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Sam was the first to open her eyes. The first thing her fingers reached for was the scanner that she carried. "Hey," she said softly, shaking Jack's shoulder. "Colonel, put your oxygen mask on."
Jack rolled his eyes, pushed himself into a sitting position. "What?"
"Something happened to lower the oxygen levels. It knocked us all out," Sam explained. She nodded at Teal'c when he sat up, and put on his mask, carefully adjusting the amount of oxygen he took from the tank beside him.
Daniel and Casey were awake now as well; seeing their friends adjusting masks and oxygen flow, they followed suit. "What happened?" Daniel asked.
Sam repeated her suspicions. "Oxygen levels are rising. I suggest we leave the masks on for a few more minutes."
The team CO checked his watch. "Okay, we have about two hours of air. Let's get this done and go home."
Casey ran her finger over Daniel's temple. For a moment, it looked as if there'd been a red mark...as if something had been attached... She frowned. Reached out slowly, hoping that whoever, or whatever was blocking her wouldn't sense the 'movement', providing an opportunity for her to slip past and determine just what was going on. She had to smile at the gentle nudge she felt. Whoever it was, there was no threat involved. Just...curious. So very curious. And not at all interested in allowing her a glimpse at what...whom...they were dealing with.
"What about that translation, Daniel?" Jack asked, nodding at the journal on the archaeologist's lap.
"I think I have the gist of it," Daniel replied. "Further into the ziggurat is a 'holy place'. There's something about sacrifices, and the pathway to enlightenment."
"The sacrifice thing, we aren't going to wind up in some bizarre ritual, are we?" Jack asked, just a bit nervously. Whenever there was mention of something of that sort, trouble was usually not far behind.
"Not that I'm aware of."
"We came this far," Casey said, watching as Jack contemplated cutting the mission short. "Might as well take a look. Could be that honkin' space gun."
Jack chuckled. "Could be. Okay, Daniel, which way?"
Checking his notes, several paragraphs longer than he remembered writing, he determined that the path his teammates had taken earlier was the correct one. "That way," he pointed.
Packs went onto backs, and with Sam's approval, the tanks and oxygen masks were loaded onto the MALP. Casey continued to operate the control, keeping the machine just a few paces ahead of them, the bright light illuminating their way down the dusty corridor.
Even though the stone walls were bare, Daniel was looking around with interest. "It's mind boggling to think that this structure is hundreds of thousands of years old," he said softly, almost reverently.
"Hasn't been dusted in awhile," Jack remarked, noting the low clouds of dust their boots and the MALP treads were kicking up.
"I doubt that there's been anyone here in a very long time," Daniel replied.
It was impossible not to gasp out loud when the passageway suddenly opened onto a cavern that was so large that it wasn't possible to see the ceiling above, nor the floor below. A narrow, stone walkway led across the yawning abyss to a wide platform. In the center was a stone altar.
"Just like 377," Daniel whispered.
"No skull," Jack pointed out.
"The altar is typical of temples dedicated to Anshar."
"Paternal god of the sky and the horizon. The first of the gods of the Assyrian," Daniel replied.
Daniel smiled. "As good as any of them, I guess."
"I suppose you're not going to be happy until we go take a closer look at that thing," Jack grumped.
"The altar could hide a weapon. Or give instructions on where to find a weapon to fight the Goa'uld," he pointed out.
Casey looked at her Husband. "How do we know that these people were enemies of the Goa'uld?"
He shrugged. "Nick's Giant Aliens were. I'm assuming that whoever built this ziggurat were just as large. And as old."
Daniel rarely assumed, unless he had enough information to make the assumption. He'd never declare something as 'fact' unless he had proof to back it up. Something, Casey thought, those in the archaeological community who had known him should have understood. She forced her wandering thoughts back to the subject of walking across that very narrow path. That spanned that very deep chasm.
Jack eyed the bridge. "Okay, Danny, take point. Casey, follow him. Sam, you're behind me. Teal'c, you have our six."
