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Artistic Differences

 

Chapter 2

Jesse had flown in from Kansas City, and joined Dennis Ballard and Gary at the conference table in the briefing room...the room where the people who worked in the secret underground facility made their plans for wandering around on other planets. Which was a thought the young computer expert pushed from his mind. It was just too damned much to comprehend. He had access to every document that had been committed to hard drive. And he’d availed himself of them, a time or two, in an attempt to understand just why anyone at the NID would be so anxious to hack in and retrieve information illegally. He knew about the missions the SG teams went on. The dangers they faced. The fact that the planet had hung in the balance on numerous occasions. He readily admitted that he'd been a much happier man not knowing how close good ol’ planet Earth came to destruction or conquest on a damned regular basis.

General Hammond hurried into the room. Was struck by the fact that this meeting would see him as the only active military person in attendance, that the most delicate operations of the base were in the hands of civilians. With a small smile of apology to the men who waited, he hurried back into his office and picked up the phone to call Walter, who served as his assistant most of the time, and made his request.

Gary had overheard what the general had said, and was quite honestly surprised that the major hadn’t been informed of the meeting earlier. After all, she had been instrumental in setting up every computer system on the base, and had written the program for the dialing computer.

As soon as Hammond was seated, he opened the folder that contained the report Jesse and Dennis had worked on together. "Gentlemen, I find this information to be quite disturbing," he said, after reading silently for several minutes.

"Yes, sir," Jesse replied. "I’m not too crazy about it myself."

The only man in the room with no military experience at all, Dennis was surprised at how at ease he felt with the people he worked with...a feeling he hadn’t had in far too many years. He leaned his arms on the table. "So far this guy has been damned interested in weapons information, nothing else. From what we could find out about him, he’s most probably got a buyer, someone very interested in that information."

"We’ve been able to block him, I’ve sent him to some non-classified, routine files," Jesse added. "Both times he dropped offline immediately, only to try to get back in."

Dennis nodded. "We’ve watched him, pushed him where we wanted him to go, but he’s good, and he’s fast."

"Which means?" the general inquired.

"Which means there’s the chance he can slip past us," Dennis admitted.

"Have you been able to get to his system?"

Jesse grinned. "He’s a smart hacker, I’ll give him that. He’s got routers and traps set up. I wound up in a convenience store in Cleveland the first time I followed him. When I was able to catch up to him real time, I attached a packet to his connection. It took some time. But I found him."

"Where is he?"

"Colorado Springs."

The general’s eyebrows moved up. "He’s here?"

"Yes, sir," Jesse replied. "I searched the address. Dennis had a couple of your guys do a little door-knocking. He has a very talkative neighbor. Seems this guy, Harold Maser, told him about a ‘job interview’. Held at the home of his potential employer. Impressive house, the neighbor was told...it seems it looks like a castle. We did a bit of digging, and found it. The house belongs to one Gerard Butler. I did a little research on Mr. Butler, since Maser either works for him, or is trying to impress him enough to get a job, with what information he can get. The social security number Butler gave for the loan belongs to a man who died in 1983. We did a bit of singing and dancing, and were able to get a peek at some bank surveillance."

"National security issues gave us access to almost anything we wanted, including getting copies of those tapes. Which are of a much higher quality than what is shown on television," Dennis added with a sly grin, pushing a folder with several eight by ten photos of a white haired man toward the general.

General Hammond nodded, encouraging the men to continue.

"It took a couple of hours, but I think I have his identity," Jess said.

"Which is?"

"Joey 'The Hammer' Ricardo. Part of the Gambotti crime family out of New Jersey. He was known as the ‘Enforcer’...not a nice guy. ‘The Hammer’ took care of any...discipline...problems the Gambottis had. He had a freaky habit of leaving the hammer he'd used beside the bodies of his victims. His ‘signature’. Everyone thought he was dead, killed in a gangland style attack by another crime family, the Bellatonis, ten years ago. There hasn’t been any word on him...until now. I notified the FBI and the DEA, and they’ve confirmed that Gerard Butler is Joey Ricardo. He'd dropped off of their radar, and with them assuming he was dead, they weren’t looking for him."

