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Stage VII: The Road Home

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*~What a sad era when it is easier to smash an atom than a prejudice.~ Albert Einstein*

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The morning of the Patriot Coup…

The Tau’ri fleet lingered just beyond the Oort Cloud at the border between System Sol and deep space, waiting to rendezvous with the last of the jumpers.

As soon as O’Neill issued the Red Sea command, at nine-forty-five am Mountain Standard Time, four of their five Earth-based SGC jumpers had been deployed to retrieve personnel. Messages had gone out to SG teams on off-world missions to assemble at the Beta site. Not the current Alpha site, because that would be under direct US jurisdiction, and the plan was *not* to deliberately defy orders from even a ‘provisional’ and illegal government. Meanwhile, the jumpers scooted to pre-arranged locations around the globe to pick up those on the Red Sea list without transponders for whatever reason. All F-302’s were docked in cargo holds. All Red Sea personnel, but for the designated ‘clean-up crews’, were beamed up to the ships from the Ancient Outpost, Area 51, Washington DC, SGC and anywhere else they happened to be. All of this was completed before the full import of the ‘Patriot’ offensive became clear. ZNN news transmissions were being piped to the mess halls of each ship, because people needed to know, however disturbing the news. Shocked family members were being calmed as much as possible, as the Red Sea Protocol was explained to them.

In the event of a major coup at home by forces hostile to HomeWorld Security and its agencies, the protection of staff and their dependents was the first priority. Let my people go.

Securing dangerous advanced technologies from those who could not be trusted with it, was the secondary priority. Make damned sure the Red Sea fell back in place behind them.

And third, ensure the security of the Earth, in spite of their ungrateful treatment of those who were dedicated to their welfare. Turn the other cheek.

The Red Sea protocols were really just an Earth-side version of the Atlantis Trojan anti-invasion plans. Their Trust problems had only got more complicated in the wake of Declassification. They had put a dent in the organization, such as it was, sure, but had failed to root it out entirely. They’d only managed to drive them deeper underground, made them more desperate and reckless. In spite of everything, they had been unable to flush out Baal and Nun, and whoever was currently riding their coat-tails. The goa’uld ‘lords’ wore nifty new people-suits of Trent Kort and Eli David, and wasn’t *that* just an added recipe for disaster. Jack had seen enough red flags to decide the Reid kid was right, and they needed contingencies in place, in case the damn Trust *did* manage a successful coup. He got Carter and McKay both on security, while he and AJ plotted out the rest.

Vice Admiral (retired) AJ Chegwidden was already aboard the *Daedalus*, with Steven Caldwell in command. Colonel Abraham Ellis had the *Apollo*. Colonel Paul Emerson commanded the *Odyssey*. Colonel Kirill Semyonitch Smirnov, in command of the Russian BC-304 *Gagarin*, was currently violating his own suspect government’s orders, so he could join the Tau’ri fleet on O’Neill’s orders. Likewise, Captain Han Chu commanded the Chinese deep space carrier *Sun Tzu*. Smirnov and Han both knew the score: however loyal they might want to be to their own governments, the threat to the entire Earth posed by the Wraith, maybe even the Lucians, was greater, and superseded lesser and more local claims on them and their crews. Sam Carter was at the helm of the *George Hammond*, (originally designated *Phoenix*, but renamed in honor of the first SGC commander). The first Asgard battle cruiser they had recovered and repaired after the Asgard mass suicide, the *Valhalla*, was under the command of Major Marks, for the time being. The two newest vessels in the BC-304 fleet, *Gaia* and *Perseus*, were out on patrol at the galactic rim, watching for any signs of the Wraith on approach, and attempting to contact any populations out there to warn them of potential invasion by life-sucking vampire space aliens.

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Jack O’Neill stood at Chief Harriman’s shoulder in the SGC command centre, watching the various monitors. One carried a ZNN feed, one took reports from the teams, another showed assorted security camera views. He had expected them to hit the SGC first of all. They should have already been moving before ZNN broke the very first story. The fact that they hadn’t, revealed a fatal weakness in their plot. They had assumed HomeWorld and the SGC would be unaware, or unprepared for them, as the scope and nature of the threat only slowly emerged.

Too bad for them.

Jack sighed with exasperation. “Henry, come on. We’ve been over this. You agreed when we first discussed Red Sea that we’d need an off-world provisional government until such time as—”

“Yes, and you’ve got the VP, Ray Massey, Francis Maynard, Sam Vidrine, not to mention Richard Woolsey out in Pegasus, and Gordie Pinsent in The Hague for that. I’m staying here, Jack. This is my place.”

“They’ll shoot you down like a dog, Henry. You’re all that will stand between them and the Oval Office.”

“Tell Violet and the kids I love them.”

“Damn it, Henry…”

“And don’t you dare try and kidnap me, Jack. That’s a direct order from your Commander-in-Chief. Lucky I got McKay to give me one of those beam-jammers, hunh? Just remember that for when Atlantis gets back. Whoever the bastard is who takes my chair away from me, he’ll have that at least. Good luck to you all, Jack.”

