You can learn a lot of things in 13 weeks of boot, 3 months in Vietnam, and 40 years of Watching immortals. One of the truer ones is that almost no one looks up.
So I hung off an air vent by my arms and legs (legs!), a good ten feet over their heads, and watched two stupid sons of bitches try to figure out where the hell I was in a ten by twelve room that used to be a storage area. Once they'd bunched together under me, and were finally starting to look up, I dropped on the morons.
I was 'just going into boot' skinny again, but I had my legs again, too, and that eighteen, nineteen year old's grip. One of the guys was sagging -- I must have clipped his head on my way down -- so I locked an arm around his neck and tugged the other guy toward the wall with my free arm. He hit headfirst and didn't get back up.
I knew I hadn't killed him immediately. Whether or not I had killed him was still in question, would be until a doc got to him. He'd hit pretty hard and head wounds were tricky. The guy under my arm tried to put an elbow in my gut, but I didn't have much gut left, thanks to whoever'd put me here, and I had a better angle. I let go of his downed buddy and caught his elbow... and held him there until his legs gave out.
Their shirts made decent gags and I used their own cable ties on their wrists, then went through their clothes. Both of 'em had some kinda magnetic door card (I stole both), no cell phones, and no wallets, which surprised me. One guy had an energy bar -- peanut butter, which wasn't my favorite but it looked like ambrosia just then. Neither of 'em had boots I could use -- too big and too small and me not feeling a damn bit like Goldilocks.
What the hell, I hadn't gotten to run around barefoot in 40 years. (I stole their socks first, both stinking layers of 'em; no calluses at all, damn it.) At least I had sweatpants that fit, with some extra room besides.
Seriously, I don't know where the OpFor hired these guys (whoever the enemy was), but I'd say he/she/it needed to demand their money back. I mean, come on, they came in to check on me and left the door unlocked and unguarded? What the hell? They had to know I wasn't crippled anymore, right? They'd kidnapped me and done... whatever. That was part of why I dropped these guys so hard.
I knew the rest of the reason even then. I dropped 'em like rocks because I could. Part of it might've been a dose of teenage hormones and adrenaline again, but I wasn't cutting myself too much slack: I was older and I did know better even if I didn't look it anymore. (Had to wonder if immortals felt this way all the time, then I shoved that idea away to think about later, when I had time.) I just tried to lock my temper down a little further and get the hell out of Dodge. By way of my phone and wallet, if I could get them back, damn it, or any outside line.
Sure. Easy as pie, just like explaining this to Methos or the MacLeods was gonna be, seeing as I didn't understand either yet. I had a gaping hole in my timeline and I was tired and starving -- I'd woken up ravenous. Even an energy bar didn't make a dent in this hunger, it just made me desperate for water.
Problem was, I was in a white and silver industrial building hallway -- sure as hell no exit sign. The only markers were a mix of numbers and letters that I hadn't deciphered yet. Every door was stained wood, the floor was plain concrete, and the ceiling was acoustic tile and plain steel ductwork fifteen or eighteen feet up. Even the walls were painted off-white with not so much as a fire extinguisher or fire alarm in sight. Great. Just great. I got kidnapped to a repurposed warehouse.
I reopened a cut on my hand from that air duct (I'd worry about tetanus boosters later) and started marking corners just at eye height, hauling ass while my brain ran at ninety to nothing.
The first thing I found wasn't an exit sign, but it was almost as good: a water fountain. The water was kinda warm and stale, but it tasted amazing... and it jarred one memory loose.
A tall, lean guy, mixed Arabic and Asian from the look of him, maybe mid-40s, maybe older (he had a well-preserved look to him), with sharp, considering eyes was looking at me and wondering why I was awake. He'd said something about me being "mostly within parameters," whatever the parameters were. Then the memory turned into a lot of bright light and screaming -- mine.
Right. If I got a chance, I was hitting him a whole lot harder than I'd hit his guards.
I was running like hell towards two guys in khakis before I realized I had moved. Teenage reflexes had their uses. The sons of bitches shot the water fountain with some kind of ray guns. Sparks flew, and I smelled something plastic singeing and melting.
"Freeze!" One of them was trying to hit some kind of comm while he aimed, and he just wasn't up to thinking two things at once.
They hadn't expected me to charge them.
Decent enough training -- they split apart to untangle their fields of fire -- but not fast enough and they really hadn't expected me to dive. Come to that, I hadn't expected me to do that either, but I hit the floor already rolling and then I came up punching the guy on the right where it'd do him the least good. Yeah. That one, I'd feel guilty about later.
I stayed down and kicked the other guy in the knee, wishing I'd found boots that fit. Something bounced off my back, and now they were both yelling and groaning. The guy on the left fired again involuntarily as he folded over his knee. His gun spat something blue that crackled and hit the floor well behind me. He tried to grab his knee and I yanked his arm down, which turned into us rolling on the floor, wrestling for his gun or just control of the fight.
His buddy grabbed for me and caught a heel in the ribs for his trouble. I caught an elbow in my nose but hell, I didn't need my eyes open to know where this guy was. I punched straight up along his arm while I was still blinking the pain away and hit him in the face. Then I brought my elbow back down onto his sternum and winced as I felt it crack.
"Son of a bitch!" He'd felt it, too, and his professionalism went right out the window. He quit trying to capture me and started trying to seriously hurt me, aiming for my throat or my eyes. I rolled toward his buddy instead, landing a knee in his gut in the process. Then I rolled over something hard that compressed under me.
I grabbed for it and came up with some strange thing unfolding in my hand and humming as it did. So my hand tightened on it.
Thank God I'd had it pointing away; it knocked the one guy out immediately. Given how hard I'd hit him in the nuts, he might've been grateful. I turned it on the other guy and shot him, too, then I leaned against the wall to catch my breath.
