A Marine was dead and the deeper they dug into his death, the more one man's name kept popping up. So they brought him in for questioning.
Gibbs took a meditative sip of coffee as he stared into the one-way mirror that separated them from the interrogation room. One of the time-honored tactics of interrogation was to isolate the suspect for a couple of hours. It tended to put suspects on edge and made them more likely to make mistakes once the interrogation began. It also gave a good interrogator - like Gibbs - time to observe the suspect. The way the suspect reacted to the situation could be quite revealing.
But one thing was sure, in fact it was like an inexorable and inevitable rule of physics: whether guilty or innocent, whether they had something to hide or nothing to hide, everyone got nervous in the interrogation room.
Gibbs continued to examine his suspect through the mirror. There was now a slightly disgusted look on his face.
Their prime suspect was asleep. His feet were up on the table and his uniform cap was tucked down over his eyes. So much for the rule about isolation making suspects edgy.
"What does his file say?" Tony asked. He wasn't talking to Gibbs. Gibbs was obviously pretty deep into "stare into the suspect"-mode. When he was doing that, Gibbs was even less inclined to talk than usual.
Ziva flipped open a folder and examined the first page.
"Colonel Jack O'Neill. Almost thirty years in the United States Air Force. He is a combat pilot who also happens to have a considerable background in special operations. Much of his record is classified. He is currently assigned to a deep-space telemetry project."
McGee gave Ziva a sharp look, "He's assigned to what?!"
Ziva shrugged, "Deep-space telemetry. That's what it says here."
Tony was obviously baffled. "What the heck is 'deep-space telemetry'?" he asked with a shake of his head.
McGee began to explain, "They use radio telescopes and other electromagnetic instruments to..."
"It's a cover," Gibbs said flatly.
McGee nodded in agreement, "His background is all wrong for that kind of project."
"Unless maybe he's in charge of security?" Tony suggested.
Ziva shook her head, "Not likely. This man has a rare and valuable skill set. Making him a glorified security guard would be a ridiculous waste of his talents."
Tony frowned, "So what's this zoomie really up to?"
"Tony. Ziva. Go find out," Gibbs said.
Tony and Ziva glanced at one another, and then left the room.
"McGee, any luck on cracking those files we got from Jacobs' computer?"
"Working on it, boss."
McGee quickly followed Tony and Ziva out the door.
Behind them, Gibbs continued to examine their sleeping suspect.
An hour later the phone rang. McGee picked it up.
There was a long silence. McGee turned pale. Then he looked at Gibbs.
"Boss? It's for you," he said urgently.
"Who is it?" Gibbs sighed impatiently.
McGee took a deep breath, "The Secretary of the Navy. He says Tony and Ziva are under arrest and we're supposed to stop asking questions about Colonel O'Neill's assignment."
Gibbs' eyes narrowed. Then he glanced at the screen that displayed the camera feed from the interrogation room.
O'Neill was now awake. He had pulled a newspaper out of his briefcase and he was working on the crossword puzzle. He didn't look like he had a care in the world.
Gibbs held out his hand. McGee gave him the phone.
Fifteen minutes later, Gibbs was called in the Director's office.
"Just what the hell have we run into?" Gibbs asked.
The Director sighed, "I have no idea, but it's obviously pretty big."
"Yeah," Gibbs replied. "But I still have a dead Marine. And O'Neill's name is all over the crime scene. And he's the only person without an alibi."
The Director nodded, "Keep investigating. We just have limits. We've done that before and we can do it again."
Gibbs left the room. He obviously wasn't happy.
The door to the interrogation room opened and Gibbs walked in. Then he dropped some pictures of the crime scene onto the table. They all featured a man who had died very messily.
O'Neill glanced at the photos and frowned. Then he glanced up at Gibbs. "Captain Jacobs. A good man."
Gibbs sat down, "And you knew him how?"
O'Neill examined Gibbs' face, "We served together."
"There's no mention of that in his service record. Or yours."
Gibbs smiled tightly at O'Neill, "So you two were doing some kind of top-secret deep-space telemetry together?"
O'Neill didn't even hesitate, "Yep."
"Strange posting for two officers with special-operations experience."
O'Neill shrugged noncommittally.
Gibbs nodded as if he had just got the answer he expected, "You were Captain Jacobs' commanding officer?"
Again, O'Neill didn't hesitate, "Yes."
"Do you know anybody who would want Captain Jacobs dead?"
There was a pause as O'Neill seemed to consider his answer.
"Yes," O'Neill finally replied.
There was a long pause as Gibbs and O'Neill stared at one another.
Then, without another word, Gibbs stood up and left the room.
McGee looked puzzled, "Uh... are you done with O'Neill, boss?"
"No more questions?"