Hammond frowned. It seemed impossible that this man could be running an illegal operation out of Colorado Springs...it just wasn’t possible to hide something like that in a community so tightly knit, despite the size of the city. That feeling of community was no doubt a result of the nearby military bases...military communities were notorious for being closely connected. "So this hacker is working for this...Hammer?"

Jesse shook his head. "We’re not certain about that. Harold Maser is a weaselly little bastard who's been trying for the past five years to become a ‘player’. He’s been caught half a dozen times, arrested on four separate occasions, indicted twice; convicted once and served time, about eighteen months, for several computer crimes. Charges included illegal access to three banks; intentional data interference, in which he deleted the criminal records of a couple of wise guys; and attempted identity theft. The only charge that stuck was the intentional interference, thus the eighteen month sentence."

"Any ideas why this man is hacking into our computers?"

"My guess is that it wasn’t intentional, he was just looking for the most secure systems in the area," Jesse replied. "A secure system means information. The more secure the system, the more classified the information."

Gary sat forward. "If Joey Ricardo is in the city, and Maser has been trying to become a player, it’s probable that the information is just proof of what he can do. It’s possible that he showed Ricardo what he had been able to get, and Ricardo wants more."

"Where is Mr. Ricardo living?"

"Castillion Hills."

"Very exclusive neighborhood," Hammond said.

"Yes, sir," Gary agreed. "We checked it out last night. The house really does look like a freaking castle. And my guess is that it would be just as difficult to get into." Lucky and Dancer had informed him that it could take weeks to covertly breach the security and get inside. That much time would be needed to learn the security system, and the routine of the very obvious body guards.

Sam walked into the room. "You wanted to see me, sir?"

The general motioned to the empty seat beside Gary. "Please join us, Major. We’ve just been discussing the hacker who has been making an nuisance of himself."

"Hacker, sir? In our computer systems?"

The general slid his copy of the report toward her. "I want you to coordinate efforts with Mr. Ballard and Mr. Hatcher. I do not want this man getting any more information on or from the SGC."

Sam quickly scanned the contents of the report, her eyes going wide. "I don’t understand! We have the most sophisticated equipment, Dennis has written programs to prevent this very thing!"

"Any system can be breached," Jesse said quietly. "I’ve done it myself. It takes time, patience and know-how."

"Apparently this guy has all three."

"Maybe not," Gary said. "Patience and know-how, yes. But he might be running out of time."

"How? Why?" Sam asked.

Jesse explained the situation, the possible Mafia connections, and watched the determination settle on the major’s lovely face. "We’ll stop him, Major."

"Damned straight we will!" Sam looked contritely at the general. "Sorry, sir."

"No need for apologies, Major. We’re all a bit on edge here."

"I don’t suppose anyone has thought to bring Casey in on this," Sam said. If they hadn’t told her until the last minute, chances are no one had considered that the young seer might be able to sense something about this creep.

"As a matter of fact, no," Hammond admitted.

"If nothing else, she might be able to give us a sense of why this guy is hacking our systems," Sam said.

The general nodded. "I suggest that we break for lunch; I’ll notify Mrs. Jackson, and have her join us. I have a meeting at thirteen hundred, but it won’t last more than thirty minutes." It probably wouldn’t last more than ten. Eight minutes would be protests, two resigned acceptance accompanied by complaining, followed by a sloppy salute. After all, paperwork was the bane of existence in the SGC. "We’ll meet here at thirteen-thirty."

Sam jumped to her feet when the general stood, then looked down at Jesse. "So he’s only been at this for three nights?"

"Yep. I didn’t want to shut him out completely last night, because I wanted to make sure I'd wiped his computer clean. I don’t know if he’s even aware of that fact yet."

"I would say he is," Dennis remarked.

"I’m betting he’ll be back tonight, and that’s when I’m going to shut his system down...hard," Jesse continued.

"We don’t have legal jurisdiction to do more than that at the moment, although charges can be filed, now that we have his name," Dennis added. "From there, JAG will take up the case."

Sam nodded her understanding. "Can you show me what he was able to get?"

