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Stargate Atlantis: Blood Ties (novel)

SGA-8 Blood Ties cover“With Stargate, I wanted to bridge the gap of all the creatures of legend” —Dean Devlin

Set near the end of Season 3 , the Atlantis team return from the Pegasus Galaxy to investigate a Wraith sighting on Earth. Teaming up with members of SG-1, they soon discover that the Wraith aren’t the only monsters stalking human prey.

This is not a crossover with SG-1, however it is set at the end of Season 10 SG-1 and we’ve brought on board Daniel Jackson because we wanted to tie all of the Stargate mythology together as a homage to Dean Devlin’s original premise. This seemed like like a fitting farewell to ten years of SG-1 while still remaining very much an Atlantis story.

Without giving away too much, the settings were inspired by New Zealand’s South Island, the stunning Cradle Mountain region in Tasmania (and their caves), getting caught out there during the bushfires (at the time I was looking to buy property there, but settled on New Zealand instead) and ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’.

Extract

Prologue

It was his expression, rather than the words on the page, that conveyed to her the significance of this discussion. Elizabeth Weir was a diplomat, and her strengths lay in reading people, not nucleotide sequences. She had an advantage in this case, because she knew her chief medical officer well. In nearly two years of working together in Atlantis, and the months before that in Antarctica during his attempts to operate the Ancient chair, she’d never seen Carson Beckett look so ill at ease.

Upon hearing his explanation, she understood the basis for his apprehension.

“You’ve just discovered this?” she asked, handing the printout back across her desk.

Carson hesitated in the middle of a nod. “Yes and no,” he replied in his soft Scottish brogue. “I originally identified it during our initial efforts to isolate the ATA gene. We received a great deal of assistance from the Human Genome Project, as well as from Allan Wilson’s Mitochondrial Eve research. Through their data we determined that the gene required to operate Ancient technology was first introduced into the human population approximately ten thousand years ago.”

“Which fits with what we know of the Ancients’ evacuation to Earth from the Pegasus Galaxy during that time period.” Elizabeth folded her hands on the desk, a habit she’d cultivated to present an air of interest. In this instance it served to mask her anxiety. “I assume you believe that all of this is interrelated?”

“That I do. I didn’t come across my earlier data again until just recently, while making some refinements to the retrovirus.” Carson paused a moment, his eyes flicking out from Elizabeth’s glass walled office to the city’s control room, which was minimally manned for the evening shift. His reluctance came as no surprise to Elizabeth. No one was wholly comfortable with the next planned step of the retrovirus project, but life in the Pegasus Galaxy had forced a kind of moral shift on many aspects of the Atlantis expedition. She just hoped in the case of Michael it wouldn’t come back to bite them.

The doctor exhaled a disappointed breath. “At the time of the original research, I’d been focused on isolating exactly what gave General O’Neill the ability to use the Ancient databaseÑto the exclusion of all else. I should have recognized the importance of this other finding immediately.”

Elizabeth shook her head. “Hindsight, Carson. No one, least of all you, could have been expected to anticipate what we’d find in this galaxy.” With an air of reassurance that she hoped would disguise her own concern, she continued, “It’s been ten thousand years, and nothing’s shown up in Earth’s population to suggest any problems. I’d venture to say that no news is good news.”

His concerned expression remained fixed in place. “I probably ought to find that more comforting than I do.”

Apparently they were of the same mind. Rising and walking over to the glass wall, Elizabeth crossed her arms and gazed out at the empty gate room. “I suppose this adds a new wrinkle to the retrovirus study. As if we weren’t raising some complicated ethical questions with it already.”

“In a strange way, I’m more resolved to go forward with the project now.”

She turned back to see Carson’s lips twisted with grim humor. “At the very least,” he continued, “we can take solace in the fact that we won’t be the first to tread such shaky ground.”

If he could handle this new knowledge without undue alarm, then so could she. Giving a single, sharp nod, Elizabeth said, “All right. Send me your report the moment it’s finished. I’ll move up our regular check-in time with the SGC so we can get this information to them as soon as possible. What, if anything, they can do with it, I have no idea, but they need to know.”

