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Codename: Firestarter

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~ *Knavery seems to be so much a striking feature of its inhabitants that it may not in the end be an evil that they will become aliens to this kingdom.* ~ George III of the United Kingdom ~

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The office was oddly open, airy and bright, thought Major Vincent Hoskins as he entered and gave a by-the-book salute to the man in the sharp and expensive suit sitting behind the modern glass desk. At Hoskins’ side was another Marine Major. The name tag read “Escobar” today, but the name was different every time Hoskins saw this particular man. Today the hair was iron grey, but he had seen it blonde, black, red, brown, and even bald. Today the eyes were brown, but that seemed changeable, as well. The uniform and rank occasionally changed, although mostly, Escobar stuck with Marine Major, and he seemed particularly uncomfortable in civvies. What didn’t change was the battle-ready posture, intimidating physique, and aura of quiet menace. There was also the faint pucker of a scar on the left side of his chin that he never bothered to obscure when clean-shaven, as it easily could have been, worn like a badge of honour. In the privacy of his own thoughts, Hoskins tended to think of him as “Scarface”. It was probably safer than any actual name.

Behind the executive office’s occupant were panoramic floor to ceiling windows and a stunning view of the New York City skyline. Against an inside wall, a large-screen television screen was tuned to a news channel, displaying scenes of the invasion and a running tag-line of damage and casualty reports, with the sound muted. The contrast with the serene city beyond the windows was striking. Strange that not a single shot had been fired in this city, when much of Washington DC, Las Vegas and Colorado Springs lay in rubble, their transportation and communication infrastructures systematically destroyed, presumably to keep the local ‘herds’ from escaping their corrals. The attacks on Nellis and Antarctica had been in areas so remote that little property damage had been done, or at least, admitted to. Squadrons of alien darts had actually crashed into downtown Las Vegas and DC, after attempting to suck up the crowds of Wraith-food running panicked in the streets. Now, post-invasion, New Yorkers’ attitudes could mostly be summed up as, “What are we, chopped liver?” They were rather offended at being ignored.

Hoskins’ superior beckoned he and Escobar forward to visitor chairs facing the glass desk. Hoskins sat, Escobar didn’t, preferring to stand at parade rest, just behind Hoskins. It was a patently obvious intimidation tactic, but Hoskins was never sure who the other Major meant to intimidate.

Hoskins delivered the paper summary report, then remained silent while the other man read intently through the very few pages of bullet-point conclusions, each more devastating than the last. The man was in his fifties, tall, fit, well-groomed, and would not have looked out of place at the head of any board room in this financial capital of the planet. His poker-face was excellent, and only by a subtle narrowing of the steel-grey eyes and already-thin lips did Hoskins detect his annoyance at what he read.

On the big screen, men appeared on a press conference podium, identified with a label below as the Mayor of Las Vegas, the Governor of Nevada, and various FEMA officials. The announcement of a state of emergency was a foregone conclusion, surely. For sheer numbers of people affected, Nevada had certainly taken the brunt of the Invasion. The scrolling headline below reported the formation of temporary ‘Sanctuary Camps’ for all of those displaced by the Invasion, wounded, separated from family members, without transportation out of the city while the infrastructure was still in such disarray, or awaiting news of loved ones on missing lists. Bodies needed to be identified, and there were only the vaguest of estimates for how many had been caught in Wraith beams, and might yet be recovered.

With a sigh, Stanley Bradshaw (according to the name plaque on the wall outside this office) finished his review of the paperwork before him, closed the folder and leaned back in his executive chair with a sigh as he brought his penetrating gaze on his subordinate.

“It’s a cluster-fuck.”

“Yes sir,” Hoskins readily agreed.

“Okay, so flesh it out for me.”

“Bottom line, sir, everyone who was in Bunker Thirteen at the time of the attack is dead. Security, Support, Interrogation and Guests alike. Oh, and the janitor, too.”

“So, the good news is there are no living witnesses on site to what we were doing. The bad news is that the self-destruct was never pulled, and there’s physical evidence left all over the damned place.”

“Yes sir.”

“And, just as a matter of interest, Hoskins… why weren’t you there at the time?”

The Major began to sweat, under the hard eye looking him up and down. “I was in Washington, sir, reporting to General Brady, congressman Klein and Assistant Director Gaffney, at the Pentagon. They wanted progress reports.”

Bradshaw blinked. “What the hell for?”

Hoskins squirmed. He resisted the temptation to look over his shoulder at Escobar. As Marine Major “Warren”, he had been present for that meeting, too. “I believe they were feeling the heat from HomeWorld, sir. They wanted to know how much longer before we could dispose of Subject X. I informed them that our progress had been… minimal so far. That’s how we were caught in the Pentagon by the Invasion, in General Brady’s office. It was a couple of hours before we were dug out of the wreckage. I used my authority from the General to get a high priority lift west, with… the Major here, but even so, we could only get out the next morning, and had to commandeer a helo from Reno. By the time we arrived in Nellis, it was far too late to get past the SGC guards on Bunker Thirteen, or secure any evidence.”

“Yeah, okay. Go on.”

“Because of the timing, early evening, both shifts were still on the grounds of the Groom Lake base. Relief Shift had just taken over the Bunker, Main Shift were logging out in the main building. When the invasion began, anyone who wasn’t actually in the Bunker, or caught in the first explosion, joined the defence, so they were pretty much trapped in Building A with everyone else.

“It’s pretty obvious to everyone now that the attack on Buildings A, B and C were intended as a diversion, keeping all of the regular military busy so they could get a smaller strike force into Bunker Thirteen. I’ve heard rumours that the JCS is considering the possibility that even attacking the other ground sites with considerable Ancient tech, at Colorado Springs, Antarctica and the Pentagon, might also have been diversions. Only one hive ship was devoted to each of those other locations, with correspondingly less damage.”

“Shit. The prisoners?”

“That has to be the obvious conclusion, sir.”

“Double shit. Go on.”

“Relief Shift defended to the best of their ability, but were ultimately ineffective against the Wraith, only managing to delay the take-over.

