Thank you, Emergency70 for the beta!
The door opened before John even made it to the front steps of the house.
“Colonel Sheppard.” Gibbs greeted him, a bottle of beer in one hand. “Come on in.”
“Agent Gibbs.” John returned, pausing at the door to introduce the party-crashing General and linguist. “I hope you don’t mind, but a couple of friends invited themselves along. Dr. Daniel Jackson and General Jack O’Neill, USAF. This is Special Agent Gibbs.”
Gibbs’ eyes flicked back and forth between them, widening minutely but otherwise remaining calm and welcoming. “Not at all, Colonel. The more the merrier.” He offered a hand to Jackson, then O’Neill. “Can I get you something to drink?”
“I’ll just have coffee, if you’ve got it, Agent Gibbs. Black.” Daniel requested. Jack, on the other hand, pointed at the bottle in Gibbs’ hand with interest.
“Got any more of those?”
“Yep. McGee!” Gibbs yelled over his shoulder.
“Boss?” The young agent hurried over at the summons.
“Beer.” Gibbs raised a questioning eyebrow at Sheppard, who nodded and jerked a thumb over his shoulder.
“McKay will probably have one, too.”
“Three, Tim. And a mug of black coffee for Dr. Jackson.”
“Coming right up!” McGee flashed a smile and disappeared into the kitchen.
Teyla came up the steps, followed by McKay and Ronon, the two men laden down with bags and trays of food. Gibbs led them all into his house, directing the food to the kitchen. Abby appeared at Gibbs’ side and accompanied them to help get it all organized, while McGee returned with the beer and a steaming mug of coffee. After another round of introductions, everyone settled in to quiet conversations – small talk, really. Then came the feast.
After everyone had eaten and the kitchen was mostly cleaned up, Gibbs invited John down to the basement for their conversation. John nodded and tapped McKay on the shoulder as he passed by.
“Keep an eye on things, Rodney.” He murmured in the scientist’s ear.
“Go. We’re fine.” Rodney muttered back.
John followed Gibbs to the basement stairs, unsurprised when O’Neill silently joined him. When Gibbs raised an eyebrow in question, John just shrugged unapologetically.
“Whatever you have to say, Agent Gibbs, you can say to the General. He’s a friend.” John stuffed his hands into his pants’ pockets and leaned on the work table. “And my CO.”
Jack flashed his best grin, full of O’Neill charm, and took in the work-in-progress that was the boat Gibbs was currently building. “Nice boat. If only my pond were bigger…”
The agent blinked. “Thanks.” He said, looking back and forth between the two Air Force officers bemusedly. He stifled the urge to mutter, “Fly boys,” under his breath in exasperation. They were flighty and enigmatic at the best of times, and Marines often didn’t get them – which was fine because the fly boys didn’t get the Marines so well either.
“So what was it you wanted to talk about, Agent Gibbs?” John asked, leaning against a workbench and ignoring Jack as the older man circled the boat skeleton, curiously inspecting it and making interested and approving noises every now and then.
“Just ‘Gibbs’ is fine, especially when this whole conversation is strictly off-the-record and between us.” Gibbs let his gaze flick to O’Neill and back. “All three of us…” he added wryly.
“Sure, Gibbs.” John agreed easily.
“Well, to start with, I’d like to explain our curiosity about you and your people.” Gibbs perched himself on his stool, getting comfortable. “I knew Jenny for years. Worked with her for years, too, and considered a close friend. I thought I knew her really well, but I had no idea she had any relations other than her father, Jasper Sheppard. Your appearance was really startling and…”
“Suspicious?” Jack threw in, bending down to look under the boat at…whatever it was with creaky knees and a wince. “Don’t blame ya. I’d be suspicious too if someone popped up claiming to be Daniel’s relative.”
“She probably wouldn’t have talked about me or anyone else in the family.” John shrugged, then decided to explain. “Jasper was my father’s brother. Younger brother. Dad – Patrick – was the one who took over the family business, but Uncle Jasper wasn’t the white collar type. Instead, he went and enlisted in the army as soon as he could. Grandpa was…not furious, but he wasn’t okay with it, either, my mom once told me. Gramps died five years later, and Dad took it badly. He blamed his brother. It caused a rift that never healed.” John sighed. He understood his uncle all too well. “For all intents and purposes, Uncle Jasper was cut from the family tree. Jenny’s mother was pregnant with Jenny at the time, and I was only about a year old.
“Despite the rift, I still managed to meet Jenny when we were older and we grew quite close. We had stuff in common, I guess. More than my older brother, David, ever did. When we hit our adulthood, I had decided I wanted nothing more than the sky. I went for the Air Force, and Jenny encouraged me. David was Dad’s son, through to the bone. He did everything Dad expected of him. I didn’t. And when I left home for the Academy, Dad was livid. He saw it as being influenced by Uncle Jasper and it just made things worse between them.”
Gibbs listened attentively, shaking his head. He could sort of understand, as his own relationship with his father had similar issues. Gibbs had not only run off at eighteen and joined the Marines, against his father’s wishes, but he’d become a sniper – something his father – a pilot – never understood.
