Dr. Gregory Wiseman stared in unabashed shock at the man seated across from him. He could not have heard her right. "You want me to provide therapy for… an alien?"
The graying officer gave a slight shrug. "That's partially true. It's more like… two people wrapped in one. A two-for-one deal if you like. You'd be treating both the host and the symbiote."
Greg swallowed. When the military had approached him about providing treatment for one of the people at the high security base under Cheyenne Mountain he had been provided with a brief and partial rundown of the patient. The slim, redacted file had been enough to convince him. The woman described should have been referred to someone of his specialty the day she had learned of her biological conflicts. Family counseling and general psychiatry can only do so much. Her primary issues now would be intimacy and developing her own gender identity beyond just male and female.
But then he had been escorted here and asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement before they would tell him anything else. Now he was wondering if he had fallen into some strange science fiction movie.
"Colonel O'Neill… I'm afraid there has been some sort of misunderstanding. My specialty is Sex Therapy. I work with couples having intimacy issues, sexual addictions and people having difficulty with sexual situations from an entire host of reasons. I'm not qualified to work with… aliens."
"You're on the same footing as most of our medical staff." O'Neill waved a hand about in the air above one shoulder. "All of this is relatively new. We're making up the rulebook as we go along. Our medical staff comes across something new and strange at least once a week. It just so happens that this time we've stumped the aliens, too."
Wiseman blinked. "We have? I mean… you have?"
"Yeah, they didn't see this one coming, either. These… symbiotes, most of them really don't have a gender on their own. Lineare didn't, until he… it … blended with our Marine. Marks' body, all those imbalances and such, changed an 'it' into a 'she'." O'Neill took a breath. "So… in a way… this is up your alley."
"I… don't understand."
"Oh, right." O'Neill reached into the satchel by his feet and pulled out a thick file. "You'll need this. It's a copy of everything that's gone on since the pair of them mixed it up." The monstrosity had to be nearing three inches in thickness. It landed on the cold table with a solid 'thunk'. "We'll have to insist that stays on base, but we're giving you an office. Not a very big one, I'm afraid, but as you'll only have one patient here on base we didn't think you'd need very much room."
"I haven't said that I'd take her on."
"Yeah, there is that, isn't there." O'Neill drummed his hands on the table absently for a few moments. "I could use some coffee? How about you?"
"Let's go for a walk." The chair made a scraping sound as it moved across the floor. O'Neill took him by the elbow, a gentle move but one with authority behind it, and walked him to the door. "You know we made this based out of an old missile silo? Floors go down for ages, deep inside the mountain."
They walked through the corridors of the SGC. Greg looked around at the many people in uniform as they went about their business and couldn't help but wonder if any of them weren't quite as human as they appeared. O'Neill chatted away about something, and he had to concentrate a moment to realize that the man was talking about a hockey match played the previous evening. Hockey? Truly?
They continued through the twists and turns until they came to an area that seemed to be populated mainly by people in white lab coats. A stethoscope about the neck of one indicated medical personnel. Of course, they probably needed a full staff on hand. There was no telling what these men and women had to face each and every day.
Around another corner, however, he met a different sight. A group of people, perhaps twelve or thirteen in all, wearing far different clothing. Some were in robes, others in what appeared to be armor. Three were adolescents, one girl and two boys. All had strange tattoos on their foreheads, though the eldest of them had his in gold. Though they appeared to be human, there was definitely a feeling of 'otherness' about them.
Another man, standing apart from the others and dressed in more 'normal' fashion, spotted the Colonel and Greg. He expression was somewhat sour as he gave a brief glance back to the… aliens before moving over to speak to O'Neill. "The implantations were a success."
"Good to hear it. Those kids were looking pretty bad." O'Neill looked into the group again. "How's Mom doing?"
The man's face twisted in something akin to a scowl, but Greg was having trouble getting past the strange sound of his voice. It sounded as though it were a normal voice with a deeper, resonating second voice playing through a high-quality subwoofer blended and smoothed over it. "Lineare seems pleased." He emphasized the name, as if scolding.
A new figure came through the open door near the group of… aliens, he guessed. An attractive woman in what was obviously an expensive pantsuit. Strawberry blond hair framed her face with soft curls that were likely natural. He couldn't be certain from this distance, but he thought her eyes were some shade of blue. She was tall, possibly as much as six feet, which would put her two inches taller than Wiseman, and in good physical condition.