“Unfortunately, the first person to realise the Wraith true intentions was an FBI profiler, in Las Vegas on vacation, called in with all other off-duty military and law enforcement personnel to assist at Groom Lake. Dr. Spencer Reid. We have a file on him... genius, PhDs in math, physics... some other stuff, not important right now. I guess there was some idea of recruiting him, by the SGC or us, in spite of the possibility he might develop schizophrenia before the age of forty, history of drug abuse, and his connections in law enforcement and the FBI. Anyway, his specialty is geographic profiling. He apparently took one look at the situation map and pin-pointed Bunker Thirteen immediately. No one at the FEMA camp at the gates took him seriously, so they let him take three local CSIs with him to do a sweep.”

Bradshaw groaned and passed a hand over his eyes. “Shit. Four goddamned civilians.”

“Yes sir. And all of them experienced in criminal investigations. Relief Shift followed protocols to do a scorched earth on the control room before they were overrun there, so the database and physical files should be unrecoverable. Dr. Reid and his team reported no survivors on any level by the time they arrived, until they reached five. They were keeping track of the exact number of Wraith they expected to find within, given the number of empty darts they counted on the surface, and the Wraith they confirmed dead once they got inside. So they were a little alarmed to come up with two extra, wearing the same prison scrubs as the dead human prisoners they found. It doesn’t take a math whiz of Dr. Reid’s calibre to add that one up. The last Wraith was still alive and moving... and they all witnessed his garbled voice and eyes flashing.”

“Oh crap.”

“Yes sir. They wouldn’t realise what that meant, of course, but there were others present later that night who certainly did. According to their verbal reports to the first SGC responders, the Wraith was trying to get at something in the last collapsed cell when they arrived, and eliminated him. That’s when the Goa’uld symbiote emerged to try and take Dr. Reid. It failed, and was killed. They checked the cell, thinking they’d find a third extra Wraith, but it was empty.”

“And the cell belonged to...?”

Major Hoskins took a deep breath. “Subject X, sir.”

“Oh hell... he wasn’t there?”

“They reported no one left alive in the entire bunker, sir, human or Wraith. But no mention has been made of a body that might correspond to Subject X... and I would have thought someone would have said if the corpse of a five-year-old boy was discovered. They didn’t find anything at all in the last cell, although it was in bad shape, the ceiling and walls having caved in, apparently, in that section of corridor. None of the other clean-up crews have reported any different. And none of those crews include any of our people. Every asset we had at Area 51 was either dead in Bunker Thirteen, or pinned down for the duration inside Building A until the military assault teams could reach them. By that time reinforcements from Cheyenne Mountain had arrived and taken command. And the very first military asset to join Dr. Reid and his team heard his story and immediately locked all of Nellis down, and started X-raying everyone they could get their hands on. They discovered Captain Downs and Lieutenant Sanford that way, and they were both killed trying to shoot their way out.”

Bradshaw swivelled his chair to stare out at the serene and sunny city-scape. “So I expect by now HomeWorld knows about the Bunker, and what we were doing there. Does anything lead back to us?”

“No way to tell, sir. Downs, Sanford and the Bunker military staff all belong to Tango Unit, so there’s that. That’ll lead to me. My chain of command is supposed to be through Area 51 to General Carry, but it’s well known that I also answer to the NID through AD Gaffney and General Brady. My trip to the Pentagon to debrief Brady, Gaffney and Congressman Klein was well-documented and part of the public record. We’ll be the low-hanging fruit. I instituted emergency protocols as soon as I arrived in Nevada this morning. As far as I’m aware, there is no evidence that connects me to you, or any members of the Board. No phone calls, emails, texts... just the anonymous chat room where we set up appointments. None of my visits to New York are officially documented, especially not this one, and in case of questions into my travel patterns, it’s well known I have friends and relatives here whom I visit regularly. After that... The SGC will no doubt have forensic teams going over every inch of Bunker Thirteen. Probably starting with Subject X’s cell. There was obviously no opportunity to sanitize and the self-destruct never went off, so even without a body, there’ll be fingerprints and DNA trace. They’ll have an ID very soon, if they don’t already.”

“And potential witnesses? You’ve recalled all of our people from Nevada?”

“Yes sir. They’re en route to Utah as we speak. Their C-150 transport should be encountering engine problems just about now. According to the un-official manifest, which will be mysteriously made available to the proper authorities, I am also on board. I saw to the mechanical adjustments myself.”

“Well, that’s something. How many ‘guests’ did we have in Bunker Thirteen?”

“Forty one, including Subject X and the two Wraith. I’ve got my office working non-stop to sanitize the trails back from each one, but... That’s a lot of paper trails and a lot of executive orders. A few of them were actually legitimate, the authorizations at least, if not the evidence we supplied to get compliance, and all are on file in multiple databases with official signatures attached. The VP, high-ranking White House advisors... and some forged that won’t stand up to scrutiny, and will lead straight to the VP’s office. We do know General Carry took charge of whatever physical evidence he found and turned it all over to HomeWorld. We don’t know, at this time, what that might include.”

“Aw shit...”

“Yes sir. We don’t know what might have been left on the Bunker computers for someone sufficiently skilled to hack. Which, all things considered, will be either Carter or McKay, once they find out who Subject X was.”

A faint sardonic smile crossed Bradshaw’s lips. “’Was’, Major?”

“Well sir... caved in cell, Wraith attacking, no body... I assume he Ascended. It is his MO.”

“Perhaps you’re right. Ironic, isn’t it? Ascension is one of the things we were hoping to learn from him. Although... careers have been destroyed underestimating him in the past... still, that means he could re-appear at any time and... well. Screwed is the word we’re looking for. Do we need to take any action against the civilians who were there the night of the invasion? This Dr. Reid and the CSIs?”

Hoskins felt a cold shiver work down his spine. With no assets left in Nevada, any actions ordered would fall on him, personally, and... While he had been in charge of Tango unit, and therefore the Commanding Officer of Bunker Thirteen, he had managed to keep his hands relatively clean. He had overseen many of the ‘interrogations’, but hadn’t conducted any personally. And when the time had come for the really dirty work, either Scarface arrived with his “experts” and took charge, or Hoskins held his nose and ordered others to do it. His Goa’uld minions had been only too eager to volunteer for such duty.

