<<Previous  | Story Intro | Return to Stories | Next >>


 Artistic Differences

 

"...I am a man who will fight for your honor
I’ll be the hero you’re dreaming of
We’ll live forever
Knowing together that we
Did it all for the glory of love..."
"Glory of Love"
Written and performed by Peter Cetera

Chapter 1

One day. They'd saved the freaking world...again, and they were given one day off. It just wasn’t fair. After all they'd endured...especially what she and Daniel had endured...they should get at least a week to just laze around the house, with nothing more pressing to do than turn the pages as they read. Her mood wasn’t improved by the fact that, by mutual agreement reached over breakfast, this one day off was being spent taking care of all of the errands that had been put off due to the missions of the past week and a half.

Daniel had dropped her off at Piggly Wiggly, and while she started the grocery shopping, he would go to the cleaners to pick up the clothes waiting to be claimed, and drop off the items which needed to be cleaned. His black suit and her black skirt and jacket, to be specific. Had to keep them ready, she grumped silently, in case there was another negotiation she needed to attend and whore herself through.

Casey shook her head mentally. Don’t go there, she thought irritably. It wasn’t that big of a deal. Ba’al didn’t actually see anything, and even if he had, it wouldn’t have been the first time...and it wasn’t as if you were naked, for crying out loud! It was necessary, it worked...get over it! Another mental shake, and she looked down at her list. She'd prepared more than enough casseroles on her last day off. But she'd managed to run low on several staple items. The crisper drawer in the refrigerator and fruit bowl were empty as well. General Hammond had promised the team a few days on base to catch up with paperwork, which meant they should be home to eat those fruits and vegetables. Whether or not it would actually happen was anyone’s guess. No irritating poking so far...and that was always a good sign.

A trip to the mall and the specialty food shop within to buy the gourmet coffee to which Daniel was so partial was also in order. He needed tee shirts as well, even though he had groaned and complained when she'd tossed several into the rag bag, claiming that they were still ‘wearable’. That he only wore them when washing the jeep or mowing the lawn was beside the point. Three had so many holes in them that there was very little cloth actually left of the things, held together by the stains, she was certain.

For a moment the domesticity of her thoughts struck her as incongruous with what she'd been faced with only the day before. If only her biggest worry each day was what to fix for dinner, she thought wistfully. With a sigh, she selected half a dozen oranges, two each of three different types of apples, moved on to the bananas. She wondered briefly if Ba’al had enjoyed the bananas she'd sent to him, demonstrating for his lo’taur how to peel the fruit. Again she shook her head. Glanced around her at the other shoppers who were examining the fruits and vegetables so carefully arranged in colorful displays. Not one of them had a clue that the world as they knew it had nearly ended the day before. That had SG-1 failed, at this very moment they would already be prisoners, most likely rounded up by Ba’al’s Jaffa. She frowned slightly. How many of these people would fight back? How many would simply do what they were told, without a single thought of escape? How many would jockey for position, selling out friends and neighbors for better treatment? Now that, she decided, is a totally depressing thought!

Once again she forced her wandering mind back to the task at hand. She’d pick up a couple of nice steaks. Which meant a super salad. A few red and gold potatoes...for garlic mashed or broiled, whichever Daniel preferred.

The ‘seat’ of the cart was overflowing with the more delicate of the fruits and vegetables. The basket was testimony to her careful selection of the more durable of those particular foods. She went over her list again. Milk, bread, yogurt, ice cream, peanut butter...they had cleaned the jar out the night before. After the briefing with General Hammond, the team had met at O’Malley’s; the need to reconnect after three days of working apart, reassuring themselves and each other that they had once again pulled that magical rabbit out of the metaphorical hat, had been too strong to ignore. Pizza’s had been ordered, and devoured. She and Daniel had joined other couples on the dance floor, taking advantage of the fact that the bar actually had a live band. By the time they'd arrived home, well after midnight, they'd been hungry again. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches had filled them up...offering the sustenance needed for a rousing and toe-curling, heart stopping, absolutely blissful night of love making. Better pick up a jar of jam as well, she thought, smiling as memories of the night before, and the early morning hours, played through her mind.

"And just what are you smiling about?"

The smile widened at the sound of the familiar voice coming from just behind her. "Oh, just thinking about the amazing time I had last night," she replied softly. Responded easily when he dropped a kiss on her lips. In spite of her own shyness, Daniel had never been bothered by demonstrations of love in public. Granted, they were only ever kisses, and never of the extremely long variety.

"So you enjoyed that, huh?"

"Mmmhmm." She glanced sideways at him. "I haven’t been dancing in ages."

"Oh," he said, looking just a bit crestfallen.