"Sure," Jesse replied. He stood, then glanced at Dennis. "Is it okay if I use your office?"

"Please, be my guest," Dennis smiled. He enjoyed working with the younger man, being able to converse with him as equals on the subject of computers. It wasn’t often that he found someone whose talents surpassed his own. And this young man was the best he'd ever seen.

Gary stood to his feet as well. "I’m going to stop in and say hello to Casey. I’ll see you all back here later." He wasn’t sure that the three computer experts even noticed he had left, as they had embarked on a discussion of firewalls, back doors, trap doors, and whatever else they were talking about. That they were so preoccupied served his purposes well. He smiled when he pushed the button for level twenty-one. He’d stop and say a quick hello before going up to his son-in-law’s office, where he knew his daughter was working on a database. Something about the Goa’uld and ancient myths.

He leaned back against the far wall of the elevator. A chance encounter at the grocery store a few weeks earlier, the same Piggly Wiggly where Casey shopped, had led to a cup of coffee at a nearby cafe. The conversation had been light, and a friendship had been born. There'd been several lunches, and two long walks in Grant Park. When he'd received a middle-of-the-night call, he'd spent three hours listening, not offering any opinions or advice, that wasn’t what had been needed...or wanted. Just a sympathetic ear. Since that phone call, there had been two more walks, and three quiet dinners...in Denver.

He told himself he was merely checking on a friend. After all, she’d just broken up with a man she'd loved for a couple of years. Granted, the event had been less breakup than indifferent neglect, neither party was exactly brokenhearted over the deal. It was just one of the things that tended to happen to long distance relationships...they'd been drifting apart, and then another woman had appeared on the scene. He ignored his brain when it pointed out the way she tossed her head when she laughed, the way her eyes sparkled when she was talking about something that excited her, the way her face softened when she spoke of her daughter, her fiery loyalty to her friends, how sexy her legs were in those short skirts, the curve of her...

Shaking his head to dispel those thoughts, he walked down the corridor, then glanced around the room to make certain she was alone. They weren’t sneaking around. He was just trying to be...discreet...for her benefit. Yeah, stick with that story, airman. Someone might actually believe it.

She looked up when he knocked on her office door. "Gary! What brings you to the SGC today?"

Her welcoming smile warmed him all the way to his toes. "Computer hackers."

"You’re kidding!"

"I wish I was." There were several files open on her desk. "Is this a bad time?"

"Absolutely not! I could use a break." She stood and hurried to the coffeemaker on the counter near her desk. "This isn’t as fancy as Daniel’s, but it works. And I snitched the coffee from his office."

Gary chuckled at the way her eyes crinkled slightly when she smiled up at him. Ignored the fact that his pulse sped up when their fingers touched as she handed him a cup of coffee.

"I’m glad you stopped by. Saves me having to call you later," she said, her smile mischievous.

"Really?" He took a sip, hoping the action would hide the pleased smile he could feel on his face.

"Mmmhmm. Cassie has plans for this evening. I thought maybe we could go to a movie or something."

Well, if he had a choice, he’d like to explore her definition of ‘or something’. But he’d settle for the movie. "What’s playing?"

"I have no idea. I thought we could drive over to the Cineplex and see what they have to offer."

The best way to run an operation, was to hire the people with the needed skills, turn them loose on the problem, and then stay out of their way. So, there wasn’t any need for him to remain on base, monitoring computers. Not when Jesse, Dennis, and Sam Carter would be doing the job. "Sounds good to me. What time?"

"Shall we meet at the ticket counter around sevenish?"

"Sevenish?" He chuckled. "Let me see if that’s on my watch."

"You are a smartass, Gary Franklin."

"Glad you noticed that. It’s one of my most endearing traits." The very sexy chuckle that followed his pronouncement had him thinking about hugs and kisses and...whoa...when the hell had he let that happen? He shook his head mentally...he'd kept a tight rein on any growing feelings that didn’t fall into the ‘just a friend’ category. He didn’t want to rush her. Apparently his resolve was beginning to slip.

"Gary?"

"What?"

"Are you all right? You just went suddenly pale."

