A few miles outside of Baltimore, a small planetarium was coming gently to life with the death of the muggy day. The calm of the sunset shining through the window was disrupted when a small boy burst through the doors. Short and mop-haired, he sported a pair of coke-bottle glasses and a ‘Star Wars’ T-Shirt. He called out for someone named ‘Ray’ several times as he ran through the building. He finally found an old man sitting beside the main projector of the planetarium itself. “Why didn’t you answer me, Ray?” he asked.
“Because then you’d have known I was here, Anthony,” was the gruff reply. He didn’t mind, though. Ray was always gruff. But he kept coming back because Ray knew EVERYTHING about outer space. And Anthony wanted to know everything about space.
Ray watched out of the corner of his eye as the kid wandered over to the control panel. “What’s the show tonight, Ray?”
“Dangers of Outer Space.”
“Aw, no, Ray. There’s no dangers, just risks. And lots of cool STUFF!”
With his attention on the kid, Ray never saw just what started the fire. Suddenly half the projector was shooting sparks. He fell back, across the floor. From there, he watched as the entire projector started to fall over onto him. Anthony turned around at the sound of the crash, to see his favorite astronomer trapped under a large mechanical mess. He ran, and tried to lift it off his leg.
“Get out, kid. The fire’s spreading, get help.”
“I won’t leave you, Ray!” he replied but was too small to shift the metal frame. He never considered that the fire was starting between him and the only exit, or that it was spreading to block escape. But Ray was well aware of that fact.
Anthony was still trying to get his friend free when he felt a strong grip on his arm. A very strong grip, for a man as old as he thought Ray was. Ray drew him inexorably towards his face. In the firelight, Anthony thought he saw the old man’s eyes glowing. Then with a voice like something out of a bullhorn Ray said “We both agree. We will not be the cause of your death.” Something came out of Ray’s mouth, and there was a brief pain in Anthony’s neck. Then he stood straight up, turned his back on Ray, and walked out of the small burning theatre. Ray sagged beneath the projector as the flames rose.
It was the summer of 1978.
Kate and Tony entered NCIS headquarters to find the bullpen fully occupied. Magee, Abby, Ducky and a few other agents were watching the big screen. On it, a NASA channel broadcast of the latest space shuttle launch was concluding.
“What’s going on, Ducky?” asked Kate.
“It’s very exciting, Kate. The flight surgeon on this mission is a former student of mine.” the medical examiner replied. “He’s conducting some experiments I helped design.”
“What kind of experiments?” Kate asked Dr. Mallard, but Abby spun around to respond.
“It’s like way cool dress rehearsals. He’s going to operate on dead bodies to see how they should set up surgeries in orbit.”
“Cool,” remarked Tony. “Now, how many corpses can you fit on one shuttle?”
“Oh, not the whole corpse, Tony,” said Ducky, “just prepared sections with the requisite medical issues. Things that have to be at least addressed before a patient can face up to the stresses of reentry. There’s a head with skull trauma, and bits of bone embedded in the brain. There’s a leg with a compound fracture, a torso with shattered ribs, a few legs with-“
“They cut up some bodies so they can take them in orbit and cut them up some more?” Tony was a little queasy. “Somehow, that’s worse than whole corpses.” He sat at his desk. Ducky followed him across the bullpen, trying to ease his feelings.
“Oh, it’s all in the name of science, Tony. Nothing new, really.” Ducky leaned on Tony’s desk, to look him in the eye. “Haven’t you ever wondered, when I examine a corpse left in the wild, and can say things like how long it takes for worms to grow in someone’s eye sockets, or how long it takes alley rats to eat away someone’s face… How do you think I know these things?” Tony’s eyes never left Ducky’s, but he slowly raised a small paper sack in his hand towards the other TV watchers.
“Anyone want a roast beef sandwich? I lost my appetite.” Ducky grabbed the bag, winked at Tony, and walked off.
“Did I ever tell you,” Tony asked, trying to escape the previous conversation, “That when I was a kid, I wanted to go into space?”
“Let me guess,” Kate smirked, “You wanted to be Kirk? A woman in every orbit?”
“No,” he corrected her, “_I_ wanted to be Sulu. But aside from that, I got deep into the whole exploration thing. Expanding the boundaries of human knowledge, all that. There was this guy at a planetarium near my house. He was a grouch, but he knew everything there was to know about space. He even knew stuff no one else suspected. Got me hooked on space and stuff at an early age. I spent a lot of time bugging him about space, and stars, and planets and…oh, everything beyond lunar orbit.”
Magee leaned forward at his desk when Tony stopped talking.
“So what happened?” Tony’s face went unnaturally blank for a second. It was quick, but it reminded Kate of nothing so much as an actor waiting for a line. Then it was gone and Tony responded.
“The old guy died, I lost all interest in outer space. We got lots of stuff around here on Earth to occupy our time, no reason to go poking around in the stars. Probably lots of dangerous stuff out there, that we’re not ready to face yet.” Kate shared a look with Magee, to see that he had noticed the difference in Tony for that brief second.
“How uncharacteristically cautious of you, Tony.” she commented.
“Hey, it just goes to reason, you know? So, what’s on the menu for this afternoon?”
“Two marines died during a training exercise” Gibbs announced, rounding the corner of Dinozzo’s desk. He tossed a manila folder onto Tony’s desk, then another one onto Kate’s. Magee stood up from his desk and walked towards Gibbs’ as the senior agent sat down.
“Is foul play suspected, boss?”
“Nope,” answered Dinozzo, looking into the folder, “according to the Marine Corps, it was an accident.”
“Both of them were,” added Kate, reading through her folder. “A fairly straightforward, well witnessed, fully investigated accident. At least, according to this report.”
“These reports,” Tony echoed.
“So,” asked Magee, “why is NCIS interested in their deaths?”
“Because, Agent Magee,” answered Gibbs, “both of their wives are unsatisfied with the official report of their death. They’ve asked NCIS to look into it.”
“Well,” Magee persisted, “if they were investigated, and the Marine Corps is satisfied, why do…” He trailed off as he noticed Todd and Dinozzo out of the corner of his eye, both trying to wave him off with overt ‘don’t go there’ signals. But it was too late.
“Because, Agent Magee,” Gibbs repeated, standing up and leaning towards the junior agent, “both of their wives are unsatisfied with the official report of their death. They’ve asked NCIS to look into it. They’ve lost their husbands. They should have been at least partially prepared for that, what with Marines entering willfully into harm’s way on a daily basis. Their husbands gave their lives for their nation, so the least we, as representatives of that nation, can do is to help their dependents deal with their deaths. To assure them that their husbands’ deaths were, if not necessary, at least unavoidable. To report to them that those responsible are punished or, at the very least, taking steps to make sure it never happens again. Unless you’ve got something more important to do with your time?”
“Um, no, boss,” Magee quailed.
“Good!” Gibbs stormed off. Magee looked helplessly towards the other agents.
“Marine dependents.” Tony said, as if it explained everything.
“Gibbs has sort of a soft spot for a dead Marine’s family,” Kate expanded. “Well, ‘soft’ may not be the right word.”
“You got that part right,” Magee mumbled, turning back towards his desk.
Over the next few days, the team assembled information about Corporals Spinelli and Anderman, their Marine security unit, and their attached command, located under Cheyenne Mountain, in Colorado.
“Cheyenne Mountain?” Gibbs asked, when Tony mentioned this. “That’s Air Force? What the hell are Marines doing at an Air Force command?”
“Maintaining security?” Todd suggested.
“Marines were invented to keep sailors from getting hurt. Not airmen.” Gibbs mulled for a second. Then he asked the room in general “Are there any Navy personnel at Cheyenne?”
“Actually, boss,” Magee supplied, “the command personnel seem to be mostly Air Force personnel, but there is a large presence of Navy, Marine and Army.”
