Title:  Understudy

Rating: PG-13 for suggestive situations and language.  Yes, I know that's a crime with this premise.  Best I can do.

Disclaimer:  The characters are the property of Bad Robot and JJ Abrams. 

Summary:  Jack goes undercover(s).   Mission, J/I angst, humor.

Timeframe: Mid S3. 

Author's Note:  This fic is three stories intertwined – the mission itself and the comic fluff associated with it; the J/I angst that gets dredged up; and a coming of age piece for a new agent. 

Chapter 1

Neil Richards scanned the dimly lit office, buried on the basement level of a decaying office building.  Stained ceiling tiles, peeling paint, and worn linoleum spoke of decades of neglect.  He had worked summers for his father's construction company, refurbishing places like this; that career path had never seemed more alluring than at this very moment.

Crammed into the 8x8 windowless room were two aging video monitors, a desk, a chair, and a computer terminal.  He glumly fingered his brand new id badge and sat down with a sigh.  Somehow he had imagined a slightly more exotic setting for his first assignment with the CIA.


"Agent Richards, reporting for duty, sir!"  Enthusiasm radiated in strong waves off the newly minted agent, fresh from training.

A balding supervisor glanced up from the stacks of files on his desk as Richards briskly entered.  "Richards…Richards," he repeated to himself distractedly as he removed his bifocals to get a better look.  "Oh, yes, I remember.  Welcome to the CIA, son."

"Thank you, sir!"

"We don't follow the strict chain-of-command here in Analysis," said the supervisor dryly.  "You can drop the sir's."

"Yes, sir!"

 Biting back a rebuke, the supervisor looked more closely at the newest member of his staff.  "How old are you?" he asked skeptically.

"I'm in college, sir."

"Congratulations.  I'm sure your parents are proud of you.  But that wasn't the question."

"Seventeen, sir," replied Richards, slightly deflated.

"Hot shot, eh?"

Richards hesitated, unsure how to answer without sounding cocky.  That his test scores at age 13 would have gained him entrance to most colleges was a matter of record; that few people wished to know this, a matter of experience.

"Never mind.  I'm sure there's a reason you were recruited, son.  You'll spend the next 6 months here in Analysis."  The supervisor thumbed through the files on his desk.  "I think I've got – yes, this will be perfect.  For your first assignment, I want you to transcribe the tapes for 'Operation Trojan Horse', which has just been completed."

"Transcribe, sir?"

"Hearing an issue, Richards?"

"No, sir.  But I'm not sure I understand."

"Look. Listen. Type."


The supervisor unbent slightly at Richards' crestfallen expression.  "Best way to learn, son.  Watch the seasoned professionals in action.  See how they react to the situations they face, the types of decisions they make."

"I see, sir."

The supervisor scanned the sheet in front of him.  "And you're in luck.  Jack Bristow was the field agent on this mission.  He's one of the best.  He started at your age, too."  Three videotapes, a stack of photographs with names, and a pair of glasses slid across the table.  "Mission briefing, mission support and communications base, and mission debriefing," the supervisor enumerated, pointing to each tape in turn.  "Plus ID photos of the agents you'll see."

"And the glasses, sir?"

"Worn by Bristow throughout the op.  Equipped with a micro-recorder.  You'll get video and audio.  Match that up with the videotapes; create one summary transcript of everything that happened.  Got it?"

"Yes, sir," replied Richards without enthusiasm.  He got it.

"And remember what we expect of new agents."

"Attention to detail and judgment," parroted Richards mechanically  "Sir."

"Welcome aboard, Richards."


Loosening his tie, Richards sat at the keyboard and placed the glasses into the port attached to one of the monitors.  He waited impatiently.

Humming.  The screen was dark, but the clear sound of off-key humming could be heard through the speakers.

Humming?  Was he supposed to record that in the transcript?  Attention to detail was important, he reminded himself.  But why wasn't there any video?

"Testing…1…2…3.  C'mon, transmit for daddy….Woohoo!  It works!"  Several unidentifiable noises were heard, then the video sprang to life, showing a short, awkward individual admiring himself in the mirror.  He was wearing the glasses.

Resident geek, sniffed Richards.  He riffled through the photos, but found nothing matching the individual on his monitor. 

"Operations Technical Support" he typed, "performed audio and visual crosschecks on the equipment prior to the mission."  He'd use some judgment as well.

"Flinkman, Marshall Flinkman," intoned Marshall in a deep voice while striking a pose in front of the mirror.

Richards smirked as he carefully added the name "Marshall Flinkman" to the transcript.

"Aren't you supposed to be on your way to the briefing?" came a woman's voice behind him.