Gibbs was silent for a long time. Then he said, "No point. He's been questioned before."
McGee didn't say anything else, but he was obviously confused.
Then Gibbs did some very peculiar for him. He explained. "I knew a man who was held prisoner by the North Vietnamese. He was starved, abused, and tortured for years. You just couldn't do anything to him that was worse than what he'd already gone through. O'Neill is the same."
Tony had a black eye and a split-lip. Ziva didn't have a mark on her, but her blouse was torn, her hair was mussed, and she looked pissed.
"They got us just after we left the Pentagon," Tony said in obvious disgust. "Six guys in two black SUVs. They identified themselves as Air Force Security and ordered us into their vehicles. We identified ourselves as NCIS agents and told them to give us a kiss and a hug. And then things got physical - in very unfriendly way."
Gibbs, Tony, and McGee all looked at Ziva.
"I didn't like the looks of them," she said shortly. "So there was an alteration."
"Altercation," Tony and McGee corrected her simultaneously.
"Those Air Force guys were pretty good in a fight," Tony conceded.
"And it was not just a matter of good training," Ziva added. "They moved like experienced operatives. And one of them - a tall black man - was using some form of martial arts that I've never seen before."
"There was an incredibly hot lady in charge of the security detail who said her name was Carter," Tony added as he touched his damaged lip and winced. "She zapped Ziva with some kind of taser. I've never seen a design like it."
"I was doing fine until she hit me with that thing!" Ziva interjected angrily.
"Ziva..." Gibbs said quietly and firmly.
Ziva took a deep breath and subsided, then she spoke up again, "The cake-down they did on us..."
Ziva glared at Tony and then went on, "The take-down didn't feel like one that an intelligence organization would conduct. It was more military in nature. There is a difference. Deep down inside, all intelligence operatives worry about secrecy and discretion, while soldiers consider speed and efficiency more important. This was definitely done in a military fashion."
Gibbs nodded thoughtfully.
"They took us into custody," Tony continued. "We were taken to a safe-house in Georgetown - I was blindfolded on the way, but I think I could find the house again. Then they separated us and we were questioned."
"What did they ask?"
Tony shrugged, "A lot of biographical stuff. Things from my personnel record, and some stuff that isn't on my record. I got the impression they were trying to make sure that I really was who I said I was. Then they took blood samples and did some other medical stuff. They didn't ask anything about Jacobs or O'Neill."
Gibbs turned to Ziva.
"The same," she sighed. "It was a very peculiar interrogation."
Tony shrugged helplessly.
It took a lot to get Ducky upset. And now he was upset.
"I've never seen anything like this, Jethro."
"Captain Jacobs... his gastrointestinal system is completely ruptured. From the inside."
Gibbs put a Caf-Pow! in front of Abby. Without taking her eyes off the computer monitor, Abby picked it up and popped the end of the straw into her mouth.
"Did you talk to Ducky about Jacobs' body?" Abby asked, finally flicking her eyes away from the monitor screen.
"I had two theories," Abby said, then she paused dramatically.
"Get on with it, Abby," Gibbs said patiently.
Abby smiled impishly, "The first theory was that some sort of top-secret super-soldier program had gone horribly awry and as a result a terrible monster was wandering the city. But I've abandoned that theory."
Gibbs smiled. It was a small thing that people who didn't know him could easily miss.
"Actually, this whole thing is about aliens from outer space."
Gibbs' minuscule smile vanished.
Abby gestured at a monitor screen that showed nothing that Gibbs understood.
"I found this in Captain Jacobs' hair. It took me a while to figure out what it is. It's pollen, but it isn't from Earth."
McGee frowned at his computer. His latest attempt to crack open the files on Jacobs' computer involved a decryption system McGee had "borrowed" from the NSA. And it couldn't break the encryption.
Until now, McGee had never found anything that he couldn't crack. The encryption was beyond anything McGee had ever seen. Beyond words like "advanced" or "sophisticated". It seemed to be based on rules and concepts that were so different that they were almost...
McGee tiredly rubbed his eyes and tried to imagine a way he could explain this to Gibbs.
And Abby was going to freak.
Director Vance blinked in amazement and said, "You must be joking, Mr. Secretary."
The voice on the other end of the secure phone didn't seem amused, "No. I'm not joking. Let O'Neill go."
"Sir... you understand that Colonel O'Neill is a suspect in a homicide investigation?"
"Yes, I do. I also understand that he's not guilty."
"Sir. I am not sure I can obey your order."
The voice laughed. "Actually, I'm not surprised you feel that way. Listen, Director, I know you're in something of a bind here, but so am I. So let me tell you this - Colonel O'Neill was on a mission when Captain Jacobs died and his alibi is beyond iron-clad. Unfortunately, the mission he was on is so secret that I can't give you any details. However, I can give you something like a dozen witnesses who will testify that O'Neill couldn't possibly have killed Jacobs. They'll tell you that O'Neill was so far out of the country that he might as well have been on another planet. Is that good enough?"