Yeah, because all of the blood is heading straight south. Those warm brown eyes, so full of concern...Don’t you know better than to lick your lips like that...what it can do to a man? "I’m fine."

"Are you sure?"

He forced a smile. Felt it become a wide, natural one in response to hers. "I’m sure. I’ll see you at the Cineplex around ‘sevenish’."

"Good!"

Totally unprepared for her movement, he nearly backed up when she stepped closer, and placed a kiss on his cheek. Move, Airman, get out now before you do something totally stupid! Like grabbing her and kissing her senseless. "Right," he murmured. He flashed a crooked smile, caught her hand and gave it a gentle squeeze, left his mug on the corner of her desk, then slipped from the room.

When he was alone on the elevator, he wiped a hand over his face. What in the hell was he doing?

 

 

 

Janet watched him leave the office. For a man his age, he had one nice ass! She chided herself instantly. First of all, he wasn’t that old, he'd just turned fifty-two! He was also the father of one of her best friends. Oh, lord, how in the world had she gotten into this mess? She shook her head firmly. No, she would never consider the friendship that had blossomed between them a ‘mess’.

Their friendship had started innocently enough, neither of them looking for anything more. They were both alone, and spending time together was just a way of reaching out to connect with another human being. He was someone to whom she could talk, and not worry about confidentiality, nor did he ever push when she couldn’t give him details. He accepted what she offered, what she was able to give him, and he did so with such charm that it had bowled her over.

Running into him at Piggly Wiggly that evening had been a blessing, actually, she thought, sighing audibly. She'd been feeling ‘odd man out’ all that day, being around Casey and Sam, listening to them talk about their love lives, and how happy they were. She hadn’t even hesitated when he'd called and suggested coffee two days later. Had happily accepted his invitations to walk Grant Park. She enjoyed spending time with him...he was easy to talk to, he made her laugh.

The night Paul had called her, apologetic but determined to be honest with her, she hadn’t been surprised. She had friends in D.C. She'd known about the captain he'd been escorting to military functions. And it wasn’t as if they had ever declared that they were an exclusive couple. Given the distance between them, and their own wariness of relationships, neither had wanted the ‘strings’ such a commitment would have required. But still, it had stung to learn that he had met someone else. And that he was thinking in terms of commitment, and forever with that ‘someone else’. Gary had listened when she needed to talk...needed someone who wouldn’t commiserate with her, or spout platitudes, thinking that she needed cheering up. She'd needed someone to just listen while she worked things out for herself, and he had been there.

The more time she spent with him, the more she liked him. The more she was attracted to him...the more she found attractive about him. Gary made her feel special, in a way that no man had done in a very long time. Of course, all it took was seeing his daughter, and she felt as if she were doing something wrong. Even though her brain told her that she wasn’t.

Well, she thought, sighing silently, he didn’t seem to have any problems with the situation. Maybe he didn’t see her ‘that way’. That, she decided, was a very unpleasant thought. Especially since she was seeing him ‘that way’.

She took a deep breath. Okay, she’d just take it one step at a time. One day at a time. Let Fate lead her where it would. And hope like hell she didn’t lose a best friend over the deal.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

Casey jumped sideways, certain her father hadn’t even seen her as he moved off of the elevator. "Earth to Dad," she said teasingly.

Gary started, glanced around, then grinned sheepishly. "Oh. Hi, honey. I was just on my way to see you."

"Yeah, I can tell. Am I going to be grounded?"

He frowned, the look of confusion on his face bringing a wider grin to Casey’s. "What?"

"You were so deep in thought you nearly plowed over me. I figured I must have done something wrong, and you were trying to think up a suitable punishment."

Now that's just wrong, he thought. Even when joking, Casey cast herself in the role of the transgressor. "Not anywhere close," he replied truthfully.

"So what brings you to the SGC today?"

"Computer hackers."

"Oh, swell. NID?"

"Nope. Some little pipsqueak who wants to make it big with The Family."

"The Family?"

"Mafia."

"Wow. So will you and the crew be heading back east to deal with it?"

Gary grinned. "Not all Mafia families live back east."

"Okay, so will you be going wherever it is that this weasel and said Mafia family are?"

"Nope."

"Why not?"

