* TITLE: Stop the Presses (the Freedom of the Press remix)
* FIC REMIXED: Stop the Presses by cofax
* AUTHOR: Redbyrd
* EMAIL: redbyrd (at) mindspring (dot) com
* RATING: PG
* CATEGORY: drama, action
* SUMMARY: When LA reporter Colin Jameson decided to check out a tip from whistle-blower Dr. Berend Kavanagh, he got in a little over his head. SG-1/Atlantis crossover.
* SPOILERS: SGA S2 thorough Critical Mass, SG-1 through S9 The Fourth Horseman
* AUTHOR'S NOTE: Thanks to Aelfgyfu for her usual thorough and extraordinarily helpful beta. A fun chance to explore the lameness that is SGC cover stories via cofax's delightful 'news story'. Thanks awfully to her for letting me play in her sandbox.. Also an important lesson in why-I-should-not-do-ficathons. Timely submissions are clearly not my forte.
* WHAT IS A REMIX?: A remix is when one author uses the work of another author as a jumping-off point, and tells the same story a different way. This story was written for the gateverse_remix ficathon.
The characters mentioned in this story are the property of Showtime and Gekko Film Corp. The Stargate, Atlantis, SG-I, the Goa'uld and all other characters who have appeared in the series STARGATE SG-1 and Stargate: Atlantis together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MGM-UA Worldwide Television, Gekko Film Corp, Glassner/Wright Double Secret Productions and Stargate SG-I Prod. Ltd. Partnership. This fanfic is not intended as an infringement upon those rights and solely meant for entertainment. All other characters, and the story itself are the sole property of the author with the exception of the parts taken from the original fic "Stop the Presses" by Cofax.
Colin Jameson turned into the housing development just as his cellphone rang. He pulled to the side and answered it. "Hallo-- oh, hi Kate." He listened to her rapid-fire question patiently. "No, I can't follow up on the Pentagon story, I'm in Denver. I told you that- I'm not sure how long. Look, if I'm wrong, I'll take it as vacation time." He had to hold the phone slightly out from his ear as the National Desk editor gave him a blistering diatribe on reporters who claim to be following up tips in order to get vacation time when things are busy. He grinned "But we're always busy, Kate." He listened to her tell him to take his damned ski trip and get his butt back to LA. "I miss you too," he said.
He shut down the phone and looked at the rows of identical houses. Even though he'd been here once before, the developments all looked the same. He had to backtrack once and double-check the number before he found the right place. He got out of the warm car, shivering a bit in the unaccustomed chill, and fished his bag out of the back before ringing the bell of Matt's condo. The walk was thankfully free of ice, and it wasn't actually that cold—it just felt that way to Colin's California-adapted system.
"Hey, you made it," Matt jerked open the door with characteristic abruptness. He hadn't changed a bit since college, Colin noted a little enviously. He was still tall and lanky, with a shock of shaggy dark hair. Colin resisted the urge to cover the spot where his own fair hair was starting to thin. He kept it trimmed military-short- no comb-over for him.
"Yeah, the flight was on time, for a wonder. And great to get out of LA," Colin picked up his overnight bag and followed Matt inside. "I'm just hoping I get enough of a story out of this to expense the trip."
"And if not, it's a good weekend for skiing?" Matt suggested.
"Exactly," Colin dropped the bag beside the couch, draped his jacket over it, and accepted a cup of coffee. "My money is on the insanity defense, though. I mean, this Kavanagh checked out okay, which is the only reason I'm here, but aliens? God help us."
"I have to say I'm curious," Matt said, slumping in his armchair. "I asked a few noncommittal questions of the Air Force, and they referred me to the Public Affairs office at the Pentagon. All very SOP, business as usual. But maybe just a shade too correct. I'd have expected them to snicker while they said it. And then, I'm intrigued by the mention of Alec Colson in this context."
"Another space case," Colin punned deliberately.
"I'm not so sure." Matt frowned. "There were a lot of questions around the time of his disappearance. At least one assassination attempt and a lot of accusations of government pressure to keep quiet."
"You interviewed Colson, didn't you? Not then- a while back?" Colin asked, a bit surprised. He'd thought of this more as what Kate had suggested—a good excuse for some skiing than anything else.
"Yeah. He was a straight-up kind of guy. Not your usual corporate ass, y'know. I know there was a lot of ridicule in the press when the whole securities fraud thing came out, but frankly, I thought it was more likely he'd been fooled, than that he was a party to it. If you remember, his CFO Brian Vogler committed suicide over it." Matt took a sip of his coffee. "And there was some kind of deal after, I'm pretty sure. The whole government takeover of Colson’s company? I don't care what they were working on, that was damned unusual. They didn't do it for Enron--no one even suggested it as a possibility."
"And that's the whole reason you're going?" Colin asked curiously. He'd have been inclined to trash the invitation to the so-called 'press conference' himself, if it hadn't been for Matt taking it seriously.
"Mmn." Matt didn't answer for a moment, but turned his cup around in his hands, rubbing a thumb over the raised emblem of their alma mater on the side. "There's something...weird...going on around here," he said finally.
"Weird?" Colin said. "Like what, gas prices are reasonable weird?"
"Not that weird," Matt said smiling. "But maybe...maybe...alien weird."
Colin set his cup down. Matt was the last of the die-hard skeptics, the guy who looked out the window if you told him the sun was shining. "What makes you say that?"
Matt looked sheepish. "Three years ago- they had what was supposed to be a chemical spill. People were hallucinating gigantic multicolored bugs." He looked up. "And the weird thing? They all saw the same thing. The descriptions were way too close to be an accident. What kind of chemical causes hallucinations of one particular thing?"
Colin shook his head. "That's weird."
"Yeah," Matt agreed. "So, I tried to ask questions. And got nowhere. The military wasn't talking. But it started me looking for weird stuff in the Colorado Springs area." He patted the bulging folder. "So, skip forward to two months ago. I was doing a follow-up on the Denver flu," Matt said. "You know, human interest. And I wanted to know more about Patient Zero. And naturally, no one wanted to reveal the guy's name, or anything about him. So I started poking around. Doing some research...you know what the normal development time is for a vaccine?"