“Backgrounds?” Gibbs asked, in his personal verbal shorthand.
“The Air Force and Navy personnel are drawn from technical specialties, and the expected AFB support personnel, the Army and Marine people seem to concentrate on experienced special forces. Small unit combat, recon, that sort of thing.” Magee looked up. “There’s a lot of firepower for a radar station, boss.”
“The…the main command is involved in deep space radar telemetry research.”
“Well,” Magee translated, with a deep breath, “Deep Space would be any region beyond the conventional solar system, Radar is, in this instance, a means of locating objects in space, and Telemetry is a means of transmitting data over long distance communication links. Like through a satellite.”
“So Cheyenne Mountain is…”
“Trying to find ways to look out into space, and getting the information from the radar unit to someplace on Earth, maybe by a chain of satellites or other probes.” Everyone watched Gibbs think this over for a second. Finally, the senior agent asked “So, is there any way that sort of research would be useful to, say, a Special Forces unit attacking an Al Qaeda weapons cache?”
“No,” answered Magee.
“Maybe,” answered Todd. Everyone turned to her. She gestured at her computer screen. “According to these pay statements, about half the people there are getting combat pay. Either it’s part of the war on terror, or someone thinks the terrorists will think it is.” She shrugged. Gibbs shook his head.
“You can only get combat pay if you’re actually serving in a War Zone,” he pointed out, “Otherwise every soldier in the world filling a support billet could be said to support the war effort. Heck, recruiters could get combat pay. And War Zones have to be authorized by Congress. Tony!” Everyone turned towards Dinozzo’s desk, to see the agent on his phone, waving everyone to ‘come here.’
“Yes, Major Davis,” he said into the phone, “you’re the Legal Officer for the Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Base? Yes, I did submit a request to exhume two Marine corporals. No, we went through the civilian authorities, figured their enlistment contract expired at some point after their deaths.” As Gibbs and the others approached, Tony pointed to the Caller ID display. Gibbs noted the number. “That’s Pentagon,” he whispered to Todd. At that comment, Dinozzo signed for ‘Bingo!’ His conversation continued.
“Oh, isn’t that a coincidence!” He moved his mouth a small distance from the mouthpiece. “Hey, boss, guess what? They just happened to have exhumed Corporal Anderman’s body this morning. Their ME has it, and is more than willing to let our ME look it over.” He moved the mouthpiece back. “Just one thing, Major. See, I have two college drinking buddies that live in Colorado Springs these days. They have a landscaping business. And before we submitted the exhumation request, I asked them to go over and move a few headstones. Tell me, was your ME surprised to find that a 23 year old Marine’s coffin held a” he paused to loudly shuffle some sheets of paper on his desk, “a 63 year old woman named Muriel, who drowned over 12 years ago? Hello? Hello?” He hung up and smiled broadly. “Seems to have been a surprise to someone.”
“You don’t have any drinking buddies in Colorado.” Kate said. It wasn’t a question.
“Nope. But he doesn’t know that. And he didn’t know I was bluffing.”
“Why,” asked Gibbs, “would an officer at the Pentagon be involved in covering up the death of a Marine enlisted? Cause sure as sin, whatever body they’re offering for Ducky to examine, it isn’t Anderman. Magee, is anything hinky going on in Colorado?”
“Uh, actually, boss, Abby has the hinky watch.” Magee offered.
“Hinky is as hinky does, Gibbs!” Abby exclaimed as the team entered her lab. A map was displayed on her large screen, showing the area immediately around Cheyenne Mountain. “About once a year, there seems to be a chemical spill or a nerve gas release in the area.” She touched a button on her keyboard and 7 death’s head icons appeared on the screen. “Now, there is enough industry or military stockpiling in the area to justify each individual event, but all conspiracy theorists agree, chemical spills are great ways to get the media to convince the population to evacuate. Gives the evil forces of the government plenty of room to wend their wicked ways without civilian oversight.”
“You realize,” Tony asked, “that you ARE a force of the evil government, don’t you Abbs?”
“Know it, live it, love it.” she replied with a smile. “In addition, if there is a chance civilians might see something you don’t want them to, you call it a nerve gas spill.”
“So,” Kate suggested, “any comments in the media can be dismissed as under the influence of something chemical.”
“Exactly. Like the Big Translucent Bug Scare of Greater Colorado a few years back. Also, there have been some sightings of government special operations units in the area.” Another keyboard operation, and six large red question marks appeared. “They sweep in, gunshots are reported, they sweep out…and no mention in the newspapers about any arrests or trials. Now, what crosses over my personal threshold of ‘hinky’ are…” Twelve purple exclamation points scattered across the map. “…the reports that qualify for the National Enquirer. People doing impossible things, people in two places at once, lightning bolts coming from individuals, skinny intellectual types beating the crap out of motorcycle gangs, odd lights in the sky, unknown types of planes in the air, that sort of thing.” The overall pattern clearly centered on the Air Force Base under the mountain. “I think there’s more than this. But the forum I was getting the information from, one of the conspiracy enthusiasts spotted my federal ISP and the whole thing crashed.” Gibbs nodded and turned away.
“We have to go out there.”
Gibbs strode out of the airport doorway, glancing around for directions to the Hertz parking lot. Beside him, Abby was practically bouncing in her shoes.
“This is so COOL!” she exulted. “I NEVER get to go on the investigations.”
“With this case,” he pointed out, “we may only get one look at any evidence we can find. Have to be ready for it. Anything pertinent my disappear as fast as your conspirator buddies.”
Kate commented, “Well, not conspirators, exactly. The conspiracy freaks…who conspire to expose the conspirators.”
“And this advances the conversation how, Agent Todd?” agent Gibbs asked, with one eyebrow dangerously raised.
“Um, well, I….” Kate faltered into silence, with Ducky beside her breaking into a large grin. He turned back, to where Tony labored to push a luggage cart piled as high as his chest. Ducky warned him to be extra careful with his equipment. Behind Tony, Magee pushed a cart piled higher than his head. Abby warned HIM to be extra careful with HER equipment.
When the investigators entered the lobby of their hotel, they found an Air Force officer with a handful of enlisted men waiting. The officer approached, hand stretched out. “Special Agent Gibbs, I believe? I’m Major Davis. Welcome to Colorado.”
“What’s up, Major Davis?” Gibbs asked, taking the offered hand for a brief shake.
“I’m your liaison, escort-
“Keeper?” suggested Tony.
“Whatever else you need. The Air Force understands what you’re doing here, and we want nothing so much as to put your and the widow’s concerns to rest.”
“But?” asked Kate.
“But there are national security issues at stake.”
“Ah,” Tony sighed, “if I had a nickel for every time ‘national security’ was an issue…”
“I’ve been ordered,” Davis continued, clearly uncomfortable with the conversation, “to take you directly to the commandant of the Marine detachment on the base, if you’re interested. These men will take care of your gear while we go out to The Mountain. Or whenever you’d like to schedule it. The Air Force will be paying for your suite while you’re here, you’re already checked in.”
Abby eased between Gibbs and Dinozzo to face Davis. “When you say ‘take care of’ do you mean…”
“Believe me, miss. Nothing sinister is going on here.” For the first time, Davis seemed less of a Public Relations officer and more of an individual. He met Abby’s eye contact directly as he continued: “We appreciate the sacrifice those men made for their country, and the sacrifice their dependents have made. And are making. All we want is to find some way to satisfy you and them that nothing underhanded is going on, without breaking any laws.” Everyone seemed to hold their breath to watch Gibbs’ reaction, even the airmen. Finally he gave a brief nod.
