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 Fragile Balance of Politics

 

Chapter 5

The phone beside the bed began to ring. Isn't this the way the day started yesterday? he grumped silently. One hand reached for the handset, the other arm tightened around the body pressed so closely to him. "Hullo?"

"Good morning, sir. It's six am. This is your requested wake up call."

"Thanks," he muttered. Managed to hang up after the third try. The gray light of dawn could be seen peeking beneath the bottom edge of the curtains. It struck him in that moment that there had been no screams of terror, that he hadn't been forced to bring Casey back to the waking world from whatever terrifying place her nightmare sent her. Stress. That's all it is. Just getting away from the SGC for a few hours had helped. Even though it was vital that the search for the Ancient weapon be started as soon as possible, Daniel made up his mind that he was going to request a few days of vacation. For one thing, Casey desperately needed the break. And considering what they were about to face, a break now would go a long way in helping her with what they would no doubt be facing as they searched for the missing parts of that Ancient weapon. He kissed a bare shoulder. "Wake up, Angel."

"It cannot be time to get up already," she muttered sleepily.

He grinned. "Six a.m."

"Good god," she grumbled, trying to burrow further beneath the blankets. "That's an ungodly hour."

"Yes it is. And we have a plane to catch."

"Can't we catch one at noon?"

"The president will be at the SGC today," he reminded her.

She opened one eye, looked over her shoulder at him. "I ask again, don't they have a flight that leaves at noon?"

He couldn't help but grin. That was certainly testimony to her feelings about the current administration in particular, and politicians in general. "I'm sure they do. We, however, will be on the eight o'clock flight."

She groaned, pulled the pillow he had used over her head, noted that it smelled of him, and his aftershave. She took a deep breath, settled more comfortably on the bed.

"Come on, Case. Shower. You know I can't shower without you." He was digging through his duffel, searching for his ditty bag. Pulled it out, along with a clean pair of boxers.

"You are a weird man, Daniel Jackson."

Her voice was muffled, and he grinned again. "Yeah, but you love me."

Another groan, and she forced herself to sit up. Gave him a sleepy smile, her eyes still not fully open. "With all my heart."

It was almost impossible not to crawl on top of her and make love to her...she looked so damned sexy with her hair mussed from sleep, green eyes barely able to focus. "Move it, babe, before I lose control," he said, his voice strained as he struggled against the desires of his body. Down boy. No time, he reminded himself firmly.

She laid back, one leg curled demurely over the other. "Really?"

With a groan of his own, Daniel shook his head, then turned to walk toward the bathroom. "I will get you for that."

"I'm counting on it," Casey tossed at him, as his bare backside disappeared around the corner. With a sigh, she crawled off the bed and shuffled into the bathroom. Her toiletry bag was on the counter where she'd left it the night before.

Experience had taught them that to linger during their shower was to tempt fate, and risk being unable to resist making love...even if that meant just taking the time to give one another oral pleasure. They washed one another quickly, their efficiency born of familiarity, and habit. In not more than ten minutes they were dried and pulling on clean clothes.

Casey dried her hair while Daniel shaved. They moved around one another easily, the intimacy of their relationship obvious to any who might have been observing. The love was just as evident, from the smiles they shared to the glances they stole at one another.

Daniel called Teal'c's room, agreed to meet in the lobby of the hotel, where he and Casey would be able to get large cups of coffee from the continental breakfast buffet. His arm was draped around her shoulders, she was leaning into his embrace as they stepped onto the elevator. "You didn't have that nightmare last night," he said casually.

She started, then frowned. No, she hadn't. Felt her heart sink. That confirms it, she thought. She'd made the decision to leave the SGC...and the nightmares ended. It seemed that she'd known all along, subconsciously anyway, that her presence there was no longer needed. Not with her 'gift' as screwed up as it was. It's the safest thing for Daniel. That thought was nearly lost amid the flurry of emotions that moved through her; remorse...guilt...sadness...fear...and what felt like a dozen more that refused to be named.

"Case?"

"I...I didn't have the nightmare," she whispered.

"I knew it was stress," Daniel continued, watching the indicator above the door. "I know things are going to be busy as hell, but I'm going to talk to General Hammond about time off first thing tomorrow."

"Sure, whatever," she murmured. Time off wouldn't actually be necessary...not now. But time alone with Daniel would become precious; as he continued to go through the 'gate on the missions that were so very important, and she remained behind, working...working where? She'd have to check the want ads as soon as she got home. She'd need something to occupy her time during the hours...the days...that he would be off-world.

So relieved that his hunch had been correct - that it had been stress, rather than a premonition of trouble yet to come that was the cause of Casey's nightmares - Daniel missed the flash of grief in her green eyes, didn't notice her quiet response to his comment.

It was going to be a very long day, she thought, already weary. There was a poke in the back of her mind, but she ignored it. Whatever was going to come through would be incomplete, and she wouldn't be able to figure out what the message...or warning...might be even if she did listen to that little voice. She sure as hell wouldn't be able to offer any insight before whatever disaster was about to strike was upon them. For all she knew, she thought grumpily, the poke was a late indicator of what had happened to Jack. More proof that her gift had become unreliable. And utterly useless.

