My intention was to put out a chapter this week, so here it is. I know a few of you were chomping at the bit for a new chapter, and I appreciate the enthusiasm. Just keep in mind that work is crazy, my future in laws were here over the weekend, and I have 49er's season tickets. What I am trying to say is be patient, and I will deliver lol. I hope everyone is having a great week, and has a great weekend. In the next chapter, I will try to respond to reviews. Have a great one, and enjoy!
Tok'ra Home World
Seated in an ornate sitting room, the unofficial guest of the Tok'ra sat. Looking around, Ry'ac's mind filled with wonder. Less than a handful of years before, thoughts of Jaffa and Tok'ra working together would have been laugh worthy in the extreme. Were it not for the efforts of the Tau'ri, the Tok'ra/Jaffa union might never have been. Normally, the Tok'ra limited themselves to the role of collectors of intelligence. Rarely, though it was known to happen on occasion, the Tok'ra performed certain covert actions.
Jaffa of the Free Jaffa Nation filled a role similar to that which they had performed under the System Lords. Trained as warriors from birth, Jaffa were warriors. Each day of their lives from childhood were dedicated to training, to forge the men and women of the Jaffa into a fighting force ready at a moments notice. Times had changed for the Jaffa though. Now, they were a unified people, if one failed to take into account separatists exiled to the galaxy of Ida.
Twenty months ago, unity found its way into Jaffa government. Bra'tac, after exiling Separatist Jaffa, paved the way. As Separatist members of the Jaffa government were the one overwhelming roadblock in the way of an effective fledging Jaffa government, their removal made change possible. Teal'c, though asked continually to return and lead this government, refused. Unshakable in his resolve to honor his vow, Teal'c intended to never again return to a Jaffa controlled world.
Ry'ac, as son of Teal'c and student of Bra'tac, along with his lifelong friend Rak'nor, found themselves swept into the positions of Regent and Vice Regent. Together, these two men would dedicate themselves to building a lasting system of government. Vigorously, the two tackled the issues of reforming a society thousands of years old, and very set in its ways. Their first act had been to institute a sweeping proclamation of rights, which each Jaffa held dear. Though much had been accomplished, much remained to be done.
Casting his eyes upon the ornate engraving work of the wall before him, Ry'ac once again gave thanks for the Tau'ri. Were it not for them, none of this might ever have happened. Freedom, happiness, and security stemmed from their efforts. For those reasons, Ry'ac would always consider Earth and her inhabitants the most valued ally of all Jaffa. Because of that, Ry'ac now sat in Queen Egeria's sitting room.
Several months before, an emissary of Queen Egeria had arrived through the star gate on Dakara. Taken quickly to Ry'ac and Rak'nor, this emissary delivered nothing more than a note, written in Egeria's own hand. Cryptic, as all Tok'ra were known to be, Egeria's note asked only for an audience with the two Jaffa Regents. This audience was granted days later. Over a simple meal, the first true joint operation between Tok'ra and Jaffa took shape. That operation soon bore fruit, and it was for that reason Ry'ac sat here today.
For several weeks, Al'kesh of the Free Jaffa Fleet had been engaged in reconnaissance flights at the behest of the Tok'ra. The worlds over flown were worlds never before visited by Jaffa. Operating under cloak, detailed sensor data of solar systems and populated worlds was gathered. Later, detailed photographic intelligence collection missions were conducted on each populated world. This data in a data crystal turned over to the Tok'ra upon Ry'ac's arrival this day.
Rhythmic footsteps approached in the polished stone hallway outside the sitting room. Based on the rhythm of these footsteps, Ry'ac was certain it could only be Egeria approaching. Turning the corner, Egeria strode into the sitting room with purpose. On her face, as was normally the case, was a serene yet regal look befitting a Queen. Casting aside protocol and needless formalities, Egeria gracefully lowered herself into a seat facing Ry'ac.
"I trust you have been taken care of in my absence." Egeria stated.
"I have, thank you." Ry'ac replied with a slight bow of his head.
"If you had found nothing you would have sent a subspace message. Your presence here tells me something of note was found." Egeria announced.
"What was uncovered is on a data crystal." Ry'ac answered.
"Yes, that is being reviewed now by others. I am here to speak directly with you on just what was found." Egeria replied.
"Quite a bit was found. Of the three solar systems you tasked us with inspecting, one was devoid of life. The second had minimal activity, akin to nothing more than outposts. The third however was very active." Ry'ac explained.
"Tell me of the third solar system, if you will." Egeria urged.
"The system is heavily patrolled with spacecraft of Goa'uld design. One habitable world of the two present in system seems to be a headquarters of sorts. This world is heavily developed, with one central city." Ry'ac continued.
"Were the life signs human or Jaffa?" Egeria asked.
"Jaffa life signs, while present, were minimal. The overwhelming majority of the life signs present were human." Ry'ac replied.
"Could this world belong to the Lucian Alliance?" Egeria asked.
"Though possible, that is unlikely. Maneuvers performed by spacecraft guarding the system were consistent with Jaffa tactics. This entire set up smells like something one would expect for a System Lord controlled sector." Ry'ac surmised.
"I suspected as much. Ry'ac, let me speak frankly with you for a moment. I have long known Goa'uld slipped away. It was only a manner of time before we found one elsewhere. I believe you have uncovered one of those who evaded capture." Egeria said proudly.
