Actions

Work Header

Stage IV: Brothers in Arms

Chapter Text

Å

*~ Those who will not reason, are bigots, those who cannot, are fools, and those who dare not, are slaves. ~ George Gordon, Lord Byron*

Å

Ziva sat on another log, in another primeval-looking first-growth forest that had more in common with the Pacific North-west of the United States than an actual alien planet. She had pulled her favorite knife and amused herself with throwing it in practice.

It struck her as very odd and discouraging that her missions to other planets had become boring and routine. This was the fifth off-world mission she had gone on with her father in the past month, and they had all been much the same. Abandoned worlds, evergreen forests, furtive meetings with wary locals, herself not included in whatever negotiations were taking place, relegated to watch duty on the perimeter. Guarding against ants, butterflies and small brown birds, mostly. Not even so much as a purple rabbit or visibly alien reptile. It was… disappointing. Exploring alien worlds was supposed to be exciting and varied, at the very least, wasn’t it? AR-1 certainly got the excitement and surprises one would expect with space travel, from all accounts. Or had Star Trek lied?

She had been warned, and had read enough Atlantis and SGC mission reports not to want to mistake calm for safety while off-world. The difficulty was trying to find ways to remain alert, engaged, and vigilant. It should have been easier when the unsavory people they were here to meet were wary, suspicious, paranoid in the extreme, and armed to the teeth.

General O’Neill watched she and her father like a hawk while they were on base… no doubt keeping the Atlantis surveillance system locked on them whenever they were on the city. The Leadership *claimed* it was because of the personal situation between the Davids and DiNozzos, but neither Ziva nor her father believed that was the real reason. After Eli’s complaints to the IOA, O’Neill was forced to back off audio, video only, but it was an annoyance, making sure their backs were turned to any cameras in order to talk. At least on missions they were free of all high-tech watchers. O’Neill, Woolsey, all of them really, wanted to know just what Eli was doing, who he was coming to meet in these furtive missions, but Eli only smiled and told them he answered to the IOA directly, not to them, and refused to explain himself.

Colonel Carter and Colonel Sheppard had both insisted that they have an official escort for every time they left the city, and that only made sense. But Eli turned down the more experienced and specialized diplomatic teams available. After much argument, Eli got his way, again, and accepted Atlantis Reconnaissance Team 19, AR-19, for assigned escort duty, a team without science or military specialists, usually only called when brute strength and extra hands and guns were needed, basically no more than a back-fill reinforcement team.

Team Leader Major Gerald Miller was a by-the-book career soldier, an unimaginative hack, as far as Ziva was concerned, who had friends in high places who had insisted on his promotion to team lead, and a record sufficiently clean, if unremarkable, that there was no reason to deny him. He qualified for the Atlantis assignment mostly due to his ATA gene, strong enough to enable him to fly the Jumpers. Not really bright enough to match her father, whatever he reported back to O’Neill and the others wasn’t much of a threat to Eli’s plans.

His team were not much better, and all of them had been passed from team to team for one reason or another, unable to make it on teams with more critical duties. The 2IC was Captain Vincent Groves, a heavyset man with red hair, and a die-hard anti-zed fanatic, reason enough for him to get the cold-shoulder from almost everyone on the city. He was one reprimand away from getting sent back to Earth in disgrace. The other two members of the team, Sgt. Guido Lorenzo, an olive-complexioned brunette, and Sgt. Carl Snyder, a giant blonde, were Groves’ pawns, following his lead, and aping his attitudes. Ziva, at her father’s direction, had bonded with the trio over complaints about the ‘fucking effems’ taking over the city of the Ancients. She had been doing her best to keep them at least reasonably inside the disciplinary lines, so they wouldn’t be replaced by any more astute personnel, but it was a struggle. Their border-line incompetence meant that this team, rather than sticking close and spying on their civilians, was perfectly happy guarding the Gate, too distant to meet Eli’s ‘guests’, who always arrived before them, and left well after.

Eli offered no explanation of his plans to his daughter, either. Her role was security, pure and simple. And as she had never, in her entire life, challenged her father on his orders or demanded, or expected, explanations… it would be difficult to change the habits of a lifetime now.

Ziva had always trusted that her father, whatever other motives he might have, had the good of Israel at heart as his first over-riding priority. That was enough, all on its own, to keep her obedient to his will. She completely rejected the oft-suggested opinion that her reactions were that of an insecure little girl desperate for her father’s approval, attention and love. She was a grown woman, a soldier of Israel, a Mossad operative with impressive skills. She had left that needy child far behind her.

With their disgrace and expulsion from the halls of power in their own government… She knew Eli was bitter about that. She was inclined that way herself. They had done the government’s dirty work all their lives, sacrificed everything… even beloved family members… done what was necessary, no matter how dangerous, painful, illegal or morally reprehensible, because it had to be done. For the good of their people. For the national security. It was foolish to expect gratitude or recognition, perhaps, but surely someone should have acknowledged the need for their services. Someone had to do it, and few were they who were willing to get their hands so dirty, bathed in blood, for the public good. Who would do it, now they were gone?

Eli was working an angle. She didn’t know what it was, exactly, but she had no doubts that, if successful, it would return them both to power, and their duty in protection of their home-land.