Jack ground his teeth. “Just don’t forget to destroy—”

“Aw, teach your grandma to suck eggs, General O’Neill. I know the protocol.”

“I hate you a whole lot just now, Henry. Don’t get dead, and we’ll rescue your contrary butt when Atlantis gets back.”

“Yeah, yeah… go on, General. Let my people go.”

Jack signed off and heaved another sigh. “I hope you didn’t vote for that wise-ass, Chief.”

“Um… actually, I did, sir. Sir, report from Area 51.”

“Hey there, Dr. Novak. How goes it?”

“It goes well, General sir,” and the woman gave a hiccup. Vala thought her nervous tick to be an annoying pain in the butt, but Jack found it endearing. Or maybe the hiccups wasn’t Vala’s problem with her… Jack gave an inner smirk and waited for the rest of the report.

And, since it would damage his hard-won reputation to let any scientist get a complete report to him, he interrupted. “So, nothing left there with a crystal or an energy pulse, and McKay’s special little package is hooked up and armed?”

“Er… yes sir. Armed and ready. *hiccup*.”

“And the personnel left at Area 51? Running around like chickens with their heads cut off?”

“Oh yes, sir. Good description. I also took the precaution of emailing the base beaming logs to Agent Henrietta Lange, Agents Hotchner and Garrett, and Agent Don Eppes, as you suggested. That includes untouched back-up copies of logs otherwise tampered with, and security tapes from the beaming station room. They don’t seem to have thought about those, or maybe they just assumed they’d have time to clean up later.”

“Good job. Well, you’re the last friendly there, so tell Steven to beam you up. See you on the flip side, Doctor.” And he switched channels.

The slide show of security views stopped on the street in front of Jack’s Colorado Springs home, showing a whole fleet of police cars with flashing lights. Yeah, good luck trying to find anyone home. How odd that they should raid private homes before the SGC or HomeWorld offices. Obviously, they were still trying to maintain the polite fiction that this was just a routine criminal investigation. Oh, and by the way, looking for hostages first. Bastards.

“Director Morrow for you, sir.”

“Tom. Ready for lift off?”

“The god-damned bastard. You know who it is, Jack? Hank Landry.”

Jack froze, a shudder going through him.

“That god-damned bastard. I’m his god-damned daughter’s godfather! That fucking bastard!”

“Yeah, that’s what I said. I know you wanted to think he was undercover, trying to help us flush out the Trust, but… not if he’s sitting in the god-damned Oval Office! You sure I can’t stay behind and shoot the bastard down like a god-damned dog? You know I can stay underground as long as I have to. Done it before, can do it again.”

Jack stopped to consider that. It had certain obvious advantages… having eyes and ears of Tom Morrow’s caliber on Earth being the main one. But he did have other options there.

“No, Tom, I don’t want to take the chance. They had a target on you, and we don’t know how close they got or who they might have on you. I’ve already got Hayes volunteering for martyrdom, don’t you be an idiot too.”

“Hayes? Tied himself to the mast?”

“Yeah. Give Caldwell the signal. You got your records ready to blow?”

“Give me a sec… Okay. Ten minute count down. I’ll call Caldwell at five.”

“Sooner if they show up at your door, Tom. They’re at my house right now.”

“Your house, not the SGC? Going for hostages? God-damned fucking bastards.”

“See you upstairs. Bye, Tom.”

More private homes had federal agents marching to their doors. Treating this like the string of unrelated personal crimes they appeared to be. Trying to gather family in the net under the guise of ‘taking them in for questioning’, or maybe even ‘protective custody’, if they were smart. Too bad the houses they were knocking on were all empty. Nobody home.

“Colonel Reynolds for you, sir.”

“Reynolds. What do you have for me?”

“Sir. HomeWorld HQ in DC is secure. All offices vacated, personnel safely situated or sent home, back-ups in hand, and self-destruct ready for ten minute trigger.”

Jack flipped security views till he got to the series for HomeWorld offices in Washington. And yeah, there came the black-suited feds.

“Make it five minutes and haul ass out of there, Eric. The feds are knocking at the door.”

“Acknowledged. Five minute count-down engaged. SG-3 out.”

Aaand… here they came up the lane to Cheyenne Mountain, at long last, Jack thought, watching a cavalcade of black SUV’s speeding up the winding mountain road.

“You got the front door secured, Ferretti?” Jack asked. “Because we’ve got company coming.”

“SG-2 locked and loaded, General. We’ve got the elevators between eleven and fifteen on lock-down and all access sealed. We’ll let you know if they haul up any ordnance that might actually give us a problem.”

“Acknowledged, SG-2.” Jack switched to another channel. “Dr. Lee? What’s your ETA?”

“Well, General…” and the little scientist hesitated. “We’ve moved everything that can be moved, and booby-trapped or sabotaged the rest… I’ve followed the check-list, and—”

“Bill. I’m asking for an ETA. When will you be done?”

“Well, um, right now, General. I was just doing a second check through with Dr. Thibideau—”

“And Carter’s *special* little surprise?”

