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"Sir, you're not supposed to be here," a voice said firmly.
Bregman spun around. "No shit!" He wiped shaking hands over his face, then held them up in surrender. There was no way in hell anyone would believe what had just happened to him; that he'd been eavesdropping on a one-sided conversation…listening, he corrected himself…just before he'd heard a sound like leaves rustling, and an icy cold breeze on his face, and then suddenly he was standing…here. "I know I'm not supposed to be here! I…I…uh…I got lost," he stammered. It was the best 'excuse' his rattled brain could come up with.
"You'll have to leave immediately," the MP said.
He was too shaken to even attempt to peek into the ward room where the wounded would be recuperating. Trembling fingers held up the pass-card. He swiped it forcefully. "I'm leaving," he said unnecessarily.
Once on the elevator, he pressed 'eighteen', then leaned back against the wall. There was no way to explain what he'd just experienced. It was impossible. Totally impossible. When the doors opened, the large circle of white on the light blue wall, the number '18' in black, block print greeted him. In that moment it hit him. This was the secret bunker known as Stargate Command. The impossible happened around here on a daily basis.
"Mr. Bregman, where have you been?" Rundell asked sharply. He'd been looking for Bregman, the film crew reporting that the journalist had come to this level. When he'd arrived, Bregman had been nowhere in sight.
The befuddled journalist pointed over his shoulder with his thumb. "I was…I…well…I was…" He shook his head. "You wouldn't believe me if I told you. Hell, I don't believe me!"
"Sir, I suggest that you return to the quarters General Hammond assigned. I believe I suggested the same thing earlier," Rundell said dryly.
"I think that's a good idea," Bregman agreed readily. He was still too shaken to argue with anyone…about anything.
When the journalist walked into the room, James and Shep shared a confused, bemused look. Bregman was pale - obviously something…interesting…had happened. "What's up?" James asked casually.
Bregman waved a hand dismissively. "Let's see what we have," he said quietly.
An hour later, although still a bit subdued, Bregman tossed his pen onto the table in front of him. Rubbed his hands over his face. "We have half a dozen of the shortest interviews known to man, which means we have nothing. Yak, yak, yak, yak. A bunch of talking heads. All saying nothing!"
James grinned. "Well, personally I could watch Colonel Carter's head all
Shep chuckled. "Just put a shot of Casey Jackson on the screen, that's all I need."
Bregman waved aside their comments. He crossed his arms over his chest. Amazing things went on in this place known as the SGC. He'd experienced that for himself. He had no idea how it had been done, or exactly who had done it, but he needed footage of the strange things like his being on one level, and then suddenly being three levels lower. That would make for one hell of a documentary! The thought that he'd have one hell of a time proving it wasn't simply trick-photography of some sort made him frown. With a sigh, he gave voice to his frustrations. "We need pictures, images to tell this story. What these people are doing here, good or bad, makes the lunar landing look like we were testing our toes in the ocean. And what have we got to show for it? Yak, yak, yak. Nothing. Where's the equivalent shot of Shepard playing golf on the moon? We don't have it. This is unbelievably boring!"
A A A A A A
Rundell knocked on the door of the general's office. "General?"
"What is it, Colonel?" Hammond asked, somewhat absently. He was neck-deep in reports concerning what had occurred on P3X 666. The president had assured him that there would be no official inquiry, but that he wanted as much information as possible, as soon as possible. No doubt to head off any grumbling from the Pentagon.
The biggest question was whether other Goa'uld were utilizing the Ancient 'probes'. If so, the already dangerous job of the SG teams would become even more so. Not a thought the general was comfortable with. He made a mental note to discuss the problem with Colonel Carter. If anyone could come up with a way to locate the probes before they were activated, it would be her.
"Sir, Security caught Mr. Bregman trying to access the infirmary. He claims he was lost, but I've shown him around the complex multiple times…" Rundell paused.
Given the circumstances, President Hayes had agreed that it wasn't the best time to try to film a documentary. It was with unbridled relief, and not a little glee, that he gave the order. "Get rid of him."