Very intriguing. The males of the group have placed themselves in such a way as to protect the females. It seems that there are...bonds...between two of the males, and the females. See how they move slowly...with much respect for the power that surrounds them.
Each step that took them closer to the platform increased their tension. They expected to stumble up traps, to have the bridge give way beneath them, or shudder and attempt to shake them off. When they arrived on the large, round platform unscathed, they looked back at where the MALP sat waiting for them, on the other side of the deep trench.
"Wow. That's farther away than I thought," Casey murmured.
Daniel began examining the altar.
"I suppose to get the enlightenment, you have to make a sacrifice," Jack mused.
"Probably," the archaeologist smiled.
"Not gonna happen. We'll just take a quick look-see and head home."
With a nod of understanding, Daniel began to photograph the altar. He'd study the markings later.
Casey touched the cold marble slab that topped the stone pedestal. Jerked her fingers back. "We should leave."
Four pairs of eyes focused on her. "Talk to me, Radar," Jack said softly.
"Ultimate sacrifice," she whispered.
The cavern seemed to rumble around them. The passageway through which they'd entered was suddenly sealed off...a huge stone had slammed down in front of it, narrowly missing the MALP.
"Oh, hell!" Jack muttered. He tossed an irritated glance at Casey. As bad as Danny, he thought, touching things she shouldn't!
Looking around, able to sense that they were not alone in the huge cavern, Casey stepped toward the altar. "Take me," she said loudly. She climbed onto the marble slab. "Please don't hurt them!"
"Casey!" Daniel gasped. He glanced around. "No! She's too special, too precious! You need a sacrifice, take me!"
Jack shook his head. "No way, Daniel." He began looking around as well. "I'm the one you want. Not much, I know, but Carter and Daniel and Radar are too bright...they're needed on our world. The only one you'll get is me!"
"No!" Sam cried out, grabbing Jack's arm. "I'm the one who should be sacrificed!"
"I will sacrifice my life," Teal'c said loudly, his voice booming into the hazy darkness around him. "The others are worthy of life!"
Unusual! When faced with the choice, they choose to offer themselves, rather than beg for mercy. Very unexpected. Noble. Hearts entwined. They care deeply for one another. Would sacrifice themselves willingly for the others...
Four symbols on the altar began to glow. Daniel hurried toward the stones, pulled Casey from the marble slab, held her tightly for just a few seconds. They'd discuss her very generous, and dangerous, offer later. And he'd try once again to explain to her that he just couldn't live without her.
"What's going on?" Jack asked quietly.
Daniel grabbed the book of Assyrian cuneiform. Hurriedly looked up the symbols. "They want to know what gods we honor."
"Okay, what do we tell them?"
"I have no idea," Daniel admitted.
"Better get one fast," Jack said.
"What about Ashy, or whoever," Casey suggested.
Daniel chuckled. "You hang around Jack too much," he grinned. The grin faded as he glanced around. "I don't know that it would be such good idea. We don't honor Anshar. We know who he is...or rather, who he was according to myths."
"Why not tell them that?" Sam asked. "Maybe we'll be judged on our honesty."
With a nod, Daniel studied the book carefully. Then began to make cuneiform marks in the dirt in front of the altar. He was careful to show the proper amount of respect, never touching the stones, remaining on his knees when he'd finished.
"Daniel?" Jack asked.
"Might be a good idea to at least kneel," Daniel whispered.
There was absolutely no hesitation as his teammates dropped to their knees. They watched carefully, listened for any sounds that might be a form of communication.
Very surprising. They admit that the old ways have passed. Yet they show respect. They control their fears. They are willing to sacrifice themselves for one another. Much honor. They are still...young. But interesting. Much potential.
The grinding sound of stone rubbing against stone broke the still air. "Look!" Sam whispered.
The doorway behind the MALP was open once again. Jack grinned. "Good job, Daniel."
Cheeks flushed with color, the archaeologist rose to his feet. "We should probably leave now."
"Good idea. Let's hope the meteor shower has stopped...and left that bridge intact," Jack replied.