And if that meant dealing with these suspicious characters… well. So be it.

The one thing she was certain of, was that these meetings on abandoned worlds, ostensibly to check out the Pegasus situation for the IOA… were nothing of the kind. Not that she knew for sure… she was deliberately kept out of her father’s negotiations. Plausible deniability, he said, but then, he never bothered to keep her in the loop. So this was nothing new.

But it was terribly boring, and all much the same. AR-19 would set up a tent in the chosen clearing, big enough to hold four men at the camp table, on the camp stools they brought with them… then retreat to the Stargate to set up their guard post. Once out of sight, their hidden guests would emerge, always dressed in the ubiquitous and anonymous homespun and leather of most Pegasus tribes. Eli would take the leaders into the tent, their own security would set up a perimeter and begin to pace, just beyond the tree-line, and Ziva would choose her guard post.

This time, there were three leaders to meet them. Ziva was aware of others nearby… the visitors had brought their own security, of course, and even if the members of AR-19 should meet them by accident, and attempted to engage in conversation, they got a silent cold shoulder. Ziva had already determined none of them had her skill, either in wood-craft – thank you, Gibbs – or hand-to-hand fighting. Certainly AR-19 was no match for her in any skill. Let them all pace on watch. It saved her from the duty.

A cracking branch sounded not unlike a gun-shot… she jumped up, ready for action… but it was just the local wildlife, hunting in the undergrowth.

Slowly, she took deep breaths to get her heart-rate back under control, stretched her chin up and around until she heard her neck-bones crack, then settled back on the log, and resumed her target practice… imagining Tony’s face in the bark of the tree opposite. Several bulls-eyes had already gouged a deep furrow in Tony’s bark forehead.

Å

Eli covertly studied the three rogue Genii who had come to meet him. At least this time, one of them was of first rank. In fact, the greatest challenge in his mission so far had been identifying and making contact with the right rogue faction. It seemed the Genii people spawned off-shoot outlaw gangs like glaciers spawned icebergs, every one of them disaffected, ambitious, impatient, unwilling to accept Ladon Radim’s leadership, and the concessions that had been made to keep truce with Atlantis. There were dozens of such groups out there, but in the time he had been poking around Pegasus, he had finally identified the strongest, most numerous and successful of them.

Pyol Sovar was a dangerous and intelligent man, shrewd as Eli himself. He was silver-haired and dark eyed, probably Eli’s age. The ex-Mossad Director decided he could discount the two lieutenants with him, as Sovar hadn’t even bothered to introduce them. The young woman with the curly dark hair, reminded him of his Ziva… lethal, intelligent, watchful. It would not do to underestimate her. The older man was a grizzled veteran of many battles, to judge by his sour scowl and scarred face. They were no doubt there in an advisory capacity, although they would save her input for later, when they were alone with her leader.

“I am confused,” Sovar confessed. “You come from Atlantis, you are one of the Lanteans, an Earther even… yet you offer me alliance. Alliance with whom, exactly? For what purpose? Me and my people have been driven out of Genea precisely because we will not bend knee to Sheppard and his thieves, sitting on the horde of our Ancestors’ riches and legacy, on what should be our city, by right.”

Eli smiled. “I represent many groups… some with more loyalty than others… and I have my priorities. They do not include the welfare of the Lanteans. They are not my people, and have not earned my allegiance. And what do I offer? I can give you the City of the Ancestors.”

Sovar scoffed. “Many have tried. No one has succeeded. I will not repeat the errors of Acastus Kolya or Chief Cowan. Both of them dead, by the way. The city does not recognize any Genii as master. It obeys Sheppard like a mewling subaltern, and only McKay has the codes to unlock the command protocols, or the knowledge and skills to keep the city afloat.”

“That may once have been true… but there are others with the genetic legacy of the Ancestors on the city now. I have their names. Atlantis will answer to any one of them as easily as to Sheppard. And while it was… inadvisable to try and force a military man like Sheppard to surrender the city without a fight, there are others not so rigid or adamant. They have families, loved ones… valuable hostages. These also I know, and can reveal, at the right time.”

Sovar’s coal-black eyes narrowed. “But you need me. My soldiers.”

“I cannot take the city by myself. There are lockdown protocols that can be triggered to keep most of the population from fighting us until we have secured our position, for which we need our pawns, but I still need a force to help me take the city. Once that is done, we can easily incapacitate and remove any opposition… starting with Sheppard and those loyal to him. Those names I also have.”

“Ah. And when *you* have the city of the Ancestors? What do I get?”

Eli studied him. “What do you want? Atlantis is a big city. It would make an impregnable base for any operations you wished to mount. With such a foothold, could you not unite all the disparate rogue groups of Genii out there? This would at least double your numbers. And with that, you could even take Genea. And… I don’t know if your spies will have told you this… but the city is fully powered now. The star dive is operational. Pick a world… hover over their capital in orbit, and demand they submit… Who would dare say no?”

Sovar gasped, blinking… Eli could almost hear his mind ticking over the possibilities. Eli knew well what that felt like… a world view suddenly expanding to show a world, a galaxy, a universe, spread at his feet. His to command. But then Sovar was abruptly suspicious again.