“It was partly Uncle Jasper’s influence.” John admitted. “I got into the Academy on his approval and reference because Jenny asked him to help me. That and my grades, of course.” John flashed a small smirk (O’Neill rolled his eyes as he passed by on his inspection tour). “Anyway, Jenny and I stayed in touch over the years, even if we hardly ever ran into each other or anything.” He paused, debating whether or not to get into the whole Afghanistan thing. Why not? He thought. “Then a few years ago, I was assigned to Afghanistan. Long story short: things went very, very wrong. I made a decision, and I got a black mark for it. I would have been given much more than that – like a dishonourable discharge, but…Jenny used her connections and influence to get me the milk run at McMurdo instead.”
“Antarctica?” Gibbs wondered, looking rather incredulous. “That can’t possibly be better than a DD.”
John chuckled, flushing when Jack snorted and said, “The kid liked it there, Gibbs, god knows why.”
“What’s not to like? I got to fly pretty often, and I didn’t have to shoot at people or have people shoot at me. I found it very peaceful and beautiful.” John grumbled, eyeing his CO. “Besides, sir, if I hadn’t been assigned there, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Jack shrugged. “True.”
“And you might be dead.”
Jack frowned at him, not that he would argue the point. John’s skill as a pilot had been tested that fateful day by the drone missile Carson Beckett had set loose by accident.
“Alright. So there is a real connection between you and Jenny.” Gibbs nodded, waving it aside. “You do realize it’s only that much more suspicious because of how the Air Force is poking their nose into things that don’t concern them.”
“On my authority, Gibbs.” Jack interjected before John could respond. “It’s my people, my department, that’s doing the digging.”
The two men stared at one another for a long moment, neither one willing to back down, neither one phased by the contest of wills in the least. John – with more wisdom than many a past CO credited him for – stayed out of it, remaining silent on the sidelines. If Gibbs wanted to attempt to take on the Lt. General in a pissing contest, John wasn’t going to get involved. It was free entertainment, and he could use some.
“Well are you going to tell me why? Or at least what you’re looking for? And what ‘department’ are you talking about, exactly?” It was Gibbs who finally broke the impasse, demanding answers. “You can’t tell me, seriously, that that Air Force is digging because Colonel Sheppard wants to know.”
John tried not to feel too insulted.
“It’s not the USAF, necessarily, that wants to know what happened to Dir. Sheppard. It’s just that the majority of my people at the Pentagon happen to be USAF personnel.” Jack leaned against a workhorse, near to John, and folded his arms over his chest. “I’m in command of a very top-secret department which employs a considerable number of military and civilian personnel alike. The military contingent is made up of people from primarily the Air Force and Marine Corps, though we’ve expanded to include many Army folks, too. No Navy yet, however.” He glanced at John. “Not that I recall off-hand.”
“None that I know of, sir.” John agreed, not that he hadn’t ever requested a SEAL team for Atlantis before, or would really know what the numbers were on Earth after living in Pegasus for four years.
“We became concerned about the whole thing when we learned there were documents involved in Ms. Sheppard’s death that we believe may be related to the programme – the one my department runs, Gibbs.” Jack continued, without giving much away. “These documents could contain some potentially dangerous data, not only to National Security but…also on a personal level to however is in possession of those documents.”
Gibbs frowned at both officers. “I’m hearing a lot ‘maybes’ and ‘possibly-s’ and I’m still not hearing information. The only documents that we learned of were contained in an old NIS file belonging to Agent Decker. One of his old case files. I don’t see how it could possibly be at all relevant to whatever it is you’re so secretive about.” He stared hard at Jack. “Look, I can’t help you unless I know what you want, and I mean details. If it’s such a huge deal, I’ll sign whatever dotted lines you want swearing to never tell another soul about it. I’m used to keeping state secrets.”
Jack sighed and shook his head. “It’s not that simple. Even if I read you in – even just the bare basics – the potential problems that would eventually come sneaking up on you are not just annoyances, they’re real, life-threatening dangers. And to be perfectly frank, we – the programme – have no use for you beyond the immediate situation and the whereabouts of those documents.”
Before Gibbs could growl back, affronted at being so blatantly termed ‘useless,’ John spoke up.
“Listen, Gibbs, I understand where you’re coming from. General O’Neill does, too. All we’re interested in are those documents. If we seem them, and determine whether or not they’re relevant to us, then the problem’s easily solved. If they are, we take them and no one has to worry about their potential to cause more harm. If they’re not, then we go away and you likely never hear from us ever again.”
Gibbs remained silent for a long, tense moment, thinking that over. Finally, still frowning, he said, “I’d like to take you up on that, Sheppard, but I have no say over those documents. That would be up to Vance – or even SecNav. Then, too, I haven’t seen them, myself, and I can honestly say I don’t know where they are.”
“Who does?” John asked. “Director Vance? Or were they turned over to another agency?”
“Dear god I hope not!” Jack exclaimed, looking very pained. “I don’t want to have to try and pry them from the hands of the CIA or FBI or whoever.”
Gibbs looked just as pained, but for an entirely different reason. It looked like he’d have to tell them what happened at that diner after all, including the part Mike Franks had played. Vance wouldn’t be happy when he found out.
“I need you both to just listen for a bit, alright? No interruptions. This is what went down at the diner and the events leading up to it as told to me by the only person to walk away from the gun fight alive.” Gibbs waited until they’d both nodded – neither looking pleased about it – before telling them the whole story he’d heard from Mike Franks.
