. "For a moment there it was giving off a signal almost like a quantum mirror, but now it looks completely different."
"A mirror? It's not shiny."
"A quantum mirror, Colonel."
"Yeah, I read the reports. But those are still reflective, aren't they? This isn't." He moved his head around, studying the odd pebbly texture of the thing from different angles. It was almost holographic, as if there were something projected above the surface, but he couldn't bring it into focus.
"And that would be why I said 'completely different.'" Rodney dropped the two scanners to his side and frowned at the writing around the object. "Typical cryptic gobbledygook," he muttered. "But it does remind me . . . huh. I never saw any scans, but in appearance this is almost more like that database interface thing SG-1 found on -- ack!"
As Sheppard craned a little closer, the ornate frame suddenly grew fat claws and grabbed him by the head. He dropped his weapon and raised his hands to struggle, then went still as a bright light flashed from inside the device.
"Yeah, like that," Rodney said faintly, raising a hand to forestall Ronon and Teyla from grabbing Sheppard. "Wait a second . . ."
The frame retracted and Sheppard staggered away from it, blinking dazedly.
"You going to pass out now, Colonel?" Rodney asked, waving Ronon forward to catch him if he fell.
Sheppard startled back as Ronon approached him, eyes flicking up and down the big man, then to Rodney's scanners and Teyla's weapon. He lifted the P-90 hanging from his vest and swung the light quickly around the chamber without turning his back on any of the others.
"Are you all right, Colonel?" Teyla asked.
He gave her a second and then a third look, making Rodney shift impatiently.
"Look, if you're going to start speaking in tongues, you might as well get started. We know a lot more about the Ancient language and culture now than we did when O'Neill went through this, so that's not a problem. And the Daedalus is due back in just over a week, so Hermiod can probably fix you before there's any permanent brain damage."
"I have no idea what you're talking about," Sheppard said. He patted down his tac vest uncertainly. "Why are you calling me Colonel?"
"Um," said Rodney.
Now Sheppard was looking at his hands, front and back. "And what is this place? And who are you people, anyway?"
John pulled back as the light struck his eyes. Then there was a confused jumble of sensations: orange sunshine, wind in his face, water rushing below, a rough board just leaving contact with his toes, and a big honking wave crashing down right on top of him. It was a spectacular wipeout.
He figured out which way was up, got his head above the water, and started stroking in toward shore. He wasn't thinking just yet about what had happened; that could wait until he was on firm ground again.
Another surfer paddling out toward the bigger waves paused and yelled, "You all right, man?" John just nodded and waved him away.
He recovered the stray board and rode the rest of the way in on his belly. His muscles certainly felt as if he'd been doing this for a few hours. The late afternoon sunlight and the gravity and the faint whiff of smog all said Earth in some deep, indescribable way. He even thought he recognized the beach: California, near Del Mar. But he still didn't know how he'd gotten here, except that he'd been thinking about surfing less than an hour ago.
He didn't recognize the board -- a short board, pretty athletic for someone as out of practice as he was -- or the wetsuit he was wearing, but his hands and feet looked like his own, and his face felt mostly normal as he rubbed at it. Had his hair been that long when he showered this morning? He was wearing his usual wristband on the right and a waterproof watch (not familiar) on the left. 09 23 2006, 17:48, the watch told him. The date seemed right, but he had to think a while about the time difference between Atlantis Standard Time and Pacific, uh, Daylight? Yes, he decided, late morning on Atlantis should be late afternoon here, this day of the week.
So he'd been, what, instantaneously transported several million light-years just because he had an urge to surf? McKay would have mentioned if that little device hanging on the wall had been putting out enough energy for intergalactic transport. And where the hell had the board and wetsuit and watch come from?
John looked out uncertainly at the other surfers bobbing on the waves. The guy who called to him had apparently seen him wipe out, but he hadn't acted as if John appeared out of nowhere in a flash of light. Was he a friend or acquaintance? Had they come to the beach together?
Maybe he should have told the guy he banged his head on the board, and now he had amnesia. But that would land him in a hospital, with lots of questions that he couldn't answer without violating security.
Security -- he could call the SGC! Someone there, maybe Colonel Carter, must be able to figure out what had happened to him.