“Okay. We’ll go with you, for now. See how that goes.” Davis nodded back, gestured towards the front door and two staff cars at the curb. Airmen moved to take the luggage while Todd, Dinozzo and Ducky jumped to grab their personal bags with their investigation gear. As they exited the hotel Tony stepped up beside Davis.
“Did you say ‘suite?’ How big is this suite?”
The staff cars entered the mountain facility, and offloaded the passengers next to an underground security station. Tony noticed a large black man, in some sort of half-uniform of BDUs talking to one of the security guards. What drew his attention was a large block of gold apparently welded to the man’s forehead. He nodded in the man’s direction and asked Gibbs, “Hey, boss. See that…um, tattoo? How drunk would you have to be to get something like that?”
Gibbs grinned and answered “Drunk enough to marry my second wife again.” Ducky followed their attention as the group passed security towards a large bank of elevators. “It reminds me of …well, no, I can’t think of anything like that. I mean, a few warrior tattoos or ritual scars come to mind, but…no. I got nothing.” Tony shared a grin with Mallard, then looked back over his shoulder as they all entered the elevator, and was startled to find himself in eye contact with the guy. The gold-pressed man was staring directly at him, and didn’t look away until the elevator doors closed.
Down below, there was barely room for everyone to fit into the commandant’s office. Major Kest clearly wanted to be helpful, but warned them that security concerns were paramount in any discussion of the facility or events within it.
“My team, sir,” Gibbs pointed out, “all have security clearances that – “
“That are meaningless,” Kest interrupted, “without a need to know. As you surely understand.”
“Major,” Gibbs pressed, “I have 52 Marines dead at this command in the last 5 years. That’s my jurisdiction, and I have a need to know.” As the two continued to set and question the boundaries for the investigation, Dinozzo glanced out the door. He noted the oddly marked individual from the security station passing by. Soon after he cleared the door, a blonde woman in Air Force blues walked by, glancing in. Her eyes scanned the room, coming to rest on Dinozzo’s face. He smiled back at her, she ducked away. After a minute, just enough time, Dinozzo estimated, for the blonde and the gold-scarred warrior to compare notes, and agree that Dinozzo was god’s gift to women, she entered the room. Tony noted she specifically did not look at him again, making her way to the side of Major Kest. She interrupted the argument that was reaching almost a record decibel level even for Gibbs.
“It’s alright, Major. I’ll take care of this.”
“Are you sure, Colonel? General O’Neill told me…”
“It’s alright.” she repeated, “There’s been a change of plans. I’ll take them to General O’Neill.” The marine shrugged and relaxed into his office chair again. The lieutenant colonel nodded to Major Davis, who turned and led the way to yet another elevator. Tony hung back to the tail end of the growing procession, trying to get close to the cute officer to impress her with his own ineffable cuteness. Out of nowhere, a large muscular chest stepped between him and his target, and he looked up into the implacable face of gold-man. In fact, Tony reflected, he’d never really understood the term ‘implacable’ until he got a look at this guy’s face.
“Hey, big guy. What’s your name?”
“Murray.” Tony noticed the clear rebuff in the terse response. Noticed, but didn’t care. He pointed to the man’s forehead.
“So, what is that thing on your face, there?”
“I woke up in…Tijuana one morning and found it. I have no recollection of how it came to be there.” Tony nodded as if this explained it, as if he believed the story. As an explanation, it was something that, if it could happen anywhere, could have happened in TJ.
“That must have been some party, Murray.” he remarked.
“Indeed.” was all the reply he got. They joined everyone else on the elevator.
In a tasteful but simply appointed conference room some unguessed distance underground, they met Brigadier General O’Neill. Also, a Dr. Jackson was introduced, a younger man with a distinctly non-military demeanor, and they learned that the blonde lieutenant colonel was named Carter. The NCIS agents and most of the Air Force personnel took seats around the table. O’Neill seemed to try to set a relaxed tone for the meeting.
“Welcome to Colorado. How was your flight?” Gibbs was unsure if he was trying to be sincere, or mocking their investigation. Either way, he rejected the small talk…as usual.
“General O’Neill, we’ve come a long way for the wives of two men who died under your command. On the way, we’ve discovered that quite a few men and women have died at this command. I have to ask, how did all these people die? Why are they getting combat pay? And why are your people sniffing around my Agent?” At this, everyone turned to see Carter and Murray standing behind Tony’s chair. Carter stepped back guiltily, while Murray met everyone’s eyes with calm self confidence.
“Good questions,” O’Neill replied. “Good questions all. I’d sure be interested in the answers to those questions, if I were you. Daniel?” Everyone turned to look at Dr. Jackson. He seemed surprised to be tapped for answers, and hemmed a bit, slow to start. To no one on the NCIS side’s surprise, Gibbs didn’t let him get too far.
“General, are you going to give us answers or give us a run around? Just so I can properly schedule my day?”
“Well,” the general replied, “I really didn’t expect a bluff to work. I’ve read your file.”
“When did you read my file, sir?”
“Three years ago, actually. We have a multi-force command here, and we didn’t really trust the federal agency that has jurisdiction here. We were considering attaching different federal law enforcement personnel to the base for certain counterintelligence and other purposes. It got too political, in the end, and we had to stay with…well, we couldn’t make a change. But your background checks did go through.” The general stared at the table for a moment. Abby glanced around and was struck by the way the Cheyenne Mountain personnel seemed to watch the general for a cue on how they were going to proceed. It reminded her of the way her coworkers watched Gibbs for the same reason.
It was visibly clear when O’Neill came to a decision. “Okay. I’ve got orders on how to proceed, here. But they won’t work. You won’t stand for it, and I don’t like it enough to be good at it. I’m going to make some phone calls. I’m going to see if I can convince certain people that you guys should be cleared for a complete data dump on… on the deep space telemetry radar effort. Come back tomorrow. With any luck, we’ll be able to come clean, and then we’ll see if you still want to make a case, here.” He stared at Gibbs while making this offer. No one in the room tried to pretend that anyone but the two of them were involved in making the deal. Gibbs looked deep into the other soldier’s eyes and gave a bried nod. “Tomorrow,” he said. They all stood, to return to the elevator. As they came around the table, Ducky glanced into the office at one end of the room.
“Is that Catherine Langford?” he almost yelled. He strode quickly up to the photograph on the wall. “It is. I knew her at University. What does an Air Force General have to do with an Egyptologist like Catherine?” He spun around, suddenly looking at Dr. Jackson with wide eyes. “And you’re Daniel Jackson! You were the one who thought the pyramids- It’s the Giza find, isn’t it?”
“One more word out of you,” O’Neill shouted, pointing at the doctor, “and it’s a violation of three different articles of the National Security Act. Shut up, and wait for tomorrow.” Dr. Mallard just smiled, then gestured as if zipping his lips shut. They continued to depart. Just as they stepped into the waiting elevator, the lieutenant colonel appeared at Tony’s elbow.
“So, got plans for tonight?”
“Actually,” he replied with a wide smile, “when I got up this morning, it was yesterday. I had planned on a nap, followed by a lot of sleep. Unless, of course, I get a better offer?” Carter gave him a wide smile. Kate rolled her eyes and looked away.
Some time later, Gibbs entered the central room of their suite. Dinozzo was doing a last minute check in front of the mirror, while Kate was giving last minute advice.
“She wants something from you, Tony.”
“That,” Dinozzo bragged, “is the general idea of dating, Kate.” Satisfied with the Tony in the mirror, he turned the full attention of his smile on his partner. “And if she’s a good little colonel, she might get it.” Kate groaned and stormed into one of the bedrooms. Gibbs walked closer to Tony.
“She’s right, you know. For all their ‘nothing sinister’ promises, there’s something going on. Something dangerous.” Tony’s smile went out like a light.
