FIC: Foothold (First Prime Universe)
Intro & Disclaimer by Geonn
Author: Jo Raine (Celievamp) (all feedback should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org, although I'd like to know if you like it, too ;-D) email@example.com
Disclaimer: The story, and characters and anything and everything else concerning SG: SG1 belong to MGM, Gekko, Secret Productions etc, they are so not mine and no money is being made from this and no copyright infringement is intended.
Fandom: Stargate SG1
Archive: Ya gotta ask Jo. The only place I have permission to say yes to is The Realm of the Shadow.
Rating: PG13 (I think... it's the rating *I* would give it :D).
Spoilers: "Foothold," of course. General knowledge of the Stargate and First Prime AU world.
Notes: Answer to a challenge to rewrite an episode in the universe I rewrote in my story "First Prime." I think I just got lucky that the first reply happens to be exactly what I had envisioned ;-D
Summary: "There's a foothold situation at the SGC..."
Janet Fraiser reckoned that her day couldn’t get much worse. Hell, her whole year could do with a do-over. She was now over two hours late for her shift thanks to a spot check by Child Services. They remained convinced despite what anyone said to the contrary that Cassie was being abused. By her. It hurt so much. Though both men had sounded supportive on the phone she knew that neither General Hammond, her CO, or Dr Warner, who had had to cover for her absence were best pleased with her.
As Janet waited by the lifts she heard a message over the intercom.
ATTENTION ALL LEVELS. STAND BY FOR CONTAMINATED MATERIALS TRANSFER. PLEASE REMAIN AT YOUR POSTS UNTIL NOTIFIED.
The elevator doors opened and she saw that as usually happened when there was a security alert, an airman was on escort duty. Janet prided herself that she knew most of the base personnel. She recognised him immediately. "Airman Pendrell, I see you drew the really interesting duty today."
He grinned. "Yes Ma’am. Infirmary?"
"I’m just escorting you down as a safety precaution, ma’am. There’s a big chemical spill on Level 23."
"What kind of chemical?" Janet asked, her mind already cataloguing the many hazards she knew about that were stored in the mountain.
"Tetrachloroethylene. Tank ruptured."
Janet winced. Her day was just getting better and better. TCE had some nasty side effects even though thankfully exposure was rarely fatal if treatment was given within ten hours of exposure.
"The entire level’s been sealed off. HazMat team’s cleaning it up now."
Janet opened her mouth to ask if there had been any casualties and then thought better of it. She’d know first hand soon enough.
Suddenly, the lift stopped, the lights went out. Janet shuddered. "What’s happening?"
"I’m not sure, ma’am." The airman pressed the intercom button on the panel with no result.
The lift shuddered slightly, a dull noise reverberating through the compartment as if something had fallen down the shaft to land on it. Janet closed her eyes, swallowed hard. If something had failed in the lift mechanism, if they went into freefall. Well, it would be quick, if not pretty. She heard a scraping noise, metal on metal then a popping sound. The compartment shook again, then someone was touching her, a light shining in her face.
She opened her eyes, squinting against the bright light. Before she had chance to say anything she was pushed violently against the lift wall and a hand was groping inside her shirt. She felt the thick bands of scar tissue on the fingers and across the palm rasp against her skin and knew that the hand could only belong to one person. Though that didn’t explain how he had got into the elevator or why he was currently copping a feel.
Okay so he was technically a superior officer but this went so far beyond regulation behaviour. She managed to free one hand from where it was trapped between her and the elevator wall and dug in.
The shout that rang around the elevator was pleasingly high-pitched. He backed off.
"Shit, Doc! I’m gonna be singing soprano!"
"You started it Colonel. What the hell is going on?" The light from O’Neill’s torch fell on the upturned body of the Airman. The end of a trank dart was visible in his upper chest. "And what the hell did you do to Pendrell?"
"Don’t worry, that isn’t Pendrell, but I had to check that you were still you." Bending down he pulled the Airman’s tshirt down to show her the round glowing device attached to the Airman’s chest. "Now, we have to get you somewhere safe before they can make you a pod person as well. I’ll explain everything then, I promise."
The lift was stuck between levels 19 and 20. O’Neill levered the doors open and looked out. "Okay, there’s a drop of about four feet before we hit the floor. I’ll get out first then you hang and I’ll guide you out. Okay?"
"Okay," Janet said, feeling anything but okay. She checked Pendrell’s pulse, which seemed fine and then ran her fingers over the device attached to his chest. She had never seen anything like it before.
"Doc! Hurry it up there. Pendrell’s mates will come looking any second."
Still somewhat dazed, Janet allowed herself to be hauled out of the lift and lowered to the floor. "Let’s get somewhere where we can talk," O’Neill said, grabbing her wrist and almost towing her down the corridor.
They ended up in a storage cupboard – if she wasn’t mistaken the same one where Daniel had nearly shot O’Neill whilst in sarcophagus withdrawal. "Okay – if this is some kind of bizarre practical joke, Colonel, let me tell you I can make your medical examinations uniquely painful for the rest of your tour of duty here."
"No joke, Doc, I promise. Believe me, I wish it was." He looked genuinely shaken, Janet realised. Something was definitely wrong – either with the base, or with him.
"Sir – have you come into contact with any of the contaminated material at all. Your anxiety could be a symptom of tetrachloroethylene contamination. If you have it is important that we get you to the Infirmary straight away. You need immediate treatment."
"There is no chemical leak, doc. That’s just a subterfuge to keep everyone away from Level 23."
"What’s on level 23?"
They heard the general alarm klaxon go off. Janet tried to get past him. "I have to get to the Infirmary. There may be casualties."
"They catch us and we will be the casualties. They already got to Daniel and Ferretti. And General Hammond."
"General Hammond? I talked to him less than an hour ago. He sounded fine. Look, Colonel…. Jack, start from the beginning…"
Perhaps she could talk him into recognizing this delusion for what it was. SG1 along with most of the frontline teams had been in life or death situations so many times these last few years she wasn’t entirely surprised that the Colonel was suffering from some kind of psychotic break, whether it was TCE induced or just PTSD. It was worth a try.