 

 

 

Teal'c was already in the lobby, and had a large paper cup of tea in his hand. He greeted the two amiably, secretly amused by the fact that their replies weren't actually more than grumbles of acknowledgement until after they were sipping from large cups of coffee.

The drive back to Yuba City was made in good time, and they were on the Air Force base well ahead of schedule. A flight ready to leave for Peterson was warming up, and the three opted to take it, rather than wait for their scheduled flight. The cargo flight was no less comfortable than a flight on a 727, albeit a tad cooler. General Hammond wanted them back in the SGC as soon as possible. Arriving before noon would certainly go a long way in making the general happy.

All three worked on their reports during the flight, conferring with one another, comparing their memories of the interviews, discussing what they had learned. Daniel called Sam to let her know what they had. The general, she informed him, wanted a briefing as soon as they were in the bunker.

 

A A A A A A

 

Daniel opened the book in front of him, several strips of paper marking the pages he'd wanted the general to see. According to the title on the front, it was a hardbound copy of all of the abduction interviews the Air Force had conducted during 'Operation Blue Book'. "All the accounts were basically identical, they all matched Jack's version of events exactly."

"Except none of them experienced any kind of physical changes as a result of the abduction," Sam said pointedly.

"No, they didn't," Daniel admitted, "but everything else is bang on. Taken while sleeping, floating paralysis, out of body experience. Now, admittedly, all of this does sound familiar, cliché even, if you watch enough TV; but...um...they all described four green globes that seemed to defy gravity, buzzing around them like insects. Now, that's too specific a detail to be a coincidence."

"It's also a detail that's in all of the original reports, but was left out of the official, published documents," Casey added. That particular tidbit of information had been discovered as she, Daniel, and Teal'c went through the book...comparing what they'd learned with older interviews...during their return flight from California. "Any information that 'leaked' out didn't have that detail."

"The Being that abducted them - I assume they described an Asgard as well?" General Hammond asked.

"Short, big eyes, no hair, weird voice?" Daniel said. He pushed two sketch books toward the general. "Two different men. Drawing almost the same thing for years. Professor Wu was taken in late 1961. Mr. Werner in February of 1978."

The general flipped through the pages of the books. There was no denying the fact that what he was looking at were depictions of an Asgard.

"Has there been a response from Thor?" Teal'c asked.

Sam shook her head. "The Asgard haven't responded to our attempted communications."

Janet stepped into the briefing room. The expression on her face was grim. "Well, if help is coming, it better arrive soon."

 

A A A A A A

 

Jack had sequestered himself in his office, hooking up the PlayStation that everyone insisted that he 'utilize' until his 'condition' had been 'dealt with'. He had been, in his opinion, told the equivalent of 'sit down and shut up while the adults work on the problem'. He was Colonel Jack O'Neill, for crying out loud! Second in command of the SGC. And damn it, it was his body that had been screwed with...he certainly should have a say in what was being done to find a cure for his current...problem!

Casey tapped softly on the door.

"It's open," Jack said, trying to rein in his impatience. Either no one wanted to talk to him, or they waited until he was almost to the next level of Aces of the Air to want to bother him.

"Hey. How're you doing?" She stepped into the room.

"Well, I think I'm gettin' another zit, and...uh...oh, yeah, I'm still a kid. Uh...but beyond that I'm doin' just peachy, thanks. Why?"

Yep, still grumpy. According to Sam, every passing hour just seemed to make Jack even more angry. Not that she could blame him. And this...oh, this would not be easy to tell him. She had volunteered, when Sam had broken down in tears. The Air Force major had managed to keep a stoic expression on her face while Janet gave her report. But when the general had left the room, the woman had allowed herself to give in to her grief and fears, surrounded by the protection of her friends...teammates...family. Now...she took a deep breath. "Janet's just finished going over the genetic team's analysis of your test results."

Radar was definitely looking upset. That didn't bode well. "How bad can it be?"

Another deep breath. She tried to recall exactly how Janet had phrased the news..."You're probably not feeling the effects yet...but...something is happening to your body at the cellular level. Basically, your genetic structure is growing more unstable-"

Jack impatiently waved his hand in a circle, his silent demand that she get to whatever point she was trying to make.

Casey looked down at her boots. Closed her eyes for just a moment. "Jack...you're dying."

He sat up. Took in what the seer had said. "Yeah, well in three days..."

She shook her head. "Jack, none of the...um...well, Janet asked specifically about the genetic markers that...um...make us Immortal. She made up some story about an experiment-"

"Radar!" Jack growled.

"Whatever this Asgard did, he managed to undo the changes to your DNA. You're not Immortal, Jack."

The controller for the video game fell unheeded from his hand. Stunned, Jack rose slowly to his feet, pulled Casey into a hug when she was unable to hold back her tears. "I feel just fine," he whispered.