“I know, boss. Believe me, much as I wish cute blondes would climb up from underground facilities to ask me on dates, I’m not blind to the realities here. But,” he shrugged, “maybe I can learn something from the questions she asks.”
“Bravely facing the brutality of dinner and dancing for the cause, eh, soldier?”
“Aye, sir. The few, the proud, the club hopping.” They both smiled as Tony swept out of the suite to meet Carter. Gibbs turned to see Kate returning to the main room. “Where’s Abby?”
Kate hooked a thumb over her shoulder to the room behind her. “Finishing up a web search for the Giza find, whatever that is. And Catherine Langford.”
“What did Ducky tell her?”
“Not a thing, Gibbs. He just smiles, and mentions the penalties for violating national security. He went out earlier to see some museum in the town. When Abby finally gives up, we’re going to go find something to do. Wanna come?”
“No,” Gibbs said, “never was much into girl’s night out.” They both turned as Abby came out. She was not happy.
“I swear, if I find out that thing IS on the web, and one more keyword from Ducky would have let me sort it out from the twenty million other pages with the word ‘giza’ on them…” She shrugged it off, or tried to. A few minutes later, Gibbs was alone in the suite. He stretched, and aimed for the sofa when a knock came at the door.
“What, forget your key already?” he asked, as he opened it. Outside, General O’Neill stood, in civilian clothes, holding a beaten knapsack. Gibbs let him in, a questioning look on his face.
“I don’t remember,” O’Neill started, “something that never happened. About 15 years ago, in a country our forces never operated in, when poor intel didn’t make the wheels come off of a black-ops fiasco, a marine unit didn’t take a beach long enough for my unit to get out.”
Gibbs nodded. “I may remember something like that happening.”
“I don’t remember it,” O’Neill said.
“Oh, right. I don’t remember something like that not happening,” Gibbs corrected himself with a grin.
“No, really,” said the general. “I was on my third shot of morphine by then. I don’t remember most of that month. Was there a hospital ship involved? I remember a very ugly nurse. Or a fat marmot. I’m not sure.”
Gibbs shrugged, sat on the sofa. “I don’t know, sir. You guys were over the horizon by the time I got off the beach. So are you here to tell old war stories?” O’Neill pulled a sixpack out of his knapsack.
“Seemed like a good idea. I’ve got the rank and the clearance to read files to find out who I owe thanks to. Belated thanks, but sincere. Sincere.” He waved a beer towards Gibbs questioningly.
“You know,” Gibbs pointed over at the wet bar, “We have a fully stocked bar here.”
“Yes, but those things are so expensive.”
“Air Force is picking up the tab. Davis said so.”
“We are?” O’Neill’s eyebrows perked up. “He did? Well, he would know.” As he strode towards the corner he said, “I assume the Corps has already performed a recon?”
“Oorah, flyboy. I’ll take anything on the middle shelf, general.” O’Neill turned at the mention of his rank.
“Please,” he asked, “if I’m going to get a buzz on, it’s ‘Jack.’ Okay?”
“Okay,” Gibbs agreed, “but I’m going to need to get a buzz on before I tell you ‘It’s Jethro.’”
Early the next morning, Carter staggered into O’Neill’s office at SGC. Teal’c and Daniel looked up as she entered.
“Wow, Sam. You look like crap!”
“Thanks a lot, Daniel.”
“No problem. How did your date go?” Sam glared at her team mate for a second.
“It wasn’t a ‘date.’ I just got to know him, asked some questions, in a distracting environment.” She folder her arms on O’Neill’s desk and lay her head on them. “Until about 3 in the morning.”
“Did you learn anything?” Teal’c asked.
“Well, I definitely felt the naquata from him, no one else. But his eyes never glowed and he didn’t respond to anything I said even remotely connected to the Stargate. Oh, and apparently he only really needs to sleep once every six months.” She groaned. Daniel picked up a computer printout and asked, “Did he tell you he used to wear glasses?” She lifted her head.
“No. In fact, he read the menu prices from the cab at one stop. Bragged that he has better than perfect vision. He wore glasses?”
“Yep. Until he was about 7. Suddenly, he had 20/20 vision. Then, after he graduated college and joined the Baltimore Police, he was tested and had 20/10.”
“Is that even possible? For eyesight to get better?” she wondered. She’d have to ask medical.
“Why,” asked Teal’c, “would a Baltimore police officer join the Naval Criminal Investigative Service? Did he or a relative have naval experience?”
“Actually,” said Daniel, “I had a thought on that. According to his record, he had a number of different jobs for a while there. Then, about a week after Seth died, he applied for a job with a federal enforcement agency, and has been there ever since. One with close ties to the military, a wide jurisdiction, and a headquarters in Washington, DC.”
“You think there’s a connection?”
“Well, if you were a goa’uld on Earth, and you read that unspecified federal agents had hunted down another goa’uld, you might be interested,” he speculated.
“And,” Sam concluded, “you might want to be in a position within the government to learn about possible goa’uld hunts. It’s possible, I suppose.”
“When O’Neill comes in,” stated Teal’c, “we must convince him to make it a priority to identify the goa’uld within this Agent Dinozzo. Or at least ascertain whether or not he is such a host.”
“OH! O’Neill!” Carter started dialing the phone on the desk. “He was still at the hotel when I went home to crash. Drinking with that Gibbs guy. I’d better make sure he’s awake and on the way in.” Daniel and Teal’c watched the door as the general walked through it. He leaned on the doorway and watched Carter obliviously working the phone. “It’s ringing,” she reported.
“It’s going to ring for a while,” he announced. She jumped and slammed the phone down. “I turned off my answering machine when I got a beeper with caller id.” He took his chair behind the desk. “So what did you find out?”
“Nothing conclusive, sir. Teal’c and I both feel the presence of a goa’uld, but we can’t prove it isn’t just some strange exposure to naquata he ran into. I think we need to get an MRI done.” The general nodded as everyone watched him. Finally, Daniel asked, “What did you find out?”
“Nothing surprising,” he answered. “I think we’re going to have to at least fill Gibbs in on the whole thing.”
“Did you get permission to do so?” asked Teal’c.
“Not yet. But if we take his man into custody, we either convince him it’s necessary, or we’re going to have to take Gibbs as well.”
“Jack,” Daniel pointed out, “we’ve all been locked up for stuff like this. In most cases it’s been necessary.”
“Thing is, Daniel, we all understood the risk of that at the time. We’ve seen worse and weirder. What do you think we’d all do if NCIS arrested Carter in connection with a terrorist attack on Norfolk?”
“We would disagree.” Teal’c stated, with chilling finality.
“Unless….unless they could prove to us that it was true.” Carter said, thinking out loud. “Or at least that there was sufficient evidence to be worth investigating.” O’Neill nodded, looking down at his desktop. “Sir, are you thinking about the time I was locked up for having Jolinar in me?”
“Or,” asked Daniel, “are you thinking about what happened to Kowolski?” O’Neill looked up, made eye contact with his two friends. He might have been about to answer when the red phone on his desk rang. He answered it.
“Stargate Command, O’Neill…Yes, sir. Yes, Mr. President. Yes, I have. Alright. Well, sir, it’s my impression that if the Stargate Program had been a Marine effort at the start, there’s every chance that Special Agent Gibbs would have my job right now. Yes, sir. I think we should. Thank you, Mr. President. Okay, we will.” He hung up. Rubbed his forehead. “Have Davis get ready to give his bells and whistles presentation. The one for ambassadors and Joint Chiefs.”
“What about Dinozzo?”
“After we’ve done our best to explain the danger, we explain why we want to take a teeny peek inside their guy’s head. Teal’c, if they still take his side, there may be an opportunity for the snake to get away in the confusion. We can’t let that happen. We don’t want to tackle him inside the briefing room, but he cannot run out of there. Just…be ready.” Teal’c nodded solemnly.
