"The First Steps"

Part 1: Into The Forge

by Trudy A. Goold

Earth: Final Conflict is copyright © Tribune Entertainment and Roddenberry/Kirschner. No infringement of that copyright is intended by this story.
"The First Steps" is copyright © 2000, Trudy A. Goold.

Sandoval walked through the near-empty halls of the Washington Embassy, his attention focused on how he was going to handle the next several minutes.

Da'an was on the mothership, recovering from his period of crystalline hibernation. As a result, there was only a skeleton security staff on duty at the Embassy. It was the perfect time for this little confrontation - a confrontation that he intended to control.

Stepping into Da'an's office, Sandoval saw Kincaid sitting at his desk. The Major was leaning back in his chair, with his feet up on the desk, looking for all the world as though he was perfectly relaxed.

Sandoval wasn't fooled for a moment. Major Kincaid was anything but relaxed.


Kincaid looked up from the screen he'd been studying and met Sandoval's eyes.

The Major's expression was cool, but something told Sandoval that it was simply a mask Kincaid was using to hide a scorching fury.

"Sandoval," Kincaid replied coldly. "I would have thought you'd still be on the mothership, explaining to Zo'or just how you managed to lose yet another shuttle."

Sandoval ignored the comment, and started wandering - apparently aimlessly - around the room. "Da'an appears to be making a complete recovery from his unfortunate abduction," he commented.

"No thanks to you," Kincaid muttered, but Sandoval heard him clearly. He could feel the Major's eyes boring into his back, but paid no heed to the sensation as he continued to walk around. It was hardly unfamiliar.

Kincaid's patience gave way first. "What do you want?" he demanded.

Having finished a complete circuit of the room, Sandoval turned to face Kincaid, and simply waited.

Kincaid's eyes narrowed and he took his feet off his desk, sitting up straight. "What do you want, Sandoval?" he repeated, the buried fury beginning to show through in his tone.

"I think it's time we talked, Major," Sandoval replied finally.

Kincaid reined in his obvious impatience and waited.

"I don't believe you realize exactly how much leniency I've shown you, Major. I'm well aware of the fact that you are a member of the Resistance - I've known it since before the election last year. Had I wished to, it would have been quite easy to provide Zo'or with proof of your involvement."

Kincaid's mouth tightened, but he showed no other reaction to Sandoval's statement. "Like I said, what do you want, Sandoval?"

Sandoval studied the man in front of him for a minute or two before responding.

"As I said, I've shown you an extraordinary amount of leniency over the past year, Major. That ends now. Your actions over the past several days have tried the limits of my forbearance - and surpassed them. I will no longer tolerate interference from you - or from the Resistance - in my activities. Consider this to be your one and only warning."

Kincaid leaned back in his chair again, looking vaguely amused. "Assuming that you're right about my supposed involvement with the Resistance, what makes you think that I - or the Resistance as a whole, for that matter - would listen to you? Face it, Sandoval - the Resistance hates your guts. You're the human face of the Taelon hierarchy; you represent everything that they're fighting against."

Sandoval looked at him coolly. "Should you choose to continue to interfere, Major, I would have no choice but to see to it that Zo'or receives the proof of your Resistance involvement - including the fact that you are the one who helped Captain Marquette and the Jaridian spy escape."

All traces of amusement vanished from Kincaid's face, and he stared at Sandoval, his fury no longer hidden, but easy to read in his face.

The room was filled with an oppressive silence that lasted for what seemed to be hours.

Then Kincaid smiled grimly.

"Turn me over to Zo'or, and you lose your only link to your son."

Much as he would have liked to, Sandoval was unable to keep himself from reacting as he gaped at Kincaid in shocked surprise. "My... son?" he repeated, his voice barely more than a whisper. "What makes you think I have a son, Major?"

"Not 'think', Sandoval - 'know'. I know you have a son. And I know that it was his blood that saved you when you were in the hospital," Kincaid countered.

Sandoval's mouth tightened, but he managed to regain control of his reactions - partially, at least. "What else do you know?" he demanded. It would be useless to deny it; it was obvious that Kincaid was very well-informed.

"That - as I said - if you turn me over to Zo'or, you'll never know him - never meet him," Kincaid replied calmly.