She giggled mentally at the disappointment he tried so hard to hide. "I don’t dare think about what happened when we got home. After the peanut butter sandwiches."

"Really?"

She gave him a wicked smile. "Really. I want to continue to shop here."

Daniel grinned at the innuendo. "I’m sure we could slip off and find a nice dark corner in the back. No one would ever know, and you can shop here to your heart’s content."

She shook her head. It was bad enough that he'd talked her into another rendezvous in one of the storage closets on level eighteen. She'd pointed out that they could go down to their quarters, and not risk being caught. He, however, had taken her hand, pressed it on the erection that strained against the buttons of his BDU pants, and told her he’d never make it as far as the elevator. So he'd pulled her into the closet, and driven her out of her mind, before allowing her to fall to her knees to give him the relief he was so desperate for. Thankfully the rattling of the doorknob hadn’t occurred until they were dressing. And when they'd peeked out the door, there had been no one around.

He inspected the contents of the cart. "Steaks?"

"Your reward for keeping me safe," she smiled.

"Is that all I get?"

The man was insatiable! Not that she was complaining, mind you. Her own need often surprised her; the desire that flooded her just watching him walk down the corridor could leave her weak-kneed and panting. "What else do you want?"

"We should pick up some whipped cream," he replied. He was unaware of the fact that the blue of his eyes had deepened, his desire flaring just enough to be visible, before he so carefully pushed it down, reining in his thoughts before the very physical result was visible to all those around him...his jeans didn’t offer ample room to hide the raging hard-on such thoughts could cause.

The look made her shiver imperceptibly. Over the course of their marriage, which would hit the two year mark in February, Daniel had become very...creative...with whipped cream. She shivered slightly a second time. His grin let her know that he'd noticed. She pretended she hadn’t. "Okay."

When that slight flare of need darkened her eyes for just a second or so, until she could push back the memories of what he could do with a can of whipped cream, he felt a distinct, familiar tightening in his groin. His pulse sped up, and for a moment he seriously contemplated finding that dark corner. That he was the one responsible for her reaction, that he was the one, the only one, who could bring that light to her eyes, and a sweet song of love to her lips, had his heart battering his ribs. "Almost finished?"

"Yep. Is the ice chest still in the back of the Jeep?"

"It is if you didn’t take it out." If she was asking about the ice chest, chances were the ‘quick trip’ to the grocery store was about to be extended.

"Good. It will keep the meat and milk and yogurt cold while we run into the mall."

He grimaced slightly. The mall. Oh joy. Usually when faced with the task of going to the mall, his attitude was one of indifference. The only thing he enjoyed about shopping there was watching Casey. For the first time in her life she was able to purchase what she wanted. Standing back, observing her as she sorted through sheet sets, or agonized over towel colors, or trying to decide between this serving platter or that one, allowed him glimpses of the little girl she'd once been. Excited over even the most mundane purchases, simply because she could buy the item without starving herself to pay off the credit card bill. Today, however, he just wanted to get the errands finished up so that he could get home. Close the door. Pretend the rest of the world didn’t exist...

That thought stopped him cold. The world as he knew it, as everyone around him knew it, had come very damned close to not existing. Without Casey’s help...he shuddered mentally. If not for Casey, guiding him to do what needed to be done...had to be done...he’d be dead, or have a snake in his head at this moment. His Wife would be the Consort of a Goa’uld, no matter how unwillingly. He had no doubt that Ba’al had devious, horrible plans for his teammates as well. And the entire planet would be under that damned snake’s control. He wasn’t even aware of reaching out for her, pulling her close to his side.

"Daniel?"

He looked down into green eyes full of concern. "Hmm?"

"Are you all right?"

He pressed his lips to the side of her head. "I’m fine, Angel."

"We came so close," she said, her voice low.

She always seemed to know what he was thinking. "I know." His arm dropped down to her waist. He just needed to feel her warmth. Know that she was safe and at his side.

"We’ve come close before. And I have the feeling that as long as there are...bad guys...we’ll walk the edge again. Thankfully the good guys always win," she replied.

Not always, he thought. There had been times when he and Jack and Sam and Teal’c had been forced to walk away, to leave while danger still lurked. To abandon villages to System Lords in order to escape to the SGC in one, snake-free piece. Because sometimes, when the bad guys fought without rules, without regard for anything or anyone, their only goal to win, the good guys didn’t stand a chance. "So Jack says," he murmured.

"There’s a reason," she said, taking his hand, holding it in both of hers. "When you have to turn and walk away, or run away, you’ve done all that you can do. You can’t save those who won’t be saved."

Now that was proof that she knew what he was thinking, and could read his thoughts! "It’s still not easy."

