Actions

Work Header

Codename: Firestarter

Chapter Text

Å

~ *Everyone's quick to blame the alien.* ~ Aeschylus ~

Å

Major Vincent Hoskins, or rather, Major William Matthews, although he was presently disguised in an expensive civilian business suit, wanted to squirm in his chair. He was seated at a huge conference table of dark rich wood, once again at the side of Stanley Bradshaw, his boss, who wore a suit even more expensive and impeccably tailored. Bradshaw’s new executive assistant, Miss Smith (or, as he still thought of her, Ms Sour-Puss), sat on his other side, organizing manila file folders, opening a laptop to tie into the room’s projection system. Major “Jerico”, or so said his name tag, sat on Smith’s other side, also uneasy in civvies, with an unlikely paunch and even unlikelier bald spot. And the ever-present scar on his chin.

They had their backs to a projection screen at one end of the room, large screen television mounted on the beige wall to the right, running ZNN coverage and a stock market ticker-tape along the bottom, the left wall was glass, floor to ceiling, end to end, looking out on the Manhattan skyline. The fourth wall, directly opposite, was tastefully done in dark wood paneling, disguising a series of cabinet doors which hid book shelves, a fully-stocked wet bar, and an equally well-equipped armory.

At the far end of the table sat Ms. Charlotte Gant, CEO of GlobalTech, whose premises these were. To either side of her sat General Aubrey Evans, and Senator Ulysses Stahl.

The Major was in a room full of arrogant assholes, and he was low man on the pole. Again. Great.

“This,” growled General Aubrey Evans, “is a very bad idea. You know this, correct? Any one of us might be under scrutiny right now as suspected conspirators of the Trust. I’m already at risk after that stunt your man Kavanagh pulled… and have you found out yet how he identified me as one of your superiors? No? The man sent me an email, for god’s sake! A bloody email! And we needed to meet, why, exactly? The entire organization is a train wreck right now, and there are sharks everywhere smelling blood in the water. I don’t intend to get bitten. Do you?”

Ms. Charlotte Gant’s smirk grew wider. “It is precisely that train wreck we need to review, senator,” she said smoothly. “You realize that it isn’t as bad as you think? So far the casualties have been those expendable assets we intended to remove at some point in any case. Think of it as down-sizing, stream-lining the operation… or as evolution in action. Most have been those too stupid to survive. And there has been a great deal of stupidity rampant among our colleagues of late.”

The Major squirmed a little in his seat at Gant’s sharp tone. So far, Major Matthews and his superior, Stanley Bradshaw, had remained silent and motionless at the large solid oak conference table, with nothing of substance to offer. Miss Smith had already passed the reports around to the Triad, the true powers behind the Trust, with a damning summary page on top. It catalogued the members of the Trust fallen or taken by HomeWorld, and among the middle and high echelons, the only survivors were in this very room. Anyone even tangentially connected to the Trust had either been eradicated as knowing too much, or were in HomeWorld cells.

There was only the one labs left, in Siberia, and that’s where they’d stashed Kavanagh, with tight control on his internet access, and any other form of communication confiscated. The remaining security staff, his three surviving Sierra Units, were portioned to the lab or as protection details to the remaining leaders of the Trust. Matthews had recently learned that Scarface had three Foxtrot teams of his own hidden away, scattered to various bolt holes to await further instructions. Zebra Unit (all two of them) were still at large, gating around the galaxy, desperately searching for transport. That left independent assets (AKA potential extortion victims) who knew little about them, but held useful positions in government, military or business circles, about whom the Trust held enough blackmail material to force compliance. At the moment, even a hint of connection to the Trust was a potentially fatal risk, and keeping it secret was a powerful motivator.

A year ago, Charlotte Gant, forty-six, divorced mother of two estranged teenagers, whose driving ambition and control issues had made her one of the wunderkinds of the high tech computer industry, had undergone something of a personality change. Already CEO of GlobalTech, she had ceased her relentless efforts to gobble up every smaller company she perceived as vulnerable, and had begun consolidating her holdings, instead. Her wardrobe changed, became far more… well, sexy. She had dispensed with her glasses altogether, and her staff presumed she had either gone for lasik, or wore contacts now. She had wasted little time on her ex-husband or her children before this, her career taking precedence, but now she never saw them at all. Her “friends” were business associates, she had no other family, and appeared to need no other human contact outside work. But then, she never had. The interest in politics, though, was new, and GlobalTech had never dabbled in military or government contracts before that. Most upsetting to the organization she ran was her mass firing of the executive and board of directors, replaced by new faces, all fanatically loyal to her.