Dr. Lee sighed heavily. “Do we have to sir? The time and effort it will take to get all of this up and running again when we get back—”

“We’ve got back-ups of everything, Bill, and we sent Atlantis everything in the last data-burst. We can always put together new equipment. But just think of turning over whatever we leave behind to Kavanagh—”

“Oh god! No. I understand sir, it’s just that… okay, okay. I’ve activated the fail-safe. The self-destructs are in place, and can be activated from your location. Do you have the connection, Walter?”

“Yes, Dr. Lee.”

“Then…” and there was another heavy sigh, “I guess we’re done.”

“And Daniel’s books? You know what he’ll do to me if any of his books, chicken-scratch rocks or clay doodads are damaged at all.”

“No matter what happens, nothing above level twenty will be damaged. NORAD, its systems, are all on eleven or above. The linguistics, anth/arch departments on eighteen, artifact storage and reference library on sixteen… it’ll all be safe. Even if they do get Peter in here with his sledge-hammer.”

“Infirmary on twenty-one?”

“Dr. Lam took what she needed with her, all records and research data, so we purged the infirmary system and it’s set to blow with the rest.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Jack caught sight of something streaking past the control room door. Something smallish, furry, in a line of grey tabby with an interesting pattern.

“Oh cripes, the cats! These EM thingies won’t actually hurt living creatures, right?”

“What? Oh, no, I shouldn’t think they’d even feel it… maybe some static electricity in the air… cat fur is notorious for—”

“Good, ‘cause it looks like the unattached cats have elected to stick around. Well, yeah, their zeds are here.” Jack contemplated that a moment, then glanced at Walter. “I don’t suppose they expect a sudden influx of zeds to show up here, do they?” When Walter gave him a blank and bewildered look, Jack waved his hand in an erasing gesture. “Never mind. So the EMP won’t hurt ‘em. Good enough.”

Jack hesitated a moment, thinking of one last living creature he should, maybe, be concerned about stranding alone in an abandoned SGC. He wondered if he really cared, but felt like a wuss for not being able to make a decision on this issue well before this. But, honestly, he hadn’t expected it to still *be* an issue by the time they had to put out the Red Sea command. He sighed heavily. Danny would expect him to…

“Which just leaves… our *special* Mossad-escape-proof brig cell on twelve?”

Walter checked his list. “There’s a trigger device to blow the lock off her door as soon as everything else is complete.”

“Okay, then,” Jack admitted, giving a curt nod. “Sounds like we’ve done as much damage as we can, for now. Bill, get your team down to the gate room with any stuff that’s left. We’ll gate you through to the Beta Site. Col. Dixon and SG-13 are ready for escort. We’ll rendezvous with your families in two days.”

Jack gave a wave through the window to Dave Dixon as he said this. SG-13 were all down in the gate room, geared up and ready to go.

“*All* of our families, sir?” Dixon winced. “You couldn’t forget a few of the kids behind? I’m sure they’ll be fine…”

“None ‘o that, Colonel,” Jack warned, mock sternly. Dixon, devoted father that he was, had long made a joke of trying to shake all the teenagers in his home. “You know the SGC First Rule. No one gets left behind.”

Dr. Lee led a little flock of scientists into the gate room, burdened down with cases and duffels. Dr. Alain Thibideau peeled off to join him and Walter in the command centre, a faithful tortie at his ankles, tri-color tail waving in the air. Jack gave the nod, and Walter dialed the Beta Site.

Once the familiar kerwoosh and blue flood settled into the spangled event horizon, Jack called down, “You have a go, SG-13 and mission specialists. Godspeed.”

Dixon and a couple of the scientists gave a wave, as they marched up the ramp.

From the looks of the security cameras on NORAD, the feds were having trouble even getting in that far without proper clearance. This month it was the Canadians’ turn in charge of the Crystal Palace, and General St. Laurent was having a particularly good time being dense and francophone with the interlopers.

“Okay, Dr. Thibideau,” said Jack to the young man who had become one of the stars of the SGC civilian scientist cohort, Canadian zed Dr. Alain Thibideau. “You’ve got the Red Sea Master List. Give me the run-down.”

“Gotcha, sir,” Alain shot back, settling easily into Jack’s usual informal command style. The young man had blossomed in his command role. He was no longer intimidated by his own shadow, although he did reach down with one hand to stroke his constant companion, the tortoiseshell cat. “The OWP is on stand-down, locked with password encryption. The platforms are on two-minute self-destruct if unauthorized access is detected. Even with authorization codes, platforms can be boarded, but weapons can’t be engaged without second-level security authorization. Any attempt to bypass will trigger the self-destruct.

“Shield satellites are on full cloak and shield, and set to auto-deploy. Deployment can also be triggered by emergency command. I never asked, sir… who has the emergency deploy codes?”

“Oh, a few very special friends got emails this morning with the codes. I’ve had confirmation from most of them. The Secretary of State is in The Hague right now, and will be sitting out the crisis there, getting lawyers to yell at the World Court. So he’s got a copy. Then there’s the UN Secretary General, the heads of state for Canada, UK, Russia… a couple of people I trust in Washington who won’t be coming with us. Including…” and Jack gave a heavy sigh, still stinging from the sense of betrayal, “General Hank Landry. An old friend of mine. Or, he used to be, the rat-bastard.”