The members of SG1 skulked in the back of the briefing room as Major Davis summarized the history of the Stargate Project. By now, through repetition, the Major had a fairly polished presentation. Convincing props were available, most questions had been anticipated, and the team members agreed that only possible improvement would have been a visit from Thor.
“Or, maybe not,” Daniel said. “Abby there would probably want to inspect him for servos or other technology. And Mallard would just open him up for the hell of it.”
“Are you kidding?” Sam asked. “I figure he’s far more likely to turn out to have known the Asgards for years.” Her partners shared a look, shrugged, and returned their attention to the major’s presentation. Teal’c stepped forward to display his stomach pouch. Film from other worlds was shown, and a live feed as an SG team returned was displayed.
Soon, despite Abby’s conspiracy accusations, Ducky’s exclamations of ‘Of course,’ and Magee’s attempts to correlate events with news items from the ‘hinky’ list, Davis finally finished. O’Neill then stepped up to the podium. The display screens blacked and airmen quietly removed the Zat gun, the goa’uld skeleton, and the other items of Davis’ presentation. With no distractions, the general had everyone’s attention when he spoke.
“Some time back, we opened the Stargate to make our regular contact with scientists investigating some Ancient ruins on P2X- well, on another world. By radio, we learned that a pack of some sort of predator had the scientists and their military escort pinned down…great big lizard-looking cat things, with poisoned stingers on their elbows. We sent a relief.
“Corporal Anderman was assigned to the research camp. He was attacked by one of the predators. Actually, one of the scientists was under attack, Anderman threw himself between the two, emptied his weapon into the beast, and managed to kill it with his combat knife. He died on that planet of wounds received.
“Corporal Spinelli was part of the relief effort. He helped hold the Stargate until everyone could be evacuated. In fact, he was the last man to step through, carrying one Lieutenant Akers with him. Just before we shut down the Stargate, one of the predators followed him through, attacked him from behind. He died on the catwalk, protecting the lieutenant, before the animal was cut down by security forces in the departure room.” The general stopped talking. He stood there, waiting for a response from the federal agents. Sam noticed she was holding her breath. She watched Gibbs make eye contact with everyone in his group. Some nonverbal consensus was reached. She remembered experiencing that on more than a few missions, with her team. Finally, Gibbs turned back to the general.
“Well, Brigadier, I gotta say, the story seems to hold together. As a law enforcement officer, that either means you’re telling the truth, or you’re really rehearsed in this lie.” He paused, O’Neill nodded. “But you know, sir, the only way we’re going to completely buy this is to go through your Stargate.” He turned to his team, “How would we know we were on another world?”
“Gravity!” Abby said. “It’s something they can’t fake, if it’s a hoax.”
“A brief examination of any wildlife would probably be convincing.” Ducky offered, “Unless it was transplanted from Earth, chances are it’ll be drastically different.”
Magee leaned forward to mention, “Stars. If we’re far from Earth, the constellations would be different.”
“Pollution,” from Kate, “The world-wide spread of pollution in the atmosphere is a known level on Earth. Even if the other planet has industry, the level would be different.”
They continued to discuss the necessary nature of a world to prove to them they’d left Earth’s solar system. Some of the ideas surprised Sam, but then, she’d entered the program expecting to travel to the stars, not fearing the whole program was a hoax. Dinozzo did not contribute anything to prove or disprove interstellar travel. Sam felt it unusual for Tony not to join a discussion, but perhaps he held himself in restraint outside of his specialty. His colleagues didn’t seem to notice his silence. Then again, she admitted to herself, they were just a bit distracted.
Finally, O’Neill put an end to the discussion. “Alright! Fine. I understand your condition. But the problem is, there’s a security risk to allowing your team through the Stargate.” Gibbs stood up immediately, and started defending the integrity of his team.
“Actually, Gibbs….” He turned to see Abby, her hand slightly raised. “I can understand it. I have been in jail a time or two. I can stay behind, if it means you guys get to verify…”
“No, no, Abby,” Ducky interrupted, “if anything, they probably have a problem with me. I’ve been in more than a few countries, in my time, that are not on really good terms with the current administration.” Kate pointed out that it was probably not a security risk to the Stargate, but the risk to the nation of personnel going offworld. She’d been privy to several classified briefings while she was in the Secret Service, there was probably a policy statement somewhere preventing her from going offworld. Tony wondered aloud about the fate of the nation if this particular NCIS team were to be somehow lost between the stars. Gibbs turned and barked them all to silence. Then turned back to face O’Neill.
“Just what is the security risk of sending my team through the Stargate, sir?”
“Oh, nothing big. Nothing about work or criminal histories. Hell, we have a Jaffa on staff, we’re not in a position of moral superiority over Miss Sciuto’s past misjudgments or Dr. Mallard’s international contacts. It’s just that one of you’s a goa’uld.” Stunned, they all stared at him for a moment. Then looked at each other. Finally they noticed where O’Neill himself was looking. All eyes tracked his gaze to Special Agent Dinozzo. His eyes flashed a golden glow, then he shrugged, smiled and said “I mean you no harm.” All the NCIS personnel jumped at the timber of his voice. None of the SGC people were surprised.
O’Neill entered the observation booth overlooking the interrogation room. Gibbs looked away from the one-way glass.
“I want to be part of the interrogation.”
“You are,” O’Neill assured him, “You’re right here. Observing. Offering any insights about Dinozzo or…his snake.”
“No. I want to be the one asking questions.”
“Of course you do. I understand. And I would let you, if this was a Russian spy, or a terrorist, or even a rogue NID agent. But this is an alien. You just don’t have the experience to take the lead, here. You have to trust me.” O’Neill willed Gibbs to agree with him. Finally he did, if grudgingly. He did take a step away from the General, though, and stood with the other federal agents. O’Neill nodded, and tapped the intercom. “Daniel. Go ahead.”
Below, Dr. Jackson entered the interrogation room. Agent Dinozzo was seated in a chair at a table. To either side, armed airmen watched his every move. Behind him, Teal’c held a Zat gun aimed at the prisoner. He looked up expectantly when Jackson took the chair opposite him.
When he spoke, O’Neill noted out of the corner of his eye that some of the feds still flinched at the goa’uld alteration of Dinozzo’s voice. Not Gibbs or Mallard, though. O’Neill wondered if they had already adapted to the reality of Dinozzo’s situation, or if they just refused to allow themselves to react.
“Am I to be given a chance to explain my presence here?”
“Oh, please,” Jackson answered, “I want to encourage you to tell me everything you can. Who are you? Where do you come from? How long have you been in Agent Dinozzo?”
“I am Raish. You will not have heard of me. I was a messenger between Ra and his overseer on Earth when the uprising closed the Stargate.”
“And that overseer was…..?”
“Seth. I assume you’ve heard of him?”
“Why would you assume that?”
“I noticed, during your presentation, that you did not mention any goa’uld on Earth. Beyond the 3,000 years-ago presence, you did not remark on any of my people in your society.”
“No, we didn’t. Why is that important?”
Tony/Raish paused for a second before answering. “I was probably the last person to come through what you call the Stargate before the rebels buried it. I found the chaos on the planet and hid. I was a low-ranking servant of the System Lords. No one knew if I was alive or dead in the rebellion, and no one offplanet would care.”
“What about on planet?”
“Seth would have wondered about me. But only briefly, and only to wonder whether or not I was trapped on Earth with him, or still on one of the other planets I regularly visited.”
“So you had…what, freedom?”
“Yes. For the first time in my existance, I was under no one else’s scrutiny, no one else’s orders.”
“What did you do?”
“I retired. I had no axes to grind with the populace, no special motivation for power, no need to rule. It is an unusual character trait among my people, this lack of ambition.”
