Warnings: A couple of OCs die, but other than that, everyone remains safe, if not necessarily happy.
Word Count: 11 403
Prompt: 128. Cam. The end of the world was not supposed to be this mundane.
Notes: Written for the apocalypse_kree 2008 ficathon. My thanks to bluflamingo for beta reading.
Summary: Six months after aliens take over Earth, John and Rodney show up on Cam's doorstep with a plan to get rid of the invaders.
Cam raised his glass in a parody of a toast, and then downed the last harsh mouthful of whiskey. On the television behind the bar, the president was announcing the complete, unconditional surrender of the United States to the Azari Federation. They were one of the last countries to sign the formal submission; most of Western Europe had finished surrendering the week before.
"I never thought things would end like this," the bartender said, shaking his head, and Cam nodded in agreement and ordered another drink. On the television, an Azari representative began to speak reassuringly, melodically, extolling the bright future that United Earth could look forward to as a junior protectorate of the Azari Federation. She was exceptionally beautiful, Cam noted dispassionately. In his experience, all Azari were exceptionally beautiful.
An hour later he stepped outside, blinking in the bright sunlight, and paused to watch as people meandered down the street, popping in and out of shops, and chatting on cell phones as they balanced their parcels. Two teenage girls in sundresses walked by arm-in-arm, laughing. The adults were perhaps a little quieter than usual, but otherwise, life went on as normal. Three blackened craters, ten million dead, and the complete surrender of Earth all passed unnoticed in the light of everyday life.
The end of the world shouldn't be this mundane, he thought sourly as he turned for home.
Cam woke to the sound of persistent knocking, and rose with a groan. By the time he had thrown on some clothing and made his way to the front door, the knocking had progressed to pounding. He peered through the peephole, sighed in resignation, and unlocked the door.
"Took you long enough," McKay grumbled as he pushed his way in, whacking Cam in the leg with his bag as he passed. "You need to fix your doorbell."
Sheppard trailed behind McKay, wearing an apologetic half-smile. "Sorry to drop in unannounced."
"What…" Cam began, but McKay and Sheppard were already heading for the living room. Cam groaned quietly and followed them.
"What are you doing here?" he tried again as McKay dropped his bag on the floor with a thud and collapsed into an armchair.
"We're here to do what SG-1 and the rest of the SGC were apparently too incompetent to do," McKay replied, pulling out a laptop. "Free Earth."
Cam rubbed his face tiredly, wondering what time it was. "Okay. But why are you here?"
"You're the only person from SG-1 we could find," McKay said, sounding annoyed. "Teal'c went back to Chulak, and Jackson and Carter both seem to have vanished off the face of the planet."
"I'm not part of SG-1 anymore," Cam pointed out. "The Azari dissolved SG-1. And the SGC. And the Air Force. Six months ago."
"Yes, well, you were there when SG-1 first contacted the Azari. You know more about them than anyone else we can find. And after all, this is all your fault. We thought you might want to help."
"McKay!" Sheppard protested.
McKay looked up at Sheppard with an exasperated expression. "Look, if they hadn't made contact with the Azari, the Azari would never have decided that Earth would make a wonderful addition to their little Federation, and we would still be free. Plus you really have to wonder what happened on that mission that led them to suddenly decide to expand in our direction…."
"All right," Sheppard said.
"Well, it's a little strange! We fight off the Goa'uld, the Ori, the Replicators…and then suddenly these new aliens come of nowhere, have a short chat with SG-1, and decide to take over!"
"Enough," Sheppard said, sounding tired. He turned to Cam. "Sorry. He's a little upset about the whole thing."
"Yeah," Cam said. "I know the feeling." He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, trying to still the pounding of his head. Apparently he'd passed from drunk to hung over while he slept, which meant it was later than he’d thought.
"We were hoping you could give us a little help on the information front," Sheppard said. "But we'll go if you don't want us here."
"Oh, come on!" McKay said. Sheppard shot him a warning look.