Luckily, the Shield deployment code is all he had sent the rat-bastard. No harm done there. No one in their right mind – or even a very wrong one – would dare do anything to hobble Earth’s one certain protection. All anyone could do with the codes anyway would be deploy the Shield, and protect Earth. And, since Jack had sent the email to Hank’s personal hotmail account, and presumably the rat-bastard would be too busy to check it for some time, he probably didn’t even know yet.

But the revelation of this betrayal did explain one thing that had made Jack scratch his head in perplexity. One thing all the coup target assassinations had in common were that the victims were all either high-profile anti-zed, or easily connected to HWS in some way. With one exception. A minor prison guard (and dishonorably discharged AF captain) currently under investigation by the Department of Justice for abuse and excessive violence. His was just one of dozens of cases they were looking into. Jack had recognized the name immediately, of course, as it had been his flea in Lt. Colonel Paul Davis’ ear that got the DoJ investigating Leonard Burkhart in the first place. But not too many others would have known to make that connection. Off-hand, Jack could only think of one: his old pal, Hank Landry. The man whose marriage had been destroyed by Burkhart’s machinations. Well, looked like ol’ Hank had taken advantage of the coup to get his belated revenge.

“Go on, Al.”

“Area 51 is secured. HomeWorld is secured. The Ancient Outpost is secured, and non-Red Sea personnel were evacuated to Nevada, a mile from Area 51, as you specified. Sir, that’s deep inside Nellis Air Force Base, it’s all scrub desert, there’s no roads out there and I don’t think there’s even cell service…”

“No worries, Al. Most of those guys are scientists. If they can’t get a generator running with a coke bottle and a gum wrapper, or make a phone from a tin-can with a string, they deserve to spend a few days wandering the desert. But I can drop a text to someone to go rescue them… in a few hours. They’ll be fine, no worse than a sunburn and bit of dehydration. They should be glad not to be freezing their butts off any longer. And I’m pretty god-damned sure at least three of them are bad guys. Go on.”

Alain Thibideau shrugged. Every HWS scientist did at least a minimum training period at the Outpost, and many stayed, more enamored with the Ancient tech than bothered by the cold and isolation. But some of the staff had cycled through both the SGC and Area 51, and been exiled to the Outpost for cause. Alain knew most of them. He wasn’t especially unhappy about their predicament, so his attempt at protest had been a salve to his conscience only. Better a desert than being stuck in the Antarctic in the middle of a blizzard without power or support.

“SGC is secured, except for final security protocols and evacuation. I’ve heard from the ships, and all lists are complete. All F-302’s accounted for, all but the last jumper and our SGC emergency ‘clean-up crew’ have been evacuated. We’re good to go, General, whenever you give the word.”

“All-righty then.” Jack keyed in the jumper bay. “Col. Coburn, bring ‘er down.” As the last remaining jumper descended into the gate room, Jack switched to SG-2’s channel. “Ferretti. Still tight up there?”

“No sign of hostiles, sir.”

Jack chuckled. “That’s because St. Laurent still has them upstairs, swearing at them in French. Pack it up, Lou, and get your team to the gate room.”

“Acknowledged.”

Minutes later, SG-2 arrived, and dutifully filed into the jumper. Once the last of them were loaded aboard, they’d dial the space gate. Yeah, they had one of those, reclaimed and anchored next to dwarf planet Pluto in the Kuiper Belt, in the outermost orbits of System Sol. The position was *just* far enough that it could register a different dial-in code from Earth’s, with its own unique origin sign. That had been a fairly recent innovation, after the fall of the Midway transfer station. It was an extra entry point for the system that did not bring suspect visitors straight into Earth’s atmosphere. Kinda like a back door emergency exit, and being employed as such right now.

Jack straightened up and looked around the control room, and the gate room below, a little wistful. It seemed a little like defeat. He could suddenly understand Henry Hayes’ position, of wanting to be the last man to stand on the burning deck… but he had responsibilities, two lovers and three babies on the way...

“Okay, Walter. Last man turns out the lights.”

“Yes sir,” the master chief agreed, subdued. The space-gate was dialed, the count-down to the final security protocols was initiated. Jack helped Walter and Alain lug the last of their equipment down to the gate room, along with his case full of very personal records. The Stargate shed its wondrous light on them as they boarded the jumper, hatch closed, and they were lifted through with a wet-sounding squelch.

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Behind them, in the sudden darkness, in the deserted Stargate command centre, a silent count-down reached zero. A carefully directed EM pulse flashed through the lower floors of the SGC. The computer systems locked up, the data storage and servers all fried, the power generators sputtered and sparked out on overload, and, detecting a breach, the shielded Stargate system issued the command to lock. The Iris scissored closed, not just sealing the gate, but capping it, as effectively as the huge cover stones of another age, another culture. It wouldn’t open at all now, until it received the very unique signature created by a man in another galaxy far away.

And on level twelve, there was a small *pop*, and the door of one super-secure brig cell was jarred open…

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Not everyone who had been invited had agreed to join the Red Sea evacuation plan.