"Because said weasel, and the Mafia don he’s trying to impress, are right here in Colorado Springs." Green eyes went so wide they seemed to take up her entire face.

"You’re kidding!"

"Wish I was."

"Wow. Wait until I tell Teal’c about this! You have to let us go on the stake-out with you! Teal’c knows all the best donuts to get, and he’s really big and he could scare the bejeezus out of anyone, and I could be like a decoy or something, and get them all in the open, and then you and Lucky and Dancer could just lay ‘em out, and then we could call the police-"

"Whoa, Elliot," he said, unable to hold back his laughter.

"Elliot?"

"Elliot Ness. He was instrumental in catching Al Capone. His men were known as the ‘Untouchables’. They made themselves legends going after the Mafia types," Gary explained. He draped his arm around her shoulders. "What about Daniel?"

"Daniel would insist I stay home and miss all the fun," she replied. "I’ll just dig out a few old tablets, and he’ll never know I’m gone."

"I doubt that," Gary retorted. He suspected that regardless of how deeply entrenched in his work Daniel became, Casey’s whereabouts were always something he was aware of...no matter her perception of the matter.

"So can we help?"

He couldn’t help but laugh harder at the look of hope in her eyes. "Sorry, kiddo. This one is for Franklin Enterprise employees only."

"That just sucks. And technically, being daughter of the owner of said company, I could-"

"No, Casey." His smile was gone, his face serious as he took her by the shoulders and turned her to face him. "You face enough monsters with the work you do. I won’t let you near any of the damned monsters here. You help take care of what’s out there. We’ll deal with the backyard."

"Spoilsport." Her heart was hammering from the love she could feel coming from him, washing over her in soft waves of fatherly concern.

"Daniel will thank me."

"No doubt. He can be a spoilsport, too."

"Hey, I heard that," said the object of their conversation, walking toward them with wide grin. Daniel held out his hand, was a bit surprised when Gary pulled him forward and gave him a one-armed hug, the other still around Casey’s shoulders.

"Heard you saved the world again."

"Just part of the job. Couldn’t have done it without Casey," was the modest, almost embarrassed reply. "What brings you down here?"

"Computer hackers," Casey said immediately. "When Dad and Lucky and Dancer go after the little shit, T and I are going along."

Gary noted the look of suspicion on Daniel’s face, shook his head. "No, she’s not. Because Lucky, Dancer, and I will not be going after him. We’ll let the FBI deal with him."

She crossed her arms over her chest. "You are just no fun."

Daniel rolled his eyes. "Gee, imagine that. You’ll do anything to give me a heart attack, won’t you? Bait snakes, drive like a maniac...chase after computer hackers."

"Adventure is my middle name," she retorted, grinning broadly.

"Right. Spelled t-r-o-u-b-l-e," Daniel replied. 

Casey responded in a very lady-like and mature manner...she stuck her tongue out and blew a loud raspberry at him.

Gary chuckled.

"So, do you have plans for tonight, or would you like to join Daniel and I for ‘movie night’?"

"I’d love to, honey, but I’ve already made plans." The words were out before he could form a plausible excuse...explanation, his brain insisted.

She cocked her head sideways. Missed the look of panic that flickered through her father’s blue eyes. "You’re sure happy today," she mused. "In fact, you’ve been damned happy the past few times I’ve seen you. Something’s up."

Gary forced a smile. Prayed that the mysterious gift that his daughter possessed wouldn’t give her a full accounting of what he was doing. Which, he reminded himself firmly, was nothing out of bounds. He wasn’t doing a damned thing wrong or improper. There was no reason to feel guilty. Even though he did. "Your imagination. I have to see what Jess, Dennis, and Sam have come up with to nail our hacker. I’ll talk to you later." He dropped a kiss on her cheek, winked at Daniel, and headed back for the elevator.

"He’s up to something," Casey murmured. "I’ll figure out what it is."

"Casey, let the man have a private life," Daniel warned lovingly.

"He’s my dad!"

"So? He still deserves a bit of privacy. When and if he wants you to know about whatever it is, he’ll tell you."