Checking my nose hurt like hell, but not nearly as bad as my legs had after a 20-hour day. Bloody as fuck, but I wiped some of it away, blew hard to clear the rest, and decided it wasn't broken. My eyes weren't swelling shut, but I was starting to think my balls were running the show here and that just wasn't gonna cut it. Brains were more useful, and it was more than time I started using mine. Not least because if I got out of here, I was gonna get to debrief to three paranoid immortals with field experience and I'd rather not look like an idiot during it.
So. Two more down, which left me wondering how many rent-a-guards this guy had. Four so far, but probably a lot more. I started securing this pair. More zip ties (standard gear, huh? Well the things are useful. Why not? Most sensible thing I'd seen out of these bozos yet), still no wallets. ID badges on lanyards, though, instead of just clipped to their shirts. So these two were supposed to be patrolling and their badges might get me through sealed doors? Interesting.
No money, but on the useful side I had an energy gun that looked like someone had a snake fetish, a pair of boots that fit -- hallelujah, I didn't want to start out on my new feet with blisters everywhere -- and, last but not least, one of their comms. It was some little earpiece that looked kinda like a hearing aid, but that tiny spiral cord ran back behind his ear to a battery pack and radio antenna on his shoulder. I took both.
Duncan could bitch at me later about it being unsanitary as hell. I put the thing in my ear --cautiously since my hearing seemed to have gotten a fuck sight better, too. (Damn but the whine off that one flickering florescent light was annoying.)
"-- report, God damn it." He sounded mid- twenties and both harassed and completely out of his depth. Junior level Watcher trying to cope with Carl Robinson, say, seeing as Carl would ditch anyone who wasn't Reverend Bell in a heartbeat and only let the Rev keep tabs because he respected the man.
"Mueller, Scarsi, report. Have you found the prisoner or not?"
Oh, man. So completely out of his depth. I chuckled, made a bet with myself on how many more times he'd tell them to report before he called for help, and headed down the next hallway.
I lost that bet. Not sure why, mind. He sounded more panicky every time he demanded they report, and those demands were coming about every five minutes, give or take. I probably should've taken a watch from that one guy, but his energy gun had fried it.
But four messages in, that poor lieutenant's life got downright 'interesting' because some new players entered the game.
I'd dropped two more of his patrols by then and still not found my way out of the rabbit warren, although I'd cleared one quadrant -- I knew it was a quadrant because I was hearing some of his guys report in. They hadn't looked to realize I'd taken an earpiece. Bargain basement security, definitely.
Which made it really fucking fascinating to have a pair of genuine active-duty military in full tactical suits, weapons, and functional comms sweep down my corridor.
Thank God my body was still in boot camp mode or Mrs. Dawson's little boy might've gotten his ass shot to shit. I had my hands out, energy gun pointed away, damn near as soon as I saw them.
They split off as soon as I moved, too; they were a damn sight better about their fields of fire than the earlier bozos. Huh. Not just active military, but that was the Air Force eagle on their collars -- if they were marines, I'd have been looking at a sergeant and a staff sergeant. AF, I just didn't know. The four-stripe had a good 'implacable courtesy' thing going on, too. If I'd been eighteen or nineteen, I'd have been taking notes from her. The three-stripe had reflexes like Connor's; not as lethal yet, but fucking fast and seriously focused. Neither of 'em had their names on the BDUs, though.
"Do not drop that, sir, and do not move." This close, I could read their unit patches, which said Defensor Fortis. Defenders of Force, huh? Air Force MPs, which made a little more sense, although what the hell they were doing here, I didn't know. Maybe dumbass who'd shanghaied me had managed to get posse comitatus invoked? (If so... how?)
"Understood, sergeant." What the hell, might as well start putting my case out there now. "And I bet everyone tells you this, but I'm not an enemy combatant."
The three-stripe took the gun away from me -- pity, my hand itched immediately wanting some kinda weapon back; I told it to wish for a guitar instead, we ain't re-enlisting -- and his senior looked me up and down, one of her eyebrows up, and her weapon still pointed at me. She might be female, but I knew that body language. She could put me into a wall if she wanted to, even without her weapons.
She shook her head and said, "No, sir. We don't get that phrasing often at all. If you're not with the OpFor, why do you have that comm?"
I huffed disbelief; she didn't really mean that question, she just wanted to hear my reasoning. "The better to dodge these morons on my way out the door, or at least to a phone. And before you have to ask, I took the gun from the guys they sent to find out why the idiots trying to hold me prisoner weren't reporting in anymore."
The junior guy's mouth twitched; guess he could hear how many versions of 'fuck' weren't coming out in that report.
The senior sergeant eyed me thoughtfully. "They were guarding you?" She tapped her own comm and reported, "One prisoner, claims to be an escapee." She listened, then said politely, "Where did you escape from, sir?"
I shrugged -- not enough to get shot at, but hell, why not? This day had already sucked, and I was still starving. My stomach growled at the thought of food. "Ten by twelve storage room somewhere left and back from here. I'd point, but I doubt you want me moving that much yet. I left two guys zip-tied in there, gagged with their shirts. One of 'em needs a medic soon -- head injury. I left their boots, since they didn't fit, but stole the socks. Got these boots from the first patrol I dropped. I left two more unconscious patrols between here and there. "
That fast, I was back in the doghouse and not sure what the fuck I'd done wrong.
The senior sergeant stepped back, that weapon steadying on my center mass. She ordered, "Face the wall, feet apart, hands over your head and shoulder width apart. Now, sir."
I moved before her junior moved me and let them handcuff me with not one but two pairs of cuffs and some fucking thick zip ties besides that, then pat me down. They took the magnetic cards, the comm and its battery, and even the wrapper for that energy bar. At least they left me what clothes I'd scrounged. I sighed, exasperated. "Who knew I shoulda stuck with name, rank, and serial number?"
