A/N: This story is being posted as a Christmas gift for a friend who wanted Sam gen. Hopefully I can get it finished in time.
Deep space radar telemetry.
Eastman dropped his gaze disapprovingly to the foot Colonel O'Neill was tapping against the floor, then turned back to the files on his desk. Next to a small stack of five personnel files were two letters, the first being from General Hammond explaining what he needed from the CO of Hurlburt Air Force Base.
The second was signed by the President.
Eastman grunted. The George Hammond he vaguely remembered had been an USAF-approved pain in the butt. Still, his men had respected him, and in spite of the success of the missions under his command, large numbers of his soldiers had returned alive. However, Eastman considered the serious possibility that flying a desk must have driven the man insane.
Given that Major Carter's father was a General and the fact she spent two years in Washington, he could understand how she had gotten as far as she had. Her Academy grades had been unbelievable. He would bet his next three pays that she made a great think-tank soldier. But he sure as hell did not want some combat wash-out scoring brownie points on his base. How long had she lasted as a combat pilot? Eight months? Christ.
O'Neill's foot had stopped bouncing, and his hand was now using a pen to beat an irritating tattoo against one BDU-clad knee. Eastman had no clue why he was gritting his teeth instead of ordering the man to stop. He was the one wearing the stars. Unfortunately, this had somehow turned into a battle of wills and he could not pinpoint exactly when war had been declared. Be damned, however, if this paper-pushing, politico would win.
Carter made all too much sense. The linguist made sense. Sort of. With his years in the Middle East, he was most likely an ex-CIA asset. No doubt they had him translating grocery lists and listening in while the Ayatollah got it on with his harem - just in case the pillow talk proved interesting. Hell, even the unspecified technical specialist with the unspecified "allied army" background made sense. He was probably Israeli.
Eastman suspected that Brightman was just a victim of bad timing. What a bullshit exercise. A linguist, an astrophysicist, an unspecified technical specialist, and an over-the-hill desk jockey who was probably a blue flame burn-out. All because their department had scored low on a few efficiency tests. Eastman paused as something in the file he was reading jumped out at him.
He eyed O'Neill sourly. "You did several months Combat Search and Rescue in Vietnam?"
O'Neill grimaced," I always thought it was more search than rescue, but maybe that's just me."
Eastman felt his head snap back. The tattoo increased in tempo and expanded to include thumb taps. The sound scraped another layer off the nerves the Colonel was already grating and the flip attitude implied a disrespect to the pararescuers under Eastman's command that he was not prepared to ignore. Not from some PTSD ex-hotshot who spent seven years parked under a mountain when they had desperately needed combat pilots out participating in actual combat.
That said everything he needed to know about Colonel O'Neill.
Except why he was here.
He glared at the files in front of him.
Colonel John "Jack" O'Neill did not make sense.
Nobody this irritating, with a service history as bland as this man's would ever have made it to Colonel without a hell of a lot of help. Pilot, a few special ops extractions - no doubt also as pilot, a three year teaching tour here at Hurlburt back in the early 80's, and then a series of tours as Air Force Liaison to quiet, remote military bases. Consistently rated as calm, quiet, professional, dedicated if a bit introverted, and good at getting his reports in on time. All in all, the unremarkable portrait of the perfect desk jockey.
"Do you have an evil twin running around, Colonel?" he finally asked sourly.
The tapping paused. "Sir?"
Eastman held up his file,"I have no bloody idea what the hell you are doing sitting in this office."
O'Neill shrugged. "Just looking to get some extra training for my team, Sir."
Eastman snorted. "Your team."
Oh, he had no doubts this motley group were a team. But the way the Colonel said it grated. Like he actually believed it meant the same thing as it did to the rest of the soldiers on this base. Bah. The very thought was an insult. Team. What the hell would a man like this know about what it meant to be part of team? Eastman narrowed his eyes, then smiled mirthlessly.
"And Major Carter? Why is she here again?" Other than to make grade at the expense of someone who had actually earned the slot?
For a split second absolute contempt crossed the Colonel's face and it was not until O'Neill tossed the pen back on the desk and regarded his superior officer coldly that Eastman realized it was directed at him. Reflex locked his muscles as a familiar feeling crawled across his spine and he stared into flat brown eyes. Frost coated the Colonel's next words with an arctic edge.
"She likes to blow stuff up."
Eastman's eyes widened. The nervous energy was gone. Smoothed into a lethal readiness that shimmered off a lean physique that suddenly looked a hell of a lot more predatory than it had a few minutes ago. Atavistic instinct sent a spurt of adrenalin into his bloodstream as recognition warred with annoyance. Eastman slammed his hand down on the desk.
He did not need this shit this week.
He glared at the SpecOps officer watching him and grabbed for Major Carter's file. Damn it! He hated when he ended up looking like an idiot. He had missed something. He knew that fact as well as he knew that the man sitting there smiling blandly was as much an operator as the rest of the men running around his base. Damn it to hell and back again.
Just what had Hammond sent him?
The DD 214s for Colonel O'Neill, Major Carter, Captain Brightman were classified into the stratosphere. Not just need-to-know, but situationally capable of kissing the President's ass classified. Eastman frowned and flipped through O'Neill's file a bit more closely. From the looks of things, sometime in 1998, almost ten years of service history had disappeared. A surgery that appeared not to have occurred with either Dr. Brightman or Major Carter.
