The plot was indirectly suggested by two stories by Don Sample, Harry Potter and the Key of Dagon and Misunderstandings, but is not directly based on either. Both stories are thoroughly recommended. I've offered Don the use of this plot, but he's kindly let me keep it.
I'm British, so's my spelling. Live with it.
by Marcus L. Rowland
Prologue: California, 2004
"Few miles further east," said the helicopter pilot, "and it'd be a problem for the Nevada police. Like to see how they'd handle this one on CSI. As it is we're stuck with it, unless the Air Force takes it off our hands."
"Can you circle the area before we land?" asked Colonel Jack O'Neill. "I'd like to get an idea of the terrain."
Ahead the rough road the police helicopter was following passed a burned-out service station, where at least a dozen California State Police cars and jeeps were parked. Jack grimaced as he noticed a satellite news van amongst them, a camera following the helicopter. There was no way this was going to be kept quiet.
"The pit's a few hundred yards out," said the pilot, banking the helicopter to the left of the road and circling as requested. "Ahead at about two o'clock, near the big tent, where the excavator and the crime lab wagon and the Air Force trucks are parked."
"I see it. Any idea how many bodies?"
"This morning's briefing said forty or so, give or take the odd arm and leg." As the helicopter circled Jack saw a dozen white-clad figures slowly excavating a pit about thirty feet square and eight feet deep.
"Anything new on how they got there?"
"Not that I've heard."
"Okay, take her down."
The helicopter continued circling and dropped towards a roughly marked landing area, with a flag to show wind direction. Jack was pleased to see that there was a low dune blocking the line of sight to the service station. With luck the TV news crew wouldn't be able to film him.
As soon as it had landed a young Air Force technical sergeant ran to the helicopter, stooped low to avoid the rotor blades, saluted, and said "Colonel O'Neill?"
Jack returned the salute, and said "Be awkward if I wasn't."
"I'm Sergeant Cooper, sir. Lieutenant Henderson's over at the forensics tent."
"Okay." He climbed out and followed him, saying "You here when they found the bodies?"
"Okay. Want to tell me what happened?"
"Sir, Lieutenant Henderson..."
"Can wait. Let me have it in your own words."
"Sir. We were sent from Vandenberg to retrieve a target drone that went off-course and crashed out here. Telemetry said it went in hard, so we had digging gear. While we were getting it out Corporal Ryan came across the remains of an arm..." For a moment he looked pale.
"Just an arm?"
"It looked like it had been torn off, what was left of it."
"So you called it in?"
"We radioed the base, they called the police."
"What happened then?"
"When the first State Police helicopter arrived they noticed that the ground looked disturbed a couple of hundred feet from the crash site. Wasn't something you could see from ground level."
"Reminds me, why didn't you fly out yourselves?"
"The digging equipment's too heavy for a helicopter, and we knew the crash position from the onboard GPS so we didn't need to make an aerial search."
"Okay, so what happened when the police arrived?"
"We were already here with digging equipment, so after they questioned us we were asked to help."
"The Lieutenant called the base, they told us to co-operate."
"And you found..?"
"A pit full of bodies in chain mail."
"Like you see in the Robin Hood films. Chain mail, helmets, metal gloves, like Robin Hood or those re-enactment guys."
"They had swords, bows, axes and shields."
"Buried with them?"
"Yes sir. Kinda neatly arranged, someone must have laid them out. Respectful, if you see what I mean."
"Okay. Let's go see your Lieutenant." Cooper led Jack towards a large tent, big enough to accommodate a small mess hall or a wedding reception. It was full of stretchers, each holding a desiccated-looking corpse in chain mail.
Henderson was a tall blond in his late thirties, wearing a sweat-soaked tunic with campaign ribbons from Bosnia and Iraq. Jack identified his insignia as Air Force Intelligence. He was talking to a white-coated civilian, but broke off the conversation and saluted as soon as Jack entered the tent.
"Easy, Lieutenant," said Jack. "You want to take me some place quiet and explain why I'm here?"
"Follow me, Colonel." He led the way to a smaller tent with camouflage patterns, opened a foot-locker, and pulled out some cans. "You want a beer?"
"Maybe later. What's this about? What the hell are you doing calling in a Foothold? Come to that, how do you even know what a Foothold is?"
"Um.. To be honest, I think I may have jumped the gun, but I was told that it was better to be safe than sorry."
"In oh-two I was attached to Homeland Security in Las Vegas. We got briefed on a lot of weird stuff, indicators of terrorist activity. One of them was pretty much what we found. An organised body of armed men wearing chain mail with tattoos on their foreheads. SOP for that is to call in a Foothold, whatever that means."
"What tattoos? Those guys were mummified corpses. Couldn't see anything on their heads."
"According to the crime scene experts, every one of those bodies had a tattoo. They're faded now, but show up pretty well with UV light."
"How did they find them so fast?"
"I remembered the instructions and asked them to look."
"Lieutenant, you didn't jump the gun." He pulled out his satellite phone, checked the signal strength, and speed-dialled the SGC. "This is Colonel O'Neill. I'm calling this in as a possible, repeat possible Foothold, no signs of current hostile activity but evidence that something went down here."