Chapter Seventeen: Back to Your Regularly Scheduled Programming
The Stargate sprinkled to life and everyone in the gate room held their breath expectantly. The threshold shot out and General Hammond felt his own heart skip a beat. Was she successful or wasn't she? Was this soldier, this man-made soldier, going to bring back his most prized team to him or was she going to fail in the task?
One thing was for certain: Cassidy Faith was on her way back. It was her code that allowed the Iris to come open; her code that promised a fleet full of snake heads weren't on their way. General Hammond could only pray that it was her code telling him it was all going to be all right.
The figures that rolled through were unclear at first. The commotion all happened so fast it was hard for his brain to register what the commotion was about. What he did understand was the order to shut the gate off, an order the Chief had no problem responding to. Five figures lay exhausted on the ramp unmoving. For a moment, General Hammond worried that they were dead. Upon reflection, he realized this was untrue as one of them had to be the orderer.
A sigh of relief escaped Hammond's lips as he saw someone's head lift from the ramp. Quickly as he could, the General raced down to the gate room to see for himself that SG-1 was okay. The gray-haired veteran entered through the doors just in time to hear, "Do you know how many Simpsons I've missed?! I'm going to have to pay a pretty penny to see those!"
Someone snorted. "Way to have priorities, Jack. We just almost died and you're worried about the Simpsons."
"I do have priorities. Simpsons are pretty high up there. Simpsons, beer, and fishing."
"What about saving the world, ColonelO'Neill? Is that also not a high priority?"
Silence hung in the air as everyone tested out their limbs to see if they were working. "I could do with a little less bruising sometimes."
Samantha nodded her head in response. "I'd agree with that, Colonel. Aren't we due for a vacation sometime in the near future?"
Cassidy stood up and looked around for a moment before her eyes met General Hammond's. She had been gone for 84 hours and still looked like she was fresh-eyed and bushy-tailed. Her stamina must be quite extensive, he mused, as the others looked like they had been put through the ringer. But then, they had all been held captive and she had been free, right? One look at Colonel O'Neill caused Hammond a bit of worry, however. He was looking at Faith as though she were a broken animal that shouldn't be walking around. Had she not gotten out unscathed?
The question evaporated as the young woman approached the General. SG-1 took their time standing up as Frasier fussed over them. "Mission Accomplished, General. When can I expect to be returned to home base?"
General Hammond took in a deep breath. "I'm afraid I don't understand the question, Captain."
"X5-454, sir. When will I be returned to Manticore?"
"Captain Faith, you won't be returning to Manticore."
The young woman stared blankly at him, though she didn't fool the aging man one bit. Behind those dark eyes was a mind that matched Carter's in every way, if not more. He had no doubt if SG-1 were paired with her they would be an unstoppable force in this universe. It was just convincing her to stay that could be the problem. "Sir?"
"The US government has purchased you, Captain Faith. You are now property of Stargate Command."
This answer seemed to satisfy her, a result that left a pit inside the General's stomach. She was supposed to be fighting for her right to choose, not accepting the fact that she had been purchased to do others' will. "Very good, sir. I will undergo Dr. Frasier's medical examination and will be available to you directly after."
Cassidy saluted before marching out of the room. A chill went down Hammond's spine. How the hell were they going to deprogram her?
Briefing Room, One Hour Later
Anderson stared across the table at his friend. He had been cleared to attend the briefing mostly because Frasier had taken pity on him and his curious ways. Anderson had needed to see Cassidy with his own eyes to believe that it was really her. He still wasn't sure what to think about her non-humanness, but he was willing to work for the greater good.
"And then the snake bastards threw us into a cell with minimal provisions. Didn't even have the courtesy to give us a bed. They interrogated each of us, but nothing too violent. This one," Jack gestured toward Faith, "showed up before they got the good stuff out."
General Hammond nodded. Jack's revisiting of the missions were always amusing to say the least. "Captain Faith?"
She stared at him defiantly. He stared back unmoved. Sam coughed a bit before nudging Cassidy a bit and drew back quite surprised when the soldier immediately tensed up. If there were armed guards in the room, they would have taken that as a sign to move a little closer to the soldier. As it were, they were outside waiting for the signal Hammond didn't want to provide them. "Cassidy?" Sam said quietly. She was a bit unsure of what was going on.
"CaptainFaith?" Teal'c asked with an eyebrow raised. Cassidy did not acknowledge any of them. Instead, she stared straight ahead.