"Sir? Have our orders changed, sir?" Rundell refused to acknowledge the tinge of relief that he heard in his own voice.
"Toss him out on his ass, Colonel."
A A A A A A
Bregman jumped to his feet and began pacing. "Nothing. I have…nothing. There's no documentary here, because not one thing has been documented! I need a smoke." He reached for his cigarettes.
"Can't smoke here, sir," James said.
"I know that," Bregman retorted irritably. "I'll be back in a few minutes."
The two airmen watched the journalist storm from the room. "I get the feeling we've just been wasting our time," Shep said quietly.
"Yeah, me too," James agreed wearily.
Rundell entered the room not three minutes after Bregman had left. "Pack it up. General Hammond has ordered Mr. Bregman off the base."
Without a word of protest…or visible relief…the two techs began to gather the equipment, carefully putting each piece in the appropriate case. The tapes went into another box. There were only half a dozen that had been used.
Halfway up to the shipping dock on level five, where most of the personnel who smoked took their break…a little tidbit of information that Rundell had shared with him…Bregman realized he'd left his lighter on the desk. He'd been toying with it while he watched what bits and pieces he had on film. He stopped short when he walked back into the VIP room. The boxes for the equipment were open…and said equipment was being carefully packed away. "What's this? What's going on?"
"Mr. Bregman, sir, General Hammond has ordered you off the base," Rundell replied.
"No, he can't do that," Bregman protested.
"He is a general. A three-star general," Rundell pointed out.
Bregman pointed at James and Shep. "Stop packing." He darted out of the room. There was no way he was leaving until he'd finished the project he'd been hired to do!
Rundell watched the journalist leave, then turned around. "Keep packing."
Walter took the folder of daily reports to the general's office. Colonel Reynolds was compiling the mission reports, and would do a summary report. That report would be forwarded to the president, along with General Hammond's own report of the days' events. "I just need your signature on these, sir."
"Sir, we haven't heard…" Walter said hesitantly.
"I just spoke to Doctor Fraiser," Hammond replied, knowing that the men and women in the control room were every bit as concerned for their fallen friends and co-workers as the other SG-team members. "Airman Wells came through surgery just fine. He'll make a full recovery, according to Doctor Werner. And General O'Neill reports that the new armor works as hoped."
"Thank you sir," Walter nodded. "I'll pass that on."
"We need to arrange-" Hammond stopped speaking, swallowed hard. "We need to arrange for Doctor Balinsky's memorial service."
"Yes, sir," Walter said quietly. "I'll remind Colonel Reynolds."
Before the general could acknowledge the comment, the door opening to the corridor banged against the wall as it was shoved open. Bregman burst into the room, obviously angry.
"You have one hour to get off my base and out of my sight forever," Hammond said coldly.
"Whose authority?" Bregman demanded.
"My superiors," Hammond replied. Both men knew that the only superior who counted was President Hayes, himself.
"You think I stepped over the line. I don't. I just wanna make a phone call," Bregman said.
"Call whoever you want on your way out. There's a payphone at the surface."
Bregman pointed at the phone on the desk. "Actually, I'd like to borrow your red one."
"You have some nerve, Mr. Bregman." Hammond's gaze was as icy as his voice.
"That's what my mother used to say," Bregman retorted. He moved toward the desk, his hand reaching out for the red phone.
Hammond slapped his hand down over the receiver and rose to his feet, daring the man to say or do something else that would allow him to toss the weasel into the brig.
Still angry, Bregman rocked back on his heels. It was obvious that anything he might say, certainly anything he did at this point, would probably see him arrested. He turned and stormed out of the room, slamming the door closed behind him. He paused for a moment. Then fished his cell phone from his pocket. He'd been hired to do a job. And by god, he was going to do it!