The Director considered that, "I'll need the man running the investigation to talk to your witnesses. He has Top Secret clearance"
"That's nowhere near good enough, but I'll bend a few rules. The witnesses will be available via MTAC anytime you want to talk to them."
Director Vance didn't look happy.
"We may have to turn O'Neill loose," he said.
"On whose authority?" Gibbs asked.
"The Secretary of Defense. On the advice of the Secretary of the Air Force and the Secretary of the Navy."
Gibbs didn't seem upset. Which the Director found more than a little surprising.
"The SECDEF says they know who killed Jacobs," the Director added. "And that the situation is in hand."
Gibbs absorbed that and replied, "We're just going to take their word for it?"
The Director shook his head, "We'll be allowed to question some witnesses who can alibi O'Neill. We'll have to do that via MTAC."
"We aren't supposed to ask about O'Neill's mission, or anything about the outfit he works for," the Director said. "But I suppose it's up to them to know when to stop talking. I'm not going to waste my time trying to put a muzzle on you."
"Good decision," Gibbs said calmly.
The Director cocked his head at Gibbs, "Why aren't you more angry?"
Gibbs didn't bother to answer.
The woman on the MTAC monitor screen was dressed as a civilian, but she was obviously a military officer.
"I can confirm that on the night Captain Jacobs was killed, Colonel O'Neill was on a mission. It would have been impossible for him to have had anything to do with Captain Jacobs' death," she said flatly.
"Your name is Carter, right?" Gibbs asked. He had his ever-present cup of coffee in his hand.
If the woman on the screen was surprised that Gibbs knew her name, she didn't show it. "Yes. Major Samantha Carter, USAF."
"What's your unit?" Gibbs asked.
"1st Operational Telemetry Squadron. We're a part of SPACECOM and based out of Colorado Springs."
"What was Colonel O'Neill's mission the night Captain Jacobs died?"
"I can't tell you that."
"Where was Colonel O'Neill when Captain Jacobs died?"
"I can't tell you the details, but he was out of the country."
"Are you sure that your unit's mission is legal under the provisions of the Uniform Code of Military Justice?"
The Director glanced at Gibbs in surprise... that was a good question, but it seemed way too lawyerly for the man.
"I'm as sure of the legality of my mission as you are of yours, Agent Gibbs."
"Were you running the team that roughed up my people?"
"Why did you do that?"
"It was a matter of national security. I can't tell you the details."
"Was it legal to kidnap my people?" Gibbs asked coldly. Vance's eyes narrowed, it would be very interesting to see how Carter reacted to being caught in a contradiction...
"My actions are covered under the Federal Employment Special Security Law of 1998," Major Carter said evenly. "Every Federal employee agrees to abide by that law when they're hired. Check your employment contract: it's in section 14, item G, note 17. If you need it, I will fax you a copy of the court-order that gives my unit the authority to execute the provisions of that law."
The two MTAC technicians gave each other a wide-eyed look.
"Would you be willing to swear to all this in court?" Gibbs continued, seemingly not fazed by Major Carter's quick come-back.
"If I were allowed to, yes."
Gibbs paused, his gray eyes meeting Carter's blue eyes. The MTAC technicians unconsciously leaned away.
"What happens if I don't give Colonel O'Neill back you, Major Carter?"
Major Carter lost her professional mien and smiled charmingly at Gibbs. The effect was dazzling - the Major was a quite attractive woman.
"Why, then I'll just have to come and get him, Agent Gibbs."
Gibbs returned her smile while the Director made a mental note to make sure that Carter and Gibbs were never, ever together in the same room.
"Don't ever touch my people again, Major Carter," Gibbs said softly.
"Let my commanding officer go, Agent Gibbs," Carter's voice was just as mild as Gibbs'.
Then Gibbs glanced at the Director, "We're done here."
"I have additional witnesses," Major Carter said dryly.
"Are their stories going to be any different from yours?" Gibbs asked Carter.
Gibbs looked at the Director.
"Then we're done here," the Director grated out.
Carter's image vanished from the screen.
One of the MTAC technicians looked at the other and whispered, "Who the hell was that?!"
Gibbs entered the interrogation room and sat down.
O'Neill opened one eye and looked at Gibbs.
"I talked to Major Carter. She provided you with an alibi."
O'Neill opened his other eye and took his feet off of the table.
"How did it go with Carter?" O'Neill asked. He actually seemed pretty interested in Gibbs answer.
"Tense." Gibbs replied shortly. "She grabbed a pair of my agents, held them against their will, and questioned them for several hours."