“Got that right,” O’Neill muttered behind the glass.
“It is,” Raish continued, “the main reason I never advanced. So, I ditched the body of my host. It would have been recognized as a being in Ra’s service from the forehead tattoo. I entered a….partnership with another human. He was dying from staff blast wounds he received in the fighting. I healed them, and lived out his days.”
“Was this the body of Dinozzo?”
“You try to appear less informed than you are, Dr. Jackson. Surely any competent Egyptologist would know that this body is completely unsuited to blend into the Egyptian populace of long ago. No, I have lived in a succession of bodies over the years.”
“So, you’ve taken over-“ Jackson said. He was interrrupted.
“No. Not taken over. Most of my hosts have never known I was there. I cure cancers, heal infections, but for the most part have just observed your world. Sometimes I have indulged the curiosity of my host, but seldom. Usually, I just watched time go by. You have a very interesting dynamic, here on Earth. It’s been bred out of many of the populations transported elsewhere.”
“Thanks. So, how did you come to enter this body?”
“I was in a body that lived near him in his youth. An astronomer. Not terribly ambitious, but intensely curious. I helped him understand what was up there. There…there was an accident. A fire. My host and I both agreed that the child’s life was more important, so I transferred to Anthony, kept him alive and got him out of the building.”
“And was Tony aware of you?”
“No. He’s been…amusing, just watching him. I did improve his eyesight, hearing, smell. Made him a better detective, but detecting was his choice. He’s good at it, really.”
“What about Seth?”
“I kept an eye out for him. When Tony read the paper and learned of his death, I began to worry.”
“Worry about what?”
“I was aware when the Stargate was found, and have never since then seen it displayed in a Museum. I suspected that a government had taken it under wraps. When the stories of Seth broke, there were rumors of some government involvement in addition to the regular forces one would expect. I…urged Tony to change to a federal law enforcement agency. I hoped to one day get close to the truth.” He spread his arms wide, in ironic triumph. “Ta daaaaaa!”
“So, what have you been able to pick up?”
“A little. I knew you’d opened the gate, that was about it. I can help.”
“I know some things. I probably should demand some sort of promise from you, but I’m much too old to play such games. If you want them, I know where Seth cached many ancient weapons and alien devices.”
“Actually, ATF personnel backtracked his movements and finances to a farm in south France, a warehouse in Kansas City and some sort of mail dump in Toronto.”
“Oh.” Raish was surprised. “Then I can offer you the secret vehicle belonging to Osiris.”
“Well,” Jackson said, skipping over a great deal of personal and program history, “we blew up her ship in orbit a while back.”
“Ah. Then you also know where Osiris and Isis were buried?”
“And the prison of Hathor?” Raish was getting a little uptight. O’Neill imagined a pile of poker chips in front of him, rapidly dwindling before his eyes.
“She’s been released, and killed.”
“The Antarctic Stargate?”
“Truth be told, that one was hooked up downstairs for a while. We had to get rid of it, another long story. What else you got?” The goa’uld leaned back in his chair.
“I would suspect that you’re trying to downplay any possible contribution of mine to lowball any reciprocal agreement. But few humans could successfully lie to me or to Tony these days. Tell me, have you learned what happened to Seth’s off world holdings after the uprising?”
“Dunno,” Jackson shrugged. “Where were they?”
“If they stand, they would have some very valuable weapons still stockpiled. A few sarcophagi, spacecraft, whatever else Seth thought would be useful…”
“After 3,000 years? The System Lords would have left it lying around?”
“As you know, most of my people are ambitious. Seth was building up his inventory slowly. Most would not have known it existed. It was carefully hidden while he worked for Ra. As fast as the rebellion grew, he would not have had time to contact any allies. It’s possible it still exists. I can show you where it is. In fact, I may be the only living goa’uld who can get you into the cache.”
Everyone was back in the conference room. Everyone except Tony and Teal’c that was. One monitor screen showed the two of them staring at each other across the interrogation room table. O’Neill stated his biggest concern.
“Okay, for all that he’s behaved for however long he’s been on Earth, this may be the first chance he’s had to get off Earth since forever. It may all be a big con to get him access to…something. Any comments? Daniel?”
“Well, it’s possible that he’s telling the truth.”
“A non-ambitious goa’uld?” Jack was clearly skeptical. Carter replied to his doubts.
“Well, sir, we do know there are some goa’uld that don’t particularly share Ra or Seth’s outlooks. Otherwise there wouldn’t be any Tokra. Maybe he did just opt out of the whole power game.”
“For three thousand years? Carter, even if he was fishing the whole time, it’d eventually get old.”
“May I suggest something?” All eyes turned to Gibbs. “You need to check this out. The possible rewards are too great to ignore, right? And we need to experience gate travel. How about we all go?”
“Not possible.” O’Neill was adamant.
“No, really,” so was Gibbs. “You guys take care of the alien planet and cache and so on. We watch Tony.”
“Could you shoot him?” O’Neill asked. “If your friend turns out to be under the control of a bad guy, could you take him out? Look him in the face, when he talks with Tony’s voice, and asks you to let him go?”
“If he’s dumb enough to try that with me, then the man I knew is already gone. The man I thought I knew…he’d rather be dead than a threat, to me, to us, or to the whole world.”
The MALP trundled up the ramp to the Stargate. Teal’c watched Tony ponder the large mittens strapped to his hands. “You know, Teal’c,” he commented, in Tony’s unaugmented voice. “it’ll be hard for me to defend myself like this.”
“It will also be hard for you to grab a weapon if someone’s attention is diverted. Be glad they did not let me shackle you in the manner I desired.”
“Always looking for the silver lining, eh? I knew you were an optimist.”
“Indeed. This does improve my chances of using you as a moving target for practice.” Raish’s eyes glowed as he turned towards Teal’c.
“You don’t care about my host? Hurting him, killing him?”
“Caring might interfere with doing what is necessary. I hope you and Tony both understand that.” In Tony’s voice, they responded.
“I know you can’t be sure it’s really me, Murray, but from in here, he seems to be sincere. Still, do what you have to. If something goes down, and I can’t stop him, I hope someone does.” Teal’c nodded solemnly to what he hoped was the host. He regretted the loss of the Tolin, and the technology to be sure which personality one was talking to in a host. It didn’t really matter, though. It would be as it would be.
The blast door opened and the rest of the expedition entered. Sciuto’s eyes drank in the gate room, the gate, and the vertical pool of blue in the middle of it. Magee seemed as entranced by the wormhole, while Todd and Mallard were at least attentive to their surroudings, including the Marines stationed about the room. Gibbs only had eyes for Tony.
“I hope you don’t make me shoot you, Tony. But don’t for a second think I won’t. Or that I’ll jump between you and this hard ass if he thinks you deserve to die.” Teal’c was unsure about the term, but at a nod from Jackson, realized it was a compliment. He bowed slightly to the agent. He enjoyed working with professionals, who understood each other. Who could separate their emotions from the necessity of the task at hand. From what he had seen so far, the NCIS team was close to his standard.
He wondered what Master Breitach would think of Gibbs. The General’s voice interrupted his thoughts. Knowing that that brief moment of interruption might mean distraction, he automatically refocused his attention on his prisoner. Who merely stood there, quietly.
“Okay, people, the MALP shows a fairly standard desert world. You’re go for Operation Treasurehunt. Be careful.” Teal’c made sure Gibbs and Todd were placed to secure the goa’uld. Then he stepped up the ramp on point. The rest followed, and were soon swallowed up by the roiling blue wormhole. Long after the gate shut down, O’Neill stood at the window, watching where he’d last seen his friends depart.
Teal’c scanned the world before him. The dunes stretched to the horizon, unbroken by any structure or terrain feature but more and more sand. The Stargate was partially covered by such a dune, with a clear bite that had been taken out by the wormhole’s surge on opening. The glass at the edges still smoked. The MALP had moved to a point clear of the surge.
