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Fragile Balance of Politics

 

Chapter 8

"Quite a place you have here, George," Hayes said, stepping aside as three young SF's walked by, carrying...whatever the hell it was they were carrying. It was big, and they were taking it toward the labs from which he and his entourage had just emerged. He watched over his shoulder for a moment, then turned his attention back to the general who waited patiently beside him. "Is it always like this? I've toured factories that didn't seem this...hectic."

Hammond chuckled. "Our scientists usually have a limited amount of time to study artifacts before they're shipped to Area 51 for storage or further examination. Because of that fact, they tend to use every moment they have to the fullest."

"The SGC has the brightest minds that we could find," General Maynard added. "The people working here aren't just the smartest, don't just possess the highest IQ's. They're also the ones who tend to think 'outside the box'...they tend to look at the world around them just a bit differently than most others."

"I understand that due to a lack of...should I say 'qualified' military personnel...in certain fields, that the SGC has managed to lure over a dozen top minds from the civilian world," Hayes said, stepping onto the elevator behind Hammond.

"Yes, sir. Doctor Jackson requested more archaeologists and anthropologists for his department. After the rotation of the three military archaeologists working here, that 'department' had become Jackson and Doctor Cameron Balinsky. I felt he deserved the lion's share of help. Especially since the majority of artifacts that come into the SGC are archaeological in nature. We also have three new botanists, an entomologist, two geologists, and two genuine rocket scientists," General Hammond replied.

"Yeah, I heard that the boys at JPL were stunned when two of their brightest suddenly had the urge to work for the Air Force," Hayes grinned.

"I wouldn't know about that, sir," Hammond smiled.

"The civilians go through training with military personnel who are tapped to work here," Maynard explained. He stepped off the elevator, held out his arm, signaling that the president should proceed him.

"How's that working out?" Hayes asked.

"They're scientists, sir," Hammond responded. "But they are learning enough to protect themselves, and to be of limited help should the SGC suffer a foothold situation."

"We can't expect them to be professional soldiers, can we?" Hayes asked.

"No, sir."

"Well, now that I've had the tour, I'd like to meet the famous SG-1."

Hammond heaved a silent sigh. This was the moment he'd been dreading. He wished now he'd have thought to just have the team remain home for the day, tell the president they were off-world, and avoid the need to explain that somehow Colonel Jack O'Neill had been regressed to a surly fifteen year old. Not that he faulted the colonel his snippy attitude. It couldn't be easy to wake up one morning to find yourself in the body of a teenager. Although, the situation certainly opened the door to a dozen interesting possibilities...He shook himself mentally. "Yes, sir. This way. We'll meet with them in the briefing room."

When Walter looked up at the sound of Hammond's voice, his boss gave a beckoning nod, and he hurried to find out what the general needed.

"Sergeant, call SG-1 to the briefing room."

"Yes, sir."

Seconds later the call went out over the intercom system, echoing in the corridors.

President Hayes settled himself at the foot of the conference table. By rights, he could have sat down at the head of the table, after all, he was the CIC. But he wanted to give the 'right' impression. That while he was the man in charge, his was the final word when his input was necessary, General George Hammond was OIC, and was the 'voice' of the president, for all intents and purposes. Hammond was doing a hell of a job here, and undermining him in any way, no matter how trivial the action, was something Hayes didn't want to do.

The second hand on the clock that hung just above the computer terminal continued to move. Two minutes passed. Three. Now four. Hammond frowned. Went to the phone, and repeated his request to have SG-1 report to the briefing room. Again, the call went out.

 

 

 

The page for SG-1 echoed in the corridor. Jack blatantly ignored it. 

Sam glanced at him, then at Teal'c. "Jack...er...Sir?"

"What?"

"Shouldn't we respond to that?"

"Carter, right now two of my team are in that," he pointed at the mirror, "reality. I am not leaving this room until they're back here where they belong. If they need us, we're going through. Problems with that?"

Sam shook her head, noting that the guards on the other side had shifted somewhat nervously at her CO's declaration. "None, sir."

Jack raised an eyebrow at Teal'c.

"I do not wish to leave this area, either. To do so would risk the chance that the mirror might be disturbed. We must make certain that it remains connected, so that Daniel Jackson and Casey Jackson may return unharmed," the Jaffa said.