Cam studied them for a moment: McKay in the chair—Cam’s chair—like he owned the place, Sheppard standing awkwardly by the doorway, ready to leave on Cam's word. He knew Sheppard from when they had crossed paths back in their Regular Air Force days, and more recently from the odd shared beer when Sheppard was Earthside. McKay he knew only from Carter's stories and Atlantis mission reports. He was absolutely certain that neither man was the type to give up, and in that case... "No, it's fine," he said. "Martial law's still in effect; you'll probably be arrested if you go outside." He stifled a yawn. If he was going to stay up, he'd need help. "Want some coffee?"
"God, yes," McKay said.
"So what's it been like?" asked Sheppard, turning his mug absently in his hands.
"Not all that different really," Cam said. He sipped his coffee, hoping the caffeine might help with the headache. Or at least wake him up. "You know, apart from the dissolution of all the world's militaries and the entire Stargate Program, and the introduction of martial law and universal surveillance. The travel restrictions are kind of a pain." He didn't mention the three dead cities; Sheppard could draw his own conclusions about that.
"What are you doing now?"
Cam shrugged. "The Azari made sure that all the military personnel who didn't join the new International Forces were taken care of. Apparently they thought that letting a bunch of ex-soldiers run around hungry was bad for social stability."
"Trying to win people over with false generosity," McKay scoffed. "I can’t believe you’re willing to accept handouts from them, Colonel."
"Technically the money’s coming from the U.S. government," Cam said, "or what’s left of it. And since I had my twenty years in, I’m due anyway."
"You didn't think about joining the IF?" Sheppard asked curiously.
"Nah, that seemed…” Wrong, he was going to say, but Sheppard was technically IF, even if Cam was sure he’d quit the minute they transferred him back to Earth. “I’ve put in my time,” he said instead. He looked up at Sheppard, but the other man didn’t seem offended. Cam risked a question of his own. “How are things on Atlantis?"
Sheppard grimaced. "Well, we now have our very own Azari observer."
"Oh yeah? What’s that like?”
Sheppard shrugged. "Most he just watches, except when he’s off beating up my marines in sparring matches. Technically they’ve incorporated us in to the IF, but they've mostly left us alone organizationally. According to Valesh, the Azari observer, we're 'an interesting microcosm.' Apparently they think they can learn about international relations by watching us."
"I'm kind of surprised you didn't secede.”
"Yes, because another ship raining fire down on Atlantis is just what we need," McKay said, crossing his arms defensively.
"Well, I would have thought that if anyone could hold them off, it'd be you," Cam drawled mock-seriously, pleased to have finally hit a weak spot in Rodney McKay’s armour.
"The Azari threatened to continue their attack on Earth if they didn't hand over Atlantis," Sheppard said quietly. "The orders came through pretty quickly after that."
"Yeah, I bet," Cam said. His amusement died abruptly. He hadn’t heard about that threat. "So they just let you come back to visit?"
"It’s not that different from any other military,” Sheppard said. “We’ve got a week’s leave. Thought we'd see if there was anything we could do while we’re here."
"Speaking of which," said McKay, "we might want to start working on that. A week isn’t a long time to free a whole planet, even for me. Colonel, maybe you can start by telling us what's already been tried."
"I assume we fought back when the Azari first arrived? You know, before offering them our complete, unconditional surrender and letting them dismantle our military and the Stargate Program and God knows what else."
Right. "They came in with a single ship," Cam said slowly, trying to put the desperate, rushed, brainstorming meetings and messy battles into some semblance of order. "We didn't detect them until after Taipei, Beijing, and New York had been destroyed. Their first communication was a demand for our surrender. We had Apollo and Odyssey here, each with a full complement of 302s. We attacked, but were unable to penetrate their shields. They returned fire, crippling both ships, and indicated that if we didn't surrender within twenty-four hours, they were prepared to destroy more cities. The surrenders began coming in a few hours later."
"They destroyed three cities without warning, and then only crippled the ships attacking them?" McKay said skeptically.
"That is a little odd," Sheppard agreed.
"Maybe they were hoping to save the ships for the IF," Cam said dryly. "Figured we had cities to spare."
"Did you try the drones? O'Neill should have been good enough to operate the platform."
"Yes, we tried the drones."
"And I assume Carter tried to modify the Odyssey's weapons to compensate for the frequency of their shields?"