“So you give me the Pegasus Galaxy on a plate? Maybe even chase down the Wraith with such a formidable weapon at my disposal… what of you? You sit back and… what? Watch? Advise? Rule?”

“Wait. I wait. And when you are done, I take Atlantis back to Earth, and do the same thing there. You will have the Pegasus, I will have the Milky Way. Atlantis… once I have Earth, I won’t really need her. She can return home to her own people. You.”

Did Eli really think it would play out like that? Hell no. One or other of them would turn on the other at some point… Eli was confident that he would be the one on top when that time came.

Sovar considered this. Considered him. No doubt the Genii was as aware of this inevitable outcome as he, and making his own calculations of his chances, when it seemed Eli had but one soldier at his back. They were both political animals, after all. But in the short term...

“You know my network of spies is quite extensive. I even have contacts among the Travelers, and several clans of Wraith-worshippers. So I know you have been making overtures to them, as well. I don’t know what the hell you hope to achieve with Wraith-worshippers… but the Travelers?”

This was unwelcome news. Eli had not wanted anyone to be that well informed of his covert activities.

“The same offer I am making you. Their fleet is on its last legs… too many are old ships falling apart, barely space-worthy, more and more of their crews stranded on planets, and therefore vulnerable. If I offer them berths on Atlantis? Plenty of room for all. For millions. The ships they do have are all fitted with weapons and hyper drives. What could you do with that? And we need as many people as we can possibly get to take, and what is more important, keep the city. The number of peoples in this galaxy with the necessary technical knowledge is limited. Almost all are poor farmers or hunters, ignorant villagers, no help in the face of the job we need to do. And who else but a Traveler to aid, or if he cannot be reasonable, replace McKay in patching Ancient systems that are millions of years old? I have so far been unsuccessful in getting the Travelers to meet with me. With your contacts, perhaps you could… facilitate that?”

Sovar could easily see the advantages to getting the Travelers to help with such an undertaking… and it was undeniable that they did need all the help they could get if they were to take Atlantis. But...

“And the Wraith-worshippers? What is your business with them?”

Eli shrugged. “One of those groups I pretend to serve… they wish to see if a truce with the Wraith is possible. You and I both know it is not… but they live in another galaxy, and have no idea what it is to live in fear of a culling. In order to avoid suspicion, I must make some effort toward obeying their wishes.”

Of course, Eli did not bother to mention yet another group who believed they had his obedience, if not his loyalty, who also demanded he parlay with the Wraith-worshippers… and by extension, the Wraith themselves. The Lucian Alliance agenda would be nearly impossible to explain to anyone from Pegasus. No matter how any native of this galaxy felt about their own people or their rivals… all but the Wraith worshippers were united in one thing. Hatred – and fear – of the Wraith. Their human worshippers were viewed with horror and an equal measure of hatred, as collaborators, traitors to their own species, an equal threat to human survival. What would this man across from him think if he realised there was a group out there who actually *wanted* the Wraith to come calling?

Eli had over thirty years of extensive CI/CT expertise, as field agent, operations manager, and half of that as Director of Mossad. Of course he had been well aware of the Trust and their activities… had even made deals with them before, sold, bought and traded information, weapons, sanctuary, assisted in getting moles into place in various governments and organizations (not his own, never his own), including the IOA. In exchange, he got their invaluable help in dealing with his own enemies, and, naturally, the enemies of Israel. But he had kept aloof, careful that no ties would ever lead back directly to him. They had something of a ‘mutually assured destruction’ pact in place… He knew every bit as much of their activities as they did of his complicity.

But actually working for them? Eli had balked at that. Too much risk for too little guaranteed reward. And Eli preferred to be in charge.

But then, with his disgrace, and dismissal from Mossad... He was low on options, and was far more receptive to the Trust offer… and if they did manage to take over the planet (something he had seriously doubted they could do before this), he would find himself in the catbird seat. He agreed to help them take Atlantis, if he could have a cut of the spoils, and support when the time came to return home. And so he and Ziva were assigned to the Atlantis mission.

Finding out Agent DiNozzo was part of the deal… and Ziva hadn’t bothered to warn him… that had been a nasty shock. He had counted on being able to fly under the radar of the Atlantis leadership for a few weeks at least. Not possible with DiNozzo there to unmask him. Shelyapin’s failure to deliver the *Daedalus*, which had been step one in Plan A to take Atlantis… Eli had not had any part in that, had not even known what Shelyapin intended… and he was seriously annoyed by the loss of his potential minions, Chaykovsky and Sasson. But Eli himself was in command of Plan B, so Atlantis was not yet out of reach. Then came the failure of his own plan for Trent Kort to take his vulnerable granddaughter into hiding… he would have been a fool to think the Trust wouldn’t use any means at their disposal to guarantee his compliance, and Eli was not a fool. The child, possibly the last of the Davids, was at risk from too many factions that could use her to strike at Eli. Kort would be only too willing to snatch DiNozzo’s daughter from him. And yet… Kort had, unaccountably, failed. Luckily, as it turned out, because the Trust had got to him already.

So far, Eli could not call his plans an unqualified success.

