Rodney’s presentation had been incomprehensible to John, but had been met with a standing ovation from the rest of the room. The closing speeches had been mercifully short and then it was all over and John was finally free.
As soon as the crowd had reached the reception room, a gaggle of Doctors and Professors had descended on Rodney - all wanting to fawn over him and offer their congratulations on his first published paper in over a decade. Rodney had been smugly glowing, the centre of attention. John caught the words ‘Nobel Prize’ and ‘ground breaking’ as he slipped away.
He raided the buffet and then set up camp by an out of the way serving table, still full of champagne glasses. Settling back, he watched; at first with amusement, and then with growing boredom. He was just contemplating finding the bar when the edge of his peripheral vision caught movement and he turned his head. The table shuddered a little as one of the scientists leant next to him – middle aged guy, fading hair, ill-fitting suit.
The guy leaned in conspiratorially. “Can you believe it?” he said, nodding to where Rodney was totally in his element, deriding some mousy, awestruck scientist. "McKay publishing again,” the guy said pointedly, voice low, when John raised his eyebrows in polite enquiry. “Everyone thought he was dead on the streets, and now it turns out he’s been working on some sort of top secret military project. And he’s married.”
“Really?” John drawled, torn between amusement and annoyance on Rodney’s behalf.
“Have you seen her yet? Is she hideous? She must be, she’d have to be pretty desperate to put up with McKay, everyone knows he’s a jerk. His sister’s a total hottie though, I met her once at a conference where I presented – uh. Never mind. I think she was quite into me. Is she here?” the guy asked, adjusting his bowtie as he peered around.
“I don’t think so,” John said, trying to smother the duelling urges to either laugh or deck the guy.
“Damn,” the guy said, and then as if looking at John for the first time, he turned fully towards him, offering his hand. “I don’t think we’ve met before. You’re not with the Institute of Hamburg are you? You look vaguely familiar. I’m Dr Malcolm Tunney,” he said, puffing up. “You might have heard of me? I’m doing ground breaking work on exotic particles.”
John raised an eyebrow at the proffered hand, and it was slowly withdrawn.
“I’m not a scientist,” he said, smiling and showing his teeth. He waited a beat and then added, “I’m here with Rodney. Colonel John Sheppard.”
It was satisfying to see the way the guy paled, blood visibly draining from his face. John lifted his hand and displayed his ring finger.
“Rodney’s hideous wife,” he added, and the guy staggered a little, putting a hand out to steady himself against the table.
“Oh – my word - I – I didn’t realise – I – “
Before the guy could draw breath to say another word, they were interrupted by Rodney.
“There you are! What are you doing? Is that steak?” he said, peering at John’s plate. “Huh, all they had left is sandwiches.”
“You snooze, you lose,” John said grinning.
“Oh very astute. Are you ready to go? If I have to spend one more minute with these cretins – “ he trailed off as he spotted Dr Tunney, still leaning against the table and watching them. “Hello, Malcolm,” Rodney said stiffly, his whole demeanour changing.
“Hullo, Rodney,” the guy replied faintly.
Rodney looked him over once and then turned back to John. “Let’s get out of here. I want at least one all you can eat Chinese meal while we’re still on Earth.”
Dr Tunney made a kind of choked off noise and John glared at Rodney.
“You know, I think I’m going to go and sit down,” Dr Tunney said, staggering off.
John folded his arms.
“Oh, no one’s going to listen to him. Besides, give it another two months and the entire project will be declassified,“ Rodney said, starting to turn away. “You coming?”
“Yeah, okay,” John relented with a sigh and followed.