"Do you have name, rank, and serial number, sir?" The three-stripe was watching me very closely; the four-stripe was keeping her distance and her field of fire.
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you," I grumbled. "Sure, what the hell, haul me in. But for Christ's sake, feed me soon, would you? I could clear out a mess by myself right now."
"We'll see, sir," he said, polite but noncommittal.
Yeah. I knew that tone. 'Don't hold your breath, and whose side are you on, anyway?' Great. Just great.
Give 'em this: they were professional as hell as they walked me out of there. My main complaint was having to take point and risk getting shot. What the hell, though, I'd had people shooting at me since... whenever the fuck I'd been kidnapped. "Jesus wept."
"Problem?" the three-stripe asked.
"Oh yeah, problem. By now someone's found my car and called my friends." Fuck. If they could figure out where I was, they'd probably mount a rescue expedition, military or no.
"Car, sir?" The four-stripe sounded like she thought this might be me finally coming up with a cover story. What the hell, though.
"Yeah, my car. I went grocery shopping... about midnight, one AM Monday night. So, Tuesday morning. What the hell day is it?"
"Your car's outside a grocery store?"
I didn't stop moving; the MPs would have had to react if I did. "A Wal-Mart, yeah. Close enough. Fuck. Look, if you won't tell me what day it is, can you at least tell me what time it is?"
They brought me around a corner and out to a good-sized room, call it half of a Home Depot building. One side opened onto a loading dock, and the whole place was humming. More Air Force guards were coming and going in pairs and sets of pairs, one far corner had a closely guarded group of prisoners, and at least two officers were running the show from the far side. I'd have put money on more than two, honestly.
Whatever the hell was going on here besides my returned youth (and legs!), it was messy enough to turn either Cheyenne or Petersen into a kicked hornets' nest. And either they were violating the Posse Comitatus Act or someone way the hell up the political chain had given 'em orders for all this.
My pair of guards escorted me over to some kind of fast and dirty scan set up between the room and the dock. It only kind of looked like a metal detector, say if someone had added Art Deco flourishes and the odd bit of scrap metal. The officer in charge was a gorgeous blonde who looked up and asked, "This is the one who claims to be an escaping prisoner, Sergeant?"
"Yes, Major. No name so far."
Sweatpants: one of the worst fucking thing to be wearing when noticing a gorgeous woman. I shrugged, trying to ignore my damn teenage hormones and hoping she would too. "One, you didn't actually ask. Two, if I gave you my name, you'd think I was lying my teeth off, and honestly, it's been a rough enough day without getting called a liar to top it all off."
Major Carter was in battle armor too, but she had her name-tag on and a unit patch I'd never seen before. But hell, I hadn't spent that long in the Marines, and Seacouver got more Army and Marines from Lewis and Everett than Air Force from McChord. Or maybe it was just that my bar got a lot of the Marines.
"There are days like that, yes." The major indicated the metal doorframe. "If you'd please step through the scanner?"
I shrugged. "And if I don't please, I'll get an escort? Sure. Why not? Fast or slow?"
"Slow, thanks." She didn't quite smile; apparently, I wasn't their standard prisoner. Suited me; they weren't my usual captors either. No swords, thank God, but I didn't like knowing those fucking bronze-colored energy weapons were at my back either. It was still damned nice to be able to walk and actually feel the ground under my feet, though.
The scanner didn't scream when I went through. Instead, it beeped like a Geiger counter gone crazy. Major Carter frowned. "Sir, can you step back please, and wait there?"
I turned instead of trying to walk backwards -- be a helluva time to finally lose my balance. I played statue in her scanner, my stomach starting to growl audibly as it devoured itself. I even tried to sound patient when I asked, "Someone mind telling me if I'm radioactive or something?"
She waved my MPs down off high alert. "No parasite, but he's been exposed to naquadah." To me she said, "You've gotten exposed to some radiation, yes, but it's the equivalent of, oh, flying back and forth to Europe a few times. Not enough to worry about at your age."
The MPs exchanged a glance; guess I didn't have my temper as far under control as I thought. I grated out, "Major, no offense intended, but you don't have the first clue on my age."
Now Carter gave me an interested look. Fucking wonderful. "Really." She waved a civilian in to run the scanner and said, "Bill, keep an eye on this, please. Sir, could you come with me? I'd like to hear about this." She tapped her own ear comm and said, "Medic over to Colonel O'Neill."
"Yeah, well, I'd like something to eat. I'm not to the point of killing for breakfast, but I'm getting there."
My junior guard -- they'd fallen back in on either side of me; they definitely still thought I might be a danger -- said, "His stomach's been growling all the way here, Major. And he says he was captured about 01:00 Tuesday."
Major Carter shook her head. "You last ate Monday night that you know of?"
"I had an energy bar maybe an hour ago while I was playing tag with what passed for security here." I shook my head. "Poor bastards. Somebody hired basement bargain security guards -- I doubt those boys could make it into boot, much less out -- and some kid who shouldn't have made it out of OCS was trying to run the show. He completely panicked when I got free and his guards fell out of contact, and he kept panicking harder and harder as the check-ins fell off."
The MPs glanced at each other. The sergeant said slowly, "Sir... are you in the military databases?"
I sighed. "Sergeant, let's just not go there."
Carter said briskly, "We're going to have to, sir." She'd threaded us through patrols to the officer in charge and said, "Colonel, I think this man may be one of our major puzzle pieces."
I looked at the colonel and I couldn't help it; I laughed. "Hey, sir. You running this show?" The officer who shopped the same store and times I did blinked at me. Colonel O'Neill, huh? And Air Force. Interesting. But why the blank-- Oh, right.
"Yeah, sorry," I went on. "Try adding about forty years and taking off the legs, Colonel. Right now, I should be offering to make the extra grocery runs for you."
