You can't fight in here, this is the Wardroom!
“Please,” Michelle Lee pleaded. “I did what you asked. Just let me hear her voice. I need to know she’s still alive and unhurt.”
The Weatherman was silent for a moment and then he spoke. “No phone call. She might start speaking Chinese. But when you make the drop on Wednesday there’ll be a folded paper on the table. Inside it will be a flash drive with a video clip of Amanda. Swap it for the drive with the latest bids and leave.”
“Oh, thank you, thank you,” Lee almost sobbed.
“As long as everything goes to plan tomorrow, that is,” the Weatherman went on, “so keep your head down and your mouth shut. If anything changes – text.” He disconnected without wasting time on niceties like saying ‘Goodbye’.
Lee lowered her phone and looked at Gibbs. He ignored her, for the moment, and focused his attention on McGee and Agent Drummond.
“Got it,” McGee said, grinning. “Northwest, about halfway between here and Bethesda. Cleveland Park, I’d say, or Tenleytown. Give me a minute and I’ll pin it down closer.”
“An anonymous burn phone?” Gibbs queried.
“Yeah,” McGee said. “Not that I expected anything else. But he should never have gotten into a conversation. We’ve got it pinned down pretty good. Cutting her off short and replying by text would have made it a whole lot harder.”
“It was all texts, after the first call, until Saturday,” Lee put in. “I guess what they wanted me to do was too complicated to put in a text.”
“Cleveland Park,” Agent Drummond confirmed. “Now we just need him to use the phone again.”
“Good work, Agents,” Gibbs said. “And that includes you, Lee. But you should have come to us right at the beginning.”
“I… know,” Lee said, “but I was so scared I couldn’t think.”
“He’s dialing,” Agent Drummond announced, a touch of glee in her voice. “The smart move would have been to swap to a different phone.”
They listened in, as The Weatherman gave instructions to a subordinate guarding the kidnapped girl, and McGee and Drummond exchanged high fives and beaming smiles.
The Weatherman wasn’t using the Autotune. His voice was clear and unmodified. A concrete way to identify him. And, Gibbs thought, it indicated that the subordinate knew his boss and therefore distorting the voice was regarded as pointless. Once they rescued the hostage the way to capture The Weatherman was clear.
And then the smiles disappeared. The Weatherman’s instructions were to make a video of ‘the Chinese kid.’ And that phrasing only made sense in one situation.
“Oh, crap,” McGee sighed. “There are two victims. Another kid in danger.”
“Seems like it,” Gibbs agreed. “Get me a location.”
The two tech experts busied themselves at their keyboards and after a couple of minutes they had an answer. “Somewhere in this triangle,” McGee said, highlighting a section of the map displayed on his monitor. “Just outside Hickory Grove, Virginia.”
Gibbs was on the point asking how McGee knew but then decided not to bother. It would be technical stuff, probably including indecipherable jargon and multi-syllable words, and he wouldn’t understand half of it. The important thing was that they had a location; although the indicated area covered a couple of square miles. “Can you pin it down any closer?” he asked.
“Well, it’s more likely to be the top half of the triangle than the bottom,” McGee said. “That’s as much as I can say, Boss.”
“Let’s take a closer look,” Gibbs said. “MTAC.”- - - - -
With the full weekday complement of staff present in the office there was, inevitably, a great deal of curiosity about the AFOSI team, the two Air Force officers, and – of course – the exotic jet-black girl with the visitor’s pass and the NCIS cap. At least Cierre had been persuaded to put her sword away, and her hair was combed to conceal her ears as much as possible, and she was wearing tinted glasses to make her yellow eyes less obvious. Even so she was the object of much speculation.
Consequently Gibbs decided that she should be brought into MTAC along with Colonel Carter, Major Davis, and the two teams of agents. Leaving Cierre out in the office where the other agents would pester her with questions she couldn’t answer, or shutting her away in the interrogation room to finish reading ‘Deep Six’, weren’t acceptable options. It might raise further questions among those agents not involved in the case but Gibbs didn’t care; those questions weren’t going to get answered.
“This is like movie theater,” Cierre remarked, on seeing the rows of seats and the big screen. “Are you give us popcorn? Or hot dogs?”
“No popcorn or hot dogs,” Gibbs said, “and no movie. Satellite footage of the target area.” He thought for a second and then decided that, despite Michelle Lee’s presence, there was no point in keeping the translation amulet hidden. She’d been told so much by the opposition that a little extra knowledge didn’t matter. “You can put your necklace on while we’re in here, if you like,” he told Cierre.
“Putting it on now, Boss,” Cierre replied, in a good imitation of the way McGee and DiNozzo responded to Gibbs’ orders, and she gave him a broad grin.
Gibbs couldn’t help grinning back, at least briefly, before resuming his normal dour expression. “Okay, let’s see what this area looks like,” he said. “Put it up on screen.”
“If we need better footage I can get it,” Special Agent Burleigh said. “Real-time satellite pass, low-level photo-recon, whatever. With General O’Neill on the case I can get us whatever we need.”
“I’ll fly the mission myself if necessary,” Colonel Carter put in.
Gibbs stared at the screen. “I think this is good enough,” he said. “Only a few houses in the designated area. Five in a cluster at the bottom edge and one, by itself, right in the high-probability zone. McGee, get me an address for that lone building and then find out who owns it.”