"Hmm?"

He couldn’t stop the grin that lit his face. Okay, maybe it was a message from Oma. It seemed that often that particular Being went out of her way to ease his burden of guilt. For what reason, he wouldn’t even hazard a guess. "Didn’t hear that, huh?"

She rolled her eyes. Then glared at the ceiling. "It’s bad enough that it happens on base. Or at home. I absolutely refuse to deal with it out here!"

"It’s okay, babe. I...it helped to hear it said out loud. Sometimes, even when my head knows the truth, it’s hard to accept it."

She laced her fingers with his. "Let’s get all of this shopping finished up. I want to go home."

Home. Was there a more comforting word in any language? "Sounds good to me."

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

It was Friday. Early afternoon on Friday. In mid-October. There should not be this many people in the mall, he thought, dodging another package laden shopper. "Did we miss something?"

Casey pointed at one of the large signs that stood beside a group of benches. "Seems the stores are all having a two-for-one sale."

"Fifty percent off," Daniel mused.

"But two-for-one sounds more exciting," she retorted.

He grinned.

She tugged her lip between her teeth. She already had a dozen teddies. Three sexy nighties, a set of filmy babydoll pajamas, and a couple of items meant to blow Daniel’s mind, and which had, when she'd worn them for him. She had a drawer full of lacy bras and demi-bras and pushup bras; another filled with lacy thongs and silky panties. Her bottle of lotion was still half full. Okay, so getting the lotion would be a good idea, especially with it being on sale. She felt the pull toward the lingerie store. Rumor had it that they were now carrying more than just lingerie. And she had several items from the Victoria’s Secret clothing line that she absolutely loved. And it was two-for-one...

"Case?"

"Hmm?"

"You’re blocking the walkway, babe."

She glanced around, blushed slightly when she realized she'd stopped walking as she contemplated shopping at one of her favorite stores.

"Whatever you want, Angel," he said softly, his lips close to her ear, his arm holding her tightly against his side.

There had only been once when those words had failed to thrill her to the core, fill her with such wonder, such deep love that it left her breathless. And truth be told, in his own way, as much as he'd been able to, even that one time had resulted in her getting what she needed, if not exactly what she had wished for. If she wanted the moon on a silver platter, Daniel would find a way to give it to her. That thought thrilled her to the very core of her being. "I need lotion," she said softly.

So, a little trip to Victoria’s was in his immediate future, he thought, biting back his grin. He loved that she wore all of those enticing little numbers for him...that her chest of drawers was a veritable treasure trove of sexy lingerie. How often did he sit and watch her, not having seen what she'd put on because of her tendency to dress in her walk-in closet, wondering just which bra and panties or thong she was wearing beneath her BDU? Of course, each time he did, he found it necessary to remain at his desk until he could concentrate on something less...stimulating, lest proof of his train of thought be obvious to everyone around him. "Let’s go."

"Then to Macy’s."

Tee shirts. Right. She’d thrown out several that were still wearable. Well, mostly wearable.

"And to the Cook’s Pantry."

"Coffee?"

"Mmmhmm."

"Out of here in an hour," he said confidently.

"Tops," she replied.

 

 

 

The rumors had been right. The Victoria’s Secret in the Chapel Hills Shopping Mall was indeed carrying a variety of clothes as well as the famous lingerie. She headed straight for the sweaters. Living in Colorado necessitated having sweaters in one’s wardrobe. And considering her schedule, and the need to hand wash most of the knitted tops, having several in her closet was a good thing. There were two racks filled with colorful cardigan-and-cami sweater sets. She was searching through them before she realized that Daniel wasn’t beside her. She looked up to see him leaning casually against one of the support pillars; hands in the pockets of his jeans, watching her, a smile on his face.

Before she could ask him what he was thinking, Casey heard a familiar voice call her name. She turned and greeted Tiesha Taylor, an Air Force lieutenant and member of SG-16. She smiled in greeting, accepted the warm hug. "Down day for 16?"

"Thank goodness! And I wasn’t about to miss today’s sales!" A wide smile lit the beautiful, chocolate-colored face. "I was going to call you this evening."

"Really?"

"Yep. I was going to ask you if you’d be willing to be a model for me. One of the most prestigious art galleries in Denver is holding a contest for new artists. Five thousand dollars, and a weekend showing of all of their work is the grand prize. To get a showing in that gallery is a big deal," Tiesha explained.

"And you’re going to enter?"

"If I can find the right model. The contest is themed; this year it’s mythological gods and goddess. Each artist has to choose one god or goddess, and one myth about him or her, and then submit a piece of art that meets the criteria for that particular myth. There are several categories as far as the medium...painting, drawing, photography or sculpting. An artist can enter as many of the medium categories as he or she wants, but the subject for each has to be different."

