Chapter 1: An Unexpected Gift
Daniel frowned as he picked through the mail that had piled up on his desk during his little trek to South America. He'd been away from base a little longer than he'd intended to be, what with his involuntary detour in the hands of Honduran revolutionaries and the time he'd spent recovering from their hospitality afterward. Usually, Nyan or one of the others in his department picked through his correspondence while he was gone, but it looked like no one had so much as thrown out the junk mail this time, so it made quite the stack. Of course, they'd probably got out of the habit while he'd been Ascended.
About halfway through the stack, he came across an envelope with a handwritten label and a Post-It note attached. The label read simply, "Dr. D. Jackson, c/o Stargate Command," with no further identifying information. The attached note, in the hurried scribble he knew belonged to Nyan, read, "Found half under your door while you were gone. Science department scanned it, pronounced it harmless; looks like it's some kind of disc-shaped artifact. Left it for you to open."
Daniel raised his eyebrows and reached for the letter opener, his curiosity fully engaged. Whoever had sent it to him obviously didn't want to be identified, and just as obviously must have connections here at the Mountain; a member of the rogue NID, perhaps, whose conscience had pricked him into sending Daniel something his co-workers shouldn't get their hands on? On the other hand, it could be a trap of some kind, bait meant to lead him along a trail they'd planned out or even some kind of harmful technology they'd stolen off-world that the SGC had failed to recover. He'd have to be careful with it, whatever it was.
He tore one end of the envelope open, then tipped its contents onto a small cleared space on his desk. The disc-shaped artifact Nyan had speculated about turned out to be an amulet of some kind, metallic in nature with some kind of writing inscribed on it and an unknown gem framed in the center. It was connected to a chain, long enough for the amulet to be worn about the neck rather than displayed or held in some other fashion.
Daniel opened one of the drawers on his desk and retrieved a pair of gloves, intent on picking the amulet up to study it further, but before he could even slip them on a tornado of black particles appeared above the amulet, swirling violently and disturbing everything else spread across his desk. He backed away in alarm, dropping the gloves and picking the phone up off his desk with the intention of dialing Jack's extension.
The phone fell from his hands as bright lights appeared in the tornado, coalescing into a glowing skeleton. The apparition evolved further as he watched, collecting flesh and clothing until a screaming man was revealed, standing right in the middle of his desk. Literally in the middle of it, legs hidden underneath the desktop, a torso clad in black t-shirt and black leather coat rising above where the amulet had rested. The man had shockingly blond hair, probably bleached, and a scar through one eyebrow.
"Uh, hello?" Daniel said, staring dubiously at his apparently incorporeal guest as the man stopped screaming, bending forward with hands on his thighs and gasping for breath.
The man jerked at Daniel's voice, glancing upward at Daniel, then back down at the surface of the desk that hid his lower body. "Bugger," he said, in a lower-class British accent, stepping forward until he was clear of the obstacle. Then he narrowed blue eyes at the archaeologist and spoke again. "What... How did I get here? And who the bloody hell are you?"
"I'm Dr. Jackson," Daniel answered, edging toward the door. "I received an envelope with an amulet in it, and when I opened it-- well, you appeared." He could hear the tromp of boots out in the hall, no doubt summoned by his truncated phone call; he hoped Sam was with them, and that she had some time to spare from the Supersoldier project, because letting an incorporeal stranger loose in a base full of very sensitive secrets struck him as a very bad idea. If the NID had had this in mind when they sent him the package, it was looking more and more like a trap.
"And where's this then?" the stranger asked, scowling at him. "I'm no-- I'm no ghost. Is this someone's idea of Hell?"
"No," Daniel snorted, nonplused. "Generally there's more in the way of fire and brimstone involved, if Netu's anything to judge by."
The opening of the door interrupted his guest's confused response to that, and Daniel glanced that way in relief. "Sam," he exclaimed. "I'm glad you're here; it looks like we have a new problem to work on."
His teammate glanced around his office briefly, then returned her gaze to his face with a puzzled line between her brows. "What problem?" she said. "Daniel, Colonel O'Neill said your line went dead just after you rang him; what's going on?"
Daniel blinked, then gestured incredulously at the blond man still standing behind his desk. "That problem," he said. "Incorporeal visitor, showed up in my office with no warning?"
Sam glanced where he pointed, then back at him again, frowning. "Daniel, are you feeling all right?"
"What the Hell is going on?" the other man talked over her. "Who are you people? What happened to Buffy? Where am I?"
Daniel looked back at his visitor again, a little more thoughtfully this time, then up at the cameras recording the interior of his office, then back to Sam. There'd been a point in his life where he had been incorporeal, invisible to everyone except his grandfather Nick, but that time there'd been crystal skulls and aliens involved, not amulets. Still, the parallels seemed too coincidental for comfort. Nick had been able to see him only because he'd been through the out-of-phase process himself once, and it seemed highly likely, though based on a limited sample yet, that the same was true for Daniel's visitor. Had whoever sent him the amulet known about its occupant and sent it because no one else could see or hear him, rather than for some nefarious purpose?
He cleared his throat to attempt an explanation. "Uh, I'm guessing the video recorders aren't getting this either, so... um. That envelope that Nyan found under my door and had your scientists scan? It turned out to contain an amulet with some... unexpected... properties."
