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"SG-13, good luck, and Godspeed," General Hammond said from the control room. He watched as the four men walked up the ramp, and through the shimmering event horizon.
His thoughts turned to Casey Jackson. The 'download' she'd experienced three days earlier continued to haunt her; her inability to discern what she'd seen was having an emotional effect on her. He'd witnessed that when she'd insisted on sitting in on the briefings with SG-8 and SG-13, even though she'd not been scheduled to do so. The general sighed mentally, and sent up a prayer than nothing would happen to 'fulfill' what she'd seen, as sketchy as it was. Not only for the sake of the unknown person who was in danger, but for the seer as well. One final glance at the now silent, empty 'gate, and the general returned to his office. The briefing for SG-3 was set to begin in five minutes.
It wasn't a surprise for Hammond when he saw that Casey was already sitting at the table, going over the mission folder. Because this was a meet-and-greet, her last minute input could be valuable.
She looked up when the general entered the room, completely unaware that he could see the tracks of the tears she'd shed on the elevator, and had hastily wiped at.
"Casey, I know that you're upset-"
"Sir, someone in the SGC is in danger! And by not seeing who it is…I'm not doing my job!"
"That's not true," Hammond said gently.
The tears she'd struggled with all day returned. "Sir, it is true. My…gift…is all I have to offer the SGC."
"That's not true, either."
She shook her head. "Yes, it is. No matter how much you…or Daniel…say otherwise."
Hammond frowned, and lowered his eyes to the folder in front of him. Casey's gift of sight had been the reason she'd been offered a position when she'd first arrived in Colorado. She'd proven her value as more than just the 'SGC Seer' within the first few months. He'd learned, however, that arguing with the young woman was pointless when she was feeling as frustrated as she was in that moment.
Before more could be said concerning the matter, Ferretti and the members of SG-3 entered the room. The grizzled Marine took one look at Casey's face, and feared the worst. "Bad intel for the mission?"
Casey wiped her subconsciously at her cheeks. "No…at least, I don't think so."
Ferretti frowned. "You don't think so?"
"I…" Casey paused, shaking her head. Turned her attention to the folder on the table in front of her, sifting through the reports. Tilted her head to one side, then closed her eyes. When they opened, she looked as confused as the men watching her. "This is kinda strange."
"What?" Ferretti asked immediately.
The seer frowned, tugging her lip between her teeth.
"Casey?" General Hammond said gently.
"Ceremony…there will be a welcoming ceremony," Casey murmured softly. "They'll watch you carefully."
"So, any clues what we should or shouldn't do?" Ferretti asked.
The men of SG-3 exchanged glances. "Do what?" Ferretti inquired, when the seer remained silent.
Casey shook herself slightly, examining what she'd seen. "If you watch them, they will consider you as…prudent…as they are."
"You mean like a staring match or something?" Ferretti asked incredulously.
"No," Casey smiled. "Just…watch. It's okay to eat. They'll do so as well, particularly if you're paying attention to everything they do."
"Do we need to say anything?"
"After the first greetings are exchanged, pay attention to everything…to everyone. It won't be easy," Casey said, "but your interest…your silent interest…will impress them. That's when they'll hold the ceremony. Impromptu," she added suddenly. "It will be an impromptu ceremony. Pay particular attention when they're setting up for it."
"Okay, what about taking pictures or film?"
She nodded vigorously. "That would be good. If…no…when…when the woman asks what you're doing, tell her as succinctly as possible. That you're recording their…um…their preparations…so that you can study them further."
Ferretti nodded his head. "Got it. Anything else?"
"You might want to take along a roll of Tums," Casey said, her smile widening. "Some of that food is really spicy."
Ferretti chuckled. "Right."
"Is that everything?" Hammond asked.
"Yes, sir," Casey replied.
"Major, have your team ready to head out in five minutes."
"Yes, sir." Ferretti looked again at Casey. "Mrs. J, I'm not doubting what you've told us, but is there anything else we should know?"
Casey shook her head. "Janet isn't going on this mission. You're safe," she murmured.
Once again glances were exchanged.
"Dismissed," Hammond said quietly. He reached out, and took Casey's hand before she could stand. "Don't blame yourself for something that hasn't happened."
"But if something does happen, it will be my fault," Casey insisted.
"No, Casey, it won't. No matter what happens, it won't be your fault. You can't be held responsible for everything that happens to everyone in the SGC."
"But I'm supposed to see what's out there…I’m supposed to protect the teams!" she argued.
"You're doing that," Hammond pointed out gently.
"Sir, someone is in danger…serious danger. Not only don't I know what the danger is, I don't know who the person in danger is! How can I warn him…or her?"