Gant sat straight and opened the folder before her. “But let’s review the situation, shall we? Stanley, why don’t you bring us up to date?”

Bradshaw stifled an inner sigh. “Well, you can all review the summary at your convenience, but the most urgent matter is the first bullet point covered.” At his merest eye-flick, the scarily efficient Miss Smith sent her laptop cursor to click on a slide to display on the projection screen behind them. “I need authorization to continue the hunt for Dr. Daniel Jackson.”

“Hell no! Let Jackson go!” the General commanded.

General Aubrey Evans was an Army two-star who had worked his way up from private, used his one tour in Iraq to gain an MBA on the GI Bill, parlayed that into Officer Command School, and proceeded on up the ladder as a staff officer. Ambitious, street-savvy, he had early on learned the knack of ingratiating himself with superiors, learning their secrets and weaknesses, and using them to his advantage. Some ten years ago, he had found himself assigned to Area 51, and… well. That was the mother-lode of secrets. It hadn’t taken long at all for certain like-minded parties to recognize his talents (among them, a certain flexibility in moral character) and offer him the right incentives to join their ranks. His rise to the JCS had been described as meteoric after that.

“There’s such a thing as sending good money after bad,” he insisted. “It’s not like we got anything useful out of the brat the entire two months we had him, and he’s no threat to us at this point. He can’t tell them anything they didn’t already get from the Bunker security tapes and files. There’s too much damn heat right now to keep after him. And on page three of this report I see the long list of sweeper teams we’ve recently lost to the HomeWorld purge, including the last team we sent after Jackson.”

Bradshaw took a deep breath, and the Major knew he was fighting not to roll his eyes. For a military man, the General was amazingly risk-averse. But then, the Major knew most of his battles for the past twenty years had been the bloodless back-room political kind.

“It’s not that simple,” Bradshaw said in a soft, patient tone that had Lord Baal glance sharply at him. “Our friends the Lucians have decided they want him, and are being… difficult about cooperating with us unless we produce him.”

Senator Ulysses Stahl glanced briefly at Baal. “So they won’t provide us with the necessary escape route unless we can give them Jackson.”

“That would be the situation, yes.”

“What the hell do they want him for?” the General demanded. “Okay, so once upon a time he was a hot shot genius at languages and puzzles. But now he’s nothing but a snot-nosed brat. There’s nothing left of the glowy stuff, right?”

Bradshaw actually cringed, and Baal gave the General a hard level look, obviously re-evaluating the man’s place in their Triad. Frankly, the Major was surprised Baal still had any use for either of the two other men at the conference table.

Senator Ulysses Stahl was an attractive and personable man in his mid-fifties with the backing of his wife’s wealthy family, his former partners in a prestigious Wall Street law firm, and a team of advisors who had been carefully crafting his political career for the past decade. As a result, he was being touted as a candidate for his party’s next presidential nomination, and had begun building his campaign team. When names had been suggested for prominent business people to assist in building his war chest, Ms. Charlotte Gant, CEO of GlobalTech, had come up. Gant had been making tentative overtures to the party for the past year, offering her time and support. After cautious consideration, Stahl had taken her up on it.

General Aubrey Evans was the same age as Stahl, but from a far less auspicious and advantaged background. Both Evans and Stahl were valued partners under usual circumstances, due to their positions, connections and influence, but since the Wraith invasion, nothing had been usual. With the Wraith fleets aware of the Milky Way Galaxy, Earth was nothing but a smorgasbord waiting for the life-sucking aliens to come ring the dinner bell. What allies and ships Earth possessed due to HomeWorld would quickly be overwhelmed by sheer numbers, if Atlantis reports from the Pegasus were to be believed. The current Trust plan was to cut and run as quickly as possible. As such, a quick planning session to discuss exit strategies had been deemed worth the risk of exposure to the three conspirators of the Triad getting together, along with Stanley Bradshaw and his aides. None of them knew, yet, if the trails from Bunker Thirteen had led HomeWorld as far as Bradshaw’s office.