"Is that a threat, Major?"

"A statement of fact - something I thought you might want to be aware of before making any hasty decisions," Kincaid countered.

Sandoval was grimly aware of the fact that Kincaid had turned the tables on him. He'd come in here with the intention of being in control of this confrontation; but with the mention of his son, Kincaid had taken that control away from him - again. He was going to have to react quicker than this to regain it. It was time to go back on the offensive, see if he could get the Major off-balance enough to get some answers, before he returned to his original goal.

"Prove it."

Kincaid blinked. "Prove what?"

"Prove that you know my son. Not that you know about him - you've already made that quite clear - but that you know him. Personally."

"What sort of proof would you accept?" Kincaid asked evenly - but the grim amusement in his expression had faded and been replaced by uncertainty.

Sandoval silently congratulated himself on his success at having thrown Kincaid back off-balance. "Take me to meet him."

Kincaid shook his head. "I can't do that, Sandoval. Sorry." For an instant, Sandoval thought he saw genuine regret in Kincaid's eyes; but if it was there, it was masked before he could be sure. "I won't endanger his life."

Sandoval's mouth tightened again. "We're talking about my son, Major," he snapped coldly. "I am hardly a threat to him."

Kincaid hesitated for a moment, obviously considering what to say in response, and then met Sandoval's eyes. "Yes, Sandoval, you are a danger to him," the Major said quietly. "What do you think would happen if Zo'or and the Synod were to find out that you have a child? How do you think they'll react? What do you think they'll do to him?"

It was Sandoval's turn to hesitate. He'd been very careful to hide the fact of his son's existence from the Taelons for that very reason.

There was a minute or two of silence, and then Kincaid spoke again. "Would a blood sample - a recent one - be sufficient proof?" he offered. "You could run a DNA comparison with a sample of your own to confirm that it really is your son's."

Sandoval studied the younger man, wondering when exactly he'd given up the attempt to control this situation. He'd thought, coming in here, that he held most of the high cards - but he'd been wrong. Kincaid held the best hand. And he obviously wasn't afraid to use it.

"That would be acceptable, Major," Sandoval said finally. He'd have Dr. Curzon run the comparison, see if she picked up the same genetic oddities in the sample that Kincaid would give him.

Now, to return to his original reason for this meeting. He was going to have to take a different tack, now that Kincaid had thwarted the attempt to blackmail him. As infuriating as it was, he was going to have to accept the fact that he and Kincaid were now on an even playing field.

"I have a proposal for you, Major."

Kincaid blinked in surprise, sitting up straight. "A proposal?" he repeated, sounding puzzled.

"Yes," Sandoval replied. He eyed the younger man thoughtfully. "A proposal that you may find... useful."

"I'd appreciate more specifics," Kincaid commented easily, but the expression on his face was intense.

"Call it... an exchange of information, Major. I have access to a great deal of information that I am certain the Resistance would appreciate. On the other hand, you have access to sources and information that I do not. We both want the Taelons to leave humanity alone, Major. We would be much more effective than we are at present if we were to co-ordinate our resources."

This hadn't been Sandoval's original plan, of course. What he'd meant to do was blackmail Kincaid into giving him information obtained by the Resistance. He wasn't overly pleased at the thought of sharing any of the information he had gained with the Major, but now that Kincaid had matched him, he didn't have much choice in the matter. As much as he hated to admit it, Sandoval knew that he needed the information Kincaid could supply from the Resistance in order to ensure that his own plans went as smoothly and as efficiently as possible.

Kincaid's expression darkened with disbelief. "You want the Taelons to leave humanity alone?" he repeated. The disbelief on his face was echoed in his tone.

"In case it has slipped your mind, Major - or in case you never realized it," Sandoval added, his tone just short of insulting, "the entire purpose of sending Captain Marquette to the Jaridians was to cement an alliance with them, in order that they might remove the Taelons from Earth for us."

Kincaid didn't respond to the unsubtle dig at his intelligence. "Just what sort of information would you expect from me?" he demanded.

At least he's no longer denying that he has ties to the Resistance, Sandoval reflected.

"For the most part, any information that you happen to obtain from raids on Taelon facilities, and the like. Particularly any information involving projects that the Synod might be running without Zo'or's knowledge. As well, information on the details of what Hubble Urick's ANA is up to."