Bad enough that he was down to the Sierra Unit sweeper teams as far as available emergency manpower was concerned, all of whom had dealt directly with him in the past, so the risks to himself if they should be caught... and he had no illusions of just how fast Bradshaw and his superiors would be to sever all ties and links with him. He assumed that was why Scarface had been shadowing him to Nevada and back, so he could be assisted to an “accident” of his own. There would be enough official eyes on Dr. Reid and his team, all things considered... any attempt to get near them would only lead to disaster.

Assuming his best poker face, Hoskins shrugged. “I can try and make arrangements if you like... but they logged their complete reports on the incident with their respective offices as soon as they left Nellis. So the FBI and the Las Vegas Crime Lab already have them. Therefore, everything they saw is now common knowledge to Las Vegas PD, the FBI, and probably the entire intelligence community. So the cat’s out of the bag. And, really? That much was known to HWS anyway as soon as the SGC clean up crew got there. I don’t see any point in risking more assets than we’ve already lost when those four don’t know anything more than they’ve already revealed.”

“You’re certain? Is it worth while taking them for interrogation?”

No no no... Hoskins gulped back a wave of nausea. “I doubt it. Why would they hold back? The tone of the reports seemed... horrified, to me. Righteous indignation. I’ve included their reports in the complete file I emailed you this morning. If you see anything questionable, I can take further action. But, unless they start acting hinky, I really think there’s no further damage they can do. We’ve got bigger problems elsewhere, and a serious lack of manpower to deal with them.”

Bradshaw reluctantly nodded agreement, shuffling until Dr. Reid’s report came to the top and beginning to leaf through.

The television ticker tape ran below telephoto images of the hive ships. Colorado Springs, 526 confirmed dead, 5,092 injured, 3,419 missing. Las Vegas, 1,986 confirmed dead, 819 injured, 19,687 reported missing. Washington DC, 721 dead, 94 injured, 1,234 missing. Totals, 3,233 confirmed dead (if not yet identified), 6,005 injured, and 24,340 missing. And one more missing no one else knew about.

“Sir...” Hoskins ventured. “In light of the very public invasion... what plans are the White House and the IOA entertaining?”

“Full disclosure, of course. Well, what any politician or diplomat would consider full disclosure while covering their asses, which likely means they’ll do everything in their power to sweep all evidence of Bunker Thirteen under the rug. It’s a very small side-bar issue in the big picture of SGC disclosure. In fact, the Powers That Be may be a lot more threatened by Dr. Reid and the CSIs than we are, and take care of them themselves. They’re going to make the SGC and Atlantis crews into heroes, just to reassure the world that their security is in hand. I doubt any hint of Bunker Thirteen will ever get out. Absolutely no one will want to admit we could be running such an extensive illegal and unsanctioned operation right under the noses of the legitimate NID at Area 51.”

“And General O’Neill, sir?” The Director of HomeWorld Security had been the single greatest danger to the entire clandestine operation since inception. Although efforts had been made in the past to ‘neutralise’ him, one way or another, none had been effective. Keeping well out of his way had seemed to work best.

Bradshaw chuckled. “Jack O’Neill is a vindictive bastard on a good day, especially where his pet archaeologist is concerned. He’ll nail the Vice President and at least three members of the Cabinet, for sure. What they’ll eventually end up charged with, who knows.”

“But sir, the VP and the Cabinet... are they members?” Jesus! Did this organization really extend that high? Hoskins had thought them mere dupes...

“Not part of The Trust. Not officially, anyway, but they certainly were eager to align themselves with our interests. The VP in particular was so anxious to ‘contain’ Subject X, he was blind to everything else we asked of him. We didn’t even have to blackmail or threaten any of them to secure their cooperation. Ambitious power-hungry bastards. Just like us. And they’ll provide a useful blind for the rest of us, while we do our best to salvage what we can of the organization.”

The man stood from his chair and went to a window, staring at the streets below, bustling with oblivious people, going about their lives. Unlike the citizens of Colorado Springs, Las Vegas, and Washington DC.

“I’ll need to make a report of my own. Certain protocols are in place and need to be initiated to limit fall-out. I would advise you to look to your own contingency plans. HomeWorld will consider you KIA soon, correct? And your new identity?”

“Major William Matthews, sir, USMC.”

“Good. You’ll be attached to the JCS for the time being, until we can re-group and do a full risk assessment, then you’ll probably take over Utah. But that’s a best-case scenario, and we should also plan for the worst. Are your affairs in order, Major?”

Hoskins took a deep breath. “Yes, sir. They are.”

“Then I’ll let you go. You know the drill for emergencies. You may be contacted to make some sort of report in person. Don’t be late. Major... Escobar, is it? Please remain.”

Hoskins swallowed heavily. Maybe that didn’t mean a quick shot to the back of the head... then again, it might. It was standard operating procedure for those whose usefulness to the organization was at an end, like those poor bastards on board the C-150 bound for Utah.

He didn’t salute this time, Bradshaw had never worn any uniform so far as he knew, and he didn’t give the traditional farewell... he wasn’t at all sure it had been either an honour or a privilege being anywhere near this fucked-up mess, considering he had been black-mailed into participating in the first place. Knowing what he knew, he wasn’t one hundred percent sure the man behind the desk, Major Scarface, or any one of his other co-conspirators, were even human. The deeper in he had been dragged, the worse it had got. A Goa’ulded Wraith? What the fuck! How could anyone have thought that was a good idea? And no matter who Subject X had once been, how old he really was, or what powers, skills or knowledge he possessed... condoning what had been done to a five-year-old boy...

If he was going to be dead soon anyway, maybe it wouldn’t be out of line to drop a few bread-crumbs in the way of General Jack O’Neill’s legendary nose.

