|fic: The Pegasus Project - "One Of Their Own"
||[Oct. 23rd, 2007|09:39 am]
Tielan's Alternate Universes
TITLE: One Of Their Own - Prologue
SUMMARY: In every beginning, something else must end.
CATEGORY: AU, crackfic, team
NOTES: It's a WIP, due to the fact that I haven't gotten past the first two chapters. We'll see if it goes any further.
Two tiny craft hurtled through the emptiness of space, like birds of prey, their prows beaked, their wings lofty. They sped through the star-speckled blackness, escaping the gravity well caused by the two huge ships that hovered some distance beyond the moon - almost halfway to the asteroid belt.
An observer would have noticed that, rather than flying for the safety of the planetary atmosphere or the ISS, the craft headed directly for the moon, without any manoeuvring or dodging as they flew.
The reason for their headlong rush became clear a moment later, as the ships behind them exploded in a brilliant array of colour and light, sending a tumbling wave of shimmering particles out in all directions along the plane of the formerly-circular ship.
Two specks of light danced along that wave, swung in towards the natural protection of the moon's bulk in a perfect arc, just missing the forward edge of the deadly wave.
A minute later, the explosion was dying, nothing more than sparks of fire glittering in the blackness of space before fading to nothing.
But as the wave reached Earth, flowing over it like molasses over a marble, something else awoke.
Sometimes it felt like the world would never be quiet again.
There was always something, always someone on the edge of her consciousness, like an unending babble in her mind., a room full of ghostly people who whispered and murmured and laughed and wept.
The last thing Elizabeth wanted was a family reunion.
But she went, because it was unthinkable not to go - even if she'd have to endure the questions about what had happened to Simon, and why didn't she want children, and don't make that face at me, young lady - no, I don't care if you're in your thirties, compared to me you are young...
She put up with the babble - vocal and mental - and desperately wished for exedrin in one-pound tablets...
And then she saw him.
He was sitting quietly in the corner with his grandfather, Nick, nursing a beer that Elizabeth was sure he'd been nursing for the entire afternoon. And as she entered the room, he glanced up with startled blue eyes, and suddenly she knew the truth.
She wasn't alone.
Elizabeth was only a little nervous as she waited out in the antechamber of the Pentagon offices.
As waiting rooms went, it was reasonably comfortable. The couch wasn't more than a year old and still had some bounce to the cushions, the carpet was plush beneath her heels, and the magazines were less than a year old. God knew, Elizabeth had sat in enough waiting rooms over the last few years.
She'd never been quite as nervous as she was now, though.
Over by the door, the dark-haired secretary typed industriously away without ever looking up at the waiting woman, completely focused on her work - the minutes of a meeting that had taken place just that morning. Quite single-minded - oh, there was a stray wisp of thought that the General was taking his sweet time, but otherwise it was all on the report.
Elizabeth didn't 'listen in'.
In the last six years since she'd discovered the thoughts running through her head weren't her own, Elizabeth had learned a measure of control. Mostly from Daniel, since her cousin seemed to have an instinctive grasp of his own newly-developed abilities.
He also, she was pretty sure, knew a lot more than he told her about the abilities. But the one time she'd pushed for information, he'd quoted national security. "Actually, you're better off not knowing," he'd told her. And one of the quirks of Daniel's gifts was the ability to stop her from reading his thoughts.
These days, she didn't particularly want to hear other people's thoughts unless it was necessary. Several hundred streams-of-consciousness overlaying her own wasn't her idea of a restful afternoon.
Then again, neither was sitting in an Pentagon antechamber waiting for General Jack O'Neill to see her.
On the desk, the intercom beeped. "Sharon, send in Dr. Weir."
The woman stood up, nodding at Elizabeth. "If you'll follow me, Dr. Weir."
Fighting the urge to check her hair and make-up, Elizabeth fell into step behind the sturdy secretary.
She had an inkling of what was in the wind - partly due to her gift, and partly to some very non-hocus-pocus information dropped here and there.
The world was changing.
In six years, it had changed beyond anything Elizabeth had ever expected to see, and she expected that in another six, it would change further yet as the true fallout of that double-explosion was made known to Earth. She'd positioned herself to take advantage of that change using her gifts, to make use of what was coming.
And it was definitely coming.