"She tried that. She tried everything, McKay," Cam said, massaging his temples. He could feel his headache intensifying. "We all tried everything."
"Then obviously a direct attack won't work," McKay said. "We'll have to take an indirect approach. Target their ship first, so they can't take out any more cities, and then we can go after their people on the ground. You know, this would be easier if you'd joined the IF. I don't suppose you have any contacts with them?"
"Just the two of you," Cam said mildly. Most of the military had resigned rather than join the IF. Very few people were inclined to serve their invaders, however benign they claimed to be. He’d heard that some of his contemporaries had since rejoined in order to keep an American presence in the IF when it became clear that soldiers from other countries were joining up, but as far as he knew, none of them were from the SGC.
"We don’t count," McKay said impatiently. "We have no right to access anything on Earth.”
"There must be another way,” Sheppard said.
"I don’t think the Azari let just anyone on their ships."
"No, and that includes IF members," Cam said. "No one gets on board but them."
McKay and Sheppard exchanged looks.
"Then I guess we'll have to…." Sheppard said.
"Or we could…."
"Maybe," McKay agreed, suddenly thoughtful.
An intense wave of longing for his own team--for the chance to experience that nearly telepathic connection again--washed over Cam. He closed his eyes briefly, giving himself just a second to remember, then ruthlessly shoved the feeling aside.
"Maybe what?" he asked, focusing.
McKay shook his head as if to clear it. "Never mind. We're going to need a way to get close to one of the Azari. Preferably one who will be returning to their ship soon afterwards."
"They're pretty careful about who gets close," Cam said. "There have been a few assassination attempts."
"Any of them work?" Sheppard asked.
"There must be other people who get close to them," McKay said. "There are a couple of them in each capital, right? So there must be some minor civil servants who get to see them."
"Yeah," Cam said, "probably."
"So then all we have to do is sneak into the White House," Sheppard said sardonically.
"There are Azari assigned to the stargate as well," Cam said. "You shouldn't have any trouble getting into the Mountain; they're expecting you."
"No, but we'd have to get near one of the Azari without being noticed," McKay said. He frowned. "Or maybe not. I assume the Azari have some sort of transporter system to get to and from their ship?"
"No," Cam said. "They use shuttles."
"No transporter?" McKay asked, obviously surprised.
Cam shook his head. "Something about their shields, I think."
McKay looked at Sheppard, eyes bright. "Do you think...?"
"It should still be there," Sheppard said. "If they followed protocol."
"That would make it…"
"We'd have to…"
"Yes, yes." McKay waved away the objection. "But that would still be easier than…."
"Can you get some sort of fake technician ID that will get you into the Mountain?" McKay demanded, turning back to Cam. "I'd make it myself, but I’m a little out-of-date on what passes for identification there these days, what with the invasion and all."
"I thought you were just here for information," Cam said, suddenly overcome by a childish urge to be difficult. It was better not to make things too easy, he told himself. Easy might raise their suspicions, make them wonder why he wasn't doing more on his own. Better to act like he'd given up.
"Seriously, Colonel, are you really telling me you're going to pass up a chance to correct your failure and get rid of the Azari?"
"So far I haven't heard anything to suggest that you're going to be able to do that," Cam said pointedly.
"Just because SG-1 failed doesn’t…"
"Think about it," Sheppard interrupted. "We could really use you. We won't be doing anything for a few days; we'll have to put a few things together first."
"All right," Cam said, already knowing what his eventual response would be. He hesitated. "Do you need a place to stay?" he asked, trying not to sound as reluctant as he felt.
Sheppard shook his head. "McKay still has an apartment in town. We'll stay there."
Cam nodded, trying not to let his relief show. He glanced over at the VCR clock. 07:00. Curfew was over. Sheppard followed his gaze and smirked knowingly.
"Come on, Rodney," he said, standing. "We'd better get started."
Cam saw them to the door.
"We'll be in touch," Sheppard said. He handed Cam a piece of paper. "New cell number, in case you need to contact us."
Cam nodded and shoved the paper into his pocket. He waited until he saw their car pull away, then dry-swallowed some aspirin and headed back to bed.
The message came through as soon as they dialed the gate, before they even sent in the MALP.