Å

Bradshaw heard the scarred Major’s brief summary, gave him his orders, and sent him on his way. Then he rose from his desk and stood at the window, contemplating the view from his ultra-elegant high-rise office, and sighed.

Cluster-fuck didn’t begin to touch this situation. He had known all along that they were playing with fire, holding captured Wraith, apprehending higher and higher profile individuals of varying degrees of usefulness, either as hosts or for the Bunker Thirteen cells, operating more and more brazenly under the noses of the White House, Capitol, Pentagon, IOA, HomeWorld and Area 51... The whole house of cards was bound to fall sooner or later. The less wise of their cohorts, both in and outside the organization, wanting more hands-on involvement in Bunker Thirteen, and eager to take advantage of its unique… facilities, would certainly pay the price, and might drag them all down.

Bradshaw wasn’t in charge of the current version of The Trust, because no one really was. They had a Board and a Board Chairman, certainly, most of them Goa’ulds infesting prominent hosts, in business, government, and the military. The Trust also had an executive office, mostly un-Goa’ulded humans, of which he was a part, the purpose of which was to provide a liaison, and a secrecy barrier, between the supposed bosses, and the various rank-and-file science, technical and strong-arm minions. There were a lot of high-echelon members of the cabal who certainly thought they were in charge, but since they delegated so much of the operational details to him, they probably hadn’t realized how removed they were from the true power.

After the founding leaders of The Trust, the Goa’uld Athena and the Baal clones in their clone hosts, were eliminated several years ago, only young symbiotes were left on Earth to inherit the business, those who had matured in tanks or Jaffa the rogue NID brought back. Those Goa’uld, although they did possess the race memory of their sires, were young, inexperienced, ignorant and arrogant, even when paired with influential hosts. Not exactly leadership material – not successful leaders, at least.

The loss of Bunker Thirteen could prove to be a devastating blow to The Trust organization. It was by no means the only Earth-side facility they ran. They had four labs scattered around the world, in Utah, Siberia, Somalia and Columbia, and one more ‘detention’ center on an un-named private island in the Pacific. Bunker Thirteen, because of its handy location and ease of access, had held their most important and highest profile prisoners, and had been the one facility they had made available to ‘allies’ not directly a part of the organization, in a blatant display of their influence with the government and military. Which, truth be known, was far less than any of those ‘allies’ could guess. In fact, invitations to inspect the Bunker had been used as a means of gathering incriminating evidence with which to black-mail cooperation and concessions, building a vast network of dupes to serve the organization. All of whom were now at risk of exposure, and would no doubt race to spill what little they knew to save their own asses. Hoskins’ optimistic estimate, that digital and paper evidence had been destroyed, may yet limit the damage, but Bradshaw was unwilling to depend on such a best-case scenario. That’s why “Escobar” had been ordered to make an immediate determination of what evidence might have found its way into HomeWorld hands. Worst case, everyone who could be connected to Bunker Thirteen, however remotely, was now a security risk.

At Bradshaw’s conservative guess, every single member of the Board, and most of the executive office, were potentially vulnerable, and could soon find themselves victim to the coming purge. The only question would be who would get to them first: HomeWorld or the Trust sweepers commanded by “Escobar”. Depending upon what evidence had been turned up at Bunker Thirteen, it would be pathetically easy to get proof of treason against any of them, and he could bet O’Neill would make the most of any info he got hold of.

So that meant all of the Goa’uld, so very vulnerable to detection with a simple X-ray or naquadah scanner, and who had used Bunker Thirteen as a sort of rumpus room. Truthfully, they would be no great loss. That would include Congressman Klein, who carried a symbiote calling itself Ithm, a Mesopotamian sheep-god, of all stupid things. It also would include everyone they had at the White House and on the Hill who had unwisely signed certain paperwork, publicly and personally endorsed certain falsified and fraudulent evidence, and insisted on frequent reports. That would take care of the NID Assistant Director, Phillip Gaffney. Then there were their JCS members, who could never resist an on-site inspection. And so General Brady would be one of the first to get hauled up in the net. They could all be added to the casualties in the wake of the invasion.

As to the three people Bradshaw reported to on the sly, without the knowledge of the Board or anyone else at the executive level, he was fairly sure they had remained aloof enough to escape detection. Senator Ulysses Stahl, General Aubrey Evans of the JCS, and Ms. Charlotte Gant, CEO of GlobalTech, one of the top ten multi-national technology corporations on the planet, were largely unknown, even to the Board. And Gant was the only host of the three, carrying one of the last Baal symbiote clones, who had escaped the purge of its brothers only because it had abandoned the too-recognizable clone host, in its own brand of hostile take-over.

Bradshaw considered the more wily of his fellow conspirators, and figured, if they could just avoid getting caught in the mire with their more foolish associates, hold onto certain hidden assets, and were successful in flying under the radar, this might yet turn out to be a good thing. Culling the herd of its weakest members, if the recent threat of the Wraith didn’t make that too politically incorrect a thought.

Luckily, they hadn’t held all their eggs in the Bunker Thirteen basket. True, most of their minion-level staff had been working the Bunker, assignment there constituting a kind of combination orientation, training and loyalty-test for further involvement with the organization. The remaining Trust employees were either personal staff of the various Board members and executives, or stationed at the secret labs and bases they had hidden and scattered world-wide. Operations would be severely understaffed for a time, but since they were being forced to lay low anyway, they could take the opportunity to recruit new staff.

Which posed its own sort of difficulties.

It used to be, the NID and other fringe government intelligence agencies, both foreign and domestic, were rife with black-ops trained personnel just itching to go rogue, for any reason, but mostly in a bid to grab more power for themselves. Double-edged swords, those, as proved by Maybourne (unreliable because he wouldn’t stay bent) and Simmons (who ran far too many risks, approved some very ill-advised ops, and very nearly took over the whole show for himself, before he took that one step too far).