"Janet would like to take another blood sample. She wants to run a few tests, just to make certain that the samples the geneticists had weren't tainted somehow," Casey sniffed. It had felt...odd...to be comforted by a fifteen year old boy. Except her heart knew that inside that young body...that dying young body...was one of her dearest friends.

"That's what happened," Jack said firmly. "Somebody screwed up the samples. Or the results. Doc should have just brought them down here and supervised the whole shebang herself."

"Right."

"Come on, Radar," Jack said, forcing a smile to his lips. "Let's go get this over with so Doc can finally get in gear and find a cure for this-"

"Mini-Jack syndrome," Casey offered, giving the teenager a weak smile.

"That is so not funny."

"Everyone else thinks it is," she countered.

"Well, I don't."

"So just because you don't find it amusing, no one else should?"

"Exactly."

"You're weird. Now I know where Daniel gets it. It rubbed off from you." She turned around and headed toward the elevator. Could hear Jack walking behind her. Whirled around to face him. "Just what would you call it?"

Startled, Jack took half a step backwards, and frowned. "Um...give me a sec..."

Casey raised one eyebrow. Crossed her arms over her breasts as she waited.

"Okay, I got nuthin'. But it's still not funny!"

"Yes it is."

"No, it's not."

"Yes, it is."

"No it's not."

"Yes, it-"

The teenager followed her onto the lift, the closing of the doors cutting off their familiar banter from those who had been standing nearby.

 

A A A A A A

 

The solemn faces of his friends greeted him when he followed Casey into the infirmary. He'd faced death before. Never like this. He had to admit that after that time spent in a cavern on an alien planet, when his best friend had been drafted to become The One, he hadn't thought about death at all. At least, not his own. Now...

Without a word he hopped up onto one of the beds. Watched as Janet withdrew a vial of blood. Sam hovered nearby. She'd been crying, he thought, noting the redness of her eyes. "Honestly, I feel fine," he said. Wanting so badly to comfort Sam. Unable to do so, as long as he was like...this.

Janet exchanged a glance with the blonde major beside her. They had gone over the test results, had even run two computer simulations, in the hope of finding something the geneticists had missed. Had confirmed that the 'corrected' DNA markers were no longer 'perfect'.

Jack didn't miss the traded looks. His gut told him that they had waited to let him in on this specific information until they had determined for themselves that the results were correct.

"You'll start to notice symptoms as the condition worsens," Janet said quietly. She was doing her best to distance herself from the problem, to push the professional medical officer to the forefront. It wasn't working.

"How long do I have?" Jack asked.

She shrugged slightly. "It's hard to say."

"Say it anyway." Braced himself for an answer he knew he wasn't going to want to hear.

She looked into the eyes of a teenager. Saw the man inside. He deserved to know the truth. "Weeks...days...I don't know," she admitted ruefully. "You'll notice fatigue first. In the end, your body's vital organs will completely shut down."

"It's like something inside you is causing a total system failure," Sam said. She shook her head slowly. "Something is so wrong!"

"No kidding!" Daniel growled. Then shook his own head in apology, reached out and squeezed Sam's shoulder. Her hand came up to wrap around his.

Bitterness, anger, and not a little righteous indignation rose inside him. "I don't get it," Jack said, "we helped save their skinny asses from the Replicators and as a thanks, they shrink me and leave me to die?"

"We're exploring every option we have, Ja-Colonel. We just need you to hang in there," Sam said, clinging desperately to the hope that some miracle would present itself before it was too late. Needing Jack to believe...to hope...as well.

Jack offered a wan smile. Ached to hold her. Felt even angrier to know that at the moment, doing so would only exacerbate her fears, and her grief. He wouldn't be able to offer her comfort until he was returned to normal. And now...now it didn't look as if that was going to happen.

Standing beside the door, Casey felt a wave of sorrow so strong it nearly knocked her to her knees. Where the hell had the warning about this been? she raged silently. Jack is one of Daniel's Protectors! I should have seen this! I should have warned him! I should have known!

 

 

 

Overwhelmed by regret, guilt, grief, anger...so many negative emotions that it felt as if she were drowning in them, Casey slipped from the room. Only to be inundated by the...need...to be near the Quantum mirror. So far, it had offered no answers. No one had been there to give her an explanation as to what was happening, and why the mirror felt so much a part of her distress.

In an act of resolute defiance, Casey walked determinedly in the opposite direction of the elevator. Took the stairs to level twenty-five. When she reached the quarters she shared with Daniel, she tossed herself onto the bed, and gave in to the tears that she'd been holding in check. She cried for Jack, mourned his loss even though he wasn't yet gone. Cried for herself, and the knowledge that she'd let down everyone around her. That she had become a disappointment to Daniel. Another thought, that her very presence was a danger to her friends, struggled to be recognized. Couldn't move past the heartache that filled her. But the feeling...the emotion of that thought...was gaining in strength.

Enough! Do what you know you have to do.

The words echoed as loudly as if they had been spoken. She sat up, wiped her face. Took a shuddering breath. She was going to miss working here...being here.