"Sounds complicated," Casey admitted.

Tiesha smiled. "It’s not really. I’d like to enter the photography category, and I think I know which goddess and myth I’d like to do."

Casey smiled in return. She marveled at the talent that her friend had already displayed in the photos she'd taken. Tiesha had been the one to take and produce the portraits that hung in the Jackson’s bedroom; "Bad Boy Biker" and "Fantasy Angel", as Daniel had christened them. It had been that artistic talent that had made those portraits breathtaking. "You already have ideas."

"A couple," Tiesha confirmed, smiling shyly.

"When do you need to do this, and how long would it take?"

"Well, if I’m already set up for it, I don’t think it would take longer than a couple of hours. The submissions have to be in by the seventeenth of this month. I didn't hear about this until a couple of days ago," Tiesha sighed.

"Just let me know when. You’ll do this at your place?"

An affirmative nod was the answer. "Thanks so much! With you as my model, I have a real chance at winning this contest!"

Casey blushed. "When you win, it will have nothing to do with me, and everything to do with your talent."

Tiesha lowered her eyes. "Thanks," she murmured.

"And I’ll get to say, ‘I knew her when...’," Casey teased lightly.

The young woman laughed. "I promise not to forget you when I’m a rich and famous photographer."

"I’ll hold you to that!"

Daniel cleared his throat as he approached the two women, wanting to make them aware of his presence. "Hello, Tiesha."

"Hi, Doctor Jackson." She turned back to Casey. "I’ll talk to you later, we can arrange for a time to get together."

"Sounds like a plan to me," Casey agreed.

Tiesha fluttered her fingers in a wave, and disappeared into the main corridor of the mall.

"What was that all about?" Daniel asked.

"Tie is entering an art contest, and wants to use me as a model," Casey replied, sorting through the sweater sets. She glanced up. "Unless you’d rather I didn’t."

"It’s your choice, not mine," Daniel told her. "I don’t mind."

"Well, I’d like to help her out. I think she’s serious about her photography, and this could be a step in the right direction for her."

Daniel frowned slightly. "She’s getting close to the end of her enlistment, isn’t she?"

"I think so. Her boyfriend is out of the Marines now, and has a good job in San Diego. I know she wants to be with him. I think she’s worried that it might not happen," Casey added softly.

"She’s afraid he’ll find someone else?"

Casey shook her head. "She’s afraid she’s going to die out there."

He winced slightly. Every time a team stepped into the event horizon, was hurled light years away to another planet, there was a very real chance that they’d never see home again. Death was the easiest way to go. Becoming a host to some damned Goa’uld was the haunting fear that each member of each team lived with; a fear that intensified when they entered the concrete walls of the cavern facility, in order to go through the Stargate. There were times it was easier to deal with than others. And sometimes, it just became too much. The fear outweighed the excitement of visiting other planets. The risk became just too great. How many times had he contemplated walking away...especially now that Casey was a part of his life...his reason for living?

"She’s not going to. I’d have seen it," Casey said, her voice still soft and low. And full of the conviction of her confidence.

It would do no good to point out that while the thought was a pleasant one, it wasn’t necessarily true. Anything could happen, and Casey had repeatedly told him that the future wasn’t ‘written in stone’. She could only see the dangers...not the variables that influenced each and every event. While her gift had managed to save everyone in the SGC at least twice, and the SG teams numerous times, there had been the occasional surprise...something that she'd seen, but been unable to interpret. Her warnings had prevented more serious consequences, but there was still trouble lurking around every corner, and not all of it was something she could protect them from. In spite of her desire to do just that. Nor would he say anything, for the simple reason that his Wife dealt with enough guilt, she didn’t need to find a reason to take on more. "She’s a very talented artist, and that talent is being wasted at the SGC," he replied quietly.

"Exactly," Casey nodded. "I’ll miss her, but it’s something she needs to do. She has to follow her heart. She’ll take the art world by storm!"

Daniel grinned. He could easily picture the feisty lieutenant doing just that. "Yes, she will. Now, have you decided what you want?"

She looked at the sweater sets, selected three, in soft pastel colors. She'd noted that she received the most compliments when she wore the lighter colors of the palette.

 

 

 

Fifteen minutes later, they were in the men’s department of Macy’s, and Daniel was sorting through the packages of tee shirts. White was a given. Casey was encouraging him to get a package or two of colored shirts, since he often wore them with just his jeans and a fleece jacket for a quick trip to the nearby market, or some other such errand. He gave in, picked up a package of gray, to which she had moaned, and a package of blue tee shirts. Which she informed him would make his eyes all the bluer. He wasn’t so certain about that, but they were tee shirts, and apparently he needed them.