A A A A A A
Hammond strode into Daniel's office. The archaeologist was staring at the computer screen…it was apparent that he'd give up trying to actually work. "Doctor Jackson, I've been ordered to turn over the tape," Hammond said without preamble. He hadn't even been aware that a tape of what had happened existed…until General Vidrine had called, and almost apologetically insisted that it be turned over to the journalist. He didn't know what buttons Bregman had pushed to get what he wanted. He did know that his dislike for the man had moved up several notches as a result. Whatever had been said, it had alerted certain Pentagon sectors of the day's events. And that, he was confident, was going to bite him in the ass.
Daniel started. He rose to his feet, his back stiff, his expression mutinous.
"Look, I'm not happy about it either," Hammond admitted quietly. "I could fight it. The tape could get lost or accidentally erased, these things happen. But I'm not going to do that. You know, I had that little weasel of a man thrown out of here. Then I got a phone call from General Vidrine. It seems that a 'certain sector' of the Pentagon is asking questions, insisting that a formal investigation into what happened today begin immediately. They want control of that investigation. The general said they were already briefing a 'Mr. Woolsey' about the situation. I'm not entirely sure how they were able to find out so quickly. There are those in the Pentagon who are listening to that 'certain sector'. I don't know if I…if the president…can ignore the NID demands. But-" He broke off, then slowly shook his head. "I'm starting to think maybe there should be a record of what goes on here beyond the classified reports. Something that the NID can't change to suit their purposes."
"And you trust Bregman to portray that?" Daniel asked skeptically.
"At the moment, I have no other choice," Hammond replied quietly.
He closed his eyes and ran his hands over his face. He needed to do this before Casey woke up…he wasn't surprised that she'd refused to eat, although she had agreed to take a nap; her emotions had her physically exhausted. He didn't want her to see the camera with the bloody fingerprints…he winced slightly at the thought of what the sight would do to her. He'd hidden it away, not actually wanting to see or touch it himself. Opening the drawer of his desk, shaking fingers took the tape from the camera. "Where is he?" Daniel asked flatly.
"Waiting in the briefing room."
With a nod, Daniel followed the general out of the office, and down the corridor.
"How's Casey?" Hammond asked quietly once they stepped into the elevator.
"Torn up. Blaming herself. She was hysterical when we first got back," Daniel replied.
The Texan shook his head. "I know she carries far too much guilt for things that happen around here…things that no one would ever blame her for."
"I know, sir." He looked at the floor, the back up at the general's face. "After we had that little…adventure…in Annika's reality, Oakey somehow 'carved' an acorn into the corner of our Quantum Mirror."
"Don't worry, sir, it doesn't affect the mirror at all," Daniel said hurriedly, recognizing the look of concern.
"So what is this 'acorn' for?"
"It's a way for Casey to contact Oakey. And if I'm not mistaken, Casey is the only one who can utilize that…link."
"She…uh…she needed to talk to someone. Oakey helped her before-"
Hammond brushed aside the attempted apology. "Was she able to make contact?"
"I hope Oakey was able to help her once again."
"I think she did," Daniel said. "Casey seemed much…calmer. She even agreed to take a bit of a nap. She's so tired physically from…everything."
"I understand. I hope she'll feel more like herself when she wakes up," Hammond said.
"Me, too. I guess all we can do is keep telling her what we all know…that she's not responsible for anything that happened today. And she's not omnipotent."
"We'll do our best, son," Hammond said gently.
"Thank you, sir," Daniel said gratefully.
The two walked into the briefing room. Bregman had been sitting at the foot of the table, he rose to his feet as the men approached.
With a glare at the journalist, Daniel slammed the tape onto the tabletop. When Bregman would have reached out to stop him, Daniel shoved his hand away, and stomped out of the room.
Bregman picked up the tape, then looked up into the stony stare of General Hammond.
Hammond turned on his heel and walked back to his office.
Bregman had booked a room at a local hotel, confident that he'd be allowed to finish the documentary within a day or so. In the meantime, he'd try to do something with what he already had…as little as it was.
A A A A A A
Daniel found himself walking toward the quarters he shared with Casey. Even if she was asleep, holding her soft, warm body against his own could help calm him. Perhaps protect him from the rage that was boiling in him. Anger for not having moved quickly enough. For not seeing that Jaffa sooner. For not protecting his friend. He snorted softly. Wondered if maybe he should have his own conversation with the Seventh Level Being who had tried so desperately, according to Casey, to help his Wife. Maybe, just maybe she could help him as well.