This meeting with GlobalTech CEO Charlotte Gant, attended also by Stahl’s chief campaign advisor, Stanley Bradshaw, had some legitimacy to it. The presence of General Evans would be somewhat less easy to justify, if this meeting were ever uncovered, but GlobalTech held several extremely sensitive military contracts, and Evans had been to their headquarters in New York many times over the past year to go over progress and financial reports. The offices of GlobalTech were in a Manhattan skyscraper, the premises shared by countless other global corporations, and the security video feeds ended at the company reception desk, directly across from the elevator access. The whole thirty-fifth-through-thirty-seventh floors were leased to GlobalTech.

Bradshaw motioned to the Major to review certain critical information. Hoskins (no, damn it, Matthews) cleared his throat and explained, “Dr. Jackson is in the body of a six year old, but we were able to determine even before we acquired him that he had most of his memories as an adult, and all of his former abilities with language and code breaking. But in his mortal form, with a few notable exceptions, the Merlin incident and his temporary conversion to Prior, he has not been observed or reported to use Ascended abilities or knowledge. It was one of the questions we hoped to answer while we had possession of him. He also seems to have lost any abilities or knowledge he might have gained from Merlin’s memory down-load, or his time spent as a Prior of the Ori.”

The Senator’s eyes narrowed. “And the Lucians want him, why?”

Bradshaw took a breath. “Not just the Lucians. That advance invasion force of six hives made stops on their way to Earth, and left messages. Apparently, the Wraith are offering a deal. A truce and immunity from attack, in exchange for one of two men. John Sheppard and Daniel Jackson.”

“Okay, so Sheppard is in command of Atlantis… They know him from Pegasus, where he was a pain in their collective patoot, and without him, we only have one other guy with a strong enough ATA gene to run the Ancient’s City – General O’Neill, who they wouldn’t know from Adam. I can see why they’d want him. And we have no way to get to him. But what the hell do the Wraith want with Jackson?” the General demanded once again. “And it’s not like anyone can trust the Wraith to keep any deals, is it? I sure as hell wouldn’t feel obligated to keep any deals I made with a ham sandwich.”

Once again, with a nod from Bradshaw, the Major plowed in. “According to what we know from the Atlantis reports, if the Wraith make a deal like this, they actually do keep it. Several of their lords made treaties with populations in Pegasus for the communities to choose for themselves who would be culled. The communities would start with murderers and rapists, then thieves… eventually they’d work down to traffic violators, then the poor, old, sick and weak. As long as the quotas were filled, the Wraith left them alone otherwise.”

“Sick,” the General huffed.

“Efficient,” the Senator granted. “Saves them the effort of hunting.” The Major suppressed a shudder. He could see in the Senator’s eyes that the politician was already sizing up the Earth population into ‘food’ and ‘not-food’.

“So what do the Wraith want with a forty-pound kid?” the General demanded again. “It’s not like he’d make much of a meal.”

The Major struggled not to wince this time. Was excessive bluntness a feature of all higher ranks? “They call him Destroyer of Worlds. They know he was largely responsible for the defeat of the System Lords, the eradication of the Replicators, and the Ori… They know he was Ascended. The Ori and Ascended are related to the Lanteans, who were the progenitors of the Wraith as well as their hereditary enemies. Acquiring Jackson before they come here in force is in the nature of a pre-emptive strike for them. He is, after all, the reason they targeted Bunker Thirteen in their scouting mission.”

“How’d they find out so much about Jackson?” the Senator wanted to know.

“The Hoktaur project,” the Major replied briefly.

“Excuse me?” the General demanded. Oh yes. This would not go down well.

“The Hoktaur project,” and the Major elaborated reluctantly, “was an initiative at several of our labs to develop a superior host for Goa’uld symbiotes. They investigated different races, ages, genders, backgrounds and talents, various health, fitness and intelligence levels… and, of course, for the purposes of the project, other species and… past history with ascension. Once other tests and experiments had been completed, of course.”

“And including the Wraith, I take it,” the Senator commented.

“Yes.”