"Do not enter the wormhole! Our portal is shielded; anyone who attempts to cross to our world will die."
"It seems to be an automated message, sir," Walter said. So they held back the MALP and waited.
Despite the inauspicious start, negotiating passage proved easy enough, with the Azari indicating that they were more than happy to receive guests as long as those guests didn't consist of an invading army.
The Azari homeworld was as high tech as they had expected from their introduction. Their hosts, House Lal, took them on a tour of their capital, a glittering city of crystal and silver that had Earth cities all beat for beauty, though Cam personally thought it was a bit impersonal. The Azari came across as very friendly, though they evaded the issue of a technology exchange every time Sam brought it up.
Three days in, their hosts mentioned the ball. It sounded a little more formal than Cam's preferred style of party, but it also meant that SG-1 would get to meet members from some of the other Azari Houses. Jackson had unraveled enough of their economic system by then to suggest that meeting with the other houses might be wise, since each one seemed to handle trade issues independently. Sam still hadn't made any headway on accessing Azari technology, and Cam had seen demonstrations of energy weapons that made a Jaffa staff weapon look like a child's toy, so meeting other potential trade partners seemed like a good idea.
They agreed to go to the ball.
Cam paused in front of the door, studying the peeling brown paint as he tried to recall this week's pattern. Three, then two, he decided, and knocked. The door opened and Cam looked up at the scowling giant in front of him. The scowl relaxed as he recognized Cam.
"Everybody's here," Jason said, standing aside to let Cam in.
"Good," Cam said, squeezing past. He headed for the living room, Jason following behind him like an oversized shadow. Jason took up his usual post in the doorway, ignoring the chairs, while Cam sat down at the table.
There were seven of them altogether. That was two over the number Suzette had calculated as ideal for a resistance cell, but as Praveema had observed practically, it was hard to find five people with all of the necessary skills, and Suzette, whose skills were mostly oriented toward research and strategy, was forced to agree.
Cam looked around the table, examining the others as he waited for them to wind up their conversations. Eli and Brad were sitting together, as usual, and were huddled close, speaking in low tones. Suzette was over by Alec, both of them with laptops out, tapping away. Praveema sat between the two groups, opposite Cam, serving the same mediating role. She was leaning over, whispering to Suzette, but straightened up when Cam looked at her, offering him a slight, ironic smile. He nodded in return, one ex-Air Force officer to another.
Cam turned back to Brad, trying to read the man’s posture and expression, hoping to figure out what he had planned. Cam found working with the ex-marine somewhat akin to what he imagined riding a tiger was like: useful, but only as long as Cam was able to maintain control. Unfortunately, Eli’s addition to the group--and his near-worshipful attachment to Brad--was bolstering Brad’s ego and wearing away his already limited respect for Cam and Praveema. He’d never had much for the others.
Brad and Eli had finally finished their conversation. Cam looked over at Brad.
"You called the meeting."
Brad nodded and looked around the group. "First, I'm happy to report that our most recent missions have been successful. Eli and Suzette were able to obtain a full range of weapons from the storage locker Suzette identified, including some C4. Furthermore, Praveema in her role as double agent has managed to acquire all of this month's basic passwords for the D.C. office and the local IF base."
"You could have told us that at the regular meeting on Friday," Cam said.
"Yes, well." Brad took a deep breath. "Some of us have been talking. We think it's time to shift targets, and our recent acquisitions have created the perfect opportunity to…."
"Shift how?" Cam interrupted.
"All of our attacks on Azari officials have failed," Brad said. "We can't touch them; their tech is too good. But there really aren't that many of them, and we've been thinking...if we start taking out the collaborators, they're not going to be able to run things on their own. With these new codes, we can do some major damage."
A chill ran up Cam’s spine. "You want to target civilians?" he said disbelievingly.
"I think they gave up their right to safety when they decided to collaborate with the enemy," Brad said. "Let them see how little their masters can do to protect them, and maybe next time the Azari will have more trouble recruiting traitors. There aren't enough Azari to rule alone; with the collaborators gone they'll either give up or people will wake up when chaos takes over and help throw them out."