Kincaid leaned back again, putting his hands behind his head and placing his feet up on his desk. "I'm afraid I can't help you with this 'ANA' that you're talking about," he said calmly. "Never heard of it."

Sandoval wasn't sure whether or not he believed that. Of course, it wasn't impossible that Ms. Palmer had kept Kincaid in the dark about it. From what he'd heard, it wouldn't be the first time. And he did have other sources with access to information about the Atlantic National Alliance.

And agreeing to this might help encourage Kincaid to agree to the proposal itself.

"Very well."

Kincaid nodded. "And in return?" he demanded then. "What information would you provide me with?"

"Information concerning Zo'or's activities and agenda," Sandoval replied calmly, rapidly sorting through what he could afford to have Kincaid - and therefore the Resistance - know. He wouldn't provide all the information he had access to, of course, and he'd dole it out in return for what Kincaid gave him, but there were definitely some things that the Major would undoubtedly consider to be worth it.

"What about your activities?"

"They are none of your concern, Major," Sandoval retorted.

"If you and I are going to be... 'cooperating'..." Kincaid said carefully, "then yes, they are my concern."

Sandoval frowned, giving Kincaid an icy glare. "I will be the one to determine that," he declared firmly. "Do we have an agreement, Major?"

Kincaid studied him warily. "I'm going to have to think about it for a bit," he replied.

"Don't think for too long, Major. And I would advise you not to mention this conversation to anyone."

With that, Sandoval turned and left the room.

He wasn't entirely satisfied with the outcome of the 'discussion', nor was he overly sanguine about the likelyhood of Kincaid accepting the proposal - not any more; but even if Kincaid did refuse, at least it still hadn't been a complete waste of time. He'd learned a surprising amount over the past several minutes - including the fact that Kincaid knew his son.

That information could well prove to be extremely useful at some later time, should he ever need to find the child.

Stopping just inside the door of the Embassy, he took out his pocket watch and glanced at it. The conversation with Kincaid had taken more time than he'd planned; he was going to have to hurry if he was to make his next meeting.

Liam sat back in his seat and stared blankly up at the ceiling.

What on earth was I thinking?! he wondered in disbelief.

When Sandoval had first come in, Liam had been irritated, figuring that Sandoval intended to pick up where they'd left off in the club. He hadn't expected Sandoval to declare that he was aware of Liam's ties to the Resistance - and he definitely hadn't expected himself to respond the way he had! But when Sandoval had brought up the Resistance, and threatened to turn him over to Zo'or, Liam had reacted without thinking, throwing out the one thing that he hoped would persuade Sandoval not to follow through with his threat.

He was scared of the idea of Zo'or and the Synod discovering that he was in the Resistance - much less its leader. But that fear paled into insignificance when compared to the terror he felt at what else Zo'or would discover, if he was turned over to them. Over the past few months, ever since Ku'don's spirit had come to him for help, Liam had been growing more and more aware of the disparities between his heritage and that of the Taelons, and thus more and more frightened of the possible consequences should his heritage be revealed.

Right. And that's why I nearly revealed all to Sandoval - and told him in no uncertain terms that I know exactly who his son is. Good one, Liam.

He had to admit, though, that Sandoval's reaction had been rather amusing...

And then that proposal! Now that had been astonishing. And from the way Sandoval had spoken of it, the proposal had been the whole reason he'd shown up here in the first place.

Although I imagine that he intended to blackmail me into it, and that's why he brought up the matter of the Resistance. And I seriously doubt that he had any intention of sharing any information he's acquired with me until I reacted, Liam reflected ruefully.

So, what am I going to do? Should I accept? If I trust him about wanting to get rid of the Taelons - and, for some reason, I do - sharing our information, pooling our resources, could prove to be very useful. On the other hand, I doubt Sandoval's going to give me very much, unless I push him... and I'm not too sure I want to do that at the moment. And it could always be a trap...

Liam couldn't help but wish that Lili was still here, so that he could ask her advice - or that Augur hadn't disappeared. They were the only two he trusted enough to discuss this offer of Sandoval's with - and if they'd been available, he would have done so, Sandoval's comment notwithstanding. But they weren't. He didn't even dare to mention it to Renee - she'd have an absolute fit at the idea of Liam cooperating with Sandoval on anything. And he didn't know Street well enough to trust her with anything like this, Augur's friend or not.