The General and Senator glared pointedly at Lord Baal, who held up her beautifully manicured hands with the blood-red nail polish to match her lip gloss. Gant was looking extremely professional and capable in her dark power suit with the flaming red blouse, open at the neck to reveal a thick gold chain necklace. Her dark hair was styled fashionably short, her dark eyes were sharp with intelligence, and she exuded an air of calm assurance. Her lips held just the shadow of a mocking smile. She sat at the head of the conference table, clearly the mistress of all she surveyed, and the attitude clearly annoyed both Stahl and Evans, alpha males to their bones.

“It’s nonsense, really. In the nature of a Goa’uld urban myth. It was one of Niirti’s bugs, finding, or engineering, a superior host. We allowed the project at the labs and the Bunker – encouraged it even – as a useful distraction for the younger Goa’uld. If they were concentrating on that, they were less of a problem in other areas. Believe me, one human host is exactly like another, and who the human was before implantation has little to do with making a superior host. After the initial settling and control period, the host personality retreats to a tiny dark corner of their psyche and fades quickly from existence.”

“’Nothing of the host survives’?” the Senator queried.

“Well, very little, anyway, and progressively less over time,” Baal confirmed. “Beauty and fitness are important. If they have useful knowledge that can be pulled out of them, or a high position of influence, that’s certainly of value. Otherwise…”

The Senator turned to Bradshaw. “So you implanted Jackson with a symbiote? Was that… wise?”

“That was a failure,” Bradshaw hurriedly assured. “Those symbiotes… died.”

Suddenly, Baal was far more interested. “Died?”

“The first died after entering the body, even as it attempted to crawl back out. The second as soon as it touched the neck. The third refused to make the attempt, and when forced, also died on contact with the body,” Bradshaw reported.

There was silence at that as Baal absorbed the implications.

“And the Wraith experiment? I presume there was one?” the General demanded. The Major was beginning to see why the man had made it to General, even with Trust assistance. He seemed to have a talent for putting his finger on exactly the point you most wanted him to miss.

Baal made a dismissive gesture. “It goes without saying that would be a failure. It is well known that symbiotes need to spawn with genetic material from the host species to be most compatible.”

The Major hesitated, rather shocked that Lord Baal seemed unaware… he had assumed that she would have read all the reports on the Hoktaur project. But apparently not. He glanced askance at Bradshaw, who gladly prompted him to go on with a nod – the bastard. Of course he wouldn’t want to deliver this news.

“That wasn’t the failure… a Wraith host seems to be compatible enough… maybe too compatible, or perhaps able to adapt more quickly than a human. The failure was that the symbiotes, once implanted, failed to be able to take control.”

“What?” Baal asked, low, soft, intent.

“The Wraith had many qualities desirable in a host species. Stronger, faster, larger than a human, with impressive healing abilities, nearly infinite longevity, without the need to resort to a sarcophagus, and the inevitable side effects, progressively more severe over time. Of even more importance, they have psychic abilities… to communicate telepathically with others of their own kind, and, occasionally, to dominate humans, making them see visions and shadows that aren’t there as a means of distraction, or to draw in prey. According to Atlantis reports, particularly strong or old Wraith can communicate with their Queens between planets, within solar system range, and make humans within a kilometer or so see shadows and feel intense fear. All attractive attributes in a host species.”

“Exactly what Niirti was always after,” Baal agreed. “But the symbiotes couldn’t take control of the Wraith host body?”

“No,” Bradshaw confirmed. “Instead of the symbiote having all the natural advantages of the host, the Wraith subjects found their own characteristics enhanced, substantially. Even stronger, faster, healing far more rapidly, and their communication range vastly increased, to light years from source. Also, their ability to overwhelm the minds of nearby humans expanded and intensified. One subject managed to kill two guards before we got it contained. Cause of death was determined to be heart failure from excessive fear reactions.”

“Christ on a skateboard…” the General gasped. “Is that how the bastards found us?”

Bradshaw sighed and admitted, “Probably. We don’t think their fleets had an exact position on Earth before that. But one of our Wraith subjects managed to force his guards to release him, and gave him access to the deep-space communication network from Bunker Thirteen. He had half an hour to broadcast what he’d learned while in our hands, including his exact location, and the value we placed on Subject X, in the cell next to his.” Bradshaw ignored the gasps. Obviously, none of the Triad had bothered themselves with the reports from the Bunker. “There is no doubt that the attack was focused on Bunker Thirteen. I have no doubt they saw Cheyenne Mountain and the Antarctic Outpost as important strategic targets, but the assault on Washington and the main base at Area 51 were feints to distract and mislead. Their primary target was the Bunker, and Subject X. Not even their own people we held, but the person they call Destroyer of Worlds.”