"…. Anyway the planet was a bust so we came back. I let Daniel and Ferretti go for their exam first. I just wanted a hot shower you know, get the mud outta my… and my arms were cramping." Janet nodded her understanding. Since he had been badly burned on an early mission, O’Neill was very sensitive to cold conditions.
"I was just drying off when I heard that ‘contaminated materials transfer’ message. Then Siler came in. He said Doc Warner was looking for me. I thought it was strange, you know, Siler’s might only be a tech sergeant but he’s the nearest thing we got now to an expert on keeping the Stargate going if you don’t count that smartass they palmed on to us from the Pentagon. Siler’s no one’s message boy."
Janet nodded. "Go on."
"We walked together down to the infirmary and he stepped back to let me go through the doors first and I saw that he had something in his hand. He brought it up and I saw a needle and knew that he was going to stick me with it and I punched him out. It was reflex – I didn’t even think about it."
"I dragged Siler into a storage cupboard and left him and then I snuck into the Infirmary to find Daniel and Ferretti – make sure that they were okay. I saw Warner talking to Hammond and Daniel. There was something off about them – the body language you know – looked like them but wasn’t them. For one, it looked like Warner was giving the orders. Then I saw them."
"Saw who?" Janet still wasn’t entirely convinced that this was not paranoid delusion.
"The aliens. Our guys didn’t bat an eyelid. And these were really really alien if you know what I mean. Even uglier than the Unas and lobster red."
"So you’re saying what – that the SGC has a foothold situation?"
"That’s exactly what I’m saying, Doc. And right now you’re about the only person who I can trust. I got you before they did."
"Okay, Colonel, so you got me. Now what do you intend to do?"
"We need to find out what’s really going on on Level 23. Then the Armoury – I remember from the Hathor incident that you’re a pretty good shot, Doc." Janet nodded, hoping that if they got into another firefight she’d remember to duck this time. "And then we try to get the word out to the Pentagon." He told her his plan.
Janet knocked on the door of the security monitoring room.
"Come in," a woman’s voice called. Janet recognized it as Lieutenant Riley.
"It’s locked," Janet said, rattling the handle.
She heard Riley mutter "It’s not locked!" before the door opened. O’Neill zatted her. Janet checked the unconscious woman’s pulse then on a hunch checked her upper chest. She had the same device attached to her skin as Pendrell. O’Neill was already seated in front of the bank of screens, typing commands into the computer, redirecting the feed on the security cameras to show level 23. Abruptly all the screens showed static.
"That’s where the chemical leak is supposed to me," O’Neill said. "Odd, don’t you think…"
Janet nodded numbly. O’Neill was not delusional. Something was definitely going on. Something bad.
Over the intercom came a familiar message that took on new importance.
Was it one of their teams unwittingly walking into enemy hands or more of the aliens?
"Try punching up the Gate Room," Janet said tersely.
O’Neill activated the cameras. They could see that the Stargate was active, General Hammond, Daniel Jackson and Dr Warner waiting at the bottom of the ramp. Two alien figures emerged from the wormhole and walked unchallenged down the ramp to meet with the three familiar figures.
"Something’s got to be messing with Hammond’s head," O’Neill said. "No way would we put out the welcome mat like that for someone we just met."
"Do you think they could be imposters?" Janet asked.
"If they are – then where are our people?" As one, both their gazes turned to the screens showing feed from Level 23. Just what did the static hide?
"So are we the only one’s who aren’t under their control?" Janet asked. She looked over at Riley’s body, remembering the strange glowing disc attached to her skin. "I wonder…"
"No way to tell for sure," O’Neill interrupted her train of thought. "We need to get out of here, raise the alarm. If General Hammond has been compromised…"
"Then we can’t trust anyone in the Mountain," Janet nodded. She was still dressed in her civilian clothes, O’Neill was in his dark green BDUs. "How do you suggest we get out of here?"
O’Neill grimaced. "Best way is by the emergency ladders to the surface and down through the South Gate. He looked down at her footwear. "You’re not going to make it wearing those." Janet took off her heeled shoes and stuffed them in her bag. She went over to Riley and started unlacing her boots.
O’Neill undogged the hatch. "The base was designed to keep people out, not in." He looked up the access ladder. "Think you can make it, Doc?"
An alarm klaxon started to sound. Janet pushed past him and started to climb "Do I have a choice?"
Janet pushed the hatch open and crawled out. She prided herself in keeping in shape but that – that had been hard. Twenty eight levels, straight up, O’Neill only a couple of steps behind her all the way. She crawled out onto the grass and lay on her back. It was getting dark, the stars were coming out. She heard O’Neill climb out then lower the hatch and block it with something. She could hear the hissing of his breath, saw him clench and unclench his fists a few times. Climbing that way must have been hard on his hands. But she knew if she asked him about how bad the pain was he would deny it. He drew his zat and looked around.
"Okay, I think we’re clear. Doc, you still with me?"
"Just give me a minute, okay?"
She lay a few seconds longer then cautiously sat up. O’Neill was prowling around the clearing, alert for any sign of pursuit. He came over and crouched down beside her. "We go to my house first," he said. "I have some money and other stuff stashed for emergencies that we might need. Then we contact Major Davis at the Pentagon."
Night. Dark. Cassie. "We have to get Cassie," she said, scrambling to her feet. "I can’t leave her alone, Colonel. She’s…"
"Doc, we’re in enough trouble without dragging a kid along. Isn’t there a sitter you could call?"
"Colonel. I will not leave her on her own. She could be in danger." Not to mention it being the last straw as far as Child Services was concerned. "I will not leave her alone." The word ‘again’ was unspoken between them but understood. This time she would not back down. O’Neill sighed, nodded. "Okay, Cassie comes with. Let’s get this road trip started."
He started off through the woods heading downhill towards the road. After a moment’s hesitation Janet followed him, having to almost run to keep up with his longer stride. After a hundred yards or so he realised her difficulty and slowed, reaching to help her over the difficult terrain. He gave her one of his quirky half-smiles and she realised that was as close to an apology as she was likely to get. She wasn’t the only one who felt guilty about Cassandra.