The teenager nodded. Right now, he really didn't want to meet the president anyway. Hey. I'm Jack O'Neill. Yes, I look like a fifteen year old, but I'm actually forty-nine, and a full bird colonel. He shook his head mentally. Not a conversation he wanted to have!

When the page repeated, Teal'c walked to the phone, punched in the number that would connect him to the briefing room.

 

 

 

Just a minute or so after the second call for SG-1 had gone out, the phone in the conference room began to ring. With a frown, the general picked it up. "Hammond."

"It is Teal'c, General Hammond. We are unable to respond to your summons at this time."

For a moment, Hammond thought the Jaffa was joking. This was not the time for Teal'c to be exercising that sense of humor of his. "I do hope you have a very good reason."

"Indeed. Casey Jackson and Daniel Jackson have gone through the Quantum Mirror. At this time we believe them to be in Annika Jackson's reality, though we have not been able to make that determination for certain. It is imperative that we remain nearby, should our assistance be required."

"Teal'c, tell me this is a joke," the general groaned quietly, casting a worried look at the president.

"It is not."

"I see. Any idea what's going on over there?"

"The two Marines who are guarding the mirror on the other side seem to be as baffled by the current events as we are. There has been unusual activity there, from what they can tell us. They claim that Casey Jackson attacked their Daniel Jackson. And that our Daniel Jackson was granted permission to go through the mirror to...retrieve...his wife," Teal'c explained. "I believe there is something of some significance happening. Casey Jackson would not have done such a thing. Nor would she have gone into that reality without good reason."

Hammond found himself agreeing with the Jaffa. Whatever reason Casey had found to go through the mirror to another reality, it hadn't been to attack anyone. He made a mental note to discuss the use of the mirror without notifying anyone prior to her...departure...with the young seer. And to ask her just how she'd managed to disarm the alarm system, while simultaneously thanking her for not setting off the klaxons while the president was on his tour. "I understand. Keep me informed."

"Very well."

Hammond gently replaced the receiver, turned to look at the men waiting expectantly at the end of the table. "I'm afraid SG-1 is...unavailable...at the moment."

"Unavailable?" Hayes asked incredulously.

"Yes, sir. It seems there's a bit of a...situation...with the Quantum Mirror."

Well, of course there is, the president thought peevishly. Best guess was, those five people didn't want to meet with him. While those he had talked with had been polite, and had answered his questions, often with details he couldn't comprehend...something he was certain was done on purpose...Frances had been absolutely right. His visit was being met with downright hostility...open or not.

"Mr. President, have you read the mission reports concerning the Quantum Mirror?" Hammond asked.

"I've skimmed them," Hayes admitted.

"Doctor Jackson first discovered the Mirror on P3R 233 in an abandoned lab. His experience going through the mirror...although at that time, he had no idea that was what had happened...led to his knowledge of Apophis' impending attack on Earth. The Goa'uld succeeded in destroying that Earth. SG-1 managed to prevent that from happening here," Hammond said. Slightly amazed that the planet designation had been so readily available in his memory. There were certain missions, and the planets associated with them, he supposed, that just burned themselves into a man's mind.

"I remember reading about that," Hayes nodded.

"A little over a year later, Doctor Samantha Carter-O'Neill and Major Charles Kawalsky came through the mirror from another reality, seeking our help in repelling an invasion by Apophis on their Earth. We were able to assist them, by helping them contact the Asgard of their reality."

Hayes nodded again.

"Last October a Sha're, Kasuf, and Skaara...the counterparts of those in this reality who had been Daniel Jackson's wife, father-in-law, and brother-in-law...came through the mirror. The three had been traveling from reality to reality, seeking a safe haven, a place where their counterparts didn't exist. Kasuf was near death when they arrived here, and his condition deteriorated rapidly," Hammond continued. "Casey Jackson was instrumental in locating a reality where they would be safe. We refer to it as 'Annika's' reality, because in that reality, a woman named Annika is the wife of that Daniel Jackson."

The president was doing his best to keep up. "I'm with you so far, I think."

"Right now, something is happening in that reality. Casey Jackson went through the mirror. She would not have done so if there hadn't been a damned good reason." That he left out the fact that she was being accused of an attack on the Daniel Jackson of that reality was simply because it wasn't actually important...not to him. He was certain that she wasn't guilty, and that something else was going on. "Doctor Jackson went after his wife."