If he could find a phone. And some money to make the call.
He patted his suit until he found a zippered pocket at the side. It contained a driver's license -- oh good, at least he was still John Sheppard -- and a Mustang key. He studied the license in puzzlement; he hadn't been anywhere near San Diego in January 2004, when this was issued. Then he picked up his board and headed for the parking lot at the top of the beach, walking slowly in case a surfing buddy or two tried to catch up with him. No one did.
There was only one Mustang in the lot -- half primer and two different colors of paint, but the tires were fairly new -- and his key fit on the first try. His board didn't, until he realized there was no headrest on the passenger's seat. He rolled down the passenger window and got the board in diagonally.
The glove compartment held more keys, a little money, a wallet with credit cards and a pilot's license (civilian) with a different address than the driver's license, and some recently-postmarked mail with yet another address. He'd just have to track these places down and find out which one the keys would fit. Then he'd get some real clothes, some real food, and phone the SGC.
"Oh god, he has amnesia," Rodney choked. "That wasn't a database-downloading device after all."
"Do you feel all right, Colonel?" Teyla repeated.
"Right, of course!" Rodney snapped. "Your head, how's your head, does it hurt? Are you dizzy? Maybe you should sit down. There's a console in the other room where you could -- Ronon, give him a hand."
Ronon stepped forward again and Sheppard stepped back, snapping up his P-90 and flipping the safety off. "Nobody's going anywhere until I get some answers."
Everyone went very still. "Oh god," said Rodney again.
"Colonel, we are your friends," said Teyla warmly. "Ask us whatever you wish to know."
"He doesn't remember, he has no idea what's going on! Look, you're Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard, and --"
"I know who I am," Sheppard growled. "And I'm not any kind of colonel. Who are you people?"
"Right, right, if you've forgotten us you must still think you're a major."
"Actually, I think I'm --"
"Well, um, Major, this is Teyla, and Ronon, and I'm Dr. Rodney McKay. We're members of your team, your, uh, exploration team. You're the ranking military officer of a civilian-led expedition in, um, a place very far from home. Oh god, he's not going to believe any of this, is he?"
"All he needs to believe is we're not his enemies," Ronon growled, his eyes still fixed on the P-90.
"Ronon is correct. John, we are your friends and team members. You must trust us."
"Yes, right, we have to get you back to -- um, back home, and Carson -- Dr. Beckett, our medical doctor -- he can have a look at you, and maybe figure out -- oh, yeah, I'd better get some more scan data on this thing for him to work with." Rodney lifted his scanners, flinched as Sheppard's P-90 turned in his direction, then aimed the scanners with elaborately slow movements at the device on the wall.
"John. What can we do to help you trust us?" Teyla asked.
Sheppard had backed into a corner of the small room, his eyes flicking from one to the other as they spoke. "I'm not sure I should trust you. This all seems pretty far-out," he drawled. "But if you're supposed to be my friends, why don't you tell me something only a friend would know about me."
Rodney rolled his eyes. "Yes, because you always talk about yourself so freely. You're like an open book -- in Sanskrit!"
"You like to fly," Ronon rumbled.
"When we first met, you told me that you like football, and ferris wheels, and anything that goes faster than 200 miles per hour."
Rodney snapped his fingers. "Football! You love that game, that, that -- the college game, with the last-second pass --"
"Hail Mary," said Teyla.
"Doug Flutie," Ronon filled in.
"Yeah, that one!" Rodney spoke rapidly. "You also like Back to the Future. And you think DS9 was better than Babylon 5, which is just ridi-- Oh! And you like Johnny Cash. But you're a lousy guitar player."
Sheppard had relaxed a little, but he still didn't seem convinced. "Anyone could know those things about me just from talking with my old buddies. And you're supposed to have known me for how long?"
"Well, if you weren't such a close-mouthed bastard about your past--!"
"Dr. McKay," Teyla reproved gently. "I know a little more. I know about your friends Mitch and Dex, who wore colorful clothes and died in . . . Caboo?"
"Kabul," Rodney corrected reflexively.
"Khabour, actually," said Sheppard. His eyes narrowed at Teyla.