"Casey, everyone who walks through the Stargate is in danger."
"Not if I can help it," she murmured.
"You've been a godsend in protecting the SG teams," Hammond replied. Past missions, where the seer had been unable to fully interpret what she'd seen, or in one case, actually prevented from giving a warning, filled his mind. Each time, everything had worked out. "Maybe, just maybe, you're not supposed to see all of the details this time," the general said.
She shook her head. "I'm sorry. I can't - I won't - accept that." She rose to her feet, and fled from the room. She found a corner, pressed her back to the wall, and slid down until she was sitting on the floor. Then closed her eyes tightly. "Come on, damn it! Let me see it all!"
A A A A A A
Bregman and his crew were on level twenty-seven, hoping to catch sight of any of the SG-1 members, as well as catching someone willing to take them into the 'gate room'. So far, there hadn't been any luck with either.
Heaving a sigh, the journalist reached for the pack of cigarettes in his pocket.
"There's no smoking allowed here, sir," Rundell said immediately.
"Oh…yeah…right. Circulated air and all," Bregman replied.
Another sigh escaped his lips. "This is getting us nowhere. Let's go." He started toward the control room.
"Sir, we don't have an escort for that area," Rundell protested.
"Look…Tom…I'm here to do a documentary about the SGC, whether the people here like it or not," Bregman said. "I'm going to get the story on this place come hell or high water. I really want these people to understand they can trust me, but I don't have the time. I don't need their approval to do this job."
"Look, Mister Bregman, as far as I'm concerned, you are here strictly to document what the Stargate Program is about," Rundell said firmly.
"I know. That's what I'm trying-" Bregman said, unintentionally interrupting.
"-not to pursue anything that might be prejudicial to Air Force personnel," the liaison officer finished.
Bregman forced a chuckle. "Why don't you call me Emmett? Okay?"
Before Rundell could respond, the doors to the elevator opened, and Jack stepped out.
"Is that who I think it is?" Bregman asked.
Seeing the film crew, Jack immediately reversed his stride, turning back toward the still open elevator.
"That's General Jack O'Neill," Rundell said, glancing over his shoulder.
Bregman broke into a trot, determined to reach Jack before he could escape. "General! General O'Neill! Wait a minute! General!"
Cursing his bad luck, Jack rubbed a hand over the back of his neck, then turned to face the shorter man.
"General O'Neill! Hi. I'm-"
Jack took a deep breath, blew it out. "I like vanilla over chocolate. My favorite color is peridot. I think Tibet should be free. I'm happily married, and if I could have dinner with anyone in the world, it'd be Mary Steenburgen."
Bregman smiled. "No-no…I’m just trying-" He broke off, a puzzled look on his face. "Mary Steenburgen?"
"I think she's nice," Jack replied. He pressed the button for level nineteen. He was going to hide in his wife's lab until the circus, as Casey called Bregman and his film crew, was finally gone.
The journalist forced himself between the doors. "No…no. Look I'm just trying to get a minute…"
"Look, I really don't have time at the moment," Jack insisted.
"Can you…" He watched as Jack pressed the button again. "No, no, I'm-"
"I've got a briefing to go to," Jack said.
"I understand. I'm Emmett," Bregman said, offering his hand.
Jack looked at the man for a moment, coughed into his had, then offered it to the journalist…who quickly pulled his own hand back and laughed good-naturedly.
"Now look, I'm not going to be able to get a perspective on this whole Stargate Program without you, General. So when is a good time for you?" Bregman persisted.
Jack looked the picture of innocence. "Any time's good. Just…uh…send me a memo." With a slight shove, he pushed Bregman out of the elevator.
Bregman gave a frustrated chuckle. "Memo. Right."
Rundell stepped closer as the elevator doors closed. "I really sensed that he's starting to trust you," he said dryly.
Bregman raised his finger, ready to spout off. Thought better of it, and turned to walk back to where James and Shep stood waiting quietly. "So far we've had better luck on level eighteen. Let's go back up there," he said. He tossed a mutinous look at Rundell. "We can go there, right?"
"Yes, sir," Rundell replied.
A A A A A A
Like most of the planets that SG teams explored, P3X 666 was very much like Earth. Trees surrounded the narrow meadow where the Stargate sat quietly. The men of SG-13 walked out of the shimmering center of the alien device, looked around, then slowly made their way toward the path just barely visible.
Colonel Dave Dixon adjusted the pack on his back, tightening his grip on the "Carter Special" in his hands. He preferred the specialized weapon, a customized combination of the M16 and M4. The firepower was greater than that of a standard P90. "Okay, Balinsky, which way?"