“On it, Boss,” McGee responded. He produced his PDA and got to work. “It was sold in October,” he reported after a couple of minutes, “and bought by a company registered in Delaware. Not Supermaterials Research Inc. but it’s still suspicious.”
“More than suspicious,” said Gibbs. “That’s our target. We’ll hit it around three a.m. when the captors should be asleep. I can’t see them mounting a twenty-four hour guard. Me, David, and DiNozzo.”
Tony wasn’t quite successful in suppressing his groan. Hickory Grove was a couple of hundred miles from DC and the timing meant that they’d have to be up all night. “Sure thing, Boss,” he said.
“I want to come too,” Cierre said. “I am skilled at night assaults.”
“This isn’t going to be an assault,” Gibbs said. “There’s a child there, probably two, and we don’t want any shooting if it can be helped. And you’re not trained in law enforcement. You don’t get to come.”
Cierre’s lower lip stuck out in a pout, briefly, but then her face returned to the impassive expression which seemed to be her default. “As you command,” she said. She sat in silence as Gibbs, Tony, and Ziva planned out the operation.
Michelle Lee, who had been brought into MTAC only because she was being kept under constant observation, also sat in silence. She twisted her hands together in her lap and chewed on her bottom lip. No-one interacted with her until after the planning stage was complete when, rather to Gibbs’ surprise, Cierre leaned over to Lee and put a hand on her shoulder.
“Do not fear,” Cierre said. “The plan is good and your colleagues are competent. They will return your child safely.”
Lee opened her eyes very wide, blinked several times, and then managed a shaky smile. “Thank you,” she said.
As everyone filed out of MTAC, and returned to the Bullpen, Colonel Carter stopped beside Gibbs. “I’d like a word, if I may, Special Agent Gibbs,” Carter said.
“Of course,” Gibbs said. He waited but Carter didn’t begin speaking until everyone else had moved out of hearing range.
“I’d like you to reconsider your decision not to allow Cierre to accompany you when you go to rescue the hostage children,” Carter said. “Not just because she’d be an asset to the mission – she can see in the dark like a cat and she’s as stealthy as a hunting cat, too – but because of what it would mean to her and, by extension, to the SGC.”
“I don’t get your point,” Gibbs said.
“We didn’t meet Cierre under the best of circumstances,” Carter said. “We were stranded on her planet but we’d acquired a… native guide. A local hero, who went out of her way to help us without asking anything in return… until Cierre killed her.”
Gibbs raised his eyebrows but didn’t say anything.
“Cierre was critically injured herself,” Carter went on, “and then the man who had tricked Cierre into the killing turned up, took us prisoner, and left Cierre for dead. We spent the next ten days being tortured by the High Priestess of the Goddess of Pain.” She shuddered. “Eventually we managed to break out – just as Cierre arrived to rescue us. She’s quite… obsessive about repaying her debts and she felt she owed us. And the girl she’d killed; Cierre went to extraordinary lengths to fulfill Kenadi’s dying wish because she saw herself as owing a debt.”
“And you think Cierre sees herself as owing us one?” Gibbs guessed.
“Oh, definitely,” Carter answered. “And she feels she bears the responsibility for Gunnery Sergeant Sherman’s death. Unless she can make some significant contribution to the case she’s going to brood on that guilt for ages. And that’s not healthy for someone in her position. Killing Bodhi would have made her feel better – but she didn’t, and now she isn’t going to get the chance.”
“Not if your gadgets work the way you say they will,” Gibbs said.
“They’ll work,” Carter assured him.
“It’ll be good to turn the tables on that bitch,” Gibbs said. “Okay, Cierre can come – as long as she’ll follow orders.”
Carter gave him one of her high-wattage smiles. “She’ll follow your
orders,” she said. “You’ve won her respect.” The smile faded and she pursed her lips. “Unfortunately General Landry… hasn’t. But that’s not your problem. Just take it that Cierre will do what you tell her and she’ll do it well.”
“Good,” Gibbs grunted. He turned, without further speech, and went down into the Bullpen. “LuaLua!” he called. “You’re in the strike team after all. Two pairs, you with me and David with DiNozzo.”
Cierre’s face lit up with a broad smile. “Bel'la dos, Jabbuk
Gibbs,” she said. Obviously she’d remembered to take off her necklace this time. “Ready when you are, Boss.”
“You can’t take your sword, and keep your knife and your gun holstered,” Gibbs cautioned her. “Only draw if one of the team is in imminent danger. The idea is that no-one gets hurt. Not us, not the hostages, and not the bad guys. I want them alive and able to identify their boss.”
“I am understand,” Cierre said.
DiNozzo, standing nearby, looked out of the window. “Oh, great, it’s starting to snow,” he observed. “That’s all we needed. We’re pulling an all-nighter, driving for hours, and now there’s snow.”
Cierre’s smile broadened. “Night and snow,” she said. “My goddess smiles upon me.”- - - - -
They left their cars quarter of a mile away from the target, to make sure the sound didn’t alert the bad guys, and followed a rough track toward the house. The snowfall had been light, luckily, but it was enough to obscure the path and make it hard to follow in the dark. Cierre, however, had no problem and led the way unerringly.
DiNozzo had grumbled all the way but as they emerged from a clump of trees, and the cabin came into sight, he fell silent. His hand went to his gun and he stood up straight, tense and alert, a hunter nearing his prey.
Gibbs nodded approvingly. DiNozzo had many irritating traits but they were outweighed by his dedication and his proficiency at catching criminals. Not that Gibbs was going to tell him that.