They could once also take a chance and maybe turn someone inside the SGC itself, appealing to those, like Colonel Makepeace, with a mis-placed sense of duty, by arguing the SGC, the IOA or HomeWorld Security were not being militant enough, that the only reasonable intergalactic policy to defend the planet was a pro-Earth, scorched-Universe mind-set. But fifteen years experience had proved Dr. Jackson and his soft-science diplomats were right, making alien allies was a significant strength. So it was no good trying to draw new personnel from there, people with valuable off-world experience. Those people were the best of the best, and had worked too hard to get that prestige posting, had too much ambition, drive, dedication to turn.

So that forced them to rely on the SGC rejects and mal-contents, as well as wannabes from the Pentagon and Area 51, for their hiring pool. Which meant they were automatically looking at the failures, the also-rans, the disaffected, dumb or apathetic. And, yes, those with weaknesses to exploit, like Major Hoskins – sorry, that would now be Major Matthews – was all to the good, but it was undeniably true that good help was hard to find.

It was fortunate, therefore, that there remained two units of military minions available to him. Their primary sweeper teams, Sierra Unit, were commanded by Matthews. Foxtrot Unit, their more covert teams for more extreme, delicate or sensitive assignments, was under the direct supervision of Major “Escobar”, or, as he was referred to in any communications, Major Smith. Both units had extreme talents in black ops. Then there was Zebra Unit… their sole remaining off-world Unit. Commanded by Colonel Makepeace, they had been cut off for the past year, after losing the one tel’tak and crew the Trust had to Tok’ra agents. But Makepeace and his lieutenant, Neumann, were still at large, reporting in at regular intervals via Goa’uld vo’cume. Smith and Makepeace both reported, and took their orders, directly from him. Now, so would Matthews, officially as well as unofficially. Bradshaw himself was under the personal direction of the triad of Stahl, Evans and Gant, but they preferred a very hands-off management style, when not in crisis mode. Foxtrot was currently on standby, awaiting Bradshaw’s orders, to begin cleaning up the Bunker Thirteen mess, needing only a list of names to begin work. Smith would supply that list.

And wouldn’t that be as much fun as a train wreck, once it began to hit the news waves. It might even over-shadow the Earth’s first (public) Alien Invasion. Might be time to move their operation off-world, what was left of it, and if Zebra Unit could convince their Lucian friends to send transport.

The Trust had only managed three times to successfully get a mole within the SGC ranks, tapping into their databases and communication networks, but none of those operatives had lasted more than a month before being exposed and arrested. None had ever had access to the twenty-eight floor, or the Stargate itself. And, the one Goa’uld symbiote they had managed to get into Colonel Steven Caldwell was the only one of their people ever to manage to infiltrate Atlantis, the Ancient Outpost, the F-302 squadrons, or the BC-304 ships. With every space-capable vessel the organization once possessed destroyed or confiscated in the purge of the Baals, the Trust currently had no other escape route off the planet… unless Zebra could score them one.

Of course, the Lucians hadn’t been all that pleased with them, recently, with the lack of support from their Trust allies, in preventing the Tau’ri blitz that was decimating Lucian activities everywhere in the Milky Way. When the smoke cleared over this Invasion disaster, the survivors of The Trust would have to offer up significant assistance or assets in return for a lift off the planet.

In the meantime, Bradshaw had his own contingency plans ready to go at a moment’s notice. Including a very well-hidden tel’tak at his secret beach cottage in the Hamptons, its existence unknown to the Trust, his children, current or ex-wives. The space-craft was already loaded with enough convertible currencies (information, gold, jewels and weapons) to make the rest of his life comfortable, anywhere he chose to go. It only remained to decide which of his flunkies and/or mistresses he would take with him…

Å

A bright light was all the warning Major General Jack O’Neill got that Colonel Samantha Carter had arrived in his living room. The modest ranch-style house in an Arlington suburb was the temporary home of his agency, HomeWorld Security, until Washington DC was made a bit more presentable, although Colonel Sheppard, military CO of Atlantis, had offered him a whole tower on the city, if he wanted it. He was seriously considering it.

Just one glance and he knew he had never seen Carter so out-and-out furious as she was now. Considering the last time she had reported, from the bridge of the *Hammond* over Antarctica, and she was giddy over successfully shooting down two (count ‘em, two) hive ships (that’s his girl, over achiever that she was), he was a bit alarmed.

She slammed a paper report on the coffee table in front of him, completely ignoring all the startled HWS staff stuffed into odd spaces in front of the TV, around the dining room table and in the kitchen, shoving paper and tablets over the breakfast bar. Then she announced, in a cold, pinched voice, “Those bastards had Daniel, sir!”

His blood went cold. “The Wraith?” he demanded.

Of all the worse-case scenarios they had run, that wasn’t even on the board. No one had known the Wraith were even in the galaxy, let alone drawing a bead on Earth, until that first body had appeared outside Las Vegas city limits a few weeks ago. Sheppard was displaying superhuman tact not to blurt out a few well-earned ‘I told you so’s, since he’d been agitating to fly the Ancient city back to the Pegasus Galaxy the entire time they’d been stuck on Earth. He had argued they needed to take care of the Wraith at the source, for once and for all. Dr. Rodney McKay, the Atlantis expedition chief science officer, had not been so reticent, practically crowing over being right in his doom-and-gloom predictions. Surprisingly, Richard Woolsey, the current Atlantis civilian Administrator and a politician to his very marrow, had joined the annoying scientist.

“No, sir. That damned bunker outside Area 51. Gitmo West. That last cell, the one the Goa’ulded Wraith was trying to break into. Daniel was in there.”

Jack didn’t dare try and pick up the file. His hands were shaking too badly. He could only sit there and battle his way to process.

It had been a long two months, since a five-year-old Daniel Jackson Junior (according to the creative paperwork) had disappeared off the face of the planet. Hell, it had been a long six months since Dr. Daniel Jackson, archeologist, linguist, peaceful explorer, intergalactic diplomat, former adult and certified trouble magnet, had returned from a routine mission with SG-5, in a somewhat... abbreviated form. His SG-1 team-mate Vala Mal Doran had been absolutely livid. Still was. Colonel Cameron Mitchell, SG-1 CO, still had the four members of SG-5 doing KP and desk duty at the Mountain.