Carter supervised the NCIS technicians as they removed their testing devices from the MALP. Sciuto reported a surface gravity about 2% heavier than Earth, while Magee’s atmosphere test showed a world devoid of smog. Mallard pointed out the slightly unusual tints of the sun and the sky. Gibbs briefly discussed the possibility that the equipment had been tampered with, which they felt confident that their seals and personal tags had ruled out. Soon, everyone was ready to move on, and gathered around Dinozzo.
Raish had been staring at a compass for some minutes, and finally pointed a confident hand. “That way.”
They moved out. Teal’c moved in the lead, Carter walked where she could see both Teal’c and their guide. Todd and Gibbs seemed quite professional in their treatment of the possible threat. Abby and Magee were quite distracted by the world around them, even though there was little to see that wasn’t close to Earth-normal at the moment. Mallard kept his eyes to the ground. Carter wondered if the heat was affecting him, until she noticed him shift a small specimen net in his grip. She realized he was watching the ground for insects or other small examples of the biology of this planet, and approved of his diligence. She hoped his efforts would be rewarded.
Jackson, she noticed, had taken up a position on the other side of the group. SG-1 had the six federal agents bracketed, so the more ‘worldly’ gate travellers were between their wards and any possible surprises. She realized that she should have given orders to make sure that happened, but was just as glad that it happened automatically.
After about 20 minutes of walking, a small outcropping of slate-looking stone rose out of the dunes. Raish stopped walking, bringing everyone else to a halt around him.
“There’s an access panel under the rock. Fire a zat’nik’o’tel anywhere along this side,” he gestured, “and it’ll open up.” Teal’c raised his zat gun and looked a question at Carter. She gestured for him to wait.
“Why would the panel be engineered that way?” she asked him.
“Are you in the habit of walking along, shooting rocks?” She shook her head. “No one else is, either. Seth wanted this hideway to last a long time, so very little is exposed to the elements. But the technology should have lasted until now. I’ll stand close to it, or far away, whatever you want. All that should happen is that a door opens.” Carter nodded, Teal’c fired where Raish had directed. For a long moment, nothing happened. Then, with a creak and a puff of cold air, a slab of stone swung up and away. A fairly standard goa’uld control panel was revealed. “Now, someone press the blue crystal, seating it fully within the housing.”
Teal’c figured they had hesitated all they needed to, and stepped up to the panel. After reseating the crystal, a groan of metal announced the opening of a doorway to his immediate right. More cooled air puffed out, smelling of nothing so much as the air conditioning units of a spaceship. He stepped to the door. Over his shoulder he asked about booby traps.
“Seth was paranoid, but the only time he booby trapped a cache, he almost blew himself up. He was wounded, in a hurry, and forgot to reset one thing. I dragged him to a sarcophagus, saved his life. First thing he said when it opened wasn’t ‘thanks’ but for me to remove all the ‘security devices’ in the installation. As far as I know, he never used one again.”
Carter thought on this. From her brief introduction to Seth, she felt it possible he’d be arrogant enough to assume his hiding method was sufficient to protect this cache. And there hadn’t been any traps in his commune. What the hell, she thought, they were already pretty far along trusting their guide. She waved everyone forward. “Just be careful,” she cautioned. Jackson moved over to her as they took up the drag position.
“Did you think,” he whispered, “that anyone here wasn’t going to be careful?” She winced slightly.
“It’s from command school. Every so often, you give orders for what people were going to do anyway. Conditions them to be slaves to the sound of your voice.”
“Good idea. You should be careful, too.” They grinned at each other and entered the cave.
Teal’c followed the passage some distance into the ground. It appeared to be hastily dug out of the rock. A short ways into the ground, an alcove held a flat slab typical of where a goa’uld might rest if they were not in a sarcophagus. An alcove above it held a zat gun and a handheld healing device. Raish peered in.
“This was his priority. Healing and self defense, if he was followed here. The sarcophagi are further down, behind locked doors.” They continued on. Lights set into the walls lit as they approached, some flickering. A very few did not seem to function at all. They finally reached a chamber with two doors set into it. Raish gestured at one. “You should find some weapons cached here, nothing bigger than a staff weapon. Some data storage. Maybe a couple of hand controls. The other one leads to a hangar. The last time I was here, there were about 10 death gliders and an Al’Kesh. More chambers beyond it.” Jackson opened the cache door, glanced in to see a few crates.
“I notice,” he called over his shoulder, “that not all of the crates have Seth’s markings on them.”
“They were stolen,” Raish replied. “Most of it was my doing, as I escorted shipments between the worlds.” Jackson nodded and shut the door. Carter opened the door to the hangar. Bright light flooded the chamber as the door opened, and some mechanical sounds echoed into the passage. Raish lunged to the door control, shouting ‘Shut it! Shut it!’ Teal’c almost shot him, but saw that he was in fact shutting the doors, and sagging beneath the door control. He noted that Todd and Gibbs also had guns aimed at their charge.
“Explain.” He commanded their guide.
“There shouldn’t have been lights on in there. Or that noise. Someone else is here.”
Carter and Teal’c crept along the catwalk above the hangar. Several jaffa milled about, performing maintenance or repairs on death gliders. Carter estimated about 3 dozen gliders were stored in the ready racks overhead, another dozen scattered around the maintenance bays. The end of an Al’Kesh poked around a distant corner of the room. No one seemed to be in charge, the techs were all working their jobs without supervision. Teal’c tapped her shoulder and gestured. He pointed to the workers, then to his own forehead. Carter saw that they bore the markings of several different System Lords. Satisfied there was nothing else to see, she nodded back the way they’d come. The door to the entrance passage was camouflaged to where they almost couldn’t find it again. They slipped through and rejoined their team.
“Okay, they don’t seem to know about this entrance. We almost didn’t find it, and we were looking for it. So we’re probably safe?” She looked the question to Raish.
“There are two ways into the facility. The way we came, and a landing port for ships coming from above. If they took that route, they may not know this one. The door shut after we entered, so they won’t stumble across it.”
“Okay, so who are they? They have as many different markings as those crates. Are they rebels?” Teal’c shook his head.
“Rebel jaffa would have stripped the weapons from this place, and returned to their homes. They would not have brought more stolen gliders to this site.”
“Many markings?” Jackson asked. “Haven’t you guys seen something like that before? Hathor?” He turned to Raish. “Would Hathor have known about this place?”
“It’s possible, she was a sometime ally of Seth. And she enjoyed seducing jaffa and goa’uld from other masters. She might have set a contingent of her followers to increasing the inventory, to use this as a base. But you said she was dead.”
Carter shrugged. “It’s a long story. She did have some time to herself after we almost killed her. Is there any way to know how long they’ve been here?”
“There’s a control room, which logs site activity automatically. There may even be video records of their arrival. We can get there, but it will take some stealth.” Carter considered her options. In the end, they removed the restraints from Tony/Raish. Under the circumstances, he need only have let them walk in the hangar, and made a loud noise, to betray them. She selected herself, Teal’c, Todd and Gibbs to accompany her to the control room. Everyone else, she placed under Jackson’s orders. He was to wait a reasonable time, then return to Stargate Command if he hadn’t heard from her.
They eased out onto the catwalk in single file, following Raish in the direction of a flight of stairs. He proved adept at finding the best cover between them and the workers and they were soon up against another blank stretch of wall at one end of a hangar bay. He opened a door no one else could see, and they swept inside. Lights came up as the door closed behind them. Monitors showed various views of the underground base, including the chamber the others waited in. Carter appreciated a chance to monitor the others under her command while they were separated.