Quietly, the five made their way back out of the mammoth cavern. Casey stopped, looked over her shoulder. "Thank you," she said softly.
You are most welcome, young one.
Peering out of the opening, Jack and Teal'c stepped out to determine the safety of continuing on. Occasional trails of fire could still be seen in the sky, but it seemed that the 'fire rain' had passed the valley where the ziggurat stood. Donning oxygen masks, the team started toward platform that held the Stargate.
The meteors had damaged the bridge, there were several places where the stone sides had been blown away. But the pathway was still in one piece. The outside of the ziggurat was unscathed, leading Sam to conclude that there was a force field of some sort that protected it. The desert floor beneath them was pock-marked with holes. Scars that would remain for many years to come.
Daniel jogged to the DHD, pushed the symbols that would open a wormhole back to the SGC.
A A A A A A
General Hammond hurried into the control room. SG-1 had been 'missing' for nearly three hours now. And there'd been no response as of yet from Jacob Carter. Which meant that the Tok'ra were probably on the move again. Selmak had suspected that Osiris had exposed several Tok'ra spies. The Tau'ri had not been apprised of the situation. Not that he'd expected any communication about such things. "IDC?"
Walter smiled. Seven hours after their departure, it seemed that the premier team of the SGC was coming home. "It's SG-1, sir."
Once again, it seemed that a team that should be dead would saunter down the ramp. He'd even bet they had no idea how long they'd been missing! It wasn't easy to walk down to the 'gate room with a modicum of dignity, when what he wanted to do was run in, whooping and hollering that the luckiest team in the SGC had proven again just how very lucky they were.
Boots clunked against the metal of the ramp. "We're home, sir," Jack grinned impudently.
"So I see. I believe you had oxygen for four hours?" the general said, raising an eyebrow questioningly.
"The oxygen levels were higher in the ziggurat," Sam explained.
"Good thing, too," Daniel added.
"Fire rain," Jack said.
"Fire rain?" the general asked.
"Meteor shower," Teal'c clarified.
"Then there was the alter with the glowing symbols," Casey said, dropping her pack to the floor beside her feet. "And the aliens. We never saw them, but they were there."
"I believe the debrief will be interesting," General Hammond smiled. "Briefing room, one hour. Dismissed."
The team trudged out of the 'gate room and down the corridor. "I'm hungry," Casey announced.
"Me, too," Sam agreed.
Jack checked his watch. "Commissary in twenty."
"Right," Sam grinned.
A A A A A A
She stood gratefully beneath the spray of hot water. The cavern where they'd discovered the altar had been a good twenty degrees cooler than the rest of the ziggurat. She hadn't noticed the temperature at the time, there had been too much going on, adrenaline had been flowing. But during the walk back to the Stargate she'd felt that chill.
"Hey, Major; Casey," a voice called out amiably. Tiesha Taylor stepped into the shower.
"Lieutenant," Sam replied, smiling at the young black woman.
"So, Case, what are you getting Daniel for his birthday?" Sam asked.
"I don't know! I want to give him something special...but..." Casey shook her head, then finished rinsing the conditioner from her hair. "I thought about a photo, like a portrait...but I'm not so sure a he'd be interested in having something like that."
"A photo of you?" Sam asked.
The major giggled. "He'd be interested. I swear he spends half of his time at his desk staring at your wedding photos!"
A blush warmed her cheeks. "Really?"
Casey sighed. "If I do it, get a photo portrait, I'd like it to be something...special."
"Um...Casey, I do photography. Maybe I could help you come up with something," Tiesha offered shyly.
"Really? You would? Seriously? Oh, Tie, that would be great! Are you sure it's no bother? I mean, I'd pay you, of course, and I'll buy the film, and we can discuss it whenever it's convenient for you, and wherever you want to take the pictures is okay by me, and... "
"Take a breath, Casey," Sam laughed.
Tiesha burst into giggles. "I'll take all of that as a 'yes'."
She blushed again. "Thanks, Tie. I really appreciate it."
"If you have time later, we could talk about it over coffee," the lovely lieutenant offered.