Meanwhile, the Lucians, now fully allied with the Trust on Earth, had finally gained unrestricted access to Atlantis and SGC mission reports. They quickly realised that if the Wraith made a deal with humans – food – they actually kept their bargains. Why wouldn’t they, so long as their larders were suitably stocked? It was not unlike an abattoir making a favored pet of their stalking goat, that led the herds calmly into the butchering room. If some enterprising Lucian was able to trade immunity from feeding for his own people with the offer of Earth’s exact position… well.

Eli had also considered that such a plan might be amended slightly… it might be possible to sue for a separate peace that ignored the Lucians and the Trust altogether. What if he made the same offer… immunity for Israel, offering up the rest of the world, especially their neighbours and enemies…? And there might be room for other… ‘considerations’, seeing how desperate the Wraith must be right now for such a rich and safe food source. The Wraith might see the usefulness and benefits of an ‘administrator’, to control the human cattle on a conquered Earth…

But all that was a last resort plan, in his mind. Not that there weren’t a lot of people and nations on that little blue planet who deserved to be Wraith-food… With Atlantis in his hands, he really didn’t need more desperate measures to regain what he fully believed should be his rightful place. With Atlantis in the Milky Way, the chances of the Wraith ever finding Earth was nonexistent.

One way or another, when he returned to Earth, it will be as its Master.

Sovar stood up abruptly. “Ì must think on this offer, and confer with my advisors. I will drop a message back here, if and when I am ready to continue our discussions.”

Eli stood and bowed his head. “I understand.”

“One thing might make us more inclined to believe your offer is in good faith.”

“Yes?”

“You know the one people are calling the Magic Veralin?”

“I do. Dr. Spencer Reid.”

Sovar nodded. “Yes. Well… we would like a private word with him. Without his usual guard. Do you think you can arrange that?”

“I think that might be possible… What is it you would like to ask?”

“First of all… we would like to know what he said to people, to make them think he is magic.”

“Ah. Tell me more.”

Å

Early that morning, Tony had perked up and announced, “Get your gear, Probie. We got an off-world call.”

Spencer perked up, too. It had been days of paperwork, special projects and ‘community policing’, and Spencer was ready for a field assignment. He had considered requesting the Boss to offer his service as a consultant to one of the field teams, but held off on that. He was still the newbie, after all, and… well, Tony needed a keeper.

Eight months pregnant and counting, Tony was making little or no attempt to slow down, kept making references to pioneer ancestors working the fields in the morning, having a kid at noon, and returning to the fields in the afternoon. Spencer kept reminding Tony that his paternal grandparents were Italian, his mother was English, so his claim to pioneer forbearers was a bit specious.

Spencer wasn’t the only one concerned. Teyla was beginning to hover, when she wasn’t off with AR-1 doing something dangerous. Doctor Carson was making huffing noises every time they came back from a call, threatening to pin back *both* their wings, if they didn’t take more care.

Carson had already grounded Dr. McKay from field missions until after he delivered Meredith Joy. AR-1 had been checking out planets referenced on the Asuran data crystal, and had already visited all of those that were within a few days’ travel from a stargate. Then, on their last trip, an estimated four days out and four days back through deep space, McKay had experienced a false labor, to the panic of himself and his team. Carson had decided enough was enough, and refused to let him off the city after that, and, adding insult to injury, putting him on bed-rest for a week. If Sheppard needed scientific expertise, he could take Radek Zelenka or Evgenia Andreeva in future.

Spencer, now three months pregnant, was in perfect health, all was going well, but he was obviously showing, with his lanky form and two growing babies nestled inside. He had been lucky not to experience morning sickness, and was still certified fit enough for field duty.

He and Tony had settled into a partnership unlike any Spencer had experienced before. Despite the moniker ‘probie’, Tony treated him like a full equal in their work, and they worked well together. He expected some of the teasing and a little-brother relationship with the older NCIS agent, but unlike Derek Morgan, or any of his old BAU team, Tony seemed to feel no need to be overly protective and get between Spencer and every breeze that blew. No, that duty went to their usual escort, Major Anne Teldy and the terrifyingly competent ladies of AR-5. And, when on Atlantis, the many friends Spencer seemed to have made, in spite of himself. Tony respected his skills, his field experience, and his intelligence. And if Spencer was more inclined to step-by-step straight-line logic and methodology on a case (albeit performed at light-speed), it was well matched by Tony’s instinctive lateral out-of-the-box style in putting together disparate unrelated pieces of a puzzle into a coherent whole.

Spencer reflected that he might have become complacent with the BAU. Letting his team treat him as the kid brother: Boy Wonder, Junior G-Man, Pretty Boy, Kiddo, while Hotch was always careful to introduce him as Dr. Reid, to gain respect from the locals Hotch didn’t think he could earn on his own. Not just the zed to be protected, but the youngest of them, the least experienced, the least able to protect himself. His extreme proficiency with firearms after Emily’s ‘death’ had gone pretty much unnoticed, as had his determined pursuit of a greater physical fitness. So being allowed to grow as Tony’s ‘Probie’ was actually a welcome surprise, and a relief.