"What is the next step?" Ry'ac asked.
"Now, we will examine things in much finer detail. Instead of ship patrols, we will insert operatives and gather intelligence from within." Egeria replied.
"Is that wise?" Ry'ac asked.
"It is what Tok'ra excel at." Egeria replied simply.
"How can the Jaffa assist?" Ry'ac asked formally.
"The part to come the Tok'ra will handle on our own. If we need assistance, I will contact you directly. You have done the Tok'ra and myself a great service. For this, I am in your debt." Egeria said with feeling.
Though the conversation between the two leaders was over, the ramifications of this conversation were yet to come. On Consonance, highly skilled operatives of the Tok'ra would ready themselves for another mission. What this mission would uncover they could only guess.
Making his way from the press briefing theater of the Pentagon, Secretary of Defense Landry found himself disgusted. During his time on active duty in the United States Air Force, Landry had rarely if ever found himself a fan of the press. Journalists were almost as bad as lawyers in his eyes, and sometimes worse. Today was an example of the latter. Taking the controversy created over casualties suffered in fighting on Tagrea by Senator Carl Strom, journalists were making the most of a lull in front page worthy news.
As Secretary of Defense, Landry often was forced to interact with the press on some level or another. Today was one such day. While journalists pummeled him with questions, Landry was forced to choke back the urge to spit and scream. A student of history, Landry was all too aware that this controversy too would pass. Whether Hank could maintain his patience and sanity until that happened though was another discussion entirely.
Rounding the corner of the outermost ring of the Pentagon, known as the E-ring, Landry entered the outer office of his incredibly large suite of offices. Nodding his head at the Navy Lieutenant Commander manning the outer office desk, Secretary Landry stopped for a moment.
"Anything for me Commander?" Landry asked.
"General Carter is sitting in your office Mr. Secretary." The officer explained.
"Can you have a steward send in some coffee please?" Landry asked.
"It is on your desk Mr. Secretary." The officer replied.
"Commander, I have said it fifty times atleast. Call me Hank."
"Yes Mr. Secretary, I mean Hank." The officer said uncomfortably.
Stepping through the double doors into his inner office, Landry was greeted with a familiar sight. Seated in front of his ornate desk was the blond haired wunderkind of Stargate Command. As Carter's commanding officer, Landry had guided the woman's career towards higher command. Now, filling the seat he had occupied for so many years, Carter finally understood the burden of command. Turning, Carter smiled brightly at the sight of her former commanding officer.
"Mr. Secretary, always a pleasure." Carter began graciously.
"Carter, I get called that enough by the rest of the armed forces. You can call me something, anything, less official. Please?" Landry requested.
"Yes sir." Carter agreed with a laugh.
"Ok, what was important enough to get you on a Jumper to Washington in the middle of the night?" Landry asked.
"It seems the Asgard have found our gravimetric anomaly, and it is unlike anything we have encountered before. Photo's are in the front section of the file in front of you." Carter explained.
Flipping open the folder marked Top Secret; Landry laid eyes on the vessel encountered. As a courtesy, Carter had added a scale for dimensions of the unknown vessel. Seeing the numbers, Landry was shocked by the sheer size of the craft.
"Are these numbers right?" Landry asked in shock.
"Unfortunately, yes they are sir." Carter replied.
"I was always under the impression that an upper limit to space craft size existed." Landry said.
"Yes and no sir. It really depends on how the craft is employed. Theoretically, a spacecraft can be built to any size you wish. It boils down to a matter of power generation, need, and material availability. Based on this, I would say we can now definitively answer the question of where planet's worth of resources are going." Carter stated.
"So, the gravimetric anomaly is a side effect of this vessels size I'm guessing?" Landry asked.
"Not exactly sir. Luckily, the Asgard were present when the vessel departed. It seems this unknown race makes use of an Alcubierre drive." Carter answered.
"Why does that sound familiar?" Landry asked.
"The scientist that theorized that this type of drive was possible turned down our offer to join the SGC. Miguel Alcubierre theorized that faster than light travel might be achieved without actually exceeding the speed of light. The ship, making use of this drive, would travel distances in a wave field that would expand the fabric of space in front of the craft, while contracting the fabric of space behind the craft. Riding in this wave field, the ship itself would not move, but instead sit statically within the field. This removes worry about relativistic effects, like those suffered by the Ancient's aboard Tria traveling at near the speed of light. The major hurdle for a system like this is the amount of power it should require. That level of power was thought unattainable when the theory was penned." Carter explained.
"We live in a time of Arcturus powered vessels, and ZPM's on demand. Surely, this type of drive does not consume more power than our latest hyper drive." Landry said dismissively.
"Based on the power readings the Asgard recorded, I am going to say this vessel in fact uses much more power than ours." Carter countered.
"How are they generating power levels the Ancient's could not while on this plane of existence?" Landry asked.
"At this point sir, it is a guess. It is an educated guess, but still a guess." Carter began.
"Spit it out Carter!" Landry pressed.
"Dark energy." Carter replied simply.
"Pretend I am a former fighter pilot. What exactly is dark energy, other than a plot device on Mystery Science Theater?" Landry asked.