As they neared the cabin it became obvious that it was occupied. A car was parked at the front, a Honda Accord or something similar, and some light could be seen through the curtains at one of the windows. A dim, flickering, light; a TV, most likely, rather than the room lights being on. It would seem that the occupants weren’t asleep after all.
And, unfortunately, the curtains were drawn shut with no gaps to give a view of the interior. They’d have to go in blind.
The lock on the rear door was easy to pick. The one at the front was harder, requiring five minutes of hard work with tension wrench and probes, but at last it came open. After a pre-arranged countdown Tony and Ziva went in at the rear while Gibbs and Cierre went in the front door.
There was one man in the main room, sitting in an armchair in front of a TV, with headphones on his head and a video game controller in his hands. On the screen lifelike soldiers were moving through a very realistic city-scape, firing guns and ducking for cover from return fire, and there must have been a lot of noise coming through the headphones. Despite this something, probably the cold air from the open doors, alerted the man to the NCIS agents’ entry and he leapt to his feet, snatching the phones from his head as he rose, and he took a step toward a handgun that lay on a table a few feet away.
Cierre shot forward, even before Gibbs could give her a signal, and hurled herself at the man. He was a very big man indeed, over six and a half feet tall, and he towered over the Drow girl. Gibbs winced, and levelled his gun, but he didn’t issue a challenge in case it alerted whoever else might be in the building. He had to hope that Cierre could deal with the massive guy on her own.
She could. In fact the big man didn’t stand a chance. In less than five seconds he was face down on the floor, one arm twisted up behind him with his wrist bent back hard, and Cierre was pinning his other wrist to the floor with a foot.
A succession of thuds from the next room indicated that someone, probably Ziva, was engaging in similar activity. A moment later Tony DiNozzo came into the main room, gun raised ready for any trouble, followed by Ziva dragging a woman pinioned in an arm-lock. Ziva’s captive wore a nightdress, her hair was tousled, and it seemed a fair bet that she’d been in bed. And the woman was several inches taller than Ziva and bore some facial resemblance to the man on the floor. Kidnapping, it seemed, was a family business.
A quick check of the building revealed a bathroom, a kitchen, a bedroom containing two single beds, and the main room in which they stood. There was no sign of any children or of any room in which they could be kept.
“Where are the children?” Gibbs demanded.
“I don’t know nothing about any kids,” the man on the floor said. “We ain’t done nothing. Who the Hell are you guys, anyway?”
The voice was the same as the one in the phone call. Gibbs glared at the prisoners. “NCIS,” he said, “and you’re under arrest. DiNozzo, read them their rights.” As Tony went through the formality Gibbs prowled around the house, switching on the lights as he went, and his brows creased in a frown. “This place was bigger on the outside,” he said, “and the count of windows comes up one short.”
“Secret room,” Cierre said. “It is… there.” She used her head to indicate the direction. “The door is hide-ed there.”
“Hidden there,” Gibbs corrected her. He checked out the wall she had pointed out and it took him only moments to find, and open, the concealed door. Beyond it was a children’s room. Two little chairs, a little table, two small canopy beds and a legion of stuffed animals. In the beds two children were sleeping. One stirred as the door opened and then sat up.
She was Chinese and looked to be around eight. “Amanda Lee?” Gibbs asked. He held up his badge.
“Yes, I am Amanda,” the girl answered. “Are you a policeman? Have you arrested the big bad man?”
“I’m Special Agent Gibbs. I work with your sister,” Gibbs told her. “We’ve come to take you home.”- - - - -
“Okay, Boss, I’ve got him,” McGee’s voice on the phone said. “Paul Winton. He’s supposed to be in Witness Protection.” There was a pause and Gibbs could just make out McGee yawning. “He was a little fish in an FBI RICO case,” McGee resumed, “and he testified rather than spend a few years in jail. His sister has a record, too, but nothing worse than misdemeanors.”
“Until now,” Gibbs said. Kidnapping was a Class A felony in DC and carried a maximum penalty of thirty years. “Witness Protection, huh?”
“That’s affirmative, Boss. He’s supposed to be in a Federal safe-house. Ah. In Cleveland Park. Right where his boss called from.”
Gibbs caught on straight away. The mastermind was using the safe-house as his office. “He won’t be there now,” he said, “but if we raid it in the daytime we’ll catch him.” He turned to their huge captive. “Who’s your boss?” he asked. “Who gave you your orders?”
The big man was on his feet by now, cuffed with two sets of handcuffs – he looked strong enough to replicate Cierre’s trick of ripping the cuffs apart – and with Cierre watching over him, but he looked thoroughly cowed and unlikely to try anything. “I don’t know his name,” Winton claimed, “but he’s a cop. He said if I didn’t do this job he’d tip off some guys about where I was and the name I was using. And they’d bury me. If I was lucky they’d kill me first.”
“A cop?” DiNozzo looked sick.
“Or a Fed,” Winton said. “Has to be. No-one else could have known about the safe-house.”
“Describe him,” Gibbs ordered.
“Not a big guy,” Winton said. From someone his size that could mean anything; even Tony, at six foot two, wouldn’t count as a ‘big guy’ to Winton. “Older than me, I’d say, going a little grey at the sides. Always wears a tie.”
As a description it was useless; not surprisingly, perhaps, as it wouldn’t have been his brains that got Winton picked for this job. “How tall?” Gibbs probed.