Daniel always kept a legal pad nearby. There had been numerous times that the answers he'd sought, the translations he'd struggled to make, would come to him in the middle of the night. He would jump out of bed, and quickly jot down his ideas; the words or phrases he'd managed to decipher.

She sat down, trembling fingers picked up a pen. She began to write. This was almost as difficult as writing that note...when she'd fled Silver Springs...had been. This time, there would be no chance of return. Her gift was erratic, couldn't be trusted. She had nothing to offer the SGC, or the people who worked within its concrete walls. She was doing what was best for everyone. What was best for SG-1. What was best for Daniel. And maybe, she thought, if she kept telling herself that, she might actually believe it.

 

A A A A A A

 

General Hammond examined himself in the mirror. His uniform was impeccable. His mind, however, was in turmoil. Escorting the President of the United States was normally considered an honor. He'd done so on several occasions, three times since arriving at the SGC. This visit, however...it was a case of lousy timing. His second-in-command had been abducted, by a member of a race supposedly allied to the citizens of Earth. Had been regressed to a fifteen year old. And now...that fifteen year old was dying.

He returned to his office to find Casey standing in front of his desk. He frowned to note the tearstains on her cheeks. No doubt she'd been crying over the news of Jack's impending...he couldn't even think the horrible thought. "Casey, to what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?"

"I'm not sure how pleasurable it is, sir," she replied softly. She offered him an envelope.

"What's this?"

"My resignation."

The general nearly fell into his chair. "What?"

"Sir, I can't stay here, continue to work here. I...I don't have anything to offer! I screwed up the warning about that mission to take out Ares, and then I didn't see that Teal'c and I were going to be killed and Sam was fighting for her life but if I had just known then we could have put off going or another team could have gone with us for backup or...or something! I didn't get any warning about what happened to Jack! What good am I, if I can't 'see' anything? If I can't interpret what I see in time to be of any use? Daniel died because of me! Jack is going to die because of me! I...I can't risk anyone else!"

He couldn't have been more shocked. Casey's distress was evident; her emotions...while in turmoil, even a blind man could see that...were sincere. But he knew for a fact that her continued 'searches' for the SG teams that went through the Stargate had kept all of them safe. Two teams had returned with very positive reports about the local inhabitants, including possible trade agreements, thanks to her insights. "I won't accept this."

"I can't stay," she whispered.

"Casey, I understand that right now you're overwhelmed by what's happening. However, you have nothing to feel guilty over. Nothing that has happened has been a result of any errors on your part. I believe Doctor Jackson indicated that what happened on your last mission has provided information we didn't even know existed."

"Teal'c died," she said softly.

"So did you. And you reanimated," he said quietly.

"But Sam-"

"Is a trained Air Force officer. She used that training. Everyone who walks through that 'gate understands the risks." Hammond's voice was firm, but kind. "Casey, I think we should talk about this. Unfortunately, I have to meet the president in about fifteen minutes. I want you in here first thing tomorrow morning. We'll discuss the matter then."

She gave a nod. It didn't matter. She had to leave. It was a simple as that.

"We'll work this out, Casey," General Hammond said gently.

No, we won't, she thought morosely. There's nothing to 'work out'. She gave a slight nod, to let him know she had heard him. "Yes, sir."

He rose to his feet. "Now, I have to go. I've instructed Major Carter to keep Colonel O'Neill...under wraps...for the time being. The president has requested a meeting with you, privately. That's scheduled for-" he checked the itinerary on his desk, "sixteen-thirty."

"Yes, sir." For all the good it would do. If she couldn't see anything for SG-1, she certainly wouldn't be able to see anything for the president.

"Don't let all of this get you down. You know us, we always bounce back." Hammond sent up a silent prayer that there would be another miracle to keep the SGC functioning as intended; with all of its personnel, alive and well.

She gave a sad nod. "Right."

With a nod and a smile, the general walked toward the door. He paused, turned slightly to face her. "Just so you know...you have never ceased to amaze me with your talent...your gift. You've saved so many lives that I've lost count. You're the greatest blessing we could have been granted."

Her vision blurred as the general left the room. Tears spilled onto her cheeks. "I've failed so many times," she whispered.

 

A A A A A A

 

President Hayes adjusted his tie. His visit to this particular facility was being kept secret. As a result, other than a military police escort, there was no one to greet him upon his arrival. He had only a few hours to learn firsthand what Stargate Command was all about. He would be making a late speech, around eight o'clock in the evening, according to Stan, at nearby Peterson Air Force Base. Then Air Force One, the jumbo jet with all the comforts of home, would take him to California, for a tour of the military bases in that state. The jet was due to arrive at Peterson just before his speech was scheduled. It was all about appearances, he'd been told.

General Maynard walked down the stairs behind the president. Couldn't help but smile. In the month and a half since he'd taken office, Henry Hayes had become accustomed to the flash of cameras and the roar of crowds. No doubt this...greeting...was certainly less than he had expected. The runway that Air Force One - at the moment one of the Marine VH-60N helicopters - had landed on was isolated. Three armored Hummers waited on the tarmac. They certainly weren't the limos the president was used to riding in.