“I’ll have the report ready by morning. I’d also like to request that anyone examining the Ancient database notify me immediately if any further references to this topic, or to the Ancient responsible for the research, are found.” Collecting the file, Carson stood and, attempting to roll the tension out of his shoulders, started toward the door. “Can I assume you don’t plan to participate in movie night? I think they’re starting in a few minutes.”

She couldn’t suppress a wry smile. “I think I’ll pass. I have it on good authority that Ronon got to choose tonight’s feature, and he’s been working his way through the Rambo series. I blame John.”

“I’m not sorry to miss it myself, then. Say what you will about our lads, at least they’re predictable.”

“When they choose to be, anyway. Good night, Carson.”

After he had left, Elizabeth stepped out of her office. Intending to go to her quarters, she changed her mind in transit and stopped for a moment at the top of the gate room steps. Although Atlantis operated around the clock to accommodate the vagaries of interplanetary time differences, the expedition’s current duty schedule was designed to allow most personnel to stand down in the evenings. The spacious chamber that housed the Stargate seemed even larger at night, its lights dimmed to conserve energy, no technicians chatting or securing equipment.

Normally she enjoyed the stillness at the end of the day, taking it as a sign that all was wellÑor at least as well as was possible. Tonight she found herself feeling unusually exposed to all the threats, both known and unknown, that lurked beyond the silent gate.

She wasn’t a scientist, and so she couldn’t see Carson’s discovery in purely analytical terms. Science could explain — to a certain extent — why and how a Wraith fed on human life; it couldn’t explain the sensation of frozen dread generated by the mere presence of one of the ghastly creatures.

What Carson had found should have been exciting, a leap forward in their understanding of two galaxies and a potential hope for resolving the Wraith issue at last. Instead, she felt unsettled, as if everything they still didn’t know was poised to come crashing down on them.

Chapter 1

Stepping out of her rental car, Rebecca Larance squinted through the glare of flashing red and blue lights and breathed deeply, preparing herself for what she knew she would see inside. Despite the early hour and freezing temperatures, the suburban street was alive with the curious and the morbid. Death had visited here, and it was the nature of humans to scrutinize it, as if they could gain some understanding, perhaps a talisman against their own inevitable passing.

Based on the number of vehicles parked haphazardly on the manicured lawn, most of the Colorado Springs Police Department had arrived soon after the fire truck and ambulance. Vehicles from the ME’s office were also here. Just one thing was absent.

Rebecca turned her attention to the house: small, neat, middleclass modern. Inside, it would not be so neat, and the ME would probably be cursing. Determining the cause of any death was rarely straightforward, but, like all puzzles, the evidence could be pieced together, most often by reverse engineering a sequence of definable events.

This death, however, would defy that methodical, scientific approach, leaving the ME with no option but to use phrases such as heart attack due to an abrupt onset of extreme senescence. The etiology of the death would elude him, just as it had eluded others, because they lacked the tools or understanding to chart the complete desiccation of the victim’s body. The heart ceased to beat only because of advanced decrepitude. There was no scientific explanation as to why.

Two uniformed cops were belatedly securing the yard with canary yellow crime scene tape. Several more were directing the inquisitive onlookers, most of whom were dressed in sleepwear and bundled up in overcoats against the cold to stand back. Firemen were rolling hoses, packing away equipment they’d never used, and climbing back into their trucks. In the near distance a car siren bellowed. Rebecca absorbed the background noise of radios and conversations, a Lilliputian dog yapping from a house across the street, and someone throwing up. She glanced around and noticed a cop bent low between the house and a tree strung with Christmas lights that had yet to be packed away. The forensics team was going to love that: a rookie’s regurgitated takeout meal messing up their crime scene.

Through the glare and confusion, Rebecca saw more uniformed cops easing a visibly distraught man toward a car, no doubt to be delivered to neighbors, friends, familyÑanything to get him away from a site of inexplicable horror.