“On the mission nine years ago, William Decker was the agents’ contact in Europe. He was the one who got them all whatever they needed to perform the mission and get away clean and free. Between him and the other two agents involved a codeword was created, to be used in the event one of them was compromised as a warning to the others. At Decker’s funeral, Jen heard someone using that codeword – a made-up name, Oshimaida – trying to find any of the people involved in the mission. As they were the only three people who’d known the code, the guy had to have gotten it from Decker – which meant his death was not natural or accidental. Jen immediately took steps to separate herself from her escort of DiNozzo and David – for their protection – and went off on her own to deal with the problem.
“Now before you get mad, she didn’t try to do it all on her own.” Gibbs assured them at the expression on John’s face. “She at least called in reliable back-up.” He was still very pissed off she hadn’t called him, though, since it was just as much his problem as hers, not to mention hating how she seemed to want to protect him when he didn’t need it. Pushing aside his anger, however, he continued the story. “She called in my mentor, Mike Franks. He’s retired, now, but still capable and completely reliable. Mike met her in LA, and they did some investigating. In the course of it, they came across Decker’s widow, Sasha, who told them about her husband’s diner in the desert and that Decker had told her to deliver a key to the diner to Jenny – the Director of NCIS – if anything should ever happen to him. She also told them Decker called it his ‘insurance policy.’
“Jen gave Sasha her rental car and told her to get out of town. When looking for Jenny, DiNozzo and David found the rental at the Santa Monica pier – along with Sasha. Dead. That’s how the gunmen found Jen and Mike at the diner.
“Mike said they showed up when he was out back behind the diner getting some water from the reservoir. He couldn’t make it back in time to save Jenny, but he made sure all the scumbags were very dead before taking the clue to Decker’s insurance policy and getting out of there. Not long after, DiNozzo and David traced the place down and found Jenny.” Gibbs blew out a harsh breath. “I happened to call her cell phone just then, and they informed me of what they’d found. By the time I got out there myself, Vance was already on-scene and working it with my agents’ assistance. What he didn’t know was that Mike had called me just after I talked to DiNozzo from Washington. We’d arranged to meet, so he could tell me the whole story.
“I told him to go home after that. I would take care of the rest of the problem. He refused, even though it was a bad idea because Vance knew someone else other than the deceased had been in that diner and walked away. I left him in LA, hoping he’d just go home, but I later found out he’d gone to D.C. following that clue to Decker’s insurance policy. By the time I got home and put my own pieces of the puzzle together, Mike had been to the NCIS archives and retrieved the file with the documents from the premises. What he did with them I don’t know, and I didn’t ask. It was better all around if no one else knew.”
“I see.” Jack said after a long moment of silence. “So…call him up and tell him you need them after all.”
“It’s not that simple, General.” Gibbs huffed. “I’d need a damn good reason to tell him to get on a plane and come all the way back here after just getting home again.”
Jack scowled. “National security isn’t a good enough reason?”
“No, not really.” Gibbs replied, blunt, sardonic, but truthful. Now that Mike was retired, he felt no obligation toward the government or the country any longer. Except for certain, extreme circumstances, he refused to become involved in any sort of goings-on that had anything to do with politics, the military, or NCIS.
“Well, give me his phone number and address and we’ll go talk to him ourselves tomorrow.” Jack tried, looking over at John. “Got a pen and paper, Sheppard?”
John shook his head and at the same moment Gibbs’ phone rang. He frowned, picking it up and glancing at the caller ID. A feeling of dread settled in as he saw the unknown number.
“Now what?” He muttered, flipping the phone open and answering it. “Gibbs.”
“Probie! I need you down here!” Mike Franks’ voice was loud and harsh over the static-filled line. “Goddamn it! You said that woman was the only loose end!”
“She should have been.” Gibbs replied, not liking the sound of that at all. “What’s wrong, Mike? What happened?”
John got to his feet when he heard that, and Jack straightened up, both prepared to spring into action. Gibbs eyed them warily, but couldn’t do anything about it.
“My goddamn house blew up! That’s what!”
Gibbs paled. “What about…”
“We’re lucky, Probie, that they were in town shopping at the market.” Mike responded gruffly, speaking of his daughter-in-law, Leyla, and granddaughter – Gibbs’ goddaughter, Amira. “I stashed them someplace safe, for now, but I’m in the middle of a huge mess, here. The Federales aren’t very pleased with what happened or why I disappeared right after, and there were a few suspicious characters around town that got my gut aching.”
“Get on a plane and bring them here.” Gibbs demanded.
“No. Not until I know what’s going on. So tell me, Jethro,” Gibbs fought not to flinch at the heated snap of his given name, “What the hell haven’t you told me?”
“I’ve told you all that I know, Mike. Which is why you should come….” Gibbs was cut off as the dial tone suddenly buzzed in his ear. “Shit. Mike?” He hung up the phone and looked at his guests. “Cut off.”
“That was the guy you were telling us about?” Jack inquired.
“Yes. He retired to Mexico, and lives with his daughter-in-law and granddaughter.”
Jack nodded, almost as if to himself. He turned away and stared at the boat, thinking. After a tense moment, John hesitantly dared to ask, “Sir?”
“With me.” O’Neill turned on his heel and quickly marched to the stairs. John hurried after him, and Gibbs followed because he wanted to know what these people knew and what was going on. Then too, Gibbs intended to set McGee loose to trace Mike’s call if possible so Gibbs would have a better idea of where to go looking for him (and Leyla and Amira Shakarji).
As soon as O’Neill walked into the room, all conversation died and all eyes turned on him. He was in General-mode as he began issuing commands to his people.