Chapter 2: Scientific Observations
Sam listened to Daniel's brief explanation of his "guest" with raised eyebrows, but an open mind. Daniel had come up with some truly bizarre stories in his time, but more often than not he'd turned out to be right; she couldn't just dismiss it out of hand. Especially after what had happened the last time he'd "heard voices" – the hallucinations he'd experienced had turned out to have a real, technological basis, courtesy of Machello's Goa'uld-killing devices, but the SGC had initially had him drugged and locked up in a padded cell instead of believing him. Besides, Daniel was right; they'd believed Nick when he'd said he could see and hear Daniel after the incident with the crystal skull, and of course there'd been the Reetou. The only truly unusual thing this time was the origin of the intruder, not the fact of his presence.
Still, she hoped she could nail down some kind of physical evidence for his existence. The last thing they needed was some bureaucrat like Kinsey deciding that the recent torture Daniel had suffered, on top of his amnesiac return earlier that year from life as an energy being, had left him unhinged. If this had something to do with Daniel's time among the Ascended, though, that could be difficult; other than the visual recordings of his body's disappearance, the various sensors scattered around the base hadn't picked up any trace of his transformation a year and a half ago, so they might not pick up Daniel's uninvited guest, either.
"Okay," Sam said, when Daniel finished explaining. "Just for the sake of argument, let's say you're right. Ask your new friend how many fingers I'm holding up behind my back." She clasped her hands behind her, then watched in mild discomfort as Daniel made a "well, go on" sort of gesture to the air in front of the desk. Why did the truly weird stuff always happen to her civilian teammate?
She thought she felt a faint brush of air a moment later, and glanced over her shoulder to see if maybe the apparition's visibility had something to do with proximity. The room still appeared empty except for she and Daniel, however, and when she glanced back at her friend he was busy rolling his eyes as if at someone standing right behind her.
"Of course she's trying to trick me," Daniel said, "that's the whole point." Then his gaze shifted to Sam and he gave her a rueful half-smile. "You aren't holding up any fingers."
"Good enough for me," Sam replied with a nod. "Could you ask him if..."
Daniel winced and help up a hand to interrupt her. "He says, 'I'm standing right here, ask me yourself.'"
From his expression, she guessed there'd been more to that that sentence before he'd passed it on to her. She glanced uncertainly over her shoulder again, then gestured at the empty space. "Is he still..."
"Yup." Daniel nodded.
"Okay." She turned around. "I have some equipment in my lab that might be able to pick up traces of your, um, manifestation, so we can figure out what's going on. Would you mind...?"
She waited patiently for a second, blinking at the open doorway, then winced in embarrassment when she realized that the airmen who'd accompanied her to Daniel's office were still standing there, staring at her.
"He says, 'All right, fine,'" Daniel spoke up behind her. "'The quicker I can get out of here and find Buffy, the better. Can't bloody do that if she can't see or hear me, now can I?'"
"Who's Buffy?" she asked, turning back to face him.
Daniel shrugged. "He hasn't-- oh." His gaze snapped away from her again, back to a point somewhere over her shoulder. "Uh, ex-girlfriend, it sounds like-- okay, okay, 'love of his un-life.'" He blinked. "Un-life?"
Sam shook her head. "Do you want to go ahead and get started?"
"Oh, right." Daniel grimaced at her and gestured toward the doorway. "After you."
They made their way to the lab, trailed by the airmen. Sam didn't dismiss them, as she still wasn't certain whatever was going on wouldn't pose a threat, though she did send one with a brief message to inform the Colonel what was going on and requisition a TER from the armory. Once at the lab, she asked the empty air if 'he' would 'stand' near various instruments, feeling very self-conscious the entire time, and tried to pick up various types of readings from the incorporeal intruder's presence.
Daniel carried on an apparently one-sided conversation with the invisible man the entire time, assuring him the SGC hadn't had anything to do with whatever process had made him intangible and see-through, and talking obliquely around his apparent inquiries into the nature of the base. More than once, Daniel asserted vehemently that they weren't connected to any project called the Initiative or its sponsor group, the NID; he also tried to ask several questions in return, ranging from the man's name to where he'd been before somehow becoming attached to the amulet, but he didn't seem to be getting many answers, either.
By the time she had finished running her preliminary tests, she was feeling a little bit better about talking to someone she couldn't see or hear. She was actually picking up some kind of faint electromagnetic readings and a very slight increase in room temperature centered on the location where Daniel said their visitor was standing. She'd have to have Janet check him out in the infirmary, too, to see if there was anything else her instruments could pick up, maybe brainwaves or something similar. What she had already was enough to brief the General on, however, as preliminary proof to head off the rumors no doubt already circling the base.
She had begun to explain her findings to Daniel when Colonel O'Neill arrived, TER in hand. "So," he said, glancing first at Sam, then at Daniel. "I hear you've picked up a new imaginary friend."
Chapter 3: Nineteen Days
"Jaaaack," Daniel drawled at his team leader, studiously pretending he hadn't heard the man's remark. "Why do you have a TER?"
"What's a TER, and why's he pointing it-- sort of-- at me?" his guest asked, edging slightly away from Jack's line of sight. "Some kind of proton pack?" His eyes widened a little in an alarmed expression, and he edged further, putting Sam between himself and the high-tech weapon. "Not that I believe I'm a ghost or anything, mind you," he continued hurriedly.
Daniel snorted at the blond man's choice of analogy, then winced as Jack's eyebrows climbed incredulously up his forehead.
"I was under the impression there might be a foothold situation developing," Jack replied, then directed his attention to Sam. "Carter?" he asked.