"Well, of course he did," Hayes replied. Couldn't fault the man for that, right? Especially in light of the reports he had...skimmed...that had told of her being taken from him by a Goa'uld known as Ba'al...several times, according to the reports he had seen. No, couldn't fault the man for that at all.

"Teal'c has just informed me that for the moment, SG-1 is standing by in case they're also required to go through and assist with whatever emergency is occurring there."

"But...they can't stay there, right?" Hayes asked.

"No, sir. They have to be back here in twenty-four hours, or suffer entropic cascade failure."

"Right. I read about that, too," the president replied.

Hammond sighed. "There's also another matter."

"Which is?"

"Colonel O'Neill isn't exactly...himself." Hammond said. Unaware of how close to the truth he was.

"Say what?"

The general took a deep breath. This wasn't going to be easy to explain...

 

A A A A A A

 

"Sweet!" O'Neill clapped his hands together, drawing everyone's attention to himself. "Now that we're all caught up with the local gossip, can we get back to what thing could mess with Oakey?"

"A daemon," the older Nox woman replied aloud, for the benefit of the trio who were not connected to her Matriarch. "One of its abilities is the power of illusion."

"What was the illusion?" Carter asked.

"It masked Annika's essence from the Great Trees when she went to them for guidance. And disrupted Their sense of time passing. They did not remember your visit when you went in search of her. They believed that only a day has passed, not half a moon cycle."

"A daemon," O'Neill repeated the word. "Don't you mean demon?"

Lya shook her head. "They are different entities."

"What's the difference, besides the spelling?"

Both Daniels automatically launched into lecture mode.

"A demon is a..."

"A daemon is a..."

"Nuh uh!" O'Neill held up his hand, effectively cutting the archaeologists off. "Just one of you."

The two Daniels exchanged wry grins. Jackson gestured from his bed for their guest to do the honors.

With a nod of his head, Daniel gave a brief explanation. "A demon is an evil spirit. A daemon is a subordinate deity from classical mythology."

"If Oakey is a Seventh Level being, does that mean She can destroy the daemon that is manipulating Annika?" Keelah asked.

"She can," the Nox, Rosettym according to the information Oakey had imparted to the two visitors, confirmed slowly.

"So why hasn't She?" Jackson demanded to know.

"The being is not of this universe. It came from an alternate reality." The clan leader nodded towards the two visitors. "Yours. Each reality has its own essence. To destroy one from a different reality is complicated. If the being were mortal then it would not matter, however, this being is not mortal. Destroying it here could affect its original reality, and any other realities where the being's essence has been left. It can be done, just not simply."

"There's another reason." Carter wasn't the only one to pick up on the hesitancy in Rosettym's voice.

Both Nox nodded, but it was Lya who responded, the worry in her tone clear. "This being is using Annika as a vessel, if the Great One tries to destroy it now, She will also destroy Annika. It needs to be separated from Annika beforehand."

If the 'download' he'd received could be trusted, and he had no doubt that it could, his counterpart's wife had run away. Her actions had been influenced by a Being, one that this alternate team was just learning was a daemon. "We've dealt with daemons before." Daniel's hand reached automatically for his Wife's, a gesture of comfort at the memory of past experiences.

"Maybe that's why I was compelled to contact Annika," Casey proposed. "Well, that and the fact that the daemon came from our reality in the first place."

The radio in General Hammond's hand crackled to life. "Uh, sir, it's Rogers again. We have Colonel O'Neill, Major Carter, and Teal'c at the mirror now. They're offering to help," a voice reported.  

Daniel barely resisted the urge to roll his eyes. How in the hell had they found out so quickly? He'd hoped to get Casey, and be back home before anyone was aware of his Wife's little...visit...to this reality. Had to be that SG-1 bond. It could be as annoying as it was comforting.

O'Neill was the first to voice his opinion. "Things are complicated enough without adding more doubles."

Hammond couldn't argue with that. "Sergeant, we're still trying to get the whole story. We'll update them when we can."

"Yes, sir."

The general looked at Daniel and Casey. "You were saying?"

"There was a group of renegade daemons," Daniel replied. "Had delusions of ridding the universe of the Ascended, and setting themselves up as gods to be worshipped by mortals."

O'Neill snorted. "That has a familiar ring to it."

Daniel nodded. "Yeah, but these snakes have more power than the Goa'uld."