Her adopted daughter was the only survivor of a reprisal attack by a Goa’uld called Nirrti. She had also rigged a bomb in the child’s chest cavity set to trigger if the young girl was anywhere near an active Stargate and go off after a number of hours or if they attempted to return the girl through the Stargate. They had taken the girl to an abandoned silo and Jack had taken her down to the bottom of the shaft and left her there alone in the darkness. Janet had wanted to go with her but had been refused permission. She had waited at the top of the shaft with Daniel Jackson and Lou Ferretti and later the silent and ashen O’Neill as they waited for the bomb to go off.
It did not happen. Cassie survived. But the damage had been done. Cassie could not bear to be alone, especially at night. She began cutting herself prompting several trips to the local ER when she cut herself too deeply. Blood tests had revealed anomalies that lead to Janet being accused of abusing Cassie, possibly even trying to poison her. She could not explain that the naquada they had detected was the residue of the bomb Nirrti had implanted in her chest. Naquada did not exist on Earth. Child Services had been called in and in the end it was only Hammond and O’Neill’s intervention that had prevented Cassie being taken into care and serious charges being levelled against her. As it was Cassie was still on some ‘at risk’ register somewhere in the system and every now and again one of Child Services finest would turn up to see how she was doing.
She checked her daughter’s arms every day for cuts and scratches and for three months now there had been none. Janet was just beginning to believe that everything might be all right again.
They reached the road and skirted the edge of the parking lot used by civilian contractors who worked at the mountain. There was a payphone a few hundred yards from the main gate.
"See if you can get hold of Major Davis at the Pentagon. His number is…" O’Neill reeled off a set of numbers. Janet nodded, her mind used to the quick assimilation of data.
"Okay. What do I tell him?"
"Tell him that there’s a Foothold situation at the mountain. That it’s got as far as Hammond. We’ll rendezvous with him at noon tomorrow at Peterson."
"And what are you going to do?" Janet asked.
"Get us some transport," he grinned before ghosting into the night.
Janet dialed the number he had given her and after a few moment's got through to Davis’s assistant. The news she gave her wasn’t something Janet wanted to hear.
"Major Davis was called to NORAD earlier today. He should have arrived there about four hours ago."
"He must already be in with General Hammond then," Janet said. "Thank you for your help. I think I can take it from here."
She put the phone down and rested her head against the box. Damn. She hoped O’Neill had a plan B.
A car horn bipped behind her. She turned, shielding her eyes from the headlights. It was O’Neill, driving a car that did not belong to him. She decided she didn’t want to know.
"Come on Doc, let’s go get your daughter. Davis give you any trouble?"
"Not exactly," Janet said drily. She stepped into the passenger seat, trying to find space for her feet amongst the detritus of soda cans and fast food wrappers.
O’Neill listened to her in silence. They were on the outskirts of Colorado Springs and there was a lot of early evening traffic. He did not speak again until they drew up outside her house. "There’s no way around it, then. It’ll have to be Maybourne. Doc, I’m afraid I’ll need another favour."
After she’d paid the sitter and told her that they would be out of town for a few days – a family emergency - she told Cassie to sort out enough clothes for a couple of days away – emphasizing that they had to fit in one bag. O’Neill was making some kind of effort at cleaning out the car. She quickly packed a bag for herself and changed into slightly more utilitarian clothing – something that went more with Riley’s combat boots for starters.
Cassie was half scared half excited. "Mom, you’re not going to get into trouble with me missing school for a couple of days are you?"
Janet hadn’t thought about it that way. "We can sort it out, don’t worry," she said. If everything went to plan, it wouldn’t matter. And if everything went fubar – well, it would probably be the least of their worries. "Take the bags out to the car, sweetie. Your uncle Jack is waiting."
She raided her emergency money stash, dropping the roll of notes in her bag and took everything that could be road-trip snacks and put it into another bag. She heard the front door open. "Doc, we gotta go."
"I’ll be with you in a minute," she said. Janet stared at her reflection in the kitchen window for a moment wondering when exactly her life had taken a side trip into the twilight zone. She remembered the alternates who had come through the quantum mirror a few months back and wondered what kind of bad karma she was carrying to be so fucked up in every dimension.
She needed a drink. At the same time a drink was the last thing she needed.
"Colonel Maybourne, this is Major Doctor Janet Fraiser. We have a foothold situation at the SGC." Janet hoped she sounded more convincing than she felt. They were at O’Hare airport waiting for their connection to Washington. O’Neill couldn’t bring himself to talk to Maybourne himself arguing that there was too much history between the two of them: Maybourne would be predisposed against anything he had to say.
"Dr Fraiser? Where are you?"
Janet looked over her shoulder at O’Neill. He held Cassie’s hand, the young girl lounged against him sleepily watching the world go by. "I can’t tell you that, sir. If memory serves there’s an outdoor café outside NID headquarters."
She could hear Maybourne muttering under his breath "Uhh, I’m gonna need a little more than that…"
What was with this guy? She knew that O’Neill didn’t have much time for him but had put it down to a clash of personalities. Hell, O’Neill wasn’t all sweetness and light in the personality department. But Maybourne… she remembered him from the Tollan incident and he had not impressed her. "I repeat, we have a foothold situation."
"Doctor, you are way outside your appropriate chain of command."
"I have reason to believe that may be compromised, Sir."
There was a long silence. "Understood." Then the connection went dead.
"Well?" O’Neill asked.
"Four o’clock outside NID headquarters," Janet confirmed. "But I don’t think he’s very happy about it."
"He’s just scared he might have to do some work for a change," O’Neill snorted derisively. A tannoy announcement told them that their flight would be boarding shortly. "Okay, we’re on."
Makepeace was already at the rendezvous. O’Neill decided that it would be better if Janet approached him on her own. He stayed out of sight with Cassie. Makepeace looked somewhat ill at ease. As if he wasn’t too happy at being out in broad daylight. He spotted her when she was a few feet away from his table. The waitress approached her before she had chance to say anything and Janet ordered a coffee.
"So there has been an incident at the SGC."
"A Foothold situation, sir. An alien incursion," Janet stared at the man, trying to read him "I don’t know how far up the chain of command the infiltration goes. It may well still be contained within the SGC, but if General Hammond was compromised…"
"He sounded fine to me on the phone." Janet couldn’t believe that she had heard him right.
"General Hammond – he called me this afternoon. Very concerned for your welfare. And that of your daughter – Cassie, isn’t it? Do you really think that leaving her in the care of Jack O’Neill was a good idea? I mean, with his record… where are they, by the way? And was it his idea to contact me? Quite ironic really considering how much he trusts me. That should have given you some insight into his state of mind, Dr Fraiser."