Spencer quickly picked up his pack, always ready behind his desk, and helped Tony straighten up from his chair, with a huff of breathlessness and a creaking of joints. Tony glanced ruefully at his partner. “Yeah, Atlantis cured my plague-scarred lungs, but TJ is putting a bit of pressure on all my internal organs. Not to mention swollen ankles and sore back… I need a bit of catch-up.”

Spencer gave him a hard look. “I can probably handle this call alone… well, alone plus AR-5. You could take a nap.”

Tony scowled at him. “DiNozzos do not take naps. Well, okay, Tali does, but… adult DiNozzos, not so much. Don’t make me Gibbs-slap you, Probie. Come on. Anne and the gang are waiting for us on the stargate deck.”

Spencer was of the opinion that if he ever met the famed Leroy Jethro Gibbs, he’d be delivering some Gibbs-slaps of his own, enough to give the ex-sniper a concussion. Tony had never resorted to that correction, and promised he never would, although he threatened it enough when in a teasing mood.

Å

The people of MG7 811 lived in two separate villages, Greysey and Doolon, on either side of a fertile river valley, where they farmed their crops. They were traditional trading partners of the Athosians, although trade had mostly gone one way for the last generation – Athos supplying food, in the form of toba roots and game, in exchange for woven textiles and finished leather products. There weren’t more than two hundred on the planet altogether, and they had suffered cruelly from Wraith cullings. Jumper scans had shown the ruins of other villages, larger and more developed but long abandoned, dozens of them, all over the small continent, all of which had been culled to extinction, or simply failed for one reason or another. These last two communities were poised on a knife-edge of subsistence farming and a shrinking gene pool, and would also soon fail, either from inbreeding, insufficient hands to gather in the crops, or the first time the harvest yield fell even a little, unable to feed even the small population they did have through barren winter months.

They were met at the gate, just outside the village of Doolon, by two solemn couples.

“Welcome, Veralin,” said the tall, imposing blonde woman, stepping forward first. “Thanks for answering our call. I am Dara, Chief Elder of Doolon, and this is my husband, Lonto.” Lonto was another tall, imposing blonde, the phenotype of the Doolon residents, it seemed, especially with the contrast to the other couple, both small, compact and red-headed. “And this is Grenar, Chief Elder of Greysey, and his wife, Ysela.”

“Veralin!” said Grenar, bobbing a bow. “It’s my daughter who has died, Veralin, her young life cruelly cut short in an act of unspeakable violence. We need your wisdom, Veralin, to determine the truth, so that her soul may rest peacefully.”

Tony nodded. “And that’s why we’re here. We’ll do the best we can.”

Tony proceeded to introduce himself and Spencer, and then their escort. AR-5: Major Anne Teldy, Dr. Alison Porter, Captain Laura Cadman, and Sgt. Dusty Mehra. No one mentioned the cats hanging around their ankles, tabby Bast, marmalade Luke or Anne’s Pegasus lynx Orion.

As usual for them now, both agents performed a ‘hot read’ on the locals. There was grief and anger, of course, even fear for the unfamiliar sudden and unexplained violence that had assailed one of their own. But there was also a simmering resentment in the two women, a barely restrained animosity that had no clear cause.

Further out, the town of Doolon was in turmoil, and even the children, though curious, somewhat excited, and wishing to approach the Veralin suddenly come among them, were held in check by their parents, and sternly told to respect the solemn and tragic occasion.

Å

The two Chief Elders both wore beaded necklaces of office. Grenar and Ysela were parents of the victim, a young woman named Gysa. She had lived in Doolon with her husband Tomro, son of Dara and Lonto. The body had been found behind their small home on the far edge of town from the gate.

With Bast brushing against his ankles, Spencer took a hot read on the two couples, although what he was able to get matched with what he could tell just from body language and furtive glances.

The two women, Dara and Ysela, were grim and staunch in control of strong emotions, but seemed to find it difficult to avoid sending suspicious and hostile glances at each other. In spite of her grief, Ysela already blamed Dara for whatever had happened to her daughter. For her part, Dara seemed angry at Ysela and inclined to blame her in return, although for what, Spencer couldn’t be sure. The men, Lonto and Grenar, bore tear-tracks down their cheeks and reddened eyes, matching their grief and devastation. Both had been fond of the girl, and had high hopes of the young couple giving them precious grandchildren, a hope now dashed.

“Pardon, honored Veralin,” said Grenar, hesitating, as if unsure of protocol. “We had heard, of course, that the Veralin, of either kind, were able to bear young… legends tell us this, but to see proof… Our felicitations to you both.” There was a wealth of longing in his tone.

Tony nodded. “Thank you. And for our part, we offer deepest sympathies for your loss.”

Å

Pegasus Galaxy tribes weren’t much for police procedure, so there wasn’t much of a concept of keeping the crime scene pristine and leaving the body just as it was found. Nor were there any cameras to capture the scene. Tony had the two couples show him where the body was found, while Spencer, with his greater knowledge of medicine and pathology, was taken to the hut where the body had already been removed. The members of AR-5 divided themselves accordingly, Major Teldy and Sgt. Dusty Mehra going with Tony, Dr. Porter and Captain Cadman remaining in the village with Spencer. Tony was well aware that these two couples, the most influential in their respective towns, were far too close to the crime, yet he didn’t think he would be able to keep them out of the investigation altogether. For now, he was content to keep them near him where he could watch them, and out of Spencer’s hair. The FBI profiler would need to take a closer look at the body, and the two sets of parents shouldn’t be anywhere near that, if only for their own peace of mind.