So he was going to have to make the decision himself. Not something he was unaccustomed to, but he would've liked to get some advice on it nonetheless.

The sudden beeping of his global drew him out of his ruminations. Opening it, Liam resisted the urge to sigh when he saw who it was.

"What can I do for you, Renee?"

"We've got that meeting with Hayley in three-quarters of an hour, Liam," Renee replied, sounding more than a bit exasperated. "In Houston?"

Liam shook his head, trying to get his thoughts in order. Right... "I'll meet you at Doors International with my shuttle in fifteen minutes," he said, and then closed his global.

Standing up, Liam turned off his screen, grabbed his jacket, and headed out of the Embassy, nodding absently to the Volunteers he passed on the way.

The meeting with Hayley was an important one - she'd been responsible for helping rebuild the southwestern section of the Resistance after the attack Da'an had instigated - and she was going to be updating Liam on their activities and the information they had gathered. Liam and Renee would do the same for her concerning the northeastern section. All part of the new security arrangements Liam had insisted on after the attack.

But somehow, Liam had the feeling that he was going to be concentrating more on Sandoval's proposal than on what Hayley had to tell him.

"They're what?!" Liam exclaimed, his tone one of shocked surprise. Renee just stared, her expression equally as astonished.

"In the process of building some sort of secret facility out near White Sands," Hayley repeated patiently.

Liam drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Have you or your people managed to get any indication of what this facility is going to be used for?"

Hayley shook her head, her expression sombre. "I'm afraid not, Liam. All I do know is that the Taelon in charge is named Mit'gai, and that there's been an awful lot of activity there over the past few weeks."

Mit'gai. Liam frowned. Mit'gai wasn't one of Zo'or's allies - in fact, the 'healer', as he liked to be called, had evinced a marked dislike for Zo'or every time Liam had met him, or seen the two of them together. Mit'gai was much more T'than's ally than Zo'or's.

Might this facility in White Sands be one of the projects whose existence Sandoval had alluded to during their conversation earlier? One that Zo'or not only had no involvement in, but had no knowledge of either?

His frown became thoughtful as he considered the possible ramifications... and then Liam made his decision.

"For the moment, don't do anything - just keep monitoring the activity around it," he told Hayley. "I'll see what I can find out about it from my end, and let you know."

Hayley nodded in acknowledgment of the order.

"Now, is there anything else?" Liam continued. He'd already given Hayley the report from the northeast, along with the news about Lili - which had cheered her up a great deal. Lili and Hayley hadn't been the best of friends, but they'd respected and liked each other. Knowing that Lili wasn't dead, that she was very much alive and happy, had given Hayley's confidence and strength of purpose a boost.

"No, nothing else," Hayley answered, standing up and holding out her hand. Liam shook, then Renee, and Hayley left the way she'd came - through a hidden door in the back of the room.

Liam and Renee left through the main room of the restaurant and headed for the local office of Doors International, where they'd left Liam's shuttle.

The shuttle trip back to Washington was spent in silence, Liam preoccupied with his own thoughts and Renee with hers.

As soon as Liam had dropped Renee off, he gave Sandoval a call. Getting no answer, he left a simple message; "I'm ready to talk."

Sandoval stood beside one of the empty crates near the entrance, keeping a close watch on the door, and waited for Kincaid.

The warehouse they were meeting in had been abandoned five years ago, soon after the Taelons had arrived. Just at the edge of the Fringes, its location made it an excellent place for unobstrusive covert meetings.

About five minutes after Sandoval arrived, he saw a figure detach itself from the shadows surrounding the warehouse and step inside.

"You're late, Major."

"Actually, no, I was early," Kincaid countered calmly, as he walked over to join Sandoval by the crates. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a small vial. "Here you go," he declared, tossing it to Sandoval. "The proof you asked for."

Sandoval caught the vial easily and studied it for a moment, eyeing the thick red liquid inside thoughtfully before slipping it into the inside pocket of his jacket. "What did you wish to discuss?" he asked.