"I told you we have a foothold situation!"
"Doctor, a chemical spill causing paranoid delusions is infinitely more plausible to me than aliens taking over the SGC."
"My God, you don’t think I can tell the difference between the two?" She got to her feet intending to walk out and tell O’Neill in no uncertain terms to come over and take his turn with Maybourne. It was his damn stupid idea to contact the man in the first place. Then she saw that Daniel Jackson and Major Ferretti were standing behind her, both in civilian clothes, their eyes hidden behind dark sunglasses.
"Hi Janet," Daniel said, giving her a somewhat pained smile. "You okay? Where’s Cassie? We’ve all been worried the way you both disappeared. Everyone was very relieved when the Colonel said you had been in touch."
O’Neill had impressed upon her the severity of their situation. The fact that Maybourne had ignored her warning made her already edgy temper boil. She turned to him, slapping her hands on the table for extra emphasis if any were needed. "Maybourne, you are an idiot every day of the week, why couldn’t you have just taken one day off!"
And now she had the attention of the entire restaurant. Maybourne’s face had gone very red. He was not a happy camper. He got to his feet. "That’s insubordination, Doctor."
"Colonel – Janet – this isn’t getting us anywhere. Janet, sit down please and just hear us out. Colonel – as you can tell, Dr Fraiser isn’t exactly herself at the moment. Perhaps you should, I don’t know, cut her some slack?" Daniel held the chair for Janet and after glaring at him for a long moment she sat down.
"Janet, you could have got yourself into a lot of trouble here. Your situation with Cassie – the way the authorities back in Springs see it you took a vulnerable child out of state. They’re talking abduction."
"But that’s ridiculous!" Janet breathed.
"You could lose her, permanently. Come back with us now, Janet and we’ll get it all sorted out."
"No one blames either you or Colonel O’Neill for what has happened. It was the chemical. We were all affected by it as you were. Fumes got into the elevator shaft. No one realised until it was too late."
"I don’t believe you," Janet said flatly.
"It’s true, doc. Why would we lie to you about this?" Ferretti said earnestly.
Why indeed. Lack of sleep and the stresses and strains of the last few weeks suddenly made her resolve weaken.
"Where’s Jack?" Daniel asked again. "Is Cassie with him? You know he’s been affected by the chemical as well. We’re not saying he would deliberately harm Cassie but his judgment will be way off." Maybourne snorted at that as if to indicate his opinion of O’Neill’s judgment under normal conditions.
"Dr Fraiser, this has gone on long enough. You will tell us where Colonel O’Neill and Cassandra Fraiser are right now or I will have you handcuffed and placed in custody. And whether or not you are suffering from exposure to this chemical, your daughter will have finished college before you see her again. Do I make myself clear?"
"Warner told us what you would be experiencing. You need to get treatment, Janet – both you and O’Neill. You know the side-effects of this stuff."
Janet nodded, her eyes fixed on her rapidly cooling cup of coffee. "I know the side effects – hallucinations, paranoid delusions – but I am not delusional and neither is Jack O’Neill. We saw you with them on the monitors. How could we both have the same hallucination?"
"I don’t know. Jack can be very persuasive when he wants to be."
"He said that Siler tried to inject him with something."
"He was under orders from Dr Warner to try to sedate him. Warner realised that Jack must be suffering from exposure when he saw that Daniel and I were exhibiting symptoms. Siler was too slow and Jack beat the crap out of him. Not to mention a couple of SFs and Airman Pendrell and Captain Riley. And sabotaging the elevators."
"We’re telling you the truth, Janet." Daniel gazed at her. She wanted very much to believe him but she couldn’t get over the feeling that something was off with both Daniel and Ferretti. She knew both men quite well, had treated them in the infirmary more times than she really wanted to think about. But she couldn’t be sure. She was so goddam tired and the thought that she might have inadvertently put Cassie in danger began to eat into her.
"You should have followed procedure," she glared at Maybourne.
"I fully intend to return with you just to make everything’s all right – once we have located Colonel O’Neill and your daughter. Where are they, Doctor?"
"I can’t… I won’t…." She shuddered as Daniel laid his hand on her shoulder.
"It’s going to be okay, Janet. General Hammond cleared Maybourne’s visit. He’s just anxious to clear up any doubts and get you and Jack the treatment you need."
"Well, that and I wouldn’t tell them where we were meeting until they agreed to my inspection of the SGC." Maybourne stood up. "Now, take us to Colonel O’Neill."
"You have no idea what you are walking into," Janet said.
"I can take care of myself, Doctor. If I don’t report back in a few hours, you can rest assured that action will be taken."
"Everything’s okay, doc. You gotta believe us," Ferretti said. "Come on, let’s go get Cassie. She must be scared out of her mind, poor kid."
"We just want you to come back so Warner can check you out," Daniel said softly.
"And if I don’t? If I just walk away right now?"
"Dr Fraiser, you will accompany us back to the base. If you resist, you will be handcuffed."
"No she won’t," Daniel scoffed.
Maybourne shook his head. "Well, this is all very touching, but I think this very conversation in this very public place is evidence that Doctor Fraiser, in her current state, is something of a security risk."
Janet closed her eyes as a wave of dizziness swept over her. Daniel’s hand was on her arm. "It’s starting to wear off, isn’t it? You’re starting to think straight. That’s exactly what happened to me."
"I’m so tired," Janet whispered truthfully.
"Let’s go get Jack and Cassie," Ferretti suggested quietly. "And then you can rest. We won’t let anything bad happen to them, you know that, Doc."
Janet nodded slowly. "They’re at the arcade two blocks down."
A very public place. Jack’s idea. If they were going to take him down he was going to make as big a stink as possible.
"Okay. Let’s go. Plane’s waiting."
"After you, Doctor," Maybourne said, putting on his hat.
Jack O’Neill went to the booth and changed another ten dollar bill for quarters, handing the coins to Cassie. "Here, that should keep you going oh, another ten minutes the way you’re playing that game."
"I bet I could beat you," Cassie grinned. She fed the quarters into the console. "Uncle Jack?"