She straightened a little and began to report. "I wasn't sure whether it would be useful, not until I'd done some tests, but I'm pretty sure now that the illuminatory effect it has for the Reetou will work for our visitor as well, at least to an extent. Do you remember why we couldn't use the TERs to verify Nick's story when Daniel was invisible?"
Jack shrugged eloquently. "That was how long ago, Carter?" he asked, rhetorically.
She rolled her eyes at him and explained. "The Transphase Eradication Rods were initially calibrated to allow interaction with matter that, while practically invisible due to the fact that it is one-hundred-eighty degrees out of phase with us, still interacts with our world in some fashion. The Reetou, for example, give off an energy emission that Goa'uld and Tok'ra symbiotes are sensitive to; Nirrti's cloaking devices had a similar weakness. Daniel, however, was not able to interact with our environment at all; I'm not sure how he even managed to keep from sinking into the ground. The TER couldn't find anything to bounce off of, so to speak."
She paused, looking expectantly at Jack, and Jack nodded in return. "So you're saying this guy can interact with us," he said, summing up her argument.
"Exactly," Sam nodded, pleased.
"A lot of bloody good it does me," the man in question muttered. He was still standing behind Sam, and he poked at her back with a disgruntled expression. His hand passed entirely through her and came out the other side, pointing at Jack; Sam shivered in response, and Jack jerked the TER in her direction.
"Good enough for me," Jack said, and fired the weapon.
Sam jumped a little at the sight of the Colonel's finger tightening on the trigger of a weapon pointed at her, then let out a strangled noise of surprise when she saw the pale hand and black-clad wrist now emerging from between her breasts. "Wow," she said, turning around and backing off in a hurry. "It worked."
Their guest was backing away equally quickly, an alarmed expression on his face, but then he seemed to realize nothing new had happened to him except that he was now apparently visible. "So, what, it's a sodding flash light?" he grumbled, narrowing his eyes at Jack and then at Daniel. "You might have warned me. Fancy name like 'Eradication Rod,' I was half-expecting to be dust by now. Incorporeal dust, at that; not even enough left of me to cling to anybody's shoes."
"What's he saying, Daniel?" Sam asked, fascinated, eyes still roaming over the apparition. The TER hadn't rendered his appearance entirely solid; the phase match obviously wasn't exact, leaving him a little see-through but clearly visible. The blond man was maybe two inches taller than Sam was, and though his hair color was obviously artificial his eye color was a near match for hers. They looked like funhouse mirror siblings standing across from each other, Sam in her BDUs and he clad head to toe in an outfit that Neo would have been comfortable in.
"As near as I can tell, he's griping about the fact that you didn't kill him," Daniel replied, shrugging. "What? It's true," he continued, as the intangible man gave him a disgruntled look. "Though what dust has to do with anything, I have no idea. And hey, how about a name? You have ours, and we've already said we'll do what we can to help you."
"Daniel," Jack said, warning clear in his tone.
"Jack," Daniel replied, calmly. He already knew Jack's likely opinion of Daniel making promises to someone whose allegiances they were unsure of, but negotiation was Daniel's field, and their visitor didn't seem the type to trust without assurance.
Said visitor waited a moment, then grimaced. "It's Spike," he said, shortly, his chin firming in a determined expression, daring them to make something of it.
"He says his name's Spike," Daniel repeated for his teammates' benefit.
Jack raised his eyebrows again; they were getting quite the workout today. "All-righty then," he commented. "Do you think you could bring yourself to maybe share a couple of other pieces of information with us?" he asked, keeping the TER leveled at Spike. "Like, say, what you're doing on this base in the first place?"
"Can't rightly tell you what I don't know myself," Spike replied, frowning, then paused as Daniel passed on what he'd said. "What day is it?"
"October first," Daniel answered, not bothering to repeat the question. "Uh, of 2003."
Spike's expression soured further. "Nineteen days," he said, turning away from Daniel and his teammates and crossing his arms protectively over his chest in a self-hugging maneuver Daniel was very familiar with. "Not a hundred forty-seven, but long enough."
"Excuse me?" Daniel prodded him. He guessed that the first reference was to how long it had been since the amulet had somehow been activated and done whatever it did to Spike, but the second reference escaped him.
"I died nineteen days ago," Spike clarified. "Was wearing that gaudy bit of jewelry at the time. Got no idea how it made its way to wherever-this-is."
Jack frowned as Daniel translated, apparently unsure how to react to that response.
Chapter 4: Meanwhile, Back in L.A.
Angel frowned and shook the apparently empty envelope, not sure what to make of it. He'd seen it on his desk several times over the last couple of days, even picked it up to open it once or twice, but something else had always distracted him. Meeting his new secretary, for one thing-- he still couldn't believe Wes had actually hired Harmony-- and then the team discussion after Gunn and his new lawyer mojo had saved the day. Had someone else got to it while it had been sitting on his desk? And if not, who would have bothered sending him an empty envelope? He shook it again for good measure.
Something came loose inside the envelope that time, a rectangle of glossy paper that fluttered down to his desk. Angel furrowed his brow at it, then turned the open end of the envelope toward him and looked inside for any other surprises. There was a second photograph in the envelope as well; he carefully extracted it, then turned the one on his desk right side up and examined them side-by-side.
