Summary: When a trio of anomalies are found beneath an ancient Egyptian temple, Dr. Temperance Brennan is called in to examine the evidence. But what she finds will challenge her dedication to the truth and her understanding of the universe.
- Part 1 -
The Trio Beneath The Temple (continued)
At the half-begged request of Dr. Godwin, Colonel Carter and her associates submitted to a complete search, handed in their credentials, and were subjected to questioning. The fact that all of them had been in sight for no longer than it took to take a restroom break over the course of the day worked in their favour, and whatever their credentials, the Department of Antiquities didn't seem minded to question their presence.
Back in her tent with her laptop out and her backpack collected, she called Zack in DC, explaining what had happened at the camp.
"That makes no sense, Dr. Brennan. If there was only one way in or out..."
"I know, Zack." She sighed.
"There's no way to sell the remains on the black market, either - not given the distinctiveness of the find. Only a handful of organisations worldwide could afford to pay for it, and ultimately, we'd get to hear of it because they'd come to us. Besides which, it's meaningless without the rest of the dig."
Which had been Brennan's thinking, too. She put it out of her head, and sighed. "Zack, I'm going to send you the video I recorded today."
"You want me to make a copy as a kind of insurance?"
"Yes. Since the subjects we were discussing yesterday are gone, I think it's best that we keep two copies of everything I send you from this dig."
As she spoke she plugged the camera into the laptop, ready to send over the video she'd taken today. It would be bandwidth intensive, but after what had happened today, she wanted to be sure that there was a copy of the video in hands she trusted.
Her laptop offered menu options to transfer the video files over, and she clicked 'send'.
A moment later, she stared at the screen.
The popup box showed the flat message, 'You have no videos available for transfer.'
"I don't have the videos." The bag had been right where she'd left it, untouched. The camera had been in the bag. Cold panic began to clutch at her chest. "Check the one I sent you yesterday."
"Looking now..." Zack clicked around a few times more. "I don't have it. I'm checking the email downloads." He sounded shaken. "It's not here. Dr. Brennan, it was here last night when I left, but it's not here now. Your message is missing and the file isn't on the computer anymore."
Brennan stared at the screen.
Fifteen minutes later, after an alert to the rest of the dig, they discovered that every of information about the mystery trio was gone. Notes weren't where they'd been left. Anything that had been stored on electronic media was gone. Small jottings in personal diaries were still there, but anything that related to the dig in even a semi-official capacity was gone.
Even what little data had been entered into laptops were missing - whole passages excised, whole files deleted and completely gone.
"Do you have an undelete application?" Someone inquired of one of the senior archaeologists who was sitting at the main tables, frantically searching through her files. "Try that."
"I've tried that already," she explained, her expression bewildered as she tapped away at her computer and cursed when the keys stuck. "It doesn't find anything. The file system didn't just disconnect the link, they removed the file, too. There's no record of it at all. It's like...it never existed."
There was silence.
"I think we're missing the Twilight Zone music," advised one of the older dig members wryly.
"You can make a joke? At a time like this?"
"Why not? Now's when we need it!" The man huffed out a long breath. "Damnedest thing I've ever seen."
Over the course of the next hour, it was confirmed that no piece of electronic evidence regarding the trio was still in existence.
"Dr. Godwin." Colonel Carter paused by the table where Brennan, Dr. Godwin, and a handful of others were discussing the situation. The other three stood beyond her, apparently waiting for the signal to get going. "My party will be leaving now. I've given you my contact details if you need us for anything."
"Oh. Oh, well, thank you for coming, Dr. Carter." Dr. Godwin shook himself from his state of shock and as they began to walk towards the jeep, Brennan followed.
Something was tickling at her brain, trying to get her attention. It was like taking a glance at a picture that was slightly out of focus. Her mind was trying to work out if it was her eyes or the photo that needed adjusting and it hadn't yet decided.
"I'm sorry about this trouble - and that Dr. Jackson missed this." Dr. Godwin sighed.
The expression on Colonel Carter's expression was slightly pained. "You won't have to listen to him go on about it at least." She turned to Brennan. "Good luck with the forensic anthropology, and the novel-writing, Dr. Brennan. I think Daniel has you on his 'must read' list." Her lips twisted in a wry smile. "I might have to borrow it from him."
Colonel Carter's associates were getting into the car, and someone back at the camp had called Dr. Godwin's name. He went with a hurried apology and a sigh.
"Or, you could always buy the book." Brennan smiled, letting Colonel Carter know it was a joke.
"I could." They shook hands, a brisk, businesslike grip.
The moon was rising over the dunes, gibbous and glowing, and Colonel Carter turned her head to glance back at the camp. And the moonlight fell stark across a bone structure Brennan suddenly recognised.