Cam checked the handheld computer, where all information from MALP reconnaissance was downloaded before each mission. "That way," he said, pointing to his left.
"I'll take point," Dixon said. "Wells, Bosworth, you're rear guard. Five-meter spread. Keep your eyes open."
"The MALP showed no indication of any recent Goa'uld activity on this planet," Cam pointed out, following as the colonel led the team away from the Stargate.
"I don't see any indication of anything here," the colonel replied dryly.
With a grin on his face, Cam fished a small notebook from his pocket and held it up slightly. "Usual bet on that, sir?"
Dixon gave a small smile. "Sure. Wells?"
"Abandoned naquadah mine," the young airman replied.
"Boring," Dixon said, "but good odds. Bosworth?"
Scanning the horizon, and the numerous thickets of trees and bushes, Bosworth grinned broadly. "I'm going to put my money on trees, sir."
Cam and Wells chuckled loudly.
"Bosworth's disqualified for being a smartass," the team CO retorted. "I'll go with two-headed aliens."
"Hostile or friendly, sir?" Wells asked.
Dixon paused, then grinned. "One head good, one head bad. Balinsky?"
The archaeologist shrugged slightly. "Oh, the ruins of an ancient city."
"You wish," Dixon snorted.
A A A A A A
Word reached the documentary crew, in the form of a message from Colonel Reynolds - the Operations Officer of the SGC, that they would be able to witness and film an experiment on a new piece of equipment that had been created in the SGC labs.
"Finally," Bregman exclaimed excitedly, following Rundell into one of the rooms on the science level. "This is what we need! To show what goes on around here!"
The room was larger than those he'd seen so far, with the exception of the conference room, and three men in white coats, obviously scientists, were busy doing…something. It appeared that two separate projects were in varied states of progress. The journalist waved a hand at his cameraman.
James raised the camera to his shoulder. "We're rolling," he said quietly.
"What's he doing?" Bregman asked, pointing to one of the scientists who was soldering on what looked like a golf cart on steroids. Walking around the device, he quickly revised his comparison, deciding it looked more like a golf cart that had been bred with a mechanical monster. It wasn't quite as large as a golf cart, but it was…interesting. A bar across the top of the vehicle held a row of lights…floodlights if he wasn't mistaken. A camera on a full 360-degree rotator sat on one of the front 'bumpers'. Another apparatus looked suspiciously like a speaker, with a small microphone attached. There were several compartments, noticeable because of the handles. One large extendable 'arm' had what looked like a claw at the end…obviously able to grip whatever the operator of the machine wanted to grab onto.
"This is a MALP unit," Rundell replied.
"MALP?" Bregman frowned.
"Mobile Analytic Laboratory Probe. It's a robot of sorts that is sent through the Stargate to make certain it's safe for teams to go through. It takes atmospheric readings, as well as photos and infra-red images."
"What if it's not safe?"
"Well, in that case, the MALP is maneuvered by radio control to the DHD, and by using the camera and the extendable arm, it's programmed to dial home."
"I don't understand…how can it 'dial home' if the Stargate is already open? I didn't think that could be done," Bregman said.
"Using the camera, the person operating the MALP from the control room can locate the point of origin on the DHD," Rundell said, reading from the copious notes he'd taken during his own tour of the SGC. "The key that indicates the point of origin is always raised just slightly, and often the constellation carved on the key is slightly larger. Teams report that the key is often at the 'top' of the DHD as well."
"And that's important?"
"Absolutely. Without a point of origin, you can't dial the 'gate."
"So, the person operating the MALP finds this…how?" Bregman asked.
"Well, like I said, using the camera, the operator guides the MALP to the DHD. Once the point of origin key is located, the dialing address is entered…a program already written into the MALP's internal computer receives the data, and sends confirmation and verification messages. Once the address has been confirmed and verified, the operator then closes the 'gate, the program activates, and the MALP dials home. Once the wormhole is established, radio control is re-established, and the MALP is brought home automatically."
"Wow…that's quite impressive," Bregman admitted.
"We think so," Rundell replied. He turned to one of the scientists who hovered nearby. "Doctor Lee has agreed to let you observe the testing of new armor that can be inserted into Kevlar vests, which will protect the wearer from energy weapon blasts."
"Energy weapons?" Bregman asked.
"The Goa'uld use both staff weapons and zats…er…zat'nik'tels," Rundell explained, again reading from his own notes.