Marshall turned around quickly, looking sheepish. 

The glasses panned the room and Richards sat up a little straighter as they settled on a lithe form smiling with gentle amusement at Marshall.  Glancing at the pictures in front of him, he quickly identified the voice as belonging to Sydney Bristow.  He gave a low whistle of appreciation.

"Agent S Bristow confirmed briefing attendance with Flinkman," he typed.

"Oh, hey Syd.  Just on my way."  Marshall carefully folded the glasses, grabbed a stack of folders, and hurried out of the room to join her.

Together they loped through the halls to the conference room, only to stop uneasily at the door.  Devlin, Dixon, and Jack were huddled together at the far end of the room.  Jack's lips were set in an angry line.

"Sydney, Marshall, leave your things and give us 30 minutes, will you?" requested Dixon, looking up.  "And let everyone else know."

"Sure," they said simultaneously.  Marshall hastily dumped his folders on the table, setting the glasses down next to them, and they both backed out.

The faux wood grain that filled the screen in front of him told Richards that Marshall had left the glasses face down.  By turning up the volume on the glasses to MAX, however, he was just able to hear the low conversation across the room.

"The answer is no," said Jack tightly.  "You, of all people, should know that Ben."  His head swiveled to Dixon.  "And if you had given me the *courtesy* of discussing this in person, Marcus, you wouldn't have wasted Director Devlin's time." 

Dixon didn't flinch.  "My job is to evaluate the mission risks and make the best decision for all the personnel involved.  This option is the best, and safest, way to proceed."

"What the hell's that supposed to mean?"

"Jack, it's been almost 25 years," interjected Devlin in a reasonable tone.  "You're not married.  You excelled at these missions earlier in your career.  Is there something else you're not telling us?"  He looked slightly uncomfortable.  "A…medical reason, perhaps?"

Jack's voice turned arctic. "I refuse a mission on principle, and you're asking if I can get it up?"

Devlin held up his hands in surrender.  "Fine, Jack.  Fine."  Dixon opened his mouth, but Devlin cut him off.  "Just let him read the analysis, Marcus.  Perhaps he can find something we missed." 

Dixon nodded in understanding.  "Very well.  Thank you for your time, Director.  I'm sorry to have bothered you."  Soberly he handed the file to Jack.  "You've got 25 minutes, Jack.  Review it and you can present the alternative plan at the briefing."  He escorted Devlin left the room together.

What the hell was that all about?  Richards stared at his keyboard, perplexed.  "Director Devlin, Director Dixon, and Agent Jack Bristow discussed the mission.  No agreement was reached," he typed.

Richards skipped through the next 25 minutes, but nothing additional could be heard beyond the sound of pages being turned and the occasional muttered oath.  Eventually the room began to fill for the mission briefing.  He leaned over and popped the video for the briefing into the player.  Freeze framing it at the start, he quickly identified the participants.  "Mission briefing attendees: Flinkman, S. Bristow, Weiss, Vaughn, J. Bristow, Director Dixon."

He zoomed in on Jack Bristow and considered him carefully for several minutes.  Graying hair, conservative dresser, a face which gave away little.  'One of our best field agents', his supervisor had called him.  If so, thought Richards skeptically, he certainly hid it well.  He noticed that Bristow's eyes would occasionally flick in his daughter's direction.  What must it be like to work with your father, he wondered?  He tried to imagine working with his mother on a CIA taskforce and shuddered.  All she would do was worry.

"...our source informs us that the genetic fingerprint for the Covenant's mutated plague virus is stored at this location in Prague."  Jack Bristow pressed a button on the remote and a picture of an elegant villa appeared on the screen.  "It's critical that we obtain a copy of the fingerprint so that our labs can design a vaccine prior to dispersal by the Covenant.  Dispersal," he added heavily, "is imminent."

"Do we know the location of the information?" Vaughn leant closer to get a better look.

"Yes."  A floor plan replaced the exterior photo.  "A concealed safe in a small study adjoining the master bedroom."  

"Sounds straightforward.  When do we leave?" asked Sydney.

"Not straightforward."  An aerial shot of the villa replaced the floor plan.  "Defensive countermeasures that we are aware of include weight sensitive anti-personnel mines on the perimeter; attack dogs, and snipers on the roof.  There is no underground service access and overhead power lines preclude the possibility of parachuting in.  Analysis indicates that hostile penetration would be," Jack shot a look at Dixon and took a deep breath, "close to suicidal."

"So how are we getting in?"

"Escorted by the owner."

"How am I going to accomplish that?"

"Not you, Sydney.  Me."