When a man of medium height and average looks nearly ran over Casey in his haste to reach the dress shirts, Daniel pulled her close, and called out a brusque ‘excuse you’. It never occurred to him that before becoming a part of the SGC, a member of SG-1, he would have fumed about the man’s rudeness in silence. Confrontation hadn’t been his style...unless it dealt with archaeology he could never seem to find a good enough reason to be...well, confrontational. Rarely did he think about the changes that he'd experienced during the past seven and a half years...how much he'd grown as a person, how much confidence he'd gained in himself, his skills, his abilities.

There were also changes that he wasn’t always comfortable with...changes that it was better to not think about, rather than be faced with the man he'd become, a man that he never would have believed he could be, wouldn’t have recognized when he entered the SGC for the very first time. Another scowling glance at the man’s departing back, and he led his wife toward the Customer Service Counter. He wanted to get home. Wanted to relax. Wanted to be alone with her.

Casey looked over her shoulder. The man had a greasy feel to him. Like...like a weasel, she decided. Not a nice man at all. And something started poking her. Something about that very greasy little weasel crossing her path again. She frowned, tried to pull more information forward. Sighed silently when any facts that might be there refused to come to light. She’d figure it out. She always did.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

It figured, he thought irritably. No response to his calls for damned near a month, and then suddenly the old son-of-a-bitch wanted to meet with him. Within the hour. And of course this call...no, not just a call; it had been a summons...arrived after he’d spilled linguine and marinara sauce on his shirt. Damn it to hell!

If that pretty little blonde hadn’t been with the geeky-looking guy, he’d have offered to take her to dinner, an apology for running into her in his haste to get a new shirt. He wondered briefly if this place had a tailor who could iron the damned thing for him. Thought about the blonde again. Why was it that the beautiful women always went for the extremes...jocks or geeks? Why couldn’t they fall for the average guy...like him?

Finding his size proved to be difficult; he was about as average as a man could be. Quite forgettable, he'd been told many times. Which was usually a blessing, considering his line of work. It could, however, be a liability as well, especially when trying to move up in the organization. After all, it wasn’t the forgettable guys who were noticed.

This time, however, he'd finally caught the attention of one of the bosses. The man was more than just a ‘lieutenant’, put into place by one of the owners. No, this man was an ‘owner’. The old man had built, and totally controlled, the ‘company’ and its business. And the old man had finally, at long last, recognized the talents of Harold Maser.

Harold gave a mental shudder. He was going to have to see about changing his name. No doubt he’d have been noticed long before now if he had a more impressive name. What could anyone say about ‘Harold Maser’? Nothing, that’s what. Regardless of the fact that he was one of the best hackers in the business. There wasn’t a computer system created that he couldn’t get into. He’d been in half a dozen government computers; he'd even hacked into the personal system of none other than ‘Mr. Computer’ himself, Bill Gates. Yep, that had to be what had finally impressed the old man.

Harold pawed through the cellophane wrapped shirts, and realized he was stuck with two choices. Plain white, or a rather odd green with dark maroon stripes. Odd colors, he thought briefly. He’d never had a lot of fashion sense. Plain white seemed...plain. With a sigh, he chose the striped shirt. And didn’t bother to look for a more suitable tie. He was wearing a blue tie with a single red hash mark near the bottom. He was about to leave an impression, all right. Not particularly a favorable one.

 

 

 

Colorado Springs was probably the last place anyone would think of when the word ‘Mafia’ was uttered. It was because of this innocuous reputation that one of the most infamous ‘players’ in the world of crime lords had settled in the city. He was centrally located, able to reach either coast in his private Lear jet in a matter of three or four hours. He was close enough to the source of several of his ‘imported’ products that he could actually drive down to receive shipment. Being close to the Mexican border had many other advantages as well...a quick escape was one of them.

Joey "The Hammer" Ricardo was quite happy in this very suburban environment. Even better was the fact that, as far as the Feds were concerned, The Hammer had been killed by a rival family ten years earlier. He'd been hit, had damned near died when the Bellatoni family had declared war on the Gambotti crime family. The Hammer had been an enforcer for the Gambottis. When the dust and gun smoke had settled, five of the Gambotti brothers were dead, the Bellatonis were moving in on territory that had been belonged to the Gambotti Family for almost sixty years; and The Hammer was in a hospital in New Jersey under an assumed name.