Beside Brad, Eli was nodding in agreement. Cam flicked his eyes over the others, trying to detect where they stood. He thought he caught a hint of distaste from Praveema, but Suzette was entirely expressionless and Alec hadn't looked up from his computer.
"That's not what we're here for," Cam said firmly. "We aren't terrorists."
"Yeah, and look where it's gotten us," Brad said. "We've been at this for four months and we've accomplished absolutely nothing."
"Terrorism might be the only way," Suzette said. "History shows us that. It might be different if we had access to allies of some sort, but resistance movements typically don't have much success without outside help. This might give us a chance."
"Four months isn't very long," Praveema said. "Other resistance movements…."
"We need to do it before people get used to the Azari," Brad interrupted. "If we wait too long, they'll forget what it means to be free, and the Azari will change so much that we'll never get back to where we were. There's already talk that they're going to dismantle the government, set up a new world order. How can we go back from that?"
"Plus, people are suffering now," Eli said. "They've placed thousands of people in re-education centres. They say it's just to help with the unemployment problem, but you know it's not going to stop there. And what about those college students who were shot by the IF soldiers for being out after curfew?"
"For being out after curfew with guns," Cam corrected. "Look…"
"Our constitution…" Brad began.
"I’m not saying I agree with them," Cam said, holding up a placating hand. "But we aren’t talking about random attacks, either. If we start targeting civilians without cause, it will turn the public against us. We should be focusing on propaganda. If these centers are as bad as you think, we can collect the evidence and get it out to the public."
"That won't do any good," Suzette said, tucking a loose strand of blonde hair behind her ear. "If people weren't willing to fight when we were I invaded, I don't think they're going to fight over a few photos. Not until they're the ones being dragged off to the camps."
"I thought they were just centers," Cam said dryly.
"They always start small," Suzette said ominously.
"I agree with Cam," Praveema said. "We're not at a point where we should be targeting civilians; people aren't ready for that. Besides, many of the people working with the Azari are doing so because they see it as their duty, they think they can minimize the damage. They aren't necessarily happy about being invaded."
"Then why aren't they here, like you?" Eli asked.
"Maybe they're in a different cell," Praveema said evenly, meeting his gaze.
"Take a vote," Brad said. "Change targets: yes or no." He wrote down his own vote, then ripped off the page and passed around the pad. Cam wrote down "no," then folded his paper and passed it to Brad.
Brad counted up the seven pieces of paper. "Three for, four against," he said, throwing down the last vote. "So we keep doing the same old thing." He stood up and stalked away from the table. Eli and Suzette followed behind him.
Praveema lingered. "We need some success soon," she said to Cam, "or they're going to act, with or without our consent."
"I know," he said grimly. If he couldn't generate success with their current strategies, he was going to have to come up with some new strategy that would divert the others from the idea of directly targeting collaborators. It was an exhausting thought.
Praveema left with Jason following close behind her, as silent as always. Cam waited until he heard the front door close, then stood and stretched. Alec still sat at his computer across from Cam, typing away. Cam wasn't sure he ever left the hideout. Cam walked around to him.
"Thanks for the vote of confidence."
Alec looked up, dark eyes anxious. "I didn't sign on to kill people," he said. "I sometimes wonder sometimes if Brad is right, though. Maybe that is the only way."
"Maybe," Cam admitted. "But we can't go back once we start that kind of fight. I think it's too early to give up on other approaches."
"Listen, I need some fake ID," Cam said. "Something that will get me into Cheyenne Mountain."
"Intelligence gathering," Cam said. "Possible new strategy. I'd appreciate it if you didn't tell the others; I don't want to get their hopes up until I know whether it will pan out."
"It's dangerous to go in there without backup," Alec said.
"I'll be fine," Cam said, infusing his tone with all the reassurance he could muster. "Your ID cards are always perfect."
"It's just a quick surveillance job," said Cam.
Alec nodded reluctantly. "I need two days. Do you want to be IF or…"
"Just a technician," said Cam. "Someone easily overlooked."
"Sure," Alec said, turning back to his computer.
"Great," Cam said, clapping him on the shoulder. He checked his watch as he headed out. 17:00. Late enough for a drink.
McKay and Sheppard showed up on his doorstep that evening with Thai take-out. Cam was expecting them, so he'd limited himself to two rounds at the bar, with plans for more once they left.