"You are about as much fun as he is." With a toss of her head, Casey flounced back up the corridor, heading for Daniel’s office, forgetting about the break and the slice of chocolate cake she had been about to enjoy.

Daniel watched for a moment, admiring the view and the sway of that sexy, heart-shaped ass. Then allowed himself to chuckle out loud. Since their return from Ba’al’s ship, she'd dealt with two nightmares about what had happened, and what she had done during the treaty negotiations. Last night she'd slept soundly, and had awakened him with soft kisses and fiery need. They'd been thirty minutes late reporting for the daily briefing because of her delight in driving him out of his mind. No one seemed particularly offended; Jack had been in charge of the meeting, as General Hammond had been giving the formal report to the president. Whom, he thought idly, he really should apologize to.

Hands in the pockets of his BDU pants, he sauntered down the hallway after his wife. His original intent had been to see if she’d like to take a break. He was a bit hungry, not having had breakfast. At least, nothing that was on the food pyramid. That thought brought a wide smile to his face, had him unconsciously licking his lips.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

He wiped a hand over his face. Something was wrong. Terribly wrong. Two days ago he had been able to access more, he was certain of it. For the past twenty-four hours, he hadn’t been able to make it past routine reports and standard requisition lists. Mr. Ricardo wasn’t going to be interested in that. The old man wanted more about those energy weapons. The files of which seemed to have disappeared. As had several files on his hard drive. If he was the suspicious sort, he'd be worried that someone had found out about his activities, and had taken aggressive action against him. However, his own pride prevented him from entertaining that thought. He was too good, too quick. No one had a clue where he had been. He'd either deleted the files himself, and had been so tired he'd forgotten, or he'd picked up a Trojan on that porn site, one that his virus checkers had somehow missed. Simple explanations.

Knowing that to continue now, as tired as he was...again, could result in him making a fatal error, Harold pushed away from the make-shift desk. Padded through the nearly empty room, moved toward the kitchen. The apartment barely looked lived in...there certainly weren’t any obvious attempts at making the space his own. Oh well. He had a bed, and he had a folding table and four chairs for his computer and the books he sometimes needed.

If...when...he impressed Joey Ricardo, he’d have a house fit for a man of his talents. He'd already looked at the place, walked through it in fact. The alarm system was new, but not exactly state of the art. He'd defeated it in under ten seconds. The rooms were large, elegantly furnished and tastefully decorated.

He’d get a bit of sleep, and then try again. The nagging thought at the back of his mind continued to plague him. Someone had noticed his presence, and had thrown up more firewalls, he was certain of it. He just had to find them, and get past them.

After depositing the empty coffee mug into the sink, he padded to the tiny bedroom and dropped onto the mattress. When he was in that house, he was going to get one of those giant, round beds. He’d been to Deezer’s a time or two. Once he was on The Hammer’s payroll, he’d be able to afford to hire one or two of those girls for the night. Maybe even get one of them to fall in love with him, be willing to be his woman exclusively.

With the pleasant thoughts of soft, sweet smelling women fawning over him, Harold stretched out, asleep almost before his head hit the pillow.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

Casey hurried towards General Hammond’s office. She was never going to get that damned database finished at this rate! First Zeus mucked up their war games, and then Ba’al had lost his freaking mind and suffered exceptional delusions of grandeur, and almost exposed the entire Stargate Program to the world, and then there had been that mission to check out the ruins on what turned out to be a very humid, miserable planet, and the references to the Ancients were vague and very not helpful. Thankfully Jack had called the mission a bust after an hour and a half, and Daniel hadn’t made one peep in argument. Then she'd been called into that meeting with the General, and Sam, and Jesse, Dennis and her dad. Why couldn't this information have come through then? As it was, she had been unable to offer any insights at all, feeling totally useless.

At least, she sighed mentally, she'd had time to enjoy a leisurely, albeit late, lunch with Daniel before the information dump that had hit her on the way back to the office. She knocked on the door, peeked into the room. "General?"

Hammond looked up, rather surprised to see the young seer. She'd only left the conference room a little over an hour earlier, after a quick meeting...quick as a result of her inability to offer any useful information regarding the hacker. "Casey! Come in!"

