By San Antonio Rose
There were a lot of things Ira Levinson resented. Being adopted was one of them. His mother had died in childbirth, and his father was too poor to take care of another child. So Angus Beckett had sent his infant son to relatives in America who turned out to be untrustworthy and abusive. They lost custody of their own children and young Carson four years later, and because Carson had told the truth to investigators, the authorities deemed it best for the boy to enter Witness Protection as well as foster care. Now named Ira Smith, the boy was adopted almost immediately, but the Levinsons were not affectionate, and Ira never quite fit in with the rest of the family or their friends. Over time, he retreated within himself and began to treat the world as coldly as it had treated him.
Carson Beckett was no more.
In school, Ira fell in love with science and scientism, which offered him a way to make sense of life and the potential for controlling it. College drew him into microbiology, biochemistry, and genetics. He considered medical school but found more he liked about the bioengineering program at Stanford, so he pursued his doctorate there. He occasionally crossed paths with one Tony Almeida, a former Marine sniper getting his MS in Computer Science. And he got to know one John Sheppard, who was in the Air Force ROTC detachment at Berkeley while getting his BS and MS in Aeronautics and Astronautics coterminally at Stanford. Had Ira been capable of making friends with anyone, he might have found a friend in the dashing flyboy, but as it was, they became no more than drinking buddies before John graduated at the end of Ira’s first year. Just for kicks, John left Ira a DNA sample when he left for his first assignment in Germany. Ira found a few genetic anomalies that hadn’t previously been identified, discovered at least one of them in himself, put his notes in his research files, and forgot about them.
One of the undergrads in his research group, however, did not. Ira never liked the cocky and flirtatious Jennifer Keller, whom he thought was far too young to be studying genetics at an Ivy League school, and it irked him no end to get her call in 2003 asking permission to continue his research. He gave it all the same... and later learned through round-about channels that she had found the anomaly to be a genetic key to alien technology and been whisked away to finish her MD in outer space somewhere. That, too, he resented.
Not that he really wanted to be in outer space, if the story was true. By then John Sheppard had been drummed out of the Air Force “for caring too much” (John’s words, not Ira’s) and Ira had gotten tired of working for a research firm in Quantico that primarily served the local Counter Terrorism Unit, so the pair of them went to Vegas to seek their fortunes. Ira found a tolerable position in the coroner’s office, and John alternated between trying to become a detective and trying to gamble himself into oblivion. They had a cordial working relationship, especially once John finally succeeded in passing the detective’s exam, but Ira couldn’t quite bring himself to intrude on John’s private life and stop him from being quite so self-destructive. He did once offer to let John live with him rather than in his ratty old Camaro, but John muttered something about not wanting to get Ira in trouble with Mikey--whoever Mikey was. Ira let the subject drop.
And then, late in 2008, Ira and John were three months into a serial case when the coroner, at the FBI’s insistence, not only pulled Ira off the case but dismissed him. Shock turned to fury when, as he was leaving his office, Jennifer Keller walked in as if she owned the place.
Ira buried his feelings behind his usual icy professionalism. “Jennifer.”
Keller smirked. “Carson,” she said mockingly.
Ira managed not to bristle until he got into his car. How dare that little punk take over his job and drag up a part of his past that he believed was best forgotten?!
Before he could call John to fume, however, another woman--this one a red-head--opened the front passenger door and stepped into the car with the ease of a secret agent. Ira glared at her.
“Dr. Levinson,” she said politely by way of greeting.
“You presume,” he deadpanned, to get a rise.
He got none. “My name is Cara Bowden. I represent a group of individuals who have need of your talents. Do you know of Starkwood Defense Industries?”
“Yes, I’ve heard of them. They’ve got a plant here in Vegas.”
“If you would be so good, Dr. Levinson, drive me to the Starkwood plant. I’ll explain our offer on the way.”
Warily curious, Ira did as she asked and listened silently as Bowden explained the group’s long-term mission and his likely role in their operations, including the possibility of working with other microbiologists on chemical and biological weapons. She explained the benefits and protections this group was willing to offer him if he would move to DC and work for them, the driving ideology behind the project, the opportunities he would have to contribute to remaking America. The spiel lasted almost exactly the full length of the drive.
As he pulled up to the plant, Ira told Bowden he’d think about it.
“Please do,” she replied, handing him her card. “And if you have any doubts about the sincerity of our offer, I suggest you call... a mutual acquaintance of ours. His name and number are on the back.”
Ira flipped the card over, and his eyebrows inadvertently shot up when he saw the name Robert Kinsey, whom he had met through CTU. Kinsey had been one of President Palmer’s chief opponents in the Senate when Ira was in Quantico, but the government contacts Ira wasn’t supposed to have passed on gossip that Kinsey was involved with a group called the Trust that was stealing alien technology for military use on Earth.
Bowden nodded as if she could read his mind. “Yes, Doctor, the Trust is part of our coalition.”
Ira nodded thoughtfully. “Well, thank you, Miss Bowden. I will certainly give your proposal careful consideration.”
As Bowden stepped out of the car, John called. “Ira, where are you? We’ve got a new victim here, and some idiot told me you were fired.”
Ira sighed. “I was fired, John. Look, can we talk about this later? I need to make some phone calls.”
John sounded only slightly more defeated than usual when he replied, “Yeah, sure. I’ll... go talk to the new kid.”
“You won’t like her.”