“Uh, about the same height as the girl who clobbered Jackie,” Winton said. “Hey, how come your bit- …ladies are so friggin’ tough? Nobody’s ever put me down that quick.”
“Marine Corps Martial Arts Program, Black Belt First Degree,” Cierre informed him. Gibbs wasn’t surprised; he had a low opinion of the LINE combat system still used by the USAF, although rumor had it that the Air Force was about to ditch it and replace it with the Army’s MAC program, and he’d recognized some of Cierre’s moves as coming from the Marine manual. She’d be a formidable opponent for most people even if she didn’t have such exceptional strength.
Interesting, but not important, and Gibbs concentrated on the relevant information. So, Winton’s boss was around five foot seven. That narrowed the field considerably. There was no minimum height requirement for FBI agents but, even so, the majority of the male agents were taller than five seven. And ordinary Metro cops tended to be taller than average as well.
Gibbs passed the description on to McGee and then moved on to another line of enquiry. “That bag of hair,” he said to Winton. “What are you supposed to do with it?” He had an idea but wanted it confirmed.
“I’m supposed to take a clipping every month and send it to some guy,” Winton answered. “The same way as I had to send a piece of each of the kids’ hair. Except this hair is bagged and I don’t have to cut it myself.”
Gibbs would have put money on the owner of the hair being dead. The recipient of the clippings would assume his loved one was alive as a hostage, and act accordingly, but the kidnapper didn’t have to bother with the inconvenience of a prisoner. Which raised the question of why Amanda Lee, and six-year-old Brianna McLeod, were still alive. What was different about the other victim?
“Who is the guy you send it to?” Gibbs pressed.
“His name’s Ted Bankston,” Winton replied. “I don’t know the address off of the top of my head. It’s in my notebook.”
DiNozzo retrieved the book and passed it to Gibbs. Gibbs read out the name and address to McGee. “Check him out,” Gibbs ordered. “And investigate Brianna McLeod, date of birth eight fourteen zero one, parents Adam and Lauren McLeod. She says her daddy is an airline pilot and I don’t see how that would make her a target for this kidnapper. Check out her mother and her grandparents.”
“On it, Boss,” McGee said. Gibbs waited, watching DiNozzo complete the task of photographing everything at the scene, while McGee performed his computer magic at the other end of the phone. “I got something on Bankston, Boss,” McGee reported after a minute. “He was an NSA analyst dismissed in October for misusing classified information.”
“That sounds more like a profile for the kidnapper than a victim,” Gibbs said. “Dig deeper. What about the little girl’s family?”
“Give me a second, Boss,” McGee said. “This looks… yes! Her mother. Mrs Lauren McLeod. She’s the personal assistant to Oliver J. Brubaker. The Deputy Undersecretary of the Air Force for Space Programs.”
And another piece of the jigsaw fell into place. “Good work, McGee,” Gibbs said. “Pass everything you’ve found on to AFOSI.” He rang off without further words and turned to the others. “Let’s get everything gathered up and loaded into the cars. We’ve a long drive ahead of us and then you have your meeting, LuaLua, and the rest of us… have a gunfight.”- - - - -
Bodhi lay on the roof of the tallest building in the Navy Yard and surveyed the scene below through binoculars. Another example of this world’s technology, so simple yet so effective, although practical in its application rather than enjoyable. The iPod blasting out AC/DC’s ‘Highway To Hell’ into her ear-buds was purely for entertainment.
She hadn’t seen any sign of Special Agent Gibbs or his team, although it was past the time they should have arrived at the NCIS building; presumably they were at the Pentagon waiting to ambush her. A wait that would be futile thanks to the information from Agent Lee.
Whereas her wait would not be futile. The first of her targets came into view. Cierre, getting out of Director Shephard’s car, accompanied by the Director and by the tall dark-haired girl who had tazered the Barbazu devil. The thought of teleporting down and taking out Cierre was tempting but it would ruin the rest of the mission; the meeting would be aborted but, doubtless, be re-scheduled for another time and location. If Cierre went on board the ship by herself, perhaps, then Bodhi could kill her and take her place… but the Drow girl stayed on shore, at the foot of the gangplank. The two NCIS women got back into the car and drove off, heading for the NCIS offices, but there were two Marine guards on the ship’s walkway and disposing of Cierre unobserved would be impossible. Bodhi would just have to wait until the rest of SG-1, and Dove Falconhand, got here.
Over the next twenty minutes, during which time a light scattering of snowflakes began to drift down from the cloudy sky, her targets arrived. Colonel Carter was dropped off by an AFOSI agent. Daniel Jackson and Teal’c, whom Bodhi recognized from photographs, arrived together. Then a long black car, with the winged star symbol of the United States Air Force emblazoned on the door, arrived and disgorged General O’Neill in full uniform. Again she was tempted to attack there and then but held back. Cierre was Charlotte Mayfield’s top priority, her boss wanted Daniel Jackson dead above all, and Bodhi’s own bosses regarded O’Neill as their main target. But to satisfy all parties Dove Falconhand had to die too, while under the protection of the Earthers, so that the alliance was destroyed before it could be formalized. And to attack in the open, in snowy weather, would be to choose a fight on Cierre’s – and Dove’s too, for that matter – own terms. Even if Bodhi drank her Invisibility potion the snowflakes would reveal her outline and Cierre would recognize the threat and react instantly. No, better to stick to the original plan and attack when the targets were in a confined space. That way there’d be no way for them to evade her grenade.