"Months," Matt said. "And the CDC and military had this one out in days."
"Maybe they'd been working on it longer, and the outbreak made them release it in a hurry."
"That's another thing," Matt said. "This bug came out of nowhere. Normally, the CDC and World Heath Organization track these things for a while. And most of the really virulent stuff comes out of Asia, they identify it in animals, it jumps to humans, that sort of thing? Nothing like that for the Denver flu. One minute, no one had heard of it. Next- it's killing by the hundreds."
"Okay," Colin nodded encouragingly. He could tell there was more.
"So I start talking to a doc with contacts at the CDC," Matt continued. "And he says- people have been leaving CDC for Colorado. Care to guess where?"
"Colorado Springs," Matt confirmed.
"To work on the vaccine?"
"Starting as early as ten years ago," Matt said dryly. "Some of them just drop out of sight. Some of them are still living in Colorado Springs. Some of them are dead."
Matt reached into the bag beside his chair and extricated a battered document folder with a worn elastic. He unsnapped it and pulled out a photo of a red-haired woman in military uniform. "Meet Dr. Janet Fraiser, also a major in the USAF," he said. "Did a tour with an interservice unit at USAMRIID—that’s the Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases—then spent seven years in Colorado. Died in the line of duty."
"Classified," he said. "But she's got a daughter. The girl is a college student in Nevada, but she's going to be passing through Denver today. I thought I'd try and catch her at the airport, see what she has to say. You game?"
"Sure," Colin said. He looked at his friend curiously. "Not that I'm not interested, but if you think there's a serious scoop here, why are you letting me in on it?"
Matt grinned. "You mean aside from you knowing the whole truth about my disastrous date with Karen Zimmerman?"
"Yeah, besides that."
Matt sobered. "Partly it's that I value your opinion. And I want someone to double-check me on this. If you think I'm on drugs, I trust you to tell me."
Colin nodded and waited. There was more, he could tell.
"And the other thing—" Matt looked rather sheepish. "Well, I just would feel more comfortable knowing that there's someone else who knows about this stuff. Because- Colson has totally disappeared. I mean, totally, like off the face of the planet. "
"You think he's dead," Colin said.
"False modesty aside, I've looked hard enough to be pretty sure he didn't go anywhere of his own accord," Matt said. "There were none of the signs of a guy doing a runner. One day, he just disappears. The last guy to see him is allegedly his VP of finance- who conveniently commits suicide. And Colson is never seen again. None of his bank accounts have been touched. And even more suggestive? No one is looking for him. A guy wanted by the SEC for securities fraud? The FBI should be looking. But a buddy of mine tells me the case is closed, and marked 'don't bother'."
"And that's it?" Colin asked. Matt was way too serious. There had to be something more. For one thing, the bulging document folder was almost three inches thick.
Matt pulled out more files. "A whole lot of weirdness, really. And some not very convincing cover stories." He paged through the file. "Here's another businessman disappearance—Adrian Conrad. He dropped out of sight and was reported to be very ill. Then several people are arrested in Seattle, and prosecuted on charges of kidnapping—but not Conrad. The Feds are still looking for him. Although not very hard—about a year later, he doesn't reappear, but they stopped looking. And no one has heard of him since. Sound familiar?"
Colin said, "This sounds like the sort of thing that goes on in some third-world dictatorship, not the US of A. Who was the kidnap victim? Can we talk to him?"
Matt snorted. "Been there, tried that. The victim was an astrophysicist stationed at Cheyenne Mountain, one Major Samantha Carter. And she's not talking. I've tried."
He pulled out a photo of an attractive blond woman and a taller man, both in suits. Colin picked it up, staring at it. Something- there was something familiar about this pair.
"And Carter was the one who debunked Colson, how's that for a coincidence?" Matt continued, looking annoyed, "An astrophysicist? Okay, so she's photogenic. But she's been at Cheyenne Mountain for ten years, as best I can tell. The Air Force really doesn't do that. They move people around."
"Unless she's working on some kind of long-term scientific research," Colin suggested reasonably. Damn, he knew he had seen her somewhere before. And the man too.
"Exactly!" Matt said triumphantly. "And whatever it is, it makes sense of all this, this- insanity. Viruses and hallucinations and disappearances-"
"Who's the man in this picture?" Colin interrupted, frowning. He could feel the connection tickling the back of his brain. And it was connected to something weird, too.
Matt said, "Um, his name is Daniel Jackson. He's a linguist working for the Air Force. Used to be an archaeologist, I gather. And it may be a coincidence, but he was associated with some idea that aliens built the pyramids."
Colin was momentarily distracted. "What? I mean it's another interesting mention of aliens, but pyramids? That's straight out of the lunatic fringe."
Matt shrugged. "That seems to be a false rumor. I've checked him out thoroughly, and as best I can decipher the academic jargon, he was trying to cast doubts on some of the accepted dating of the pyramids. His tolerant open-minded colleagues compared him to Von Daniken, which seems to be the archaeological equivalent of comparing a politician to Hitler. Anyway- he's been working for the Air Force for years as some kind of consultant."
"Do you have any other pictures of either of them?" Colin asked.
"What?" Matt blinked. "Sure." He pulled out several more photos. One of Samantha Carter in military uniform. Another of Jackson in casual clothes, caught talking- hands sketching something in the air.
"I've seen them before," Colin said slowly.
Matt leaned forward. "Where?"
"LA." Colin could picture it. A side street, warehouses. He was looking through binoculars- got it! he snapped his fingers. "The warehouse murders."
"Murders?" Matt asked, looking confused.
"This was a couple of years ago, on the north side of LA." Colin said. "I shouldn't have been there at all- I had just been transferred to the National Desk, but Lou was out sick, so Kate loaned me back to City for a couple of days." More details were coming back, but he wished he had access to his files. "There was a police report of a bunch of bodies found in a warehouse. The police checked out the report and found a whole bunch of bodies- the initial report said at least ten bodies. By the time I got there, there was a cordon around the place for blocks, and the police were leaving."