Hayes returned the sharp salutes from the men who waited as he emerged from the helo.

"Welcome to NORAD, Mr. President," the major in charge of the MPs said.

Apparently not even the base newspaper would know of his visit...even after the fact. No photographers to immortalize the moment on film...or disc, depending on what types of cameras they used. Now he understood the reason that Stan had insisted that he would have two of his Secret Service body guards, and not a full entourage. At least, not until just before his speech. No one but a handful of military police, General George Hammond, and the personnel of Stargate Command knew about this visit. "Thank you. This is it?" Hayes looked around pointedly.

"We were instructed to meet you here, sir. That your arrival was to be kept classified. General Hammond is waiting for you in Cheyenne Mountain," the major replied.

"Ah, yes. The reason I'm here. Well, shall we go?"

"Yes, sir!"

Hayes didn't miss the amused smile on the Maynard's face. He settled into the back seat of the Hummer. "You knew about this?"

"Of course, sir. Your safety is our primary concern. Although at this particular installation, we'd prefer to keep any...interested...parties from becoming too nosy."

"Right," Hayes replied.

"In all honesty, Mr. President, if you were to make an announced visit to NORAD, the media would want to know why. And if you...disappeared...for several hours, they'd have a field day speculating on the reason. There are those who know about Stargate Command. And, unfortunately, there are those who would be willing to sell what they know, for the right price."

"I read the report on the disaster that was narrowly avoided...a result of treason by Colonel Frank Simmons. The Chinese almost 'outed' our little operation last year."

"Yes, sir, they did," the general replied. "Between you and me, I don't think the representatives of the other countries would have given a damn. They'd have led the lynch mob against the US. A little visit from Thor changed their minds."

"So Tim Miller said. Will I meet this 'Thor'?"

"I don't know, sir," Maynard replied honestly.

The president turned to the window. Aliens. Honest-to-god aliens. Who were now, according to the reports he'd read, allies of the United States...or, more accurately, allies of Planet Earth. He couldn't help but glance up at the sky. Clouds obscured the view. But somewhere up there was the world's first space ship. Not a shuttle. A ship as big as an aircraft carrier, he'd been told. That had a crew of over one hundred. With specially constructed fighter jets that could fly in the atmosphere...or in space. He took a deep breath. There were moments when he was certain that the whole thing was an elaborate joke. Or a cover up for the Pentagon, which was sucking down almost eight billion a year in overhead. What the hell were they actually paying for?

Freedom, he thought. Tim Miller had told him, during their 'informal' briefing, that the planet had damned near fallen to Ba'al. He remembered being skeptical. Thought maybe Tim was setting him up, ready to laugh his ass off. But Tim hadn't been laughing. In fact, the man had paled significantly as he relayed what had happened during seventy-two stressful hours. Had it not been for the SGC, and more specifically, the members of SG-1, he wouldn't be sitting where he was, preparing to 'inspect' the most secret operation being run by the military. In fact, he'd probably be dead. At the very least a Goa'uld slave. Or so Tim had told him, with more than a bit of awe in his voice, and on his face.

Stirring from his thoughts, Hayes watched as the buildings of the Cheyenne Mountain Military Complex passed by. The administration building. One of the half dozen hangers. One of the barracks. The hospital. Through a second set of gates, halfway up the two lane highway that led to the top of the mountain. Where the Hummer paused, the driver showing his identification and orders. The gate guard peeked into the vehicle. The president smiled and wiggled his fingers.

General Maynard chuckled. "There are two more check points. You'll be required to provide your identification at each one."

"You must be joking," Hayes replied.

"No, sir. Not even the president is above the security measures in place. There are legitimate reasons for that."

"I'm sure there are."

"The personnel of the SGC park their personal vehicles in that parking lot," Maynard said, pointing to an area filled with cars, pick-up trucks, and vans. "They ride a bus from there to the main entrance. For security purposes, we'll be going directly there."

"What, I don't get a bus ride?"

"No, sir. The bus drivers refused to accept responsibility for your safety."

Hayes chuckled. The sound died in his throat when the Hummer stopped in front of a massive blast door. He'd heard about it. Seen pictures of it. He had been in no way prepared for the reality. "Holy shit!"

Another chuckle filled the general's throat. "It gets better."

"I'll bet."

The first checkpoint was inside the cavern. And that, Hayes realized, was exactly what it was. He offered his passport, which Stan had made certain was in his coat pocket, returned the salute the guards snapped off, and followed General Maynard over a board covered walkway. They stepped into a tiled corridor about two-thirds of the way into the cavern, and approached a single set of elevator doors. There were two doorways on either side of the short hallway...both required security badges to enter.