The aliens (he was really having trouble wrapping his mind around that word as an actual fact) noted her emergence into the corridor and responded with varying degrees of politeness. Some seemed cold, as if not fully trusting her, but others seemed almost… hopeful? The older man with the gold mark on his forehead approached her, his smile clearly genuine. They conversed, but they were far enough away that Greg couldn't make out their words.
The man with the odd voice watched them, his expression sour. O'Neill seemed pleased by the interaction occurring several feet away from them. "Cheer up, Malek. Just think of how this will strengthen the alliance as a whole." 'Malek' gave him a glare and said nothing.
Dr. Wiseman put it all together. "That's her." It wasn't a question. O'Neill nodded.
"That's our… Miss Marks." The colonel paused over her name. It felt as though he was still trying to adjust to the loss of her commission. It spoke well of the man.
The mention of her name drew the woman's attention towards them. She ended her conversation with the older man with a respectful nod of her head and moved over towards them. The doctor was not a tall man, a couple of inches shy of six feet and average. As she drew closer he noticed that the eyes were actually blue-green and he also noted that his estimate of her height had been spot on.
O'Neill smiled. "Ronnie! I'd like to introduce you to Dr. Gregory Wiseman. Greg, this is Veronica Marks."
Greg accepted the offered hand and noted the strength in Marks' long fingers. "Thank you for coming, Dr. Wiseman. Your reputation precedes you." Her eyes flicked to the colonel. "He's been briefed?"
"Completely. I was taking him to get some coffee when we got side tracked. Care to take it from here?" The man known as Malek took a step towards them, but O'Neill stopped him with one hand. "Easy, Big Fella. This is private."
Malek bristled. "I know nothing of this man. He might be a threat."
Greg blinked at that, but Marks' voice shifted into the same strange modulation. Her… symbiote? The other entity inside her head? "Malek, Veronica and I wish to speak with Dr. Wiseman alone, and away from prying ears. We are trusting you to see to the needs of the Jaffa. Doubtless they are eager to conclude their business here and return to their people."
Malek's jaw tightened, but he gave a respectful nod. "Of course, My Queen." With his eyes downcast he missed the slight flinch in Veronica/Lineare's shoulders at the title. That flinch was a point of interest to Greg. He filed it away inside a mental cabinet already labeled 'Marks', though he supposed it should read 'Marks-Lineare'. Did the symbiote have a last name? His briefing hadn't covered that part.
Marks indicated with one hand that they should walk down one of the corridors. When she spoke, her voice was back to normal. "Getting a headache, yet?"
Wiseman answered with a chuckle. "It is… a bit much. I mean, aliens." He shook his head. "I'm going to guess Hollywood has it wrong."
"You wouldn't believe by how much. Though, there was Wormhole X-treme. That one was pulled from the subconscious memories of an alien living here on Earth."
"I never could get into that one. It was… cheesy."
A rather girlish giggle was cut off with a barely perceptible snort. "I understand that Teal'c was somewhat put out that the character representing him was a robot." She gave a shrug. "Not that you can really tell when he's only put out. He's a somewhat stoic individual."
"I haven't had the pleasure of meeting him just yet."
"If you hang around here, you're likely to bump into him. He's hard to miss."
They walked a bit further in silence until they came to a small break room with three large carafes containing coffee. Two had originally been labeled 'Columbian' and the third had once bore the term 'Decaff'. Someone, however, had crossed out the titles with a black sharpie and replaced them with 'High Octane' and 'Pointless'. They each got a cup of coffee and Greg noticed that Marks scowled a bit and muttered something that sounded close to 'stuff it' under her breath.
She sighed. "We're still hashing out certain details, and some of those details involve food and drink."
He pondered this for a moment. "The symbiote doesn't like coffee?"
"She doesn't like caffeine, and she frowns on my love of cheeseburgers and pizza, but will tolerate them as long as it's not a daily thing." One elegant shoulder rose and fell in a shrug. "However, I agreed to give up alcohol, so the caffeine stays."
"Is caffeine harmful to her?"
"No. She just thinks that I lean on coffee in lieu of actual sleep too much, which is probably true but less so now than when I was… well… before."
Greg nodded. "When you were an active marine who might be sent out on a mission at any given moment."