"Apparently they weren't too concerned about the reactions of those on the Higher Levels," Casey added. "Since none of them deigned to stop what was happening in the first place." She felt Oakey shake her leaves irritably. Couldn't help but giggle. Have to love a Seventh Level Being who understands what the job is supposed to encompass!

"I...it was up to me..." Daniel shook his head. "Casey is my Guide. She'd warned me that I was going to have to face the daemons-"

"Why you?" Jackson asked, a frown deepening the worried creases on his face.

"Because I'm The One in my universe," Daniel replied, his cheeks turning ruddy at the admission.

Rosettym and Lya gasped out loud. Once again Janet, Keelah, and the general were oblivious to the mutters of outrage that the others heard, and smiled over.

"The One?" Janet asked.

"Um...a Protector," Casey replied, 'translating' what she'd learned from her conversation with Oakey. "From what I understand, Oakey is one of many in this universe who have that role...In ours there's just the one. Daniel."

"We knew at least one of them had escaped, but we didn't know where to. I assumed it was to one of the higher planes in our reality," Daniel continued. Wondering how much of a coward it made him to not confess the entire truth...that if any of the daemons had been able to flee, it was because of his own actions...his self-righteous indignation, his refusal to be used like a weapon. Even though he knew, deep down inside, that that was exactly what he was...a weapon of destruction. Protector...Protector Sapling... Well I'll be damned. He suspected he now knew who had been 'speaking' to him, and had dropped all of the information pertaining to the current situation into his head.

"How did you vanquish the daemons in your reality?" Teal'c asked.

Daniel lowered his head. Took a deep breath. Looked up at the Jaffa. "I didn't. I..."

Casey squeezed his fingers. "Daniel refused to be used like a tool...a robot sent to do the job of the Ascended Committee. Higher Level Beings...I'm not sure what level...destroyed the daemons. Or so we thought." Damn it to hell! 'Dealt with'. The daemons had been 'dealt with'. More like friggin' ignored...again! She felt as if she'd been lied to. Snorted silently. She had been lied to!

His fingers tightened around his Wife's. Her words softened the blow that the daemons were still on the loose. He wondered briefly which one it might be...it seemed that none of the Higher Level Beings in his reality could be trusted to do what they should...or even what they had promised to do.

Jackson looked over at Lya. "Can Oakey track this daemon? If its essence is different from our reality..." He let the sentence hang, waiting for her response.

Lya looked troubled. "The Great One has tried. The daemon has been traversing all around our universe. It has left residue wherever it has been. She can't distinguish its current location amongst the...smell...of the residue."

"So we're back to where we started," Jackson sighed. "We still don't know where my wife is."

Casey raised her hand. "I know where she will be." The blonde quickly relayed the conversation she had with Oakey and the 'seedling' Sachee while she was being dragged to the interrogation room.

"Damn," Jackson muttered a curse. "That's what Annika's original vision of that planet was about...why it showed us on the wrong side of the square to where she actually was. It wasn't showing the 'first' time we went there, it was showing us going back."

"You think Casper knows that vision was about now?" O'Neill waved his hand around the room, indicating the present time.

Teal'c was the first to shake his head. "She would have deleted it from the memory device, or rather the daemon would have made her delete it."

"It's possible Annika's subconscious planted that vision, slipping it in where the daemon wouldn't find it." Carter was thinking about the 'clues' Annika had been giving them, including her reports to Hammond. "That vision was tagged on to an unrelated vision. Remember, we wondered why it seemed to runoff the first vision as though they were connected, when clearly they weren't. That anomaly was what sent us to that planet in the first place."

"She was trying to warn us." Jackson's voice was filled with guilt. "We just didn't interpret it correctly."

Daniel's expression became thoughtful. "Actually, you did. If you hadn't interpreted it the way you did, you wouldn't have gone to the planet the first time. You wouldn't be able to understand the...um...'seedling's'...description of where the ship will dock. Events played out this way for a reason-"

"What reason?" Jackson butted in harshly. "I've...we've...been through three weeks of hell! I can only imagine what Annika's going through being possessed by this thing. What possible reason is there for that?"

Daniel and Casey cringed slightly. Any anguish suffered by any of the members of this reality's SG-1 was their fault...each of them silently blamed themselves for the current situation.

The members of SG-1 from both realities felt a gentle caress on their minds and heard Oakey's slightly chastising whisper.