"In a nutshell, dark energy is the majority component of the universe. Ok, let me try to explain this in simple terms. The universe is constantly expanding at an incredible pace. We believed, and now know for certain, that dark energy is the driving force of universal expansion. Somehow, I believe this race has found a way to harness dark energy. It is the only thing that makes any sense." Carter shrugged.
"Then we can safely assume this race is in possession of weapons and shields stronger than ours?" Landry asked.
"That is the truly odd part of the sensor data. The vessel at no time raised a shield, and appears to not be fitted with shield emitters. As for weaponry, one can safely assume it will be in the rough ballpark of our energy weapons. This race has a very odd high and low mix of technology at work." Carter further explained.
"No shields?" Landry asked in shock.
"It appears not sir. The hull is also composed of a less sturdy alloy than our vessels, and those of the Asgard. The majority of the outer hull is composed of iridium, which is a rather rare mineral on Earth. Obviously, that is not the case everywhere in the galaxy." Carter said with her trademark awkward frown.
"I hope you do not have anymore unsettling surprises to tell me." Landry said hopefully.
"Actually sir, there is one more. The life signs aboard the vessel, numbers in the tens of millions. Think of this as a civilization ship of sorts." Carter said apologetically.
"What do the Asgard think of this?" Landry asked.
"They are unsettled to a fair degree. In my discussion with the High Council, they basically admitted that it stands to reason that no single vessel in theirs or our fleet can stand up to this single ship. If this ship is a battleship, ours are compact cars in comparison. Couple the size with the energy output, and it is a recipe none of our ship captains will enjoy for lunch." Carter stated.
"How many planets that we know of have gone off the grid after this vessel arrives?" Landry questioned.
"We know of sixteen at this time, but the number could be higher." Carter admitted.
"Then it is a safe guess that we will end trying to stop them from destroying planets at some point?" Landry further questioned.
"That is a safe assumption, yes sir." Carter conceded.
Twirling a pen in the fingers of his left hand, Landry considered Carter's last statement for a moment. While he hoped that the days of massive ship battles was a thing of the past, he knew that was nothing more than an unrealistic hope.
"I am all ears if you have one of those genius ideas to toss out Carter." Landry hinted.
"That is something I have put much thought into. In my eyes, the only viable solution we have on hand is Project 5400." Carter stated.
"That is just a design. We never built it Carter." Landry argued.
"The design study that produced that design incorporated everything we learned in the final two fleet battles against the Wraith. Essentially, the 5400 design is meant to take on all comers. It is the one solution we have available now." Carter countered.
"In a time before Arkos, my predecessors who sat at this desk would have had to beg for funding, and permission to build a vessel. Thankfully, times have changed. Ok, let me get things moving on this end. Go check into your hotel, and when Jack is done with his day all three of us will go out to dinner. Sound like a plan?" Landry asked.
"Yes sir, see you then." Carter replied with a smile, before exiting the office.
Picking up his phone, Landry dialed the extension for the Pentagon's communication center. On the other end of the line, a disembodied voice answered.
"This is Secretary Landry. Signal Arkos Station that they are to expedite option three of Project 5400." Landry ordered into the phone.
The White House
Inside the Oval Office, in the West Wing of the White House, coffee was being served. Receiving their cups, both the President and General Jack O'Neill waived off the croissants offered by the long serving White House steward. The amount of dedication these stewards showed each sitting administration never failed to amaze O'Neill. For President O'Bannon, this level of treatment was par for the course, having acclimated to it during his years as Vice President under Henry Hayes. As the steward silently exited the Oval Office, tension rose in the room.
"Have you seen the news?" O'Bannon asked pointedly.
"Would you be referring to the headlines from the esteemed Senator from New York, Mr. President?" O'Neill asked.
"How you managed to deal with this guy for so many years, I will never understand." O'Bannon sighed.
"Things were simpler when Strom was head of the IOA. He could not use the media as his stalking horse." O'Neill explained.
"As a freshman Senator, he plays the media surprisingly well. The political talk shows especially love him. Now, I have a country emotionally fired up about casualties during the Tagrean conflict. A war Fox News called 'a personal agenda'. Where they came up with that, I will never know." O'Bannon fumed.
"Strom is grasping at this simply because he needs a platform, nothing more. Mr. President, one thing you can always count on Strom to do is whatever is best for him. On that, he will never change." O'Neill explained.
"Let's shift topics for a moment. I am sure you are wondering why I asked you here today. Secretary Landry and I have already spoken, and I could have asked that he have this talk with you. Knowing you and he go back many years, I thought the topic might be better received coming directly from me." O'Bannon began.
"What might we be talking about specifically Mr. President?" O'Neill asked.
"Jack, I know the hard work you have put in rebuilding our military for operations off world. Strom's little firestorm has let me know my first thoughts were correct. From here on out, I am instituting a moratorium on major off world military operations. If it can be done with four men, do that instead of sending a brigade. Less is more Jack." O'Bannon decreed.
"Mr. President…" O'Neill began to say.
Raising his palms towards his guest, O'Bannon silenced the General. With a stern look, he continued speaking.
"I am not doing this to safeguard my Administrations legacy. This is a matter of political survival. From now on, whatever you in this galaxy or others, keep it small and keep it classified. It worked for almost two decades, so go back to that." O'Bannon stated.