"Huh." He cocked his head to study me more closely, looking first at the eyes and mouth, then studying the rest of me. "Voice is even right. Carter, what're the chances someone's bugged the Wal-Mart by the base?"
She considered it perfectly seriously. "Pretty slim, sir. They'd have to place the bugs without being noticed, keep at least one person, maybe two or three, on the cleaning staff to clean around them and replace them as needed, and they'd need enough analysts to go through a metric ton of data." She shrugged, watching us both with a great deal of interest. "It's possible if they're willing to dump people on it, but it would be a major signal to noise problem."
O'Neill nodded, still looking me over. "Okay, useful. Right. What kinds of beer have you recommended that I didn't buy?"
I grinned. Man after my own heart. "Hell, I can't get you to buy the Blue Moon or that Southern Pecan Ale, and I've got an IPA you'd love but I didn't see you Monday to point it out. And you were right: that ginger apple cider was damn good. I don't know if you were right about the local cream not going bad as fast; it doesn't last long enough around me and my coffee-fiend friends long enough for me to find out."
"And we'll find your prints in the Marine database?" O'Neill asked thoughtfully. A tall, dark, very solidly built guy in civvies and a wool hat showed up beside his shoulder, watching me closely.
I just nodded to O'Neill. "It'll be back during Vietnam, but I'm in there, Colonel. Joe Dawson, lance corporal, with Bravo 1/9, the Walking Dead." My mouth tightened a little. "Could do without that name just now. I got a medical discharge after I stepped on a land mine and woke up a lot shorter. Look, I get that your guys would have to put the cuffs back on in front, but can I please have even a rat bar? Getting forty years off and my legs back on has me so hungry I wouldn't just eat a horse, I'd skip cooking it."
"You know him, sir?" Carter asked, surprised.
"Yeah. I think I know him." The colonel nodded to my two guards. "No snakes, Carter?"
She waved a medic over. "Not now. I don't think previously, either, but we'll want a check. Just a good bit of naquadah radiation exposure. He could use a decontam shower, and yeah, food."
O'Neill nodded to the medic, a solidly built four-stripe who'd lost a fight with someone or maybe a wall. He had that problem-solving focus, but his default expression was closer to a smile than neutral. I liked him already, even if he was one of my new guards. "Eklund. Go with the MPs, get Dawson here through decontam, and check his spine. Get his prints, too, have someone run 'em through the military databases for me. Start with the Corps."
Eklund nodded. "On it, sir."
I snorted. "Colonel, I have my legs back and a couple old scars gone. What do you think he's going to find?"
That got me a sardonic look that Methos might've been proud of. "I expect him to find two legs, a pair of brass balls, and your fingerprints."
Carter didn't bother with a blank face; she laughed. Hell, so did I. "Pretty sure the brass ones are standard issue when you graduate boot."
"Nah, Marines just think so." O'Neill considered me, how close Carter and the MPs were still standing next to me, and then he said, "Go on, shift the cuffs around and go to one set of them. Decontam can wait a minute." They started in on that, with me being damn careful to let them move me rather than risk getting another knock on the head, and O'Neill said, "Pretend it's early and we're debating beer again, Dawson. What the hell happened?"
"I was shopping for lunch makings -- my car is probably still at the Wal-Mart, if the cops haven't towed me for tying up a handicapped slot -- and then I woke up in a storage room with both legs again and the wrinkles and age spots gone." I added grimly, "I lost a lot of weight off the middle, too, but maybe that's what I burned rebuilding legs. I don't know. Oh. And somewhere in the middle of that, there was a guy leaning over me."
I closed my eyes, pulling up his appearance again. "Can't give you height or weight. I can tell you he was lean, a skinny face, salt and pepper stubble -- I'd have said late forties, but his eyes were a fuck sight older than that, and a lot of thinking went on behind them. He looked like a mix of Arabic and Northern Asian, maybe Native American and Asian. Thin face. Skin was dark gold, eyes barely tilted, dark brown. Hair buzzed down to the skull, bad as new recruits at boot camp. Facial stubble for a goatee, maybe, but no sideburns. He said something about I didn't quite fit the parameters but I'd do. Then there was a lot of light and a helluva lot of pain."
I opened my eyes and added, "That's what I've got; I know it ain't much. If I see him, I can't promise I won't kill him. I might just try."
O'Neill was way too bland for it to be real when he said, "It's not bad. Do you know anything about eight security guys down with a variety of injuries?"
"That your guys didn't get? Yeah. That was probably me," I agreed. "My muscle memory thinks Pendleton was yesterday." I added wryly, "And you don't want to know how much work it is to keep adult control over teenage hormones, sir. Or my language. I haven't used this much profanity since the last time two bands broke their contracts."
That got a nod and he looked at my guards. The two MPs I wasn't about to get in a scrap with, and even I could read AF patches well enough to know that Eklund was a) a Pararescue Jumper and b) therefore Special Ops and more than capable of turning me into a pretzel, eighteen year old body or not.
"DeWitt, Eklund. Decontam, fingerprints, feed him, and take him to look over the prisoners. Don't let him kill anybody. That includes you. Eklund, check his spine for me, see if he's got any other injuries besides his nose; run any other checks you think he needs. Seelen. Leave him as much dignity as decontam can but stay on him. If he's dropped eight guards, I do not want to hear you guys were nine, ten, and eleven."
All three of them nodded. No one was saluting, which told me they didn't know yet if they had all the OpFor. Hell, they hadn't recognized my description, and I guarantee you, that bozo was not a clown who'd settle for being low on the totem pole.
So my MPs weren't changing out. I hadn't even bothered to hope I was getting loose yet, but at least now I could hold a cup of coffee if someone gave me one.
O'Neill gave me his attention again. My boot camp nerves wanted to straighten up, but my stubborn streak only let me raise an eyebrow to tell him I was listening. "It's a fucking weird story, Dawson, but you're too smart to lie to me. Go. Clean up, get fed, don't injure your company. Then come back and find me your problem guy in the prisoners."