The first photograph showed an all-too-familiar object: the amulet that Wolfram and Hart had given him upon his signing the deal with them, the amulet he'd taken to Sunnydale and given to Buffy to help her against the First Evil. It had been meant to be worn by a Champion; last he'd heard she'd given it to Spike, and he'd still been wearing it when the entire Hellmouth and most of the surrounding town had collapsed on top of him. From the date on the photograph, superimposed on the image in an unpleasant shade of orange, someone had managed to dig it out of the rubble afterward; it was lying on a crumpled white cloth, probably some one's handkerchief, on top of what looked like a table. There were no other identifying details in the image.
The second, older photograph showed what looked like another artefact, also round in shape-- but this one much larger, if he could judge by the human figure in some kind of military uniform caught mid-step walking away from it. It looked like a gigantic ring, inscribed with symbols he didn't recognize, with triangular clamp-looking things spaced equidistant from each other around the rim. A ramp hid part of the lower section of the ring, but it was clear that the thing wasn't just an arch; it was a full circle, propped upright in what looked like a concrete room, probably underground.
Angel glanced from one photograph to the other, puzzled by their inclusion in the same envelope. Okay, so someone had dug up the amulet. Was he supposed to be worried about that? Had some military project managed to acquire both pieces, and was there some prophecy associated with their juxtaposition that would threaten the end of the world-- again? What else could the amulet do, besides using Spike's soul as a conduit for tremendous amounts of energy? Could it use the energy from someone else-- a supernatural someone, obviously, or the person wouldn't be able to contain enough power for it to build to dangerous levels-- to do something other than vaporize a cave full of Turok Han and close a Hellmouth?
Angel didn't know, but he had some idea of who would. He punched the speaker button on his desk phone, then fumbled his way through the automated telephone menu until he managed to reach Wesley's extension. Good thing they had the firm's resources, now; he wasn't looking forward to dealing with the US Military, given their record with the Initiative.
Chapter 5: Hostile 17
"Are you sure there's no one you want me to call for you?" Daniel asked his blond companion as they made their way from the infirmary to one of the VIP guest suites.
Janet's tests, conducted under the watchful eye of Jack and his TER, had turned up additional proof of Spike's presence to add to the file Sam was compiling. The initial journey to the infirmary had proven to be another kind of test, as well; Spike had disappeared half-way there, prompting an immediate and urgent search of the base with additional TERs, only to be found back in Daniel's office where he'd first appeared. It seemed that there was a limit on how far Spike could move away from the amulet, and Daniel had forgotten to bring the item with him when they went to Sam's lab.
Spike paused for a moment, considering the question, then shook his head and kept walking. "No. Not that I'd know where they are, anyway; knew they planned to stop at Cleveland after, but they're likely in England by now, and not a thing I can do about it. Peaches might know how to reach them, but he won't tell me unless I tell him exactly what happened, and that's completely out of the question. I'd rather wait until I'm solid again-- if that happens-- and and ring them up myself."
Daniel wasn't quite sure who 'Peaches' might be, nor the identity of the 'they' in question, but he was willing to bet the Buffy that had been mentioned earlier was one of them. Daniel sympathized with Spike's position on the subject; what good was it to be able to go anywhere, see everything, if you couldn't share it with those you loved? Still, the General had urged him to get as much information out of their ghostly guest as possible that might enable them to track down his origins, and making a phone call for him would be a relatively unobtrusive way to do so.
"You're sure," Daniel said again as he reached the door of the VIP suite. "You said the amulet was a gift from a friend-- maybe they know something you don't about how it works, and how we might be able to reverse whatever it did and make you solid again."
Spike threw Daniel an irritated look, then shook his head. "I said I was sure, didn't I?" he asked, then stepped backward through the door, leaving Daniel staring at its smooth surface with an irritated expression of his own.
Daniel sighed, then unlocked the door and opened it. With a final nod to the SF with the TER that had been following them to make sure Spike didn't wander off when Daniel wasn't looking, he stepped into the room and shut the door behind him.
In the few seconds it had taken for Daniel to join him, Spike had already located the small television that had been provided and had sprawled over the chair in front of it, staring blankly at the deactivated screen. "Don't know why I agreed to do this," he muttered, staring at the remote control lying on an end table nearby. "Not like any of you could have stopped me if I wanted a bit of a look-see around the base."
"Believe me, I'm no more enthusiastic about sharing quarters than you are," Daniel said. "But until General Hammond believes you're not a threat to the base, someone needs to keep an eye on you at all times-- and it seems I'm the only one that can do that without a TER."
"And he's not about to let me off base with you so's I can see where we are-- so you're trapped here with me," Spike said, frowning sourly as he stabbed at the television remote with a finger. Sam had hinted that he ought to be able to manipulate the energy keeping him in contact with their phase of reality enough to touch things, if he concentrated; he'd trying to prove her right since, but hadn't had any luck as of yet.
Daniel set his duffel bag down on the bed and reached for the remote himself. "Pretty much," he said, turning the set on and clicking idly through the channels until Spike signaled him to stop. "It shouldn't be long before Sam finds a way to help, but until then, the more cooperative you are--"
"--the more likely your general will be to play nice when all's said and done," Spike grumbled.
"Exactly," Daniel said. So far, the only option they knew for sure would affect their guest was the second switch on the TER, since the first had worked, and despite Jack's instinctive distrust of the man Daniel knew the TER's "kill" function was a last resort. The crystal skulls that had sent Daniel in and out of phase were a possibility, but Hammond wasn't inclined to allow Spike off-world access without more of a reason to trust him. They couldn't forget that whoever had sent the amulet to Daniel had undoubtedly done so for a reason, and it was unlikely to be a pleasant one, whether or not Spike himself was in on the plot.