“And yet, knowing you couldn’t control Goa’ulded Wraith, the experiments continued?” Baal asked idly. “I was aware that there was a security violation previously, and at least one Goa’ulded Wraith at the Bunker on the night of the attack.”

“Our scientists were under direction to experiment with methods of suppressing the Wraith personality, through behavior modification or chemical influence.”

“Torture and drugs,” the Senator nodded.

“Yes. Our experts assured us that, in time, they would find an effective means of control.”

The General suddenly asked in alarm, “You don’t still have a Wraith hanging around, do you? Goa’ulded or not? One that can, presumably, act as a homing beacon for every Wraith Queen within ten light years, even without it getting loose and sending an SOS?”

Bradshaw shook his head. “No. The last was at our lab in Utah. We confirmed it was turned to ash, along with the rest of the site.”

Lord Baal tapped her fingernails against the conference table. “Tell me, Stanley. Is it widely known to the Wraith that there are significant benefits to them of having a Goa’uld symbiote implanted?”

Bradshaw winced. “We must assume that this information has indeed been passed to the Hives.”

“But you don’t know for certain?” Bradshaw shook his head. “Bad enough they have a target in Daniel Jackson.” With a definite chill in the host’s bifurcated voice, Lord Baal said, “It is quite… *unfortunate* that the Wraith are aware of the Goa’uld.”

“No kidding,” the General dared a smirk. “Gives them something better to hunt than humans.”

“And now the Wraith are offering immunity for anyone who can bring them Jackson?” the Senator mused with a speculative and avaricious gleam in his eye. “And that is why you think re-acquiring him is a priority, worth our throwing our dwindling military assets after him.”

“And soon,” Bradshaw acknowledged. “The Wraith main fleet is coming, very soon. Their ships aren’t particularly fast, but there’s a lot of them, and they know exactly where we are now. Zebra unit is trying to find us transport, but all they’re hearing from every contact is that the price of a ship is either Sheppard or Jackson. And if we aren’t already off planet by the time they arrive… having one or both of them is our only chance at survival.”

“Forget Sheppard. You have a plan for finding Jackson?” the General demanded, “Better than your last one of grabbing random kids off the streets of Las Vegas?”

The Major made an effort not to look at his superior at that dig. Bradshaw may have noticed his stiffening, however, for the man said, “Major, explain our initiative.”

“We now believe that Dr. Spencer Reid, the FBI profiler who was with the CSI team the night of the attack and was first on the scene at Bunker Thirteen, is the one who took Dr. Jackson and hid him away. Finding Reid is the key to finding Jackson. We still have assets in place, within the NSA and FBI, who have access to their databases. With a few keystrokes, we can switch Dr. Reid’s identification with that of a notorious terrorist, complete with picture, fingerprints, DNA. Our assets can issue a federal BOLO – ‘be on the look-out for’ – to nationwide law enforcement. As soon as he’s spotted, we’ll have our remaining sweeper teams rush in to grab him.”

“His team won’t notice the switch?” the General questioned doubtfully. “That doesn’t sound like the kind of ruse that will last more than a few hours, at best. Less, if his BAU team gets to him before we do.”

“A few hours is all we’ll need to get our teams in there to grab him,” the Major assured. “Then he’ll lead us straight to Jackson.”

“He will?”

Bradshaw nodded. “He will, once he’s a host to one of the remaining symbiotes we have in our possession. But we have a limited number of those, a limited number of teams, and most of those have been focused on clean up and damage control these past few weeks. I need authorization to make acquiring Reid, and then Jackson, our main priority.”

The members of the Trust Triad – the last remaining members of Trust leadership, traded glances and all nodded agreement. This was a matter of survival, after all. Their only escape off this doomed planet, and their only defense against the coming Wraith, would seem to be the possession of one apparently six-year-old boy.

“Very well, Stanley,” Lord Baal commanded. “You have your authorization. Don’t screw this up.”