"They'd been booted out by a contingent of Feds," Colin said. "A buddy at the local bureau office told me they weren't FBI though. They were NID." He'd thought it more than odd, but the investigation had been a complete dead end. There was very little publicly available information about the agency and he hadn't been able to find out anything about the reported murders. The two witnesses had simply said they were cooperating with the police and had nothing to say.
Matt looked at him alertly. "The intelligence agency? Then what happened?"
"A lot of nothing," Colin said sourly. "The NID said go away, and sent a guy out to start asking all sorts of intrusive questions about who I was and what I was doing. There was a strong implication that I would be arrested and held on suspicion of being involved if I didn't clear off. 'Freedom of the press' didn't cut any mustard with these guys. Rather than get embroiled in a constitutional debate that would make me miss out on the whole story, I pulled back a block and sat there with binoculars trying to see what was going on."
He lifted his cup to his lips, realized it was empty and set it down. "I spent the better part of the day there. Late in the day, they said they'd received a bomb threat, and used it as an excuse to clear about twelve city blocks around the site. And there was an APB out on a young woman wanted in connection with the murders. First name Anna, no last name. The APB was later canceled without explanation."
"Who set the bomb?" Matt asked.
"No one wanted to answer that one either. And after the bomb warning was rescinded, they issued a statement that a couple of men had been shot by federal agents resisting arrest for possession of illegal explosives, any and all bombs had been removed, and what murders? I got a look at the warehouse after- the place was scrubbed clean. With a strong odor of bleach."
"To destroy traces of blood," Matt suggested.
Colin nodded. "And there were various bullet holes in walls, and signs of a fire in one room- no mention of that. And no further statements, and a suggestion that really, our national security was on the job and there was no point in alarming the public about things that hadn't happened." He picked up the photo of Jackson in casual clothes and laid it down side-by-side with the photo of Carter in a civilian suit. "But the reason I bring it up? About two hours after the NID showed up, so did these two, with a third guy- a big black man."
Matt rummaged silently for a moment, and then came up with a photo of the man Colin had just mentioned, wearing a cap pulled low over his forehead.
"That's him." Colin continued. "And the NID treated Carter and Jackson and the other guy like VIPs- the guy in charge met them, walked them around. Like specialists consulting on a crime scene."
"An astrophysicist and a linguist consulting on a crime scene?" Matt said incredulously. "That makes no sense."
"Who's the black guy?" Colin asked.
Matt shook his head. "Name is Murray, but that's all I've been able to find out." He spread out the photos again. "Consulting on a crime scene wouldn't make sense," he suggested. "But suppose there were alien technology involved, as Kavanagh claims."
Now Colin was smelling a story. And maybe a big one. "And Kavanagh wants to talk," he said. Just about what, he wasn't sure.
Matt nodded. "Whatever this is, there are a lot of people involved. It couldn't stay quiet forever." He got up and pulled a CD case off the table near the player. "I want you to have this," he said.
Colin frowned and opened the case. It looked like a perfectly ordinary music CD to him. "What is it?" he asked.
Matt looked serious, "If you put it in a player, it'll show thirteen tracks. The first three even have music. I scanned the real CD label and duplicated it."
"What's on the rest?" Colin asked. His palms were starting to sweat. Matt wasn't just kidding around. Not if he'd gone to these lengths.
"Everything," Matt said, pointing to the bulging folder. "Copies of everything I've got. Just in case." He looked away uncomfortably. "I-- will you keep it for me? I really don't know who else I could ask."
Colin looked down at it. Disappearances. Deaths. And Matt was scared enough to want to hand over a copy of all his research to someone else. "I'll keep it safe," Colin promised. He reached over for his bag, and pulled out the portable CD player he'd been listening to on the plane. He replaced the CD in it with the one from the case, then tossed the two CD cases back into his bag.
Matt watched him do it with barely concealed relief. "Um, thanks."
"Yeah, well, if this works out, we can split the Pulitzer," Colin said lightly.
Matt looked at his watch. "If we're going to meet Cassie Fraiser, we should leave now."
Colin found it mildly ironic to be going straight back to the airport. "If only I'd known," he said. "We could have met there."
Matt laughed. "I didn't get confirmation until your flight had already landed or I would have called and suggested it."
They dumped the car in the closest parking lot, and walked to the terminal. Matt pulled out a photo of the girl- high school yearbook by the look of it.
"And there she is," Colin nodded to the slightly older version of the girl in the picture coming out of the entrance of the jet way. In person, she was a long-legged young woman with brown hair and a cheerful expression. He stepped forward, "Excuse me, Ms. Fraiser?"
She broke stride and turned to him readily, an expression of fond exasperation crossing her face. "Oh, really. I told Sam I didn't need a ride, and I'd rather rent so I have a car of my own while I'm here. " She frowned, looking a bit puzzled as Matt took a step closer. "Um, who are you, again?"
"My name is Colin Jameson, and this is my friend Matt Yurievich." He gave her his best harmless smile. "We're journalists, Matt here in Denver, and I'm from LA. We were hoping we could talk with you for a few minutes."
Her expression went instantly wary. "Oh? What about?"
"Could we maybe buy you a cup of coffee?" Matt offered pleasantly.
She took a step back, "I don't think so. Thanks anyway."
Colin realized that the implied obligation of the coffee was a mistake. "It's about your mother," he said quietly.
She froze. "What?"
"We're doing a story on military personnel killed in the line of duty," Colin said calmly. "And we're hoping you wouldn't mind talking with us. By all accounts, your mother was a remarkable woman."
He wasn't lying, exactly- he'd barely skimmed the material on Janet Fraiser, but the bare facts- military service, MD, work with the CDC- said she was at the very least dedicated. And people's relatives always liked to think of their family as remarkable.
Cassie Fraiser appeared to think that over for a moment, but the wariness didn't change. "I suppose I have a couple of minutes," she said.
Matt led the way over to the Starbucks and bought drinks- coffee for himself, latte for Cassie and Colin- his expression said Colin would be in for a ribbing on the effete California habits he was acquiring later.
Cassie Fraiser looked at them both consideringly. "Isn't it a bit unusual for reporters from different regions to work together?" she asked.
Colin shrugged, "We're old friends, I was in town on other business, our papers don't compete—so—" He turned the conversation back to the matter at hand. "Your mother died in 2003, isn't that right?"