"Mr. President, if you do not mind me asking what are you going to do about Strom? It is not like him to make headway, and then lay down his arms." Jack explained.
"A saint I may not be, but I play politics very well. A good politician is the modern equivalent of Harry Houdini. For years, Houdini astounded audiences with making elephant's disappear in the middle of a crowed room. How did he do that?" O'Bannon asked.
"I am sure you are going to tell me." Jack quipped.
"Misdirection is how Jack. Voters have a short memory when it comes to controversy. So, I am going to play wicked politician and give them something else to chew on." O'Bannon said with a grin.
"Care if I ask what that might be Mr. President?" Jack asked.
"This afternoon, about the time when Strom's latest press conference is supposed to be held, I have called a press conference of my own. All networks will be in attendance. There, I am announcing approved use of nanites for medical purposes in the general public. We are going to cure blindness, paralysis, arthritis, and put an end to amputees suffering. Restoring sight and the ability to walk in millions globally should nicely overshadow Strom's attacks. To twist the dagger, the first facility to open for this purpose will be in New York. That should give Strom a problem come reelection time." O'Bannon said with a smirk.
"I hope it works how you think it will." Jack said with a laugh.
"Ok, I have things I need to do. Head on back to the Pentagon. Remember Jack, whatever you do, keep it small and classified." O'Bannon suggested.
As General O'Neill exited the Oval Office, President O'Bannon consulted the schedule on his desk. As he weighed his schedule, the interoffice phone on his desk rang. This he picked up quickly.
"Yes?" O'Bannon asked.
"Do you have a moment to speak with a visiting dignitary Mr. President?" A female voice asked.
"I do, send them in." O'Bannon directed.
As he replaced the phone in its cradle, O'Bannon saw something out of the corner of his eye. What began as tendrils of brilliant white light began to take human form. As the energy took on physical form, a familiar face came into focus. Melia, representative of the Ancient's had arrived.
"Greetings." Melia stated with a sly smile.
"Melia, always a pleasure. I presume that was you on the phone." O'Bannon mused.
"You presume correctly." Melia replied.
"The Secret Service really hates it when people magically appear in here." O'Bannon said with a chuckle.
"That is why I have made sure they do not know of my arrival." Melia replied cryptically.
"What is it I can do for the Ancient's?" O'Bannon asked formally.
"My presence here is not to request anything of you in a physical sense. I have come to offer advice." Melia hinted.
"Please do. I need all the advice I can get." O'Bannon urged.
"Mr. President, it is my opinion that you are making a mistake in limiting use of your military in this galaxy." Melia said bluntly.
"Politically, I cannot afford to continue down the current path. Not if I hope to be reelected that is." O'Bannon replied.
"Mr. President, victory is not found if one or both hands are restrained. My people made this same mistake against the Wraith, in the early days of our war against them. You are well aware how that ended. I ask that you reconsider your stance on this." Melia urged.
"As your friend and ally, I promise you I will take your words to heart. Anything else you wish to share?" O'Bannon asked.
"I only ask that you do not repeat our mistakes." Melia stated, before vanishing.
Sol Solar System
Inside the Ancient designed and built shipyard, the normally busy shipyard was getting a bit busier than normal. On the level reserved for Athena Class vessel docking, the first eight vessels to receive the Block III upgrade were covered in arachnid like construction robots. These high-tech units were busily cutting open large sections of each Athena Class hull. The Block III upgrade had been long planned.
Since the Athena's introduction, the design had changed in several ways. Much had been learned during the class's short time in service. Now, those lessons learned were being put into practice. As an Arcturus reactor powered each Athena, with three ZPM's locked away as backup, the class no longer needed the ten neutrino ion generators carried aboard. These were to be removed, with the large amount of open space left in their wake used for a variety of other purposes.
Some of this space would be dedicated to increased drone weapon storage. After action studies of the final fleet battles against the Wraith showed an urgent need for greater drone carriage. This was finally being addressed. Drone weapon numbers would grow from twenty five hundred, to four thousand.
Changes were also coming to ships data systems. Proved an invaluable tool aboard Copernicus Class science vessels, the Athena's were being fitted with a similar AI and AI avatar. This system would be tied into all systems ship wide. This new addition, it was hoped, would lead to a decrease in crew requirements. A second AI was being installed for another purpose. UCAV's operating from the Prometheus Class carriers had proven their worth since introduction. This second AI would allow for Athena's to make use of UCAV's, instead of their normal compliment of F-302's. Instead of replacing the 302's outright, this change was simply being done to expand options for future operations.
Roughly half the space being freed through removal of the neutrino ion generators was meant for a task relegated to the Asgard Fleet. In this section, massive matter stream creation units were slated to be installed. These systems were tied directly into each vessels matter transport beam system. As Earth moved deeper into the universe, this new addition would allow vessels of the Tau'ri Fleet to create operating bases, spare parts, or any other large item needed. This addition was sorely overdue. Someday, this system might be used to create a forward operating base in a galaxy not yet explored.
Many levels below this activity, as the recently transferred to the US Navy carrier Prometheus glided silently by, new construction was about to begin. The construction orders for project 5400 had arrived, and carried with them a priority marked urgent. To the Arkos AI, urgent had a special meaning. Resources normally devoted to larger construction tasks, be it carrier construction or city ship upgrade, were now positioned in three docking bays. Brilliant white beams of energy surged from the bottoms of arachnid construction units.