"We have a debrief in an hour, how about after that?"
"Sounds good. I'll be in the photo lab."
With a nod, Casey turned the water off, grabbed a towel. Began to seriously think about what kind of photo she'd like to have taken.
A A A A A A
Gary snapped his briefcase closed. "I'll give you a call as soon as I know for certain," he told Lucky. "If we take this job, I want the entire team to get the tour of that place."
"Charley has tickets for all of us," Lucky replied, "leaving day after tomorrow."
"Good. I'll call tomorrow tonight."
"Gonna have dinner with Casey?"
He grinned. He'd left a message for his daughter. She'd called back just a little over an hour ago. "Yep. You should have heard her, Lucky. She sounded excited about it!"
Lucky smiled. "Why shouldn't she be? She'll be having dinner with her dad."
Dad. He was still getting used to that. Found that he liked the idea better all of the time. "Yeah, how about that." He slapped his friend on the back. "See you day after tomorrow, one way or another."
A A A A A A
The team and General Hammond had barely sat down at the conference table when the klaxons began to wail.
"Unscheduled 'gate activation!"
Jumping to their feet, the members of SG-1 followed their CO to into the room that housed the Stargate. "Identification?" Hammond asked.
"None, sir," was the immediate reply.
"Close the iris."
Ferretti and his Marines were in position. Three minutes passed. Five minutes. Seven minutes.
A breeze wafted through the room, seemed to touch each of the people who were present. A deep, booming voice echoed around them.
"You have great potential. When you have matured further, we will greet you as equals."
General Hammond turned to Daniel. "Did you understand that?"
Casey felt a touch, almost like a caress. She smiled. "It was them," she said softly.
"Them?" Jack asked.
"The aliens in the ziggurat," she replied.
Daniel shook his head. "I'll have to break it down phonetically. I'm certain it was Assyrian, considering that all of the text in the ziggurat was Assyrian."
"Very well. Translate it as soon as possible. I want to know if that was a greeting or a warning," the general instructed.
"Major, keep your men on guard here until Doctor Jackson can tell us exactly what was said."
For the time being, SG-1's debrief was put on hold. The base would go to full alert, and remain there, until Daniel had the translation ready. There were times when she was able to help him with translations. She was able to translate Goa'uld. Was getting better when it came to Ancient. But what he was doing now...Daniel would work much faster if he was left alone.
Casey followed her teammates to the commissary, where they'd wait for Daniel to work his magic on the sounds and nuances that had been recorded. A message from aliens they'd sensed, but hadn't seen.
Thirty minutes later SG-1 was paged to the briefing room. General Hammond was standing with the archaeologist. Who was grinning from ear to ear.
"It seems that you impressed them," the general said without preamble.
"Of course we did, sir," Jack smirked.
"I don't see how, we didn't do anything," Sam said.
Casey cocked her head sideways. "Maybe we did more than we realize."
"Radar?" Jack asked.
"I'm not sure...nothing specific...just...a sense that we were tested."
"In that cavern room, where the altar was?" Daniel asked.
She shook her blonde head. "No...well, you managed to communicate with them there. But..." She shook her head again. "I can't feel anything, at least, nothing specific. Just the feeling that there was more going on than we were aware of."
"So, what was the message?" Sam asked.
Daniel grinned wider. "We've got potential, and when we've matured a bit more, they'll call us equals."
"Seems to me we've heard that before," Jack grumped.
"We walked out of there alive," Casey said softly. "I'd say we did pretty damned well."
"Indeed," Teal'c agreed.
The team watched the Marines stand down at the general's order, the SGC safe once again for the moment.
Casey slipped down to the photo lab where Tiesha worked when she wasn't training or on missions with SG-16. "I have no idea what kind of photo to do," Casey admitted.
The lieutenant grinned. "I've been thinking about it. Doctor Jackson calls you 'Angel'. I think we should use that."
The grin broadened. And Tiesha began to explain what she had in mind.
Casey's eyes had gone wide, but she hadn't objected. When she responded that yes, she did have a 'sexy outfit', and described it to the SF, Tiesha had squealed with excitement, and declared that it would be perfect.