"Yes," Cassie said.
Colin waited for her to amplify on that, but she simply sat watchfully, and didn't volunteer anything further. A bit disconcerted, he continued, "Do you know how she died?"
Cassie shrugged. "The details are classified. She was killed in the line of duty."
"Is that all the military told you?" Matt asked gently.
"Yes," Cassie replied again.
After another wait, Colin decided that clearly she knew better than to be drawn out. He wondered where she'd heard about that particular interviewer's trick. "It doesn't bother you, not knowing?" he asked.
Cassie frowned. "If this is some kind of 'let's trash the military for security policy' piece, forget it. My mother was an officer in the United States Air Force. She was proud of that. I'm proud of that. She knew the risks and she chose to take them anyway. I miss her, I wish she was still here. But I'm not looking to blame anyone for anything."
"When we introduced ourselves," Matt said. "You thought we'd been sent by someone named 'Sam'. Were you referring to Lieutenant Colonel Samantha Carter?"
Cassie Fraiser pushed her chair back and abandoned her barely tasted latte without a second glance. "Forget it. I'm out of here."
Colin and Matt rose with her. Colin put out a hand to stop his friend as Matt took a step in her wake. "Forget it, Matt. She was way suspicious from the minute we introduced herself. I'm not sure she ever intended to give us anything- I think she wanted to find out what we were up to. "
Matt turned back to him with a look of chagrin. "Damn. Yeah, you're right. I should have let you handle the whole thing."
Colin raised his eyebrows, and Matt toasted him with his coffee cup. "The other reason I wanted your help," he said. "You've got a real gift for coaxing nervous people to talk. And I have to say—every time I get close to this—this—whatever it is? People get damned nervous."
Colin looked off in the direction that Cassie Fraiser had taken. "Yeah," he said slowly. "I'm getting that impression." Cassie Fraiser might have been surprised to find out that they weren't who she had first assumed them to be. But she hadn't been surprised that a reporter might want to ask her questions. And that smelled like a secret to him.
Back at Matt’s place, they ordered a pizza and spread out the information they’d each collected on Kavanagh. Matt was starting a fresh pot of coffee as the doorbell rang. He looked at his watch. "That was fast," he commented, going to the door. Then his tone changed as he opened the door and said warily, "Uh, hello."
Colin looked back to see what was going on.
The young man at the door was red-haired, with an ingenious friendly face and a clipboard. His voice carried clearly, "Have you thought about eternal life?" he asked earnestly. He did something Colin couldn’t see and dropped the clipboard. "Oops, sorry," he said, leaning down quickly to pick it up.
Matt waited with unconcealed impatience, then said "No," and shut the door firmly.
Colin got up and walked over to the window. The young man was consulting his clipboard and then walking up to a condo across the street. " 'Visit-the-Infidel-with-Explanatory-Pamphlets'," he murmured.
"What?" Matt said.
Matt never had been a Pratchett fan. "Nothing," Colin said. "So how did you get on his list?"
"I have no idea," Matt said with irritation. "We get a lot of evangelical groups though." He looked a bit more amused as they saw the door across the way open, and an elderly lady let the young man in. "He’ll have better luck with Mrs. Ellis though. She has the conversational style of an anaconda- say good morning to her, and you’re lucky to get away in time for lunch."
Colin laughed and they returned to the files. The next time the doorbell rang it really was the pizza.
The pizza was little more than a faint aroma of garlic and a few greasy paper plates when Colin finished reading through the materials Matt had gathered. He turned back to the front of the file. "So, eight years ago, an explosion in the sky- roughly over Colorado." He flipped some more pages. "Lots of closed-coffin funerals of people who were allegedly stationed at Cheyenne Mountain. How do you lose that many people hundreds of feet underneath a mountain?" More pages. "Another light in the sky- this one over the Pacific." Colin shook his head. "Honestly—I'm starting to wonder why nobody has seriously questioned this before."
"Maybe they have," Matt said. "All the evidence suggests that these people are playing serious hardball. They've covered up explosions, murders, kidnapping—and given the Colson connection, we have to consider that his allegations about the loss of that aircraft carrier in the Pacific may have some bearing on this."
Colin felt an icy trickle of dread crawl across his skin. "Over two thousand people died in that accident."
"I know," Matt said seriously. "I know, buddy." They sat in silence for a moment. Then Matt started collecting all the papers together. "We'd better crash if we're going to make Kavanagh's press conference in the morning."
"Right," Colin said. "I've got the dishes." He scooped up the paper plates and deposited them in the trash.
Matt laughed. "How very domestic. But you're still sleeping on the couch."
Colin looked at the large ugly couch with a jaundiced eye. He and that couch went way back. "You ever gonna buy a piece of furniture a man can sleep on without needing a chiropractor the next morning?"
Matt looked hurt. "It's an antique."
"It was left on a curb for three weeks because even the garbage men didn't want it."
"That was only because it was heavy," Matt said.
"Oh, I remember," Colin had helped move the large brown behemoth at least four times. He still couldn't remember how Matt had conned him into helping the last time. "I'll take the cushions off it and throw them on the floor."
Matt hauled a sleeping bag out of a closet and tossed it to him. "See you in the morning."
The address they'd been given for the meeting was a garage on the outskirts of Denver, in a decidedly shabby neighborhood. They parked on the street a block away and Matt double-checked that the doors of his car were locked. All of the buildings on this particular street were rusty sheet metal or peeling painted concrete block. The signs were for various businesses, but not all looked occupied. They walked down beside the rusty chain-link fence on cracked sidewalks. There was a scum of ice and sand piled at the sides of the road, and the thin layer of snow on unplowed parking lots looked grimy.
There were several other people walking into the garage, and two men already waiting there. A trim middle aged woman with steel rimmed glasses and a bright blue jacket gave them a mildly curious look as they approached. An overweight balding man with a beard smiled genially. "Hi, there. More seekers after truth?"
"More suckers, you mean," Another man said sourly.
"Ignore Jeb, he's a cynic," the balding man said cheerfully. "I'm Jerome Benson. I write a science blog-"
"The Skepticrat," Matt said, nodding. "I read you regularly. Matt Yurievitch, of the Denver Telegraph." He glanced at Matt.