I nodded. "If you've got him, I'll find him for you."
Eklund chuckled and said, "Come on, Dawson, time for decontam fun."
"Yeah, yeah, the DIs said tear gas training'd be 'fun' too," I muttered, but I went with them. "Just tell me someone has coffee somewhere?"
Seelen actually chuckled. "If we can find you an MRE, there'll be something you can pretend was related to coffee once."
"Damn, and here I always heard Air Force had better food than the Marines."
Decontam wasn't fun, but hell, it wasn't like I'd expected it would be, and to give 'em their due, DeWitt and Eklund went through it with me. Seelen never had her eyes off my hands at any time, come to that. Sometimes my hands were guarding vital anatomy, but hey, the lady was just doing her job.
She'd also gotten someone to dig me up plain BDU pants and a t-shirt. By the time I got those on and a couple pairs of the medical socks with rubber traction pieces on the soles, Seelen had also dug up two MREs for me and started putting the coffee together.
I had to wait on the coffee while DeWitt fingerprinted me, one finger at a time across something that looked like a standalone scanner from a good quality security system; he handed it off to another MP when he was done. Eklund was trading arms with him, wrapping gauze around the raw areas on my wrists. The marks hadn't come from their handcuffs; I know what that looks like. Guess I was ignoring more than I thought when I woke up.
DeWitt passed me one set of food, already as warm as the stuff was going to get, and snagged the empty coffee packet as it blew off the table. Probably didn't want military trash showing up on the site. "Here, you sure as hell sound like you're starving. Security guys here were that bad?"
I shrugged, busy getting on the outside of something that claimed to be stroganoff. It had calories, it was warm, and it didn't taste foul: I was happy. I devoured it, washed it down with coffee, and said, "Seriously? These bozos were patrolling without trying to keep their fields of fire clear, they didn't know what to do when I charged them, and the first two took almost a full minute to look up."
Eklund let me get that first MRE down before he warned me, "Mr. Dawson, I'm going to check your shoulders and neck. The pressure shouldn't be hard enough to hurt, but tell me if it is, and please don't do anything stupid."
I finished that coffee, too, and put the mug away, then put my hands in my lap, handcuffs and all, and waited to see how bad this got. "Hey, you warned me, Sergeant. Go for it."
He probed along the base of my skull, down my spine to my shoulders, along the middle of the collarbones, and then down the spine to shoulder blades or so. It felt about like a deep-tissue massage: all the way down to bone, but he wasn't trying to hurt me, and Seelen and DeWitt were watching me damn closely during it, guns ready. So I fucking well held still. "Anything I should know?" I asked mildly.
"Nothing's pulled, sir. Back of your head looks like you banged it on something a few days ago?" He checked, grip light and careful, then told me, "Nose doesn't feel broken. You've got a few bruises coming up -- elbows, knuckles, knee, left abdomen, right thigh. Those from your fights with the OpFor's patrols?" Eklund settled fingers on my throat, checking my pulse there since my wrists were wrapped up.
"The bruises sound about right," I agreed. "The head, I got nothing. I didn't have an injury there Monday. They may've clipped me when they caught me, but hell, I lost old scars. I'd think whatever they did should have gotten one bruise, y'know?"
Eklund was taking it seriously; I couldn't decide how worried I should be about that. "Hmm. Lean your head forward, then, and let me get a better look." His hands were warm and competent, which was a nice change from the assholes that set this off. And fuck but my hair was short. Boot or just after, all right.
"Nothing in it, sir. No debris." Eklund considered me. "You said the pain was pretty bad. You may have smacked your head against something while you were out."
I couldn't argue that. "Pretty bad covers it. I know I was screaming for a while." I used both hands to indicate on my thighs. "Prostheses used to start here. I met Colonel O'Neill on a night when it was cold enough my bones hurt like a son of a bitch, so I wasn't moving fast enough down the beer aisle."
Seelen stepped back, one hand going up to her ear. I'm pretty sure she didn't mean for me to hear her asking if anyone had found prosthetic legs, but my ears were always good. She nodded a few seconds later. I ignored it to ask, "Hey, did someone look over those poor bastards I dropped? Two of 'em had head wounds."
"They're conscious and responsive, sir." Eklund gave me a level, thoughtful look. He passed me the second MRE, too. "Still hungry?"
"Not starving anymore," was all I said. Chicken chili. Not bad, either. By the time I'd finished devouring it, my stomach finally quit whining.
Eklund asked, "Your feet ticklish, sir?"
"Make it Joe, why don't you? And you know, I don't remember. I'll try not to kick."
He grinned at that and got one ankle in a very firm grip before he started examining the foot. Firm enough pressure it didn't tickle although I was starting to think maybe I had been ticklish, damn it. He checked both feet, then backed away. "Thanks, sir."
He;d pulled the socks back on for me, too. "Thanks. I just got them back; I'd hate to start out by blistering my soles to hell and gone."
Sgt. Seelen raised an eyebrow and got a nod from Eklund that seemed to be an answer. I didn't bother to ask what that was about, just said, "I'd offer to take a nap and let you trade notes, but if you've got bright boy in the prisoners, I really want to have a talk with him."
"Not as bad as we will, sir," Seelen said. "Come on. Let's walk you by the prisoners, see if you can point any fingers."
The son of a bitch wasn't there.
Several of the prisoners glared at me -- can't say I blamed 'em for holding a grudge -- and I smiled at the few who found me unsettling, cold and sharp as Connor MacLeod refusing to take fools gladly. Seelen asked quietly, "Recognize any of them?"
"The ones I took out, yes. I figure the ones who're staring like I have two heads probably saw me before they put me on that table." I shrugged and kept my voice at her level. "But I don't remember seeing them, sorry. Feel free not to tell them that for all of me."