She was putting her complete faith and trust in the lieutenant. One who seemed to be an artist, whose medium just happened to be photography. From what the young woman was describing to her, Casey understood that the photo would be special, and something...private. She figured they could hang it in the bedroom. Tiesha promised to have a wallet-sized copy made as well. No doubt Daniel would appreciate both!
A A A A A A
When she'd learned that Gary had called her, Casey had been thrilled. She'd called him back as soon as she received the message. General Hammond had already informed her that her father would be visiting the base. In fact, he'd offered to let her meet him, and escort him to the general's office. An offer she'd eagerly accepted.
Now she was getting ready to meet her dad at Christopher's. He'd suggested the restaurant, telling her that he wanted to take her and Daniel to dinner, even though it would be rather late. Given that their mission had lasted just over seven hours, and it had taken Daniel nearly an hour to translate what the aliens had said, it had been nearly eight that evening before they'd even left the Mountain. She checked her reflection in the mirror one last time. She was wearing her black dress, the one that Daniel seemed fond of.
"Just about." She put diamond studs in her ears. Her first birthday gift from Daniel. The diamond pendant sparkled between her breasts. One of her Christmas gifts from Daniel. Couldn't help but smile. Real diamonds. How lucky could she be?
Daniel whistled appreciatively when she walked into the kitchen. "You look fantastic!"
He was wearing his black suit and a blue shirt and tie. "You look delicious," she replied.
With a grin, Daniel offered his arm. "Let's go. Your Dad is probably waiting for us."
My Dad. She shivered slightly. They'd spent a full hour on the phone, talking about this and that, getting just a bit better acquainted. She had every intention of inviting him to dinner. She wanted him to see what a wonderful life she had, thanks to her amazing Husband. He hadn't said anything, but she knew that Gary was struggling with guilt over what she'd endured. It hadn't been his fault...her mother had never let him know that she was pregnant. She understood fully that guilt was rarely logical. "I'm ready."
During the drive to Christopher's, Casey informed Daniel of her wish to invite her father to their home. He'd heartily approved. When she worried that serving a frozen casserole seemed inappropriate, he'd disagreed, telling her that anything she fixed would be just fine with her father. It would be her he wanted to spend time with, he wouldn't be there to judge her culinary skills. Which, Daniel informed her, were absolutely wonderful. She was still blushing from that compliment when they entered the restaurant.
"We're meeting my Dad," Casey said, unable to keep the smile from her face.
"Mr. Franklin?" the hostess asked. The description she'd been given of his daughter had been very accurate, she thought.
"Yes, that's him."
"He's waiting in the lounge."
"Thank you." Holding tightly to Daniel's hand, she let him lead her into the tastefully decorated room. Gary was sitting at the bar, watching the door. Her breath caught when his face lit up as his eyes met hers.
He stood as they approached. "Hello," Gary said, smiling down at her.
Once again, he wasn't sure who had moved first. All he knew, all he cared about was the fact that his daughter was hugging him. He was hugging her. "You look beautiful," he said quietly.
The men greeted one another, shook hands. "Do you want a drink, or shall we get a table?"
"Let's get a table," Casey suggested.
"Good enough." Gary located the hostess, who led them into the dining room, left them at a table in the center of the room with menus and a promise that the waiter would be with them momentarily.
She looked around, this was actually the first time she and Daniel had eaten in the restaurant, their reception had been in the banquet room toward the back of the establishment. The area was beautifully decorated; richly understated, with tuxedoed wait staff seeing to the needs of the patrons.
"Casey said you were in Central America to rescue a couple of kids," Daniel said, smiling at the waiter who brought glasses of water to the table.
Gary nodded. "They were right where she said they'd be. Scared to death. Not of the natives, but the drug dealers. Guess one of the kids managed to figure out what was going on."
"Did the government help you shut the operation down?" Casey asked, looking over the offered items on the menu. Daniel and Gary were perusing their menus as well.