Colin preserved the fiction that they had just walked in together, "I'm Colin Jameson of the Los Angeles Herald Tribune."
They all looked at the woman. "Dr. Maria Schell, of the University of Colorado. Physics Department."
The somewhat rumpled clean-shaven man introduced himself as Raymond Blair, a freelance writer who mainly sold to Scientific American and Nature.
The thin sour-faced man looked like he might have skipped the introductions but Jerome Benson introduced him as Dr. Jeb Fiorenza, an astrophysicist from the University of Denver.
"We seem to be missing Dr. Kavanagh," Matt said, looking around the interior of the unprepossessing building. The place was filthy, with boxes and garbage pushed to the corners. A row of oily pits took up half the building. Cold drafts leaked in around the dozen garage doors that lined the two long walls. The place had been set up for drive-through servicing. In the center of the room, a laptop and projector sat on a crate, in front of a portable screen.
A man emerged from the office. "I'm Dr. Berend Kavanagh," the man said. He was tall, with his hair pulled back into a tail from a high forehead. His voice held the nasal whine of the perpetually misunderstood.
Colin restrained the urge to roll his eyes and then cautioned himself not to make snap judgments. Perhaps the man had reasons for what he was doing.
"It looks like everyone who is coming is here," Kavanagh said. "I have a lot of material to show you, so let's get on with it."
Colin took out his Blackberry and started taking notes. He paused after the date and city, while Kavanagh typed a passcode into the computer and turned on the projector. Kavanagh stepped carefully over the long orange extension cord that led across the room toward the office door and was plugged into a powerstrip for both the projector and computer.
Out of the sun, the unheated garage was chilly. Colin zipped his jacket a little more snugly around his neck.
"The reason I've called you here," Kavanagh said. "Is going to sound pretty incredible. But you have to hear me out. Because the American government has lied to you, has been lying to everyone for over ten years."
The picture cleared and Kavanagh pulled up what looked like a Powerpoint presentation. "Here in Colorado, underneath Cheyenne Mountain, the Air Force is keeping an alien device. It's called a Stargate, and for the last ten years they've been using it to go to other planets."
The picture on the screen was some kind of bunker. Nearly filling the frame was a giant ring marked with odd-looking symbols. There was a ramp leading up to it, and a bunch of men in fatigues standing on the ramp. By the look of it, it was big enough for them all to walk through it.
"Control of the Stargate is held by the military," Kavanagh continued, "But the governments of a dozen other countries are aware of it, including Canada, the Soviet Union, and China." He clicked the screen, and the computer showed a short video clip of what looked like water bursting from the ring and then settling into a shimmering vertical pool. The four men walked up the ramp into the pool and disappeared.
Colin abruptly started thumbing his Blackberry. Habitually, he listened with one ear while writing his notes in the form of copy. Matt always gave him a hard time about drafting his story instead of just taking notes on the information and writing the story later, but he'd developed the habit as a lazy student with a retentive memory, and he wasn't about to change now.
Kavanaugh rambled on about the alleged transportation device, several alien races that the Air Force had befriended or offended, military actions they had supposedly fought. It sounded frankly incredible—but Colin kept flashbacks to the descriptions of missing and injured American servicepeople. He glanced around the room. Most of the expressions of the others were quite dubious. Fiorenza looked like he found the whole thing a waste of time. Blair, though, was wearing a bland unrevealing look. Colin wondered if he, like Matt, had noticed some odd coincidences. So far they had been letting Kavanagh ramble. Perhaps it was time to ask some questions.
"If this Stargate has been around for ten years," Colin asked. "Why have you waited so long to reveal it to the public?" He paused as he waited for the answer.
"They say they're doing it for the good of everyone," Kavanagh said. "They think they're the heroes. Well, they're wrong -- they're just lucky, that's all." He added, almost as an afterthought, "And the people deserve the truth." Colin exchanged a wry look with Matt and recorded the quote verbatim.
"I have with me conclusive proof of their conspiracy," Kavanagh said. "Along with extensive records of gate operations, film shot on other worlds, and in the Ancient city of Atlantis."
"Oh, come on," Fiorenza said sarcastically. "Atlantis? Everyone knows that's a myth."
"And myths can be based on a seed of fact," Kavanagh said. "In fact, the city the Air Force has dubbed 'Atlantis', exists on another planet. I lived there for two years."
He clicked over to another slide, this one an aerial shot of a futuristic-looking city surrounded by ocean, towers sparkling in the sun.
Fiorenza sneered. "My ten-year old draws stuff like that on his computer all the time. Do you have any proof that isn't fantasy art or amateur CGI?"
Kavanagh bristled. "I was quite limited in what I could sneak out of the mountain," he said. "They keep pretty close tabs on alien technology." He pulled a device from underneath the crate. It appeared to be made of plastic. "But I do have this."
"Looks like a hair dryer," Blair murmured.
Matt chuckled and most of the others smiled.
Kavanagh did something, and it sprang forward like a snake.
Fiorenza started but held his ground.
Kavanagh said, "Would somebody grab a piece of junk? Anything will do."
Matt turned to pick up a chunk of cinder block. "This?" he asked.
"Fine," Kavanagh gestured with the odd device. "Put it there and step back."
When Matt had done so, the man fired the device three times. It emitted blue bolts, rather like a raygun from a comic strip. After the third, a shimmer of blue lightning ran over the cinder block and it disappeared.
"What the hell?" Jerome said in astonishment.
"What is that?" Dr. Schell asked curiously. "And how does it work?"
"It's an alien weapon," Kavanagh said. "It's called a 'zat'. And to understand how it works, you'll need to review the material on keron pathways in the briefing documents. Earth-derived physics doesn't have the principles yet."
Colin turned to Dr. Schell, "What do you think, doctor?"
"I have no idea," she said. "I have to say I'm pretty skeptical about all this stuff. I mean, come on," she said. "He's talking about aliens. This is hardly The X-Files." She looked back toward the empty area of the floor where the cinder block had disappeared. "But I don't know of any technology that could have done with that thing just did. But then again, on the other hand," she said cautiously, "magicians make a habit out of duping logical people like me."