Å

Penelope Garcia was finally back in her bat-cave in Quantico, still tingling with excitement from her trip to an honest-to-God spaceship, and relentlessly attempting to grill the poor young SF who was assigned to watch her, when one of her many alarms went off. A siren erupted from her laptop, the lights in her sanctuary flashed red, and the monitors threw up a huge sign reading ‘Unauthorized Access!!!!’

The fresh-faced young SF (whose proper place was in the hall just outside her team-only precincts) bolted in, demanding, “What the hell? What’s wrong, ma’am?”

“We have a breach,” Garcia replied tersely, and with a few key strokes, had all the information she needed. She downloaded a quick file to her iPad, and burst from her room, the SF trailing at her heels like a faithful dog. She made her loud clattering way to the BAU bullpen, and announced to all and sundry, “Emergency meeting! Round table, now!” Then added as all heads turned her way, “Please.”

The SF was firmly shut out on the upper deck walkway as Garcia brought up the monitors, and her team settled into their places.

“Someone has breached the FBI database and accessed personnel files for one of the team,” Garcia announced. “After the Replicator case, I put all kinds of alerts and flags on our team’s information, to prevent anything like that happening again. Well, it’s happened. Someone inside the FBI with clearance has altered our files. One in particular. Reid’s. This is his personnel file as it reads right now.”

The face showing on the screen was definitely not Reid’s. It was bearded, for one thing. Although the biographical text was still correct, the physical description now matched the new photo ID. This man was six inches shorter, fifty pounds heavier, and ten years older than their favorite genius, with a variety of scars, tattoos and other identifying marks.

“They’ve changed fingerprints and DNA code, too. This is who you’re actually looking at,” and Garcia brought another screen alongside Reid’s file. It was from the Homeland Security database of terrorist suspects. A man named Hamid Asuran, known ISIS lieutenant, wanted for multiple bombings across the Middle East. And even as they watched, the picture changed… into Spencer Reid’s distinctive face, light brown eyes, and unruly hair. The text also updated, removing mention of the scars and tattoos, altering the other physical descriptions, to match Reid. So did the attached records of fingerprints and DNA sample.

Out on the balcony, the young SF was getting an update over his slightly alien comms. There was a flash of light, and General O’Neill was knocking at the conference room door.

“You got a problem, folks,” he blurted out. “There’s a nationwide BOLO out on a man named…” he hesitated as he registered the monitor information. “Oh. I see. Well, never mind, then. Somebody has issued a BOLO on Asuran, so they’ll be looking for your Dr. Reid. This is the move from the Trust we’ve been expecting. We’ll do our best to intercept as soon as anyone reports seeing Reid, but it’s gonna be a race. They’re listing him as armed and dangerous. The BOLO says he’s on a mission to blow up something big and public, with lots of people, and he’s killed American servicemen before this. Well, this goombah Asuran has… I’m trying to get Homeland to correct their damn files and remove the BOLO, but once these things are out, it’s a devil of a thing to get them cancelled.”

Garcia had been steadily tapping away on her laptop. “I’ve got the IP for the source of the change here at Quantico,” she announced, passing the information to Hotch. The BAU Chief stared at it, even grimmer than usual, and nodded.

“Morgan, bring your sidearm. General. I assume you’ve got a team with you? Care to join me?”

“You betcha. You know, I don’t care what you guys say, I need a Garcia working for me.”

Garcia grinned. “Time for that raise we’ve talked about, boss-man?”

Hotch sent O’Neill a dirty look.

O’Neill suppressed a smirk with some difficulty. “Oh, well, never mind, then. Again.” He tapped on his own ear bud. “Thanks, McKay. Okay, Hotchner, our people have located the bad guy at Homeland. I’m sending a team.”

Hotch glanced back at Garcia. “I want you to track that BOLO. Any activity on it, let me know at once.”

“You got it, boss.”

As Hotch and O’Neill raced for the elevator, with Morgan close behind, O’Neill said, “I gotta give the kid his props. He’s been pretty damn good at hiding his tracks and staying off the grid. We’ve got at least half a dozen reports of him all over the damn country, using his bank and credit cards, making calls, accessing the internet from cafes and libraries… and we’re pretty damn sure he isn’t in any of these places, because not one of them has a decent camera shot of him actually being there at the time.”