Carter, Jackson, and Davis went into the ship ahead of the others, presumably to make the final preparations for the conference, and Bodhi waited patiently. By now she was listening to Iron Maiden’s album ‘Powerslave’, bobbing her head in time to the music, and grinning happily. Then one more car arrived, another USAF vehicle, and O’Neill went in person to open the rear door. A tall woman clambered out, rather awkwardly as if she’d never been in that sort of seat before, and accepted O’Neill’s hand with a smile. Major Davis got out of the driver’s seat and joined them.
Bodhi had never seen Dove Falconhand in person, her own time in Faerûn having been spent hundreds of miles to the south of Dove’s stamping grounds, but this woman certainly fit her description. Tall, platinum-blonde of hair, with sun-bronzed skin that was more the color one would have expected in someone from Calimshan or Amn rather than a Northerner. She wasn’t wearing her customary armor, which would have attracted a lot of attention in Washington DC, but instead wore a Faerûnian gown with a long coat over it. Bodhi had seen enough movies by now to recognize the coat as being of a military style, even without any input from Athena, and she deduced that Dove had been given it by the Air Force to make her alien attire less obvious.
Bodhi paused her iPod and watched as Cierre, who would have known Dove in the Silver Marches, introduced her to the others. Dove spent some time gazing at the USS Barry; it must have impressed her greatly, as it was three times the size of any ship of Faerûn and its sleek lines and all-steel construction would be quite awe-inspiring when all you had seen were wooden carracks. The party then began to ascend the gangway and the Marine guards took up position, behind a sign saying ‘Museum ship closed for essential maintenance’, to block access to the ship. Not that this would be of any use against Bodhi.
She restarted the iPod and carried on listening to the album, while she waited, to allow enough time for her targets to reach the wardroom. She knew that impatience was her biggest fault (although she had to concede that from the point of view of other people her being a psychotic killer would have taken first place) and she made a conscious effort to overcome the flaw. It would only take a few minutes for SG-1 to get to the destroyer’s wardroom but Bodhi had to allow for the possibility of Dove being distracted by the ship’s technology and pausing for a closer look at something. To make absolutely sure she waited until the album had finished before taking out her weaponry and preparing for her assault.
Next on the playlist was Metallica’s self-titled album and ‘Enter Sandman’ played as she checked her guns and readied her potions. At the end of the track she switched off the iPod and put it away in her Bag of Holding, where it would be safe from harm; she didn’t want it to get fried by a zat’nik’tel like its predecessor. Then the final preparations for battle began. She tucked the Ruger pistol into her waistband and began to drink her potions.
First a Potion of Stoneskin; Cierre, and Colonel Carter, most probably still carried guns loaded with silver bullets and the chances were that one or both of them would get off some shots before going down. She took out a grenade – not a Goa’uld stunner but an Earth M-67 fragmentation grenade – and pulled the pin. If she went down she wanted to be sure she was taking someone with her. She kept hold of the lever as she transferred it to her left hand. Next she drank a Potion of Invisibility, to stack the odds even further in her favor, and then stood up. She held the Intratec TEC-9 in her right hand and put her finger on the trigger. She was ready to go.
This would be the first time she’d teleported purely on the basis of a photograph. She’d tried to get a first-hand view on Sunday night but the blinds of the wardroom portholes had been fully drawn. Luckily Charlotte had been able to provide her with good pictures, from more than one viewpoint, and they were more than detailed enough for a teleportation reference point. She visualized a point beside a curved seating unit, in one corner of the room, facing the long double table which was where she expected her prey to be seated for their meeting. If she was wrong, and she found herself right on top of the enemy, she would simply drop the grenade, teleport out, and then zap back in a few seconds later to finish off the survivors.
“Here’s my gun for a barrel of fun,” she quoted, from Iron Maiden’s ‘2 Minutes to Midnight’, and she extended the arm that held the TEC-9 and took up the slack on the trigger. Then she teleported.- - - - -
“I had to do it,” Ted Bankston claimed. He was a man in his forties, only a touch over five feet seven but solidly built, greying at the temples. He fit Paul Winton’s description of his boss to the letter. “They have my wife. If I didn’t do as I was told… they’d kill her. I’m just a cut-out.”
Burleigh raised an eyebrow. “Drummond,” he said, “remind me; how long was the gap between Agent Lee’s call and the call to give Winton his instructions?”
“Twenty-eight seconds, Chief,” Agent Drummond replied.
“So tell me again about how you don’t make the decisions and were blackmailed into acting as a cut-out,” Burleigh told Bankston. “Only this time remember that I know you’re lying. And then you can tell me about the Trust.”- - - - -
Bodhi materialized in the exact spot she had visualized and with her gun already pointing at the table. It was empty. No-one occupied any of the chairs. Instantly she whirled and covered the L-shaped leather-covered seating behind her; it too was unoccupied.
‘Fuck!’ she thought. ‘They must be taking Dove on the full conducted tour of the ship. Do I go looking for them, teleport out and come back later, or stay here and wait?’
Before she had come to a decision the wardroom door opened. Simultaneously the serving hatch from the wardroom’s little kitchen slid open. An odd device, looking rather like a half-melted submachine gun, came into view in the doorway. She recognized it, from Athena’s memories, as a Transphase Eradicator Rod; a Goa’uld weapon that rendered invisible creatures visible. Before she could react she felt an odd sensation in her stomach and, simultaneously, those parts of her hair that weren’t spiked up stood on end. Some sort of energy had struck her, from the opposite direction to the TER, but it didn’t seem to have done any harm and she ignored it for the moment. The TER had priority but she was screwed anyway; the instant she opened fire her invisibility would be dispelled.