“Who found the body?” Tony asked the elders.

“Her husband, Tomro,” said Ysela, mother of the dead girl. The woman, in spite of her red hair, had impressive control of her emotions, Tony thought, but her mention of her son-in-law was a little off. Typical mother-in-law irritation? Or more? Spencer was better at hot reads than he was, Tony still more comfortable with his cold readings.

They were led through the village to the verge, where the tilled fields began. Tony couldn’t help but notice that most of those they passed were large, blonde people… like a village of Vikings, he thought. Grenar and Ysela were dwarfed, and stood out with their dark red hair.

Gysa and her husband Tomro had a little home on that path, with a vegetable garden out back, and a small wood-lot beyond. The body had been lying beneath the trees at the far side of the garden plot.

Tony took what pictures he could of the dents in cleared earth, strewn with needles from the pines around him. There was some evidence of kicking and scuffing, and one of the pine trunks had a bit of dark red hair stuck in its bark. He got a photo, then bagged and tagged the sample. Glancing back at the little home, he saw what must be the husband, a big blonde man, young, tanned from hard work in the fields under sun and sky, maybe twenty or so, sitting on the back stoop, curled in a ball, shaking with hard sobs. He had what seemed to be a broken beaded bracelet in his hands. Tony studied the ground, and found more stray beads. These too he shot, bagged and tagged. Then he glanced at the wrists of the locals… everyone wore a beaded bracelet.

“Can you tell me what the bracelets signify?”

The collected elders blinked at him, then at their wrists. The local Chief elder, Dara, explained, “They are commitment tokens.” She gestured to her husband’s. The beads were of the same three colors and types of bead: brown acorns (or local equivalent), red painted clay, and pierced white quartz, he thought. “The seed is for Lonto’s paternal line, the red clay for my maternal, the quartz was our choice for our own new union.”

Tony examined the three different types of bead in his bag. “So Gysa and Tomro took the seed, and…” he glanced at Grenar and Ysela’s bracelets, “the blue river stone for Gysa’s line, and the yellow clay bead was their choice?”

Everyone nodded.

Anne’s sharp eye caught a glint in the grass, beyond the wood-lot. She nodded to Tony, who went to collect it.

An abandoned commitment bracelet? Two of the stones were identical… blue river stones, with a third green semi-precious stone Tony didn’t recognize.

Å

The local mid-wife was there in the hut when Spencer arrived, cleaning and preparing the corpse for burial. Spencer winced at the contamination of the body before he had even had a chance to examine it, but this was a different culture, and an autopsy was out of the question anyway… He did his best to be respectful, asking for the mid-wife to step back and allow him to study the victim. Alison Porter was with him, Laura Cadman guarding outside.

Spencer carefully unwound the draped shroud from a young girl, no more than late teens, surely, a pretty woman with the light skin coloration and the dark red hair of her parents. The bruising on her body was plain to see, even in the dim light of the hut. Alison stepped forward with her flashlight to offer Spencer a better view for his work. He took pictures, and then examined the body, swallowing down his personal feelings at the sad waste of a young life, and sinking into his professional demeanor.

He glanced at the mid-wife. “I know I must seem cold and unfeeling to you, and what I have to do is, at times, invasive and unpleasant, but I assure you, I will treat her with every respect. But in order to do my job, I must put away my feelings, and deal only with facts.”

The mid-wife nodded solemnly. “I understand, Veralin. Wherever she has gone, the child can feel no more pain now. Do as you must.”

Spencer nodded. Activating the recording device in his pocket, he began to speak into it.

“The victim is a female Caucasian, approximately seventeen or eighteen years of age. Rigor mortis is advanced but not yet complete, so she has been dead no less than twelve hours. She was left lying on her back, judging by the lividity marks, blood pooling under the skin. Bruising around the throat and petichial hemorrhage in the eyes points to strangulation. There doesn’t seem to be any damage to the skull, but there are pieces of bark, and some pine needles, grass stems and leaves in her hair. She was held against a tree… and at some time lay on the grass, maybe dropped there. I don’t see any defensive wounds… but her fingernails are broken… she no doubt tried to grab her attacker’s wrists to break his hold on her.”

“His? A man then?” Alison asked.

“With hands the size indicated by the marks on her neck? Assuredly. I know everyone probably knows everyone here, but… she knew her attacker and allowed him to get close to her, within arm’s reach. She was married?”

The mid-wife nodded. “She married Tomro, the son of our Chief elder, this summer past.”

Spencer carefully studied the body. Apart from the neck, there were no marks to be seen… until he reached her legs. There was bruising on her knees.

“She tried to knee him in the groin, again to try and break his grip… unsuccessfully.”

And when he glanced an apology to the mid-wife and began an internal examination of her vagina…

“She engaged in sex, fairly recently. Alison, a little more light? Judging by the lack of tearing or bruises, it was consensual, and gentle. Whereas the strangulation was savage and sudden… an act of passion and anger.” He took swab samples, and held one up to the light before bagging it. “I’ll take these samples back to Atlantis for analysis, to identify her lover.”