“That’s our Reid,” Morgan grinned, a feral look in his eyes as they neared the office of the FBI Human Resources Co-ordinator, Donald Waymark. A four-man squad in green BDUs with the SGC patch on one shoulder – SG-14 – fell in behind them as they stormed the office.

The middle-aged man with the embarrassing comb-over looked up in shock at all the weapons aimed his way, even as he attempted to shut down his laptop and reach in his top desk drawer. Morgan got there before him.

“What’s this, Donald?” Morgan asked, pulling out a handgun. “I’m pretty sure I’m the one who gave you your last weapons qualifications test, and you failed, miserably. You aren’t actually authorised to even have this in your possession, are you?”

Hotch glowered at the man. “Care to tell us what you were just doing?”

Waymark’s eyes flashed around at the implacable faces around him, and crumpled into a weeping heap. “They have photos of me… they threatened to send them to my wife… I’m sorry!”

“Undo what you just did,” O’Neill demanded.

“I can’t! They gave me a code to lock it in… any further tampering will be reported direct to Homeland as a national security violation. The red-tape on that will take weeks to untangle.”

Arresting the man for conspiracy to commit treason was cold comfort when news from Homeland wasn’t much better. Their firewalls and data protocols were not created to make it easy or quick to correct an error, no matter how it was made or by whom, or to downgrade any perceived yellow-alert threat to national security, and this one had been marked as credible and imminent. And it had Reid’s face plastered all over it.

There simply was no way to override a Homeland alert of this nature, or recall their BOLO, once it was already out there.

Å

Spencer had meandered down through Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina before picking up I95 to come at Washington DC from the south. He stopped at large camp grounds with his second-hand army-surplus pup tent and sleeping bag, ate at busy truck stops and diners along the interstates, wore his obscuring helmet as he drove his motorcycle demurely through the countryside, parking, when he had to, behind bushes out of sight of the parking lots or busy roads. He was very good at not attracting attention, and disappearing into a crowd.

He thought he had succeeded pretty well, until he stopped at a Dunkin Donuts for a coffee outside Richmond, and felt the eyes of a cop settle rather too intently on him. He acted as nonchalant as possible, but when he left with coffee cup in hand, he ventured near the parked squad-car outside, and managed to get a peek inside… at his own face on a BOLO coming up on the car’s dashboard monitor.

Not good. He quickly got on his bike and circled around the outskirts of a quiet suburb before he found a secondary road out of town. He made no more stops, tried to keep to back roads as he made his way north, closer and closer to the haven of Quantico. He wasn’t sure if the cops had linked him to the motorcycle, but they’d have a description of his leathers and black helmet, for sure. He was so close he could taste it, and decided to risk not changing vehicles at this stage. Any stops he made, and contact with people, could only work against him at this point. Even getting gas was going to be problematic now, and he didn’t dare use any of the larger chains. He found a couple of mom-and-pop operations in remote corners to gas up and grab drinks and snacks to keep him going.

But the closer to Washington DC he got, the more built up the areas he needed to travel, and the more risk he ran. It was a game of Prisoner’s Base. He had one safe destination, and those hunting him had to know once he reached FBI headquarters at Quantico, he would be relatively safe from them… their window to grab him was closing. But if law enforcement agencies were out hunting him too, Ethan’s nebulous enemies had a legion of eyes helping them look for him.

Å

His luck ran out outside Fredericksburg. He heard the siren behind him, and put on some speed, using afternoon rush-hour traffic to try and weave in and out of jammed up cars, into a mall parking lot, then out through a quiet suburb, only to hear the chase heating up behind him. He took a gamble on a nearby park, the Mott’s Run Reservoir according to the signs, to hope he could drag his Harley off-road far enough to elude capture.

But then he spotted a crowd of vehicles on the narrow park roads, police, unmarked black SUV’s that couldn’t be anything other than government vehicles, and a big white Medical Examiner’s truck. He had to slow abruptly not to crash into anyone, and the green park service ranger’s truck opened to let an angry ranger yell at him for reckless driving, and tell him to turn around a leave immediately. This was a crime scene.

No kidding. Spencer knew the look from a mile off, even before he spotted the yellow caution tapes strung up near the edge of a large lake. Mott’s Reservoir, presumably.