“Daniel, call Davis and tell him we need to meet him on-board Odyssey with six standard non-disclosure and confidentiality packages ASAP. McKay, contact Woolsey at the IOA and tell him we may need some help smoothing our way with Mexico. Sheppard, call Mitchell and give him a sit-rep, see if he can’t trace that call somehow, and let him know to standby for transport.” Jack paused, looked at Teyla and Ronon, then at the NCIS crew. “You folks will be joining us, so just sit here and wait a few minutes while we handle a few pesky details.”
Gibbs crossed his arms defiantly, beginning to be peeved at how these flyboys were taking charge. He eyed Ronon and Teyla warily as they quietly moved to take up positions that blocked any exit from his living room. “You don’t give orders to NCIS agents, General O’Neill. And if you think I’m just going to sit around when a friend is so obviously in trouble…”
“I do now, Gibbs, and did I ask you to?” O’Neill retorted, pulling out his cell (the others were already calling people on their own phones). “I’m concerned for your friend, too, and not just because of the documents. If you want to help him, then you’re just going to have to suck it up and deal with us because we are in a position to be able to help. Now if you’ll pardon me,” Jack waggled his cell, “I have to call the President.” With that, he turned away and made his call.
“What? Boss?” DiNozzo and the others looked very confused and concerned.
“The president of what?” Abby wanted to know.
“There is no ship designated Odyssey that I know of…” Ducky murmured, frowning. “A plane, maybe?”
Gibbs rubbed his face with both hands in annoyance and frustration. “Mike Franks just called. He told me there are suspicious people looking for him around town and he said they blew up his house. Then the line was cut off.” He summarized baldly, ignoring their gasps, widening eyes, and horrified expressions. “Leyla and Amira are fine, they weren’t home at the time, but I don’t know where any of them are now.” He watched O’Neill and his people talk into their cells, wondering briefly what crazy situation they were pulling him and his team into. “And I’m pretty certain O’Neill meant the President of the USA, Abby.”
“Wow. So he really is a bigwig, if he can do that so casually.” Tony muttered.
“We should go into HQ, and I can get a trace started on Mike’s call.” McGee said
“I don’t think we’ll be allowed, McGee.” Ziva replied in a loud whisper, eyeing Teyla and Ronon warily.
Jack snapped his cell shut and looked around at Daniel and SGA-1. “Daniel?”
“Paul said he’d be waiting for us, Jack.” The linguist responded. “There is a slight issue in Ms. David’s case, though.”
“What?” Jack blinked at him, looking over at Ziva for a moment. Then he frowned. “Oh. Right. McKay!”
“…and they, hold on a minute.” Rodney scowled at the General. “What?”
“Tell Dick we need Israel’s okay to read in their Mossad officer.” Jack glared right back. “Let’s avoid any diplomatic tangles, shall we?”
“Right.” Rodney frowned and turned away again, picking up the conversation.
“Sheppard?” Jack turned to the younger officer.
“Mitchell is standing by, sir, and he’s set some people on tracing the call. I suggested transporting us straight to the officer’s conference room just off the bridge.” John reported.
“Yeah, good idea. They have a lock on all of us?”
“Yes, sir. Our sub-cues and six others in the room, whenever we’re ready.”
Rodney stuck his phone into his pocket and went to stand next to Sheppard. “Woolsey said to give him ten minutes to call his contact in Israel and explain the situation, General. He says he’ll meet us on board with one of the International versions of the necessary documents.”
“Understood.” Jack gave a sharp nod and faced the NCIS crew. “Alright, listen up. The President is very concerned at the new turn of events, and has given me permission to bring you into the programme, even if it’s only part way for the moment as it would take far too long to read you in fully. That’s time we don’t have. Your clearance will be only for things relating to this case…mission…situation. Whatever you wanna call this fiasco.
“So with this in mind, here’s what Sheppard and I have partially already explained to Agent Gibbs: the programme I head is concerned about the documents allegedly involved in Dir. Sheppard’s death because we have good reason to believe they could be related to our work. If they are, then this Mike fellow is in a very tight spot. We have several enemies who would be absolutely rabid about getting their hands on those documents and they’re not exactly subtle about it, nor are they merciful or humane.”
“They sound pretty badass.” Tony drawled, then flinched when Gibbs smacked him upside the head. “Shutting up, boss.”
“And what is it, precisely, that your work in this super-secret programme entails?” Ducky asked.
Jack rubbed the back of his neck, throwing a sheepish glance at Daniel. “Uh…I really hate this part. No matter how I say it, I always get the ‘you’re certifiable, O’Neill’ response. Danny?”
Daniel rolled his eyes. “Oh sure. Leave it to me. Thanks so much, Jack.”
“This is your area of expertise, Dr. Jackson. I just kill things and blow stuff up on occasion.”
“And you’re very good at it.” Daniel waved aside the very disgruntled tone. “Fine. What Jack’s being too chicken shit to say is that we travel to other planets for a living and in the decade or so we’ve been doing it we’ve acquired various and sundry alien enemies as well as friends.”
McKay started to snicker. “Obviously you’ve given up on breaking it to people gently, Daniel.”
John’s mouth twitched at the incredulous, disbelieving expressions on the NCIS team’s faces – except for Abby, who looked about two seconds away from bouncing off the walls in excitement and glee. He couldn’t blame them, since he’d probably have reacted in the same way when he found out – if he hadn’t been nearly shot down by a drone missile and had it explained to him in an alien facility buried under the Antarctic ice and snow.