O’Neill had called his sentinel experts, Dr. Blair Sandburg and Detective Jim Ellison, into his office for a little chat, early in the process of planning.

“Okay, gentlemen, explain this to me. If the Trust succeeds and takes over the planet, why would you want to be here?”

Behind Jack, something shadowy, huge, grey and shaggy, bristled and growled, pacing restlessly back and forth. The pacing matched that of another unreasonably big animal shape, a black panther that lurked behind Jim and Blair.

The sentinel/guide pair exchanged glances. Blair clung tight to tortie Ruth in his lap.

“I’m a sentinel, General,” Jim replied. “My one over-riding instinct is to Protect the Tribe. I can’t do that from somewhere in space. If the Trust does take over, then zeds everywhere are going to be at risk, and we both know you can’t take them all with you. So you’ll need me here to keep an eye on things. Blair’s tied in to the Blue Jungle network, we can keep a finger on the pulse with that.”

The shadowy *something* behind O’Neill growled, but its hackles began to smooth out as the General tapped his fingers on his desk, admitting the truth. “Okay… on that score, I kinda think I should stay on planet too.”

Blair shook his head. “No, sir. Jim and I can take the lead here on Earth, but if it all goes to shit, you need to be out there, doing your own thing.”

It was difficult not to say too much, but although he was close, a sentinel on the cusp of emerging, dire wolf spirit guide already lurking around him, the General wasn’t quite there yet. It wouldn’t take much to tip him over, if Blair was any judge, and he was. If they did have to call a Red Sea, that would probably be enough… or, you know, when the life-sucking alien vampires got to the solar system.

But Blair had long ago learned that it was no good trying to rush these things. If O’Neill wasn’t ready, he just wouldn’t hear it. But Blair would make sure that the Furalin on the Red Sea list were all supplied with his papers and manuals on the Care and Handling of Sentinels. When Jack blew open, judging by his nebulous friend back there, it was going to be *epic*. And with Daniel Jackson still in another galaxy, Jack was going to need all the zed help he could get.

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Jack had encountered a similar resistance from other quarters, where oaths of office, and duty to their country and planet trumped getting their asses to safety, in this particular worst-case scenario.

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In the NCIS Los Angeles OSP offices, the Quantico bullpens for the BAU and IRT, and in the DC Hoover Building Cyber Crime labs, almost the same argument was going on as in the more laid back clubhouse of the NCIS New Orleans Resident Unit.

Dwayne Pride sighed as he told his collected team, “It’s an option we have to at least consider.”

“Why they offering this to *us*?” Chris LaSalle demanded. “I can see the BAU and IRT, maybe even Hetty’s group, they’ve all been running HWS ops for months, even before Declassification. But us? Apart from that FUBAR with Gibbs, letting the DiNozzos get snatched… we haven’t been all that involved. I just don’t see us as targets if this Trust thing gets the upper hand.”

It was their Medical Examiner, Loretta Wade, who suggested, “I think it’s probably got more to do with the number of zeds and sentinels on the team.”

Pride nodded. This was the first time it had been stated out loud, even within the team, but they all knew the score.

Sebastian Lund, their forensic guru and now a fully-fledged field agent, and Patton P. ‘Triple P’ Plame, their computer expert and hacker extraordinaire, were both zeds, true. With their wrist brands, it was certainly no secret to anyone. Trip had always taken his black cat, Queenie, wherever he went, riding in stately majesty on his lap as he wheeled around the city of New Orleans. As for Sebastian, he had given up trying to leave his own cat at home. He was a marmalade in orange and cream spots, stripes and swirls he called Spot. That might seem like an unlikely name for a cat, but he was named for the animal pet of Data, the ‘Star Trek: Next Generation’ android character, who had presumably looked up popular pet names, neglecting to specify ‘cat’ in his search. No matter how tight Sebastian locked up his place, Spot always managed to magically appear at his side. Of course, in another life, Queenie manifested as a cheetah, and Spot was a sun bear.

But the NOLA team also sported three sentinels. Now, that *had* been a well-kept secret… mostly because none of the three had been made fully aware of their status until recently. It seemed as if Declassification of the Stargate Project had ripped the cover off a *lot* of secrets.

Pride had known for some time that he was a bit… unusual. But in New Orleans, that kinda went with the territory, and he just kinda went with it. He just had never had a name for it, or an explanation, until recently. He had been a little startled, after the birth of his daughter, when a swamp ‘gater started trailing behind him, a creature few others seemed able to see… at least until Trip and Sebastian joined the team. Pride didn’t count the local characters… drunks, poets, musicians, obeah women and others with a supernatural touch, who would blink, then step aside for the thing. Pride knew his ability to see, hear, smell, taste and touch were out of the normal range… but he certainly wasn’t the only one who kept his talents under wraps. Gibbs, back in the day, had always pretended it was his *gut*, and Dwayne had followed suit. But he had also learned that there were situations and environments that were a problem for him… unless he had a stabilizing presence nearby. His wife had been one. His daughter was another. For a while, he had taken to bringing his pet beagle Porthos with him wherever he went… until his canine companion died of old age. But by then his team had filled out, and Sebastian and Trip had those soothing and stabilizing qualities in abundance.