"So you think Kavanagh is using sleight of hand?" Matt asked.
"I don't know what he's using," she said. "I must admit I'm curious. But I'll have to spend some time studying the materials he's providing before I can begin to form an opinion."
Colin nodded, barely looking at the screen as he continued to take notes on his Blackberry. He was scrolling back and forth to put the comments into some kind of logical order as he went. Matt had always teased him about his compulsion for order. He usually responded by saying that if your first draft was publishable, you were more likely to be first to press. Then they'd both make disparaging remarks about television reporters....
Kavanagh laid down the weapon and continued to talk, flipping through memos and photographs. Military personnel with oddly garbed aliens. More footage of people walking in and out of the gate, this time in the futuristic city.
"It looks different from the one here," Benson said.
"It works the same way," Kavanagh snapped. "The same as your cars look different but they all have internal combustion engines."
"I drive a hybrid," Benson said mildly.
Kavanagh ignored him and continued on. "The government has repeatedly covered up the evidence of their activities on Earth. The so-called meteor shower a few years ago? An alien attack! Hundreds of casualties—" Kavanagh fell silent as he threw up photo after photo, of bodies, most of them of military personnel, military funerals.
Benson drew in a sharp breath. "I knew it! It's precisely the sort of thing I'd expect this administration to be doing," he said, waving his hands excitedly. "Do you see those pictures? All that shit the military's been hiding all this time? Aliens! My god! Not to mention the casualties they've been lying about for years!"
Matt spoke up. "What can you tell us about the claims made by Alec Colson, Dr. Kavanagh?"
Kavanagh seemed caught offstride. "Who?"
"The billionaire CEO of Colson Industries? He claimed to have an alien in his custody, but it was debunked by a Lt. Colonel Samantha Carter of the Air Force, who demonstrated some experimental hologram technology that produced an identical holographic alien."
"I didn't hear about that," Kavanagh said. "But I know Samantha Carter. She's been with the program for years. She's developing weapons systems based on alien technology obtained from other planets.
"And it doesn't stop there," Kavanagh continued. "The 'Denver flu' outbreak just a few months ago? That was an alien bug, accidentally released on Earth after they brought it back from another planet and failed to keep it contained. I'm telling you, these people are—"
"What?!" Everyone turned to look at Fiorenza.
Kavanagh turned to him. "I know they told you it was an ordinary virus, doctor-"
Fiorenza was turning light puce with fury. "How dare you! My wife died of the Denver flu, Kavanagh! And you thought that meant you could use me to sell your science fiction fantasy?! You, sir, are complete scum!"
He turned and stalked toward the door of the garage, fuming. As he did, the door opened, and a woman with long straight blond hair wearing a stylish trench coat walked in. She had one of the strange hairdryer weapons, a zat and she shot Fiorenza with it. Blue light crackled around him like ball lightning, and he crumpled to the floor. Two more men in long coats followed her.
Colin turned to see two more men coming from the direction of the office, and Kavanagh backed away from them in fear, trying to run away.
The small group of scientists and reporters scattered. Matt made a grab for the computer with all the evidence, but was felled by another crackling blue bolt. It raced over the computer and projector as well, and they exploded in a shower of fiery sparks and bits of glass.
Colin dodged sideways and half-fell, half-slid into one of the mechanic's pits. He had no idea who these people were, but his first priority had to be to get the story out. He crouched low and thumbed the preset sequence that would send the raw copy back to the paper.
Another body thudded into the pit beside him—Blair, the freelancer. Blair scrambled around and pulled a gun from under his jacket. He popped his head up in time to catch another blue bolt, and collapsed. Colin cowered lower, and watched for the confirmation that his message was gone. He stuffed the PDA back into his pocket as a man came up to the pit and pointed the zat at him.
"Get out," the man ordered flatly.
Colin stood, and looked around, climbing slowly out of the pit. It looked distressingly like some of the pictures Kavanagh had just shown him. Matt, Kavanagh and all the others from the meeting were sprawled on the floor. There was blood on Matt's face. Their captors were six men plus the blond woman. Who, now that he thought about it, looked remarkably familiar.
He had a very good memory for faces, something that stood him in good stead as a reporter. Charlotte Mayfield, that was it. She'd been a vice-president of Farrow-Marshall. As soon as he remembered, he wondered why he hadn't thought of that instantly when Matt had been talking about weirdness. It wasn't every day you had disgruntled ex-employees shooting up a defense contractor. Then he kicked himself. If he wasn't careful, he was going to blame every slightly unusual thing that happened on an alien conspiracy, like the explosion in Montana in 2000. Or the CDC-contained outbreak of encephalitis in that little Oregon town just a couple of years ago.
He looked at the chillingly contemptuous expression on the face of Charlotte Mayfield as she stood with another man examining the smoking remnants of Kavanagh's laptop. Another man threw open the farthest garage door, and a two shiny black SUVs drove in.
"You. Load Kavanagh in the car." The man motioned to Colin with the weapon.
Colin walked slowly toward Kavanagh, trying not to panic. He reached down to feel Kavanagh's pulse- fast but steady. Well, if he wasn't dead, then perhaps Matt and the others weren't either. Moving as slowly as he dared, he worked his hands under Kavanagh's arms and hoisted him up. He strained his ears, trying to hear what Mayfield was saying.
"-computer data is a dead loss," she said. "..hoping.. access to stuff Caldwell-"
"Faster!" his captor ordered.
Colin scowled at him, "He weighs a ton. He's got to be fifty pounds heavier than I am."
"So drag him," the man said.
Colin dragged him reluctantly further from Mayfield. If he'd refused, they'd just have shot him and then he'd be helpless. What could he do? But he was almost positive the last thing she'd said was "kill the others".
Mayfield and two of the men got into the first SUV and it pulled out of the garage.
He reluctantly stuffed the limp form of the other man into the car. It was harder than he'd have thought, the arms and legs kept flopping out, and he had to tuck them back in.
Inside the garage, one of the men zatted the laptop and projector. The smoking end of the orange cord fell to the ground, sans plug. Another pointed his zat at Benson, and fired twice-
A gunshot rang outside.
