"Danny! What brings you here?" Jack said as the other man poked his head around the office door.
"Possible progress with our mystery weapon. I talked to a friend who works at the Smithsonian. And if you ever think I'm messy, you should try to make sense of their cataloging system. The Ark of the Covenant really could be sitting in some DC sub-basement without anyone knowing about it ever. Anyways, paperwork has gone through, and Andy's crew is lending the museum at the Air Force Academy the three certified St. Istvan blades he's actually been able to track down. Officially it's for an exhibit on Balkan weapons through the ages, but they're getting shipped straight to Sam. She'll analyze, and see if the composition matches the blade that killed the PX-782 creature."
"And if they do match?"
"We haven't gotten that far yet. A perfectly logical terrestrial explanation would be nice."
"But you know how it goes here. That's not likely to happen. And I'm glad came by for tea. Doc Frasier says we can go talk to Airman Harris in a couple hours, but only if we promise not to, and I quote 'scare her patient'. I also managed to get a hold of his full personnel file. If you know what to look for, and see a few more of the pieces, it gets a bit more interesting."
"In what way?"
"First, he chose the Air Force rather than facing jail time for an assault charge. I thought only the Marines did that any more. There's a note in the file about how the town he grew up in, this Sunnydale place, was a hotbed of gang activity, and the interviews from Harris' security clearance all say it was self defense. And he hasn't had an easy life. Janet said he's got some scars and evidence of old injuries that say he was the punching bag a lot when he was growing up."
"I thought that join the Air Force, get away from a crummy childhood was a standard recruiting line you guys used."
"It is. But the part that gets weird is that after he got out of surgery, Harris kept babbling to Janet about something called The Initiative, and that he wanted to be no part of that."
"That, and vampires."
"Don't think the vampires are real, but I did some checking on the rest. There was an Army program named that was based out of the University of California at Sunnydale."
"I know there's an and with this. So and?"
"It was on the books as a project working with behavior control and increased prison safety."
"And you're getting the feeling that The Initiative had as much to do with prison safety as we do with deep space telemetry."
"Give the man a crate of Turtle Wax for that right answer. And from what I heard, NID was involved with it before it got itself closed down because of too many prisoner escapes."
"And Harris? How does he fit in here?"
"That's the question for the prize level above the Turtle Wax. Guess we get the fun job of trying to figure out if he's NID's or one of their past victims."
"Explore strange new worlds, fight bureaucratic turf wars. Yep. That's what we all signed up for."
"That's the spirit. And we've got until after lunch time to figure out the game plan."
The place was called Taiga by some because of its sweeping pine forests. Others called it the land of the midnight sun for the long summer days. But it was not spring yet, and as long as the sun stayed down for more than three quarters of the day, the being who had once been Lt. Eddie Brophy preferred to think of it as the land of the great midnight buffet.
"Next village should be just over the ridge there according to the old man," Lt. John Shore, late of SG-5 said.
"Think he was telling the truth about it?" Brophy asked. Spring snow was melting, and the barely there trail the two men followed through the trees and moonlights was little more than the planet's longest mud puddle at that point.
"Think he was too scared not to. And it does look like he was right." They came over the ridge to see the outline of a small collection of homes, some with candles and lamps peeking out the windows. "Usual plan going in? I do love the taste of adrenaline you get when you stampede them. Fruity, and yet subtle like a fine desert wine."
"Actually can we hold of on the initial pillage and death? I'm sick of being wet, sick of being cold, and sick of being covered in mud. I say we hold off on the doom and despair until after we can hit the bathhouse and have a nice long soak." Brophy let his mind drift, recalling that last trip to Vail, complete with outdoor hot tub for use apres-ski, and a certain beautiful Army captain who had shown him a grand old time apres-apres-ski. "Damn, I wish we could have gotten Susan into the Stargate program. This all would have been a lot more fun without her."
"And it's looking like it's too small a place to have your bathhouse."
"It figures. Guess I'm getting soft out here with the missing of reliable plumbing and all. Usual death and despair plan it is then."
"Cheer up Eddie. It's going to be fun. It's always fun once you get going. And who knows. Maybe you'll find a pretty girl to take along with us for a while again. You've got to get over Susan some time."
"If you say so John," Eddie sighed, and the two started to make their way down the hillside.
Down the hillside, a teenaged girl named Leale sat in her parents' home, picking through a half dozen skeins of embroidery thread. She didn't particularly like having to squint at the colors through candle light. Things never seemed to look the same when you came back to the pattern in daylight. But it was spring, and lambing and planting season, and if she did not take the time to sew after dark when all the chores were done, she would never have her new dress looking as she wanted it to. She stared at the red, wondering if she had enough of it for a line of fire flowers, and if she didn't would the cloth traders come through the village before too long?
