Wednesday after school they are back at the Center. Stiles is starting to get the feeling that he should just expect that any and all free time he has will be taken by the Center. Do not pass ‘Go’. Do not even try to collect $200… or the new Halo game.
The front offices at the Center are much expanded from their previous state as part of an old high school. They’re now a nice, multi-level area with a large open waiting space containing a number of chair clusters in the middle. Three sides of the waiting area have two levels of offices. Between the main doors and the sitting area there is a long desk manned by one of the Center’s secretaries. The whole area has a modern but comfortable feel to it, including the spiral staircase in the corner.
Standing in front of the front desk are two sentinels. One is a man in Air Force blues, the other is a woman in a black leather skirt that Stiles is fairly confident is illegal in at least thirteen states.
“Major Cameron Mitchell,” Mr. Air Force introduces himself.
Mitchell offers his hand to Derek but Derek refuses the physical contact for the both himself and his guide.
“Vala Mal Doran.” His companion keeps her hands behind her back and nods at them both. “Do you have somewhere private? Where we can talk?”
They end up back in the family archive, the combination of white noise generators and being underground make it one of the most private locations around. Possibly in the state.
Vala wanders the archive under Derek’s amused but watchful gaze.
Mitchell sets his briefcase on the research desk and motions for Stiles to take the desk chair. “I don’t know what the officer that went over the preliminary paperwork before covered with you, and she is not available for me to ask, so I’m just going to cover everything I think we need to cover. Feel free to stop me if you have any questions.
“As you are aware, Captain Teldy had you sign a petition to waive your age-disability so that we would only have to do the clearance/NDA process this once and so that we could do it before your 18th birthday, without your dad being involved. Due to your bonding and imminent majority, the court agreed to our petition and ruled that you can sign our Non-Disclosure Agreement. It will be binding from the moment you sign it. This does not make you legally an adult, but congratulations.”
Whatever, he’ll be 18 in three months anyway. He just wants to know what his sentinel is struggling so hard to keep from him.
Captain Anne Teldy had given him a blank copy of the NDA he was going to sign so that he could do a preliminary review with Sheppard-Rabb. Both lawyers had been almost hilariously frustrated by the blank spaces, but agreed otherwise it was fairly standard if frighteningly thorough. They also made it clear they would very much prefer to be read in so that they could actually be helpful to their alphas.
He had already planned to ask about it on their behalf but he wasn’t holding his breath.
Stiles takes his time and read the agreement. Probably not thoroughly enough to please Sheppard-Rabb, but he does read it, making sure to note the places information has been added. He signs and initiales as instructed before sitting back, “So, what is Stargate Command?”
“I’ll give you a brief overview,” Mitchell assures Stiles. “I’m going to skip a lot of details because I have a secure laptop for you with me. Once we set up your access to it, you can read all the full debriefs available at your level. You and Hale have the same level of clearance so you can discuss everything together.” Mitchell turns to Derek. “Can you verify that the laptop will remain physically secure?”
“Yes, sir. It will either remain with Stiles and myself or in this room for as long as we have it. Most of the Pride doesn’t even know this place exists and those that do won’t talk about it. Only four people can access this vault at this time. Five, once we code Stiles in. At that, point three of those that can access it will have SGC clearance. Within this room are a number of hidden safes, one of which can only be accessed by me and/or Stiles. We will use it to store the laptop.”
“Four safes?” the female sentinel gives a flirty smile over her shoulder.
“Seven,” Derek corrects.
She nods at him, looking suitably impressed.
They set up the laptop. It requires three separate 16-digit alphanumeric pass codes and a fingerprint scan to get Stiles access. Mitchell pulls the laptop away once they are done with that, preventing Stiles from immediately fucking around with it, and starts up a slide show.
The first picture looks really old. The colors are strange, sandy or sepia toning maybe? There are a number of people in the picture, all wearing white or tan, and using ropes to hoist what looks like an oversized replica of Xena Warrior Princess’s favorite throwing weapon. “This device was found in Giza in 1928, it is a Stargate.
“Stargates were built by a long-dead alien race that we call the Ancients and distributed across the galaxy as a network. These devices are used to create stable wormholes for travel between planets and galaxies. Basically, you walk into the event horizon here on Earth and get downloaded to and then ejected out of the device you dialed on another planet. Got it?”
“Roughly ten years ago, an archeologist named Dr. Daniel Jackson deciphered the cover stone found on the gate from Giza. Thanks to his work the Air Force successfully activated the gate and a team, lead by then-Colonel Jack O’Neill and Dr. Jackson himself, stepped through the wormhole for the first time. This team encountered fascinating allies, enemies and technology on a planet on the other side of our galaxy called Abydos.