Colin looked down stupidly as something tugged at his sleeve. An instant later, his arm started to hurt, and the torn edges of his sleeve started to darken.
Two of the men with zats dove into the SUV, and the engine rumbled to life as the vehicle accelerated forward. Kavanagh's limp form rolled out. Colin automatically tried to catch him; off balance, he fell awkwardly backward with one leg twisted underneath him. There was a sickening crack and his leg bent in a place legs were not intended to bend. He yelled.
The SUV drove right through the closed garage door in the wall opposite where it had come in. There was more weapons fire. Two men in black vests with automatic weapons came forward. "Don't move."
Colin was too busy trying not to scream to respond to that. His eyes were watering from the pain. He saw that the other two men were down, with more black-clad men and women swarming over the garage.
A red-haired man checked Kavanagh's pulse. "He's alive, Colonel."
"I've got a deader—" a short dark-haired woman called from beside Benson. "The others I've checked are alive, sir. Well, except for the ones we shot coming in."
The colonel snorted, "Only one dead over this stupidity? Well, there's a shock."
Near the door, Fiorenza groaned. "This one's starting to wake up, sir."
The colonel looked down at Colin with deep disgust. "Is this the only bad guy we took alive?"
Colin's eyes widened. They'd seen him loading Kavanagh on the SUV and thought he was one of the bad guys? "No!" he objected. "Not one of them- they said they'd shoot me."
The colonel said skeptically. "Well, who are you then?"
"My name's Colin Jameson." He started to reach for ID and then froze as the guns were pointed at his head. "I'm a reporter. Los Angeles Herald Tribune. My press ID is inside my jacket."
The young redheaded man reached into his jacket from behind, and came out with his ID folder. "ID matches, sir," he gestured to Jameson. "And he matches the description of the guy at the airport."
Airport? Colin couldn't stay focused. Just at that moment, Kavanagh groaned and half-rolled off Colin's leg, and Colin passed out.
He couldn't have been out more than a few minutes. When he woke up, he was on a stretcher, being hoisted into an ambulance. He couldn't see anything—but there was a second stretcher being loaded in beside him. It was Matt, his face a bloody mess with pieces of computer screen embedded in it.
The paramedic saw he was awake and asked. "Do you know what happened to him? She gestured to Matt. "The SWAT guys said he was tasered, but there are some pieces of what looks like plastic—"
"He was holding a computer," Colin said. "It exploded. When he was—uh, tasered."
"Okay," she said. "Lie still now."
"Is he going to be okay?" Colin asked.
"He'll be fine," she said soothingly. "He'll need a few stitches, but it won't even leave scars."
Colin let his head fall back on the stretcher.
The next few hours were the blur of emergency room admissions, answering questions about insurance, having his leg set, and blessed, blessed painkillers.
He wound up in a hospital bed- "Just for a few hours, to be sure you're not bleeding internally," they said. His leg was encased in a giant cast, and he contemplated the ruin of one of the only two pairs of pants he'd brought. Not that he'd be able to wear the other ones with his leg in a cast. He wondered if Matt would be released tomorrow, or he'd have to go to a hotel.
A shadow darkened the door and he looked up, just as glad to be distracted. "Hello."
"Hello." It was the red-headed young man from the garage, the one who’d tried to give Matt pamphlets. With him was the other the older man he’d called ‘colonel’.
The older man spoke first. "The others vouched for you. There won't be any charges," he said.
"That’s good to know." Colin was somewhat relieved. Most of the people present who could have vouched for him had been unconscious. Then he remembered the gun that Blair had pulled. "Blair?" he guessed. "He was—one of you? Whoever ‘you’ are?
"A federal agent," the man told him. "Yes. He was, in retrospect, a little short of backup."
"He seemed to have plenty of backup from where I was sitting," Colin said, looking at the other two men rather ironically.
"Not originally," the younger man said. "It was your approach to Ms. Frasier at the airport that gave the whole thing a higher profile."
Colin said with deliberate mildness, "So who are you guys, anyway?"
They exchanged an unreadable glance. "Friends of Cassie Fraiser’s mother," the older man said. "She had a lot of friends. Something you should consider before you try to pester her daughter."
"She made it quite clear she didn’t want to talk to me," Colin said. "What's your interest?"
The younger man said, "She's been through a lot. She doesn't deserve to be harassed."
Colin shook his head, like a dog coming out of the water. "That makes no sense. She calls you—" he glanced from one to the other but their expressions didn’t change, "To tell you that she was approached--not harassed--by a reporter. You, what? Followed us?" He looked at the redheaded man. Wait a minute. They had to have been following him and Matt. But they hadn’t seen anything- Why would he have knocked at the door—? "You bugged Matt’s condo?" he asked incredulously. "Because we asked her about her mother? What are you hiding?"
The younger man said, "If there are any bugs in your friend’s place, we don’t know anything about it."
Colin mentally inserted the unspoken 'now' in the middle of the sentence. If there are any bugs in your friend’s place now, we don’t know anything about it. "Did you have a nice time chatting with Mrs. Ellis?" he asked with a certain mean-spirited pleasure.
The other man winced, "Oh, we had a nice long chat about the Bible. And she makes excellent hot chocolate."
"I told you we should have done the Fuller Brush thing," the colonel said.
"And I told you, there haven’t been door-to-door Fuller Brush salesmen since the Carter administration, sir," the younger man retorted amiably. "And besides, I don’t think selling stuff would have saved me from the chocolate. Though it might have paid for drinks afterward."
Colin couldn't help laughing and had to remind himself that he was trying to interview them. That they had illegally bugged his friend’s condo. Clearly the pain medication was making him a little unfocused. Possibly even silly. "So you bugged the condo," he repeated calmly. "And you heard us talking about Kavanagh. And then you followed us to the rendezvous."
The two men ignored his speculation. "Like we said. Cassie’s mom helped a lot of people. She isn’t around anymore, so we look out for her kid. You should keep that in mind."
Colin had a momentary vision of several large military men looming protectively over her and said dryly, "She find it hard to get a date with you guys around?"