Her attack plan was ruined and the best course of action was to teleport out. She squeezed the trigger, letting loose a burst of fire in the direction of the hand holding the TER, and at the same time tried to teleport to the parking garage in Cleveland. She failed. Something was blocking her and she remained in the wardroom of the USS Barry. An attempt to Gate to the Nine Hells failed. It was as if she was wearing the necklace she’d tricked Sshinda into wearing but Bodhi was sure no-one had planted anything like that on her. SG-1 must, somehow, have reverse-engineered it and zapped her with something operating on the same principles. She was trapped.
“Fuck!” Bodhi growled. The radiation from the TER washed over her, superfluous as she’d already become visible, and an instant later a blast of much more harmful radiation narrowly missed her and dislodged two shield-shaped plaques mounted on the wall behind her. Then a shotgun came into view in the serving hatch and immediately fired. Several slugs hit Bodhi; her Stoneskin stopped them penetrating but she could tell that they were silver. Once the Stoneskin failed she’d be vulnerable. And then a P-90 opened up on her from low down in the doorway and, higher up, a pistol appeared and fired. At the serving hatch the shotgun wielder ducked down and someone firing a pistol took their place.
Bodhi was boxed in, with no way out except through the door, and approaching it would get her shot to pieces. She had to clear the way and the ideal weapon for that purpose was already in her hand. The grenade flew through the air and out of the door.
And, an instant later, came back.
“Grenade!” a voice yelled. Agent DiNozzo? What the fuck was he doing here? The steel door slammed shut and the serving hatch slid up and closed. The grenade landed on the table, bounced off, and dropped to the floor.
It couldn’t hurt her but it could affect the Stoneskin. Bodhi threw herself behind the closest cover, a room divider with cupboards at the bottom and a counter top, and took shelter from the blast. Two of the fluorescent light panels in the ceiling shattered and went out, the table took on a drunken lean, and a chair toppled as its legs were blown off. Bodhi was almost untouched and, for the moment, her Stoneskin remained intact. She tried to summon a barbazu, without success, and scrambled up into a firing position.
The door opened again and a P-90 and another shotgun opened fire directly at her. There was no momentary indecision as the wielders sought their target; they knew exactly where she was. There had to be a camera, probably more than one, observing the room and displaying her position. And, as she strove to draw the Ruger from her waistband and to avoid the deadly hail of fire, she saw enough of the enemies to recognize that they were wearing body armor and helmets. Everything was against her and the best that she could hope for was to take someone down with her. And it wouldn’t be one of SG-1; there was no sign of them, it was the agents of NCIS and AFOSI who had trapped her here, and she was going to die with her mission a failure.
Bodhi opened up with both guns. The slide of the Intratec locked open as the magazine ran dry. She was hit by multiple shots, and the Stoneskin failed, and a shotgun blast from behind caught her in the head and the upper back. The empty Intratec fell to the floor. She went down hard, bleeding, and struggled to raise her pistol. The agents at the doorway continued to fire; shotgun pellets ripped into her shoulder and a sustained burst from the P-90 riddled her body with silver bullets. The gun dropped from her hand and she lay limp and still.- - - - -
Gibbs stepped into the room, followed by DiNozzo, and trained his P-90 on Bodhi’s head. A tear in his ballistic vest, and a 9mm bullet embedded in the center of the chest armor, showed that the precautionary measures had saved his life.
“Is this the real thing, Boss?” DiNozzo asked. He jacked another round into the breech of his shotgun and copied Gibbs in aiming it at the prone woman’s head.
Gibbs nodded. “Yeah, this is the real Bodhi, or Doyle, or whatever,” he confirmed. “I recognized the way she holds her guns. And it was her modus operandi; teleport in, drop a grenade in her targets’ laps, zap out again and then come back when the smoke clears to finish them off.”
Tony fired his shotgun and reduced Bodhi’s head to a bloody pulp. “She twitched, Boss,” he explained. “After what happened before there’s no way I’m taking any chances at all.”
Agent Dorsey appeared at the serving hatch. Simultaneously the door to the kitchen area opened and Ziva stepped through.
“Ding, dong, the bitch is dead,” Ziva said, holstering her pistol as she spoke.
“That’s ‘Ding, dong, the witch
is dead’, Ziva,” Tony corrected her.
“I said what I meant,” Ziva said.
“Well, she’s melting, anyway,” Tony observed.
“Hey, if she’s got any gadgets you’d better grab them quick,” Agent Dorsey called.
“Good thinking,” Gibbs said. He knelt down by the body. “Nothing on her neck,” he said, “and this looks like a perfectly ordinary wristwatch.”
“A thirty thousand dollar Ballon Bleu de Cartier, if I am not mistaken,” Ziva said. “Not what I would call ordinary.”
Gibbs ignored the watch anyway and began a hasty search of the body. He managed to come up with a little wallet just before the corpse faded away, became completely insubstantial, and vanished.
“Credit cards,” he said, tossing the wallet to the floor. “At least it’s evidence, even if it’s not some high-tech gadgetry, so we’ve made some progress. Bag it, David.”
Agent Blenkowski came in with the Transphase Eradicator Rod in his hands. “The room’s a mess,” he commented, “but better the room than us. Nice save with the grenade, Tony.”