“Hey, you! Get that car the hell out of here. This is a crime scene.”

And a fresh one at that. Rebecca could almost smell the lingering trace of the perpetrator. She resisted the temptation to study the crowd. It would be pointless; he wasn’t the type to take nourishment from the fear he engendered in the living. Instead, she pulled her ID from the pocket of her blue leather jacket and angled it so that the cop approaching her could see it in the light from the lamppost. “Who’s in charge?”

The cop looked her over once and turned a pointed gaze to her empty car.

“Contrary to popular myth,” Rebecca added, “we don’t all wear black overcoats and travel in a posse.”

“No! I can’t leave! She…she…!”

The cop’s attention was drawn to the distraught guy; victim’s husband, most likely being helped into the other vehicle. An agonized sob was cut short when the car door was closed behind him. It was more than grief, Rebecca knew, but an emotion that spoke of horror and something more. An edge of desperation and urgency? A childhood memory briefly mounted an assault, but her well-honed defenses soon shut it down. Still, she watched the car drive away, vaguely uneasy that she’d missed something.

“This way.” With another look, this time frankly appraising, the cop led Rebecca up to the front porch and announced her arrival to his clipboard-wielding partner. “FBI.”

“Feds, huh?” The second cop, rumpled, weary-looking, and considerably older but clearly just as disturbed by the situation, regarded Rebecca with a mix of suspicion and relief.

Local law enforcement didn’t much like it when the feds stepped on their turf, despite – or perhaps because of- the numerous Denver police officers now assigned full time to the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force. This crime, though, had nothing to do with terrorism. Fundamentalism and terror, yes, but not terrorism as the world currently defined it.

“Not exactly,” she replied, trying to suppress a yawn with a rapidly expelled breath that sounded like a sigh. “I’m a forensic psychiatrist. Your boss called my boss after the second victim, so do me a favor, would you, Officer — ” she glanced at the name tag — “Wilson, and save any indignation for him.”

“Okay, Dr. Larance, but look, this is a bad one. Really.” Even under the frosted yellow porch light, Wilson’s features were gray, and his freckled fingers shook as he filled in her information on his crime scene log.

What was the standard for bad? When could someone say with any certainty that one scene was worse than any other? It was all a matter of perspective. For her, for an investigator, it depended on how much could be read from it. Bad was when the body lay intact and clean, a dozen or more people having come stumbling through. Worse was a DOA, the forensic evidence contaminated by discarded items from EMTs and anyone else involved in the failed attempt at first aid. Best was when the patterns of the killer’s mind were still intact. Like now.

“I appreciate the heads-up, Officer Wilson. Mutilated and set on fire in what looks like a satanic ritual. Got it.” She lifted her cell phone. “Welcome to the wonderful world of text messaging. Detective Ramirez and the ME inside?”

Wilson nodded and kept writing, taking his time to note her ID number. His partner wandered off to man the plastic tape barricade.

“Tell them I’m here. I’d like to get a look in before the crime scene guys arrive and start stomping all over the place.” With their sterile equipment and methodical indifference, they would rapidly dissolve the subtle, persistent scent of fear, and the equally subtle sense of satiation.

Pen frozen mid-stroke, Wilson shot her a peculiar look. The crime lab had bitten heads off over the mess the Sheriff’s Department had made of the first cases.

“Kind of ruins the atmosphere for me. You know what they say about profilers,” she added with a conspiratorial grin.

A familiar expression settled over his face; contempt born of ignorance, with a hefty dose of good old-fashioned chauvinism thrown in. Rebecca didn’t come across it too often, but there were still some old timers who lumped profiling into the same category as Tarot card reading and crystal ball gazing, plus maybe a touch of voodoo – the latter no doubt inspired by the occasional need to interpret artfully macabre displays of human entrails.

Giving no indication that he’d even considered her request, Wilson went back to writing.