“When what was left of the team sans Dr. Jackson made it back to Earth, Stargate travel was deemed a security risk to the planet. The Air Force ended the program, put the gate into storage and forgot about it.
“A year later, the gate was opened from the other side. A small force with advanced weapons technology came through the gate and took prisoners. The team from the original Abydos mission was reactivated and Jackson was retrieved from his unofficial offworld retirement. Over the course of trying to recover our lost personnel, we discovered that Ra, the enemy we thought was defeated on Abydos, was just one member of a great and terrible race of space tyrants called the Goa’uld.
“The Goa’uld are parasites. They live inside and control host bodies, normally humans. They pretend to be gods and rule over more than half of our galaxy with an iron fist.”
“Humans are their slaves and playthings,” Vala put in, coming over and leaning against Mitchell. “They use us for everything from building their palaces to incubating their young and they don’t take kindly to those of us that don’t agree.”
Cam nods. “The Goa’uld Empire is ruled by a group called the System Lords, a council of a dozen of the highest ranking Goa’uld. Ra was their leader until we killed him on Abydos. He was succeeded by Apophis. He’s the guy that raided the mountain and got the Earth using the gate again. It took us a few years but we eventually caused the deaths of Apophis and several of the lesser lords and broke the spine of their armies.
“You see, the System Lords are dependent on the might of the Jaffa. The Jaffa are the humans that they use to incubate their young and the foot soldiers of the System Lord armies. As a reward for their service, the Jaffa are given increased healing and extended lifespans.”
“The reality of that ‘reward’,” Vala cuts in again. “Is that the incubation of baby Goa’uld, or prim’ta, suppresses the Jaffa’s immune system and forces their sentinel gene into dormancy. The Jaffa’s immune system is then replaced by the prim’ta itself, which actually does the job more effectively as part of improving its own habitat.”
“What about the guide gene?”
“Guide children don’t survive to implantation age in Goa’uld-enslaved peoples.”
Stiles stares, more than a little horrified. “So they are rewarded for service at the expense of their freedom? Because babies grow up and they will always need a new baby parasite eventually?”
She nods. “Exactly, but we’ve discovered a medicine called Tretonin. Tretonin provides the same benefit as incubating a prim’ta but you only have to get a shot once a day. It ended the dependence of the Jaffa on their masters.”
“And began their dependence on us? On Earth?” Stiles asks.
“For a while,” Vala agrees. “But now they have the means to create their own supplies of Tretonin.”
“Either way,” Cam calls their attention back to him. “Not all of the Jaffa were willing to accept Tretonin but thousands of Jaffa did. They rebelled against their gods and took their freedom. More join the Jaffa Nation every day so big win, right?”
Stiles might not know anything about aliens but he does know sarcasm when he hears it. “Wrong?”
Mitchell grins at him. “After the death of Apophis, Ba’al threw himself into the ring. He has united the System Lords and declared war on the Tau’ri.”
“That’s us,” Derek supplies helpfully for where he is currently shadowing Vala between shelves.
“Ba’al is cleverer than either Ra or Apophis ever were. Meaner, too.” Vala assures Stiles.
“Now, on top of all of that,” Mitchell sighs. “We have Anubis to deal with. We don’t know much about him except that he was once a powerful System Lord thousands of years ago until the rest of them kicked him out. Now, he hates them all.”
“Anubis is a absolute psycho,” Vala peaks through some shelves to disagree. “He hates everything. He wants to destroy everything. Them, us and our allies, the Asgard.”
Cam nods once, conceding her the point. “We are stuck in a three way war that we can’t win and we refuse to lose.”
“So what are we doing?” Stiles asks because sentinels don’t just accept problems, they end them.
“Dr. Jackson made another discovery about a year ago. A gate address for another galaxy, specifically the gate address for the City of Atlantis.”
“Atlantis? The legend? The sunken city?”
“That’s the one. It was actually a ship. A big city-sized space ship built by the Ancients. We are hoping the Ancients left us something useful.”
“That’s the mission my cousin John is on,” Derek adds.
Cam makes a pained noise. “We recently – as in about the time of the fire – got a transmission from the Expedition.” Stiles is not shocked by the pained surprise he can feel coming off of Derek but it is powerful. “Landry secured the information they sent to us and released a report to the Mountain after it was ‘properly analyzed’ by his scientists at Area 51. According to him the personnel in the Mountain are too emotionally invested in the Expedition to objectively handle the data.”
“That’s ridiculous!” Derek says with intensity, practically a shout. For Derek it is definitely a shout. Derek never shouts. The entire experience is surreal.
“Right, so when Landry released a report from Jackson and his sentinel Samantha Carter saying they were the lone survivors of a murder spree committed by Guide Sheppard, I called Ellison immediately.”