"Is something wrong? Something to do with… Toronto?"
O’Neill glanced at the young girl. "What gives you that idea?"
"Mom, she looks really tense, scared even and Mom never gets scared. Angry sometimes, but not scared."
"We may have a situation, but it’s nothing for you to worry about," O’Neill said. "Your mom’s meeting with someone we hope can clear things up."
And she should have contacted him by now, he thought, glancing again at his watch. She had been due to meet with Maybourne an hour ago.
"So what’s a..." Cassie paused, trying to remember the terminology she had heard her friend use when they were on the plane. "foothold situation?"
"Something we can’t talk about here," O’Neill said. "Where did you hear that?"
"On the plane. I woke up and I heard you and mom talking. That’s when I realised that she was scared."
"Look, Cassie, we can’t talk about this here and now. But I will explain it to you as soon as its safe, I promise. Hey, watch out for the curve!"
Cassie returned her attention to her game but it was too late to avoid the curve and her car crashed out, zeroing her life points. She sighed and fed more quarters into the console. "Will you teach me to drive for real when I’m old enough, Uncle Jack?"
"Sure, Cassie," O’Neill smiled. Boy, he would earn his hazard pay for real that day.
Cassie grinned up at him and then looked past him, her eyes widening. "Daniel! Uncle Lou! Uncle Jack didn’t tell me you were coming on this trip as well!" She made to run towards them but Jack’s hand had closed painfully around her wrist. "Stay with me, Cassie, please. This might be part of that bad Toronto thing we were talking about before."
"But it’s Daniel and Lou, Uncle Jack. And there’s my mom. Uncle Jack, you’re hurting me!"
"Let the girl go, Jack." O’Neill knew that voice.
"Maybourne. I might have know. If it was possible to fuck this up, you would do it. Janet, what the hell happened?"
"Jack, Maybourne had already been contacted by General Hammond. They were waiting for me. Please let Cassie go. Everything’s going to be okay. If we were affected by the fumes from the chemical leak then we need treatment quickly. They got into the lift shaft – that’s how we were contaminated."
"That’s bull and you know it," O’Neill said, pulling Cassie closer to him.
"Jack, what other choice do we have?"
"What are you going to do, Jack? You’re in a very public place in case you hadn’t noticed and I think we’ve given these good people enough free entertainment for now. Let the girl go and come quietly. We’re all going back to the SGC together and there will be a full investigation of your allegations, I promise."
O’Neill didn’t acknowledge Maybourne’s words. He stared at Janet who met his gaze without flinching. She was right. Any other move could get themselves and the many innocent bystanders who were watching the exchange hurt. He left go of Cassie’s wrist and she ran into Janet’s arms. Janet held her daughter close. O’Neill walked forward, severely violating Maybourne’s personal space.
"Just for the record, Harry. You’re an idiot!"
The plane waiting to take them back to Colorado was a private jet and its comforts way beyond the scheduled passenger craft they had flown in earlier. Jack was too keyed up to sit down and as soon as the seatbelt light went off got up and wandered around. No one tried to stop him.
Daniel got Janet and Cassie some fruit juice from the small bar area, handing them their glasses before sitting down opposite them. Jack paused in his pacing opposite where Maybourne was sitting, going over some paperwork.
"Your tax dollars at work… Cozy little jet you’ve got here, Maybourne."
Maybourne ignored him which only got O’Neill more worked up. He was about to launch into another verbal attack on the man when Ferretti entered the compartment from the front of the plane.
"You’ve alerted General Hammond to expect me?" Maybourne asked.
"Yes, sir," Ferretti said.
"I just bet Hammond can’t wait to get the benefit of your thoughts," O’Neill growled. Perhaps the aliens would do what he had been wanting to do for years and just shoot Maybourne.
"So everything is back to normal at the base?" Janet asked.
"This is the SGC we’re talking about here, Janet. Define normal!" Daniel smiled.
"The chemical spill is completely cleaned up. There were no casualties other than the men Colonel O’Neill er… assaulted," Ferretti said. "but they’re going to keep Level 23 sealed until they figure out what caused the fumes to spread into the lift shaft. Doctor Warner wants to see both Dr Fraiser and Colonel O’Neill in the infirmary as soon as we get there to receive treatment."
As he spoke Janet saw Ferretti’s shape flicker for a moment and the alien appear before he returned to his normal self again. Cassie screamed. It was all the confirmation Janet needed. Janet grabbed her gun and aimed it at Ferretti.
"Janet – what are you doing?" Daniel asked.
"Don’t move," Janet said.
"Doc?" O’Neill had not seen the shift.
"She’s hallucinating again," Daniel said, looking to Maybourne. Jack was not sure what Janet had seen but he did know something: Cassie had seen it as well and no way was she contaminated with this TCE stuff.
"Cassie, what did you see?" he asked.
"Lou – he wasn’t Lou – he was a monster – all red and scaly like a lobster."
O’Neill stared at Maybourne. "That describes what we saw in the Gateroom. And Cassie knows nothing about that. Do you believe us now?"
Ferretti lunged forward and acting purely on instinct, Janet shot him twice in the chest. His mouth opened wider than she thought possible and an inhuman screech echoed around the cabin. Ferretti’s image flickered again and then settled into the shape of the lobster like alien Janet had seen at the SGC. The wounds in his chest began to seep a viscous purple fluid.
"What the hell is that?" Daniel sounded genuinely shocked.
Janet dropped the gun and held out her arms to Cassie who clung to her, weeping. Maybourne picked up the gun and held it on Daniel. For a moment O’Neill wondered if Daniel was after all innocent in this but his instinct told him that however much it looked like Daniel, copied his mannerisms and speech patterns, it was not Daniel Jackson. O’Neill crouched over the alien’s body, examining the disc on its chest and a second disc on its temple.
"What do you know about this?" O’Neill asked Daniel Jackson.
"I don’t know anything," Jackson said. "I thought it was Ferretti. Jack, you gotta believe me, I’m as surprised as you about…"
Maybourne reached out and opened Daniel’s shirt revealing the disc on his chest. Janet guided Cassie to a seat that was out of sight of the dead alien, comforting her for a moment and then went to examine the Ferretti alien. She detached both discs from his body examining them curiously. After a moment’s thought she placed the larger disc on the palm of her hand. Instantly it changed.