Raish moved to bring up the base records. Within a few minutes, they were witness to Hathor’s triumphant entry. She ordered her chemically controlled slaves to make the site operational, and to be ready to receive vessels as she was able to supply them. After a few months of flurried activity, with battle damaged ships arriving one after the other, the supply dwindled. It finally stopped, about the time Hathor herself was killed, as near as Carter could estimate. The techs were almost finished with repairs of the ships needing the most attention.
At her direction, Raish managed to locate and number the complement. It appeared to be about 30 permanent personnel. Every so often, one of two Al’Kesh had been used to return the pilots of the gliders to Hathor’s base, and bring supplies for this one. The last such supply run was well over a year ago. That ship had never returned.
As she tried to figure out their next move, Gibbs had a question. “When were you here last? Can we see those pictures?” Raish called up a film of a small woman, entering from the Stargate side, driving a floating wagon of crates into the tunnel. She bore Seth’s tattoo on her forehead, and wore rather fine Egyptian robes. Gibbs realized that he had to take the goa’uld’s word for it that he was, indeed, using that body as a host at the time. Todd drew everyone’s attention to one monitor, where they saw two Jaffa pointing staff weapons at Magee, Mallard and Jackson.
“Where’s Abby?” Kate asked. Gibbs tapped Dinozzo’s shoulder.
“Can you show me the storage room off that chamber?” From the camera’s view, they saw Abby clutching a staff weapon, hunkering down behind a stack of crates. A jaffa looked in briefly, then left. She relaxed a little when the door shut. Then she started creeping towards the door.
“Okay, what do we do, Colonel?” He asked. “Our people are in trouble.”
Carter rounded on Raish. “I thought they couldn’t find that room?!”
“I have no explanation. Perhaps a sentry we never noticed? Maybe the closing mechanism failed after so long? Does it matter?”
“No,” she admitted. “Can you track them?” Raish tapped a few controls, and they followed the men in custody down to a barracks room off of the main hangar. There a senior acting jaffa questioned them. After a few minutes of their version of a three stooges routine, he zatted them unconcious and had them tied to beds.
“This is bad,” Raish said. “Now, he’s got to get orders about what to do with them. He’s going to send someone off to Hathor, and he’s going to find out she’s never coming back. There’s no telling what he’ll do then.”
With 30 opponents, Carter was unsure whether to concentrate her forces for the strength, or to spread them out for maximum surprise. And what to do with Raish. He turned to her as she conssidered.
“Give me a radio, I can direct your team through the facility to the barracks. I can keep you away from the jaffa until you have freed the others. Then I can help you take the place over.” Carter hesitated. Raish pointed to a small button at the side of the panel. “If it helps, this button that’s been at my elbow? It releases a gas. I don’t want to get too technical, but anyone that doesn’t have a snake in their skull falls down dead. I could have pressed it at any time since I sat down.”
Abby snuck slowly down the hallway. She was fairly sure this was the direction the men had been taken. Suddenly, a hand appeared out of no where, and grabbed her staff weapon. She tried to wrest it back, but it didn’t move. Then she noticed that the hand belonged to Teal’c. She gave him a wide smile and released the weapon. He turned it end over end, and held it out to her again. Once she took it, he keyed the opening on the business end of the staff. It opened with a click. She realized she’d been pointing back behind her the entire time, and grimaced. He nodded once and gestured for her to follow him.
The passage was cleared by Raish, so he quickly moved to catch up with the others, the technician on his heels. Raish also warned Carter that he was coming, to avoid any unpleasant surprises. Carter was sketching out the positions of the jaffa between them and the barracks, and assigning areas of responsibility. She split the NCIS agents between her and Teal’c as backups. She looked long and hard at the technician holding her staff weapon, now in the correct position. Finally, she told her to remain behind cover, and come out when and if necessary, as directed by Raish.
They braced themselves to start the attack, when a loud voice shook the entire hangar.
“What was that?” she asked the radio.
“The honcho is calling everyone together. Probably to discuss their prisoners.”
“Everyone? How many guards in the barracks?”
Jackson looked up as the door opened, and was quite happy to see Teal’c come through it. He made short work of the restraints, as Sciuto and Todd did for the other two prisoners. Then they were rushed out into the hangar bay. Gibbs and Carter covered the short walk between the barracks room and the Al’Kesh. They all rushed into it, sealed the door. Teal’c moved purposefully to the control room, the others trailed behind.
“So, what’s up?” Jackson asked, “We making our escape by spaceship?”
“Not exactly,” Carter answered. In the bridge, Teal’c examined the controls, sealed all openings, and nodded to Carter. She nodded back. The ship lifted slightly, and turned the bow towards where the warriors were congregated. They had a moment of shock to see their transport moving, then a forward weapon fired.
In the conference room, General O’Neill leaned back in his chair with a large smile on his face. “Now THAT is what I call a shootout. Well done, Colonel.”
“Actually, sir, it was Agent Gibbs’ idea.” She nodded to the NCIS investigator. He nodded back and added, “It was just a suggestion. She went out and made it work.”
“Whatever,” O’Neill said, waving away any distractions, “the mission was a success, mutual admiration societies can disband at their leisure. SG 14 is sending back overwhelmingly ecstatic reports about what they’re finding, and the guys from Area 52 are packing their big wrenches to recover whatever they can from the site. There’s only one loose end, here.”
Once again, all eyes turned towards Tony ‘Raish’ Dinozzo. He shrugged. “What can I do for you, General?”
“Well,” he began, “I have standing orders for what we do with anything we could possibly use to our advantage. But…” he paused. Jackson leaned forward to fill the silence.
“But…any intel he has is about 100 centuries out of date.”
“And,” Carter continued, “we seem to have gained all the possible cache locations he had.”
“And his age is quite advanced.” said Teal’c. “He probably has little time left on this world.” The general nodded.
“So, it’s my conclusion that we really can’t use you. We may have to call on you later, for questions or some unforseen need. But from what I’ve seen in the records, Agent Dinozzo is a great asset to this country at NCIS. And since we can’t separate the two of you, without the possibility of grave harm to the host, you might as well both be there.” Raish looked around with growing hope in his eyes.
“You’re letting me go?”
“Consider it a parole. As long as you’re content to stay out of sight and out of mind, and in Dinozzo, I don’t have any objections. Let us know if you want to change jobs, or get a transfer. And I don’t want you to change hosts without telling us. Before you change hosts. Now, about those widows….” He trailed off again, looking at Gibbs this time.
“I’ll inform them they died, bravely, for their country. That I can’t reveal the circumstances, but they should be proud of their men. That they died saving others, in the finest Marine tradition.” Everyone at the table lowered their heads, briefly, in a moment of silence for all the fallen heroes of Stargate Command – Marine, Airman, Sailor and Soldier.
The staff cars came up to the curb at the airport terminal. As airmen began slinging bags onto luggage carts, Tony stepped over to take a final whiff of Colorado air. He noticed that everyone seemed to be looking at him out of the corner of their eyes.
“Hey! Guys! I’m me. Tony. Same guy you know and envy. Comrade in arms and all around great guy! Sure, I have a roommate I didn’t recall, but he’s real quiet. Really. Nothing’s changed.” Still, no one seemed quite sure how to deal with the newfound knowledge of their coworker. Then Gibbs stepped up to him.
“So, Raish, where exactly are you in….there?” Tony’s eyes flashed, and his voice did the snake-thing.
“If you are concerned about my safety, Special Agent Gibbs, I am around Dinozzo’s spine. I feel nothing when you dope-slap him.” Then his voice returned to normal. “Actually, boss, I think you should respect your elders, and Raish is certainly elder. He’s older than most languages-“ Gibbs silenced his agent with a slap across the back of his head. Then he tossed an arm around his shoulders, smiled and said “Shuddup, Tony. And welcome back.”
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