General O'Neill's office wasn't very large or ornate, although the eagle that soared on sculpted wings behind his chair was impressive. The desk was old and battered, yet possessed a 'comfortable' look, like its newness had been worn off, leaving it ready for many more years of solid use. The in-tray was piled high with a variety of reports and papers - requisitions, or so it seemed from the upside-down lettering, and a silvery CD-ROM in a clear case sat on a folded sheet of paper in the middle of the desk.
"Thank you, Sharon." O'Neill looked up from whatever he was scrawling on a sheet of yellow legal paper, to regard the aide. "Did you offer Dr. Weir a cup of something? Tea? Coffee? I'm afraid we only have the instant stuff," he said, addressing Elizabeth with a frank informality, "although there might be something stuck to the bottom of the percolator." He shrugged. "Daniel's always at me to change the pot, but I like the stuff. It's got flavour."
A little discombobulated by the ease of address, Elizabeth managed a, "No, thank you," to the woman, who walked out with the same brisk manner.
As she seated herself, she was uncomfortably aware that the General was staring.
She was even more uncomfortably aware that she wasn't picking up anything from him. At all.
Usually, when she met someone new, she received a 'flash' from them - a spark of consciousness, the shape of their thoughts, an impression of who they were. For Elizabeth, it had grown from an initial, subtle awareness, into a conscious 'knock-on-the-door' with every new person she met.
But from General Jack O'Neill, she wasn't getting anything. Not a spark, not a cloud, not even a glimpse of him. For the first time in nearly six years, she was going into a situation mind-blind.
She was a little surprised to discover that she was looking forwards to this with some anticipation.
"Thank you for making time to see me, General," she began, figuring that she might as well get down to business. His initial garrulity had overridden the pleasantries of conversation, and she didn't see the point in drawing things out much further.
She'd been called in here for a purpose. It was time to find out what that was.
He sat back in his chair, swivelling around a little from side to side before he caught himself. "I suggest you wait until you hear what I have to offer before you thank me, Dr. Weir."
"That sounds ominous."
O'Neill smiled. The expression softened the harsh lines of his face, but there was still a measure of distance - of difference. "Not really. Well, not that much. Have you heard of the Pegasus report, Doctor?"
As opening salvos went, it was an effective one.
"It's a Senate inquiry into people who've been developing...paranormal abilities in the wake of the Mars Observer explosion."
Elizabeth was privately impressed that she managed to say it with a straight face.
Although NASA stuck to the official line regarding the double-explosion in the sky in late 1997, it was generally believed to be a cover-up for something else. What that 'something else' might be wasn't known, and no-one official was saying anything other than the party line. The claim that the Observer satellite had encountered an asteroid containing fissile material, and set off a brief chain reaction in space might seem reasonable enough, but for the rumours of what had happened in the minutes following the time of the explosion.
"Been watching the X-Files?"
Forty-five or not, Elizabeth still thought David Duchovny was handsome. "It's a better term than some."
He stuck his chin into his hand, almost thoughtfully. "Oh, I don't know. Freak show seems to be a favourite around here." The slight mocking glimmer in his eye told Elizabeth that he was teasing - mostly. That, and her memories of Daniel's affection for the man said a lot. "At any rate, after nearly six years getting their asses into slow gear, President Hayes has decided that now is the time for kicking ourselves into action regarding the - and I quote - 'mutant issue'.
"You may not be aware, but the United States has been...collecting...people with unusual abilities for the last three years, once it became obvious that this...change...wasn't limited to a handful of people." O'Neill picked up a pen and began toying with it. "Currently, there are about...oh, fifty or so people registered with the government - mostly civilian - who've developed unusual abilities in the wake of the Observer explosion."
"Only fifty?" Elizabeth was surprised. Fifty seemed like a very small number, given the number of coincidences she'd encountered.
"Those are the ones registered," said O'Neill, absently fingering the pen as he glanced at one of the photos up on his wall. "According to our statisticians, in a population of three hundred million, we should be looking somewhere in the range of a thousand in the US alone."
If fifty had seemed too small, one thousand seemed far too large. "And the government aims to register all these people?"
The quirked eyebrows reassured her on that front. "We're not a socialist state, Dr. Weir. At least, not yet. But one thing that any government is always worried about is security."
And suddenly, Elizabeth could see where this was going. "You're asking me to head up a divison to deal with threats from gifted people?"
"You're at the top of the President's list of nominated people for the job," O'Neill said with genial affability as he tossed the pen to the desktop.
A nice honour, but Elizabeth didn't let herself bask in satisfaction. There was a catch. She didn't need her precognition to tell her there was a catch - she could feel it sitting there, sharp and barbed. And it had something to do with the nature of this division - it's purpose. And something to do with the military that had initiated it. "Where do you and the United States Air Force fit into the equation, General?"