With his connections, and the fact that many ‘suppliers’ were unwilling to deal with this new, apparently volatile and potentially deadly new group, Joey Ricardo opened up his own business. And business was booming. He already had six lieutenants working for him, young men eager to make big money as quickly as possible, and none of them were saddled with an annoying conscience that made any of their tasks just too distasteful to complete. He'd been careful, his employees had been careful, and so far Joey Ricardo and his associates were still beneath the radar of the FBI and the DEA. Oh, many of his lower level employees had found themselves on the wrong side of the law...and they found themselves totally alone in that situation. Joey Ricardo had never used his own name, never allowed his lieutenants to use their names when business was conducted. Such anonymity had added to their safety. And the inability for any law enforcement officials - federal, state, or local - to make any connections to any of the actual ‘bosses’ of the organization.

A recently arrived ‘wrinkle’ had come to his attention. A ‘wannabe’ who had useful skills, but a big mouth and an even bigger ego. Joey hadn’t been left with a lot of choices. He could kill the pain-in-the-ass, but that only brought cops sniffing around. That he didn’t need. If the cops weren’t alerted to his presence, then the alphabet government agencies that took interest in organizations such as his own wouldn’t be alerted. He could take the pain-in-the-ass in, and hire him, which would give him a significant amount of control over him. But then left him with the most unpleasant reality of having to deal with the little shit. Or he could hire him, and send him elsewhere, and make certain that all roads led far away from Colorado Springs. The thought of setting up the Bellatonis was always a pleasant one. That was the choice that Joey "The Hammer" Ricardo found most to his liking.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

"You’re sure?" Gary asked quietly. He began to pace the small living room-cum-dining room-cum-kitchen of the apartment, his fingers gripping the phone tightly.

"I’m positive," Jesse’s voice replied. "I didn’t catch him the first time. He didn’t make it very far, but it was far enough to trip half a dozen alarms. So I stayed here last night. I figured he’d try again."

"And he did?"

"Yep. This guy is good. He was in through a back door I didn’t even know existed. Put there by the original programmer is my guess." In a back room of the Kansas City offices of Franklin Enterprises, Jesse yawned, poured a cup of coffee and sipped absently. "He made it into some of the older mission files. Mostly weapons info. I cut him off, but not before he’d taken some of the text."

"Do you know what it was about?"

"Weapons that use energy. I’m guessing those zat things."

Gary grimaced. That was not what he wanted to hear. If that information ever leaked out..."Can he get in again?"

"I don’t think so. I called Dennis this morning, he’s running some diagnostics right now, to see just what the asshole did. Like I said, this guy is good, but he’s cocky. He left footprints in seven of the files he accessed."

"Can you and Dennis find him?" Gary shivered at the cold chuckle that filled his ear. Any enemy hearing that sound would know that his days were coming to a very immediate and painful end.

"Easily. I’ve already set up three trap doors. He hits any of them, and I have packets that will follow him home, and link me to his system. I can have it scrubbed in under three minutes."

"How do you know he’ll hit them?"

"He has to, if he wants more weapons info. Since that seemed to be what he was the most interested in, I’m confident he’ll be back."

Gary wiped a hand over his face. "I’ll let the general know. What about those hits from the NID?"

"Whoever is working there knows just enough to get past the main firewalls, but not much more than that. I watched him...or her...for about an hour before he or she finally gave up. Or they were disturbed, whichever," Jesse reported. "I set up a few trap doors for that one as well."

"Same deal?"

"Yep, I’ll know which computer to look for. That won’t tell us who was using it."

"It might," Gary argued. "In the Pentagon, security is top priority. Access to computers is tightly controlled...and users are carefully monitored."

"And good hackers are around those monitoring systems before you’ve let your virus checker finish running," Jesse retorted.

Gary grinned. "Maybe. But they have to log on somehow."

"Good point," Jesse conceded. "But a stolen identity, or even a fake one, can get them what they want...access to the computer. The true identity of the hacker could still be lost to us."

"We’ll let the general decide how far he wants to pursue this." Gary turned toward the window, watched the mid-day traffic on the street below for a moment. "Good job, kid."

In the monitoring office of Franklin Enterprises, Jesse grinned broadly. "Thanks, boss."

"I suppose you’ll want a bonus for this."

"If your daughter wasn’t already married, I’d be asking for her."

"I’d shoot you first," Gary replied dryly.

"Which is why it’s lucky for me that Doctor Jackson made that most dangerous maneuver before I knew you had such a beautiful daughter."

Gary smiled. "I’d have shot him, if I’d have known." He shook his head, even though his companion couldn’t see him. "The little shit moved fast. Met her, bedded her, and married her in less than two months. Yep, I’d have shot him."

Jesse guffawed. "No doubt. And he’s well aware of that fact."

The smile widened to a grin. "Keeps him in line."