"Any progress?" he asked.
"Yeah," Sheppard said, spooning spicy eggplant onto his plate. "We went back to the Mountain, and found the 'jumper."
"The one they brought in from Atlantis to study?" Cam asked, vaguely remembering the excitement in the labs.
"The Azari don't have it under guard?"
"They don't know it's there," McKay said gleefully, setting his fully loaded plate down on the table.
"They managed to alter the records before they surrendered the SGC," Sheppard said. "As far as the Azari know, the 'jumper was moved to Area 51 where it was destroyed in an accident."
"The Azari have had that facility for nearly six months. Are you saying they haven't found it yet?"
"The SGC came up with some pretty creative hiding spots," Sheppard said, smirking.
Cam contemplated where in the SGC a puddle jumper could be hidden without risk of discovery for six months, and then mentally shrugged. During his time at the SGC, he’d generally angled to spend as much time off-world as possible. He certainly didn’t know every nook and cranny of the base.
"Okay. So what's the plan?" he asked, poking halfheartedly at his food.
"We figure we can cloak the 'jumper, then follow the Azari shuttle right onto their ship," Sheppard said.
"I managed to download some schematics of the Azari ship," McKay said. "I think I can write a program that will activate their own self-destruct, and lock it so that they can't shut it off."
"They had that data available at the Mountain?" Cam said skeptically.
Sheppard swallowed a mouthful of green curry chicken. "We spent a lot of time hacking into IF computers."
"They've been modifying the Apollo to fit their own specifications," McKay said. "The set-ups should be similar."
"And if that doesn't work, there's always strategically placed C4," Sheppard said.
"I should be finished the program tomorrow," McKay said. "We can go tomorrow night."
Sheppard shook his head. "We'd have a hard time explaining what we were doing there if they caught us wandering around at night. We've waited six months, we can wait an extra day."
"All right," Cam said.
"Does that mean you've finally recognized that maybe we're right and there is a chance we could drive off the Azari?" McKay.
Cam shrugged. "Maybe it'll work, maybe it won't. If it doesn't, I want to be there to say 'I told you so.'"
Sheppard cut off McKay’s impending tirade with a gesture. Cam thought he could detect a hint of amusement in Sheppard’s eyes, and suppressed his own smile at McKay’s furious expression.
"Did you have any luck tracking down that fake ID?" Sheppard asked.
"I've got a line on that," Cam said. "Should be ready in a couple of days."
"Good timing," Sheppard said.
"Yeah," Cam agreed. He lifted a forkful of rice. "Good timing."
Cam pulled out his cell phone as soon as Sheppard and McKay left, and hit speed-dial. Sam answered on the third ring.
"Cam. How are you?"
Her voice was warm, but there was a cautious note beneath it. He knew where that came from, and winced at the memory of their last conversation. He'd sworn off drunken phone calls after that. No point in worrying her.
"Good," he said, projecting cheerful soberness. "Keeping busy. You?"
"Spending lots of time in the lab," she said. "And a little in the field."
"Yeah," he said, pacing a few steps across his living room. "Me too. Have you heard from Jackson recently?"
"Not really. Last I heard, he was heading off to Africa for a while."
"He should enjoy that."
"He deserves a break," she said.
"Don't we all. Speaking of traveling, McKay and Sheppard are here."
"Yeah. They have a plan for getting rid of the Azari."
There was a moment of silence. "Do you want me to come up?"
"Nah," he said, "I've got it covered. But maybe you can take a look at McKay's work. He and Sheppard are planning to use a puddle jumper to sneak onto the Azari ship, then trigger the ship's self-destruct."
"That might work," she said thoughtfully. "But how did McKay get access to….?"
"Apparently they're retrofitting Apollo to Azari standards."
"Right. I heard about that. Do you have a copy of his code?"
"Not yet. He's not finished."
"Send it to me when he is and I'll take a look. See if it'll work."
"I'll do that. Thanks, Sam."
"Sure," she said. "Take care of yourself, Cam."
"You too, Sam."
He pressed off, then set the phone down on the side table and picked up the bottle of whiskey.