Matter stream creation technology had built an incredible fleet. Adding to this, Project 5400, under the name Ascension Class would join the ranks of this already powerful collection of vessels. Ascension, measuring one and a half kilometers in length, was larger than the Athena Class. Instead of protrusions cropping up from the hull, as in other Earth classes of ship, all systems of Ascension would be recessed within the hull. Her hull would be polished, smooth, and in the shape of a spear pointed blade. Sleek, sharp, and predatory in appearance Ascension, would usher in a new age in spacecraft design.
In four turrets, two front and two rear, Ascension would carry a new weapon. On each turret, four of the newly developed ionic particle weapons would be fitted. Each of these would be independently targetable. Above each of these weapons, a free electron laser sat for targeting, and independent firing. These two were independently targetable. These turrets, when not in use, would reside within the hull. When needed, armored hull doors would slide open, with the four turrets rising to firing position.
Elsewhere, four Grodin weapon batteries would be installed. Along with these, ten Asgard plasma beam weapons batteries, anti fighter energy weapon turrets, and a full compliment of Ancient designed drone weapons would also be present. Along the smooth underside of Ascension's hull, another weapon would sit. Given the name Hell Storm, this weapons system was as fearsome as it was classified. Fitted underneath the hull of the sharp beaked bow of Ascension, a weapon unlike any other in Tau'ri fleet use would be fitted. Reverse engineering the teleportation weapon found on the captured Harbinger vessel, a workable example had been perfected. Capable of beating incredibly resilient shields down with overwhelming firepower, this system would come as a rude shock to any standing in the path of Ascension or her sisters.
Powering Ascension would be the Arcturus reactor. Incredible amounts of power would be needed to make use of the weapons suite, and Arcturus provided that in spades. Sensor capabilities would be greatly enhanced, due to the same sensor suite used on city ships being fitted. High output hyper drives normally found on city ships would also be fitted. When done, Ascension would outrun, outfight, and out see any opponent she might encounter.
Sitting with his shirt off, Colonel John Sheppard stared at the wall. Checking his recent gunshot wound, Doctor Jennifer Keller McKay scrutinized the healing shoulder wound closely. Referring to her notes, Jennifer verified that the wound was making great improvement.
"Any difficulty lifting your arm?" Jennifer asked.
"No, it works." Sheppard replied numbly.
"It healed very well. I wish all my patients healed as well as you do Colonel. Now, I have another request. This is coming from me both as your doctor and your friend." Jennifer prompted.
"What might that be doc?" Sheppard asked with an arched eyebrow.
"Take it easy with the drinking. Please John?" Jennifer asked.
"I will try. It helps me sleep." Sheppard answered uncomfortably.
If you are having trouble sleeping, I can give you something to help. It has the bonus of not giving you a hangover too!" Jennifer goaded with a smile.
"Duly noted doc." Sheppard replied dismissively.
"I am clearing you medically for whatever it is you boys are about to do. Not clearing you would not stop you anyway I am guessing." Jennifer stated.
"Probably not." Sheppard answered honestly.
Given the ok from the team's resident medical professional, John wasted not a second in getting his ragged band of helpers ready. Eating a quick meal, John, Rodney, and Ronan watched the rose colored sunset sweep across the horizon. Very little was said between the men, as they each focused on the mission to come. Tension gave way to resolve, due in large part to this mission focusing on recovery of Sheppard's brother.
Their meal finished, the three men changed out of civilian clothing, donning the familiar black battle dress uniforms worn on so many missions within the Pegasus Galaxy. Ronan, always quick to ready himself for events such as these, stood in the living room of the farmhouse, waiting on Rodney and John. Out of the corner of his eye, Ronan saw Jennifer walking towards him.
"I should get changed over and ready to go." Jennifer said.
"You really should stay here. I don't think you are going to want to be a part of this." Ronan suggested.
"What is that supposed to mean?" Jennifer asked in surprise.
"Medical help is not what the guy we are going to see is going to need." Ronan explained.
"Are you saying the Colonel is going to kill this man?" Jennifer asked in shock.
"What do you think?" Ronan asked in exasperation.
Leaning in the doorway of the open farmhouse front door, Jennifer watched as the three men made their way into the barn, and the jumper contained within. Unexpectedly, an Orwell quote not thought of since her time in college came to mind. 'People sleep peaceably in their beds at night, only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf'. That one quote summed up what Jennifer saw before her. Ronan, and her husband Rodney, were more than willing to visit violence upon the individual who had hurt their longtime friend and comrade. It was at that moment Jennifer truly came to appreciate the brotherhood these three men shared. As Woolsey would have said, had he been present, 'once more into the breach dear friends'.
Under cloak and unseen, the Jumper exited the large wooden barn silently. Extending drive pods as it climbed invisibly into the skies above, the Jumper rapidly gained altitude. Hope welled up within each occupant, as they sped off on this first step taken towards bringing Sheppard's brother home.
Pressing his foot down on the gas pedal, Troy Cooper's heart quickened. Country Road 751 was a road Troy loved driving, as fast as possible. His automobile, a new Cadillac CTS-V sedan, always rewarded his driving efforts on this stretch of highway. Times had changed since his days with the NID. Remembering the nondescript government sedans he was always invariably given for his use, the former NID Agent grimaced.