She straightened, seeing the opened mouthed stares of O’Neill and Cassie. She caught sight of her reflection – or rather Ferretti’s reflection – in one of the mirrored partitions. "This must be how they project the image," she said, her voice Ferretti’s. "But I can’t pick up any thoughts or memories or anything. That must be what the second disc does." She plucked the disc from her palm and resumed her own shape.
"Okay," O’Neill said softly. "So, here’s what we’re gonna do…"
"Colonel, we need to find out what caused their image to shift like it did."
"We haven’t time to…"
"It could give us the edge we need. These things are obviously electrical. Something in the engine noise perhaps, a frequency that interfered with the projection."
"Uncle Jack!" Cassie screamed. O’Neill turned to see Major Davis a few feet away, his gun drawn, an _expression of malicious fury on his face. He had obviously been at the front of the plane with the pilot.
"Cassie, get down!" O’Neill shouted. Davis saw Janet crouched over the dead alien and aimed at her, Janet ducking just in time as another bullet thudded into the alien’s torso. Davis howled his fury. Before Davis had chance to fire again both Janet and Maybourne fired, hitting him in the chest. Before his body hit the ground they saw the purple fluid seeping from the wounds in his chest.
Jack tapped the body with his foot. The Davis-creature was dead. It also had one of the round devices on its chest. He picked up Davis’s gun.
Maybourne trained his gun on Daniel who still looked totally shocked by the proceedings. "Jack – go check the pilot. He’s one of mine."
"Colonel – we don’t know whether they got to him," Janet picked herself up and dusted herself down.
Maybourne opened the neck of his shirt to show that his chest was clean and then used his pocketknife to slice a cut in the ball of his thumb. His blood was red.
"Good enough?" he asked. "Go check the pilot. I’ll keep an eye on him." He indicated the Daniel alien whose initial _expression of shock had faded, now replaced with one of wariness.
Ferretti hoped like hell he was dreaming. He jerked awake and realised that he had to be dreaming. He was apparently locked into some sort of corset and suspended about twelve feet off the ground. Looking up he saw the web that was growing across the ceiling and walls, the tendrils that tethered him and dozens of other people. He saw General Hammond, Siler, Doc Warner, Daniel Jackson, Griff, Aster. They all appeared to be in a similar state to him – the one difference being that he was somehow awake. He remembered coming back from another mission to try and locate Qeb – this one being a real bust, the planet of ‘much rain’ as O’Neill had dubbed it. He remembered walking into the Infirmary with Daniel Jackson commiserating with the young man who felt bad for wasting two days on a wild goose chase. Dr Warner was waiting to give them their post mission exam. He remembered being told there was a problem with a chemicals leak on the base and that everyone needed to be given a shot of something to ward off side effects. The last thing he remembered was Daniel asking what the side effects were and everything going dark.
Well, unless all-singing all-dancing hallucinations were part of the side-effects of this stuff something else was going on here. Ferretti looked around again and realised that he could not see Colonel O’Neill. Which meant that he was either being held somewhere else or he hadn’t been captured. Ferretti remembered that instead of going straight to the Infirmary with his team mates, O’Neill had headed straight for the showers to warm through and ease the cramps in his hands and arms.
And if Jack O’Neill was still at large… things might just be looking up.
"Do you think they’re dead?"
"I hope not," Jack said. "I think they’re being held on Level 23. Whatever technology they’re using I think depends on them still being alive so that they can access their thoughts, their memories, mimic their reactions. I can’t lose… I won’t be…"
Janet guessed the train of his thought. "If Jackson and Ferretti are dead that makes you the only survivor of the original mission."
"I’ve lost people under my command before – when I was in Special Ops and since I came to the SGC – Kawalsky, Captain Carter..."
She recognised the names but their demise predated her time with the project. Captain Carter had been killed on the second mission out on a planet called Chulac that at the time had been Apophis’s stronghold. She knew the attractive young woman only from her photograph in her medical records. The same with Kowalsky who whilst under the influence of a Goa’uld he had murdered her predecessor – meaning that in a strange and slightly sick way she owed her current job to him.
"What were they like?" she asked.
"Kawalsky I’d known forever. We were in Special Ops together, the Gulf, Bosnia, Somalia, various trips around Eastern Europe. He was the best. Hell, I named my son for him. Carter – never really got to know her. She was bright – way smarter than anyone other than Daniel I would guess. She would certainly have run rings around that idiot MacKay. I gave her a lot of grief about being a scientist. And she was a damned good soldier, could hold her own in battle. The thing I remember best about her is her eyes – amazing blue eyes. Not the eyes of a soldier or even a scientist. There was a weird innocence about her." He sighed, stared at his scarred reddened hands. "It was my fault."
She had never heard the full story of what had happened that day. She doubted if anyone ever had. The survivors of SG1 and SG2 had rescued over 100 people from what would undoubtedly been one of Apophis’s signature massacres. Whilst battling with heavily armed and armoured Jaffa O’Neill had been severely injured and Captain Carter killed.
"How was it your fault?" she asked.
"I suppose you could call it a friendly fire incident."
Janet paused at that. Nowhere had she read that O’Neill had killed albeit accidentally one of his team mates. She realised that he was still talking. "… I ripped out the snake from his guts and grabbed for his staff weapon. Carter was fighting hand to hand with another of the Jaffa – beating him as well even though he was three times her size. I had a clear shot but the staff weapon must have been damaged. It misfired. The explosion was huge - I thought for a minute it had blown my arms off and when I looked up both the Jaffa and Carter were down. There was blood everywhere and the smell of burning flesh. She was dead. Jackson got me out of there. I don’t remember much more until we got into another firefight at the Gate. That’s when Kawalsky got his little passenger. So you see, Doctor – my fault."
The chance for further conversation was interrupted by an outburst from Maybourne who had been trying to get the fake Daniel Jackson to talk.
"I already told you I didn’t know that Ferretti was…" Maybourne got tired of subtlety and began to choke the alien.
"Tell me what you are, why you’re here!"
"Are our people still alive?" O’Neill asked.
"You can talk to us now or you can talk to my colleagues later. Either way, we’ll find out the information we need."