“Jennifer Keller. She’s a former student of mine.” Ira could almost hear John’s eyebrows climbing into his hairline. “And John? Don’t trust her. She’s where she is because of my research.”
Ira hung up and dialed another Stanford alumnus as he pulled back onto the road.
“Hartkans,” came the drawl on the other end.
“Kevin? Ira Levinson.”
“Ira! Haven’t heard from you in a coon’s age.”
“Listen, Kevin, I’ve got a situation here. I need to know everything you can tell me about the Trust.”
Hartkans paused before answering. “You’ve spoken to Cara, then?”
“I recommended you.”
Ira paused to let that statement sink in. “It’s all real, then?”
“And dead serious. I can’t tell you much more than that.”
“That’s told me more than you know. Thanks, Kev.”
They hung up.
By the time Ira got home, John was waiting for him in the driveway. Ira gave him a brief sketch of what had happened and confessed that he was considering the offer. John didn’t say anything for nearly a minute, but what little light remained in his eyes faded almost completely.
“I’m sorry,” Ira finally stated with unusual sincerity.
John just nodded for a moment, then drew a deep breath. “Well. Take care of yourself.”
Silently, John got back in his car and left.
Three days later, as Ira was still struggling to decide whether or not to take the job, a somber-faced Keller knocked on his door. Ira met her with a puzzled frown. “What do you want?”
“I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings twice in one week,” Keller began. “But Rodney told me Sheppard was the closest thing to a friend you ever had.”
“What do you mean, had? And who’s Rodney?”
“Rodney McKay. My... husband. And colleague. He, um... works at Area 51.”
Ira just stared.
“Um, anyway. Sheppard’s just been killed in the line of duty. He caught and killed the serial killer you two were after, but he was pretty badly shot up in the process, and we think he was exposed to harmful radiation as well.” She paused as Ira continued to stare at her. “I just thought... I mean, I know you don’t like me, but... I thought you’d rather hear it from me than on the news.”
Ira nodded slowly. Keller’s gaze dropped in genuine discomfort. Finally Ira sighed. “Thanks.”
Keller gave him a small smile and left.
As he closed the door, something deep in Ira’s heart broke... and died. He leaned his head against the door jamb while a few silent tears ran down his cheeks, then pulled himself together and dialed his cell phone.
“This is Ira Levinson. When do I start?”
Eight years passed swiftly. Ira threw himself into his work, finding intense pleasure in his collaborations with colleagues in Asia and Africa on very lethal biological and chemical weapons as well as a medication intended to revive the dead--based, as it happened, on an enzyme stolen from Atlantis by a Trust operative. He made no friends but earned a reputation for unflappable, dispassionate professionalism even in situations that required brutal treatment of human subjects, whom he viewed as no more than biological machines to be manipulated for the good of science and of the cause. He gained the confidence of Starkwood’s CEO, Jonas Hodges, to such a degree that Hodges asked him to evaluate the bio-weapon offered by General Juma in exchange for conventional arms. And he was among those who vouched for Tony Almeida when the organization considered recruiting him.
He also became aware of Jack Bauer’s exploits, through Almeida and through his contacts in the Trust and other underworld organizations. The man seemed well nigh indestructible, and it didn’t surprise Ira that Bauer turned out to be a thorn in Juma’s side. He idly wished he could study Bauer sometime, find out if that peskiness were a genetic predisposition and what biochemical changes Bauer’s kind of life makes to the brain.
The chance finally came early in 2017, though under circumstances far different from those Ira had envisioned. Bauer had managed to thwart four attempts by Juma and the coalition to bring down the government, but in the process he exposed himself to the pathogen Ira had convinced Hodges to buy. Almeida considered Bauer their last chance to recover the pathogen in sufficient quantity to recreate the weapon, so Bowden called Ira to meet them at a warehouse to run some tests. By then Ira was more concerned about recovering the pathogen than with anything else, and he was able to treat Bauer as ruthlessly as he would any other human trial subject; but part of his mind still wanted a sample of Bauer’s DNA to play with.
In the end, a rookie mistake ended everything. Somehow one of his newer assistants had set up a scalpel tray that stood between the examination table and where the gurney needed to be to transfer Bauer easily, and when Ira ordered the gurney moved closer, the idiot apparently moved the scalpel tray within Bauer’s reach. Had Bauer been unconscious and paralyzed, as he appeared to be, the mistake would not have been serious. However, Bauer was not in fact as badly off as he seemed, and the mistake was the last any of the scientists would make. Two of them were dead before Ira even knew what was happening. He ran... but not fast or far enough. As he felt Bauer’s arms encircle his throat, his mind screamed words that would never reach his tongue:
His English fled, his panicked thoughts falling into a language he didn’t remember he knew as Bauer wrestled him backward... and with a crunch, he entered the spirit world he had sought since childhood to deny.
A/N: Well, someone had to write it, and we know so little about Vegas-verse anyway....
The title comes from “I Am A Rock” by Simon and Garfunkel. I’ve gone on the assumptions that characters’ birth years are the same as the actors’, that “Vegas” takes place around the time it was shot, and that the 24 timeline in the FAQs on IMDb is accurate. I also did some digging in the Gateworld Omnipedia and figured Hartkans made the most sense as a named Trust operative with whom Levinson might have had contact. And yes, that reference to peskiness is a nod to “This Mortal Coil.”
màthair = mother (Scots Gaelic)