“Alien.” Gibbs stared at all of them with the exact expression O’Neill feared. “As in…?”
“Every cliché in the book and a whole bunch more you’d never even dreamed of.” Jack assured.
“I knew it! I so knew it!” Abby squealed, the bouncing up and down commencing full force. “Aliens! They’re real! Didn’t I tell you, McGee?!” She gave him a hard punch to the bicep.
“Abby…they’re kidding.” Poor Tim winced and shook his head. “They have to be. There’s just too many things that don’t add up for aliens and UFOs and all that to be real.” He rubbed at his arm, glaring at her. “And OW!”
“I’m afraid it’s the truth.” McKay huffed. “Though…I do understand your reluctance to believe us.”
“Okay, enough. Regardless of whether we believe this ridiculousness or not,” Gibbs shushed his team with a look, “What makes you so certain the documents are related to you? What evidence do you have?”
“Concrete evidence? None. It’s all circumstantial, which is why we need to see them to verify.” Jack sighed, “It’s why we said if they turned out to not be relevant then we’d happily let you do whatever you wanted with them.”
“You have to understand how dangerous having any kind of knowledge of the programme is.” Daniel spoke up, tone serious. “I can’t tell you how many people have been ruined or even died just because they got caught up in it – whether by voluntarily signing up or somehow stumbling into things. It’s a very real risk you’re all into now, even with just what we’ve told you.”
“So why are you telling us?” Ducky asked, frowning at him.
“Because we need your help.” John said before anyone else could speak up. He was solemn, but no less honest. “And because it is better, in the long run, if you’re brought in on our terms than if you kept poking at us yourselves and ended up in the line of fire completely ignorant.”
“After you’ve all signed the forest of trees we’ve killed, which prohibit telling anyone else – and I do mean anyone – about this, we’ll give you the chance to bow out if you want nothing to do with it.” Jack folded his arms over his chest. “We don’t keep people against their will, and we totally understand if any of you don’t want to take the risks involved.”
“But if you do…” McKay smiled faintly, glancing at John first (who smiled back), then at Daniel (who grinned), “…if you do, I promise you’ll learn things that will change how you perceive the world entirely.”
“You won’t scare me off.” Gibbs scowled stubbornly. “So quit with the melodrama.”
“Where he goes,” Tony pointed at the senior agent, “we follow. Isn’t that right, Ziva? McGee?”
“Yes.” Ziva nodded.
“Yeah.” McGee agreed bravely, despite looking apprehensive about it all.
“You couldn’t tear me away with a metric ton of C4.” Abby grinned.
Ducky was silent for a moment, then sighed. “I doubt I will be of much help, Jethro, unless you – god forbid – send me bodies. However, I prefer being in the loop, as it were, than not. I will join you, and help however I can.”
Jack nodded, pleased. “Excellent.” He glanced at his watch. “Close enough. Sheppard.”
John motioned to Teyla and Ronon to join them, and dialled the number that would be routed through to Odyssey, orbiting the planet.
“So…” Tony watched him, frowning slightly. “Exactly where are we going?”
Daniel grinned. “Ever want to be an astronaut, Agent DiNozzo?”
Six sets of eyes blinked at him, and before anyone could speak, the bright glow of the Asgard beam enveloped them all.
Colonel Paul Davis and Richard Woolsey were waiting in the officers’ conference room with Mitchell when they were once again aware of their surroundings. As non-descript as the room was (having had any sort of identifying features removed or covered up by the crew), it was still very obviously not Gibbs’ living room. The NCIS team were in varying states of shock, amazement, confusion, and there was even a little fear.
“What the hell just happened?” It was Ziva who finally demanded explanations, having recovered her voice the fastest. For once, even Gibbs was slightly off-kilter.
Mitchell and Davis snapped to attention and saluted Jack, though their expressions were openly friendly and even amused.
“Sir! Welcome aboard.” Mitchell offered.
“Thank you. At least this time I wasn’t kidnapped.” Jack shot Daniel a look, and pulled out a seat at the head of the oval shaped conference table, dropping down into it. Daniel scowled back and sat next to him, on his right.
“You’re never going to forgive me for that, are you?”
“Not likely, no.”
SGA-1 took seats down the table on Daniel’s side, and the NCIS team slowly moved to seat themselves on Jack’s left. Mitchell excused himself, and Jack motioned for Davis to get to it. Woolsey began distributing the thick folders he had amongst the NCIS members.
“Well, as you’ve been told by General O’Neill, we require you to sign these non-disclosure and confidentiality agreements before you can be further read into the programme. I’m Colonel Paul Davis, the General’s Executive Officer, and I’ll see these are processed immediately. This is Richard Woolsey. He is our country’s representative with the IOA – the International Oversight Advisory committee – which is an international council that oversees the operation of the programme.” Davis began, introducing himself and Woolsey to them.
“So this isn’t just a US operation?” Gibbs asked, flipping open his documents and accepting a pen that was offered.
“It began that way. But something so big and dangerous couldn’t be hidden away forever. Nor could the US continue to fund the programme alone for long.” Woolsey answered. “Please feel free to read through everything before signing where indicated, and ask any questions you may have about the legalities involved.”
“How much funding are we talking about?” Tony wondered.
“Let’s just say the power bill for one day at Cheyenne Mountain gives new meaning to the term ‘astronomical.’” Jack drawled wryly, remembering General George Hammond’s gentle reminders whenever Jack had complained about it in the past.