Derek’s pained noise is like a stab in the chest.
“A second expedition was sent out a few days ago to find out what is really going on in Pegasus but we don’t know when we will hear back from them.” Mitchell looks pained for a moment. “You have to understand, we don’t trust Landry. Hardly anyone in the Mountain does. We haven’t for months, basically since he got the job, really.”
“Jack – General O’Neill, tried to straighten him out but Landry is slippery. He’s good at following orders while still managing to do whatever he wants, anyway. Now, Sandburg-Ellison are taking care of it. That’s why the second expedition got launched. Now, they have gotten the International Oversight Advisory back on their high horse about the SGC needing to be run by a civilian. The IOA is putting forth Sandburg as their choice candidate and the President seems in favor. We think that’ll go pretty well.”
“Wouldn’t that cut into their responsibilities with the Council?” Stile asks, frowning.
“No,” Derek assures his guide. “The Centers are run by their local alphas and are basically autonomous. For the most part, the Council just dictates the policies Centers have to adhere to, what services they have to provide, allocates funding and handles conflict mediation. They don’t actually meet that often.”
“So, this is something you did?” Stiles asks his sentinel once they are alone again in the family archive. “You travelled to different planets through wormholes? You made friends and kicked snake-y ass in the stars?”
Derek nods. “For two years. O’Neill, he commanded the SGC before Landry, and he recruited sentinels. According to him, sentinels are made for Stargate exploration. Or rather, it was made for us.”
“O’Neill first recruited Erica and she met Boyd at the SGC. They came home for leave and Erica told the family that we needed to seriously consider transfers to this random Air Force base in the middle of Colorado. As many of us as possible, as soon as possible would be preferred. We took her at her word. That’s how Liam and I got involved in the Mountain.
“Not long after, that something crazy went down with John in Afghanistan. The wisecracker figured he could use the change of pace that is a ‘non-combat’ posting and he requested the transfer. He got into the Mountain about six months after I did.
“A year later, when they discovered the address for Atlantis and decided to send the first expedition, John was the first to sign up. He has a weird,” Derek gestures vaguely toward his soulmark. “It’s like a lion but it’s solid black with green eyes and wings like a raven?
“Before he left, he told me that he decided his sentinel is obviously an alien and since you can’t get more alien than another galaxy he had to go.
“Not long after the Expedition left, Landry took command of the SGC. I was offworld but by the time I came back, about half the sentinels in the Mountain had been cycled out of the Mountain for made up reasons. A lot were sent to the Middle East. Medical discovered Erica was pregnant again. They declared her fragile due to her condition and she got a discharge for it, despite the fact that she’s already had two pregnancies while working in the Mountain and been just fine. Of course, Boyd left the service with his mate.”
“Wait.” Stiles interrupted. “You were offworld long enough for Erica to get discharged? Medical discharges take a while, don’t they? How long were you-? I mean, what? Do they have long-term offworld assignments in this galaxy? Was that what you were doing?”
“They do have long-term in-galaxy offworld assignments. The Alpha Site is a rotating six month stint but that wasn’t what happened to me. I was,” captured. Derek swallows, it’s a hard thing to admit even though Stiles kind of already knows. “A PoW. ”
Understanding flashes across Stiles’s face.
“The Goa’uld like taking prisoners. They like to torture, especially sentinels. It’s gotten worse, actually, with Ba’al in charge. They aren’t slouches on the physical stuff or anything but his people are very talented at mentally and emotionally destroying you. They manipulate you until you don’t know who you are or what you believe anymore. ”
“So, kind of like Hi-Jacking or something?”
Derek nods. “They can do that and more traditional brainwashing, too.”
That’s disgusting, Stiles thinks but keeps it to himself. He doesn’t need to prod his sentinel, not yet.
“Everyone in the Mountain that’s gone through it has this.” Derek pats his left pectoral where he has a tattoo of a backwards 5. “It’s the Kanji for self. It marks that you survived. That you are still you. Liam actually has two. Pretty sure he’s the only one keeping score past the first time.”
“I sense this was started by a geek.” Stiles gives a pretend suspicious glare.
Derek laughs at his guide’s attempt at humor. “Yeah, it was. Daniel Jackson is a linguist, knows like 23 languages. It was his idea.”
“Tell me about it. What happened?”
Derek sighs. “It was a recon mission. Nothing special, a forest planet with farmers living in log cabins. They didn’t even have weapons other than their basic tools. A Jaffa patrol came through the gate. They killed the guy we left guarding it. Took four of us and about half the village captive. I don’t know what happened to the locals, probably turned them into hosts or just killed them.”