She stirred slightly when he settled onto the bed beside her. The warmth of his body drew her from restless sleep. Her dreams…nightmares…filled with the events of the afternoon. Just before she was fully conscious, Casey heard Oakey's voice, like a soft caress…
"Had you prevented the flower from going on the mission, his life force would still have stopped. By leaving his death as it was intended, it has meaning…The bud has yet to bloom, but bloom is shall, for all to see…Cam flower's death serves a greater purpose…"
Her eyes flew open. She'd gone over everything that Oakey had said, repeating it to herself again and again…she didn't remember Oakey actually saying that Cam's death served a greater purpose.
She looked up into concerned blue eyes. Memories of the long, panic-filled day when Daniel had been subjected to the horrors of being a Goa'uld host flittered across her mind. Whatever he'd learned that day, whether it was conscious or not, had been important. She'd been prevented from warning him, from warning their friends, from warning General Hammond. Because what had happened, had to happen.
Had to happen…had to happen…had to happen…what happened to Cam, had to happen…
The wide-eyed look in her eyes worried him. He gently caressed her face. "Hey," he said softly
"Hey," she replied. Reaching up to run her fingertip over his lower lip. "I think I just had a message from Oakey."
Casey nodded, sat up on the bed. "I…I've been thinking about everything she said. I didn't actually 'hear' it when she said it. I was too angry, too busy battling the guilt," she admitted.
Slender shoulders moved up and back down. "I think…maybe…she just kept repeating those things as I fell asleep. You know, subliminal messages? They say if you play tapes of something you want to learn while you're asleep, your subconscious will pick it up."
"I've heard that," Daniel agreed, with a tender smile.
"But, just now…there was something…more. Something that she didn't say when we were talking."
"Are you sure? Maybe it's just something you don't remember hearing," Daniel suggested.
"No," Casey shook her head stubbornly. "I played back that conversation word for word a dozen times before I fell asleep."
"Okay, so what was this 'new' message?"
"She said, 'Cam flower's death serves a greater purpose'." Casey reached out and tugged until Daniel was sitting. Then straddled his thighs. "She told me that if Cam hadn't died this afternoon, it would have been soon…his time…" Tears filled her eyes, and her breath caught in her throat. "His time was up. But that what happened today was for a reason. That his death has meaning."
Daniel frowned. Hearing that his friend was fated to die wasn't easy. Learning that the death wasn't just a tragic event, but had a purpose…as much as any death could, he thought…lessened the biting pain of the loss just a bit. "You didn't see Cam in that darkness, because you weren't supposed to," he said slowly. "Because you would have stopped it."
"If Janet had been killed, with Bregman and his circus in town, how could we have explained it away when she woke up three days later?"
The frown deepened. "Could that have been the threat? The one that you saw? You said that Janet was a threat to our secret. You saw the darkness 'near' Janet…that someone near her was in danger."
Casey's brow furrowed in thought. She nodded slowly. "That…that 'feels' right. I thought the threat was her slipping up and saying something. I never imagined that she might have revealed our secret by actually dying."
"There was nothing else that you could see? I know you were fixated on the darkness…" Daniel let his question fade.
She shook her head. "I looked at everything from every possible angle. The only thing I saw was the darkness around…someone…near Janet, and that she was a threat to our secret."
He was too afraid to hope. Casey had been hysterical over Cam's death. Would she be able to accept what seemed to be the facts of the matter?
"I still feel so guilty," she said softly.
Once again Daniel was certain she could read his thoughts. "Casey-"
She put her fingers against his lips. "I am guilty of not being able to warn him," she said softly. "But for some reason, someone…out there," she waved her hand in a circle, "knew that he…" She hiccupped a quiet sob. Took a deep shuddering breath. "There's a reason, Daniel. Cam didn't die for nothing."