Not only did he now have an automobile he coveted, he had a home that went with his cover identity with an incredible view of the Breckenridge Ski Resort. Once ski season began, he fully intended to invite as many attractive skiers as possible to share his hot tub. His level of pay was ten times what it had once been, and in his opinion, the workload was far better. As he said each morning into the mirror as he shaved, he had finally found the American dream. That dream requiring him to work against the interests of his nation of birth was not even an afterthought.
Flicking the turn signal lever, Troy tapped the breaks. Tires squealed as the sleek sports sedan turned off the country road and onto Peak 9th Road. Cornering tightly, Troy accelerated rapidly down the twisting mountain road. At his current rate of speed, which was far in excess of what the Highway Patrol would ever approve of; Troy would arrive home in ten minutes. Thoughts of what to have for dinner ran through his mine. What he did not know, was that he was currently being watched.
Seven hundred feet above the rapidly moving automobile, a cloaked jumper stalked its prey. Already aware of the automobiles end destination, following the speeding car was nothing but a waiting game. It also allowed for verification of nonexistent levels of traffic on the road. Breaking away from its prey, the Jumper altered course towards the coming straightaway the sedan would travel.
Turning up the volume of his music on the stereo controls embedded in the steering wheel, Cooper nodded his head to the beat. Music always made these drives much more enjoyable, and provided his own personal soundtrack to Cooper's movie of life. At seventy miles per hour, he should he home in minutes. On reflex, Troy's eyes scanned the rear view mirror. As he verified no one was behind him, a cascade of events began.
Unbeknownst to Cooper, a cloaked Jumper was sitting directly in his path of travel. Metal screamed as it was torn and crumpled from the impact. Gravel sized pieces of safety glass filled the passenger compartment, as windows and windshield shattered. Detecting the collision, airbags fired throughout the sedan. Inertia dragged Cooper towards the steering wheel and rapidly expanding airbag. In the collision between man and safety device, safety device emerged victorious. Blood sprayed from Cooper's broken nose and lips, resulting from his dance with an airbag. In less than two seconds, the now destroyed automobile came to a stop.
The Jumper faired much better in the exchange. Impacting the rear cargo ramp, all the collision caused was a brief rocking of the Ancient designed shuttle, and a shimmering of the cloak. Steam hissed from underneath the crumpled hood of the ruined Cadillac as the Jumper's rear ramp lowered. Somehow still conscious, Cooper realized on a very basic level just what was happening. Seeing the two figures emerging from the Jumper, Cooper closed his eyes and feigned unconsciousness. Dropping his hand to his side, the former NID Agent grasped his sidearm.
Ronan, with weapon drawn, circled around the drivers side of the Cadillac. Sheppard, with his pistol also drawn, circled around the passenger side. Rodney, piloting the Jumper, remained out of sight. Through the ruined windshield, Sheppard took note of the unconscious form of the driver. This would be easier than he first thought, or so he believed. Believing their target unconscious and incapable of resistance, both Sheppard and Ronan relaxed a fraction. That fraction was all Cooper needed.
Ronan closed to the midway point of the driver's side door, as Cooper sprang into action. In one smooth action, Cooper extended his pistol with his right hand in Sheppard's direction. Pulling the trigger, glass relatively intact exploded. Luckily for Sheppard, the round missed him by scant inches. As Cooper's weapon discharged, his left hand grabbed the handle on the driver's side door. Yanking on the lever, the former NID Agent swiveled his body and viciously kicked the ruined door open. Catching Ronan bodily, the door knocked the Satedan to the ground.
Lunging out of the ruined automobile, Cooper ran with all his might. This was rough terrain, and he thought it possible to lose his pursuers in the dense tree line. Legs pumped and lungs burned as Cooper sprinted away from the roadway. Behind him, Sheppard and Ronan were reacting as well.
"Birddog him Ronan!" Sheppard yelled.
Given a target, Ronan needed no more urging. Running as fast as his tall frame could propel him, Ronan charged into the wood line. Agility was a strong suit of Ronan's, and he used it for all it was worth. If this guy thought he would lose Ronan in a few trees, then clearly he was deluded.
Standing beside the car, Sheppard searched through the passenger compartment. Perhaps something that would tell him where his brother was would be found within. What he did not expect was the female voice that began speaking.
"This is Gail of OnStar. I have detected that your automobile has been in a collision. Do you require emergency services?" Gail, of OnStar, asked.
"No Gail, everything is fine. I blew a tire, but everything is ok now. Thanks though." Sheppard replied uncomfortably.
"Are you sure sir? I can notify emergency services for you. Really, it is not trouble." Gail offered.
"I would really rather you did not do that. You see, I promised my wife I would not drive her car. If this gets out, I am going to be sleeping on the couch for a month. You know how it goes." Sheppard said with a laugh.
"Very well sir. Thank you for using OnStar." Gail finished.
Tapping his earpiece, Sheppard radioed Rodney.
"Rodney, where are you?" Sheppard demanded.
"I am saving the day here. Use your feet and follow Ronan." Rodney replied in annoyance.
With that, Sheppard charged into the wood line. In the distance, he could hear Ronan charging through the underbrush. All he could do was follow the noise. Nothing would stand between John and his target now.