She tried again. "Your sixth teacher was Miss Watson?"
"Sixth grade," Sheppard said. "And how do you know that?"
"Oh, please, we told you, we're your friends! Teammates! Teyla's ali-- foreign, you can't expect her to remember every term exactly, but I think it's obvious she knows you pretty well."
"I'm still not convinced any of you know anything about me you couldn't get from reading my files."
"We go running together," Ronon put in suddenly. "You always start out with a sprint, and then you do some stretches. You say you have to be careful of your right knee, because it was injured a few years ago."
Teyla caught on. "In fighting, you favor your right side too much."
"Your left hook is good, but your left jab is weak," Ronon added.
"In the field, you always forget to look to your left," Teyla went on. "You miss people coming up on your 'eight,' as you put it."
"Like that," said Ronon, striking snake-fast. He snatched the P-90 out of Sheppard's grasp and twisted an arm behind his back. He grunted as an elbow hit his side, then Teyla was moving in to get Sheppard's sidearm and unclip the P-90 from his vest.
"Dammit!" Sheppard yelled, struggling ferociously. He twisted enough to knee Ronon's groin and pulled the Satedan's blaster gun free of its holster. But he fumbled the unfamiliar controls, and a moment later Ronon had him pinned face-down with his arms pulled back.
"Don't hit him, don't hit him!" Rodney shouted frantically. "The last thing he needs is a concussion on top of whatever that thing did to his brain."
"We are trying," Teyla said through gritted teeth as she tried to wrap a plastic tie around the wrists Ronon was holding behind Sheppard's back, "to secure him without hurting him."
"And he isn't making it easy," Ronon grunted, half-admiring as he leaned his knee into the small of Sheppard's back.
"Well of course he isn't! He probably thinks we're evil kidnappers or terrorists or something! We'll never get him back to Atlantis now."
"We'll keep him quiet," Ronon said. "You just worry about flying the jumper."
Sheppard went still. "Did you just say Atlantis? What kind of code name is that?"
"He's never going to believe us now," Rodney moaned.
"He will when he sees the jumper," Teyla promised.
"Sergeant Harriman speaking."
"Sergeant, you're the fourth person I've spoken to. I'm Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard, and I'm trying to reach General Landry."
"Landry, Hank Landry, the head of the SGC!"
"The SG what?"
"Okay, look, how about General O'Neill?"
"General O'Neill is not available at this time."
"But at least you admit you've heard of him. Is there another number where I can reach him?"
"I'm not authorized to give out --"
"Look, Sergeant, I don't think you heard me the first time. I'm Lieutenant Colonel Sheppard, and I need to talk to the General."
"Yes, sir, I did hear you, but I checked, and there's no LTC Sheppard on record with the Air Force."
"Major John Sheppard was dishonorably discharged in 2003."
"Oh, shit. This is worse than I thought."
"Excuse me, sir?"
"What about Colonel Carter, is she available?"
"Colonel Carter is not on base at this time."
"'Not on base' meaning -- okay, fine. We couldn't have a proper conversation over an unsecured line anyway. Look, just . . . tell the General I called. Whichever one it is. And give him the tape of this conversation. I'll call again tomorrow to talk to him."
"Sir, do you want the General to --"
John hung up and ran a hand over his stubbled face. He looked around the apartment, which was small and a little dingy, with threadbare rugs and mismatched furniture. "So much for this being a virtual reality I can control by concentrating hard enough," he muttered.
He stumbled to the bathroom, legs and back aching in a familiar way from surfing. Business done and hands washed, he stared into the mirror. His hair was longer, especially at the back, and his stubble was too far advanced given that he remembered shaving just a few hours ago.
He tilted his chin up and brushed his fingers over unblemished skin where an Iratus bug had given him a monster hickey two years ago. Then he pulled up his sleeves. The right arm had no blue mole where Ellia had fed on him and nearly turned him into an Iratus bug himself. The left arm was missing the matching gun grazes from the 10,000-year-old Wraith a year and a half ago, and from Rodney firing blindly just a couple of months ago.
On the other hand, his knee had the surgical scars from the chopper crash eight years back, and the heel of his left hand had the faint scar from the skateboarding accident when he was thirteen.