The candle flickered in front of her, and she moved to rub her eyes. Suddenly, a wave of energy swept over her. She felt like she did when they watched the mudslides roll down off the mountains to the west. Some great evil thing was cascading down from above to sweep away the mountain villages. But the malicious energy was not in the mountains it was nearby and getting closer.
"Pappa. I'm going to check on the goats," she called toward the sleeping loft her parents shared. She took her candle off the table, and placed it in a small lantern.
"Careful going to the stable. Pathway's still slick from the snow melt," he replied. She unlatched the door, and made her way outside. Five steps later, she heard the first of the screams.
"Leale, get back inside with your mother," her father shouted. He charged out their front door, a staff in one hand, a second lantern in the other. She started to retreat into the house, but it was almost like an invisible hand stopped her from going backwards. Instead, she found herself running just behind her father towards the screams coming from the night watchman's hut.
The watchman had been attacked by two strange men who looked to be wearing the dress of the star traders. One stood behind him, twisting the watchman's arms until she heard the awful sound of bones snapping. The other stood to the side and bent the watchman's head backward. Blood began to stream down his chest, and she assumed the stranger had slit the man's throat with a hidden knife. The stranger started to, it looked like, kiss the watchman on the throat when the other one called out to him.
"Looks like the dinner bell has been rung," one of the bandits said. She just then noticed that a half dozen of the village men had surrounded the two murderers.
"He killed Owen," her father yelled. "Stop the bandits!" The village men charged forward to wrestle the bandits to the ground. Or they tried to. To her amazement, the bandits were strong, too strong to be real. The town baker was the first to go down, his head striking the side of the watchman's hut hard. Next was the innkeeper's son; the first bandit snapped his neck like a corn stalk. With a growing fear, she watched her father strike back at the bandits. The staff sweep that should have downed the bandit glanced off his legs and only made him laugh. And then the bandit reached for her father's neck.
"No, not Pappa!" Leale dropped her lantern and charged ahead, but it was too late by the time she had taken three steps forward. With an anger she had never felt before, she charged the bandits, swinging wildly at the first one and connecting with his left shoulder.
"That hurt. That's not supposed to hurt," he said.
"Too bad. I'm busy here myself." Out of the corner of her eye, Leale saw the other bandit fighting three men at the same time.
"You killed him," she screamed and struck at the bandit again. Arms swung faster and faster, and she heard the bandit yelp again.
"John, get her away from me and let's blow this Popsicle stand." Her arms were grabbed from behind, and the other bandit pushed her hard to the ground. To her surprise, she heard the bandits bolt fast for the woods, not even making a move to try loot the houses of the village. She turned her head to one side, seeing the body of the innkeeper's son next to her. With a last little bit of energy, Leale shook as she pushed herself into a sitting position as she heard more people come to respond the watchman's alarm. Then she started to cry.
Xander was confused. He wasn't supposed to be important enough to have his own hospital room. Normal would have been just another bed in the ward that he could hear was just past the door, but then he got the feeling that there was nothing normal about this part of Cheyenne Mountain. And so, far Mulder and Scully hadn't shown up to talk to him about stompy killer blue blooded demons, the Men in Black hadn't shown up to tell him that demons didn't exist, and his only visitors had been nurses who checked his ribs, apologized for the bad hospital food, and helped him hobble to the toilet when nature called. He was also getting bored in his moments of lesser paranoia. The room had no television set, and he was left with a crumbling bunch of People magazines from 1998 that someone had left behind, and heck, even in 1998 he hadn't cared about what was happening with the cast of Friends. But the magazines somehow brought a little bit of normalcy into the room, so he read on. Happy thoughts. You weren't afraid of Ross and Rachel coming after you in the dark. He had just started to read an article on Madonna when there was a knock at the door.
"Airman Harris." Two men walked through the door, one a colonel and the other a civilian in a sweater and jeans. Xander quickly straightened his back, and stuffed the magazine to one side with his left hand. He tried to bring his right hand up to salute, but his arm started to tangle in the iv line.
"At ease there. This is supposed to be an informal talk. Doc Frasier's protective of her patients, and I'm not allowed to say anything that would get your blood pressure up."
"Now I'm Col. Jack O'Neil, and this is Dr. Daniel Jackson. He's a civilian consultant on one of the projects here. I'm going to assume you're a smart kid, and have a good idea of what we want to talk about."
"What happened in the hallway. I got lucky. I've gotten lucky a lot in my life," Xander said.
"We'd like to know about the knife," Jackson said.
"Lucille? You aren't going to bust me for that are you? I know I wasn't supposed to have her on on duty, but, um, religious reasons. I'm a pagan and stuff," Xander said.
"You called your knife Lucille?" O'Neil said.
"Yeah, sounds silly, but I got her right after basic training, and I had a roommate who listened to a lot of BB King, and it kind of seemed like a good idea at the time. Excalibur just didn't quite fit since she wasn't quite bit enough, and, um, size does kind of matter, I guess." At least that got a weak smile from the other two men.