House Lal had given SG-1 very nice rooms--suites, really--in one wing of the main building. Their accommodations were a nice balance of comfortable efficiency (once Cam got used to how the toilets worked) and breathtaking luxury. Among their other welcome features, the rooms locked from the inside, which was why Cam was surprised when he woke the night before the ball, heavy and groggy, to discover that he wasn't alone.
He didn't recognize the woman standing at the foot of his bed; could barely make out her silhouette in the darkness. She glided toward him and sat gracefully on the side of his bed, pressing him down as he struggled to sit up. He fell back, realizing suddenly just how strong the Azari were.
"Be still," she ordered softly, hand still resting on his chest. The scent of her perfume--spicy, alien flowers--enveloped him as she leaned closer. A wave of nausea rolled through him, and he tried again to sit up and shake her off. She captured his wrists in one hand and held them easily, pushing him down, then reached out with her other hand.
"There's no point in fighting," she said soothingly. Her fingers brushed against his hair. "Your drink was drugged. Telemin." She pressed more firmly against his temple, and he had to close his eyes as the room began to spin. "A useful drug; not only does it act as a sedative, it also alters the balance of your brain chemistry and lowers the usual defenses." Cam felt the first tendrils invade his thoughts. "You're going to be very useful to us, Colonel." He blacked out.
Cam was still working on his coffee-and-aspirin breakfast when Sheppard showed up.
"What's going on?" Cam asked.
Sheppard shrugged and leaned against the doorframe. With his posture and hair and black leather jacket, he looked distinctly unmilitary, and Cam ran a hand through his own regulation-short hair in response.
"McKay's locked in his apartment coding. He's going to stop by later to go over the plan with us, but since I'm pretty useless at this part and McKay's pretty unbearable while he's doing it, I thought I'd go out and see the new Occupied Earth for myself." He looked at Cam expectantly.
Cam nodded and ignored the hint. "I don’t know how you put up with him."
"Oh, McKay’s alright," Sheppard said, "as long as you know how to handle him and when to leave him alone. You know, I was kind of hoping for a tour."
"Sorry, can't do it. Errands to run."
"I'll come with you."
"It's not my day to drive," Cam said. "I'm going to be walking everywhere."
"I've hiked over half of the Pegasus Galaxy," Sheppard said dryly. "I think I can handle Colorado Springs."
"I thought you had 'jumpers for exploring Pegasus."
"Only for very special trips," Sheppard said. "Ronon gets cranky if he doesn’t get enough exercise, and you usually don’t want a cranky Ronon on a diplomatic mission. Though occasionally it's won us some trade concessions…."
Cam felt a reluctant smile curl his lips. "All right. Let me get my jacket."
At the last minute, he grabbed his sunglasses too. It wasn't that bright out, but the aspirin hadn't kicked in yet, and he knew from experience that it would only take the edge off of his hangover-induced headache.
The sidewalks, which hadn't been designed to handle this much foot-traffic, were crowded. Beside them, the streets were nearly empty, with just enough cars going by to convince people that walking on the streets was a bad idea.
Cam wove his way through a group of teenage boys and around some quietly chatting women, with Sheppard following close behind him.
"So you're really retired?" Sheppard asked, falling into step beside him as they finally hit a clear patch.
"I teach at the local flight school, sometimes," Cam said. "Some people get a thrill out of knowing their instructor used to fly F-16s. Keeps me occupied."
Sheppard rolled his eyes, whether at the thought of instructing weekend enthusiast civilian pilots or the thought of instructing the type of people who were excited to be trained by a former fighter pilot, Cam wasn't sure. Either way he agreed.
"How often do you get to drive?" Sheppard asked, gesturing at the nearly empty street.
"One day a week," Cam said, "as long as I can find at least one other person to share the car with."
Sheppard nodded. "It's a good tactic for limiting the capacity to fight back. Harder to organize, harder to communicate. Especially if you can't drive alone."
"I imagine the cameras help with that too," Sheppard added, nodding toward one of the ubiquitous Azari surveillance drones.
"The cameras aren't especially good at preventing things," Cam said. "Too much information to analyze it all. Mostly they're good for catching people afterward."