Given their jobs, it wouldn’t have come as a surprise to any sentinel expert when Chris and Gregorio had developed… issues, with their senses. So had Sonja Percy, until it made her destabilize to the extent that she had to take medical leave from the team. For whatever reason, Percy had been unwilling to take Dwayne’s advice about sticking close to Sebastian in those situations, and the way she tended to cling to Chris only aggravated her inability to cope with her changes. Now that Dwayne had read the articles on Sebastian and Trip’s website, he understood the problems a whole lot better.

Sentinels. Damn. He had always thought that was a myth. Something the trainers told rookies to put them in their place, at FLETC and any number of other academy, training and boot-camp-like settings. But until he read Dr. Sandburg’s work, he hadn’t really understood… and now it all made sense to him.

Even the damn ‘gater.

Chris had an otter of some kind lurking behind him, Gregorio a raccoon. Dwayne was pretty sure he knew a bunch of others who might have spirit guides trailing them around. Some he had met in Colorado Springs on Gibbs’ DiNozzo op. And with the heads up from the Reid kid, Dwayne made sure his two agents were quickly brought up to speed on their secret super hero identities, and sent an urgent message to Sonja to quit being an idiot and take care of herself.

But until Loretta spoke up, Dwayne had been somewhat reluctant to mention the whole sentinel thing out loud.

“I’m thinkin’ you’re right, Loretta. The HWS has been heavily recruiting those who seem a bit… handier with the senses than most folks. And we already knew they were hiring every zed who would give them a chance to prove they could be trusted. You’ve all read the Gemcity novels, and I reckon that tells us why. No, Sebastian, Trip, you don’t need to say anything. I think we can all pretty well guess. Hail the Furalin, right? But we all know what the Trust can do, and if they get control… it’s gonna be bad, for everyone. Most of NCIS is solid, but we all know Vance has a bee up his butt about zeds… or maybe just Tony DiNozzo, who knows. If he gets the order to shut down zeds in the Agency… there’s not much we’re gonna be able to do about it.”

Except go rogue, no one said, but all of them thought.

“So that’s the situation. We stand pat if we get the worst case, or we go with the HWS. And I gotta say… I wouldn’t say no to a space adventure or two.”

Sebastian practically wiggled in excitement at just the idea… but then he abruptly stopped and looked at his team mates… none of whom would look at him, or Trip. They were the ones, after all, on the firing line if Red Sea needed to be called.

“But…” he began, then swallowed. “But then we would be leaving our posts. I’m a field agent now. I took an oath, to serve and protect. Not just the law, our jurisdiction with the men and women of the Navy and Marines and their dependants, but also my country, and by extension at least, my planet. I can’t do that if I jump ship. No, I’m staying. This was the whole point of going for the training in the first place. And… well… there are plans… the HWS isn’t the only organization out there with contingency plans, and I’ve kinda committed myself to be a part of that.”

“Whoa, wait…” Gregorio protested. “Are you talking about the Blue Jungle thing? A site for cats, fanfic and sentinel articles? You aren’t saying there’s a secret conspiracy for zeds on that thing, too, are you?” Her words might have expressed her doubts, but the very fact she asked the question meant she had already clued in.

Sebastian and Trip had confidentiality issues on this subject, and it was zed business, no one else’s after all, so they clammed up… but Loretta was a *very* smart lady, wise and able to keep her own counsel… until she deemed it time to open wide the doors.

“Come on, Tammy. Why do you think these two boys are so tech-savvy? Right from the first, the Internet has been a great leveler of classes, ages, creeds, colors, and genders. Where better for zeds to connect socially with others without being outed by their brands? It wouldn’t surprise me at all to find a *lot* of zeds are self-taught hackers and internet gurus… they can work from home, in isolation, from a place of safety, even underground and off-the-grid. The world wide web is one place where any marginalized group can congregate, if they have any kind of access, to commiserate, support and attempt to aid.”

Tammy Gregorio gaped as the implications suddenly became clear to her, and she glanced speculatively at her two team-mates with dawning respect, where before she had held mostly a slightly condescending fondness. “So, what you’re saying… our boys are running a sleeper cell of the revolution? All on a site devoted to advice about the care and feeding of cats? Wow. You go, guys! But… I gotta say, if it was me in your shoes, I’d still say yes to Red Sea.”

Triple P winced and shifted in his chair. Since his crippling injury at the hands of a bunch of zed-bashers (well before Queenie showed up in his life), he had become totally risk-averse. The idea of having a safe escape route away from all the Earth-side madness… well, that appealed to him, greatly. But Sebastian had a point. They were both admins on the Blue Jungle, and they had accepted a duty to their fellow zeds, awake and aware and hailed as the Furalin, or not.

“Damn, Sebastian,” he grumbled. “Did you have to put it like that? Leaving our posts? *‘The Call of Duty’*, zed cop edition? No, you’re right. We gotta stay. I bet the rest of the admins will say the same. I doubt if they’ll get the BAU, IRT, OSP or Cyber to take the out either. No, we stay. At our post.” And, regretfully, he sighed. “But if we have to call our own Red Sea, Bas’, we run like hell. Right?”