"Yeah. And Casey would shoot you without batting an eyelash if you even growled in the Doc’s direction."

He heaved a dramatic sigh. "She just doesn’t appreciate my fatherly concern."

"You’re so full of shit!" Jesse hooted.

"I can still whip your ass, youngster."

"Yeah, on a really good day, if I’ve got the hangover from hell."

He chuckled. While this was most probably the truth, Gary Franklin would never admit as much. Especially to the snot-nosed punk who worked for him. One of his best friends and most trusted employees. "Get back to work. I’ll let the general know what’s going on. As soon as you have him-"

"I’ll send it directly to Dennis," Jesse promised.

Frowning, Gary checked the clock on the stove. Added the hour for the time zone difference. If Jesse had been up all night..."Need someone to spot you for awhile? Call Dancer or Lucky if you need to."

"Nah, I’m okay for now."

"You’re sure?"

"Yep."

There was no need to press the issue. When Jesse was tired, he’d call for backup. Gary ended the phone call, tossed the handset to the sofa, then ran his hands over his face. For the first time since being hired by General Hammond, Franklin Enterprises had caught an outsider trying to gain access to the classified information contained on the computers of the SGC. The general would no doubt get every bit of information available on this person. Once Jesse had a name, he’d send it on to Dennis. Who had a national database and a few Air Force personnel at his disposal. Within hours they would know just exactly who this hacker was. He wondered briefly if whoever was showing such an interest in the weapons of the SGC had any idea what a dangerous game they were playing. When national security was involved, the big boys in D.C. didn’t play around.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

Harold nervously wiped his hands on his black trousers, then rang the doorbell. The house was imposing...it looked just like one of those castles from Europe. The windows had the same type of crisscrossing lattice work, and he doubted seriously that any of the wrought iron scrollwork opened. The inner windows most assuredly did. But no one would be getting in...or out, through those windows! The gray stone walls gave the impression that it had been standing for years...centuries even, though in truth the neighborhood of posh homes was less than five years old. But this was a fortress in reality as well as in appearance.

The man who opened the door visibly winced when he looked at the visitor standing on the wide stone steps. "Damn! You color blind or something?"

He glanced down at his chest. It was the first time he had noticed the garish contrast of his tie against the striped shirt. "Uh...no. I spilled marinara sauce on my shirt at lunch, and the call to meet with Mr. Ricardo came before I could get home to change, I had to pass by the mall on the way here, so I ran into Macy’s and just grabbed the first shirt I could find in my size, of course there weren’t many to choose from, well...no choices actually, and I didn’t even notice the tie-"

"Hey! I don’t care, okay?"

His jaw snapped shut.

"Mr. Ricardo is waiting. He doesn’t like to be kept waiting."

"Right," Harold said, swallowing quickly. He followed the man, knew without asking that there was at least one gun hidden beneath the black suit coat.

He was led to the back of the house, to a glass enclosed sunroom. Oversized, white wicker furniture, piled high with brightly colored pillows, completely filled the space, leaving little room for walking. Sitting at a large, glass topped table, was the man himself. Joey "The Hammer" Ricardo. And beside him, sipping from a cup as if he were a member of the family, was Mikey Turner.

It was all he could do to try to keep his face from showing his displeasure. He bit back the moan of disappointment that threatened to erupt. Damn it to hell! Turner was Harold’s nemesis. They'd crossed paths on several occasions, each time while doing work for those who wished to remain anonymous. He'd heard rumors that the bastard had come to Colorado Springs, looking to work for Ricardo. Harold suspected that Turner probably needed protection. He had a tendency to keep records of things he really shouldn’t. And certain people had found out about those very carefully recorded CDs. Harold knew about them, but had never been able to locate them...in spite of several attempts.

"Jesus Christ!" Joey Ricardo mumbled. Like many of his contemporaries, Joey had always been a ladies man...and a sharp dresser. He insisted that those who worked for him look the part of successful businessmen. "You look like a goddamned fashion wreck! Don’t you have any damned idea how to dress yourself?"

Turner smirked. He was looking quite proper in a black wool suit, with an impeccably pressed white shirt, and a red tie.

"I was just telling your...um...butler-"

Ricardo waved his hand, indicating his lack of curiosity regarding the issue. "You said you had something I’d be interested in."

Harold gulped slightly. "Yes, sir." He pulled a plastic CD case from his pocket. "This is just a sample of what I can do."

The white-haired Italian nodded, and another man stepped forward, and accepted the CD.

"I use Linux," Harold said quietly.

The man gave a sharp nod of understanding, sat down at a nearby table, slid the CD into a waiting laptop. His eyes widened slightly, then he carried the computer to his employer.