She almost grinned at that. Good. Maybe they were starting to believe me. But son of a bitch. I looked around again and had to bite back a growl. "This is everybody?"
"We're doing a second sweep, but we're pretty sure we got everyone," DeWitt said. "And the building is surrounded."
I wanted to pull out some of Methos' favorite phrases, but I decided to save those for later. I was gonna need 'em. I did shake my head. "I'm sorry. I'd point him out if he was here, but he ain't."
Seelen reported that in through her comm and frowned a little at whatever the answer was. What she said, though, was, "Wilco. Mr. Dawson, could you come with me, please? We need to see if you recognize a few things."
Eklund stayed on one side of me and DeWitt took the other. I had to ask. "What'd I do to warrant my own personal medic?"
Eklund shrugged. "I've taken care of my share of the prisoners, there's another medic on duty there, and you do have a head injury and a lot of lost time."
"And you're a few inches taller and a lot of muscle heavier." I didn't try anything stupid, at least. My brain finally had control over my balls. It wasn't winning the war to keep my mouth under control, but hell, what else was new?
"There's that, too," he agreed equitably. "Thanks for not giving us any trouble, sir."
"Eh. I could do without the handcuffs, but you guys are being as nice as you think you can. But even if you weren't, there's three of you. You're bigger than I am, DeWitt there is faster -- I saw you catch that trash packet -- and Sgt. Seelen could damn sure put me into a wall even if I had my hands free. Come on. Marine does not equal stupid." I gave it half a second before adding, "That's just propaganda. Ours."
All three of them laughed at that one. "Mr. Dawson," DeWitt said, "if you're bullshitting us about being friendly, it's a good cover at least."
"Nah. I'm friendly enough. Except to people who've made my life way the fuck more complicated than I wanted." We came past the radiation detector/whatever else about then and my knees gave out under me. My lungs ran out of air, too, and I damn near lost those two MREs and that blessed coffee.
Eklund and DeWitt caught me by an arm apiece before I completely hit the ground. "Get him something to sit on," Eklund snapped. DeWitt vanished out of my vision, and my knees hit the concrete. Eklund pushed my head down towards my knees, too. "Come on, Mr. Dawson. Try to catch your breath."
I did, and did it a little too well, in and out way too fast. He and DeWitt pulled me back up and dropped me onto some kind of crate. Eklund said firmly, "Can you slow that back down, Mr. Dawson? If not, I've got a bag you can breathe into."
I closed my eyes, fists tight enough it felt like my nails were cutting into me, and made myself count out the chords and timing on the slowest song I could think of just then. Partway through "New York State of Mind," my heart quit pounding. I kept going, sliding into one I'd been learning for a couple weeks because I thought Mac and Methos could use it, a piece called "Say the Same Thing." Eventually, I realized I was fingering the chords on my thighs and singing it under my breath. And I had breath. Better.
When I looked up, Eklund handed me a bottle of Gatorade. "Take a few sips of that, and we'll think about letting you up. Musician?"
"Yeah." I took a slower, shuddery breath. "Owned a couple blues bars in a couple towns. Been setting one up here, now that I've helped some friends get their shops open."
"Play in them, too?" DeWitt asked.
"Hey, if you can't play in your own joint," I shot back automatically, but I took a sip of the Gatorade. When it stayed down, I took another, bigger slug. "Christ. That was about as much fun as ever."
"I wondered when you were going to do that," Eklund said calmly. "Just as well it caught up to you when someone was here to give you a hand."
I shook my head. "Some of it was the 'Oh fuck, nineteen again?' Most of it was that fucking table. I recognize those straps." My voice wasn't as steady as I wanted yet, so I took another slug of Gatorade.
Sgt. Seelen had some sympathy mixed in with the firm when she said, "Can you come confirm that for me, Mr. Dawson?"
"For the record, sure," I said tiredly. "But hell, Sergeant, you know and I know we can't charge these fuckers with kidnapping. 'Sure, Your Honor, I know the driver's license says born in 1950, but...' Yeah. That ain't gonna fly."
"No, sir. We probably can't," she agreed. "But you can still come confirm for me what of this is yours and what you recognize. If you're up to it."
I shoved myself upright. "Yeah. Let's do this." Out of the corners of my eyes, I could see Eklund and DeWitt staying in arm's reach, but they were letting me try. Damn nice of them, seeing as I'd hit a wall on this once already.
I made it over to the table, mouth as dry as if I hadn't been drinking that Gatorade. Funny. I shouldn't have remembered what it looked like, but I did. The random flashes of memory reminded me of some of the things I did and didn't remember about Vietnam and the Watcher Tribunal, for that matter. I didn't touch it, just held one arm next to a strap and studied my dried blood on the leather and coppery metal. More blood on the other strap, at the top of the table, in long streaks down the metal about mid-thigh to feet.
I just nodded. "Yeah. I recognize this." I frowned a little. "It looks... off. There was a box there." I pointed to the top left corner and measured it out with my hands. "Call it, oh, four inches by eight inches and about another four inches deep. Same color as those straps." I glanced up at Eklund. "You were right. Looks like I did some thrashing."
"They've got more than eight injured, sir. I think you did some thrashing before they got you on that thing, too." He reached for my arm, slow enough to let me see it. "May I?"
"Whatever it is, yeah, go ahead." I wasn't expecting him to unwrap my arm and hold it right next to the straps. The scraped, welted area was damn near a perfect match. "Those were too tight until I lost that weight," I said.
"Let me get a picture," DeWitt said quietly. "Just for the records, sir. Not with your face in it."
I nodded and took a big swig of the Gatorade after he was done. Eklund rewrapped my arm. "Ready for the rest?"
I wasn't but why admit it? "Sure." I identified my wallet, clothes, and prostheses for the record, and watched them all get bagged up. I wasn't real sure I was going to get the bag, either.