Ziva took the file Woolsey handed her, pausing before opening it. “My government…they are aware of this also?”
“Yes.” Woolsey nodded. “We have several Israeli personnel involved in another mission, both civilian and military. I spoke with your leaders myself, and they have approved your admission to the programme. If you wish to speak to them first, yourself, it can be arranged.”
Ziva hesitated, glanced at Gibbs, then shook her head. “No, that will not be necessary.” There could be consequences to this, she was certain, but what she could learn here outweighed that so she bravely flipped open the file, took the pen, and began signing away without bothering to read anything.
“Just give us the legal gist of all this, Mr. Woolsey.” Gibbs requested, eyeing the papers. “We don’t have time to read through all this.”
“Basically you’re agreeing to never speak of any of this or any of what may occur during the course of this investigation of this matter to anyone not involved in the programme or approved by the people in charge – in this case, Gen. O’Neill, Col. Sheppard, myself, or Daniel. If you do, you can be arrested, charged, and incarcerated without representation or a trial under the NSA directives listed.” Davis responded before Woolsey could. “It would be very much as if you were a terrorist, and one of the charges would likely be treason. In Officer David’s case, she would be convicted here then returned to her government where, I imagine, they have their own way of dealing with such matters.”
Ziva looked up, expressionless, and said only, “Indeed.”
McGee looked faintly horrified and a little freaked, Tony frowned deeply, and Abby shook her head sadly. Ducky finished signing and closed the file.
“I can assure you that any concern for our discretion is unfounded. We are all quite used to keeping secrets, Colonel.”
Woolsey took out an ink pad from his briefcase and offered it to the M.E. “Right thumb and index finger, Dr. Mallard, on the last page you signed, please.” Ducky obliged, and Woolsey moved along as each one completed their forms. “The documents are as much for your protection as the programme, Doctor. And we believe you are trustworthy or else President Hayes would never have agreed to read you in.”
After a few more moments, the legal issues were completed and Woolsey gathered up all the documents. He and Davis left to process it all, and Jack nudged Daniel with an elbow to go ahead and lay it all out for their NCIS guests.
“Okay, so, you asked what happened, Ziva.” Daniel leaned forward on his arms, folded on the table in front of him. “As I said, we’ve been travelling to other planets for over a decade now. We started out using a device that was discovered on the Giza plateau in 1928. We call it a Stargate, and it operates by generating a stable wormhole between itself and another Gate through which matter and energy can travel the kinds of distances that we once thought were impossible in mere seconds.” Daniel glanced down the table to Rodney briefly. “Dr. McKay is more capable of explaining the science behind it all, but that’s the layman’s explanation.” Rodney nodded magnanimously.
“So anyway, we’ve been exploring planets around the galaxy for over ten years now, and in that time we’ve met many alien peoples – some are friendly, and others…not even a little bit. One of these friendly peoples, a race called the Asgard, were a highly advanced race who had long ago mastered space travel with ships. They helped us to develop and create our own ships for space travel, among other technologies that have been vital to saving the planet many, many times.”
“You are currently on board our best ship in the fleet, the Odyssey.” McKay picked up when Daniel paused to take a breath and let them take it all in. “We are in a low-earth orbit somewhere above North America, I believe. We got here via another handy bit of Asgard tech – a transportation beam that acts almost like a wormhole, where matter is broken down to the molecular level and re-materialized in an instant.”
Abby’s eyes were huge. “Like Star Trek!? Beam me up, Scotty!?”
McKay rolled his eyes in exasperation but nodded when John kicked him lightly under the table in warning, hearing the biting retort his friend typically bestowed on people who asked that question. “Very basically like that, yes, and you do know they never actually said that, right?”
“Oh my god! I’ve entered the Twilight Zone!” Tony gawked. “Or an episode of the X-Files.”
“Aliens? Truly?” Ziva was rather wide-eyed herself. “What do they look like?”
“We can talk about aliens some other time.” Gibbs interrupted, looking somewhat shaken at the new worldview being dumped on them, but still focused enough to drag them all back on topic. “Get to the part where it involves Jenny and those documents you’re so hot to find.”
“Another alien race called the Goa’uld are the ones we’re probably dealing with in this case.” Jack responded. “Well, a specific snake, actually. We’ve been successful in pretty much destroying the bastards, but this one’s been equally successful in surviving. He calls himself Baal, and he controls a group here on Earth known as the Trust.”
“Snake?” McGee wondered.
“The Goa’uld are a parasitic race. They inhabit other beings, and take complete control of them. They are extremely intelligent, and very dangerous. Baal is the last of the System Lords – those Goa’uld that have ruled over the galaxy for thousands of years unchallenged.” Daniel explained, looking grim. “They set themselves up as gods, using the technology and knowledge they’ve scavenged from other races, and kept most of the galaxy under their thumbs with it.”
“Until we came along.” Jack smirked. “Of course…they picked the fight first. Anyway, Baal is the last one, and he’s been doing his best to be a pain in our asses at every opportunity. It’s likely that his organization, the Trust, is responsible for whatever happened to your friend, Agent Gibbs, down in Mexico, and perhaps even what happened to Jenny Sheppard.”
John frowned. “You think the Trust is looking for the documents?”