Smiling at the warm greeting, which was typical of the general’s reaction anytime she visited, she walked into the room. "Sir, I think we need to go to Kelowna."

He frowned at the abrupt observation. "The last time we attempted to meet with them, we encountered a great deal of resistance."

"I know, sir. But something is going on. A power struggle of sorts. The other two countries are pressing for peace, and the majority of Kelownan citizens are willing to negotiate for that peace. There are a few in the government who don’t want that. I think it has something to do with the naquadria."

"They aren’t building a bomb again, are they?" The young seer’s gift had prevented him from sending SG-1 into an impossible situation, and risking Doctor Jackson’s life. He wasn’t about to let anyone near the planet if the same conditions existed.

"No, sir, nothing like that. There are hopes of using it as a power source, and I think Sam could help them with that. Although there is something we need to...stop." She frowned slightly. "If we can help them with the power source, it might...it should...well, I think it might prevent whatever it is that might happen." Her frown deepened. "All I know for certain, sir, is that we really should go."

General Hammond pursed his lips in thought. If Major Carter was able to help these people use their own natural resource in a peaceful application, they might be willing to share a bit of it with allies. If Doctor Jackson could prove that they were in danger from the Goa’uld, and that the SGC and the planet it represented were in a position to offer them aid, at least offer them intelligence on this shared enemy..."This could give us a bit of leverage for negotiating," he said slowly.

"Yes, sir," Casey replied.

"I’ll give you my decision in the morning."

She smiled, and snapped off a salute. "Thank you, sir!"

He smiled automatically in return, chuckled at and returned the salute; which was, he noted, much better than what he normally received from Colonel O’Neill, and watched her disappear into the corridor. Whether or not she understood that the salute wasn’t necessary, she was a civilian after all, she never failed to give him one when she'd made a request. Still smiling, he shook his head. He would never be the one to explain military protocol regarding saluting. He rather enjoyed them, and knew that they came from respect, and her desire to ‘do the right thing’.

 

 

 

A stop in the photo lab on her way back to level eighteen had Casey peeking into the room. Tiesha was busy stuffing photos into folders, each carefully marked with the date, planet designation, and team number. These were the images that were used during briefings and debriefings. And there were always those that were sent to the various labs for closer examination of whatever the photographer had deemed of value.

While she had no qualms about posing for the young lieutenant, she didn’t want that tidbit of information to be sucked into the SGC grapevine. Noting that she was alone, Casey stepped into the room, leaned against the desk beside the door. "Busy?"

Tiesha looked up, grinned broadly. "Hey, Casey!"

"Um...I needed to talk to you about that portrait you wanted to do."

The smile on Tiesha’s lovely face faltered slightly. "Okay," she said slowly.

"Is there any way I could pose tonight? I think we might be going on a mission, and I’m not sure when we’ll be back. I’d rather get it done so that you don’t miss the contest deadline," Casey said.

The sigh the young lieutenant gave was one full of relief. "That would be fine. I really do need to get to work on that."

Casey flashed a smile. "Great! I’ll be at your place around seven or so, if it’s okay with you. If I’m going to be later, I’ll give you a call."

Tiesha nodded. "Perfect. It gives me time to get a plain backdrop set up."

"Plain?"

"Mmmhmm. I’ll add the background later."

"You’re the artist," Casey grinned.

Tiesha’s smile widened to a grin. "Well, I hope so anyway."

"I’ve seen your work," Casey said confidently. "Maybe I should just put the word out that you’re entering the contest, so that the other participants can prepare themselves for losing."

The lieutenant gave an embarrassed, but pleased chuckle. "Thanks for the vote of confidence."

"You’re good, Tie," Casey said softly. "Don’t doubt yourself, or your talent."

With a slightly bashful smile, Tiesha nodded. "I’ll try not to."

"I’ll see you around seven." With a parting smile and a wave, Casey bounced down the corridor, and back to Daniel’s office.

She was just settling into the chair when Daniel stuck his head in the door. "Hey, gorgeous."

"Hey, yourself, handsome."

"If anyone needs me, I’m going to be working out with Teal’c."