"We are but one tree in the forest."

It took a few moments for them to interpret the comment.

"Go figure," O'Neill said with a huff. "The universe doesn't revolve around us."

"The seedling...Sachee," Casey said quietly. "If you had brought Annika home the first time, she would never have met Sachee. And Sachee needed to meet Annika. The psychic power of that little girl is strong, it has to be for her to have connected to our conversation. From what I understood, Annika is helping her harness her gift."

"There had to have been an easier way to get Annika and her to meet," Jackson grumped.

There was another caress from Oakey. "Interconnecting roots took advantage of the situation."

"So not the reason, but a reason." Carter glanced at Jackson, taking in the creases of bone weariness marring his face, which had become more pronounced with each passing day. The fact was, 'a' reason was little comfort to any of them.

"I'm not defending the 'Fate' that kept Annika from you," Casey started softly, "But I can understand it. Having a 'gift' emerge is a hell of an ordeal for a child who doesn't have a clue to what's happening. I was all of eleven years old, and terrified of what I was seeing...and hearing...and sensing. Things that no one else could see, or hear, or sense. If it hadn't been for my Grandma Rose, and Miss Eloise, I'm not sure I'd have survived with my sanity intact, and my gift wasn't nearly as strong as this little girl's seems to be. This 'Sachee' is a child, I sensed she's not even ten yet...I can only imagine how frightened she must be, how desperate she is...was...to have someone understand, someone to help her. Imagine her relief when Annika...well, Sachee called her 'Myst'...showed up."

Jackson stared blindly at the wall, thinking of the adapted isolation room beyond the infirmary. A glance at his teammates, and he saw they were rapidly drawing the same conclusion and that they didn't like it any more than he. "And we weren't prepared to bring Annika home any time sooner."

"But we're ready now." O'Neill's eyes glinted with determination; determination that was reflected on the faces of his teammates. "Okay, campers, let's get busy on a game plan."

Within a few minutes the primary team, accustomed to making quick risk assessments and decisions, had hashed out a plan...with contingencies. All of it adaptable to whatever curve balls the mission could throw at them.

For the most part Daniel and Casey kept quiet, letting the SG-1 of this reality figure out the details of the rescue, but as they were wrapping things up, the archaeologist quietly interrupted. "I'd like to help. This daemon came from our reality. I'm responsible."

O'Neill frowned. It had been his experience that the bad guys did whatever the hell they wanted, and the only one responsible for the daemon being here was the daemon itself.

"We'd like to help," Casey quickly jumped in, with a slight glare at her husband for the protective gesture of leaving her out of the offer. After all, she was the one who had failed to warn him in time, to alert The One to the necessity of destroying all of the daemons...to make certain that not one of them escaped. It was ultimately her fault that the daemon was in this reality.

The team leader glanced at Hammond, who gave a barely perceptible shrug, leaving the decision to him, since he would be in charge of the mission. O'Neill weighed the pros and cons. Didn't miss the immediate concern in the archaeologist's eyes, nor the flash of defiance between husband and wife, born of the need to keep their partner safe. He had also noticed that from the moment the word 'daemon' had been mentioned, the archaeologist had shifted into protective mode. He pointed to his best friend's double. "You, we can use." He took a breath before focusing on the blonde. "You will stay here."

Casey opened her mouth in the inevitable protest, but O'Neill cut her off.

"This daemon has a thing for psychics. There's no point in taking along a spare for it to latch onto. I know my Daniel, and if your Daniel is anything like my Daniel, then I can't have him being distracted by wanting to protect you when you do your hocus pocus thing." O'Neill raised his eyes to the air around them. "Oakey, if we felt your sonic temper tantrum then 'it' did too. You plant your roots right here."

Daniel ducked his head. There was no way he'd admit out loud...at least, not within Casey's hearing...how relieved he was that she'd be remaining here. As far away from the daemon as possible. Whichever one had escaped, by now it had to be feeling desperate as hell. It would indeed focus on Casey in a heartbeat.

There was a ripple through the air that even Hammond, Janet, and Keelah felt.

"Rustle your leaves all you want." O'Neill stood his ground. "You're not coming with us."

"Sir," Carter said hesitantly, "you're giving orders to a Seventh Level being."