It hadn’t even been Daniel’s fault, this time. He had told the other members of the team to keep out of the alien lab until he finished translating the big red flashing symbols over the entrance. They had waited until his back was turned to step inside... He had been trying to save their 2IC, knocking him out of the way of the beam, only to get caught himself. No one was sure if it was the trauma of the event, or a side effect of the beam, but that brilliant brain had come out the other end in a state similar to Swiss cheese. Lots of holes. Language skills seemed to be fully intact, along with encyclopedic knowledge of cultures and societies both terrestrial and off-world, but personal memories were shredded. Inside the body of a five year old child. SGC scientists and linguists still had hopes of figuring out how to reverse the effect, but all testing with the alien machinery was still killing the white mice.

Jack hadn’t been about to let them stick Daniel in that thing again, no matter how many times the egg-heads claimed mice were too fragile to survive anyway. Let them try guinea pigs or rabbits first, they thought mice were so vulnerable. But until they managed to get something in and out alive, he wasn’t letting them experiment with Daniel.

He had taken the little boy to live with him. Daniel still remembered his Jack. After over ten years exploring the universe on SG-1 together, with Jack as his team leader, he should damn well *hope* so. And Jack had enjoyed feeling like a father again... and annoyed... no, enraged, when the requests started coming across his desk for interrogations with a ‘subject’ who had been Ascended (at least twice), Merlin-ed, Prior-ized, and now re-sized. As if Daniel wasn’t real to them.

Daniel was no longer on a gate team, obviously. Requests from aliens for his negotiation skills were turned down, and there was no way Jack was letting a five year old pull eighteen-hour a day translation stints... and those few translations he did churn out were checked by others who did their best to find fault that wasn’t there. Jack could understand how, in some quarters, Daniel’s value as an asset might be perceived as... lacking. So even though those requests for ‘interviews’ were summarily filed in Jack’s waste basket, they kept bouncing back, authorized by people in higher and higher pay brackets... so Jack had gone himself, storming up to the White House to explain, in great detail, why it just wasn’t ever going to happen.

He thought he’d made his position quite clear. And maybe that was exactly the problem. Because a week later, four black SUVs with government plates had forced him off a lightly-travelled side road, a gas grenade had been fired into his truck, and when he woke up, Daniel was gone. And none of the doors he had kicked down had yielded any clue to Daniel’s whereabouts. The President wouldn’t even authorise an amber alert... his advisors were claiming that because of Daniel’s background, the national security nightmare was something they didn’t dare risk. And having that very national security nightmare in hostile hands was an *acceptable* risk? But Jack knew in his water that the stonewall was because at least one of those ‘advisors’ knew exactly where his boy was, and wasn’t ready to give him up.

His boy. God, his boy. After two solid months without a clue, now, at least, they knew. A guest of Gitmo West, for crying out loud.

“But he’s not there now.”

“He’s not anywhere in the facility. No body, living or dead. We’d have found him. We checked three times, and I’ve got my best team going over it again. He might have managed to crawl out after the walls started to cave in on his level, but... from what we’ve been able to piece together, it was chaos down there, human guards and Wraith soldiers firing non-stop until everyone but the last Wraith prisoner was dead... no way Daniel could have made it past the fighting in the stairwell... he might have Ascended.”

“Oh hell, no...”

“I can’t think of another explanation, off-hand, sir. But they... sir, they... they had him this whole time. And considering what other experiments they were running in that hole, I can only guess what... what they might have been...”

Jack shook his head abruptly. His imagination was pretty damned good, and he didn’t dare speculate, either. “Don’t, Carter. Just don’t. As long as there’s no body, we follow Oma Protocols. He’s alive, somewhere, in some state, and we just have to find him. With any luck, he’ll be back to his right size, and we won’t need to keep messing with that damned alien shrink ray.”

Carter drew back, her eyes too bright, and nodded, her mouth a grim line. For almost a decade it had been him, Carter, Daniel and Master Teal’c of Chulak, SG-1, the flag ship team of Stargate Command, getting in and out of one hair-raising escapade after another, saving each other and planets with equal parts guile, skill and dumb luck. The four of them had a lot of history together.

Then, daring greatly, Carter suggested, “Maybe... we shouldn’t try to find him, sir.”

“What?”

“Well sir... Even if we do find him... won’t they just take him again?”

Jack’s own eyes glittered dangerously. “Not if I run down every last person responsible, and everyone who even suspected where he was and who took him, and make them pay in ways my Iraqi prison guards wouldn’t have dared contemplate. Oh, and if all else fails, I still have the Stargate address for Hadante in my back pocket. A one-way ticket to a prison planet seems like just the place for these ass-holes. And I’m going to do all this in full view of the world, and I’m going to have the backing of every politician in Washington and the IOA, because they won’t dare get in my way. We’re well and truly outed now, Carter, and that changes the ballgame. And after the Invasion rained on their parade, we should have all the evidence we need to nail them all. Now, do we know who was running... what did you call it, Gitmo West?”

“Yes sir. I’m not sure who came up with the name, I think one of the civilians on the first sweep team who went in, but it caught on fast. The official designation was apparently Bunker Thirteen.”

“Yeah, no. Not the same ring to it. Go on.”

“They had two Wraith prisoners, one with a symbiote...”

“Sheesh. A Goa’ulded Wraith? Who the hell thought that would be a good idea?”

“Another Goa’uld, apparently, sir. After the first sweep team reported finding a symbiote, the SGC clean-up crew instituted immediate protocols to check for others. They came up with two Marine officers who were still at Building A, a captain and a lieutenant, being debriefed in the invasion aftermath. They tried to shoot their way out, and were shot trying to escape. Both were part of a special detachment of SFs, designation Tango Unit, doing what was euphemistically called ‘miscellaneous perimeter sweeps’. But there were eighty military assets assigned to that particular unit, and no one ever thought to question what they were really doing.”

“Staffing Gitmo West.”

