"The anti-dart defence I told you about," John smiled slightly at McKay. "It's made of a particularly hard metal and shaped in such a manner that the displacement of the activating Stargate doesn't even touch it; people can walk through safely enough, but any darts trying to come here just crash straight into the fence."
"Nice," Lieutenant Satterfield nodded in approval. "It's like a primitive Iris; it bottlenecks the Wraith so that they have to come through on foot because the darts can't…"
"And here we are," John said, raising his hands as a group of soldiers suddenly appeared from either side of the metal structure in front of them, pointing weapons that resembled eighteenth-century revolvers at the group.
"Who are you?" one of the men said, stepping slightly forward to aim his gun more directly at John.
"I think you know who I am," John replied, turning to face the man directly.
"Phantom?" the man said, eyes widening in surprise as he looked at John, Atlantis BDUs underneath his trademark cloak and mask. "But your attire-?"
"I've adapted; things change and so must I, you know how it goes," John shrugged, smiling slightly under the mask as the rest of the Garthanian soldiers lowered their weapons. "These are my… associates; Doctor Rodney McKay and Lieutenant Alyssa Satterfield of Atlantis, and Specialist Ronon Dex of Sateda."
"Hello," Satterfield nodded at the lead Garthanian as she followed John's example and lowered her hands.
"Hey," McKay put in, while Ronon simply nodded at them.
"So," the Garthanian soldier looked curiously at John, "what brings you here?"
"Someone's been going around wearing a copy of my mask," John replied. "Anything you wish to tell me about that?"
To the man's credit, when faced with an angry Phantom he only flinched for a moment before collecting himself. "I'm afraid I can't be sure what you're-"
"Look," John held up his hand to cut the other man off, "I can appreciate that you rely on your secrecy to protect yourself from the Wraith, and I'd normally never do anything to violate that privacy, but this is a very important issue for me."
"We… understand that," the soldier said, looking at the man in the mask with a particularly grim expression. "But you must understand-"
"I understand that you have your reasons for duplicating my mask, and I assure you that I'm not here to ask you to compromise yourself any more than I've done by telling the people of Atlantis about you," John said, indicating the rest of the team. "What I want from you right now is simple; the address for the planet where you last saw the man who has a copy of my mask."
"You realise that he likely won't be there-" the soldier began.
"Of course not," John conceded. "But at least that planet might be able to tell me something more about where he's gone."
"You do not even want his name?"
"Any name he gave you is almost certain to be false, and I have a theory or two about that anyway…" John began, before another detail came to him. "Assuming you made the mask for this man to wear specifically, you can answer one question; is he missing a hand?"
"How- yes," the soldier said, looking at John in surprise. "His right, to be exact."
"Missing hand?" Satterfield looked at John with a new sense of apprehension. "But that means-"
"Yeah, there's one man with a grudge against me who fits that description very well," John nodded grimly, even as his attention remained on the soldier in front of him. "OK then; give us the gate address of the planet you last saw him on, and we'll take it from there."
In hindsight, practically diving into action to travel to a known enemy world probably wasn't the smartest decision John had ever made, but he was dealing with a planet that he had good reason to believe wouldn't be immediately dangerous and a very personal reason to get in there as quickly as possible. He'd dialled the address provided by the Garthanians as soon as they'd returned to the DHD, diving through the Stargate before the rest of the team could even try to talk him out of it, emerging to find himself in an old warehouse with a group of soldiers sitting in front of the Stargate.
It didn't take long for him to recognise at least two of the men as part of Kolya's latest group of mercenaries from the last encounter with Lucius; Kolya had always been his focus on those past missions, but that didn't mean he'd never registered who else was there. Even as the soldiers raised their weapons, John had already brought up his own gun, stunning two men and shooting the gun out of the hands of a third before diving forward to attack the other two more directly. He briefly heard the rest of his team come through the 'gate after him, but he barely paid attention to that as he struck one man in the face with his fist and kicked the other in the chest, knocking both down to the ground before Satterfield and Ronan took up position standing over the downed Genii.
"OK," Satterfield said, looking at her chosen target with what John hoped was feigned nonchalance from the woman he'd chosen to run Atlantis's equivalent of a secret service, "now that we've got that out of the way, could you maybe tell us where Kolya is?"
"And why should we do that?" the soldier retorted grimly. "You expect us to help you continue this sick impersonation of the Phantom?"
"Oh God; this again?" John rolled his eyes in exasperation. "Have you ever stopped to think about this? If I'm not the real Phantom, where is the original guy and why hasn't be objected to me doing this yet?"
"He's trapped in your city so you can interrogate-"
"And why?" McKay asked. "Why would we have bothered to do that any go to all the trouble of setting one of our own in that mask? We could have just told you he was dead rather than run the risk that you'd find out we were lying about something this big; why would we take a risk like that? We're trying to help you people deal with the Wraith here; why's it so impossible that the Phantom chose to help us?"