A glance at a nearby car sticker said NCIS…

Spencer flashed on a memory of a meeting of the BAU team some years ago, after Emily had left for London, when they were considering recruiting a replacement for the BAU. Special Agent Tobias Fornell from the Organized Crime unit had dropped by to see Rossi for some reason, and had weighed in with his opinion…

With his way forward blocked, and the sound of sirens coming up behind, Spencer dropped his motorcycle where it stood and bolted into the trees to the side of the park road. He dodged loud shouts, circled around, got a look at the team huddled around a body lying next to the water in a soaking wet Marine uniform.

There were six people from the Naval Crime Investigation Service attending the scene, identified by the letters NCIS emblazoned on baseball caps or jackets. The older gentleman kneeling by the body, and the young man in glasses by the gurney were evidently the medical examiners. Standing near and poking them for preliminary guesses was the man Spencer took to be in charge, a senior agent with silver hair and piercing blue eyes. He had that ex-marine look to him Rossi often got when he was throwing out orders. Spread around the scene, looking for and tagging evidence, taking photos or making sketches, were three younger agents. The youngest was a blonde woman with a thoughtful frown on her face. The next was a man who was showing some exasperation as he was teased by the third, the oldest of the three, who Spencer took to be their senior field agent, second in command.

The senior field agent, an attractive man in his late thirties, early forties, his black NCIS windbreaker over grey slacks, straightened from some tracks in the mud he had found, looked around at all the gawkers around the taped-off crime scene, park visitors, campers, local LEOs, and his hands made some quick passes in the air. Across from him, the tall, silver-haired leader snorted and made a few quick gestures of his own, then started barking out commands. Sketches, witnesses, photos, evidence tagged and bagged…

“Hey, you! Stop!”

Spencer turned to find two armed patrolmen running toward him, their weapons out and ready, waving rather unsafely in the air. It appeared his time, and luck, had run out, Spencer thought, even as he bolted out of the bushes and straight into the crime scene before him. The blonde young woman blurted out a “Hey! You can’t cross this line!”, but she was too late, because Spencer had already blundered through.

“NCIS? I’m giving myself up to your custody!” Spencer shouted out, raising his hands and falling to his knees, carefully placing hands behind his head.

The older man in charge stood before him, scowling. “You responsible for this?” he demanded, gesturing to the body even now being zipped into a black plastic body bag.

“This? What? No.” Momentarily distracted by the body, and the quick cursory glimpse he had got of it, Spencer announced, “Cause of death seems to be drowning, at least six hours ago, probably more like ten. I was nowhere near here at that time. But I…”

“Hold right there!” shouted a uniformed cop, gun out and aimed at Spencer, which immediately had the cops already on the scene and the four NCIS agents all reach for their own weapons, and it was just the nightmare scenario Spencer most hated, with him the helpless pawn in the middle. If even one anxious rookie or overeager cowboy finger slipped in this situation… all those muzzles were aimed right at his head.

“This man is a wanted fugitive! We got a BOLO on him from Homeland Security. He’s an ISIS bomber! Armed and dangerous!”

“I’m a what?” Spencer blinked, aghast. Well, he had to hand it to the opposition. Go Big or Go Home, he supposed. He knew he had only seconds, and he needed to make them count. He talked as fast as he ever had. “No! My name is Dr. Spencer Reid. I’m a Supervisory Special Agent with the FBI Behavioural Analysis Unit. There’s obviously been a sabotage of my official FBI file, and I don’t know who I can trust. I’m begging you to keep me in custody and isolation until my team can come and verify my identity. Call Special Agent in Charge Tobias Fornell of the Organised Crime unit. He can identify me by sight.”

There was a breathless moment when Spencer looked up into the NCIS team leader’s steely blue eyes, his own imploring for just a chance. Just one. He cautiously lifted one hand to make the American Sign Language gestures for Please, and Help.

“Please, Agent Gibbs. I can prove I’m telling you the truth, if you just call in my team. We’ve been targeted by criminals with inside access before.”

Gibbs, and this apparently was indeed Leroy Jethro Gibbs, gave a huff of exasperated breath and slowly lowered his weapon. “Aw hell. Tobias is really going to owe me for this one. DiNozzo, handcuffs. We’re taking him with us.”

Å