There was also the fact that Spike could not travel without the amulet to consider; Sam hadn't even been able to verify yet whether it would be safe to take through the 'gate. It was capable of channeling and amplifying a great deal of power, according to what little Spike had been able to tell them about it, and no-one on base had forgotten what had nearly happened with Cassandra and the naquadah bomb Nirrti had engineered in her bloodstream. If the Stargate blew up, it would take most of Colorado with it, and that was an unacceptable risk.
An unexpected knock on the door drew Daniel out of his musings, and Spike away from his television program. Frowning, Daniel went to the door and opened it, and found himself face-to-face with a young soldier he didn't recognize. "Can I help you, Captain...?" he asked, reading the rank on the man's Army uniform.
"Miller," he said, swallowing. "I know this is a little unusual, Dr. Jackson, but I heard you had a guest-- one of the others saw him earlier-- and, well, I think I have some information about him that you'll need to know."
"Wait, is that...?" Spike's voice sounded from just behind Daniel. "It is! One of Cornfed's toy soldiers! Well, I'll be buggered. Never thought I'd see you again. Was rather hoping I wouldn't, actually."
Daniel gave him a quelling look without thinking about it, then winced at what that must look like to the man at the door and turned back to Captain Miller with an apologetic expression.
Miller, however, wasn't looking back; he was staring over Daniel's shoulder with a stony expression at the incorporeal man behind him. "Hostile 17," he said in acknowledgement.
"Wait, wait," Daniel said. The SF with the TER was nowhere to be seen-- Miller must have dismissed him-- so how…? "You can see him?" he blurted.
Miller nodded in agreement. "Like I said, I have some information you'll need to know."
Chapter 6: Cautionary Tale
Sam covered her mouth with one hand as she yawned, then took another sip of her coffee. She'd only had a few hours of sleep before she'd been recalled to the base at oh-dark-hundred, and from the looks of things it had been the same for the others. Only Daniel seemed unaware of the time, but that was probably partly due to caffeine overload; he was vibrating in his seat and tripping over himself verbally the way he usually did when he'd drunk most of a pot on his own in the space of a few hours.
"Are we all here?" Daniel asked, glancing around at the others present at the table-- the remainder of SG-1, plus General Hammond and a young Army Captain that Sam didn't recognize. An apparently empty chair had been pulled up as well between Daniel and the unfamiliar officer, and Sam wondered idly why the SF with the TER that had been assigned to follow Daniel and Spike around wasn't presently illuminating their visitor.
"We're all here son," Hammond said, frowning tiredly at the archaeologist. "Now why don't you tell us what this is all about?"
Instead of explaining, however, Daniel turned an expectant expression on the Army officer. "Captain Miller?"
The young man cleared his throat, shot a sidelong glance at the empty chair and crossed his arms on the table in front of him. "Sirs," he said, briefly meeting gazes with General Hammond and Colonel O'Neill. "When I was recommended for this project several months ago, it was ostensibly due to my extensive experience as part of a search and rescue team."
Both men nodded at Miller's statement. "Major Griff has had nothing but praise for your performance on SG-2," Hammond said, neutrally. "I take it that was not the only reason?"
Miller looked down at his hands, a rueful twist to his mouth. "The top-secret project I served on prior to this one, and the one before that, were both unofficially under the jurisdiction of the NID," he said.
Spines stiffened around the table at that statement. The SGC had had too many run-ins with rogue members of that intelligence organization to take a mention of their involvement lightly; even the legitimate side of the NID had a tendency to run rough-shod over the Stargate project whenever they could, trying to acquire as much profit and power as possible at the expense of all else.
"Let me guess," the Colonel said, slouching back in his chair. "They said they'd put you in for a bigger, better, more exciting job, if only you'd keep them informed about everything that happened while you were here."
Miller nodded grimly. "The thing is, sir, I've seen more than enough over the last several years to give me nightmares, long before I came to the SGC. The team I served on under Major Ellis was clean enough, but I've never forgotten how few of us were survivors of the previous project, and why. I don't want to see that happen again here; I haven't been reporting anything that isn't available through other channels."
There was a beat, as everyone considered the oblique statement Miller had just dropped in their laps-- and then Daniel turned to the empty seat again, frowning. "Spike," he said quellingly. "You're not helping." Then he turned back to Miller. "Sorry, go on."
Miller smirked, and his eyes drifted to the empty chair as well, as if he could see Spike, too. "Don't worry about it. All of us that made it out of there remember Hostile 17 pretty well. This isn't the first time he's shown up on the doorstep of good people and annoyed them into helping him."
"To what does this designation, Hostile 17, refer?" Teal'c asked, speaking up for the first time during the meeting. He looked as groggy at Sam felt, which was unusual for him, but she knew he was still adjusting to actually needing sleep now that he'd exchanged a symbiote for regular tretonin injections.
"Classified," Miller replied, glancing at the Jaffa. "Though I will say, because you'll find out soon enough even if he doesn't tell you, he's about as human as you are."
Sam saw the colonel straighten in his chair at that; she frowned herself, wondering just what the bleached-blond man might be if he wasn't, well, a man. They ran into plenty of races off world who looked just like humans, but that was generally because they were human, relocated to another planet by aliens in centuries past. The Jaffa looked mostly human as well, but had several notable differences; they'd been genetically engineered away from human stock ages ago. How did Spike differ from human standard, she mused, and why?