"Okay." She blew him a kiss, then turned her attention back to the database. Began entering the information she'd gathered concerning Zeus. Tried to force mental images of him...well, actually the host, from her mind. Damned arrogant bastard. Just as annoying as all of the others. Even if he was good looking. If you were into guys with long dark hair, and deep brown eyes. She shivered slightly. Her interest was based purely on the basis of threat analysis. Her taste in men ran to brilliant, dark blond, cerulean-blue eyed archaeologists.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

Daniel stripped off his uniform, pulled on the sweats he wore when working out. When Casey had received the information dump about Kelowna, he'd had to fight back a case of panic. She'd told him about seeing his death connected to that planet, at least, in conjunction with the very first mission planned for there. While she hadn’t seen anything negative, in fact, she had been rather excited about the possibilities that might be found in another meeting with the leaders of the Kelownans, he still couldn’t shake that sudden feeling that his life would be in danger if he went there.

It was reassuring to know that if he was at risk of so much as stumbling and stubbing his toe, Casey would warn him. Still didn’t completely squelch that panicky feeling, however. He doubted that his Immortality would mean much if a naquadria bomb went off; there wouldn't be anything left of him to resurrect, and he had no desire to die. Especially now that he had so much to live for. He slammed his locker door closed. If there were any type of threat, Casey wouldn’t let him near the ‘gate, let alone step through it.

Teal’c was already lifting weights when he entered the gym. "Good afternoon, Teal’c," he said, grabbing the thirty pound weights.

The giant man inclined his head in acknowledgement. For several minutes the two men raised and lowered the barbells in companionable silence. Teal’c paused, studied his young friend. "Daniel Jackson, does something trouble you?"

He finished the set of reps he'd started, then lowered the weights. "I guess I’m just a bit edgy about the mission we might be going on. To Kelowna." He shook his head. "If not for Casey, I’d be dead right now."

"I do not understand," Teal’c admitted.

"Casey saw my death tied to that first aborted mission to Kelowna."

"Do you fear that this might still be true?"

Daniel pumped the weights up and down, the muscles in his arms bulging. "I know it’s ridiculous. If there were the slightest chance that anything might go wrong, Casey would know about it."

"Perhaps not, Daniel Jackson," Teal’c replied. "It has been our experience that Casey Jackson does not always receive all of the pertinent information concerning every mission."

That was so not what he wanted to hear. He needed to hear the reassurances that Casey had never been wrong, and that she very seldom didn’t receive at least a hint of what might happen to any given team embarking on any given mission.

"However, when it comes to your safety, her gift has been unwavering. I have no doubts that you will come to no harm during the mission," the Jaffa continued.

Much better. Much more reassuring. "Thanks, Teal’c. I needed to hear that."

Teal’c smiled. "You are welcome, Daniel Jackson."

He was already aware of the fact that his Wife was his Guide, giving him the strength to do what was expected of him as The One, letting him know when the ‘gift’ that had been bestowed upon him was needed. It hadn’t been a gift...a power...granted lightly, nor was it meant to be used indiscriminately. Only under the most extreme circumstances had he been called upon to use that gift. He hoped fervently that any instances to use it in the future would be rare.

He had suspected that she was his Protector as well, something that he freely admitted bothered him. He wanted to protect her, not the other way around. Call it pride, or male ego, or good old fashioned chivalry, in his mind a man was responsible for taking care of his Wife, on every level. It had never occurred to him that it was possible for the wife to take care of the husband, beyond the obvious. Certainly there was no denying that Casey was zealous when it came to her task. Often, it was her love that was the most protective, the way it wrapped around his heart and soul. He knew that she would never let him face anything alone. Knowledge that warmed him to the very core of his being.

Just as she was struggling with the concept of what a beautiful, incredible woman she was, he struggled to accept the unconditional love that she poured over him like water. He'd lived far too many years without that most important aspect in his life. He was helping to heal the hurts she had suffered, she was filling the void left by the deaths of his parents and his first wife. Daniel couldn’t stop the smile that spread across his face as his thoughts continued to focus on his Wife. They were helping one another, the love they shared a warm, healing balm for the wounds on their very souls. Only his Destiny would be able to accomplish that!


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