Derek shakes his head. “A scientist for the System Lord held my team for seven weeks before we were located and rescued. Only the civilian asset and I survived. The deaths were,” Derek swallows harshly. “Bad.”
“By the time SG-1 and 6 got to us, my senses were completely unbalanced. I was spiking so bad that I couldn’t eat. I was constantly throwing up because of smell and taste. Covered head to toe in a bleeding rash.
“I don’t remember the rescue, either, but I apparently attacked them as soon as SG-1 opened our cell. They knocked me out and dragged me back to Earth. Medical tried to help for a while but in the end they declared me fragile and sent me home.
“Two weeks later, I was standing in the Center talking to a total nerd with big brown eyes.” Derek lands a smacking kiss on Stiles’s forehead.
He’s been avoiding the investigators for days. Not resisting arrest, really, because no one is trying to arrest him yet but actively making himself unavailable when someone tries to set up an appointment for an interview. Not being where they can find him when they try to discuss it face to face.
It wasn’t too big of a deal while Sandburg-Ellison were out of town, but they’re back and now the situation has to be addressed.
Blake-Asan find him by accident in the local public library.
Jennifer agrees to stay with him while Kali steps out to call Sandburg-Ellison for instructions.
Gerard Argent is an interesting conversationalist and manipulative in an effective, if a little heavy handed, kind of way. He doesn’t even have to rely on his guide abilities to get her to want to agree with him. Not that he’s afraid to use those against her, either. Jennifer can definitely see how he can get people to do horrible things for him.
He makes a joke about cookies and reaches into his bag for what she assumes is a tin of them. When he rights himself, he’s holding a canister. It looks like a prop for a cheap television show but it makes her gut clench in fear.
He pulls the pin and throws it at her. The canister hits her in the stomach. Hard. It hits the ground as she hits her knees.
Beacon Hills’ one and only public library is going up in flames.
“We have two confirmed fatalities.” Colby Granger advises Sandburg-Ellison as they enter the team’s command post. “Jennifer Blake and Kali Asan. Witness reports indicate Blake-Asan approached a man that several positively identify as Gerard Argent. They engaged him in conversation with no indication or acts of aggression. Moments later Asan is missing, Blake is on the floor and Argent is shouting about a fire. He got the building evacuated and then disappeared.”
“Covered his escape with a good deed.” Ellison sounds both cynical and disgusted.
Granger nods. “After murdering a fellow guide, causing her sentinel to collapse and die.”
“Alright, we’ve got to play this carefully. We don’t want the mundanes to know a guide is the cause of the fire rather than the source of their rescue or to connect him to the Hale Fire. No press conference. No official manhunt. Call the airstrip, the train station and the bus terminal. Anything that can get him out of town. Tell them he’s a person of interest for questioning, not a suspect.”
Ellison starts talking louder as he and his guide make their way back to their car. “Alert the Center. I want every available pair to meet me at his residence. I’ll need a map and a coordinator. Get me Sheppard-Rabb.”
It took them less than three hours to bring Gerard Argent to ground. The guide was the only one injured. A sentinel shot out his kneecap and he broke his nose because he went down hard.
“We can’t just ship him off for punishment without a trial,” David Sinclair argues with the Alpha Sentinel of North America. “We can’t just extradite him to his clan either. They’re not even a governmental body.”
“We can’t afford a trial,” Ellison argues back. “No matter how closed it is, when the media gets wind of the charges and the accused it will destroy our community. You saw what the rumor of a power play did to those two baby guides less than a week ago. What do you think will happen if the world finds out a guide murdered another guide? Or that he set a fire exactly like the Hale House Fire? There would be chaos in the streets! Riots, looting, more of the Tribe will die. In droves.”
“We don’t have any proof anyway,” Sandburg adds. “None of the witnesses at the library see him as anything other than their hero, plus Kate and Victoria, the only people that could solidly connect him to the Hale House Fire, are both dead.”
“Actually,” Granger cuts in as he and Charlie enter the conference room the group is in. “The library’s security cameras have offsite backups. We’re working on a subpoena for copies. They could prove his involvement at least here.”
“Look,” Ellison cuts Sinclair off. He believes in law and order, too, but he is beyond done with this conversation. “I’ll get the International Sentinel and Guide Association to request custody of Gerard Argent, rather than request he be turned over to his clan. He stands accused of crimes here and in France so they have just as much jurisdiction and they are a governmental body. What happens to him from there is none of your concern.”
“What will happen to him?” Charlie the ever-curious asks.
“Considering the multiple counts of murder and acts of terrorism on his bill?” Blair responds. “They’ll put him through a deep mental scan to find out exactly what he’s done and to whom. At the very least, they’ll burn out his mind gifts but if he’s guilty of everything we suspect, life imprisonment is a real possibility. Death would be more likely.”