Sebastian began to get a stubborn set to his chin, and Trip could only groan.

Dwayne frowned mightily. “There’s no shame to retreating before overwhelming enemy forces, boys. If things do go from bad to worse, especially for zeds, I expect you to do what you have to, to run, and survive. Live to fight another day. Understood?”

Their boss wasn’t altogether sure he had got the agreement he wanted, but a nod of ‘understood’ was the best he thought he would get in the circumstances. He checked with Chris and Gregorio, and both stood a little straighter… all the confirmation Dwayne needed that his team were behind him, and all determined to have each other’s backs.

Just like always.

Å

One of the final notifications that Red Sea Protocols were going into effect was a dial-out to another galaxy.

Jack sighed. “Richard, we’re calling Red Sea. Not a lot of details available yet, but we’ve included everything we have in the data-burst. With the gate sealed, they won’t be able to get any communications out to order you to… well, you won’t have to decide what commands you can stomach, anyway. But it means we may have trouble getting through as well, except on sub-space relay, which is restricted and slow as fuck. Sorry about this, but we all knew it was coming. And I’m not sending Carter back, so you’ll have to run the city on your own. Well, you, Sheppard, McKay and Teyla…”

Woolsey gave a sigh just as heavy as O’Neill’s. “Damn. Do you know who it is, at least?”

“Oh yeah… that son-of-a-bitch Landry. He’s the head of the Patriot organization. God knows who all is compromised… seems like he’s talked a lot of stupid people into following his lead, including SecDef, that asshole Fitzgerald at the FBI, Vance at NCIS, and we already knew about Stahl, who came out of hiding just for this. But once we slam shut the door, he’ll have no stargate, no subspace comms, and no way of reaching you to order you to open the doors or come home. So there’s that. We think Hayes is still alive, stashed away in the White House basement, and we’ve got the provisional government with us. Accept no substitutes, Richard.”

“Of course not. We’ll work on coming home as soon as possible…”

“Nah, sit tight for now. Keep an eye on the Wraith. We’ll want to know as soon as they’re on the move. But… you know. Use your best judgement. It’s your play now, and I won’t arm-chair quarterback from another galaxy, when we won’t know the score.”

“Just as well if we hold here, for the time being, I suppose. We have the city star-drive up and running, but the Wormhole drive needs work. The return to Pegasus burned out the major components, and McKay hasn’t had time to replace them yet.”

“Yeah, I remember that briefing. Okay… look, is Daniel or Vala around? Okay to give them your office for a quick goodbye? We got sixteen minutes left in this window, and who knows when we’ll be able to re-establish contact…”

Å

Of course, there had been one more ‘sticky wicket’ for General Jack O’Neill to consider as the final plans for Red Sea were worked out. He still hadn’t had an answer when they finally had to pull the switch… so he had dealt with it by *not*.

That sticky wicket had a name: Ziva David. And she was still sitting in a brig cell at the SGC. They had kindly arranged to open the brig cell door for her as their final act, but when the Patriot goons arrived, the Israeli spy and trained Kidon assassin would have to make her own deals.

Å

Once the last jumper docked on the *Daedalus* cargo deck, Vice Admiral (retired) AJ Chegwidden opened a channel to the commanders of the other ships. “Gentlemen, Red Sea protocols have been enacted. All our people are aboard or accounted for. Once General O’Neill and I have a chance to confer with the *legally constituted* provisional government, we’ll give the order to get this rag-tag fleet moving. Next stop will be the Beta Site. Make sure you’re battened down, ready for launch.”

Then AJ joined their VIP guests. Generals Maynard and Vidrine awaited in the *Daedalus* ward room, along with Vice President Bruce Greenwood, Speaker of the House Raymond Massey, Homeland Director Tom Morrow and Col. Samantha Carter. At Carter’s back was the ever-watchful Master Teal’c of Chulak, charter member of SG-1 and honorary Tau’ri. Lt. Colonel Paul Davis was wandering around somewhere, no doubt harried beyond belief by the logistics he was trying to handle. But at the ward-room table, nobody looked very happy. Morrow had already told them of Hank Landry’s part in the day’s drama, and the sense of betrayal, the depths to which they had been played…

AJ could certainly relate. He had never been one of Landry’s cronies, like Jack, but he had to confess to a brief – very brief – moment of doubt. Was there a chance that Landry might still be playing the Trust? And how sure were they about his daughter, Dr. Carrie Lam?… But no. Lam, at least, was solid, and spitting mad at the estranged father she had never entirely trusted to be there for her.

And that was before the rat-bastard started whole-sale world-wide slaughter in the name of framing his rivals, and staging a fucking illegal military coup against the god-damned United States.

Then O’Neill arrived, traded dark looks with AJ as he sat down, to say, “I don’t suppose another Goa’uld symbiote…”

AJ shook his head. “No, Jack. Just a grade-A power-hungry asshole with delusions of godhood. He’s been in the pocket of the Trust since you had him replaced, as near as we can figure, had his hands in the rogue NID… and he’s got Samuels as his chief of staff.”