"If you're not here to expose classified details about the situation in which you previously encountered our visitor," Hammond asked, "then for what reason did you go to Dr. Jackson?"
"And how can you see him when none of the rest of us can?" Sam asked, watching as Captain Miller's eyes drifted again to the invisible occupant of the extra seat.
"In a nutshell?" he said. "Anubis isn't the first incorporeal, evil being to have designs on Earth. A few of them set up shop in the Los Angeles area and other places on the planet literally ages ago and have been influencing humans to their will ever since."
"Well, that explains a lot about the entertainment industry," Colonel O'Neill muttered, tapping his pen against the edge of the conference table. "But what does that have to do with our invisible friend here?" he asked, a skeptical expression on his face.
"You live in an area under the influence of these beings long enough, and you start-- noticing things. Things that don't make sense, things that seem crazy, things you dismiss as fever dreams the further away you get," Miller said solemnly. Sam could tell that he was leaving a lot out, but there was no shiftiness in his expression; he was convinced he was telling them the truth. "I can only guess that there's a kind of-- radiation effect, maybe, something that builds up that you become acclimatized to. Ask around-- if you have any recruits here from Sunnydale, I'd bet they can see and hear Spike, too. 'Cause, see-- when he died three weeks ago, he took one of those beings with him."
"What?" Sam objected, startled. "How is that possible? The Ascended are energy beings; the only reason we've had any success against Anubis at all is that he's only half-Ascended-- he's trapped on our plane of existence-- and even then--" She shrugged helplessly.
Miller gestured at the amulet currently resting on the table in front of Daniel. "That amulet? When Buff-- I mean, when we heard from the people who'd been at Ground Zero when Sunnydale collapsed, we asked them how it had happened, and they said it had been Hos-- Spike, wearing that, fighting an entity called the First. An old friend of mine who's still with Major Ellis' unit did some unofficial checking when they were sent to secure the site, and found out it originally came from a law firm run by more of these beings. We think they'd lent it out so someone else could do the legwork and take down the competition for them, but they wanted it back afterward. When Rye's team dug it up, someone snuck it into the mail to send right back to the firm; Rye swiped it back and mailed it here instead, hoping you guys could find a way to re-use it against Anubis.. He had no idea that it was... occupied."
Sam's breath caught. A weapon capable of taking down Ascended beings... that looked like a gaudy piece of jewelry? It seemed almost too good to be true.
"Putting aside the fact that this friend of yours shouldn't even know that Anubus exists," Hammond said, lips pursed, "if that was all there was to it, it could have waited until later in the day. What else is going on?"
Miller took a deep breath. "Rye's unit has also been keeping an eye on, uh, one of Spike's relatives I guess you'd call him. He changed sides a few weeks ago, got made the CEO of that law firm, with all its resources at his disposal. And yesterday, he suddenly started asking questions about the Stargate."
Chapter 7: Movers and Shakers
Eve sighed and settled against her lover's shoulder, absently tracing the winding black lines of the tattoo on his chest with the fingers of her right hand. There was a charged presence to the mystical ink binding them to Lindsey's flesh that prickled pleasantly against her skin whenever she touched it; on her less optimistic days, she sometimes wondered if there was some kind of spell of compulsion written into them as well as concealment. Child of the Senior Partners that she was, she'd long viewed humans in general and their males in particular with a jaded eye, but her relationship with this man had never conformed to her expectations.
He shifted a little, turning partly on one side the better to look her in the eye, and grinned. "So," he said. "I take it Angel got the package? You were looking kind of smug when you came in."
She grinned back, dark musings banished as she thought about the tempest in a teacup going on at the Wolfram & Hart offices. Angel had, as they'd predicted, instantly decided that an amulet capable of closing a Hellmouth and putting paid to the First was much too powerful to leave in military hands; he'd had his lieutenants researching either the amulet or the "big ring thing" to the exclusion of all else ever since he'd opened the envelope Lindsey sent him.
"He's completely distracted," she said. "Maybe even more than if the amulet had come to him in the first place. I know the records show he isn't very fond of his grandchilde, but they do both have those pesky souls. What if they'd decided to work together instead of taking the bait and distracting each other and the Senior Partners in a fight to prove who's the bigger vamp?"
Lindsey shrugged philosophically and pressed a kiss to her forehead. "We may still find out if my contact at the mountain can get the amulet away from Dr. Jackson, but I'm not betting on it," he said. "Either way, Angel's mind ain't in the game, which is a step forward for our plans, and if he makes enough waves the government may actually get rid of him for us."
"About that." Eve sat up, her smile widening as she remembered something else that had happened that day. "I think there's been some progress in that direction, too."
A little girl talk with Senator Brucker had led to a phone call from the Senator in charge of the Intelligence Oversight Committee, who had a very strong interest in a certain base tucked away under a mountain-- and ultimate authority over whichever of Major Ellis' soldiers had been brave enough to send the amulet there. The NID thought they were so sneaky, keeping an eye on the firm; they had no idea how many pies Wolfram & Hart had their fingers in.
"Really?" Lindsey asked, reaching up to draw her down against him. "Do tell."
She squirmed a little, just enough to assess his reawakening interest, then leaned in to nip at his neck. "Mmm, in a minute," she murmured against his skin.
"Hey, hey." He pushed her back upright a little, frowning at her. "Focus."