“Not her husband?” the mid-wife asked warily.

“I have no way to tell until we test it.” He didn’t want to outright say, but the one pubic hair he had found on the internal examination was dark red, not blonde. And he had noted the two very different physical attributes of the two populations. Of course, the hair might have been her own… but he doubted it. “Was their’s a love-match?”

“No. It was arranged. Almost all marriages here must be arranged, now. There are too few of us, we are most of us related to a degree… if a proposed love match is between two partners too closely related, it cannot be allowed. We have seen too many birth defects and miscarriages in recent years.”

“Did Gysa have a love match that was denied?”

“I… I believe so. Her first cousin, Grys.”

Å

Tony and Spencer took a moment to discuss what they had found.

“So, romantic triangle?” Tony sighed. “Gysa still seeing her cousin on the sly, hiding her secret bracelet, until her husband finds out? And he is not happy.”

“Or she was rejecting the cousin and his bracelet, and he’s the one not happy with the situation. Either way, the murderer acted out of a violent and jealous rage.”

“Terrific. Son of one Chief elder, nephew of the other. This is going to be messy.”

“I think that’s probably inevitable in such a tiny population. I can see now why Colonel Carter is so anxious to get these tiny communities to relocate and band together. The dwindling food situation alone is going to put them in danger of starvation, and soon.”

Tony nodded. “You want to question the cousin or the husband?”

“From what you’ve said, the husband fits the size of the attacker. We need to at least see if the cousin is a match. Since he’s still at the other village, I’ll take the hike over there.”

Tony grinned. “Better you than me, Probie. See you in a bit.”

Å

As soon as Spencer was introduced to the cousin, Grys, he knew the young man couldn’t be the killer. Not only was he a typical Greysey native, red headed and of small stature, but he had a withered right hand – an obvious birth defect. There was no way this man’s small hands could reach around Gysa’s neck as the murderer had done.

The young man was devastated. He kept fingering a commitment bracelet in his hands, a match for the one Tony found in the field beside Gysa’s cabin home.

“We were in love,” sobbed the man. “From childhood. But the elders decided we were too closely related… and I…” he gestured to his hand with a hopeless shrug. “They would not allow us to wed. Her father, my uncle, made a political alliance with the elder of Doolon… Gysa said she didn’t care. If she was not allowed to be with me, she didn’t care who she was forced to wed. But… we were so miserable, kept apart… we… we did a terrible thing, and stole moments alone, whenever we could… it was the only joy left to us, no matter how wrong…”

“Did you see her last night?”

Grys nodded. “We made love in the grass… made wild plans, maybe to run away, go to another world, where we could be together… we never acted upon them, but maybe we should have… Then we heard a noise… Tomro was supposed to be drinking with his friends, usually did not return before dawn… but he returned early. Gysa said she had to go, and I left… I should have stayed, made sure she got in safely… I should have stayed!”

Spencer could find no lie in his manner or words. He had lost the love of his life, and Spencer knew too well how that felt.

“Do you know how this happened? Who could have hurt my precious Gysa?”

“We have not yet completed our investigation,” Spencer replied warily.

“Then I will return with you to Doolon, and remain until you know.”

Spencer tried to talk the young man out of it – he couldn’t imagine how the family dynamics of this situation would work out, but there was no way they would improve by adding an adulterous and vengeful lover into it… But Grys would not be deterred. So far, it hadn’t occurred to the young man who the most likely suspect was.

Å

It took Tony a while to get though to Tomro, the distraught husband. He still reeked of alcohol – Tony already knew he had been drinking heavily the night before with his friends. According to local scuttlebutt, Gysa didn’t have any friends in town – too much the outsider, too shy about putting herself out there, and too unhappy in her marriage, far from home, even if it was only an hour’s walk away. But even her mother-in-law, Chief Elder Dara, didn’t seem to like her much – and grew colder and more suspicious as time went by without an expected pregnancy. Dara had been heard to accuse Gysa of doing something to prevent pregnancy – taking some local root. But Tomro had been feeling the pressure too, of not being a good enough husband, and had been resorting to more and more of these drunken binges with his bachelor buddies.

“She wasn’t there when I got home,” Tomro wept, holding his face. “I went out looking… saw her… saw her… coming out of the field… and… *He* was there! The cousin,” Tomro spat our angrily. “She was taking off a bracelet… *His* bracelet! The one I gave her was in her pocket… hidden, like she was ashamed of me! Like she wasn’t mine! And I… I… It’s all red, in my mind… I… I don’t remember how I got so close, but her throat was in my hands, and I… I… She was mine! My wife! And she betrayed me, with that… that… *defective*!”

“Did you kill her, Tomro?” Tony asked quietly, well aware that the young man didn’t even realize he was there.

“I… I… I don’t know…”

“You had your hands on her throat?”

“Yes. Yes. I remember… I was so angry… I was drunk… She smelled of *him*!”

“And you squeezed?”