Major Carter had caught up to us somewhere in that. She asked, "Mr. Dawson, that missing box attached to the table: did you get to see anything that was in it?"
I shook my head. "Sorry, Major. All I remember is the rough size and color." I considered it again, then said, "What I could see was the top and the short side toward me. They were both smooth, no buttons or wires. I think there may have been a control on the far side, but that's because the guy was standing on that side when he set off whatever this was." I shrugged. "If he set it off, that is, but I'm pretty sure I saw his shoulder move."
"Carter?" O'Neill showed up out of nowhere, but hell, he did that all the time at Wal-Mart, too.
"The control mechanism's gone, sir. That's definitely the right surface, but there was no other equipment in the room, and no power feed to the table. Whatever our missing man got away with is... whatever does this." She gestured at me.
O'Neill looked at Eklund. "Evaluation?"
Eklund shook his head. "No rider, sir, and radiation levels are well down into safe. As for the rest, the muscle tone and calluses on his arms and hands are right for a new marine, but his feet are baby soft. Not getting blisters is going to be a bitch and a half. And if going into shock when he saw the table was a performance, he gets the Oscar this year. Heart rate, blood pressure, pupil dilation, and respiration were all consonant with serious shock."
O'Neill nodded. "Seelen?"
"It's a weird damn story, sir, but behavior, mannerisms, and vocabulary all support it." She added, "And he's smart enough to work for us, by the way."
O'Neill snorted. "Yeah, I know. DeWitt?"
"Fingerprints match those of Joseph Mark Dawson, marine lance corporal in Bravo 1/9, born 1950, given a medical discharge after a land mine in Vietnam in 1968."
"Mark?" O'Neill asked me.
I didn't think that was what he was actually wondering about, but what the hell. "My mother's favorite Gospel, she always said. Don't ask me, I didn't pick it."
"So?" O'Neill kept watching me with that same light, casual air that I'd figured out a while ago meant he was actually dead serious. "Now what?"
I reached up and scrubbed my face with my hands, ignoring the handcuffs, then rubbed my eyes. "That depends on whether you and yours will help -- or if we're gonna ignore each other. If you're gonna help me, we talk details. If you're not, I want a ride home and then it's none of your business what I'm gonna do to cope with all of this."
O'Neill nodded. "Sounds fair enough. You want a ride home and you can call me sometime tomorrow, tell me which way you want to go on this?"
"Sir!" Carter beat Seelen to the protest by about a quarter second.
"He's still up and giving us intel, people. He's smart, tough, and he's not going to tell anyone what the hell happened." I gave him my best 'You have got to be kidding' look and got a tilt of head and quirk of lips. "Well, okay. He'll probably have to tell at least a few people. So? What are you going to do, Dawson?"
"Get a good night's sleep, a big meal and a pot of coffee, and think. In that order," I said honestly. "And yeah. I'll probably have to tell a few friends what I think happened, but since I don't know who, I don't know how, and I sure as hell don't know how you and yours tie in, I'll just keep your involvement out of this." I shrugged. "I'm tired as fuck, but I'm not stupid."
O'Neill just nodded. "Whether you want our help or not, I'll want someone to come by and get an After Action Report from you tomorrow. Eklund okay?"
I just gave him an incredulous look. "Sir, he's a PJ. Pretty sure Special Ops has got better things to do."
"After the shock you've had?" Eklund grinned at me. "Just promise me good coffee and then I can get out of taking care of guys who may've deserved the kicking you gave them."
"Maybe." I considered that. "Most of the guards were just taking orders. I'm a little embarrassed about most of them." I added wryly, "Only most of them. I think those last two did see me before and after."
O'Neill said firmly, "Dawson. Take the ride home. You going to be okay by yourself?"
I shook my head. "I'll manage." I would, too. By calling one of the MacLeods, or Methos, if I just had to have company to sleep.
Maybe he was the mind reader. He just gave me one of those 'Are you sure you're thinking clearly?' looks that officers perfect. "Make sure your buddy lets you get some sleep." He nodded and decided, then and there, to let me go. "Seelen, give him back his wallet and such. Make sure a contact number for me is in it. DeWitt, find someone who'll give him a ride home and not pester him. Eklund, get that AAR tomorrow afternoon. Don't let him give you crap coffee, either. You both earned the good stuff."
All three of them grinned at him, and hell, so did I. "Thanks, sir."
"Yeah, yeah, you're not in. Make it Jack." He gave me that contemplative look again, then shook his head. "Yeah. We can talk about that tomorrow if you want our help with this."
Major Carter stared at him, then laughed. "They'd never let you, sir."
"Never say never, Carter, didn't you tell me that? Besides." O'Neill grinned. "He's a people person."
"Oook," I agreed. Eklund reached to check my pulse and I cracked up again.
* ~ * ~ *
I got home to a note on the kitchen table that just read, CALL. All caps, underlined, and three sets of initials: DM, AP, CM.
Oh, yeah. Explaining this was gonna be fun.
When I got my hands on that bastard, his 'gift' was gonna keep giving, all right.
I finally sent a text to all three that said, 'Escaped durance vile. Home and sleeping it off. Don't shoot when you see the whites of my feet. Love, Joe.'
Maybe they'd let me get some sleep.
Okay, fine. Buffalo would fly formations first.
I turned down the volume on my phone and went to bed anyway.
* ~ * ~ *
3 AM, the next morning
Long after the last van had left, and the last paddy wagon, and the small fleet of armored SUVs, a panel in the roof swung inward, dark in the night and against the darkness within as well as without.
A tall, lean man, who would have been surprised by how well Joe Dawson had described him, climbed out onto the roof. He reached in, pulled out a small pack, and tugged the panel closed behind him. Then he worked his way down the roof to the nearest fire ladder, looked around carefully for any watchers... and made his way down, out of the parking lot, and away.