"I don't care. I've had it up to here," O'Neill said, his hand making a cutting motion above his head, "with beings messing with my team, no matter how good or bad their intentions. I will not endanger Casper any more than she is now. If you don't like it then everyone can toddle back to their respective universes and soil."

For a moment there was only silence. It was obvious that O'Neill was as surprised at his outburst as everyone else.

Daniel turned to his wife, his eyes pleading for her to understand. "I have to go with them, Angel."

"I know," she gave a sigh. "Doesn't mean I have to like it."

"Oakey?" O'Neill waited for the entity to respond to his ultimatum.

Casey lowered her head, bit her lip to keep from smiling. She had 'heard' Oakey's rumble of protest. Had 'felt' the Being's pride in O'Neill for making the demand in the first place.

"Right," O'Neill said. "Let's gear up. We bug out in ten minutes."

 

A A A A A A

 

Hammond stood in the control room. "Bring her home, SG-1. Good luck, and Godspeed."

Casey held Daniel's hand until his fingers barely touched hers as he moved away. "Love you," she whispered. Saw him mouth his love in return. Watched him follow his counterpart to the event horizon. Turned just in time to see Teal'c give Keelah a lingering kiss. Well, isn't that interesting? Apparently in this reality Janet and Ferretti were a couple, and Teal'c and this dark beauty were together. In her reality...no, she had no time to dwell on that mystery right now! She jumped slightly when the hiss of the wormhole disengaging filled the room, dragging her attention back to the 'gate. And the fact that her Husband was on another planet, light years away. In a reality not their own. She had no idea that her disquiet was so evident in her eyes, and in the worried frown on her face.

"Casey, I don't believe you've met Keelah. She's the newest member of SG-1," Janet said, introducing the woman who had had kissed Teal'c.

The conversation was an attempt, no doubt, to soothe her worried heart. Nothing like a bit of distraction to help ease the fears. Casey glanced from the petite doctor to the regal beauty, and back again. "But...she...you didn't go with them."

"My position on SG-1 is in a research capacity," Keelah explained softly.

Casey smiled shyly, slowly extended her hand...so far, other than the Marines who had taken her into custody and escorted her to the infirmary, no one had touched her. In fact, it seemed that everyone had taken great pains to not touch her. "Nice to meet you."

"It is a pleasure to meet you." Keelah hesitated a moment before holding out her hand... stopping just before her hand touched that of the psychic. "I apologize for any visions of my past you may see."

"Um...I'm sorry? Visions of your past?" Casey asked, totally confused.

"I have an...interesting...history." Keelah gave a graceful shrug. "If your gift works as Annika's does, then shaking my hand could be...unpleasant...for you."

"Ah," Casey smiled. Well, how about that? It wasn't that people didn't want to touch her. They were offering what amounted to 'psychic etiquette'. Apparently just a simple touch triggered Annika's visions. She had a brief moment to consider the sheer hell that could be, before turning her attention back to the beautiful woman standing in front of her. "I get what I call 'downloads'. It happens randomly. So, I doubt that I'll see anything that might...hurt...you." She wrapped her hand around Keelah's. Slave. Royalty. Okay, that was proof positive that she was losing it!

"Can I get you a coffee or tea while we wait for their return?" Keelah asked kindly.

"Oh, coffee would be wonderful," Casey sighed. She hadn't had a cup of coffee since she'd arrived back at her SGC. She'd made a pot of coffee as soon as she and Daniel had reached his office. She glanced at her watch. That had been almost three hours ago.

When Keelah asked the same question of her, Janet gave the former slave a warm smile. "Make that two."

"Janet...my Janet...loves coffee, too. She snitches from Daniel's stash of 'gourmet' coffee. I hide a few specialty packs for her," Casey said shyly.

Janet grinned. "Nice to know that the important things remain the same in each reality."

Ferretti sidled up with a hopeful look. "Queenie, since you're making two already..."

Casey jerked slightly. 'Queenie'? She looked at Keelah again. Definitely royalty. So where did the 'slave' part come in? None of her business, she decided, putting the matter out of her mind.

"I'll make a third," Keelah replied. When Ferretti started to speak again she gave an eye roll, knowing what he was about to say. "And, no, it won't be the base sludge."

"Is Jack the only one who doesn't complain about that stuff?" Casey couldn't resist asking.

"Too many years in special ops," Ferretti said in mock seriousness. "His taste buds have adopted the top secret motto. Deny everything."