"Okay, okay." Eve rolled her eyes at him. It wasn't like they didn't have plenty of hours left in the night to talk about this-- but if Lindsey had a fault, besides the fact of his mortality, it was his fixation on anything and everything to do with Angel.
"Kinsey called about half an hour before I went home," she continued. "Angel took it; they were still talking when I left."
"Wow, the big man himself," Lindsey said. "I knew he was a client, but I thought he did business exclusively with the D.C. office. Did he sound upset? Or more like he was in the market for a new ally?"
Eve shrugged carelessly and batted his restraining hands away, leaning in for a kiss as she placed her own hands somewhere more conducive to her plans for the evening. "Couldn't tell," she murmured against his lips. "But I'm sure we'll find out tomorrow."
"Should be interesting, either way," he replied huskily, then got with the program.
Chapter 8: Change of Plan
Sgt. Harriman murmured something in General Hammond's ear, his voice pitched too quietly for Sam to hear, then straightened, a tense expression on his face as he watched the general absorb his message. Hammond's lips pursed in thoughtful dismay as he nodded and murmured another message in return; Walter snapped out a respectful "Yes, sir," then turned and walked quickly back out of the conference room.
Sam watched the sergeant go with a feeling of dismay. According to her watch, the time was still several minutes on the wrong side of oh-six-hundred, an hour at which she'd normally still be yawning over her first cup of coffee of the day as she got ready to leave for the Mountain. There were no missions scheduled to leave or return at this hour, so whatever had brought Walter in from the control room had to be something out of the ordinary-- and 'something out of the ordinary' was rarely good news of late for Stargate Command.
The general studied his clasped hands on the table before him for a moment, his expression one of deep thought, then took a deep breath and looked up, staring directly at Sam. "Major, if I recall correctly, prior to the appearance of our-- guest-- you had planned to gate to Tagrean and accompany the Prometheus back to Earth."
Sam nodded. "Yes, sir," she said. Though the threat of Anubis' Kull Warriors remained imminent, there was little she could add at present to the teams working on a way to stop them. The short trip aboard the Prometheus, necessarily broken up into several segments so as not to overheat the retrofitted Alkesh hyperdrive they'd installed as a temporary replacement for the failed naquadriah-based system, had seemed like an excellent diversion. It would have allowed her a chance to familiarize herself further with the ship, as well as giving her an opportunity to study several unique astronomical phenomena adjacent to the chosen rest points along the flight path. Of course, given the current situation, she'd contacted Colonel Ronson and informed him that she would be sending another scientist from the astrophysics department in her place.
Hammond nodded in return. "I'd like you to continue with that mission as originally planned," he said solemnly, then turned his attention to Daniel. "Dr. Jackson, you and your-- companion-- will accompany her. You'll have one hour to assemble any necessary gear and come up with a credible explanation for your presence on the mission; I expect you to be through the gate by oh-seven-hundred, with orders for Colonel Ronson to launch the Prometheus as quickly as possible."
"But sir," Sam objected, exchanging dismayed glances with Daniel. "We don't even know for sure yet whether the amulet will react with the gate, and I'm not sure it's in our best interests to expose our guest-- whom we still know almost nothing about, and who can't even sign a non-disclosure form in his current state-- to so much of our advanced technology."
Daniel glanced at the empty seat again as she spoke, a forbidding expression on his face. Sam was sure that Spike was making some kind of protest-- in fact, she almost thought she could hear a faint susurrus of indistinguishable language coming from that direction-- but no amount of righteous indignation could change the fact that he was a complete stranger to them, even if Captain Miller hadn't disparaged his character, and she couldn't believe Hammond would trust him that far.
"I'm aware of all that, Major," the general replied gravely, "but given what little we have learned about the amulet and its purpose, I think it would be a good idea for it, and its occupant, to be out of reach of Earth for the time being. Senator Kinsey is already on his way to Colorado, and the CEO of the Los Angeles branch of Wolfram and Hart boarded his private jet an hour ago."
"No time wasted there," Colonel O'Neill muttered sourly, fiddling with his pen.
"No kidding," Daniel muttered. "So the plan is to put the amulet somewhere Kinsey can't get his hands on it, or order it brought back through the gate? But what if he's still here when we get back?"
"We'll worry about that when the time comes," Hammond assured him. "The idea is to gain some breathing room. You were still on light duty, Dr. Jackson; take your research materials with you and make use of the scientific equipment aboard the ship to further study the amulet and Mr., ah, Spike's situation. If nothing has changed by the time the Prometheus reaches the Alpha Site, I'll authorize SG-1 to take a side trip to P7X-337 before returning home."
Sam recognized the address for the planet of the crystal skull and its attendant people, the giant aliens led by the being known to the Mayans as Quetzalcoatl. Given what she now knew about Spike's interaction with their phase of reality, she doubted the skull would have any effect on him, but she wouldn't object to the detour; it would be a rare chance for Daniel to see his grandfather, Nick Ballard, who'd joined the aliens there four years ago. But they would cross that bridge when they came to it.
"And what about the possibility that the amulet might interact badly with the gate?" Sam asked, still worried.
"Your technicians pronounced the amulet harmless upon its arrival, did they not?" Teal'c asked unexpectedly.
Sam glanced over at her Jaffa teammate to find him brushing a finger over Nyan's sticky note, which had been brought with the envelope and the amulet to the briefing room as evidence. "Yes," she said, "but they didn't know specifically what they were looking for-- and according to both Spike and Captain Miller, the amulet is a weapon. One capable of channeling a great deal of energy, and which has already caused the collapse of an entire town."