“Well it can’t be the Russians. They have no reason to go about it so back-ass-wards because of their own significant participation in the programme.” Jack reasoned. “I asked Davis and Woolsey to ask our Russian friends about it, and they deny any involvement. They say if the documents contain any data from that time period where they ran their own programme, they didn’t know about it and have offered any and all assistance in retrieving them.”
“I’m sorry, but…you’re losing us.” Tony interrupted. “What do you mean?”
“The mission Jenny Sheppard was on nine years ago may have inadvertently gotten her involved in the programme. At the time, the Russians were running their own Gate programme using the Gate they recovered from the Atlantic…” Daniel broke off, “…long story. The point is that the documents in question likely contained data from that time period, concerning the Russian’s programme. She may not have known what it was she had, and that other Agent…Decker? He probably didn’t know exactly either. But just having them was risky enough.”
“Jesus.” Sheppard cursed. “With all due respect, sir, when were you planning on telling me – us – this little theory?”
O’Neill’s glare was stony. “Watch it, Colonel. I’m only going to be so tolerant and understanding. And to answer your question, I’d only just put it together with the information Agent Gibbs gave us this evening.”
John flushed and stared hard at the table top, sitting rigidly in his seat. “My apologies, General. It won’t happen again.”
McKay cleared his throat and suggested, “Why don’t we go see how the trace is coming? I’m sure Mitchell has found something by now.”
O’Neill stood up, followed swiftly by everyone else, and nodded. “You do that, McKay. Sheppard, Gibbs, hang back a moment, please.”
Rodney took his cue and gestured for the others to follow him. “Come along, people. I’ll yell if we have something.” He said as he passed by John. Sheppard nodded and watched them file out.
Daniel sat back down in his seat, giving Jack his best innocent face when the older man frowned at him.
“What are you doing?”
“Mediating. It’s what I do.”
Gibbs chuckled. “You’re a quick one.”
Daniel grinned back. “Not really. I just know Jack and his ways far too well.”
“We don’t need mediating, Daniel.” Jack rolled his eyes at his anthropologist. “This is more a mission than an investigation, and Sheppard is lead. I’m involving Gibbs and his team because they may be able to help us, and because the situation with the Navy is already a nightmare. I don’t need it to turn into a catastrophe, too.” Jack turned to the NCIS Agent, meeting his gaze unflinchingly. “I’m sure you understand how this is going to work, Agent Gibbs – how it has to work for the security of the programme. I’d rather not make enemies of you or NCIS by cutting you out of it, but if you don’t think you can deal with it, then…”
“General, I may not like it, but I’m not a fool, and I’m not arrogant enough to believe I have all the answers or that I can handle the situation alone. That you’re allowing us in on this at all is way more than I’ve ever expected or hoped for from anyone outside NCIS.” Gibbs stated, somewhat wry. “We’re low on the intelligence food-chain, so we’re used to being left out in the cold. I don’t have a problem working with your people – so long as my people are never ordered to do anything against my wishes, especially if it involves a situation where they could be injured or killed.”
Jack looked at Sheppard. “You copy?”
“Yes, sir. I’d expect nothing less of myself, sir.”
“Knock it off.” Jack grunted, hating being sir-ed to death. “Alrighty then. Go save the world.” Jack waved them off. “Keep in touch. I’ll be at home.” He eyed Daniel questioningly.
“I’ll stay here, Jack, until this is over.” Daniel responded with a shake of his head.
“Fine. Just…be careful.” Jack warned, hesitating in the doorway. “Sheppard!”
“Sir?” John froze at the bark of his name, coming to attention almost unconsciously.
“Anything happens to him under your watch and I find out…and I will…and it’s your fault…” Jack’s glare froze John’s blood. “A Wraith queen will seem like your fairy godmother compared to me.”
John paled and nodded quickly. “Sir, yes sir!”
Daniel scowled and whacked Jack on the arm. “Stop that! Go home, Jack.”
“Gonna at least see me off?”
“Whatever. Just stop threatening John.”
Still pale, John watched them head for the Ring room. Beside him, Gibbs observed, “You work with some very…interesting people, Sheppard.”
“You don’t know the half of it, Agent Gibbs. We all have to be a little bit crazy to do what we do, I think.” John shook his head and turned, walking to the bridge. Gibbs followed.
“What exactly do you do?” The older man wanted to know.
“I’m the military commander on our base in the Pegasus galaxy. McKay is our Chief Scientist. Teyla and Ronon are both natives of Pegasus who joined up with us to help defeat our own resident evil alien bad guys – the Wraith.” John explained. “They’re nasty. Even worse than the Goa’uld.”
“How?” Gibbs couldn’t believe there was anything worse than a parasite that wanted to take over your body. And did he seriously just think that?
“The Wraith evolved from an insect called the Iratus. Both the bugs and the Wraith feed from the energy of living beings – meaning us humans.” John shuddered, having experienced both, and made a face. “The snakes just want to take us over or enslave us. The Wraith consider us food – cattle – and want to eat us.”
“There’s no word to describe how disturbing it is.” John agreed.
“And Dr. Jackson? What’s his story?”
“Jackson and O’Neill are the programme.” Mitchell responded before John could, having heard the question as Sheppard and Gibbs entered the bridge. “They started it all. Jackson opened the Gate, and O’Neill led the first team through over eleven years ago.”
“I still believe Sam would have done it herself.” McKay grumbled lowly, continuing to have a high opinion of Carter’s abilities despite any past issues he had with her work and her lack of interest in him, personally.