"It's not officially a military project," he said. "But USAF is bankrolling it, and a number of the personnel you'll be taking into your division have a military background. So you'll have a military liaison working with you." Now that the pen was out of his hands, he was busily tapping out a tattoo on the armrest of his chair. It was fairly obvious that General O'Neill was not a restful man. Elizabeth pitied his wife.
"What degree of authority will he have in the project?"
"Second to you," came the prompt reply. "But he reports up the military structure - to me, if that makes any difference." A bland smile did nothing to disguise his genuine amusement. "There's a reason for that as well. While the President hopes that your division will only be called upon to look into domestic matters, if it comes to a foreign incursion on domestic soil, you're going to need military backup."
"Will he be reporting me to his superiors?"
O'Neill leaned back in his chair, bouncing a little against the tilting springs. "Yes. But you'll be reporting on him to his superiors, too. It all evens out." With a wave of his hand, he indicated the disc and the folded sheet of paper sitting on his desk. "That disc has your brief, as well as a list of files on the known fifty. There's an additional list and file of nearly eighty more, but those people are either uncontactable or have been approached and rejected the initial call."
Elizabeth slid the paper and the disc over, opening the sheet of paper on which were scrawled names in a blocky hand.
Stephen Bates, Carson Beckett,Laura Cadman, Anita Dumais, Peter Grodin... The list went through a dozen names, all the way down to Radek Zelenka after which there was a line and two more names scribed down: Teyla Emmagen, Ronon Dex. She looked up and met the General's gaze. "And these people would be...?"
"You can have any number, any group or combination you feel is necessary to form this taskgroup, Dr. Weir. It just has to include this dozen. Recognise any of them?"
"Only one." She laid her finger on a name around halfway down the list.
"Rodney McKay." O'Neill's expression turned sour. "Lucky you."
"He takes some...adjustment."
"He could do with some adjustment," muttered O'Neill, before the dark eyes flashed up. "You didn't hear that from me."
"Hear what?" Elizabeth smiled as the general made a face.
"As it turns out, you don't have to fetch out McKay. He's already on the project. So are Carson Beckett, Peter Grodin, and Radek Zelenka. Certain of the others are in various stages of negotation, and there are a handful that don't yet know that they're going to work for us."
Elizabeth lifted one brow at the phrasing, but let it pass - for the moment. She certainly didn't intend to coerce anyone into joining this project, but there were other, more pressing questions. "And the two names down the bottom?"
"Those two aren't in the known fifty."
"Uncontactable, or rejected the offer?"
"Neither, actually." The general leaned back in his chair. "They're part of a fairly reclusive community in the southeast Missouri - several hundred acres, mostly farming, largely segregationist."
She eyed the line dividing the first dozen from the last two. "And they're special because...?"
"They have certain...connections we want to make use of."
"Not yet," came the answer. "That is, the connections aren't criminal, yet. But the connections in question are already known to Emmagen and Dex and haven't been willing to meet or negotiate with any of the representatives we've sent out - not even those who weren't operating under the banner of the military." O'Neill grimaced. "You'll find the details of those attempts at contact in the brief. Maybe you can work out what went wrong there with your diplomatic experience. Anyway, the duo are valuable in and of themselves as well - but I'll let you read their files rather than go on about it now."
Elizabeth took that as a dismissal of the topic. She'd read up on the details of the two - and the dozen - later. Instead, she turned back to the general. "You've mentioned a military liaison," she said. "When do I get to meet them?"
She'd worked with various branches of the military in the course of her diplomatic career, knew more than a few people who were placed high enough to qualify for this work. Privately, she was hoping it was someone she knew and could work with - it would make the joint nature of running this project a whole lot easier. Unfortunately, she couldn't quite see Robert Sumner taking this position, and last she'd heard, Steven Caldwell was assigned to the Virginia naval base.
"Now, if he's arrived." O'Neill leaned forward, pressing his intercom. "Sharon, is my next guest present?"
"Yes, sir. Shall I send him in?"
Elizabeth arched a brow, turning as the door was opened and the 'next guest' was ushered in.
Her eyes narrowed as he strolled in, casual as a man who had all the time in the world.
"Hey, Liz." The lean on the nickname was deliberate, as was the careful not-quite-a-smile.