"Yeah, that." She added cream and a lot of sugar to hers, and from the smirk tugging at the corners of her mouth he figured it was out of spite. "Now I'm a civilian-slash-foreign dignitary. New job comes with regular hours and everything."
"Including mounds of paperwork and playing nice with people you can't stand?"
"Well, no job is perfect." They went over to one of the small tables, taking advantage of the emptiness of the room for some privacy. Veronica sat down so that she could see the door, standard behavior for someone used to high-risk situations. Psychiatrists didn't have to be so cautious and Greg sat directly across from her.
"I'll be honest with you, I haven't said I'll take the job just yet. I agreed to come in for the briefing based on what little they were willing to tell me before hand."
She nodded. "How much was that?"
"Your medical condition. The age at which you learned of your circumstances. They did mention some difficulties with your family arising from the diagnosis although they didn't give me details. Of course, it's only to be expected that someone in your situation to have intimacy issues. And that's before involving the… alien." He took a swallow of coffee. It could've walked under its own power. The kind of coffee that soldiers, cops and med school students made. "I could use a bit more information of what happened when you were diagnosed."
Her eyes flicked to the door, most likely ensuring that they were still alone. He saw her take a deep breath, her eyes moving back down to look at her coffee. "Did they tell you who my family is?"
"No, and they only gave me your first name. I had the non-disclosure forms before they would give me anything more."
She frowned. "And you still came? Just on that?"
He shrugged. "It's my job to help people, and what little they gave me was still enough to let me know that you are someone with a great many personal concerns to work through."
"But you're not sure that you want the job now that you've learned more."
"I don't think I'm qualified to counsel aliens, and in this case… the symbiote, Lineare, would be my patient just as much as you. You're sharing the same body and recent events have got to be just as confusing to her."
A smile tugged at Veronica's lips and she gave a brief nod. "Well, if we're going to be looking for someone with experience in aliens, it'll be a long wait."
Greg laughed, a sort of nervous chuckle, and nodded. "Yeah, it would be." He took another sip of coffee. "But I'm here right now. What are you willing to share with me?"
She took another breath, her eyes flicking to the door quickly again to make certain no one was coming in before speaking. "My father is Senator Marks of Texas. He just got voted into office during the midterms."
That surprised him. The Marks were an old family with a good deal of money behind them. Daughters of privilege rarely went military. They didn't have time. "I'm guessing things aren't entirely comfortable between you."
"Not any more. He… they… didn't take the diagnosis very well." Greg nodded and let her go on at whatever pace was comfortable for her. "Mom always wanted a princess. The perfect debutante with the million-dollar smile and Prada shoes. I was forced to do all the things the daughters of her country club set did. Ballet. French. Competitive equestrian vaulting. All of it, and I hated every second of it."
She sighed. "Dad, on the other hand, just wanted me to be his little girl. Mom couldn't have any more children after me. There'd been four miscarriages before me and having me almost killed her. He was just grateful to have me, and he spent as much time with me as he could." A sad smile touched her eyes. "My favorite was the fishing. He'd take me down to the gulf and we'd spend days on the water. I'd come back sunburned and blistered and Mom would hit the roof because there was some stupid garden party or some such and I wouldn't be 'perfect'. And we'd play chess and checkers and he'd explain politics and the economy to me. Mom and I never quite fit well with one another, but Dad and I were inseparable.
"Then came the summer before my junior year in school. Mom insisted that I participate in the girls' lacrosse team and I had to have a physical. When they asked me about my menses and I had to tell them that I'd never had one, the doctors were concerned. They ran a whole battery of tests and… found that my chromosomes didn't match my physical appearance."
Greg nodded. "How did that make you feel?"
"I was in denial at first. I mean, I was a girl. I knew I was a girl. I had boobs and hips and everything, so how could I not be a girl? I even had a boyfriend. I didn't want him and I was tired of telling him to keep his hands to himself, but I had him."
"Why did you have a boyfriend if you didn't want him?"
She rolled her eyes. "His mother was my mother's best friend, and he was from the 'right family'. I'm pretty sure our mothers had visions of a grand society wedding and a merging of two family fortunes."
"And your parents?"