The red-haired man grinned. The colonel did not. "Leave her alone, Jameson. And think twice before you try to write a story on this. You might not be lucky enough to have us around the next time."
Colin blinked. He’d expected threats, but that really couldn’t be construed as one. He had gotten in over his head. He had almost died. He remembered Charlotte Mayfield saying, "Kill the others," and shivered. "The woman at the garage," he said. "Her name is Charlotte Mayfield--"
"We know," the colonel told him. He turned toward the door and then stopped. "Oh, yeah, here—" From a pocket he pulled Colin's PDA.
Colin reached out and took it, turning it on. "It's been wiped," he said, annoyed.
"Really?" the other man turned to the door. "I wouldn't know anything about that."
The younger man went out the door first, looking left and right like he was worried about what might be waiting. A moment later, they were both gone.
Colin saw Matt briefly in the hospital before he headed home. "Hey, man. How are you?" he asked.
Matt gave a choked laugh, while evidently trying not to move any muscles in his face. "Not bad, considering that I look like a refugee from a slasher movie, and I could have lost my sight." One fragment of plastic had lodged at the corner of his eye, but the prognosis was for a full recovery.
"Any idea who those guys were?" Colin asked.
Matt's eyes flickered to him in alarm and he reached up and tugged an ear. "No idea, man," he said. "And I'm getting the idea that curiosity is not so healthy, if you know what I mean."
Colin nodded and let the subject drop. "You gonna come out and hit the beach with me once I get this off?" he asked, waving a hand at the cast.
"Count on it," Matt said.
Colin was wiped when he finally made it back to LA. The novelty of being first to board did not make up for the sheer grinding exhaustion of maneuvering on crutches. Still he couldn't put off going in to the office.
"Hi there!" Sue, latest in a long line of reporters to cover the city beat, regarded his crutches with dismay. "Ooh, I'm guessing your ski vacation didn't go so well."
Colin grimaced, "Something like that."
"You should tell Kate-"
"I was just going to see her." Colin crutched laboriously to the end office, where Kate ruled the tiny National fiefdom.
"Oh, finally back," she started, then stared. "Ski accident?"
"More like on the job," Colin said. "Did you get the story I filed from Denver?"
"Was there a story? I saw some notes for an X-files episode," she said. "I left some comments in your in-box."
"Yeah, well, I didn't get to the part where people burst in and started shooting up the place before they took my Blackberry," Colin said.
Kate looked surprised, for the first time that he could remember. "Really?"
"Really," Colin said.
Her face lit up. "And there's been nothing on the wire! It'll be ours- did you get any photos or-"
"Nothing," Colin said. "The names of the people who were there. Jerome Benson was killed-"
She frowned, "The blogger? He wasn't shot. He died of a heart attack. It was in the news yesterday."
"Where?" he said.
"He was found in his home in Denver," she said.
"It's a cover up," Colin said. "But it's going to take some work to prove."
"Well, we're not publishing anything without proof," Kate warned him. "You know that."
"I know that," Colin said grimly.
Three months later, Colin and Matt went straight to the beach from the airport. To the best of their knowledge, neither had been followed.
Colin set the cardboard carrier down on the sand and stretched out his legs.
Matt helped himself to coffee and a doughnut. "You may be an effete Californian," he remarked, "But you know your coffee."
Colin laughed and looked over at his friend. "You're looking better than when I last saw you," he said. There were still a couple of faint lines around Matt's eye, but the cuts on his face had healed without scarring."
Matt took another sip of coffee. "The stitches were the worst. They itched like anything." He nodded to Colin. "How's the leg?"
"Fine," Colin said. "I've got two more weeks of physical therapy, but it's nearly at full strength now." He'd hoped that he could have avoided the PT when he got the walking cast, but his leg had still been weak and trembling when the cast finally came off. "If I ever get tired of reporting though, I'll make a kick-ass weather forecaster."
Matt snorted. "California doesn't have weather. It has climate."
Colin could have continued the familiar banter for hours, but he'd waited three months. Three months of casual email saying nothing, in case someone else was reading it. "What have you got?" he asked.
Matt set down his insulated cup to sift sand through his fingers. "Damn all. I reached Kavanagh."
"That's more than I could manage," Colin said. "What did he say?"
"He apologized for 'involving me in the publicity campaign for his science fiction novel'. And said his lawyers have advised him not to make any public statements. He sounded terrified."
"Science fiction novel," Colin says. "I heard that too."
"When I was in DC last month, I managed to wangle a meeting with General Jack O'Neill." He'd gotten the name from the files Matt had given him.
"Oh?" Matt asked.
"He supported the SF novel cover. Even claimed to have read it." Colin said. "I asked him if he'd heard of Kavanagh, and he said, 'sure'. Which surprised me, since I kind of expected him to say he didn't know anything about it. And he trotted out the science fiction novel story. And then he said Kavanagh should have just tried to sell the book, it wasn't bad.
"There was another officer present, a Lieutenant Colonel Davis, who seemed surprised by that. He said, 'You read the manuscript, sir?'
"O'Neill gives him this grin, and says, 'Absolutely. Did you get to the part about the bloodsucking alien vampires? That was my favorite.'" Colin sifted a small stone out of the sand and tossed it in the direction of the water. "He acted like it was a huge joke. And frankly? If he was faking, he's a damned good liar." Colin shrugged. "Honestly, if I hadn't been there, I'd be wondering myself."
"That's the biggest problem," Matt agreed. "Any explanation involving aliens is so damned improbable. And as crazy as some of the cover stories are, they're probably actually more plausible than the truth. All the evidence we've collected, and yet there's nothing solid. If we try to go public without absolute proof, we're going to look like loons."
"Still no luck in finding Colson?" Colin asked.
"Nothing," Matt said. "Have you got anything new on the LA bomb scare thing?"
Colin shook his head. They both looked out at the softly rolling Pacific. "Ready to give up?" he asked, after a few minutes.
"Are you?" Matt replied.
"No friggin' way," Colin replied. He surprised himself with his vehemence. He'd never seen himself and Matt as Woodward and Bernstein. More like a couple of guys doing a pretty good job that paid the bills. He looked over and saw the same determination written on Matt's face.
They both grinned. "We keep looking."
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