"X5-454." Anderson finally said. He was clearly not happy with the situation. "Isn't that the designation they force you to respond to as if you're not human? The numbers they give you to convince you that you are nothing more than a machine? That you don't matter in the scheme of things? Isn't that right, X5-454?"
Her eyes connected with him for a moment and in that instant he found a little hope. He could have sworn a flash of anger had crossed the cool windows of Cassidy's soul. "My designation is X5-454." She said it to inform the others that was what she was to be addressed as, but her voice had a bit of defiance in it. "I crossed the gate at exactly 1604 during the five second lapse in Apophis' shielding. The gate was rather heavily guarded; I assume they were expecting the SGC to try to save their team. They were, however, not prepared for me.
"In their momentary confusion of being greeted with a single entity, I took down the two nearest guards and used their bodies as shields temporarily while I contracted their weaponry. The other five were down within three minutes. After gaining control of the area, I set up a perimeter of C4 explosives in anticipation of my return.
"I gained access after 63 minutes and forced ten more losses to the enemy. Once within the facility, I did not reach SG-1 until 80 hours later due to some extenuating circumstances. The rescue and extraction was completed with the aid of SG-1 within two hours and forty minutes. Upon entry of the perimeter, Daniel Jackson engaged the gate and we entered through just before the enemy soldiers opened fire. Immediately prior to stepping through the gate, I engaged the C4. Anticipated casualty for the enemy is a minimum of thirty."
"What happened in the 80 hours?" Daniel asked out of ignorance. The team had all assumed that Cassidy had only just arrived when she walked into the room and literally ripped the door off its hinges. Of course, they hadn't had much time for small talk and all – the Goa'uld were pretty pissed off and in immediate pursuit of them.
Cassidy did not hesitate, nor did she remove her eyes from the invisible point she had selected on the wall. "There was an unforeseen problem upon entry that had to be rectified before I could continue further."
"Such as, Captain?" Jack's voice was loaded with concern. Moments passed as she did not respond to him. "Oh for cryin!" He took a breath. "What caused the 80 hour delay, 454? Did you go for a walk in the park?"
"Apophis's security systems were more advanced than had previously been predicted. I allowed myself to be captured in order to assess the situation and gain control of the system. 78 hours were spent in enemy control."
Sam shifted in her seat. "But you look fine. They didn't harm you?"
Her question caused SG-1 to all look around at each other. They appeared as though someone had used them as punching bags several times, which wasn't far from the truth. Their eyes trailed back to the young woman sitting stiffly in her chair. She appeared unscathed. "Damage sustained was minimal."
Dr. Frasier cleared her throat. "I'm afraid I'm going to have to interject here. According to our reports, Cassidy endured a little more injury than is visible. From what I can guess, she has remarkable healing abilities that are programmed in with her DNA. Hell, with the iguana DNA I found, she'd probably be able to grow back a limb."
Cassidy shook her head. "Regeneration of major limbs has not been successfully performed with the X5 series, though earlier series showed promise. Human DNA thwarts the ability too much. Internal regeneration is enhanced."
"You know about all this?" General Hammond asked the soldier. She was revealing more to them now than ever before. Was it because they owned her?
"Of course, General. It is my prerogative to know my limitations and to the benefit of those I serve. Knowing how far I can push myself successfully can lend to the success of the mission."
"Well, in this case, you pushed them pretty far." Doctor Frasier interjected. "From what I can estimate, Captain Faith suffered extensive internal injuries while captive. Upon her return to us, she was still bleeding internally and had an erratic heart beat due to blood loss. There was also indication of some slight bruising around her face, which has now completely disappeared. Given Cassidy's regenerative qualities, my guess is that she was in a much worse state prior to her return."
Everyone looked expectantly at Cassidy, though she didn't move. "What did they do to you, Cassidy?" Jack asked with empathy in his voice. He had endured the snake head's wrath many times before and knew it wasn't a treat.
"I allowed myself to fall into their custody for the good of the mission, Colonel. It is irrelevant what they did to me during my time of captivity. What matters is the end result, does it not?"
"Not here, CaptainFaith. We are interested in the journey as well." Teal'c gazed upon her with a wealth of respect. To be a soldier who endured a severe beating as Apophis undoubtedly bestowed and still find enough inner strength to rescue others was astonishing for the most seasoned veteran. For such a young woman to do it was unheard of.