The picture sharpened, focused.
Breath caught in her throat, an instinctive denial of what she saw before her.
That afternoon, Brennan had spent time beside the third skeleton of the woman, puzzling over the blonde hair, trying to see the face that the woman must have worn when she lived. Was the woman a genetic anomaly or half of some far-flung wandering duo who'd ended up here? She'd looked into the orbital arches, measured the lines of the cheekbones. Her fingers had framed the line of the jaw, paused over the perfect set of teeth with their missing back molars.
As she'd once told Booth back when they first became partners, the underlying architecture of the face dictated a certain facial structure that she recognised simply by looking at the bone. Tissue markers helped, but years in this trade had taught her certain things about facial structure.
The hair was longer, no longer the short cap but a small braid at the nape of her neck; the skin was pale and fleshed, not dried and brown after thousands of years of mummification, the eyes were blue and direct, not the empty sockets that had stared out of the ancient face.
But the face was a match for the skull.
Brennan had never thought to see the living face of a five thousand year-old skull.
Briefly, irrationally, she wondered if she, too, would vanish without a trace. She didn't believe in God or superstitions, but as the practitioners had told her in New Orleans, sometimes you didn't need to believe in them, just as long as they believed in you.
Then she squashed the foolishness of the thought and let the cold practicality take over.
Perhaps alerted by the silence, Colonel Carter turned back, and their hands dropped as they faced each other.
And here and now, Brennan saw the knowledge that had been missing all night.
"You can't hide the truth, Colonel Carter."
Muscles in the cheeks pulled back, and something like a smile touched the corners of the mouth. To Brennan's eyes, it was less of a smile and more of a salute to a worthy opponent. But the woman's voice was calm when she spoke.
"Sometimes people aren't ready for the truth, Dr. Brennan."
"And who decides that? Who's the gatekeeper for this knowledge - the one who gets to say what's told and what isn't – who's told and who isn't?" And then, because the question battered at her with the need to know, "Why did the woman's skull in the trio perfectly match your bone structure?"
The woman's eyes narrowed slightly, before her lips curved. "Bones aren't my specialty, Dr. Brennan. I can't help what you think you see."
"I know what I see," Brennan persisted, disbelief warring with the evidence before her eyes. She was looking at the face of impossibility. "And your skull is either an exact match or a very close match to the one I was studying earlier today. How did it come to be in that tomb? How'd you take it from a locked room?"
Something like a thoughtful smile tipped the other woman's lips before it dropped leaving her serious and steady. "It came to be in that tomb because another version of me from an alternate universe travelled back five thousand years in time in order to gain a power source of unmeasurable energy from an alien masquerading as a god, and she died there."
What? For all that the woman was a military officer, she was talking absolute nonsense. Brennan felt the hot flush of anger hit her hard. Bad enough to have this stolen from her; worse to be mocked. "I'm not interested in fairy tales and science fiction, Colonel Carter. I'm interested in the truth!"
"And have you considered, Dr. Brennan, that perhaps you're not prepared for the truth?"
"Whether or not it conforms to my previous beliefs is irrelevant. I'm interested in the facts!"
"And if the facts don't match what you know of the world?" Colonel Carter waited only a moment. "'There are more things in heaven and on earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy,' Dr. Brennan."
Logical and practical, Mr. Barrett had said. Brennan knew that she wasn't going to get any further with this. The evidence was gone, and without evidence, there was nothing to be proven.
Seeing is believing - she had always thought that until now.
Now she saw and she couldn't believe.
"It's not a philosophy," Brennan snapped, something like righteous anger propelling her along. "I just want to know the truth!"
This time the smile was sad, almost bittersweet. The eyes of a woman who'd seen more things in heaven and earth than she'd ever dreamed of in any philosophy. "I hate to break it to you, Dr. Brennan, but you're not ready for the truth."
And she walked away to the jeep where her companions waited, and drove off, leaving questions unanswered in Brennan's mind.
From the Lincoln Memorial down to the Washington Monument, the night view was pretty spectacular.
Sam Carter had often come here back when she worked at the Pentagon, just to have a look at the city lights, and to dream of the stars. That had been years ago, now - she'd seen the stars and so much more. And still, the Reflecting Pool gleamed with a pristine beauty, reflecting the giant obelisk in its depths.
Right now, she and Jack O'Neill stood on the steps in the early autumn breeze - just cool enough to need a light jacket - and stared down the length of the reflecting pool.
"The...remains made it back to the SGC?"
Aware of the possibility of pickup mikes - it had been in DC that the first breach of the Stargate Program was brought to their attention after all - Sam kept her voice low. He did the same.