Racing through the trees, Cooper ran as fast as his body was able. Snapping his head around, he saw Ronan sprinting after him. Extending his left hand back, Cooper fired twice at Ronan. That should slow him down some. Now, all he had to do was make it to Sawmill Reservoir. Once there, he was a simple Jet Ski ride away from freedom. Passing from wood line into the clearing that lead to the reservoir, Cooper poured on every last bit of endurance he had.
Running on a slight decline, the only thing he needed to fear was tripping over his own feet. The reservoir was so close he could almost reach out and touch it. Turning his head once again, he verified Ronan was a good distance behind. In an emergency, situational awareness is everything. Sadly, Ancient designed cloaks did little to aid situational awareness. Rodney, following his prey with the Jumper's sensors, had correctly guessed where Cooper was heading. Under Cloak, Rodney set the Jumper down directly in Cooper's path. In this second collision of the day, Cooper faired far worse than before. Slamming bodily into the shuttle, two teeth shattered. As blood flowed from an open gash on his temple, Cooper fell to the ground in a heap. This time, he truly was unconscious.
Less than a minute later, Sheppard and Ronan stood over the bleeding and unconscious form of Cooper. Leaning his head into the Jumper to ask what Rodney had been thinking, all Sheppard could do was laugh. Rodney, quite pleased with himself, did nothing more than smile a Cheshire cat grin, and offer a thumb up. To that, Sheppard had no response. Ronan, going through the unconscious man's wallet, verified that he was indeed their intended target.
"Now what?" Ronan asked.
"Let's secure his hands and feet. Then we load him aboard the Jumper." Sheppard said numbly.
"Where too?" Ronan asked.
"His house is as good a place as any." Sheppard deferred.
Troy Cooper's Home, Breckenridge, Colorado
Pain coursed through every fiber of his being. It even felt like his hair hurt. Light pouring into his eyes caused him to audibly grimace, while trying to hold back the vomit his stomach very much wanted to unleash. Looking at his wrists, he noticed both were covered in silver duct tape. Clearly, he had not managed to bring about a brilliant escape. Flexing his legs, he noticed that his legs were also similarly restrained.
Keeping his head bowed, Cooper looked around at his direct surroundings. The hardwood floors he saw were familiar. They should be, as they were his floors. Why would they bring him to his home, he wondered. As he pondered this thought, he noticed a set of combat boots come into view.
"I know you are awake, no sense in pretending otherwise. Can you hear me?" Sheppard asked in a neutral tone.
"Did you really need to hit me with a truck? This kind of thing used to be more civilized." Cooper demurred.
"I am going to ask you some questions. If you refuse to answer honestly, I am going to put you in more pain than you ever imagined possible. Do you understand?" Sheppard asked calmly.
"Don't tease me with a good time. What do you think you are going to do Colonel? Yes, I am fully aware you are a Colonel." Cooper drawled.
"If you think because I am an officer of the United States military, that I won't do you harm, you're mistaken. Answer my questions, or I am going to cut pieces of you off, and my friend here is going to cauterize the wound so you do not pass out from blood lose. Understand?" Sheppard asked in a fearsome whisper.
"Do you have any idea who I am?" Cooper hissed.
"According to your driver's license, you are Troy Cooper. I would wager a guess that you were once an NID dirtball though." Sheppard said with a sneer.
"Yeah, I was NID. Now, I get paid much better though." Cooper replied in defiance.
Wordlessly, Sheppard withdrew a razor sharp combat knife from its sheath at his back. A dead look filled his eyes, and that look terrified everyone in the room. Grabbing Cooper's left thumb, he laid the blade on the flesh around the lowest knuckle.
"Hey, what are you doing? Hey! Hey! Stop! No!" Cooper screamed.
His expression not changing at all, Sheppard cut into his captive's hand. Slicing cleanly through the flesh, the blade slowed its progress on reaching the knuckle. Putting his weight into it, Sheppard cleaved cleanly through the knuckle, separating the thumb from Cooper's body forever.
"Your turn Chewie." Sheppard said without a trace of emotion.
Stepping towards the fireplace, Ronan removed a kitchen knife he had placed in the white hot coals. Unfazed by what was happening, or what he was about to do, Ronan quickly covered the distance between Cooper and the fireplace. Laying the flat side of the glowing hot kitchen implement on the nub where once a thumb had been attached, Ronan cauterized the wound. This brought about a fresh round of screaming from Cooper.
"You are dead! Both of you are dead!" Cooper screamed.
"Keep that up and you lose another one." Sheppard threatened.
"What do you want to know?" Cooper demanded.
"Where is David Sheppard?" Sheppard asked.
"I don't….I don't know. I was just told to watch him and report his movements." Cooper panted.
"Told by whom?" Sheppard asked quietly.
"I don't know." Cooper shrugged.
"You don't know? Ok, have it your way." Sheppard offered.
Once again, Sheppard brought the knife to Cooper's body. This time, the sole remaining thumb was the victim. Slicing was followed by screaming. Screaming was followed by Ronan cauterizing, which brought more screaming. His heart racing, Cooper knew he could not endure this much longer.
"We work in separate groups! I get word from my control officer, and follow instructions. All I do is pass on information!" Cooper pleaded.
"Who is your control officer?" Sheppard demanded.
"Vogel, his name is Vogel." Cooper panted.