Another day, there'd be another chance. He could wait for the right moment. He was usually very good at that.
~ ~ ~ finis, for the moment ~ ~ ~
Comments, Commentary and Miscellanea:The Posse Comitatus Act is a law that says, effectively, that if the military is operating on US soil, it'd better be either National Guard called in by a state governor, or regular troops sent in by the President on Congressional order. Either way, there'd better be a damn good reason. It does happen -- e.g., Bush 43 sent troops in after Katrina rolled over New Orleans -- but it's not common.
However, we do see troops dealing with NID and Trust on SG-1, so I see two possible options: 1) There may be a section of the SGC charter that allows the use of active military in situations involving off-world tech. 2) One section of the United States Code lets the Attorney General ask the Department of Defense for military forces if they're better suited to deal with a particular problem, such as chemical, biological or radioactive substances. Once Carter identified someone using a power spike that had naquadah radiation traces, that could apply. Either way, it's doable, but I can see why Joe was startled as hell.
Carter is still a major in this, which means the authorization can't be the 2007 law that gave the President authority to use armed forces to "restore public order and enforce laws in the aftermath of a natural disaster, terrorist attack or incident, or other condition." (That authority was revoked in 2008, by the way.) However Carter is still a major in this story; she's a lieutenant colonel by 2007. So, no.
(Either way, the SGC still went for tinted windows vehicles rather than explain what the fuck was going on. If anyone had seen them and asked, they'd have claimed a radiation hazard.)
If you're thinking Seelen and DeWitt double-handcuffed Joe because they were worried the too-sensible eighteen year old had a Goa'uld rider, take a few brownie points. (All out of kewpie dolls, sorry.)
The Army's Fort Lewis and the McChord Air Force Base are located near Tacoma and Seattle. (In 2010, they merged into Joint Base Lewis-McChord.) And yes, Fort Lewis is home to a Marine Reserve Group. There are also three nearby, and large, Navy facilities.
Of all the strange things I researched for various fics... Joe was at Pendleton, not Paris Island, because Marine recruits from Chicago go to Marine Corps Recruit Division, San Diego and spend a month of their 13 weeks at Pendleton's ranges. Anywhere else on the Mississippi, you get sent to Paris Island, SC.
Yup, Joe got his hands on a zat for a while. (I imagine that lack of recoil must be nice.)
'parasites,' 'snakes,' 'riders,' etc. -- No Goa'uld in Joe, or recent damage from one being there.
Naquadah: a highly explosive, energy-rich metal used in SG1 to make things like the Stargate, the various Goa'uld tools like personal shields and ribbon devices. Being ridden by a Goa'uld leaves traces of the stuff in your blood. And it gives off some interesting radiation that SGC constantly watches for, to find other Goa'uld hiding on the planet. They don't want any more unpleasant surprises hiding there.
Yes, Joe sounds more Marine/military oriented than usual. His brain's reacting to the change in his body. He'll get back to himself soon.
Joe and Jack ran into each other shopping for groceries late at night in Essentials: Beer & Coffee. Since they keep similar hours between gate-lag and bartender, they keep periodically running into each other. This is, in fact, relevant to Joe being the one in this mess. And I went with it being a Wal-Mart after checking the grocery stores in Colorado Springs on Google Map. If I've missed something obvious, please let me know and I'll change it!
Yeah. There was a Marine company by that name, and I put Joe in them not for the name but for the casualty rate: 93.6%, the highest in Marine Corps history, according to Wikipedia.
"He's a people person." "Oook." Is joke from Terry Pratchett's Men At Arms. What? Jack would love those books. No one would be sure he knew they were satire.
PJs, Pararescue Jumpers: Air Force Combat Medics who can fly in, drop in, make pick up, and haul the injured back, with tending the injuries in there wherever it needs to be to give the injured the best chance of survival. They're attached to various Special Operations units as needed. I imagine SGC doesn't have many; it's a pretty high washout rate and they're badly needed in other places, too.
To the best of my knowledge, we don't know Joe's middle name. I decided to go with Mark instead of Francis. And if Joe wants help establishing himself as Joe Dawson, Jr, he's going to want the USMC background to carry over. ::amused:: At which point, Jack will point out he'd have to put in time in the Marine Reserve. Any TDY, of course, would be for the SGC.... (Hell, yes, the SGC could use another people person. What?)
Carter just thinks Jack wants to reenlist Joe and that the USMC would object. ::grinning:: They might. They might not. God only knows who Hammond knows in the senior marines by now.
DM = Duncan MacLeod. CM = Connor MacLeod. AP = Adam Pierson, Methos. The three immortals in town who're worried as fuck that Joe vanished. They're not going to be any less worried when he shows up eighteen years old and with his legs back. This is going to get complicated.
Oh, for anyone who doesn't know it: B.A.M.F. is the abbreviation for Bad-Ass MotherFucker. (I also highly recommend hitting Google and typing in 'define' and whatever the new 'Net abbreviation is as a remedy for 'no, really, what the hell does this one mean?' I've had to do it more than once myself!)
Yes. I know. We don't know why this happened. Well, okay, I do? But the problem is, this is, in fact, a relatively competent villain. (Okay, other than his choice of security guards.) ::wincing:: Which means he figured out the shit was hitting the fan well before his guards did and bailed with his essential equipment. No, it's not one of the Ba'al clones; yes, he may be back.
If you just want a hint as to what really happened? Joe wasn't the target: Joe was the test run.
Written in part for Crossovers100 prompt #38, touch, and partly because just once, Joe should get to kick literal ass, not figurative. Part of the Artifacts universe, and will make more sense if you've read Essentials: Beer & Coffee.
Rated: Mature for the profanity, mostly; the violence is canon-level for either series. Beta courtesy of Devo, Dragon, Mischief, and Raine; errors are of course mine.