"Because the Phantom would side with natives of Pegasus over-"
"Look, can you just stop sprouting Kolya's rhetoric and think about this for a moment?" John protested. "I met you people when you were mounting an attack on the city that I've been protecting for years and your leader was talking about using its resources to benefit your people and only your people, while the Atlantis expedition were trying to use it to help everyone against the Wraith; I get that they don't do things your way, but that doesn't mean they're wrong."
"And you say we sprout rhetoric?" the man countered. "Kolya wants to make the Genii stronger, but you're just the lapdog of this expedition-!"
"I am the Phantom of Atlantis," John said, walking over to crouch down beside the downed soldier, glaring angrily at the man through his mask. "I'm in this galaxy to kick Wraith ass and help these people expand their understanding of the technology of their new city; you can believe I'm a fake if you want, but right now you need to understand that I am not your enemy unless you continue fighting alongside Kolya and his plans to ruin my reputation."
"We were just trying to-" the man began, before a bullet suddenly struck John in the back of the head, only to bounce harmlessly off his personal shield device. Getting back to his feet, John turned around to glare at the sight of ex-Commander Acastus Kolya standing in a door, wearing a long black cloak with a gun in his left hand and a long blade attached to the stump where his right hand had been.
"Impressive," Kolya nodded at John, as though they were only acquaintances who had just bumped into each other in a street, something silver gleaming from within the cloak before it was concealed by folds of cloth.
"Did you really think I wouldn't be prepared for something like that?" John asked, pulling out his own gun and drawing his sword as he glared at the other man, before his gaze settled on Kolya's right arm. "Interesting new limb."
"It felt appropriate," Kolya said.
"Appropriate?" Satterfield glared at Kolya. "This is just… it's ridiculous!"
"Ridiculous?" Kolya repeated with a cold glare. "What is ridiculous is that you continue to deceive so many with that impostor-"
"Oh, God, will you shut up about that, you ass?" John glared at the man even as he remained in a combat stance to act the moment Kolya tried anything.
"Calling you out on your abuse of the mythology of this galaxy's hero-"
"Seriously, do you actually believe any of that or are you just being a dick?" McKay cut in incredulously. "I mean, you were going to take me and Elizabeth as your slaves because I couldn't do something that I had already told you might not work-!"
"And yet the city still stands-"
"Because he had the idea that saved it!" McKay indicated the Phantom as the man in the mask still stared coolly at his foe. "And how did he do that? Because he's lived in Atlantis for almost two decades before any of us got there, because he understands more about the essentials of Ancient technology than anyone else even if I'm the one who gets how it works, because he has the most powerful form of the Ancient gene we've ever encountered… God, what will it take for you to accept that the Phantom of Atlantis chose to work with us over you?"
"You will never convince me of a lie-!" Kolya began.
"Seriously, shut up!" John yelled, firing a blast of energy at Kolya from his gun. The former Genii leader neatly ducked to the side to avoid the attack, but it distracted him long enough for John to get up close, with Kolya only just managing to parry the subsequent sword blow.
The next few moments were a blur of movement as John and Kolya slashed away at each other with their weapons, but John swiftly determined that taking this fight further would be an exercise in frustration at best; Kolya might be more limited in how he could move his blade, but he clearly had experience at sword-fighting where John acknowledged that he mainly used the weapon for the intimidation value. Exploiting Kolya's traditional overconfidence, John allowed himself to falter back for a moment, and as Kolya overstretched himself trying to stab John, John ducked under the attack and lashed out at Kolya's chest with a kick, knocking his would-be doppelganger off-balance long enough for John to get back to his feet and lash out at the man's sword-arm with such force that the artificial limb came completely away from the man's wrist.
"Count yourself lucky," John said, sheathing his sword as he looked coolly at the once-again one-handed Kolya. "I could have taken the other hand like I took your original one, but I'm trying to make a point here."
"And what 'point' could you have to make that I would wish to hear?" Kolya glared coolly at him, despite the indignity of his lost hand.
"The point that I am not the monster you're determined to think I am," John clarified. "I am not perfect, but I side with the Atlantis expedition because they are the best candidates to liberate this galaxy from the Wraith; the Genii are the best chance after that, but they lack the resources and unity to oppose the Wraith on the scale we'd need to stop them."
"And yet they woke the Wraith-!"
"Mistakes have been made, and I'd never deny that, but can you honestly say the Genii would never make mistakes themselves?" John cut the older man off. "Even if we don't agree on the definition of a mistake, can you tell with absolute honesty that the Genii have done everything properly?"