Doctor Lee pushed forward slightly. "Kevlar won't stop an energy blast from a staff weapon. And…uh…the armor plating in other bullet-proof protection gets superheated from the plasma, so…while it would stop the penetration, the wearer is essentially trapped in what becomes their own personal microwave oven." He picked up a thin sheet of shiny metal, then pointed to the scorched mannequin at the far end of the room. "And…uh…you know…not a good idea." He put the metal sheet down, and picked up what looked like a square piece of black plastic, then placed it into a vest, and strapped the vest to the mannequin. "So, we've been working on this. It's a ceramic polymer which will resist heat, stop the blast, and fits into a standard issue SG vest."
Bregman was, in spite of himself, impressed. Obviously the safety of the personnel was taken very seriously, and it seemed that ongoing research and development was a daily occurrence at the SGC in pursuit of that safety.
"Sergeant Siler will demonstrate how this works," Doctor Lee said, pointing to the technician.
Siler was wearing his usual dark blue BDU jumpsuit. He was strapping on a vest, then adjusted the strap of the helmet that Doctor Coombs placed on his head.
Teal'c, who had been standing quietly nearby, put on a pair of safety goggles, and picked up his staff weapon.
Bregman looked at Siler, then turned to Doctor Lee. "Wouldn't it be a better idea…" Catching sight of James and the camera, he waved both away. "No, no, don't shoot me! Shoot him," he said, pointing at Siler. His attention returned to Lee. "Wouldn't it be more interesting if I was wearing the vest?"
Doctor Lee pushed up his glasses, eyes wide. "Oh, no. No, no, no, no."
"Isn't it safe?" Bregman asked. "If the sergeant is going to wear it, surely it's safe."
"Well, absolutely it's safe," Doctor Lee insisted. "It's not like we've never done this before." With a glance around him, he gently pushed at the journalist, backing the man and his camera crew out of range of any possible flying debris.
"So?" Bregman persisted
"No," Lee said, just as determinedly.
"Away from the face, big guy," Siler said, reaching for a pair of safety goggles.
The goggles were barely in place when Teal'c fired. The force of the weapon blast knocked Siler against the padded wall, and set fire to the vest. The technician lay still as one of the airmen tasked to aid in the demonstration used a fire extinguisher to put out the flames.
Standing to his feet slowly, just a bit unsteady, Siler grinned. "It's all good. I'm fine."
Staring in shock, Rundell and Bregman watched as the ruined vest was pulled off the slightly shaken sergeant.
Lee bit his fingernail nervously, then forced a smile when Rundell and Bregman looked at him. "See? Um…yeah. He…uh…he does that all the time."
"Gets shot at with those energy weapons?" Bregman asked, still wide-eyed. He'd read about staff weapons, which apparently the bad guys carried. He just wasn't sure he believed that what he'd always considered to be science fiction could actually be science fact. Never in a million years would have thought he'd see one used!
"Well, that or testing out any other equipment we've modified," Lee replied.
"Hope he gets hazard pay," Bregman muttered, still trying to process all that he'd seen.
A A A A A A
The men of SG-13 were nearly a mile from the Stargate. Comfortable with one another, a camaraderie born from time spent together, and the dangers they'd faced as a team, quiet conversation flowed easily. The current topic of conversation was children…babies in particular, as Wells was an excited, expectant father.
"So," Wells said, "having a baby is difficult?"
Colonel Dixon nodded his head. "Yeah. All night screaming. Projectile vomiting - which, by the way, doesn't necessarily end when they get older. Have a kid with the flu sometime." He shuddered violently for effect, bringing a round of chuckles from his men. "Nuclear diapers - you have no idea. The reason they make them so damn cute is so you don't suffocate them in their sleep. Which is something you'll never get enough of once that kid arrives."
"Sir, you have four kids," Wells pointed out, grinning broadly.
"Yeah, why do you think I enjoy my job so much? Don't get me wrong. I love the little beggars to death, but, trust me, having four kids makes going through the Stargate and facing off against alien bad guys look like nothing." With a mischievous grin, Dixon spread his arms wide. "This is relaxing!"
Wells grinned as well. "Why'd you have four?"
Dixon took off his cap, scratched his head, then settled the hat more firmly. "Well, one's pretty bad, but you figure you gotta have two, so the little guy could have a brother or sister, right? Then, you have two boys, which is fine and dandy, until the wife says she wants a girl. So, you figure hell, three can't be much worse than two, right? What you don't realize is, your brain is fried because you haven't slept in like, two years. Anyway, after three, four…because the birth control that the doctor swore would work, didn't…is no big deal. You're so deep in it, nothing seems to matter any more. It's chaos. You just try to make it through each day alive. In the end, you spend all the energy you have left trying to get 'em into bed. Only to lie awake, praying they don't get hooked on drugs, hurt, or worse - wind up dead in an alley somewhere."