"Safe and sound. Good idea to use the Apollo transporter beam to pick up the remains and the papers. Apparently, Ellis' tech who dealt with the electronics side of things in the camp and the Jeffersonian mail fileserver was in and out slicker than a trout off a line. Ellis tossed out the idea of assigning him to McKay's division in Atlantis."
Since she would be the one who'd have to deal with Rodney McKay and the man, Sam's immediate and fervent response was, "No."
Jack smirked. "Oh, and just to let you know, Landry's not happy. He says that the A&E department was difficult enough to deal with before this, but now they're a nightmare."
Sam hazarded a guess. "They want to study the bones?"
"Oh, yeah. Daniel's claiming first right there."
"He's going to be impossible."
"Carter, he's already impossible."
Wry affection laced his tones as they ambled down the stairs to the parking lot. She'd come from a meeting with certain liaisons in the Pentagon, he'd come from a meeting with certain liaisons in the White House.
"At least one of the archaeologists at the dig was hostile to us."
"Baxter? He's a conspiracy theorist to the core." Jack shrugged. He'd left his jacket in the car to meet her, and was walking around in a short-sleeved shirt, so very not the picture of the General in charge of Homeworld Security. And just as clearly not cold at all. "You know, we have so many nutcases around, we can't give them away."
"Do we have any information on Dr. Brennan of the Jeffersonian's A&E department?"
"That's the one who writes the novels Daniel likes, isn't it? Yes, we've got the basic information on her. We can have everything on her and everyone around her by tomorrow."
"We might need to. She ID'd me as one of the bodies in the tomb."
He frowned. "Just like that?"
"Just like that."
"Huh. Guess you're pretty distinctive, Carter."
Instinctively, she grinned. "Thank you, sir. Although in this case, less is more."
He knew her too well.
"I told her the truth."
"It was a calculated risk, Jack." For all that Dr. Brennan professed to want to know the truth, the truth was that the woman was not ready to break her thinking in such a way that would encompass the Stargate program and everything that went with it. "She thought I was telling her science-fiction."
"Yeah, well, that's the job." He huffed. "And if she goes back and tells Baxter or some other conspiracy nut?"
"She won't. Call it a hunch." It was an intuitive leap, based on her experience of people. Jack and Teal'c had always been better at reading people, but she'd learned a few things from them over the years. She wasn't ashamed to say it.
Temperance Brennan had been offended by Sam's truth. She'd never accept it without proof - maybe someday, she'd get the proof she needed. But balanced against that search for the truth was the fact that Dr. Brennan didn't believe in hiding the truth - even to get the job done.
"Carter, you bet the future of the entire Stargate program on a hunch?" When she tilted her head at him, reminding him that it wasn't the first time they'd hung the hopes of so many on the decision or instinct of one person, he sighed. "All right, all right. Damage done. Let's go to dinner. You owe me for this, by the way - the paperwork is going to take forever."
She grinned. Jack's distaste for paperwork was legendary. One more irony in the litany of his life - that he was now chained to a desk doing nothing but paperwork. "I'll pay."
"Eh. I earn more than you. We'll do halves."
They were at the parking lot and the car before he asked. "Carter, about the kid..."
She'd wondered if he would say anything about that.
"I never asked..."
"And I never really thought about it." Partly because of Charlie, partly because...well, Sam wasn't sure she was ready for that. If she'd ever be. And her career was important to her - had been the driving force for most of her adult life. "Do you want to talk about it?"
He made a half-shrug. "Now seems as good a time as any."
As they climbed into his truck - you could take the man out of Minnesota, but no way in all the galaxy could you get Minnesota out of the man - Sam considered that it was probably a sad reflection on her life that the only way they started thinking about the stuff in their relationship was when they had a parallel universe thrust in their faces.
Then she glanced over at her lover's face, caught the lopsided smile, and decided that it didn't matter what had happened elsewhere, in another life, in another version of reality; what was important was what happened now.
Booth picked her up at the airport.
"Nice tan, Bones."
She rolled her eyes. "Did you get the information I asked for?"
"Okay, so you don't like the small talk - fine, I get that. But sometimes, small talk is good. 'Hey, Booth, good to see you. You're looking surprisingly chipper for a man who just ended up with a departmental slap on the hand for trying to access information which had no relevance to any of the investigations on which he's working right now.'"
Pausing as she loaded her bags into the rear of the SUV, Brennan stared at him and nearly had the trunk closed on her fingertips. "You got a departmental slap on the hand?"
"For trying to access classified files." He climbed into the driver's seat. "I didn't even know they were classified until I got the notification. Your Colonel Carter used to work at the Pentagon."