"We have never-"
"Considering who we're dealing with, you can't know anything for sure, and I'm not going to waste my time with that," John said, shaking his head briefly before he stood up. "But you can talk that over with Ladon and his men when we take you back."
"Back?" Kolya repeated with a new glare.
"Like I said, I'm not going to kill you," the masked man affirmed. "I've already taken your hand, and now that we have a better feel for what you're capable of, we can give the Genii guards some help to make sure that you stay-"
The sound of a pistol being cocked and fired from behind him prompted John to instinctively dive to the side, only realising after he'd jumped that he hadn't taken his position into account. The bullet that had been aimed at the back of his head had struck Kolya almost exactly in the centre of his face, shattering his nose and coming out the back of his head, leaving John to spin around and fire his energy pistol at the man who had just killed Kolya.
"Huh," McKay said, swallowing awkwardly at the sight of the bloody mess that had once been Acustus Kolya of the Genii. "Well… that was… gross."
"Takes him out of the picture, anyway," John said, his attention now focused on the man he'd just stunned unconscious. "Get his gun and set it aside when we take Kolya's body back; hopefully the Genii are advanced enough to confirm that's the gun that killed him."
"And," Satterfield added, stepping forward to move Kolya's cloak aside, "I think this is the mask he was using when pretending to be you, which at least gives us a bit more evidence that you're not the one doing whatever he's been doing since he started… well, doing this."
"Well," Elizabeth looked around the table with a slight smile, "I appreciate that none of us are going to mourn Kolya's passing, but at least we both provided enough evidence to redeem the Phantom's name and can answer honestly if anyone assumes that we just killed him to deprive the Genii of the trial."
"Keeps our diplomatic ties open?" John smiled.
"We're worrying about that when these people keep not telling us that Kolya got out of prison?" Ronon put in.
"From what Ladon told me when I spoke with him," Elizabeth said, disapproval obvious on her face, "some of his new advisors had recommended against telling us about Kolya's escape as it was felt that we would use it to undermine the Genii's authority."
"…What?" Satterfield looked at her in surprise. "But- but you and Sumner helped Ladon get into power in the first place… which is why some people were worried, right?"
"Exactly," Elizabeth nodded. "Apparently, some of the Genii were concerned that we'd perceive it as weak if we had to help them find Kolya after we helped them capture him in the first place."
"Great," John shook his head in exasperation. "Just once, can people put their egos aside and realise the important thing is to get the job done rather than score points?"
"Or stop complaining because we aren't doing things the way they'd like it done?" Satterfield said, looking over at John with a particularly pointed expression.
"Mmm?" John looked at her curiously for a moment, before his expression shifted. "Well… he did have a point…"
"Which is not something you should worry about."
"Because the way I've done things has worked out in your favour?"
"Hey, nobody asked you to focus on us-"
"And I get that, but I just…" John sighed. "I mean, I don't regret helping you all, but there was a time I went out every week to find a new planet to help, and now I'm only heading offworld when it's part of a schedule or because there's some specific mission…"
"You've changed the scale you were working on; that's not the same as you abandoning the rest of the galaxy according to Kolya's own interpretations," Satterfield corrected. "You chose to stop going out at random and work with us to protect the galaxy on a larger scale; just because you're no longer going out on random patrols to the rest of the galaxy doesn't make you a bad person."
"Captain Satterfield is right," Elizabeth nodded in assurance at her military commander. "You've done the best you could in unconventional circumstances, but your old way would have only worked for so long; maybe it had its advantages over your current situation, but I'd like to think this way isn't without its merits either."
"I… it's not that I don't agree with that, but I still…" John said, voice trailing off as he looked up at the ceiling and sighed. "It's never easy, is it?"
"Which is why we're here," Elizabeth nodded at him in solemn understanding. "I understand you wanting to help everyone you can, John, but you were one man dealing with the Wraith while they slept and virtually all of their ships were grounded and hidden; we might have done the wrong thing waking them up, but that doesn't change the fact that your old way wouldn't have worked in these circumstances. Besides, it's not like we've abandoned your old responsibilities; you still let us know if anything happens that might require us to defend a particular planet if you're in a position to do anything about it."
"And on that topic," Major Lorne said, looking at the three men with an unusually awkward expression from the usually confident major, "you're going to need to prep a jumper and get over to New Athos; Teyla and Doctor Keller are overdue for their check-up, and when we're talking about a lack of response from a planet this well-known to us…"
"It doesn't bode well for anyone, and needs the best of us to respond to it," John nodded in grim resignation. "All right; McKay, Dex, you with me?"
"Can't we get a break…?" McKay shook his head in frustration even as he stood up from the table and nodded in resignation. "OK; when do we leave?"
"In an hour," John nodded. "Reload all weapons and we'll be on our way."