“It’s all in the reflexes,” Tony said. “That’s what…”
“…Jack Burton always says,” Blenkowski joined in to complete the quote.
“A lot better than throwing yourself on top of it again, DiNozzo,” Gibbs said. “The body armor wouldn’t have saved you.”
“I know, Boss,” DiNozzo said.
Major Davis came through the door and looked around. “I take it we got her,” he said. “Anyone hurt?”
“Not a scratch,” DiNozzo said.
Gibbs pulled the spent bullet out of his ballistic armor. “It was close,” he said, “but we’re all okay.”
“Unlike the wardroom,” Davis said. “The tour is going to be closed for maintenance for real now. The Navy can bill the Air Force for the cost of the repairs. General O’Neill will be happy to sign off on it.”
“And if he doesn’t,” DiNozzo said, “Gibbs can use that hologram thing again and do it for him.”
Ziva touched a button on a gadget at her belt and transformed into Cierre. “These are amazing,” she said, in Cierre’s voice but retaining her own speech patterns. “With these Mossad could penetrate any terrorist group.”
“And the terrorists could get through any security once they got hold of them,” Gibbs pointed out, “and they would.”
“Yes, they’re just too dangerous,” Davis agreed. “One of them was used to frame General O’Neill – Colonel, as he was then – for an assassination attempt and it would be way too easy to do something like that, or worse, again. General O’Neill had to pull a whole lot of strings to get these released to us and they have to go right back to Area 51.”
“That’s fine with me,” Gibbs said. “One instance of Doyle looking just like David was one too many. Lock them up tight and I hope they’re never needed again.”
Ziva pressed the button again and reverted to her normal appearance and voice. “True,” she agreed. “Better that no-one has this rather than that our enemies do.”
“The meeting should be well under way by now,” Blenkowski remarked. “I wonder who the real representative from Faerûn will be? Although the name probably wouldn’t mean anything to me if I heard it. I’m no expert.”
“I thought it was to be the woman called Dove that Gail was mimicking,” Ziva said.
“It might be,” Dorsey said, “but if it is it’ll just be coincidence. Dove’s just somebody Cierre’s met, and could describe well enough for us to set up the disguise, and who would be feasible as the envoy. I’ve put ten dollars on it turning out to be her after all but if I win it’ll be pure luck. The odds are against it.”
“My ten dollars is on High Priestess Sumia,” Blenkowski said, “but only because I know she’s already met O’Neill and SG-1. And I only know the names of about four possible candidates anyway.”
“You’ll have to settle it later,” Gibbs said. “DiNozzo, bag up those guns. If we send them to the cops in Cleveland, and tell them the woman who had them was shot dead resisting arrest, they should be able to close their case. The rest of you pack up and we’ll get out of here. We still have work to do. Major Davis, would you send a text message to Cierre? Tell her Bodhi’s dead – for real this time.”- - - - -
Cierre felt her phone vibrate and put up her hand. “General Jack,” she said, “there is a message for me.”
“Go ahead, read it,” Jack told her. He ran his fingers across his forehead. He was beginning to get a headache. Trying to strike a balance between the demands of the Atlantis Faction and the Faerûn Faction within the SGC wasn’t easy. On top of that Jack had, unwisely in retrospect, made a promise to Colonel Cameron Mitchell that was causing all kinds of friction and resentment. Especially from Cierre. To make things worse Hank Landry didn’t ‘get’ Cierre; he liked to put people into categories, and Cierre was a category all of her own. And, although Jack liked Cierre a whole lot and admired her for her many good qualities, he had to admit that her indomitable determination could come over to others as her being mule-headed and even downright bloody-minded.
“Bodhi is dead,” Cierre reported. She gave Jack a broad smile. “Agent Gibbs and his people have killed her. And this time it is the real Bodhi.”
“Nice to have some good news for a change,” Jack said. “I want those mimetic imaging devices back as soon as possible. I won’t feel comfortable until they’re locked away again. Or, better still, destroyed, although I admit it’s just as well we still had them this time.”
“Don’t worry, sir, the NCIS people came over as being utterly reliable,” Carter assured him. “And Paul Davis will make sure they give them back right away. And the TER, and my anti-teleportation ray.”
“Okay, I’ll trust them,” Jack said. “So, where were we? Oh, yeah, you were telling me why you don’t want Cameron Mitchell on SG-1”
“I feel that your promise to him was unwise, O’Neill,” Teal’c said. “His bravery, and his skill at aerial combat, cannot be questioned and it is true that he saved our lives at great cost to himself. Yet he is inexperienced in personal combat, and in dealing with the peoples of other worlds, and needs to gain that experience before he could join us. Was not Cierre required to serve with SG-12 before General Hammond would consent to her becoming a member of SG-1?”
“And him being exactly the same rank as me is a big problem, sir,” Carter said. “I can see it being used to try to pressure me into leaving SG-1 and going to Area 51 to do full-time research. I’d rather stay in the field but I don’t see how a shared command could work.”
“If Sam leaves, and Colonel Mitchell becomes commander of SG-1,” Cierre said, “I shall ask to be transferred to SG-13. Colonel Dixon is a male I can respect.”
“And I shall return to the Free Jaffa,” Teal’c said.
“Daniel? Are you going to make it unanimous?”