Cassidy's eyes broke off from the spot on the wall and met Teal'c gaze for only a moment. He held her stare for as long as she would allow. Somewhere in there was the person he had come to admire very deeply. "Apophis was rather curious about my regenerative traits that Dr. Frasier discovered. He found them after the first few hours of interrogation and began to experiment. At one point, he attempted to put me in the sarcophagus, but it didn't work."
"They only put you in the sarcophagus when they fear you're about to die or you're dead and they aren't done with you yet." Daniel said. He stared at the young woman and took a deep breath. Had he really recruited her for this? Was he the cause for her pain?
"That is correct, DanielJackson."
Jack asked the obvious question. "Why didn't the sarcophagus work?"
Sam responded. "Most likely, Cassidy's mixed DNA is to blame. The Sarcophagus was built to repair hosts, not to regenerate other animals. With Cassidy's ancestry, it most likely didn't recognize her as a viable candidate for regeneration."
"Apophis allowed me to rest in guest quarters with two guards. He assumed I was going to die soon anyway and was unsure as to why the sarcophagus was not able to work on me. I heard him speaking in the hallway to his assistants that if I survived he was intending to make me a host. He wanted to know if the Goa'uld could use me." She hesitated for a moment. "I do not know more as I fell asleep. The injuries were too much for me to sustain a conscious state. I do not know for how long I was tortured or for how long I rested. Upon regaining consciousness, I engaged the guards and used what knowledge I had procured of the enemy security systems to gain access to SG-1."
"Doctor, did you run all of the scans?" General Hammond asked tentatively as he thought about Cassidy's recollection of the events.
Doctor Frasier nodded. His worry was well within reason. If Apophis had successfully attached a symbiote to Cassidy while she had rested, there was no telling what sort of trouble they could be in. Cassidy was already powerful without the aid of a Goa'uld inside her. With one? Who knows what she might be capable of? "There were no traces of symbiote activity within Cassidy's body. It's safe to assume she was not made to be a host while she was off-world."
"Apophis will search for Cassidy to either be his mate or his own host due to her unique characteristics. He will be determined to see what happens if she is made to be a successful host." Teal'c offered the frightening possibility to everyone at the table.
"And what happens if Apophis finds out there's a whole farm of you guys up in Washington just waiting to be made into a Goa'uld army?" Anderson asked with a bit of disdain in his voice. He missed his friend, but he certainly did not want the world to end over her.
Cassidy looked at him. "He will be walking into his worst nightmare. An entire army of specially trained soldiers that have no problem killing anyone. Their objective would be to protect Manticore and Manticore's technology. I doubt Apophis would stand much of a chance."
"You seem pretty confident of that, 454." Jack noted, illuminating her designation with a voice of disdain.
"May I be frank, sir?" Cassidy was addressing General Hammond as he was the most senior in the room, but was clearly not impressed by Jack's comment. Turning, she stared the Colonel down with cold, calculating eyes. "You trained for how long, Colonel? A few weeks? Special Ops training gave you a couple months? Granted, your career has been rather sparkled with impressive maneuvers but you've only been active for 25 years? Give or take?"
Colonel O'Neill nodded. "Give or take. What's your point?"
"I may be fresh out of your Air Force Academy, but I have been training as a soldier since I was able to walk. And prior to that I was being mentally washed with a variety of images and concepts that were meant to stimulate my intellectual development. I killed my first person at five, Colonel. Soldiers are taught intensively seven days a week, all hours of the day. Forgive me if I would think that Apophis in all his assumed power is not a match for an army of us."
"You escaped, Cassidy. Do you remember that?" Anderson stared across the table. "Do you remember being fed up with the abuse and the ill-appreciation? The need for freedom?"
Cassidy stared back at him. "I made a mistake when I was twelve and don't intend to repeat that mistake."
"Your quest for freedom was not a mistake, CaptainFaith. It was your right."
The soldier returned her gaze to the spot on the wall and did not acknowledge anyone. She had obviously grown tired of the situation. General Hammond sighed. "SG-1, you've been allotted some time off over the next few days. Your orders are to take X5-454 with you."
Cassidy stared back at the General. "Sir, I would prefer to remain on base."
Hammond shook his head. He had already anticipated this. "No, 454, it's a direct order. You are to accompany SG-1 to Jack's cabin."
The soldier did not protest further. She knew what a direct order meant. Jack nodded his head slowly. The reprogramming process was not going to be easy. Good thing they had Teal'c with them or he'd have to consider bringing along a nuclear bomb. X5-454 was not a being to be messed with.