"Spike says-- it wasn't the amulet that did that, it was the, um, the entity he was fighting," Daniel replied, his brow furrowed. Sam could hear the faint soughing of a voice in the background again, though still far below her threshold of comprehension; she glanced at the space where Spike sat as Daniel spoke and thought she could almost see a pale shadow of a person
sitting there. Maybe the amulet was giving off enough of whatever energy it channeled that it was beginning to affect those around it? Or maybe it was slowly reverting Spike back to their phase of reality?
"Apparently this, this First had been using some kind of well of energy under the town as a resource," Daniel continued, "and when it tried to use that energy as a defense against what Spike was doing. That's what caused the collapse-- the warring energies, not the amulet itself."
"Captain?" Hammond prompted, turning the focus of his attention on Miller.
Miller snorted. "I hadn't heard it described like that before," he said. "We mostly just called it the Hellmouth. But as far as it goes-- I think that's probably an accurate explanation of what happened."
Sam wanted badly to ask what Spike meant by 'well of energy', but doubted she'd get the kind of response she was looking for. She glanced up at the colonel, hoping to catch his attention, and was gratified to find him already looking her way. He made a gesture where Miller couldn't see it, and Sam relaxed a little; he was already planning to follow up with the captain while they were gone. Miller may have done them a huge favor by warning them before Kinsey and the lawyers could arrive, but he had admitted to being a spy for the NID, and he'd also admitted to knowledge of other NID sources in the SGC. The general couldn't afford to let that pass, and without another mission the task of pursuing the loose ends of Miller's story would probably fall to the colonel and Teal'c.
"Any more objections?" Hammond asked.
Sam shook her head. She still had misgivings about the plan, and she hated the thought of running from Kinsey, but the general was right; if Spike and the amulet hadn't arrived she'd have made the trip anyway, and it would be nice to have Daniel along for company. "No, sir," she answered.
"Good," Hammond said firmly, and closed the folder in front of him. "Dismissed."
Chapter 9: Phoebus Arise
Less than an hour after his hosts' first reference to a mysterious Gate, Spike found himself stepping through it, leaving Earth-- if he understood the lady Major's brief explanation aright-- for another planet. Or, more accurately, Jackson stepped through it with Spike riding pig-a-back, the amulet clutched tight in his hand. No one had wanted to find out what would happen if the invisible lead connecting Spike to the gaudy thing were stretched out over billions of light-years, even if only for the length of time it took to transit a wormhole, and he couldn't exactly carry it through himself.
Jackson hadn't been all that thrilled at the prospect-- he'd muttered something about having already had enough visitors in his head for one year-- but hadn't been able to come up with another plan in the time they'd had left. Which was just as well; as off-putting as it was, trying to share a noggin with a brassed-off linguist thinking irritably at him in Arabic, it also offered the first taste of physical sensation Spike had experienced since burning up in the Hellmouth.
He knew the muted warmth of the Tagrean sunrise on his face was just an illusion, the bunching of muscles in ridiculously fit thighs and the chill of the wormhole's passage a consequence of Jackson's actions and not his, but he couldn't help reveling in the moment nonetheless. No telling how long it might be-- or even if-- suchlike would be his own to feel, again.
"Phoebus, arise, and paint the sable skies with azure, white and red..." he murmured, foreign lips and tongue shaping the words to his command, then slipped free from Jackson's body, not interested in sticking around to be cast out forcibly. He savored the last morsels of sensation as long as he could-- the flex of jaw, the scrape of teeth against lip and tongue, the vibration of voice in chest and throat-- but they faded along with everything else as he stood on his own ghosty feet again. Spike gritted insubstantial teeth against the loss, then turned his attention to the landscape around them.
Carter had been first through the Gate, followed by a motorized sledge he'd heard the soldier-boys refer to as Fred, and she stood in front of them now with worried lines crinkling around blue eyes. "Daniel?" she asked. "Are you okay?"
Jackson took a deep breath and assured her that he was fine-- though he favored Spike with a sharp glare that said there'd be words between them later. Spike barely noticed, however, as he'd already caught a glimpse of the ship looming large behind Carter, bigger than any manmade object had a right to be. The Gate had been just another bloody portal to Spike, but this was something else entirely; more than the foreign sun, which wouldn't have affected his ghosty state in any case, it drove home the fact that they were effectively in outer space, as if he'd stumbled into one of the sci-fi shows he'd occasionally watched on the telly.
Prometheus, he thought he'd heard them call it; probably the first of its kind, with a name like that. Fire from the gods. But Prometheus had also been the source of all mankind's misery; Pandora's box had been Zeus' response to Prometheus' gifts to man. He wondered if the Americans had considered that when they'd named the thing. Personally, he'd have gone with a classic like Enterprise or even Serenity; feisty little band of do-gooders against an overarching evil threat sounded about right for what he'd picked up about what was going on with them. Bloody well defied coincidence, the way he seemed to have fallen in with the intergalactic version of the Scoobies; the Powers that Love to Bugger Things Up had probably had a hand in it.
Well, regardless of what they threw at him, Spike was still as much his own vamp as he'd always been. Whatever was up with Peaches and some Senator that'd had that General's knickers in a twist, it would work itself out without him; for now, he intended to enjoy the ride-- and work his way back to Buffy as soon as he could.