"So you're saying we don't need to walk a mile out of the way and then crawl up your front walk to avoid being caught on camera?" Sheppard asked, deadpan.
Cam felt an involuntary laugh escape him. "You didn't."
"Well, we didn't crawl," Sheppard admitted. "We did make sure we avoided the cameras, though."
"How'd you manage that?" Cam asked, genuinely curious. "They keep the drones moving on a random schedule."
"McKay hacked the system and programmed them all to avoid the path between the SGC and your neighbourhood. He really did add on an extra mile, too. He was afraid a direct route would be too obvious."
“Is that how you made it to my place past curfew?”
“That, and a lot of black clothing and sneaking around,” Sheppard agreed. “Probably should have waited until morning, but it was the middle of the night by the time they finally released us, and…”
“They let you out of the Mountain after curfew?”
“Sent us to McKay’s apartment in an official car. We waited until they left, then headed over to your place, dodging cameras all the way.”
"You're going to be on camera today," Cam pointed out.
"Well, I figured it would look suspicious if we're never on camera," Sheppard said. "And we're not doing anything today that they can't know about. If they even bother looking."
“They’ll be able to connect us now,” Cam said.
Sheppard shrugged. “Lots of people know we know each other. They’d suspect you and us regardless. Besides, it won’t matter if Rodney’s plan works.”
They turned the corner toward the supermarket. At the intersection ahead, he spotted a small group of armed IF soldiers, checking the papers of each person who passed by. Beside him, Sheppard tensed.
"They weren't here last night," he said quietly.
"They only come out when there's been a problem," Cam said. "Though they're defining more things as problems now that the IF is growing." He reached into his pocket for his wallet, and pulled out his ID card. "Did they give you a card before they turned you loose?"
"Yeah," Sheppard said, reaching into his jacket.
The presence of the IF soldiers had clearly cast a pall over the crowd. All chatter had stopped; the people waited in silence to have their cards inspected, and then walked on in silence after they were cleared. Beneath the silence, Cam could sense their fear, and a familiar wave of guilt washed over him.
A hand brushed Cam’s arm. "It's not your fault," Sheppard said in a low tone. "Like you said, you did everything you could."
"Yeah. Sure." The words left a bitter taste in his mouth. He glanced over at Sheppard, who still looked concerned. Careful, Cam warned himself. He forced a smile. "Want to grab some lunch?" He could use some food anyway. Something greasy, to balance the beer and whiskey of the night before.
"Sure," Sheppard said, looking relieved.
"Great," Cam said, turning a corner so that they out of sight of the IF soldiers. "I know a place."
The ball was extravagant. "Fancier than the prom queen's wedding," Cam said to Sam, clinking glasses. She smiled at him, then took a sip of her wine and looked across the room at the flow of elaborately dressed people, each in proper House colours. Cam took a deep breath and tried to tell her about the previous night, about the strange visitor, but his throat closed and he couldn't speak. He felt his hand steal toward his pocket, caressing the miniature gun he'd found in there that morning as he dressed. Sam looked him quizzically as he tried once again to speak, and he found himself telling her a joke about his grandma's church socials that made her laugh. She wasn't going to notice, he realized, and knew he'd have to try the others. He headed over to where Vala (dressed in an elaborate gown that Cam was convinced she'd made up because no culture could actually have formal wear that revealing) was winding up Daniel (dressed in an Azari-provided tux) while Teal'c (also dressed in a tux, oddly enough) looked on in amusement. Cam tried to bring up the strange woman in his room, failed, and decided to try to talk around her instead.
"Everyone get a good night's sleep?" he asked. "Nothing strange happen?"
"What kind of strange?" asked Vala, and Daniel and Teal'c turned to look at him as well, curious and mildly concerned, but it was too late…his target had entered the room in all his House Basen finery, and suddenly Cam realized he had a target, and knew what the gun was for, and the compulsion was unbearable. He took four careful steps away from his team, getting them out of the line of fire, and pulled out the gun. Around him he heard gasps and the sound of other weapons being drawn, and Daniel and Vala yelling, but it didn't matter. Nothing mattered but the target. Gritting his teeth, fighting as hard as he could, Cam spun, aimed the tiny weapon, and fired.