"So where did you get... Lucille... from?" Jackson said.
"Got her from a friend as a graduation from basic gift. He said that the blade had been blessed by some monks in Romania, and that he hoped that I never had to use her as she had been had been designed to, but that if I ever did run into something like that, it was there. And he was right," Xander said. Checking the box labeled 'neo-pagan' when the Air Force had asked for his religion was looking like a smarter move as every second passed. Not that he particularly believed what Willow did, at least any more than any other religion he'd come across, but that faith could be an excuse for explaining some things about his background that were entirely too real.
"Does your friend have a name?" Jackson said.
"Robert Ripper. He moved a while ago, and I lost touch with him and don't know where he is now." He had heard bits and pieces about what had happened to Ethan Rayne. He did not want to lie to the Air Force outright, but he didn't want to make it easy for the men in black to show up at the G-Man's door in merry old England. The two men exchanged glances. He thought they knew he was trying to protect someone.
"Okay, let's go back in the hall if you're up to it. Why didn't you open fire with your sidearm?" O'Neil said.
"I saw bullets didn't seem to work. You read about it in stories, and there's a demon coming at you, and you try one of three things: iron, silver, or wood. You've got a good chance that one of them will work. I know Lucille is silver and iron. The, um, pencil, was wood. I saw a movie once where they staked a vampire with a pair of chopsticks, so why not a pencil." A movie starring one Buffy Summers with Xander Harris in a supporting role of supplier of cashew chicken and fortune cookies.
"So what would have happened if one of those things didn't work?"
"Then I would have died. Like Jonah," he said softly. "Or like Jesse in high school. I stopped trying to figure out why I'm still alive a long time ago." And kept trying not to think about it. And definitely not thinking about it while talking to people who might be trying to judge his state of mind. "So what was it that almost sumo wrestled me to death anyways?" He tried to change the subject, expecting a response that the demon was classified.
"We don't know what to call it. It wasn't exactly a chatty beast, and I'm just not good at figuring out what *grunt*grunt*grunt* means. That's Danny's job. And like you might expect, you don't have clearance for the whole story. Yet." The two men exchanged looks, and Xander got the feeling that he had passed some sort of test.
"The SG project can always use people who can handle themselves when the going gets professionally weird," Jackson said.
"No offense, but I ran into you people once before and I saw what happened. Can't you just get someone to change my orders back to Florida like they were supposed to be, and I promise I will forget everything I saw about weird Initiative projects and monsters creeping in hallways." And mad scientists who were trying to make super soldiers.
"We don't have anything to do with the Initiative. I know you've got no reason to trust us now, and I don't blame you if you've had run-ins with NID, but we like to think we're the good guys here," O'Neil said.
"And I wouldn't have signed on with the SG project, wouldn't have kept coming back to work here if I didn't think what we did here was important," Jackson said.
"Nothing to do with the Initiative?" Xander said.
"We hadn't ever heard of them until you started babbling about them to Dr. Frasier. Did some checking, and if they're the usual NID scumbags, then we wouldn't have wanted to have anything to do with them either," O'Neil said with a sigh.
"I need to think about some things here," Xander said. Like if there was a way he could get out of it all. Like how the painkillers were wearing off and his ribs were hurting yet again. Like how to make sure none of his friends ever got caught up in another Oz rescue or Adam situation. Or maybe he was supposed to prevent another Adam. Darn weird lawyers. As if she had heard her name called, Dr. Frasier did show back up in his room then. She shooed the other men out, telling them that her patient had to rest, and that she was sure that they everyone had a lot to think about now.
He got the feeling the doctor was in it all. He wondered just how much weird blue blood she'd seen over the years.
"So what did you think of Airman Harris? He wasn't screaming NID plant to me."
"Me either. Kind of flakey in some ways, but he doesn't panic in the field. How many people have we lost because they freeze the first time they run into something they can't understand out there? How many people would have done half as well with a lot more preparation?"
"Not many. I think he could be a good addition to the Stargate project. Though I hope we can get him to trust us a bit more. Whatever happened in Sunnyvale still has him pretty spooked."
"Wish we could find out the story there. But then people who don't talk about classified projects are good. We don't need another Wormhole Extreme to worry about."
text of e-mail message-
Sorry it's been a couple of days since I've been in touch. I got into a car accident a couple days ago. I'm mostly fine, just a couple of broken ribs (and how many times have I had those) and a sprained ankle. And yes, mother hen of all hens, I was wearing my seat belt, and I will try to dig out that healing potion from the 200 different boxes all my stuff's still in from the move. I'm still in Colorado, and have been told I should give up on the idea of surfing, and start to think of snowboarding instead, so I guess Florida's not going to happen right now. On the bright side, I finally got my promotion after six months of the papers getting lost in the system, so maybe I shouldn't buy the skis just yet.
or Senior Airman Harris as they say these days. Sounds suav-ay doesn't it?