Rebecca’s patience was pretty much at an end. Enduring a transatlantic flight in a coach class seat beside some guy whose philosophy of personal hygiene didn’t include deodorant had been bad enough, but, to add to her misery, he’d had the most vocal case of sleep apnea Rebecca had ever encountered. By the time she’d cleared customs, collected her luggage, and gotten a taxi to her apartment in D.C., she’d seriously entertained the idea of ignoring the order to get her ass out to Colorado Springs. A hot shower and comfortable bed beckoned.

It had been a nice fantasy, but the situation was escalating and the FBI only had so many resources to go around. She’d had just enough time to swap the dirty clothes in her suitcase for clean ones, call a cab – same taxi, same driver – and head back to the airport.

She was about to pull rank when a tousle-haired detective with a caffeine-deprived expression emerged from the front door. Ramirez, presumably, had been dragged out of bed for this one. “You the profiler?” he asked, shooting her a hopeful look.

Wilson, who looked more like he’d been dragged out of a marriage, stopped writing and looked up. “By the way,” Rebecca told him, “she’s not going to take you back, so deal with it.”

“I’ll take that as a yes,” Ramirez said, smirking.

Ignoring Wilson’s dropped jaw, Rebecca introduced herself, and said, “Tell me about the vic.”

“Jamie Cabal, thirty eight, engineer; three months pregnant. Her husband, Logan, got here about two minutes ahead of the fire trucks. Somehow he managed to keep it together long enough to put out the fire with an extinguisher.” Ramirez’s dark-eyed gaze slid from Rebecca’s and moved across the faces in the nearby crowd.

“Don’t bother,” Rebecca told him. “Not his style to hang around.” A couple of television trucks had arrived and were setting up rooftop cameras, completing the scene.

Ramirez’s gaze returned to hers. “His? Witnesses in the D.C. cases all saw a woman.”

“That was D.C. This is Colorado. How ’bout we go inside and you can walk me through it?”

Nodding, Ramirez pulled his jacket closer, consigning the temptation to touch anything to deep pockets. Rebecca did the same, mostly to reassure him. Forensics would get nothing of substance from this, not because of ham-fisted cops or sloppy procedures, but because there was little in the way of physical evidence to be found. There never was in these cases, which was why she’d been called in.

“Was it the badly ironed shirt, or the stain on Wilson’s tie?” Ramirez asked her when they were inside.

“Both, plus attitude and statistics. Divorce rate for cops in this neck of the woods is off the charts.” Framed prints of Air Force planes lined the entryway walls. No sign of kids. “Civilian engineer, huh?”

“The Cabals worked for the military. Victim was a radar technician.” Ramirez stepped into the living room. “Couch was on fire,” he added unnecessarily. “That triggered the alarm.”

Either the fire department was right around the corner, orÑ

“Fire resistant paint, according to the husband.”

Drapes had been too far away to ignite, and the floor was tiled. Carpet was better in some ways than tiles because it did not allow blood to spread; splatter patterns remained fixed. Didn’t matter in this instance. There was no blood, not even bodily fluids. Just a desiccated corpse with its chest cracked wide open. Still, the residual malevolence was obviously creeping out the youthful cop standing nearby. “Relax,” Rebecca assured him. “The perp got all he came for. He’s not coming back.”

The cop exchanged nervous glances with Ramirez, who shrugged. On the floor, dressed in the kind of disposable plastic suit that everyone present should have been wearing, the ME was kneeling beside Jamie Cabal’s body, poking around inside the open chest cavity like someone digging for treasure. Rebecca turned her attention to the coagulated mass of chemical fire retardant, charred leather, slimy balls of polyurethane cushions, most likely, and a couple of indefinable lumps mashed together in the middle of the room.

Although accustomed to such sights, Rebecca had never entirely been able to inure herself against the childhood terror this particular smell evoked. No matter; it would not interfere with her job. It never had. “Lungs and liver are over there, on the couch,” she observed, pointing. “Heart’s been souvenired.”

The ME glanced up at her, his thick black eyebrows confined behind his protective glasses, then sat back on his heels to get a better look at the couch. Using the back of one latex-covered wrist to push his glasses further up a bulbous nose, he began detailing what she already knew.