O’Neill looked at the device they had taken off the alien impersonating Ferretti and then reached in and pulled the glowing device off Daniel’s chest. Immediately his appearance reverted to that of one of the alien’s. Enraged, the alien lunged forward and Maybourne shot it. It fell back into the chair, howling in pain.
"Sit down!" Maybourne snarled.
O’Neill looked at the device and placed it face-up on his palm. "Well?" he asked. "Do I…?" His voice sounded different even to his own ears.
"You look like Uncle Daniel," Cassie said softly.
"Sweet," O’Neill looked up at Maybourne. "We may just have a way of getting back into the mountain."
"Are you getting a sense of Daniel’s thoughts or anything like that?" Janet asked.
"Nope," O’Neill detached the device from his palm and resumed his own form again. "Just me in here. I think you were right, Doc. That must be what that other one does."
"We still need to discover what caused their images to blink out," Janet reminded him. "Something interrupted both signals at the same time, Colonel. If we can replicate the conditions, we can find it."
Ferretti struggled to find some purchase, trying to free himself from the harness that held him some twelve feet off the ground. No one else seemed to be awake. His struggles had set him swinging slightly and he bumped into the harness that held General Hammond."
"Sorry, Sir," he whispered. Then he heard it.
"Who’s that?" He tried to turn himself to see, the voice had come from somewhere behind him and wasn’t one he automatically recognized.
"Major Davis," the man said.
The guy from the Pentagon. Shit, did this mean that this thing had already got out of the Mountain? "Major Ferretti."
"What’s going on? How did we get like this?"
"You’re asking me?"
Great. This was probably not the best time to be channeling Jack O’Neill. Before he could say any more the door below them opened and a gurney was pushed in, an unconscious airman on board and Dr Warner attending along with and SF and someone or something that was definitely not a regular member of the SGC. Ferretti had the presence of mind to play possum but kept his eyes slightly open so that he could watch what was going on. He could only hope that Davis was following suit. The airman was fed into the machine and emerged from the other side attached to the ribbon like attachments that held him suspended from the ceiling. Warner removed two devices from the machine and placed one on the alien’s chest, the other on its temple. Before Ferretti’s disbelieving eyes the alien transformed into the image of the airman they had just fed into the machine.
"Hook him up," Warner ordered. The airman was pulled into position, a few yards away from Ferretti. Warner glanced around and then seemed to stare at Ferretti for an uncomfortably long moment. Ferretti willed himself not to react hoping he had not given his return to consciousness away somehow.
The door opened again and Hammond walked in. "We’ve just received word from Maybourne. O’Neill and Dr Fraiser have been apprehended. He is escorting them back here."
"That is excellent news. Soon we will be able to move openly among their military," Warner said. "This Maybourne will get us into their civilian government as well. There is much to prepare before they arrive."
As soon as the door shut again Ferretti and Davis continued their efforts to free themselves from the harnesses. Ferretti managed to remove the headpiece and flung it away from him. Then his fingers found a handgrip in the chestpiece of the harness and suddenly it released, dropping him to the floor. Minutes later Davis also dropped to the floor.
"From what they said I guess there’s another you and me walking around out there," Davis speculated.
"But why are we the only ones awake in here?"
"Colonel O’Neill and Doctor Fraiser must have figured out what was going on somehow and got out before this lot made Xeroxes of them," Davis said. "Perhaps our counterparts were sent to retrieve them."
"No way would Jack come quietly," Ferretti said. "My guess is that he killed or incapacitated our copies. That’s why we woke up. The aliens underestimated him."
"I’m guessing a lot of people do that," Davis said. He helped Ferretti position a mobile gantry under General Hammond and watched as the man climbed up and began to prise away the head piece from his commanding officer’s head. "Do you think that’s such a good idea?"
"What – trying to wake him up? I’m guessing there’s no alarm system. No one came running when we woke up." Davis shrugged at that and motioned for him to continue with what he was doing. At last the headpiece came away, but there seemed to be no change in Hammond’s condition.
Three floors away General George Hammond paused in mid-sentence. He blinked rapidly and turned on his heel, heading back to level 23. There was a malfunction in the system.
About thirty seconds after Ferretti had removed Hammond’s headpiece an alarm started to sound. Hurriedly, Ferretti fitted the headpiece back on Hammond’s brow. He glanced down at Davis. "Perhaps they didn’t hear that. "
Both men were examining the alien Xerox machine when they heard the keycard lock beep and Hammond walked in, gazing up at his double, a frown on his face. Ferretti ghosted up behind him. "I’m really really sorry about this, sir." He smashed his fist into the General’s jaw and lowered the older man to the floor. "That was weird," he said and glanced across at Davis. "Promise you’ll explain all of this at my courts-martial."
"Cassie, I want you to stay here," Janet said.
"This isn’t a discussion, Cassie. I need to know that you’re safe. So does your uncle Jack. We won’t be able to do what needs to be done if we are worrying about you."
"I have two daughters about the same age as yours ma’am," Lieutenant Alders, their pilot said. "I promise to watch out for her."
"You ready, Doc?" O’Neill asked. He placed the mimic device on his upper chest and Janet found herself looking at Daniel Jackson. She followed suit, disguising herself as Ferretti. "We go in the same way as we got out." He opened the hatch and checked the shaft with the powerful flashlight before signaling her. "Ladies first." He glared across at Maybourne. "Half an hour and then you send your team in. And try not to be too trigger happy, okay." Maybourne just nodded.
Ferretti had finished frisking the replica Hammond. The only items he had found of note were a decidedly non-regulation weapon and a strange circular device that seemed to be bonded to the man’s upper chest.
"What do you think?" Davis asked.
"Only one way to find out," Ferretti said, pulling the man’s shirt open again and removing the device. Hammond’s image dissolved, revealing one of the alien soldiers.
"Okay," Davis said. "Definitely not one of ours. We should find something to tie it up with." Both men looked up as the door activated again and Daniel Jackson and another Ferretti appeared. Ferretti aimed the gun at him and Jackson responded with his own weapon.
"Lou?" Daniel asked, glancing around him and taking note of the unconscious personnel. His evil twin seemed equally surprised by what he was saying.
"Yes?" Lou said.
"It’s me," the figure said. "Crap, forgot…" He reached inside his shirt and removed something. Daniel Jackson’s image flickered to be replaced by a somewhat worn looking Jack O’Neill. His counterpart turned into Doc Fraiser.