Joey liked to pretend ignorance when it came to computers. It made others around him lax with their PCs, especially their laptops. The truth of the matter was he'd taken several courses, just to become familiar enough with a PC to be able to send and receive emails. He'd become intrigued, and knew enough basic programming to be able to use HTML with ease. His own eyes went wide as he scanned the directory, then clicked on several of the folders. He read in silence for several long moments. "When did you get this?"

"About two o’clock this morning." When it came to computers, Harold was in his element. He bit back his smile when he noted the frown that had appeared on Turner’s face.

"Can you get more?"

"I can get it all."

"Bold statement."

"It’s the truth. Sir."

"Your price?"

This was it. This was the moment he had been dreaming of for years! "I’d like to be on your payroll."

Joey snorted. "Of course you would."

"There isn’t a computer system that I can’t get into. I can give you Bill Gates’ email. I can tell you what the Secretary General of the UN ordered for lunch, and which books he ordered from Amazon.com."

The Mafia don squinted slightly. Looking at that damned ugly shirt and tie required it. "Get me more. Then we’ll talk."

"I don’t do anything for free. That’s a sample. Anything else comes with a price." Harold hoped the fact that his knees were practically knocking together wasn’t noticeable.

The white head moved up and down slowly. "Good head for business. I like that."

Mikey Turner’s frown deepened, and he snorted softly.

"You have a problem, boy?" Joey snapped. So far Turner hadn’t been doing the job he'd been hired to do. Lots of excuses. Nothing to show for the money he’d already been paid, nothing that earned him the position he had been given as a favor to a business associate. A little competition might be enough to light a fire under his pompous ass.

Turner nearly dropped his cup. A beautiful, fine bone china cup. "No, sir," he managed to rasp.

"Where are you working from?" Joey asked, his unwavering gaze focused once again on Harold.

"I have an apartment in Silver Springs."

Joey sat back, stirred his coffee, took a sip. "I have a nice house here in Colorado Springs. Lived there while this house was being built. Impress me, and it’s yours."

Mikey Turner went pale. Apparently his summons hadn’t meant what he had assumed.

It wasn’t a job offer, Harold noted. However, with a nice house, he’d be able to impress local businessmen, and maybe he’d be able to do a bit of freelance work. It wasn’t what he wanted...but it was a start, and better than nothing at all. "That’s very generous, sir."

"Yes, it is. You come back tomorrow. Same time. With more."

The man who had escorted Harold through the house was suddenly, silently at his elbow. Okay, this must be his cue to leave. He gave a nod, a weak smile, and turned to follow his guide back to the front door. Just as suddenly as he’d been inside, he was standing back outside of the impressive castle/house.

He didn’t have much time. He was certain he’d caught sight of at least two lines of code that could have been alarms. He’d have to be extremely careful. And he’d make more than two copies this time. If old Joey Ricardo wasn’t interested in paying for his work, other than with a house, he was certain that someone just as...influential...would.

Harold had always been on the outside looking in when it came to the men - the criminals - he admired, sought to associate himself with. He didn’t understand all of the nuances of the Mafia inner-workings. Mafia ‘businessmen’ bought houses for their mistresses. Whores who would do whatever they had to in order to have the prestige that money could buy them. Joey ‘The Hammer’ Ricardo had made a specific offer, for that reason. Unbeknownst to the hacker, the don saw him as a whore. Not in the literal, physical sense. But a whore, nonetheless. Information was the ware that Harold Maser peddled.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

General George Hammond sat back in his chair, ran a hand over his face. Just once he’d like a break between crises of more than just a few hours. Just once. If what Gary Franklin and Dennis Ballard told him was true, and he had no reason to believe that it wasn’t, someone outside of the military, someone not associated with the Pentagon, had hacked into the SGC computers. Dennis had confirmed Jesse Hatcher’s theory. There was a difference in the way that a civilian hacked a system. It had to do with the way that the military taught computer science. Enough of a difference that it was noticeable by the way the hacker moved. Almost in the same way that someone in the military, or who had military experience, moved with a slight difference among a crowd of people. More aware, more alert, always assessing for the threat, always watching for the face that could be the enemy. Differences noticeable only to those who knew what to look for. Dennis and Jesse knew exactly what to look for.

It was a comfort to know that two of the best hackers in the world, according to what he could find about the men, worked for the SGC. He'd already alerted his contact in the Pentagon that he would be needing information on a person or persons unknown at the moment, just as soon as the name had been identified. Whoever this mysterious hacker was, he wouldn’t remain anonymous for long. He wouldn’t remain on the street very long, either. 


<<Previous  | Story Intro | Return to Stories | Next >>





SciFi Topsites