“Rodney…” John warned, then smirked, “And who was it, pray tell, who figured out the eight-symbol address? Not even you can claim that one.”
“Fine, fine! Rub it in some more.”
Mitchell chuckled. “We have quite a few geniuses in the programme…”
John not-so-subtly thwacked Rodney on the arm.
“…well, according to that one,” Mitchell continued, ignoring the glaring contest the two were having (Rodney rubbing his abused arm) and gesturing at McKay, “there are maybe two or three other than himself. But I don’t think he’ll disagree too strongly against saying one of them is Daniel.”
“One of what is me?” The linguist inquired, strolling in.
“A genius.” John grinned, not even wincing when Rodney whacked him on the arm in return. Daniel just looked confused.
“For someone who’s in the soft sciences.” Rodney huffed, grudgingly conceding the point.
Daniel, all too familiar with Rodney’s opinion of both himself and the so-called ‘soft sciences,’ just grinned at him.
“Can we get back to the problem at hand?” Gibbs asked, more concerned with that than what these people did or thought of each other. “General O’Neill said you were running a trace?”
“Yep.” Mitchell nodded and went to take his seat in the dreaded Chair. “Major Lacey, if you would…” he requested of his communications officer and swivelled in the chair to face the large screen to his left. Gibbs walked up close to it as a geographical map popped.
“The call was made from a payphone outside what scans show to be a service station.” The Major informed them all. “Records declare the place abandoned and is slated for demolition in a month.”
“Okay…but…” Tony was frowning at the screen. “Why was he in Phoenix? I thought he was in Mexico? And how did you run a trace when you don’t have Gibbs’ number? It’s unlisted!”
Ziva pulled a Gibbs and smacked Tony upside the head. “You do not seriously believe they have no way of getting unlisted numbers, Tony.”
“Ow!” Tony glared hard at her. “You do not get to do that!”
“First flight he could get?” McGee suggested, ignoring them.
“Following a lead.” Ziva speculated, smirking at Tony.
“Or a random destination to throw off anyone following him.” Gibbs said, turning away from the screen. “I doubt he’s even in the city any longer. He’s either moved on or…something happened to him.”
A moment of silence descended over the bridge, and it was Ducky who broke it.
“Jethro, if he’s no longer there, as you suspect, then how do you expect to find him?”
Gibbs didn’t answer, but did start giving orders. “Tony, take Ziva and McGee down to that payphone and take a look around.”
“What are we looking for, boss?” Tony asked.
“Oh, I don’t know, DiNozzo…anything! I want to know if he just left or was removed.” Gibbs snapped.
“Right! On it!” Tony knew when to cut and run, and started toward the door automatically, only to stop abruptly when he remembered he was hovering above the planet in a spaceship. “Uh…”
“We’ll beam you wherever you like, Agent DiNozzo.” Mitchell assured. “But first…you’ll all need to stop by our infirmary.”
They all looked at him. “What? The infirmary? Why?” McGee asked, confused and looking a tad worried.
“So the Doc can outfit each of you with a very small, sub-coetaneous transmitter. It’s how we’ll be able to find you and beam you out of places, if necessary, but will be completely untraceable by anyone but ourselves – the programme.” Mitchell explained.
Abby clearly wanted to ask all sorts of questions, practically bouncing up and down in place where she stood. McGee just nodded, not looking quite as worried as before but still unsettled. Tony was frowning – almost as much as Ziva and Gibbs. Ducky just shook his head.
“Col. Mitchell, I do not believe that such measures are necessary for myself or Abigail. We are not field agents, and I doubt very much that we’ll be called upon in such a capacity.” The M.E. stated quietly. “In fact, it may be best if you returned Abby and myself to Gibbs’ home, so that we might return to work in the morning as normally as possible. Our Director will be curious about tonight’s events, and even more so about all their whereabouts when they do not return to work.”
“Jack will handle that.” Daniel assured, but shared a look with Mitchell. “We can always drop in if we need them…”
“You’re staying aboard?” His teammate asked.
“Mitchell shrugged and slouched in the Chair, looking over at Sheppard. “Your party, Shep.”
“If they want to leave, then fine. It would probably be best as Dr. Mallard said.” John shrugged, too, passing the decision along. “Gibbs?”
“Yeah. Go Duck, Abby. Keep an eye on things back at the office.” Gibbs raised an eyebrow at Abby, who looked extremely unhappy at being about to be removed from her dream. “Abby, you know you can’t stay here or take anything back to play with.”
“Yeah, but…how am I supposed to work and act normal as if you and Tony and Ziva and McGee aren’t out chasing down aliens? Aliens, Gibbs!” She bemoaned. McGee patted her shoulder consolingly.
“Bad guys, Abby. Alien or not, they’re bad guys, and we catch ‘em. Not so different than our usual cases, right?” Tony said, smiling at her. “We’ll keep in touch.”
“Promise?” When they nodded, she sighed and went to stand next to Ducky. “Fine. But if we don’t get regular check-ins…”
“We’ll take good care of them, Miss Sciuto.” Sheppard promised. He nodded at Mitchell, who gave the command to beam the two back to Gibbs’ living room. A bright light surrounded Abby and Ducky and in the next instant they were gone.
“We’ve got gear for all of you waiting.” Cameron announced, rising from the Chair and motioning for SGA-1 and the NCIS team to follow him. “Come along, boys and girls, and let’s get over to the Doc for those sub-cues.”