"The first six levels of the what the world knows as Cheyenne Mountain are general security. Level one contains shipping and receiving. Level two holds transport and vehicle maintenance. There's a visitor's waiting lounge on this level as well, and a small 'break room', where the coffee is always hot," Maynard explained, as they stepped into the elevator. There were only eleven buttons. He pushed the number eleven. "Level three is a fully staffed commissary and mess hall, capable of feeding the entire population of the mountain. Level four holds supplies and serves as storage for incoming equipment and gear. Level five is the actual location of the loading dock...that's a result of the location of the level itself in conjunction with a very convenient and naturally occurring opening in the side of the mountain. Level six holds security offices. Everyone associated with the mountain goes through a thorough investigation. That investigation is launched and monitored from that level. There are about a hundred civilians employed by NORAD, they work mostly in the commissary, on the loading dock, or as paper-pushers. They only have access to the first six levels."

"Interesting," Hayes murmured.

"Levels seven through fifteen are medium security."

"Military personnel only," Hayes said. Just to let the general know he had read the briefing report.

"Yes, sir. Levels seven and eight are where the officers in charge of the various departments have their offices. Maintenance and mechanical for the facility are located on level nine."

"Not lower?"

"No, sir. In the event of a foothold situation, we would ideally be able to retain control of the upper levels. In which case we can reduce oxygen levels, or introduce an agent to the air of the lower, compromised areas that would render any invader helpless or unconscious."

"I see."

The general opted not to tell the President, at least not yet, that as far as they knew, Jaffa were able to operate in a low oxygen environment for a short amount of time. And, that any foothold situation would most likely result in the personnel of the SGC levels being taken hostage. Simply shutting off the air supply was a last ditch, everything-else-has-failed option. "What we call 'Earth-bound' communications are located on level ten. All personnel records are stored on level eleven. Which is also the location of the second elevator."

"The one that takes us all the way down?"

"That's right, sir. Having two elevators is also a security measure. In the off chance that someone not authorized to reach the lower levels would make it to level eleven, there is no way for him...or her...to go farther."

"This is the reason for that little blood test I had done yesterday," Hayes said, realization dawning.

"Yes, sir. We've been able to utilize technology gained from our...allies...to create a system that can read blood as easily as most scanners can recognize a finger print."

"I'm not going to get poked again, am I?" Hayes asked dryly.

"No sir. There are several small veins near the surface of the skin on the palm of your hand. The scanner reads both your fingerprints and the blood 'print'."

"Now that's impressive!"

"We think so, sir," Maynard grinned. "Levels twelve through fifteen have various uses, from storage to meeting areas to banquet rooms, depending on the need. At the moment, we're in the process of adding levels thirteen, fourteen and fifteen to the SGC."

"Which would make them off limits to unauthorized personnel."

"Yes, sir."

The elevator doors opened. The number eleven was painted on the walls. General Hammond stood at attention.

"At ease, George," Hayes said, after returning the salute. "It's quite a place you have here."

General Hammond nodded at General Maynard, then returned his attention to the president. "Yes, sir, it is."

"Frances was just explaining what the various levels contain."

"I've told him about levels one through fifteen," Maynard said.

"Well, sir, if you'll come this way, I'll show you the rest of the facility."

Hammond walked through a narrow gate-like passage in front of a wide, waist high counter, behind which two guards were seated. Once past it, metal bars came down both in front of and behind him. After signing the book that one of the MPs slid in front of him, he put his hand on what looked like an ordinary LCD monitor, except this monitor was embedded in the top of the desk that was manned by four armed Marines. When the lights on the monitor and on the top of the two 'gates' turned green, the bars rose and Hammond proceeded into the corridor. He waited patiently as the president, Maynard and the two Secret Service agents followed; signing in as procedure required, their fingerprints and blood types being confirmed by the computer system.

When they were on the second elevator, which would take them to the lowest levels, General Maynard continued his descriptions of those levels. "Level sixteen contains all SGC surveillance controls, as well as holding rooms and two isolation rooms."

"Level seventeen has been designated the 'negotiation level'," General Hammond said, picking up the narrative. "There are four large rooms, as well as four smaller rooms, that can be used for official meetings with any societies we meet via the Stargate. In the event that we need to keep parties separated, but close enough to allow quick and easy movement of our people in negotiating between said parties, we have the place to do so."

"Good thinking," Hayes nodded approvingly.

"Level eighteen is what we call the 'archaeological' level. Doctor Jackson has his office there, as well as his lab; a commons room for all of the archaeologists who work for him; a 'work room', and three rooms that serve as smaller, shared offices. The rest of the space is used for storage."

"I'm anxious to meet this Doctor Jackson. I understand he's the reason we even have a Stargate Program," Hayes said.

"Yes, sir," General Hammond replied proudly. "Doctor Jackson deciphered the cover stone, and extrapolated the use of the Stargate...in just two weeks."

"So I hear," Hayes smiled. Hammond's pride in his people was apparent. And spoke volumes about the man, as well as those who worked for him.

"Level nineteen is where the scientific labs are located. Major Carter, second-in-command of SG-1, has her lab there. There are four other 'shared' labs. Doctors Coombs, Lee, and Felger share one of larger labs. They're our computer and 'gizmo' experts. Level twenty has an MRI room, more surveillance, and a large observation room," Hammond continued. "Twenty-one is our med level, with the infirmary, operating theater, medical labs, observation room, and supply room. Twenty-two is where Doctor Fraiser, our CMO, has her office. That's also where we have an isolation wing with six rooms. Quarters for medical personnel are located on that level as well."