"Yelled at the doctors and threatened to sue for malpractice. They took me to multiple specialists wanting someone to debunk the first diagnosis, but… everything supported it. Right down to the undecended and underdeveloped testicles that had to be removed as a preventative measure." She gave a shrug. "Apparently undecended testicles are more prone to developing cancer."
She stirred her coffee, watching the caramel colored liquid swirl. "Mom… did her thing. She refused to come out of denial. She likes to think that if she ignores reality then it will just go away and the world will conform to her desires."
"And you father?"
"Stopped taking me fishing." The words were very soft. "Stopped… playing chess with me. Stopped talking politics with me. Just… stopped everything. Like I'd become invisible." He heard her sniff. "I think that hurt more than anything else. I… my life was crashing down around my ears and the person I counted on to be there for me… couldn't even step up to the fucking plate." She sat back in her chair, the fingers of one hand rising up to wipe at her eyes. He snagged a couple of napkins from a nearby dispenser and offered them to her. She took them and blotted the tears away.
"What happened after that?"
"Close to the end of the school year one of the people in Dad's office had an accident. He and his wife were driving home from a fundraising dinner when a drunk driver crossed the centerline. Both died. They had a pair of twins, a boy and girl, and no other living relatives to take them in. The state couldn't find a foster family who could take them both, and at the time my father was pulling so much local attention that the story made the papers. My parents took them in. Brought them into our home. And… six months later they were in front of a judge to finalize the adoption. Mom started sending her to ballet, French lessons and horseback riding lessons and Dad… started teaching him out to play chess, and talking about politics… and taking him fishing."
She licked her lips, her fingers worrying the napkins. "It was never said out loud, but I was never stupid. They didn't have to tell me I'd been replaced. It was obvious. A princess for Mom and a prince for Dad."
Greg watched her and reminded himself to remain objective. It was damn hard to do. "That must have put a strain on the family dynamics."
"It wasn't the kids' fault. I don't think anyone in the house even told them what the problem was. And I think I was nice to them when they were around me, not that they were allowed to spend a lot of time with me. I'm a lot older than they are. We didn't really do the same things. Didn't hang around the same crowds. And… I really wasn't invited to go to the garden parties and the like very often after that."
"What about since you moved out on your own?"
She shrugged. "I tried going home for the holidays a couple of times. It didn't go very well. They just… they acted like I wasn't even there unless they were forced to acknowledge me. They didn't really show any interest in me until Dad started getting into higher politics, and that was most likely out of fear. I mean, if his enemies caught wind of me and what happened inside our home, they'd crucify him."
"Did you ever think of leaking it yourself?"
She shook her head. "No. They were bastards, but they're still my parents. And the twins don't deserve to have their lives disrupted that way. They're good kids."
Greg leaned back in his chair, watching her. "What happened with the boyfriend?"
"Got rid of him. After I put out for him." She shook her head again. "I didn't even really want to, but I… I'd spent my whole life thinking I was a girl and now I was being told that I'm not. Not really, at any rate. I guess I was just trying to prove something to myself." She swallowed. "It hurt, and I hated myself afterwards. I felt dirty, and I thought I'd never get clean. After that I just… stopped returning his calls. Stopped talking to anyone all together."
"Was there anyone after him?"
"A few. All of them in college. No one more than once, and every time I had to get pretty liquored up to do it."
"Why is that?"
"Because I couldn't… talk to them. I couldn't be real with any of them, or get to know them. I…" She broke off, her voice thick with tears again. Greg didn't push. He waited. Her shoulders rose and fell with a shuddering breath, and when she spoke again, her voice had changed.
"She considers it to be a lie." The face came up, and the expression was smoother. "She does not feel that she can tell them the truth of her sense of being, but that failure to do so is tantamount to a lie. She believes that most men on your world would not be able to accept her because of her accident of genetics."
Greg nodded. "I figured that it was something along those lines." He finished off his coffee, letting the silence fill the room for a moment. "I'll need to look at my patient listing. Some of my standing appointments will need to be moved around to allow time for me to travel to and from base. And I'd like a little time to review the files. I can't take them off base, so I'll have to go over them while I'm here." He got up from the seat, tossing the paper cup into a nearby trash bin. "I'll be in touch with you later to discuss scheduling."
Veronica/Lineare nodded. "Thank you, Dr. Wiseman. We are grateful for your time." They rose from their chair and shook his hand. "Both of us."