It was almost as if someone had simply taken a red pencil and starting removing things. In addition to oddly spaced gaps, there were numerous tours to remote bases as Air Force Liaison Officer and two large gaps, one in 1991 and one in 1994 officially labeled stress leave.
Enlisted at 18 in 1970. Transferred laterally in 1972 to hump communications equipment through the Vietnamese jungle for Captain William Garrin, O'Neill was assigned as the Air Force ROMAD attached to an army unit whose activities were still classified. The whole unit disappeared in 1973 - coincidentally just before the official pull-out - and everyone was reported MIA.
O'Neill resurfaced nine months later in a stateside VA hospital, suffering from a broken leg and withdrawal symptoms from the heroin some village farmer had used to treat the pain. So far, so good - except that the official record had ended with the presumed death of John O'Neill, MIA in the wilds of Vietnam.
John O'Neil, however, enlisted in 1975 as an eighteen-year old pilot candidate and holding acceptances to the Officer Training School. It was John O'Neil who married Sara Tate in 1981 and it was Colonel John O'Neil who retired in late 1994. It was also Colonel John O'Neil who was reactivated by General West in 1995 for a classified mission that ended with the Colonel again retiring several weeks later.
John O'Neil, who would have had barely enough years of service to actually be a Colonel without subtracting several missing years of service between 1980 and 1992. Both times, O'Neil had been apparently deactivated as a result of Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome and after reactivating, had been shuffled off to some remote base as an Air Force Liaison Officer or administrative staff officer. Eastman had seen the stress leave and forgotten that just because the file said the man was not working for the government, did not mean the file was telling the truth. Nor did it mean the man had actually been where the file said he was. Especially if these so-called deactivations were invented after the fact nearly twenty years later.
He had to wonder just what O'Neill was doing in 1998 that was serious enough for the Pentagon to deliberately remove all possible methods of connecting certain missions or people from his past with his current assignment. That might explain the resurrection of John O'Neill however. They needed to explain how a man with sixteen years of official service could not only became a Colonel in the United States Air Force, but how he could have retired with less than twenty.
An extremely apologetic note dated 1998 helpfully explained that the misspelling of his name had created a data entry error that caused the computer to accidentally create a new file. The two files, the note went on to explain, had now been merged and a single paragraph about John O'Neill's time in the VA hospital stitched the two identities together.
There was no actual reason to believe the file was false. In fact, on the surface, the idea was ludicrous. Without meeting the man, Eastman would have assumed he was exactly what the file said he was. A man who had the experience and background to be an asset flying a desk. A man who had an established inability to cope with specwar-related combat stress under field conditions - but who probably did extremely well under 2000 feet of rock. A man who was obviously good at his job, judging by the sheer number of times the Air Force brought him back into the fold, but who was not Special Ops material.
Unless O'Neill was on the short list for general, he was on his way out the door in another year as a mandatory. Retirement loomed, and Eastman could understand spending the last year teaching, but not when he was accompanied by the rest of his team. What the hell sort of team needed his sort of CO? Eastman could feel predatory brown eyes assessing him coldly.
"Stop that." he snapped.
O'Neill blinked innocently, but the feeling of menace eased.
Just had to push the envelope. Feeling extremely sorry for his daughter who had just married her own hotshot, Eastman flipped through Carter's file, this time more slowly. He eighty-sixed his assumptions about her father and went right back to her time as a pilot. 1991. He considered the date carefully. Whatever the military said about female pilots, he knew damn well they had been flying combat flights before 1993. They just had not gotten any credit.
He considered that fact as he reconsidered her sudden transfer to weapons systems officer. Then, not a year later, practically right out of the training program, she transferred to the Pentagon to work on a Top Secret research project. Three years later she disappears into Cheyenne Mountain and emerges seven years later with a Special Ops Colonel pushing for field experience as a Ranger TACP. Not for the training program, mind. But practical, in the field, hard core experience.
A Special Ops Colonel, an astrophysicist/WSO, a linguist, and an unspecified specialist with serious hand-to-hand training. All of whom worked out of Cheyenne Mountain, 2000 feet under rock, yet their CO still had an edge that could cut metal. Son-of-a-bitch.
They were a retrieval team.
He looked again at what O'Neill wanted him to do. Dr. Jackson was to be put through basic Special Ops field training. Not the kindergarten feel-good exercise designed for civilian liaisons either. Jackson was to get the full meal deal. Weapons, tactics, and practical things like hand-to-hand and S.E.R.E. training. Master Sergeant Theodore Murray was to spend half his time gaining practical experience passing on his knowledge of hand-to-hand and the other half learning to blow stuff up. Major Carter, in spite of the fact she had never taken the three month TACP training course and apparently had no SpecWar field experience whatsoever, was to join one of his elite Ranger teams as temporary TACP.
He wondered just what Colonel O'Neill had been doing for the ten years prior to being assigned to Cheyenne Mountain. He had a sneaking feeling if he started interviewing Ranger units, he was going to discover that O'Neill did indeed have an evil twin - and he had worn the black beret of a TACP. Which meant that Major Carter had already received her training in the field and O'Neill was just gilding the lily.
"You're retiring next year." he said bluntly.
O'Neill tilted his head, eyes watchful.
"She's up for command." The words were said softly.
O'Neill just looked back.
Gilding the lily. Making sure his team had the training and experience they would lose when he was gone. Eastman could live with that. Especially since he had a hunch this team might actually know what sort of shit they had volunteered to wade through.
The least he could do was oblige them.