Fifteen years hadn't changed him much. Oh, he was older, broader in the shoulder, and more muscled, with the air of a man who knew his worth and his skills and would use them. But in his eyes, the boy he'd been still laughed with casual unconcern.
Her eyes narrowed as she turned back to General O'Neill and summoned all the years of her professional calm in order to say, "Sir, I can't work with him."
"You could at least say, 'Hi, Cameron,'" he said with an injured air that was also achingly familiar.
Elizabeth was torn between the desire to laugh and the desire to scream. But she acceded to his request - the way she almost always had. "Hi, Cameron."
Her last sight of Cameron Mitchell had been at the lawyer's office when they signed the divorce papers at the ripe old age of twenty-three. What had seemed so right at eighteen - young and reckless and in love after four years of being high school sweethearts - hadn't managed to survive who they'd become in the intervening years.
Up went the General's silvering eyebrows as he looked from her to the man who seated himself with the same neat grace he'd had all those years ago."Do you two have history?"
Elizabeth was fairly certain the general already knew. It would be in their public files, at least. As Cameron seated himself, a glance at his face told her that he knew the General knew - and that he'd known who he'd been working with.
And he'd still walked into the job.
Bastard. She didn't bother to shield him from that thought, projecting it directly into his head.
I love you, too, honey, came the glib response.
"Ancient history," she said.
"Sweet." O'Neill drawled. "Get over it."
The bluntness was unexpected and unwelcome.
Elizabeth had been working up to indignation. O'Neill's casual shot took her down mid-flight and she met the sharp dark gaze with a new wariness.
"Weir, you're in this because of your ability and your experience in dealing with people, particularly high-tension political situations." O'Neill turned to Cameron. "Mitchell, you're in this because of your experience in dealing with people with superhuman abilities, and because in spite of the fact that you have all the tact and subtlety of a fist in the belly, you somehow manage to come out smelling of roses every time."
"Sam seems to think it's a gift." Cameron said with a gloating smile that made Elizabeth want to slap him.
"Carter thinks a lot of things," said the General in the tones of someone who wasn't convinced but was willing to go halfway there. "She's not always right. Anyway, you're working together by the grace or foolishness of someone who thinks you're going to be able to make something of the situation we've got on our hands. I'm trusting to your professionalism, Dr. Weir, Colonel Mitchell. Your relationship - past or present - is your own business, but you are gonna deal with each other." The sharp gaze looked from one to the other questioningly.
Elizabeth's acquiescence was slower. Cameron might be used to jumping when his superiors said 'jump' but she was used to a little more latitude. "And if we can't deal with each other?"
"Then we'll pit you against each other in a fight to the death, and sell tickets to the public," said the general with a genial mockery. "But I'm trusting that we're not going to have to take that route." He regarded Elizabeth pointedly. "Am I clear?"
She fumed, but on the quiet. "Yes, General."
"Good." That dismissed, the General leaned back in his chair. "You may start contacting the personnel you choose as soon as you wish - all but one - and Project Atlantis rises on the fifteenth of July."
Beside her, Cameron choked. "Project Atlantis?"
"Daniel named it," O'Neill declared. "Something about sinking beneath the surface and the unknown quantity..." Elizabeth bit back a smile as the general shrugged in the familiar, exasperated gesture of someone dealing with Daniel's thought processes. "Would you prefer Project Bluebook?"
"On second thoughts," said Cameron after a moment's pause, "Atlantis it is."
Elizabeth swivelled her head sideways to look at him, and was met with his best, 'Who, me?' expression - the one that brought back uncomfortable memories of forgiving him his worst transgressions because she hadn't wanted to rock the boat in their rapidly disintegrating marriage.
Keep it in the past, she told herself.
Shock shivered through her as Cameron answered her as though she'd projected to him. I will if you will.
Instead of saying anything to him, she addressed the general, picking up something that she'd noticed in his last speech. "General, you said we were to contact the personnel on the list - 'all but one.' Who's the one and why does he or she merit special consideration?"
She caught the faintest flash of something, like the merest memory of an echo in empty corridors. But it was more than she'd ever gotten from him before - one moment when his mind was open and his thoughts bare to her reading.
And one thought sprung out at her, clear and sharp with crystalline guilt: Because what happened to him was my fault.
Time resumed and O'Neill leaned back, apparently casual again.
But when he spoke now, the brash tones were gone. "I'll be bringing John Sheppard in," he said with more calm than that one, grim thought had suggested he felt about the matter. "And he merits special consideration because he was once one of mine."