O'Neill laughed and shook his head. "I guarantee you that she thought it was necessary. So don't hold that against her. And - fair warning - don't try to outsmart her."
"Already figured that out," Gibbs continued.
"So we're done here?"
"I have two more questions for you," Gibbs said, "After that, you're free to go."
O'Neill nodded warily and said, "Shoot."
"Just how much trouble is the world in?" Gibbs asked.
There was a long pause as O'Neill carefully examined Gibbs.
"Would you like a new job?" O'Neill finally replied.
"I like the one I've got."
O'Neill shrugged, "Okay, but keep my offer in mind. Got another question? I mean, the kind of question I can actually answer?"
"What are you going to do about what happened to Captain Jacobs?"
O'Neill's smile was suddenly quite tense, "Whatever it takes."
The same predator that Gibbs had seen in Carter was peering out of O'Neill's eyes. For a brief moment, Gibbs felt sorry for whoever - or whatever - had murdered Captain Jacobs.
It was a very brief moment.
Tony walked Colonel O'Neill out the door. A black sedan picked the Colonel up. Major Carter was driving the vehicle. O'Neill and Carter exchanged a few words that Tony couldn't hear from across the street. While they were talking, Carter casually touched O'Neill's arm in a way that suggested to Tony that the Air Force regulations about fraternization were probably in danger of being violated. Catching sight of Tony, she gave him a look that suggested it would be a good idea if they never met again.
Tony returned his most dazzling smile - which hurt his split lip. Carter rolled her eyes skyward, got into the car, and drove away.
Ziva approached Gibbs' desk, looked around to make sure that they were alone, and said, "I checked with my sources."
Ziva's sources started with the Mossad and then got even more exotic. Gibbs put down his pen and leaned back in his chair, his eyes focused on Ziva.
"This is going to sound crazy," Ziva warned.
"Tell me what you've got," Gibbs ordered.
Ziva took a deep breath, "The United States government has discovered a means of traveling to other worlds. They have come into contact with various hostile alien races. There is a secret war going on."
Gibbs didn't even blink and when he replied his voice had gone very soft, "Who told you that, Ziva?"
Ziva shifted uncomfortably. Normally, Gibbs never asked her about her sources.
"An archaeologist told me," she finally replied.
Gibbs didn't say anything.
"This archaeologist is a part of the same organization that Colonel O'Neill is assigned to," Ziva explained hurriedly.
"You trust him?" Gibbs asked.
"If this is so top-secret, why do you suppose he told you?"
Ziva smiled, "He and I used to date. Perhaps he is enruptured by my feminine charms."
"Whatever. Or perhaps he is delivering a message from his organization to ours. Giving us some back-channel information as a professional courtesy - and as a warning that we should stay clear."
Gibbs nodded and went back to the paperwork on his desk.
Ziva hesitated for a moment, and then sat down at her desk. She had been sure that Gibbs wouldn't accept what she had told him. But the man had a way of surprising you.
"Should we tell the others?" Ziva asked Gibbs.
"No," Gibbs replied, not bothering to look up from the report he was reading. "I imagine they've figured it out on their own."
"But we have to tell the world!" Abby yelled. "The people have a right to know!"
Abby and McGee were alone in her basement lab, but McGee still glanced around nervously as he mentally cycled through a list of options until he found the one that would work.
"Gibbs trusts O'Neill," he told Abby.
Abby subsided, biting her lip thoughtfully.
Sam handed the card to Jack, "Sir, this was delivered to my house in Colorado Springs. "
Jack blinked in surprise. On the front of the card was a cartoon of two stereotypical alien Grays wandering away from the wreckage of a crashed flying saucer. Both looked dazed and confused.
The interior of the card read, "Missing you! We're lost without you!"
Underneath that, written in blue ink, it read, "Say 'hi' to the Colonel for me. And good luck with the telemetry!"
It was signed, "XXX-OOO, Tony."
Jack sighed. Then he closed the card and looked at Sam.
"One of Gibbs' people," Sam explained. "I told you about this one - he wouldn't shut up, but he never really said anything."
Jack shook his head, "He seems to be quite a character."
Sam nodded, "Yes, sir. And he's apparently almost as good of an investigator as he thinks he is."
Then Sam paused, waiting for a reaction from Jack.
Jack handed the card back to her and said, "Forget about it."
Sam paused before continuing carefully, "Sir, this is a security breach."
Jack grinned, "Okay. So how about the next time you're in D.C., you look up this Tony guy and pump him for information?"
Sam smiled archly at Jack, "Sir, I'm pretty sure that mentioning Tony's name and the word 'pump' in the same sentence constitutes some kind of sexual harassment."
Jack couldn't help but laugh.