“Yes… yes… She fought me, clawed at me…” he blinked blindly down at his forearms, clearly scratched by fingernails. “Until she stilled. And then… then… I let her go.”

Tony looked up into the four shocked faces of the elders.

“I’m sorry. But I’m pretty sure that’s the truth.”

Dara immediately faced the others. “He was drunk, he was a hot-head… yes, and he was shocked to find his wife had been unfaithful. She betrayed him! He cannot be held wholly accountable…”

“That’s no excuse for murder!” Ysela protested. “My daughter is dead! If he no longer wanted her, he should have sent her back to us!”

Grenar joined in with, “He might act violently again in the future, given provocation or the excuse of being drunk!”

Spencer and his escort arrived at this point, quickly noting the situation, and holding back a young man from Greysey with a twisted hand, holding a bracelet of blue and green. Ah, the cousin. Spencer handed him off to Sgt. Mehra so he could join Tony.

“I think our job here is done,” said Tony. “We need to leave and let them hash it out on their own.”

Spencer lifted an eyebrow. “You think that’s possible, given the situation? Seems a little volatile to me.”

“It’s their world, their society, their choice of punishment. It’s got to be their choice, and we can’t get involved in that, either as Lanteans or Veralin.”

“Maybe not, but…” Spencer glanced behind him. “You know who Tomro will go after next, don’t you?”

Suddenly there was a loud, angry shout. “You! It was you killed her! You murderer!”

Grys, no larger than Dusty Mehra, should not have been able to drag her into the middle of this scene, but he was furious and that gave him strength and determination. To quell him, Mehra would have had to get violent, and she was reluctant to take him down when he was obviously so devastated.

Tomro looked up from his own private hell, having just begun to realize what he’d done, and found a much worthier focus for his roiling emotions.

“You! Adulterer! You were going to steal her from me, were you?”

Both young men, in fits of rage, charged at each other…

In reflex, Tony stepped directly into the path of a big blonde bull, while Spencer reflexively stepped back to draw his weapon. The result was entirely predictable.

Bowled over to the ground, Tony tried to hold onto Tomro, who fought back like a fury. Anne and Dusty jumped forward to grab Grys and forced him to the ground on his stomach. Spencer couldn’t see an opening to take a shot, even one meant to maim, so he quickly holstered his handgun so he could take a swift kick at Tomro’s head. At least that sent the blonde giant rolling sideways off of Tony, left him dazed and still struggling to get up.

The shocked elders could only stand and stare. The mid-wife hustled forward, and shouted in Tomro’s ear, the youth howling in madness.

“Stop, boy! You’ve assaulted a Veralin! That’s high crime, Tomro! Stop!”

What she said was like a bucket of cold water on all the locals, who froze and turned appalled eyes on Tony, who was still groaning in the dust, gripping his stomach.

“I think I caught a kick to the gut,” he muttered, glancing fearfully up at Spencer, who knelt by his side at once.

Spencer glanced up at Anne. “Call for a Jumper and a med evac,” he ordered. “We aren’t going to make him stand until Carson sees him. Tony? Just lie back and take it easy. It’ll be fine. Although, I think this is the last straw as far as Carson is concerned. He’ll ground you for sure, now.”

Tony started to laugh, then groaned, hugging his belly the tighter. “Oh, don’t make me laugh… not now.”

“Sorry.” He looked up at the shocked elders. “We will make no claim of assault. But you have a mess to clear up over this matter.

“Tony told me it was your world, your society, your choice what the punishment should be. But be warned. Whatever his crime, that young man is a danger to himself and to Grys, if not to anyone else. If you claim drunkenness is at fault, then he may well act in similar fashion if he is ever allowed to be drunk again. If you claim he is a hot-head, then admit he might become violent any time his anger is aroused. And any woman he chooses to court should be warned of his temper and his drinking. These considerations are the least you should bear in mind before you decide anything.

“Also, consider this. His grievances would have been ample excuse for divorce, but not for murder. Should Gysa have died because someone was drunk, jealous and angry? Every excuse you make for what he has done makes less of the woman who was his victim. I don’t think that is a good thing. Beyond that… this is your problem, I do agree, the people of your two villages. But I do not think the parents of the victim, or the parents of her murderer, should have any part of the final decision. You four are all too close to the situation to be able to judge coolly and rationally. If you want more advice, send for us, we might be able to offer you some. But not today. Tomorrow, maybe.”

Only Grenar, father of the victim, came forward. “Veralin… I humbly thank you for giving me the answers we needed… I see now it’s somewhat my fault for denying my daughter her chosen lover. But what was I to do? We have seen other communities with such inbreeding vanish in a generation, even without the Wraith.”

Spencer sighed. “Then perhaps it’s time to consider relocating. You can join another planet. We have a list of over twenty, facing much the same problems as you, who are ready and willing to invite any refugees to join them. Or come to New Lantea, merge with the Athosians and a dozen other communities were in as dire straights as you are, for better odds of survival.”

Chastened, the two couples were herded off by the mid-wife, and several local men arrived to take both Tomro and Grys in hand. Where they were being taken, beyond opposite directions, and what would happen to them there, wasn’t really Spencer’s business. He had enough to contend with in making Tony comfortable for the journey back to Atlantis.

Å