"Wow, that was…"
"Disturbing?" The doctor said, managing a very small smile. "So this is how they did it."
"Lou, Major Davis, gather you’re already aware of the nature of our visitors." He shoved the recumbent alien with his foot. "Who did that look like?"
"The General," Davis said. "We tried to wake the real General up by removing the headpiece thing and an alarm went off and this came running."
Janet looked around her. "We figured they had to be keeping you alive in order to access your minds. Everyone in this room has been duplicated by the aliens."
"Look, Maybourne’s forces are waiting up top. We have about thirty minutes to figure out how to shut this lot down without getting anyone killed."
"Maybourne! How did he get involved!" Ferretti asked.
"I ordered the doctor to call him," O’Neill muttered.
Ferretti started to laugh but managed to control himself as Jack glared at him. "What?"
Janet had another question. "So how did you two get free?"
Major Davis shrugged. "We just woke up."
"It must have happened when I killed you," Janet muttered.
"What?" Davis asked.
"I… killed the aliens impersonating both of you on the plane." Janet did not look up.
"Way to go, Doc," Ferretti said, putting a comforting hand on her shoulder. "I know it might not feel like it right now, but you did good."
"And they don’t know you did this?" Davis found himself looking at the diminutive doctor in a new light. Of course he had read the files on her involvement in the Hathor incident but this felt more… personal."
"I don’t know. Probably not as no one came to investigate the two of you waking up and you were able to free yourselves from the harnesses without setting off any alarms." She glanced at the two men for confirmation and they nodded.
"So what do we do now?" Davis asked.
"We discovered that there’s a specific tone that, if sustained, will disrupt the mimic devices. We need to find a way to broadcast it throughout the base."
"Lou, you’re pretty good with the electrics. Why don’t you give the doc a hand with doing that? Davis, you’re with me."
Ferretti was a pretty good engineer on the side. He was fairly sure he could McGuyver the signal through the base intercom. Janet went with him. Ferretti just about had it rigged when Warner came in. Janet tried to distract him, hoping to give Ferretti enough time to finish the job. They had three minutes before Maybourne’s team came in hot. Giving them the opportunity to clearly differentiate their enemy from their friends would be a big step forward in minimizing casualties.
Warner growled and backhanded Janet across the face, sending her spinning across the room to land in a heap on the floor. Ferretti made the last connection and reached up to slam the button that would broadcast the signal throughout the base just as the alien reached out to throttle him into submission. Warner’s image blurred and changed. Letting Ferretti’s limp body fall to the floor, the alien howled then retreated.
It was another minute before either of them moved. Ferretti raised his head. The signal was just on the edge of his hearing, an irritating high pitched buzz. Somewhere behind him he heard the doc let out a string of curses that would have got Cassie grounded for months if she had used such language.
"You okay, doc?" he asked.
"I’ll let you know when the room stops spinning," Janet said thickly. "How about you?"
"I’ll live," he laid his head back on the concrete again.
There was a moment’s silence. "This concrete is remarkably comfortable after a while, isn’t it," Janet said at last. "But I suppose we’d better move. Maybourne’s deadline is nearly up."
It was suddenly much easier to tell friend from foe. Armed aliens in the corridors, their red armour making them appear a formidable enemy. Luckily both zats and P90s worked against them with great efficiency. Jack O’Neill and Major Davis had made some inroads in their numbers before Ferretti and Janet joined them.
Maybourne’s forces came in through the front door. Faced with this second attack front the alien commander ordered a retreat back through the Gate. O’Neill and Davis followed them to the Gate Control Room, Ferretti and Janet returning to level 23 on Jack’s order to take care of their people.
Several airmen whose counterparts had been early casualties of O’Neill’s attack were already beginning to wake. Ferretti helped them down and Janet began to check them over. Once they had got over the initial grogginess, they seemed fine, if a little confused as to what was going on.
They felt and dimly heard the explosion in the Gate Room. Lieutenant Cooper, one of several of Maybourne’s troops who were helping disconnect everyone from the web ducked out to see what was going on.
"The alien leader operated some sort of self-destruct," Lieutenant Cooper reported back to Ferretti. "The rest of the aliens died as well. There’s some damage but Colonel O’Neill seems fairly certain that it’s minor."
"My exact words were: coat of paint, a little touch-up and it’ll be fine," O’Neill said walking in followed by Maybourne. "Glad to see you’ve got everything under control here Ferretti, Doctor. General, good to see you for real again, sir."
Hammond looked from O’Neill to Maybourne. "Would anyone like to tell me exactly what’s been going on here?"
O’Neill looked at Janet and shrugged. "It’s a long story, sir…"
The briefing was postponed until everyone had been checked out in the Infirmary. There seemed to be no lasting effects from suspension in the Web. Maybourne’s scientific team supervised the clear up and transfer of all surviving alien artifacts to Area 51. P3X-118 was locked out of the dialing programme.
The Briefing Room was crowded with SG1, Drs Fraiser and Warner, Major Davis and Colonel Maybourne all in attendance. Janet had managed to see Cassie for a few minutes to reassure her daughter that everything was going to be okay. Cassie was waiting for her in her office, probably asleep on the couch. It had been a long, long day.
One worry was that the aliens who escaped through the Stargate before it was shut down still possessed the knowledge they obtained from being linked to the minds of their victims. As General Hammond acknowledged there was little they could do about it other than change all their codes and add a few security protocols. Sergeant Siler was certain that he could set up some sort of harmonic generator in the gate room to render any future use of the mimic devices ineffective, using the same signal that Ferretti and Dr Fraiser had initially used.
Maybourne stood up. "I’d better get back to Washington, reassure them that the situation here is under control."
"We appreciate your help on this matter, Colonel Maybourne."
"Credit Dr Fraiser. I do. She put all the pieces together. Without her cool head and quick actions on the plane this could all have gone down very differently." He nodded at Janet who could feel herself blushing at the compliment and then he glanced across at Colonel O’Neill. "Good working with you again, Jack."
"Just like the old days, eh, Harry?" O’Neill smiled.
Maybourne looked a little startled at the friendly tone in O’Neill’s voice.
"Yeah Jack, just like the old days."