"So," he said to his reflection, the same face he had always seen in the mirror. "This is John Sheppard's body. But it isn't my body. Whatever's going on here is seriously screwed up."
He was still inclined to the virtual reality theory, but this world seemed a lot more complete -- and resistant to manipulation -- than the one created by the mist-aliens, or even the virtual environment on the Aurora. So whoever was trying to fake him out was really good at it, but he would figure a way around it sooner or later.
Or maybe, just maybe, this was real and even more screwed up than he thought. As unlikely as that seemed, he had to keep the possibility in mind. He had to play this as if it was real until he found the crack in the illusion.
He found a phone book in the kitchen and looked up the nearest internet cafe. He was going to do some searches until he found someone who could help him, someone who would listen.
"Right, then, Colonel." Carson snapped on a pair of gloves. "I understand you gave your team here a bit of trouble. You're not going to make this difficult for me, now are you?"
Sheppard's stiff-spined outrage had lasted until the jumper took off. At first he had insisted that they weren't really moving and the windshield was just some kind of flight simulator, until Rodney had turned down the inertial dampeners to let him feel their motion. Then he had wavered between disbelief and excitement -- mostly excitement. Apparently nothing persuaded Sheppard like flying. He had talked Rodney into demonstrating a few basic maneuvers on the way back to the Gate, but he couldn't convince them to untie him and let him take the stick. The request seemed like a good sign, though.
Sheppard had been silent since they came through the Gate, gazing around at the city thoughtfully as he was led to the infirmary. Now, sitting on a hospital bed with his hands still bound behind him, he gave an awkward shrug. "I can't say I believe everything these guys have been telling me, but it does seem too elaborate for a hoax."
"Elaborate it certainly is," said Carson, running an Ancient scanner over Sheppard's body.
"And it is not a hoax," Teyla added. She and the other members of the team were standing in a loose circle around the bed, waiting for Beckett to shoo them away.
But it seemed the doctor had something else in mind. "All right, Ronon, let him go now. I'm sure you and Teyla can stop him if he tries anything."
Ronon pulled out his largest knife, grinned at Sheppard's uneasy look, and sliced through the plastic ties holding his wrists. Sheppard pulled his hands forward and rubbed at them with a frown, straightening his watch and wristband while Beckett continued to look him over.
"I understand you've a touch of amnesia, Colonel, is that right?" Carson asked.
"I'm not a colonel," Sheppard said softly.
"Yes, he seems to have lost a few years," Rodney answered. "He knows himself, but not us, and --"
"All right, Rodney, I'd like to check him out for myself. Just a few questions, Colonel, to help us figure out where your head is at. Your name?"
"John David Sheppard."
"Date of birth?"
"July sixteenth, 1969."
"And what do you think is the current date?"
"September, uh, twenty-third, 2006."
Rodney gasped. "Oh, no."
"The current president of the U.S.?"
Teyla shifted closer to Rodney. "What is it?" she murmured.
"He knows the date today, and -- and the president. He doesn't have amnesia at all!" Rodney didn't bother keeping his voice down.
Sheppard canted an eyebrow at him. "How did I get here, then, and how come I don't know any of you?"
Rodney took two steps backward. "He's not our Sheppard!"
"What do you mean?" said Ronon, tensing into a ready stance.
"Rodney, please, I'm trying to conduct an examination here," Carson snapped. "And I assure you, this is our Colonel Sheppard. Look at this." He tilted Sheppard's chin up with one gloved finger and pointed at the puncture marks on his neck. "And if you would roll up your right sleeve, please?"
Sheppard dropped the hand that been feeling anxiously at his neck and pulled the sleeve back. "Eugh. Is that leprosy or something?"
"That's where you almost got turned into a --"
"Rodney!" Carson glared. "It's nothing, Colonel, just an oddly-pigmented scar, that's all."
"I keep telling you guys, I'm not a colonel!"
Carson sighed. "Right then, what is your rank and where are you stationed?"
"I'm not stationed anywhere. I was discharged three years ago. I fly a news helicopter out of San Diego."
They stared at him.
"See?" said Rodney stridently. "Not our Sheppard!"