Rebecca paid only scant attention to the ME’s familiar monologue. She’d heard it all before, in several languages. Eventually he’d shut up, and then she could be alone in the room, alone with the body, listening to the tale it had to tell. For now, she examined the display.

Something sharp – a single blade, not scissors – had been used to slice into Jamie Cabal’s sweater, leaving the shoulders and sleeves in place while the front had been torn away. The remains of a bra, flesh-colored, had been pulled up; the upper abdomen had been sliced open with a single, unhesitating cut that appeared surgically precise. The body itself otherwise was intact, mouth open wide in a permanent silent scream, eyeballs bulging from sunken sockets, the entire corpse neatly displayed inside a turquoise spray-painted symbol on the pale patterned tiles.

“Very controlled,” Ramirez said, spouting off a textbook interpretation.

It was the same symbol every time. A slim isosceles triangle, its apex pointing due south, bisected a pair of concentric circles. Between the circles was a repeating set of geometric shapes: eight rounded chevrons and sixteen squares.

Rebecca managed to ignore what sounded like a growing argument outside until Wilson yelled, “Hey, Lieutenant Ramirez!”

Looking up and out between the half-drawn drapes, she saw shadows moving rapidly. Why the hell was a SWAT team being deployed around the house?

Ramirez had barely taken a step when a bunch of military goons in camouflage, helmets and flak jackets came tearing inside through the front and back doors, P-90s pouring light in the already well-lit room. Paying no heed to Ramirez’s stream of invective and the ME’s demands to know what was going on, the troops swarmed through the house, yelling ‘Clear’ from every room.

She might have expected the military to poke their noses into this, but a special ops team seemed a tad melodramatic, even for them. Then another man strode into the room, sporting a pair of wire-rimmed glasses, a slightly distracted expression; and, most interesting of all, black Velcro patches where his unit insignia should have been and nothing on his jacket to indicate his rank. Ignoring Ramirez’s repeated demands for an explanation, no-rank G.I. Joe brushed past Rebecca, took one look at the body and muttered, “Oh…great.”

His tone told her he wasn’t altogether shocked. “And you would be?” Rebecca demanded, pulling her hands from her coat pockets and planting them on her hips.

Eyebrows knitted, he barely spared her a glance. “I’m sorry, but this is a matter of national security, which means that anything you’ve seen here –”

Rebecca’s patience finally snapped. She barked out a laugh. “Oh, right. That’s a good one. National security.” Hoping to tease out information, she added, “You clowns don’t have any idea what’s going on, do you?”

“I know you,” Ramirez said to G.I. Joe. “You work with Colonel Carter — Sam Carter.”

Rebecca could hear the resignation in the detective’s voice, but she wasn’t about to fold so easily. “He got a name?” she asked, directing her question to Ramirez.

“Yeah.” Ramirez sighed. “Jackson.”

“Dr. Daniel Jackson,” the man elaborated. “Nice to meet you. Sorry about this, but it’s like I said — ”

“Actually, it’s like I said,” Rebecca interrupted. “I’m betting you don’t have a clue what’s happening here.” She tugged her ID from her pocket and thrust it under his nose. “This is the twelfth case in the U.S. alone, Doctor Jackson. Then there’s the six in Europe, one in Australia and three in New Zealand.”

That popped his bubble of self-importance.

“And to answer that question you’re just itching to ask, the only reason you haven’t heard about those cases before now — ” Rebecca snapped her ID wallet shut and gestured through the windows toward the television vans — “is because the finer details haven’t been leaked to the likes of them.”

Jackson’s expression didn’t change, but the tension level in the room instantly rocketed. Rebecca glanced around at his men. It was several degrees below freezing outside and not much warmer within, but beads of perspiration had broken out on the foreheads of two of them. Obviously they’d already gotten more than they’d bargained for. She had little sympathy. When it came to this case, everyone was getting more than they’d bargained for.