"I'm looking forward to seeing all of this," Hayes said. "I hear that the SGC has the most state-of-the art medical facilities available."

Hammond smiled. "And a few...extras."

"Which I'm anxious to see," Hayes replied. Alien technology. Honest-to-god alien technology. He didn't know whether to be impressed as hell, or scared to death.

"Level twenty three is used for storage. Weapons, ammunition, clothing, food, water, extra medical supplies; enough to keep the SGC going for at least eleven months in the case of an emergency," Hammond said. "Two of the smaller rooms are being utilized as shared offices for SG team commanders. It gives the team COs a place to write reports, meet with their team members in an official capacity, and a place where messages can be left for the COs or team members when they're off-world."

"Level twenty-four is additional storage; the ring transport room and the Memorial Room are on this level as well," Maynard said. "The ring transport is relatively new, thanks to the Asgard and a bit of stolen Goa'uld technology."

"Tim Miller said the Memorial Room has gone a long way to helping those who work inside the SGC," Hayes said quietly.

"Yes, it has, sir," Hammond replied. "It's difficult for the teams when they lose a teammate, especially since the truth can't be told to the families. No one knows what these people go through, except them. You'll find that the...bonds...that form between these people are deeper, and stronger, than any other military facility in the world."

"I can certainly understand that," Hayes nodded. "I'd like to stop there, and pay my respects."

"Yes, sir," Hammond replied. No doubt his doing so would raise the president's standing among the personnel. He had no doubt that those who worked for him respected the office of President of the United States. Or even Senator of the United States. But the individuals who occupied those offices had to earn the respect that went with those positions; it wasn't offered freely.

"You say there's a 'transport ring'?"

"Yes, sir. It allows us to move between the SGC and the Prometheus without the use of a shuttlecraft," Hammond explained. "That seems to be the primary function of the device, to move between a planet's surface and Goa'uld ships. The ring itself is from a Goa'uld ha'tak we were able to cannibalize before it crashed. "

"Lucky for us," Maynard grinned.

The general nodded his agreement, then turned to the president. "We've recently turned three of the storage rooms on level twenty four into classrooms, for the purpose of keeping our people as up-to-date with the technologies we have available to us as possible, as well as language classes. Speaking rudimentary Goa'uld is now a requirement for SG team members."

"Very good...helps to know what the enemy is saying," the president said approvingly.

"Yes, it does," the Texan general agreed.

"Now, how many levels are left to know about?" Hayes asked.

"Four," Hammond replied. "Level twenty-five is crew and guest quarters, and is where the locker rooms and gym are located. The gym has just been relocated to this level, it was previously on level twenty-one. What had served as the gym is now solely dedicated to rehabilitation for any personnel who need such medical attention. The new gym is larger than the old one."

"How was that done?" Hayes asked.

"A bit of drilling into the rock, sir," Hammond replied.

"Ask a stupid question," Hayes grinned. "You mentioned rehabilitation. I'm assuming you're talking about physical therapy?"

"Yes, sir," Hammond nodded. "Casey Jackson has been instrumental in preventing deaths since her arrival. Unfortunately, there have been two, but that's certainly a drop in the casualty rate compared to the numbers before she came here."

"I understand from Tim Miller that she took both of those deaths extremely hard," Hayes said quietly.

"Yes, she did. She blames herself to this day."

The president had seen photos of the young seer. The weight she carried on those slender shoulders was at least as heavy as what he bore.

"There have been the usual accidents," Hammond continued, "although even those have been reduced. Still, sprained muscles and broken limbs need time to heal, repair, and the therapy aids the personnel in their return to active duty."

Hayes nodded.

"Level twenty six is where we handle off-world communications. There's also a small commissary where personnel can have sandwiches, salads, desserts...anything that can be easily brought down and put into the refrigerated cases. Additional VIP quarters are located there as well. Those are also new additions."

"Drilling involved?"

Hammond grinned. "No sir, just a bit of decorating."

Hayes chuckled.

"Level twenty-seven is where SGC offices, including my own, are located, as well as the briefing room. Level twenty eight has the control room, gear room, a brig that we can use short term, and an armory. And, the Stargate itself."

As if on cue, the elevator doors opened. General Hammond led the president through the narrow, concrete corridor. Past the fourteen-inch thick blast door. And into the 'gate room. "There, Mr. President, is the Stargate," the general said quietly.

"Holy shit!" the president muttered. He'd seen photographs of the ring; close up views of each of the chevrons and the glyphs that were engraved on the inner ring. "It's...uh...it's big."

"Yes, sir."

Klaxons began to wail, red lights began to flash.

"What the hell is going on?" Hayes demanded to know.

"Incoming wormhole," echoed from the speakers overhead.

"I hope that's someone you know," the president said apprehensively. His eyes were already marking his escape, should it become necessary.

"Yes, sir. One of the SG teams returning," Hammond grinned.

