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Stage I: The Good Earth

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*~ Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. ~ Helen Keller*

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Dr. Daniel Jackson, archeologist, linguist, intergalactic explorer and first contact specialist for the super-secret Stargate Program, was taking a break from the interminable and crushingly boring rounds of congressional and oversight meetings at the nation’s capitol. He had arranged to meet an old friend for coffee at a park near the National Mall. Her usual stomping grounds was in Boston, but, by chance, she was giving a series of lectures at Georgetown this month. It was a pleasant coincidence, and Daniel was looking forward to catching up.

“Alex! You’re looking fabulous,” he greeted and stood to meet her on the park walkway in front of the bench he had claimed. She did look good, too, an attractive, almost fifty year old woman who could easily be taken for a good decade younger, dark brunette hair styled short and bouncy, slender, but hale and fit. Once or twice upon a time she had been an FBI agent, and still looked ready to pass any field-work fitness test FLETC might devise, dark intelligent eyes still with that profiler shrewdness that watched and noted and analyzed every little twitch in the people around her. They shared a brief hug and kiss on the cheek before settling down with their coffee-of-choice drinks.

“Daniel. You just keep looking younger. How do you do that?”

He might have given a joking off-the-cuff answer, about spending an inordinate amount of time either dead or in some kind of limbo, which served to cut at least a decade off his true age of forty-something (it was getting really hard to keep track of his real age, considering the afore mentioned deaths and limbo, not to mention time loops and trips down alternate universes…), but this was a public spot, and, especially in DC, you had to assume someone was always listening.

“I’d say clean living, but you know me too well... Alex? Something wrong?”

After their initial greeting, it wasn’t hard for Daniel to catch the glimmering of concern from his old friend. He and Dr. Alex Blake, foremost authority on psycho-linguistics, now a full time professor at Harvard, had shared many a class together in their youths. Even now, Daniel made time to do an annual guest lecture for her advanced students. Some of his best hires over the years had been Alex’s referrals. So he knew when she was troubled, however the former profiler might try to hide it.

“I was glad to get your call, Daniel, of course, but… I have to admit, it came at the best possible time. I need a favor. I warn you, it’s a big one.”

“Just ask, Alex. You know I’ll help if I can.”

“You remember that I spent two years working with the FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit, before I went back to teaching full time at Harvard?”

“Yes, of course. I’ve met one member of your old team at your classes… Dr. Spencer Reid. Fascinating guy. Absolutely brilliant. Closest thing to a renaissance man I’ve ever come across… Why?” With every word, Alex had seemed more drawn, until now she was on the verge of tears.

“I take it you’ve been ‘out of the country’ recently? You haven’t turned on a television lately?”

Alex had been read into the Stargate Program for the past few years, to help with recruitment, and to do the odd consult. Her past work with the FBI, DoJ, Homeland and CIA had resulted in a high security rating, high enough to justify Daniel calling her in on occasion.

“Well, um, no, no time for TV. I’ve been buried in meetings on the Hill for the past few days… what is it?”

“Spencer’s in trouble. A lot of trouble. It’s been all over the national news… international, even… complete with video… You see, although his superiors and teammates at the FBI knew, he kept it under the radar, but… Spencer is zed.”

“And with his intelligence and skills, his gender status didn’t matter,” Daniel nodded.

Alex knew he wouldn’t have a problem with dual-gendered so-called ‘zeds’… she knew his mother had been one. Like Alex herself, like one in ten otherwise perfectly normal single-gendered Americans who carried a latent ‘Z’ chromosome, Daniel bore the circle brand on the inside of his right wrist. A brilliant ‘woman’, Claire Ballard (birth-name Cortland, until puberty, when her more female phenotype emerged) had hidden her gender status, passing as female in the days before the required testing, registration and branding. And she still had to work twice as hard as her male XY counterparts in the ruthless and misogynistic old-boys networks of academia in the 80’s to get even a measure of respect and acceptance. If she’d been ‘outed’ as a zed, even that much wouldn’t have been remotely possible, considering the widespread and extreme intolerance they faced. None of it had mattered to his father, though, who had always treated her as a full partner in their life and careers, and insisted on her getting full credit for her work on every paper they co-wrote.

Daniel was born in Egypt on one of their digs and raised there, so had escaped the mandatory blood tests, until his parents returned to the States, when he was eight. He had been duly tested then, and found to have the Z chromosome, though he was not dual-gendered himself, not a ‘zed’, merely a ‘Z positive’ carrier. He still remembered the fear and pain of having the circle branded into his wrist… he absently rubbed the old mark now.

“Considering how prejudiced law enforcement circles can be, the team never revealed Spencer’s status to any locals,” Alex continued. “But they caught a case in Arkansas. I have no idea how, but while they were working the case, word got out that Spencer was zed…”

“Oh hell… What happened? Is he alive?”

“Yes, although he was beaten pretty badly before his team arrived. But, Daniel… it’s been everywhere. It was all caught on security tapes. Clips of the attack are still being played, nation-wide. It’s being used as some kind of political card to bring the issue of trans-gender and zed discrimination to the public, along with the case… Willful and deliberate negligence on the part of the local LEOs.”

“My God… and Dr. Reid?”

“He wants to go back to work. He says he doesn’t want the ignorance and bigotry of a few bullies to defeat him. But you know as well as I do, with the high profile media attention this is getting, the inevitable back-lash… the next time they have to go out on a case…”

“He’ll never be safe again.”

“No. He won’t. We’ve all tried to talk to him about it, his team, his superiors, his friends… We support him, we really do, but this could mean his life. And… oh, Daniel… the last case I worked with them on the team… he saved my life. We were called to a gun battle with a suspect, and he pushed me to safety, and took a bullet to the neck himself… Daniel, I’m so worried about him.”

Daniel nodded, frowning as he considered. “You want to get him somewhere safe… well, safe-er. You want me to offer him a job.”

“He can’t bring himself to quit the FBI, because he would see it as being defeated, giving up, letting the bullies win. That just isn’t who he is. But if you offer him a job, saving the… planet…” she whispered the last word, glancing cautiously around. “He’s such a geek… offer him a berth on the Enterprise and he’ll have to say yes, in spite of himself. I know your superiors don’t like it, but with all the civilians in the program, the tolerance you have to have toward… well, let’s just say, ‘out-of-towners’, you do have some zeds in the Program… probably not a lot, considering how closely you have to work with the military, and if anything, they’re worse than law enforcement in their phobic attitudes and incidents of violent harassment, but… That last memo you sent, with the list of openings, there was one I think might suit him down to the ground. Someone with law enforcement experience and field qualifications, to back up your NCIS agent afloat…”

Daniel nodded, considering. “I’ve had that request open for months. The problem is, the NCIS agent would have seniority and team lead status, and no one qualified we’ve talked to is willing to be his subordinate, or even partner him.”

“Why not?”

Daniel grinned at Alex. “Because he’s zed. Send me Dr. Reid’s contact information. I’m going to see Jack this afternoon.”

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