“Yes sir. A night shift of thirty military personnel were deployed to the bunker just before the invasion began, along with a skeleton crew of fifteen civilian support assets of various kinds, including techs and a night janitor. All dead now. We checked, and one guard had a symbiote. So did three of the dead prisoners, in human hosts. Of the fifty military and twenty five tech, medical, science and support staff assigned to the day shift, all were in Building A, signing out, grabbing a meal in the mess or changing into civvies. Seventeen survived the invasion. We sent our people to bring them in for questioning... oddly enough, they’re all AWOL. We’re tracking now. On paper, that detachment falls under NID orders, under command of a Major Hoskins, USMC, who is also AWOL. So they’re either rogue NID, or Trust.”

“Terrific. I thought we’d nailed them all.”

“Obviously not. But the good news is that the night crew didn’t get a chance to destroy any of their files, either hard-copy or computer databases, so we’ve got it all. The idiots shot out the camera screens, and laptops, and apparently didn’t even know all the actual data records were polled hourly to the back room server hard drives. We’ve got all of the hard-copy files from the bunker, including their paper sign-in sheets and visitor logs, autographs of everyone in and out of that place in the past year. We’ve got the complete set of surveillance records, lab notes, transfer orders, interrogation transcripts, you name it. We even have their financials and budgets, with authorising signatures. We’re tracking contacts up and down the line to identify any more possible connections. We’ll get them, sir. This time, we’ll get them all.”

Jack O’Neill nodded, swallowing heavily. “Anything you need, anyone you need, just let me know. Keeping Wraith prisoners on Earth, when we know they have telepathic connections to their Queens, and staffing with Goa’ulds... that’s more than enough to label them traitors to the human race. Their asses belong to me. Number one priority, Carter.”

“Yes sir!”

O’Neill had known The Trust was still operating on Earth as soon as he woke up from that gas grenade to find Daniel gone. He was sure they were behind the kidnapping, in spite of what the President and his advisors claimed. And with the resources they evidently still had, and the ability to hog-tie even the Oval Office… Who was he supposed to trust, himself? On any given day it seemed to Jack like Washington was positively crawling with Trust flunkies. And with Goa’uld symbiotes and Wraith prisoners to play with to their black hearts’ content… He suspected that the bastards had to have off-world connections with the Lucian Alliance, as well. Although the Lucians had probably discovered what Jack could have told them for free – never trust a Goa’uld.

In the past year, O’Neill had made neutralizing the Lucian Alliance his number one priority, with the blessings of pretty much everyone, on planet and off. Unlike other threats to the Earth, the Lucian thugs were only too willing and able to take the fight to their tiny blue world. So Jack had drafted DEA, ATF, Interpol, Mossad and any other CI/CT groups he could reach, to help infiltrate deep undercover into the interstellar gangsters known as the Lucian Alliance. The strategy had been amazingly effective. Earth-bound criminals might have evolved alongside and become wise to the methods and tricks of undercover law enforcement, but the Lucians were suckers for it all. And without having to worry overly much about warrants, entrapment, or legal technicalities, Jack’s Narcs enjoyed their broader scope. As a result, many Lucian clans were brought down. Slavery rings, drug trafficking and piracy were almost eradicated. Ha’taks and al’kesh had either been shot down or confiscated and handed over to the Free Jaffa. Teal’c and his mentor Bra’tac, the leaders of the Free Jaffa, had been properly grateful.

As far as Jack could tell, there were less than a half dozen clans left with any form of interstellar transport, a few rogue ha’taks and tel’taks still flying under the radar, but the clans running them were mostly disbanded, arrested or scattered (with some of his deep undercover agents taken along with, still trusted and still on the job). With nothing but a couple guys in a tel’tak to run the extortion & protection rackets, most planets had turned on the Lucians rather than pay their percentages. He’d lately heard reports of one guy, Olokun’s First Prime, operating in that dead false god’s old stomping grounds, his ranks filled with jaffa, so difficult for his narcs to get a foothold. Also, there were still three Ori battle cruisers unaccounted for when the rest of the Fleet returned to their own galaxy with Tomin, and were rumored to have made contact with the Lucians. Cleaning up those last renegades would have to wait, though.

The Wraith had unwittingly handed him the ammunition he needed to finish The Trust off, for good and all. And he was going to take full advantage.

But he couldn’t help but think… what good did any of it do, if he couldn’t save his friend?

Daniel, buddy, where the hell are you?

Å

Spencer fully expected nightmares, and he certainly got them. And not just his own. The third time the little boy woke up screaming in a foreign language, a Semitic variant he couldn’t identify, and he thought he knew at least a smattering of all of them, Spencer sighed, picked him up and carried him to the reading chair, just cradling him on his lap.

“I can’t sleep,” the little one sobbed, exhausted. “I’m so sleepy, but I can’t sleep. I have bad dreams.”

“I know. I do too,” Spencer told him. “Would it help if I got you some milk? Maybe told you a story? When I was small and had nightmares, my mother read to me.”

The little heart-rate slowed, and sobbing calmed, and big blue eyes looked up hopefully. “What kind of stories?”

Spencer smiled at his mom, blinking sleepily from her bed. “Mostly the tales of King Arthur, and the Knights of the Round Table. Those were my favorite.”

“Oh. I used to like those too… until I found out they were real.”

That made both of the Reid doctors pause and exchange alarmed glances. “Oh. Uh…”

“Well, the myths maybe weren’t so real, because stories change every time a new storyteller tells it, but… they were real people, once. Arthur and Lancelot and Perceval and Gawain, and even Morgan le Fey. And especially Merlin. He was really real. We found him, my team and me, in a cave guarded by a dragon. A real, honest to goodness dragon! That was way cool.

“There’s lots of things out there that are real that we think are just myths or stories… most of them aren’t very nice. Ra and Apophis and Osiris and Anubis and Hathor, they were Goa’ulds, really, and they were all really really bad, before Jack and me and the team killed them. Thor was good, though, before he went away. The Asgard got too old and couldn’t switch clone bodies any more. And Morgan Le Fey was okay, in the end. She helped us. So did Merlin.

“Atlantis is real, too. I found that, too. That was back when I was big.”