He wrapped his arms around her and held her tightly when her arms locked around his neck. Closing his eyes and pressing his face against her soft, fragrant hair, he pushed away the memory of what had happened. Tried to embrace the knowledge that Cam's death had meaning.
"Do you think he ascended?"
Daniel pulled away from her slightly, to look at her tear-stained face. "I hadn't thought about it. I didn't see anything…but then, we were under fire, and we had to get Wells back here…I dunno, Angel. From what I understand, the body sort of…disappears into light. We brought Cam-" He broke off. He'd helped load Cam's body onto the stretcher. But like his Wife, he was willing to grab at any hope, however slim a chance it might be, that Cam wasn't really 'gone'. "I suppose it's possible."
Miss Eloise smiled. "I knew she was smart," she whispered.
Oma Desala smiled as well. "I am sure the knowledge will bring her and The One much comfort."
Both turned to the newcomer. He was still looking around, coming to terms with his new existence. So far he'd experienced some pretty amazing things. And he'd only been here…wherever here was…for a few hours now. It had been disconcerting watching his body fall in death. Had been even harder watching his friends grieve so over his loss. He'd been ready to appear to Casey and tell all, in an attempt to assuage the guilt the seer was struggling with, until the two who were with him now had appeared. 'Is that what I did? I ascended?"
"Not exactly," Oma replied.
"Then how…I mean…if I'm not dead, where am I?"
"The astral plane has many levels. And there are many ways to reach these places. Your…spirit…your soul…all that is you…arrived here on its own. You were able to reach out, and pull yourself to safety…here," Oma explained.
The old seer beside her did a double take. "I must be spending too much time with you. That made sense," she huffed.
Oma smiled. She returned her attention to their young companion. "Where you go now is up to you. You make the choice to stay here…to ascend…or to go on to that plane where those who have passed reside. By arriving here as you did…on your own-" Oma broke off when the young man frowned.
"I wasn't alone," the man said. "I felt as if there was someone there with me. I didn't see anyone…just…just a light. And then, I knew I was dying…or rather…going to die. I just kept looking at the light, and then…then I was just…here." He shrugged. "Wherever here is."
"Interesting," Oma said softly. Her students, it seemed, were continuing her work on the plane of the Ascended.
"Would it be possible to thank the tree…er…Oakey…for helping Casey?" he asked shyly.
A soft breeze and a rustle of leaves moved around them. "I think you can say whatever you wish that particular being to know, and she'll hear you," Oma replied.
He looked around, his red hair catching the rays of the sun that shone over them. "Uh…Oakey? Daniel and Casey told us about you…from their trip to um…" he stopped, rubbing the back of his neck. "What was her name? Ann? Annie? Annika! From their trip to Annika's reality. That you were able to help them. Casey is stubborn, and she carries a lot of guilt she shouldn't. That's a result of her childhood," he explained.
The leaves rustled slightly.
"Yeah, it wasn't a pleasant one. But I really think you were able to help her. And…she's my friend, and I appreciate that."
A softer rustling of leaves.
He smiled when he felt a soft caress on his cheek. "Thanks." He turned to Oma. "Okay, I'm ready now."
In the morgue on level twenty-one…the small cool room where the bodies of those who were lost to battle were held until Janet could perform a full examination, and if necessary, an autopsy…a bright light began to glow. A being…beautiful golden-white light…began to rise toward the ceiling. The blue drape that had been over the body settled softly against the cold, metal tabletop.
Daniel felt the shiver that moved over Casey's slender frame. "Babe?"
She frowned. "I'm not sure. It was…it was almost like Oakey was here. But…she wasn't alone."
He couldn't help but look around. "Okay," he said slowly.
Casey shook her head. "She…they…they're gone now," she announced.
Pushing a lock of long, blonde silk over her shoulder, taking a moment to caress her cheek, Daniel examined his Wife's eyes. Gone was the fevered, hysterical look of grief, and overwhelming guilt. The sadness was still there. But Casey had moved away from the edge. "How about going home?"
"That sounds wonderful," she sighed
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