Casey giggled. The giggle died in her throat as that familiar poking began to prod at her. She heaved a sigh. So far, anything that came through was incomplete, too distorted to be easily deciphered...or was a warning arriving too late to be of any use. She tried to push it away. It became stronger. Hesitantly, convinced she'd see nothing of import, she closed her eyes. The familiar flash of light surrounded her.

Followed by images of Annika...her face distorted in anger. She was shouting...no...screaming...Feelings of shame, of guilt, of anger, of vulnerability raced up and down her spine. Followed by images of Janet and Keelah, their faces registering their shock...tears in their eyes...Okay, what the hell was this about? A gentle caress against her mind soothed her, eased the doubt that plagued her lately, accompanying each download that she had. She took a deep breath. For whatever reason, or reasons, Annika and Janet and Keelah in the same room was not a good idea. At least...not when the psychic was first brought back. But would this General Hammond listen to her warning?

"Um...excuse me," Casey murmured. Shyly, she made her way through the throng of well-wishers who had gathered, to see the premier team off on their mission to rescue their resident psychic, toward the control room. She knew that Ferretti was marking her every move. When she reached the door she stopped, not attempting to enter the secure area. "General Hammond...sir, may I speak with you? Um...privately?"

"Of course, Mrs. Jackson." Hammond gestured for her to precede him to the briefing room.

She walked into the room, her fingers twisting nervously around each other. "I...um...well...I get these...downloads. I...see things," she said softly.

"I've read the reports on your abilities. They're quite impressive." He gave her an encouraging smile.

Her cheeks flamed. If he only knew how little she was capable of, she thought sadly. She shook herself mentally. "Sir, when they bring Annika back...no one should see it. Especially Janet and Keelah. No," she shook her head slightly, "Annika shouldn't see them."

"Any particular reason why?" he asked, automatically fishing for more information, assuming Casey's gift worked the same as Annika's.

Casey shrugged her slender shoulders. "What could be done, could never be undone." Her eyes dropped to the floor before moving back up to his face. "I'm sorry, that's all I can see."

Hammond gave a slow nod, accustomed to visions being cryptic in nature.

"I...I wish I could tell you more," she said apologetically.

"You can only relay what you're shown. I'll make sure the HPR is followed to the letter."

Just like her own General Hammond, he accepted what she said, and asked for nothing more. She frowned as his reply registered in her mind. "HPR, sir?"

Hammond seemed embarrassed at letting the acronym slip out. "Hocus Pocus Recommendation."

She couldn't stop the smile that lit her face. "That's a Jack-ism if I've ever heard one! Just don't let Daniel hear it. He'll slip up in front of our Jack, and the next thing you know, that's what I'll be hearing at home!"

"I'll omit it from the report," he promised. Even as he said it, it occurred to him that this would be the first bi-universe report to be written.

"Thanks, I'll owe you one," Casey replied, her smile going wider.

"If that's all, then I'll get that order issued."

"Thank you...for believing me," she said softly, all trace of the smile gone now.

"You're welcome." He wondered if his counterpart made a habit of discounting the young psychic's premonitions.

 

A A A A A A

 

She stared at the silent Stargate. Was he all right? Surely it wouldn't take long to find Annika...they knew exactly where she would be. Hesitantly, just needing to know that she hadn't been totally 'abandoned' in this alternate reality, Casey reached out, simply wanting the comfort of Oakey's benevolent presence.

Oakey felt the tentative call, the need for reassurance. "Fretting will not bring them home sooner."

"I know. I just can't help it. It seems that nothing good ever happens when Daniel and I are separated," Casey sighed.

"The two of you are never truly separated. Your love binds you together no matter how far apart you may be."

Casey smiled. "I know. But sometimes those bonds get stretched...and have to maintain us for days...weeks...almost three months during one of our...adventures." She heaved a sigh of impatience. "I know my 'gift' has been sporadic and unreliable lately, but I know I could have helped!"

Oakey frowned. "But you have helped, Guide sapling; you discovered the location where my missing sapling will be."

"You could have discovered that with just a glance into Sachee's mind," Casey countered. She wrapped her arms around her slender waist. "I can carry a P90," she muttered petulantly.

"You gained her trust, where I could not. The seedling would not have spoken to me, knowing of my betrayal of Annika."

"If I hadn't screwed up in the first place, none of this would be happening," Casey admitted. Waited almost breathlessly, wondering if the Being would strike her down for her complicity in the situation.