"Can't wait, sir," Wells grinned.
"Yeah, miracle of birth my ass. I'll tell you what a miracle is. Birth control that works."
Wells, Bosworth, and Cam laughed. It was a comment they heard from their CO on a regular basis. The men trudged up the hill. Stood with jaws dropping in shock when they beheld the ruins of a large city spread out in the valley in front of them. There were half a dozen pillars still standing, covered with markings which, even from the distance, were recognizable as Ancient glyphs.
"Well, I'll be damned," Dixon muttered.
Cam stood transfixed, his eyes wide as he scanned the valley. "I won," he said, not quite believing what he was seeing. Finally tearing his gaze away from the ruins, he looked over at his CO. The eagerness to investigate what could be a treasure trove of information was reflected in his expression.
"Go," Dixon said, biting back a grin. Doctor Cam Balinsky was every bit as hyper over ruins as he'd seen Doctor Jackson become. Must be an archaeologist thing, he thought amusedly. "Don't touch anything!" he called after the disappearing figure.
Cam was pulling the camcorder from his pack before he'd reached the bottom of the hill. After a quick look around, he began to record the tallest of the group of pillars. He wasn't as fluent in Ancient as Daniel, but several of the glyphs looked familiar. That one…that was a date. The one next to it…a name?…maybe of the city itself.
Using hand signals, Dixon sent Bosworth and Wells to examine the perimeter of the city. He wandered among the fallen stone walls. Never could see anything exciting in all this rubble.
When the three met up again, back where Cam was still busy working, they shared a grin. Dixon sauntered to where Cam carefully recorded every inch of the pillar. "How long?"
"I don't know. Why? We just got here."
"An hour ago."
Cam glanced up, not having realized a full hour had passed. "Well, I need more time. I mean, look at this place!"
"Yeah, you've seen one crumbled city…" Dixon started.
Shaking his head, Cam interrupted, his voice full of excitement. "Sir, this place was built by the Ancients!"
"Are you sure?"
Cam glanced at his CO. "Uh…yeah. These markings are Ancient. It looks like that dialect we found on the pillars on 611. And this stone architecture…yeah, it's Ancient. Daniel's gonna die when he sees this!"
He knew how often the military men in the SGC joked about Daniel's numerous 'deaths'. Was fairly certain that the awe those men felt for the archaeologist was the catalyst. He also knew that Daniel wasn't as amused by what he'd experienced. "Funny," Cam replied, rolling his eyes. He pointed toward one of the fallen walls several hundred yards away, then gathered his equipment, hurrying in that direction. If he was right…
"Don't go far!" Dixon warned.
Cam waved a hand, acknowledging that he'd heard.
"Scientists are just strange," Dixon muttered under his breath. He looked around, and located Wells and Bosworth sitting nearby. He wandered over to join them.
Bosworth examined the photograph he held up to the light. Shook his head. "It looks like an alien."
Wells chuckled. "Shut up."
"Hey, remember that lizard-y thing we ran into on P2X 787?" Bosworth continued.
"Get lost," Wells said, reaching for the photo.
"Yeah, well see, that thing was easy on the eyes by comparison."
Dixon snatched the photo before Wells had it in hand, then settled beside Wells. "Let me see." He examined the photo. "Uh…it's pretty scary, Wells."
"That's my unborn son, sir."
Dixon squinted at the image. "How can you tell?"
Wells pointed to a carefully marked spot.
"I dunno, Wells," Dixon said, continuing to scrutinize the photo. "I wouldn't paint the room blue just yet."
All three men jumped to their feet when a running Cam approached them.
"Take cover!" Cam yelled, already diving for one of the fallen walls.
Scrambling to follow, each of the men had a glimpse of the strange, orb-shaped device that was bearing down on them. What looked like tendrils…or tentacles…trailed from the bottom of the metallic object. The device hovered for a moment, then began to fire energy blasts at the team.
"Oh, shit," Dixon swore. He didn't have to give the order, his men were already returning fire. Only to learn that the device was shielded.
Carrying the larger, more deadly MICRO16, lovingly dubbed the "Carter Special", due to its creation by none other than Major Sam Carter, Dixon rose up to his knees and opened fire. The device swayed slightly, then dropped to the ground, where the two halves of the sphere broke apart. "Hold!" Dixon said.
Cautiously…eyes moving, heads turning, every sense alert for more trouble from any direction…the team approached the downed drone. When sparks began to fly from the device, the men opened fire again.
"What the hell is that thing?" Dixon asked worriedly.
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