Jack winced. Robert Samuels, or… he would always be ‘Sparky’ to Jack.

“Terrific,” O’Neill muttered glumly.

“The good news,” Tom suggested, “is that at last our enemies have come out of their holes. They’re going to be all lined up, nice and public, in front of TV cameras in the White House press conference auditorium. When Atlantis gets back—”

Jack sighed. “Yeah, yeah. When Atlantis gets back. I have a feeling we’re going to be saying that a lot. I must admit it grates… I don’t suppose we can come up with a plan to take back the planet *before* they get back?”

General Francis Maynard, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sighed. “Only if we want to make a mess of the place, Jack. Yes, we’ve got plenty of fire power up here with the ships, but extremely limited ground forces. We know they have a beam jammer, at least. So we can’t send in even a surgical strike, not on the White House. That’s just what they’ll be waiting for. Planning for. And they know every trick in our book. It’s their book too.”

Raymond Massey, Speaker of the House, shook his head, “We need to do this in as legal a manner as possible, or we’ll be just as criminal as they are. That means waiting for the evidence to prove us in the right. That’s why we left Secretary of State Pinsent in The Hague, to present our case for us. That’s why we sent what evidence we could out of Area 51 to any authorities we felt we could still trust.”

Okay, Jack could understand that point, he had made it himself, but…

“You want something worth going home to, right, General?” Sam Carter pointed out. “Unless you want to risk those bastards doing a scorched earth just to keep us from getting it back… And that will take the kind of clout Atlantis will give us, with the rest of the world, at least.”

There were nods all around the table. Jack glanced at AJ.

“So we wait for John, Rodney and Daniel to ride in and save our butts?”

Sam grinned. “Don’t forget Cam and Vala, sir, they’re SG-1 too. Not like they don’t have the practice.”

Jack had to shrug and grant her that one. He just wasn’t used to being on the ‘saved’ half of that equation. He felt just a little like Pauline, tied to the train tracks. “Okay. So-o… where do we stand with our evacuees? Just how upset are they with being pretty much kidnapped?”

Sam said, “We’ve been showing them live ZNN feeds. They understand the threat. We’ve had a few incidents, a few threatened divorces, some crying kids, but it’s not actually as bad as we thought it might be. I think the under thirties are all kind of excited to be going into space.”

“That could change really fast if we don’t get them settled pretty quick,” the VP warned. Vice President Bruce Greenwood had started out his career in public life with a stint in the Red Cross, organizing disaster relief all over the world. He would know all about what happened when a refugee situation went south.

“We have plans in place,” AJ assured him. “First stop is the Beta Site. We can off-load the non-combatants there with a sufficient security force of SG teams. We’ve got enough shelters there to accommodate everyone. They were built at the height of the Ori threat, to accommodate all the refugees we relocated, complete with a fully-equipped infirmary. We have sufficient supplies of food for a couple of weeks, at least. We’ll off-load the Peterson F-302 Snakeskinner squadron for added planetary defense, and we’ll get a shield dome over them, soon as. *Odyssey* will be on supply runs to our trading partners. Two jumpers are returning to patrol duty in the Solar System, while the rest of the BC-304s continue diplomatic and intel missions.”

Greenwood frowned. “You’re going on with those? Even with the situation on Earth, and Atlantis due back in a few months’ time? The Wraith… they’re that close?”

Jack and AJ traded glances.

Jack said, “We can’t afford to assume they’re not, Mr. Vice President. Without the Earth Stargate, we’ve lost our communications link with Pegasus.

“You never heard Ronon Dex talk about Sateda. His home world was about at our level of technology, only without ships, OWP or Shield, although they did have some pretty impressive weapons. Twenty million population. And then three hive ships arrived. Just three, to start with, but more and more arrived as word got out – free eats. A week later, twenty million people were dead, or stuffed in Wraith larders. Or worse, turned into runners with tracker chips, play-things for the Wraith. Then there’s Atlantis herself. All that technology, all that power, and she ended up sunk to the bottom of the sea while the Ancients ran for their lives. The Wraith simply over-whelmed them through sheer numbers. And there was *nothing* in the Pegasus Galaxy to stand against them in ten thousand years, nothing to limit their numbers except for food availability. That’s us, by the way. Even with the in-roads we were able to make, the Hoffan plague, the Asuran final solution, Michael’s little projects, the current civil war between hives, and the significant numbers of hives that elected for the retro-virus change… At this time, we don’t actually have *any* solid intel on what the present numbers of hives are, beyond *a lot*. You do the math on that.”

Greenwood nodded, solemnly. “Okay. If you need any help on the diplomatic front… I volunteer.”

Jack grinned. “Thanks, Mr. Vice President. We’ll keep it in mind.”

AJ leaned forward, “What we do need you to do, sir, is to address the fleet and all of our passengers. We do have the legally constituted provisional government of the United States on board, and they need to hear that, from you. Let them know we have a plan, and every hope that we can restore proper, legal order in the near future.”

“Ri-ight,” Greenwood drawled. “When Atlantis returns.”

AJ grinned. “When Atlantis returns.”

Å