“The Lost City of Atlantis?” Spencer asked quietly, trying to rein in the shudder up his spine. “You mean the city in Plato’s *Timaeus* and *Critias*, beyond the Pillars of Hercules, sunk beneath the sea?”

“Uh-hunh. It was supposed to be a myth, but it wasn’t. The lost city of the Ancients, sunk to the bottom of an ocean beyond the Gates. It was just a lot farther away than Plato thought. Different Gates, different ocean. Well, I didn’t actually go there myself, I just told them where to go look. John Sheppard and Doctor McKay and Doctor Weir went. And they raised her up off the bottom of the ocean. She flies, too, you know? Through space and everything. I saw pictures of her on the television in the front lobby. Did you see her flying? Last night?”

“You mean the city like a snow-flake? That’s Atlantis… Yes, I did see her.”

“She’s so pretty, isn’t she? Like fairy tale castles. All stained glass and marble inside… Jack wouldn’t let me go on the first expedition. Even though I really, really wanted to. But we all knew it might be a one-way trip… The Pegasus Galaxy is a long way away. But we found a way to make contact again. We have ships that go there all the time, now. I only got to visit Atlantis a couple of times… that’s so-o-o not fair… I’m the expert on the Ancients, I’m the one knows their language the best, and they wouldn’t let me go. Even when they brought her back to Earth and she was anchored off San Francisco under a cloak, they only let me visit a few times. Never as long as I wanted to. And then when I got small like this, Jack was afraid to let me do *anything*, and he even made rules about how long I could do translations and made me go play outside instead.”

Spencer wasn’t sure how aware the little boy was of his audience as he prattled on, but at least it seemed to calm him, his eyes heavy-lidded.

“Oh. I shouldn’t tell you this stuff. You don’t have clearance. I never told those other guys anything… the ones in the bunker. No matter how often they asked, or what they did to me.”

“I’m sure you didn’t.”

“I don’t want to get you in trouble. You’ve been very kind. You and your mom, and those guys with you last night… I like Greg. He’s funny.”

“Yes, he is.”

“And I don’t want to be a pain in the mikta… Jack says I’m a terrible trouble magnet and pain in the mikta. Maybe that’s why…”

“Why what, sweetheart?” Diana asked gently.

“Maybe that’s why he didn’t come for me. I was in that bunker dungeon for such a long time… lots and lots of sleeps… he never came. They… the bad men… they told me… they told me he signed off on it. That he let them have me, and that I should co-op-er-ate and tell them everything I knew. But I didn’t believe them! Jack wouldn’t do that… he just wouldn’t!”

“No, he wouldn’t,” Spencer assured the little boy with certainty as he grew more distraught. And that successfully derailed another bout of tears.

“How… how do you know that?”

“Well, I’m a profiler for the FBI. We hunt serial killers. Remember I told you that? Well, I know about interrogations. For witnesses, you need to build rapport, gain their trust. The people who took you couldn’t do that. But for suspects, potentially hostile witnesses, the rules are different. First, you study the subject, find the subject’s weak points, so you can use that as leverage. You have to surprise them, get them off-base, put the subject off their game, then take control, apply pressure, bring all the pressure to bear you can, until they reveal the truth you’re looking for. Right?”

The little boy shuddered, but nodded.

“Well, I knew almost right away that your weak spot is Jack. I bet the men who held you knew that too, right?”

“Right… how did you know? About Jack and me?” There was curiosity in that question, and a certain easing of tense little muscles.

“Well, you told me. The very first thing I heard you say was down in your cell, you shouted ‘No!’. When you saved me from that eel thing. Remember?”

“Goa’uld symbiote. Yeah. It would have burrowed into you and taken you over. That would have been bad.”

“Well, thanks for stopping it, then. After that, you didn’t say anything until we got back to Dr. Grissom’s car. Then he suggested taking you to hospital, you said, ‘No! No, they’ll find me, and lock me up again!’ Then he said we’d protect you, and you said, ‘You can’t. No one can. Even Jack couldn’t, and he’s a general!’ So Jack’s name was practically the first thing you told us after we rescued you. Obviously, then, he means a lot to you. And the bad men tried to use that against you, make you believe he sent you to that prison. But you know, if he really had been involved in any way, and they really wanted you to talk, it would have been Jack asking you the questions. You would have told him for sure, right?”

“Yes. Yes, I would.”

“So if you didn’t see him in person, then he couldn’t be there. And that bunker was very well hidden. Even the General in charge of Area 51 didn’t know it was there. So it would have been nearly impossible for anyone to find you. We wouldn’t have found you, except the Wraith were obviously trying to break into something, and Dr. Grissom, Nick, Greg and I went to check it out.”

“So Jack didn’t know I was there.”

“He didn’t know. Are you sure you don’t want me to try and contact Jack for you, though?”

“No! No... No, I don’t want to go back. The bad people will come for me if they know... Jack can’t help. And if I go back... I’ll have to be *him* again...”

Spencer suppressed a shiver. “Back when I was big...” the little boy had said... describing a life and experiences that, surely, couldn’t belong to a child... could even the most inventive and active child’s imagination come up with all this? On the other hand, someone involved in fighting alien invaders, discovering flying mythic cities, space vampire aliens and eel-like puppet masters... was it such a stretch to imagine some accident turning an adult into a child? And shadowy quasi-governmental black ops taking advantage of this vulnerability? Not all of the memories in that little head were good, obviously, and that seemed so very wrong. Spencer could understand wanting to deny them, and the identity that went with them, if possible.

“You mean... you’d have to be Daniel Jackson again.”

The little boy shuddered in revulsion. “I’m Ethan now,” he insisted.

“You’re Ethan now. That’s fine. And I know some people I think will be happy to have you stay with them.”

“Even if I’m a pain in the mikta?”

“Well, I’m not sure, but I think they’ll like that *especially* if you’re a pain in the mikta.”

Little Ethan laughed, and Diana chuckled, and Spencer smiled. And in a few more moments, the small body in his arms stilled, the breathing evened out, heart rate slowed, and Diana calmly draped the blue afghan over them both.

Å