"When the umbrella leaks, it is not the fault of the hand that holds it."

"You must know Oma Desala," Casey muttered.

"She is an amusing flower."

'Amusing flower'? The Oma Desala of this universe must not be the same as the Oma she knew...a being who preferred speaking in riddles, doing only what benefited her own agenda.

Casey realized that Keelah had entered the room, a steaming cup of coffee in her hand. "Thank you." She accepted the cup of coffee with a smile. She gave a sheepish smile, and tapped her forehead. "Just having a little chat with Oakey," she said, in way of explaining the fact that she was standing in the briefing room alone, talking to herself.

Keelah smiled, "Then I shan't interrupt."

Casey was torn...not wanting Keelah to feel that her company wasn't welcome. Yet, 'talking' with Oakey was more comfort than she had dared to hope for.

The former slave saw the indecision on the woman's face. "I have things to keep me busy. Organizing Daniel's files is strangely therapeutic."

Casey gave a soft snort. "Daniel...er...my Daniel...throws a fit whenever we touch his 'piling system'. I think I'd find it more frustrating than anything. I can't read his writing half the time!"

A soft chuckle escaped. "Piling system...that's an apt description. Apparently deciphering it is a rare gift that I happen to have," Keelah said.

"If you ever want to come over to our reality for a couple of days...feel free," Casey smiled.

"I think perhaps I'll confine my attempts to this 'piling system'." With a departing smile, Keelah nodded, then left the room as quietly as she had arrived.

"Smart woman," Casey murmured. Then closed her eyes and turned her attention back to Oakey. "Are they all right?" she asked softly. Needing to know that no disaster had befallen the team; that she wasn't about to face another nightmare of being Daniel Jackson's widow...with no hope of his eventual return.

"I sense no new...trauma...in the area where they are."

"That's good...I think," Casey replied. "If there's no 'new' trauma, what 'old' trauma are you sensing?"

"The residue of strong emotion lingers from mortals...I cannot retract all of myself from the universe, that would be like trying to remove every raindrop that has ever fallen."

"Impossible," Casey agreed, slightly overwhelmed at the concept.

"Sapling Jack did not know what he was asking when he demanded I remain here."

"I know how you feel, Oakey. I want to be there, doing something!"

"A Seventh Level being, being ordered to remain like a seedling..."

Casey was amused at the indignation she could feel emanating from the Being.

"...And you, Guide Sapling, who have had experience with daemons...Are all male saplings so very protective?"

"They are where I come from," Casey sighed. Annoyingly overprotective at times, she thought.

"Very old fashioned...I was dealing with daemons before humans were even a single celled organism."

"Would the daemon feel those...er...rain drops if you used them to take a peek on the ship?"

"The daemon is not the only one capable of masking its tracks."

"If you mask your tracks, could you hide me as well? " Casey asked hopefully.

Oakey gave a rustle of her leaves. "I'm a Protector. Of course I can...and will."

"I mean...maybe I'll recognize the daemon."

"Identifying the weed in my garden is essential...so I know which poison to use."

"Weeds left unchecked will choke out healthy plants. I nearly lost a rose bush because of a creeping raspberry vine," Casey replied.

"But we did give our word that we wouldn't go."

"Well, we're not 'going' are we? I mean, I'll be standing right here, and you'll be right here, and it's not like you're not 'everywhere', right? We'll just take a peek...just to make sure the daemon doesn't try to get away...or something."

"That is true..."Oakey conceded. "Sapling Jack ordered us to not to go with 'them'...we are traversing the way by ourselves."

"That's right. That's exactly what he said," Casey agreed enthusiastically. Ignored the fact that she was coercing a Seventh Level being into defying direct orders. Even though technically they wouldn't be disobeying.

"And there is the possibility that if the daemon senses my counterpart nearby, it could flee. I would be remiss in my duty to let that happen."

Casey shivered. "If that happens, it could flee to another reality...do this to another Annika...or another Casey!"

"We should make haste now, before the Protector sapling gets too close."

"What do I need to do?" Casey asked, determined to prevent the daemon from fleeing...or attacking Daniel.

Oakey took a moment to figure out the logistics. It had been eons since she had transported such a fragile thing as a human spirit. Gently she implanted the image of a flower into Casey's mind. "Walk onto the flower."


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