"Does Vogel have a first name?" Sheppard asked lightly.
"If he does, I do not know what it is. Just stop hurting me, please?" Cooper begged.
"How do I find this Vogel?" Sheppard asked softly.
In response, Cooper began to weep and cry. Between a rock and a hard place, he saw no way of winning. If he told these men where to find Vogel, Cooper knew he was a dead man. If he told these men nothing, he knew they would kill him also.
"I only know our contact point that is it. That's the truth!" Cooper cried.
Watching the bleeding man rock front and back as he wept, Sheppard judged the man's responses thus far. Yes, he was probably telling the truth, as he knew it. That was not something Sheppard would physically punish the man for.
"I believe you Troy." Sheppard explained.
"Just please don't cut me." Cooper said between breathes.
"Tell me where your contact point is with Vogel." Sheppard prompted.
Visibly shaken, Cooper grew even more uncomfortable than he already was. If he told them what they wanted to know, he was certainly a dead man. If he did not tell them, this man might cut him into fish bait.
"Cat got your tongue Mr. Cooper? Do you suddenly not remember?" Sheppard asked in irritation.
"I….I don't know." Cooper said tearfully.
Without saying a word, Sheppard grabbed a fist full of Cooper's hair. Wrenching Cooper's head back, Sheppard began to saw into the flesh connecting Cooper's left ear to his scalp. Screaming filled the room, as Cooper howled in pain. Ronon, looking at his long time friend, noted an absolute lack of emotion in Sheppard's eyes. That was not a good sign.
"He is the manager of the Capital Ballroom!" Cooper screamed.
"Capital Ballroom? You mean the night club in DC?" Sheppard asked disbelievingly.
"Yes! He is six feet tall, with peroxide white hair. I swear it!" Cooper cried.
"Was he NID also?" Sheppard asked menacingly.
"Yes, he was." Cooper whispered.
"See how easy this can be when you tell me what I want to know?" Sheppard asked.
"Can I have a cigarette? Please?" Cooper requested.
Sickened by the entire spectacle that had played out before his eyes, Rodney had kept his eyes averted throughout. While he understood Sheppard's anger and fury, he in no way approved of this. Sheppard was coming unglued. This, he would discuss with Jennifer when they arrived home. Putting a cigarette in Cooper's mouth, Rodney offered the man a lighter, until he realized lighting a cigarette with no thumbs would be a challenge. Lighting the cigarette for him, Rodney then returned his full attention to the man's laptop. While searching for information was useful, it was an even better way to divert his attention of this mess.
"I think he told us everything he knows Sheppard." Ronon stated.
"Yeah, I think you might be right. The question remains what to do with him now." Sheppard pondered.
"Shoot him, and then dump him out at sea off the east coast maybe?" It isn't like he will be alone for long out there." Ronon answered unsympathetically.
Before another word could be said, a brilliant white light filled the room. An audible chime announced this as an Asgard transport beam at work. As a man took shape in the room, Ronon drew and leveled his pistol at the new arrival. Returned to physical form, the man looked around, then at Cooper, before finally bringing his eyes to rest on Ronon.
"Hey, Bob Marley, lower the weapon before you hurt yourself." The man stated.
"Get down on the ground, now!" Ronon demanded.
"Have you seen what is on this floor? If you think I am going to lay down in a puddle of thumb, you my friend are crazy." The man objected.
"Here is how this is going to work. I ask the questions, and you answer. If you do not, my dreadlocked friend here is going to shoot you. Understood?" Sheppard asked.
"Jack told me you guys were crazy, but I never expected you to cut off the guys thumbs! Yeah, I got it." The man replied unfazed.
"Who are you?" Sheppard asked.
"Call me Burke." Burke replied.
"Do you have a first name Burke?" Sheppard asked impatiently.
"Agent works just fine." Burke replied nonchalantly.
"Agent? Are you NID?" Sheppard asked cautiously.
"Wrong three letter agency. Your boss, my friend, calls us the 'shaken not stirred crowd'." Burke explained.
"You know General O'Neill?" Sheppard asked disbelievingly.
"He and I go way back, to when he was a Major. If it were not for him, I would still be rotting in a jungle in Honduras. Look Colonel, Jack sent me to help." Burke explained.
"Help how?" Sheppard asked.
"Jack asked that I keep track of you campers, and if possible keep you out of prison for murder. In this case, I guess maiming would be a better description. The thumbs? Crazy!" Burke laughed.
"How did you find us?" Rodney chimed in.
"Did you really think you would fall off the grid entirely? The Jumper? The weapons? Fitted with a tracker boys." Burke explained.
"So now what?" Ronon asked.
"Now, you kids pack your gear, gather anything of interest here, and get gone. I will find his thumbs and clean this up. You have style kid I will say that. Jack is going to love this when I tell him." Burke laughed.
Over the next hour, Sheppard and team scoured the house for anything that might help their cause. All electronic devices found, they took with them for Rodney to examine. Walking back into the room holding Cooper, Sheppard arrived as Burke spoke into his radio earpiece.
"One to beam, minus thumbs and an ear." Burke said with a smirk.
Ushering the team off, Burke began to clean up the house. When done, no trace of anyone having ever been here would be left. What else would come from this babysitting? Who knew, but Burke suspected it would be good.
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