"That's what I said." Booth put one hand on the back of her chair and began reversing out, looking over his shoulder to get a clear view of the parking lot behind him. "Classified projects in DC, Colorado, Siberia, and Antarctica. Double doctorates in physics and astrophysics. She even did a TOD in the Gulf War for about three months." As they paused in the parking lot aisle, he reached behind her chair and fished some files off the back seat. "That's all I managed to collect, and I'm pretty sure that I hit just about every flag in the system. If I vanish without a trace, I've left a note that you're Parker's new guardian."
"You've what?" The horror slammed into her like a blow to the parietal, and the papers dropped from her hands before she caught the smirk on his face and relaxed. "That's not funny, Booth."
"It was from where I'm sitting." He sobered up a little as they reached the tollbooth out of the Dulles International lot, while she scrambled around to get the papers she'd dropped on the floor of the car. You know, Bones, you're making some scary friends here."
"They're not my friends," she protested. Shuffling through the papers, she studied the front pages of the too-brief reports on each. "Malcolm Barrett belongs to a division of the NSA, classified projects for the last seven years." No wonder something about him had reminded him of her partner.
Vaguely, she recalled Hodgins once making a comment about 'the Agent gene', only to be corrected by Zack that there was no genetic arrangement that would cause a predisposition towards law enforcement, although it was possible that people with certain characteristics in a social upbringing might show a predisposition in that direction, and that was a joke, wasn't it?
"Steven Bates was a Marine, honourably discharged after four years assignment to a classified project and now working with...the International Oversight Advisory."
"I have...no idea." She glanced at the sheet about Majel Nyan. "You don't have much on Majel Nyan."
"There was almost nothing on him at all. Working on a doctorate in archaeology at Colorado State, sponsor: Daniel Jackson."
It all came back to Dr. Daniel Jackson.
Dr. Jackson, who'd been working for the US military in some unnamed project for the last dozen years. Colonel Carter was part of it, and so were the other three. Brennan would never have said that she 'felt it in her bones' but there was enough evidence to suggest that whatever this military project was, it had something to do with the remains that had gone missing at the dig.
"Is there any way of finding out what these classified projects are?"
By now, they were out on the Beltway, but she saw his double take. "Whoa, Bones... Are you thinking of taking on the US government? That is just... No."
"If they're hiding something..."
"Of course they're hiding something! They're the US government. There are a million and one things that they hide for the good of national security."
"What good could there be in hiding three bodies?"
"I don't know." He exhaled. "What did she say? This Colonel Carter, I mean."
She recited the conversations between her and Colonel Carter. Her memory was good enough to recall them pretty accurately, and Booth listened in silence right up to the end.
"Okay, so, Bones, what if she was telling the truth?"
"About aliens and time travel and alternate universes?" Brennan pushed her shoulders back into the chair and shot her partner an amused look. "You're beginning to sound like Hodgins."
"Right. Do you have any idea how scary that--" He broke off. "Look, I don't subscribe to his conspiracy theories, I'm just saying, maybe there's more to it than you might expect."
Much to her relief, he put both hands back on the steering wheel to navigate the exit ramp off the Beltway.
"Next, you'll be telling me you believe in vampires and demons. Oh, wait, you believe in an unseeable, unprovable God--"
"Okay, let's not start indiscriminately mixing fantasy in with faith, okay?" It always amused her how defensive he got about his personal faith. People could be irrational about religion, and Booth was no exception. "I'm saying that perhaps there's something more to this than meets the eye. You said it yourself. It was a locked room and if it wasn't for the fact that you'd seen the three bodies with your own eyes, you wouldn't have even known that anything had been touched."
The man exasperated her as much as he challenged her. "Booth, there's no such thing as time travel or alternate realities!"
One hand waved an upraised finger at her. "When all other possibilities are removed, whatever is left, however improbable, must be true."
He frowned a moment. "That's the one about the simplest explanation probably being correct?"
"Yes. But there's nothing simple about...about time travel or parallel universes or aliens! Did you know that the amount of energy it would take to travel back in time is more than exists in the known universe! It's not feasible, no matter how many...equations you come up with. And that's not even counting the problems with things like paradoxes and string theories."
"String theories? Wait, don't tell me. Look, Bones, this is out of our realm, okay? We hunt bad guys. You hunt the proof, I hunt the perp. When we start looking at the government as the bad guy..." He trailed off.
Brennan peered out the window, frowning as the familiar streets and traffic moved by.
She understood his loyalties, much as they frustrated her. Booth was dedicated to his job, to his country, to his values. She liked and respected that about the man, even when they conflicted with her own dedication - to reason, rationality, and the facts.
"I just want the truth."
"More things in heaven and on earth, Bones."
Brennan scowled. "That's what she said."
They drove in silence all the way to her apartment.
- fin -