"Staged it just for my benefit, eh?" Hayes relaxed and returned the grin. There were benefits to being the president, after all. Even if his arrival at the SGC had been a very hushed affair.

"Yes, sir." Hammond would never admit that the arrival had simply coincided with that of the president. Sometimes, things just worked out. He stepped out of the way as the Marines charged with 'gate room security raced past.

The inner ring of the Stargate began to spin. The chevrons clanged into place, locking the position, and then the ring spun again. President Hayes watched, wide-eyed and slack-jawed when the event horizon opened...which looked like a column of water that exploded horizontally into the room. A few seconds later four dirty, weary men walked down the ramp.

General Hammond moved to the bottom of the ramp. "Welcome home, SG-6."

"Thank you, sir," Major Evan Parker replied. He glanced around. Another freaking dog-and-pony show. If he wasn't mistaken, the guy who looked like his eyes were about to pop out of his head was none other than Henry Hayes, President of the United States. And, no doubt, that man would sit in on their briefing. Which was guaranteed to make the meeting twice as long. That thought had him groaning silently.

"Head to the infirmary, we'll debrief in one hour," Hammond said.

"Yes, sir."

Hayes watched as the men filed past him. They looked exhausted. "Where were they?"

"I'd have to check my notes for the computer-generated planet designation," Hammond admitted. "But they were instrumental in holding off a Goa'uld attack on a small village that's been used for...harvesting...for several centuries."

"Harvesting? Harvesting what?"

"Humans," General Maynard replied bluntly. "Some for slave labor. Some unlucky enough to become Goa'uld hosts."

"Goddamn!" Hayes exclaimed, the shock he was feeling evident in his eyes.

"Yes, sir, my thoughts exactly," Hammond said quietly.

The President of the United States looked around slowly. Watched as the Marines who had filled the room, weapons aimed at that huge stone circle, stowed those weapons in the nearby lockers, talking quietly among themselves. This, he thought with a mental start, was just a regular workday for them. How in the hell did they deal with it? His eyes went back to the control room, watched through the window as the 'techs', he'd heard them called, continued to do...whatever it was that they did. As if that team hadn't just...appeared. Hadn't been on another planet.

All of the mission reports he had read, all of the weekly reports that General Hammond filed, keeping him...well, keeping the president...informed of what was happening in the secret facility, flashed through his mind. It all became...real. Not just words on a sheet of paper. Not just a report that he had to read. Those events had been real. The deaths...the lives saved...the allies made...the treaties negotiated...everything was real. He looked up. Could barely see the top of what had once been a missile silo. Then his gaze moved back to the Stargate. For the first time in decades, Henry Hayes was totally overwhelmed. And that scared the shit out of him.

"Sir, if you'll follow me, we can head up to level nineteen, and you can take a look at those laboratories for yourself," General Hammond said.

Hayes continued to stare at the Stargate as they walked across the room, heading past the blast door on the opposite side of the room. Following Hammond through the winding passageway, he was certain it was just to get him lost.

General Hammond pointed out the rooms as they went by...brig...armory...gear room. When the president stopped and peeked into the gear room, he couldn't help but smile.

Henry Hayes had been a pilot. He'd recognized the way the lockers were set up, the shelves and bins of supplies that lined one wall. "This is where they get ready to go...out there?" the president asked, stepping into the room.

"Yes, sir."

A quick count and he came up with one hundred small lockers that lined two walls; twenty-five per wall, top and bottom lockers. Yep, that came up to one hundred. There were about a dozen or so that didn't have name tags on them. He walked along the line of metal doors. Ferretti, L.; Driscoll, P.; Lopez, W.; James, R.; Anderson, D.; Baker, R.; Childers, L.; Dobson, B. Whitmore, T.; Callingsworth, S.; Van Derwerff, J.; Newton, B.; Brown, D.; Higgins, S.; Sabotti, A.; Parker, E.; Murphy, P.; Yates, M. Not just names. Not now. Real people. He might not have met them, but he knew them. Had read about their...adventures. The missions they had been on.

He stopped when he came to five lockers with names that were very familiar to him. O'Neill, J. Carter, S. Jackson, D. Jackson, C. Teal'c. Now there was someone he was anxious to meet. A real alien. The first, if what he had been told was true, to have joined up with the humans of planet Earth against an alien enemy known as the Goa'uld. One finger tapped on Teal'c's locker door. "I want to meet him. I want to meet all of them."

General Hammond sighed silently. Of course he did. How in the hell was he going to explain a fifteen year old Jack O'Neill?

Hayes turned to face the general. "But first, I'd like to see what goes on when a team returns from a mission. You sent them to the infirmary?"

"Yes, sir. Standard procedure," Hammond replied, adeptly adjusting his 'tour schedule' mentally, with the ease of one who had done so many times.

"Well, let's start there, shall we? And then I'd like to sit in on that debriefing."

"Yes, sir. This way." He led the way to the elevator. Hoping against hope that there would be a miracle between now and...whenever the president decided it was time to meet SG-1. He really didn't think Henry Hayes was ready for the reality of life at the SGC. Not yet, at any rate.


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