“I’m afraid so, Jack,” Daniel said. “He seems to be an okay guy and if he was a Lieutenant I wouldn’t have a problem with him joining us. The problem is that he’s a Lieutenant-Colonel
. He’d expect to be able to give orders and, until he got used to our… peculiar way of doing things, they’d be the wrong orders. Dropping him in the deep end on a mission to Faerûn would be a disaster waiting to happen. Especially as he’s an Evangelical Christian, and so he’s pretty much guaranteed to offend the Faerûn clergy, and establishing closer links with them is our number one priority right now. Why did you have to promise Mitchell any job he wanted?”
“I thought he’d ask for command of a starship,” Jack admitted. “The Odyssey
is fitting out now and the timing would have been perfect. It never occurred to me he’d ask for SG-1.”
“Hmm,” said Daniel. “Suppose you give us a new designation? SG-F, for Faerûn, maybe? Or SG-100? Then he could have an SG-1. It just wouldn’t be us.”
“SG-007,” Cierre suggested.
“Indeed SG-007 would be a valid designation,” Teal’c agreed, “although James Bond was not always honorable in his dealings with women. I would prefer SG-Jedi.”
Jack shook his head. “For cryin’ out loud,” he said, “I can’t pull a trick like that on the guy. Okay, I’ll have to tell him that he’s asking for the one thing he can’t have. Maybe if he does a year with some other team first… or maybe he might go for the command slot on the Odyssey
as an alternative, especially if we bump him up to full Colonel as a sweetener. Paul Emerson’s penciled in for the Odyssey
job but nothing’s written in stone yet.”
“That reminds me,” Carter said. “Isn’t it time Paul Davis was promoted? He’s been a Major as long as I’ve known him and I’ve gone from Captain to Lieutenant-Colonel. It doesn’t seem fair.”
“Good point,” Jack agreed. “The trouble is he’s just too good at the job and it’s only been classed as a post for a Major up to now. I think I can swing it to get the liaison post upgraded and promote Paul to go with it. Maybe a jump straight to full Colonel to make up for the delay.”
“He deserves it,” Cierre said. “He was a great help to me and used his zat bravely and skillfully against Bodhi.”
As Cierre was speaking Jack’s wristwatch beeped.
“Showtime,” he said. “It’s time for the envoy from the Bridesmaids to arrive.”
Carter raised her eyebrows. “They’re actually coming straight here? Even though we’re just in the first spare conference room that was free? I thought it would be a case of her – it will be a her, I’d guess – going to some pre-arranged point and being escorted to us. It would have taken us forever to find this room if we hadn’t been escorted.”
Jack shrugged. “Mine not to reason why,” he said. “The message from Faerûn gave me instructions to follow and I’m just doing what it said. And, seeing as how it was enchanted so nobody but me could read it, I’m taking it they know what they’re doing. Danny, you’re closest. Switch off the lights.”
Daniel frowned as he got to his feet. “The envoy is Lady Egeria? She’s the Herald of Shar. Surely she can’t be representing the Bridesmaids?”
Jack shrugged again. “Don’t ask me,” he said. “I’m just doing what the message said. Switch off the lights, Daniel, then count to five and switch them on again.”
Daniel, still frowning, obeyed. The lights went out and the room was plunged into darkness. One second later the thudding noise of air being instantly displaced revealed the arrival of someone teleporting in. An instant later a slightly louder balloon-popping sound, indicating that someone had teleported out, followed.
“You may relight your lanterns,” a pleasant female voice spoke in English. “I am here.”
Daniel switched the lights back on and saw, standing nearby, a tall female figure. Seven feet tall, like Lady Egeria, but very different in appearance. This woman was jet black of skin, darker even than Cierre, and had a mane of silver hair that fell down her back and reached right down to the middle of her thighs. She wore a halter top in teal, and a matching mini-skirt, and red knee-boots. The hilt of a massive sword rose from behind her left shoulder. And she was absolutely, stunningly, beautiful.
Jack rose to his feet, as did Samantha Carter and Teal’c; Cierre sat frozen for a second, immobile except for her jaw dropping open, and then she stood up quickly and, immediately, went down on one knee.
“Your Highness,” Cierre said, bowing her head. “Accept my humble greetings.”
Jack had never seen Cierre react like that before; not even when they’d met Lady Egeria, and Egeria was an Ascended being ranking only slightly below a Faerûnian… god. Oh.
“Welcome to Earth, uh, Your Highness,” he greeted the presumed goddess. “I’m Major-General Jonathan J. O’Neill, United States Air Force. The rest of us are Lieutenant Colonel Samantha Carter, Teal’c of the Jaffa, Doctor Daniel Jackson, and Cierre LuaLua.”
“I thank you for your welcome, General O’Neill,” the goddess replied. “I am Eilistraee.”
Jack had heard that name before. He tended to zone out when Daniel was talking about gods, whether Ancient Egyptian or Faerûnian, but he recognized that name from somewhere else. Oh, yeah, that was it. Lady Egeria had said that Eilistraee had taught her sword-fighting. That being the case this woman, despite looking like the super-model to end all super-models, would be more lethal than a Marine Corps weapons company. And Bodhi’s plan to assassinate the envoy would have ended in ignominious failure with five feet of magical steel slicing her into salami.
“Eilistraee,” Daniel said. “Drow goddess of the moon, the dance, and swordplay. Sister to Vhaeraun. Daughter of Corellon Larethian, the King of the Elven Gods.” He gave one of those little smiles that implied he was making a reference that he knew would be over Jack’s head. “The King of Elfland’s Daughter.”