When Elizabeth had first assumed control of Stargate Command, it was a terrifying thing. In all the discussions she'd mediated and all the negotiations she'd participated in, there had been lives at stake, yes, but she'd had to be clinical about it. Removed. Detached. Look at the numbers. In her heart of hearts, any loss of human life was unacceptable. But when the choice was between all-out war and a few casualties, she had to look at the numbers.
The numbers were terrifyingly simple. All human lives were of equal value. If she assigned each life a simple value of one, a thousand lives were worth more than twelve lives. Strike the deal that saves the thousand.
Stargate Command was the first time she'd be in charge of lives in a whole new way. She wasn't removed from the outcome, the mediator or negotiator. Her decisions would be putting people in danger - or not.
She wasn't sure whether she was relieved or disappointed when she was relieved of her command, because she'd known some of the people she'd be potentially sending to their deaths. Not everyone at the Mountain, but enough of them that the prospect of commanding them was overwhelming.
And then the IOA gave her command of the Atlantis Expedition. She met with the IOA's top advisers and their Atlantis committee, and she hand-picked every member of the expedition. She knew about Rodney McKay's citrus allergy and estrangement from his family, about Radek Zelenka's poor upbringing, about Aiden Ford's loving grandparents and cousin who was the sister he'd never had. She was responsible for every single one of them, and there was every chance that she would be leading them on a brief one-way trip.
She wondered how Daniel Jackson and Jack O'Neill had made it through the Stargate the first time without keeling over in terror.
She was just about sure the entire roster was filled when Shen Xiaoyi came to her with one last dossier.
Dr. John Sheppard, a brilliant mathematician. Had the strongest expression of the ATA gene they'd ever seen, could practically sneeze at an Ancient device and it came on. He'd solved a Millennium Problem and worked under the Mountain at the SGC for several years.
He was perfect for the Expedition.
Except...except he was deaf.
Elizabeth stared down at the photo of John Sheppard. He was smiling faintly, and he was handsome, looked perfectly normal. But he'd never been allowed off-world, and he'd been assigned an Air Force Major named Evan Lorne as both interpreter and protector.
Earth was interested in keeping him to work the Ancient Control chair.
But Atlantis - Atlantis needed him. With that kind of ability to interface with Ancient Tech, he'd be at the forefront of establishing connections with the city and its people. The Ancients would be more accepting, likely see Sheppard as one of them - if any of them were left.
Elizabeth thought of all the horrors she'd heard about missions on the other side of the gate, of foothold situations in the SGC itself. What right did she have, to risk this man's life for the slim chance that Atlantis or its citizens were viable assets and allies?
"Think about it," Xiaoyi said, and she walked away.
Elizabeth stared at the photo for a long time. Then she pushed Sheppard's file away and stood up to stretch her legs. The base was mostly quiet, most people bunked down against the cold that seemed to permeate no matter how high people cranked the heaters or how many layers they put on.
She walked through the empty halls, listening to the hum of machines, science happening while the scientists slept.
And then she heard a voice coming from one of the gyms where the marines trained.
"Remember, bring that punch up through the middle, and keep your elbow down. All your other punches are solid, but your back knuckle goes awry every time. And just on your right hand."
She didn't recognize the voice, so she prowled closer.
There was no reply, but then the man spoke again. "That was better. Don't forget your angles, either. If you turn your torso too much, you make yourself a bigger target, and your back hand has more to cover, which means the other guy has a better chance of slipping one past you. Again."
Elizabeth stepped into the doorway and saw - John Sheppard, shirtless, wearing a pair of basketball shorts, standing opposite a shorter man in BDU pants and a black t-shirt, dogtags glistening at his throat.
Major Evan Lorne.
Lorne signed while he spoke. "That's more like it. Always, cover your ribs." And he held up his hands.
John pummeled at them, lightning fast, broke off when Lorne lifted his chin.
"Very good. Now, let's see some elbows."
Elizabeth stayed in the doorway, watching them train. John was fast and strong for how lean he was, and Lorne was a conscientious teacher, seemed to know more about hand-to-hand than the basics every soldier had to know.
Elizabeth hoped Lorne's lessons were good enough. After she returned to her office, she sat down and signed the transfer order.
John Sheppard and Evan Lorne were coming to Atlantis.