"I'm willing to accept your proposal - on two conditions," Kincaid replied.

Sandoval's eyes narrowed. "And what conditions might those be?"

"First of all, I want your word - your word, Sandoval - that the information I share with you will not be used against the Resistance. At all. And secondly, I decide what information I give you. If you want something that I haven't told you, you'll have to give me a reason for sharing it with you.

"Unless those two conditions are met, this deal is off."

Sandoval gritted his teeth. He didn't like it - he didn't like it at all - but he had to admit that from Kincaid's point of view, the conditions were reasonable. And... His hand brushed against his jacket, feeling the vial within.

"All right. I accept your conditions," he replied stiffly.

"Your word, Sandoval," Kincaid pressed. "I want to hear you say it."

Sandoval's jaw tightened. "You have my word, Major, that the information you provide me with will not be used against the Resistance," he said coldly.

Kincaid nodded. "Then we have a deal."

Bastard, Sandoval thought furiously. If you didn't know who my son is... Despite the fact that he still intended to have the blood in the vial tested, Sandoval had no doubt that it was indeed his son's blood. Kincaid was brash and cocky, but he wasn't an idiot. He wouldn't have risked this if he hadn't been telling the truth about Sandoval's son.

Kincaid leaned back against one of the crates. "And, as it happens, I have some of that information for you right now," he added.

That caught Sandoval's attention. "Oh?" he inquired, letting a hint of skepticism flavour his tone. He doubted that Kincaid could have found something that he didn't know about so quickly.

A faint smirk crossed Kincaid's face, and Sandoval gritted his teeth against the urge to wipe it off with a punch. "Heard anything about a secret facility being built in White Sands, New Mexico?" the Major asked.

Sandoval blinked. Then again... "No," he admitted reluctantly. "I haven't. Zo'or doesn't have any projects going on in that area."

"I didn't think so. Especially not since Mit'gai's apparently in charge," Kincaid returned, the irritating smirk growing wider.

Sandoval grimaced. He didn't like the arrogant healer; Mit'gai was an ally of T'than's, and the War Minister was the one Taelon who truly worried him. He had a certain amount of control over both Da'an and Zo'or, and through them over the rest of the Synod, but not T'than. T'than was a wild card - a powerful one - and one who held humanity in even worse regard than Zo'or. Although Zo'or's opinion on humanity had been improving over the past couple of years, thanks to his prodding...

But if Mit'gai was in charge of some sort of secret project that he, as Zo'or's aide, hadn't heard about, it meant that T'than was involved. And that meant trouble.

"Thank you, Major," Sandoval said finally, the words coming out slowly and reluctantly. "I... appreciate the information."

"Glad to be of service," Kincaid replied cockily. "In exchange," he added, "I want to be kept aware of what you - and Zo'or - find out about this. And what you're going to do."

Sandoval met and held Kincaid's eyes. "Very well, Major." There was no sense in antagonizing him right now. Besides, it was a fair exchange, and as such, would keep Kincaid reasonably happy - which was the only way Kincaid would continue to provide him with information. "Is that all?"

"That's it. I'll see you later," Kincaid added, before turning and heading out of the warehouse.

Sandoval watched him leave, and then took the vial of blood back out of his pocket and looked at it again.

This agreement - it was more, now, than just a way to gain the information he needed to deal with the Taelons. It had also just become a link to his son.

"Well?" Sandoval demanded.

Dr. Curzon looked up from the screen and met his eyes. "It's the same. This sample definitely came from your son," she replied. "And judging from the number of cells still alive, I'd say that the sample is no more than four hours old."

Which means that it took Kincaid a maximum of three hours to get the sample and arrive at the warehouse, Sandoval reflected. Not that it meant much, taking into account the portal system and the fact that Kincaid had a shuttle at his disposal, but it was something. And it also meant that Kincaid had definitely seen either his son or his son's caretakers during that three-hour period.

I now have my proof. "Thank you, Doctor," he said politely.

"You're welcome. Glad to help."

Sandoval nodded curtly.

Two hours later, Sandoval lay down on the massage table and stared blankly at the wall as the masseuse began.

Where are you, my son? And what will it take to convince Kincaid to bring you to me?

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Last modified December 13th, 2000.
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