"Yes, for all the good it will do. More than likely they've already relocated."
"They didn't arrest those men?"
"Only the ones they could find. All four of them," Gary replied.
"Oh, that's just not right! I suppose those four will be out of jail by the end of the week!" Casey complained.
"I suppose so. You have to remember, honey, several of the countries where drugs are produced and shipped from actually rely on the money brought in by those drugs. Everyone involved is paid. And those paid employees buy homes and food and clothing." Gary didn't even realize he'd used the endearment. Wondered at the widening of green eyes, the slight blush on her cheeks.
He sounded just like a real dad! She giggled silently. He was a real dad! He was her dad! "That is just so wrong!"
Daniel watched, smiling when he realized that Gary had no clue what he'd said. It had been a natural reaction, and Casey was thrilled about it, he could see it in her eyes. "The reality of situations like that often are wrong, Angel," he said.
She sighed. "Reality sucks."
Both men chuckled their agreement. "I take it that the kids returned home?" Daniel asked.
"The young lady did. She couldn't wait to get out of the country. The young man wanted to stay. His parents had flown in, and when he showed them around the village where he'd been working with the Peace Corp, they agreed to stay for a few weeks as well. His father is a wealthy real estate tycoon in California. He has the money and the connections to help make a difference there. It's only one village now, but the way that Cory was talking, I don't think he'll stop there. He's on fire to help those people, and he's in a position to be able to do so. I wish him all the best," Gary told them.
Casey cocked her head sideways, then smiled. "He's learned a lot being there. He's talked his father into hiring mercenaries to protect the village, until the villagers are trained well enough to defend themselves against the drug people."
Gary laughed. "That should be interesting. No doubt Franklin Enterprises will be called in the future to bail his butt out of trouble again."
She smiled. "Maybe. But Franklin Enterprises will sweep in like the Calvary when that call comes."
"Absolutely," Gary grinned.
The waiter appeared, it seemed that he'd been waiting for a lull in the conversation before intruding. A bottle of wine and dinner entrees were ordered, and conversation drifted to other 'projects' that Gary and his friends had taken on.
"I think my favorite was when a little girl, the daughter
of a man we'd helped out of a rather sticky situation...one of which he dropped
into by simply being at the wrong place at the wrong time...anyway, she knew we'd helped her daddy. That's all she knew. This little eight year old took the
bus, had to make three changes, to get to our office. She had two dollars and
thirty nine cents. And a missing dog."
Casey giggled. "So how much did your really charge her?"
Gary grinned. "Eighty three cents, for expenses. Took us three days to find that damned mutt. But the look on that little face was worth it. Lucky called a couple of times afterward, to make sure the dog was all right."
"That's what it's all about," Daniel said quietly, "helping the little ones."
She knew that he was thinking about the children that SG-1 had helped, when their village had been devastated by a flood. And the children that they'd been unable to help. "We do what we can," she replied, wrapping her fingers around his, smiling at him when he applied gentle pressure. She turned her attention back to Gary. "I have no idea how long we'll be on base tomorrow, some days are longer than others. But I thought maybe you'd like to have dinner with us at our place."
"I'd like that very much," Gary responded immediately.
Daniel grinned mischievously. "You'll just be getting a casserole from the freezer. Casey will spend an entire weekend cooking, so that I get homemade meals every night of the week."
"Sounds good to me."
"With luck, it will be lasagna. Her lasagna is incredible!"
Casey blushed. "It's okay."
"Yeah, her cooking is as 'okay' as she is plain looking."
"Plain?" Gary's head jerked toward his daughter. "I suppose that was the opinion of that twisted bitch?"
The blush deepened, Casey nodded slightly. "Hear something everyday, and you tend to believe it," she murmured.
Gary closed his eyes, forced back the anger and the guilt. "Just because it was said everyday didn't make it true," he said softly. "Your mother was a beautiful young woman. And you look just like her."
She remained silent, but wrapped the words around her heart, where they combined with all of the beautiful things Daniel had said to her, about her.
Dinner passed pleasantly...the food, as expected, was excellent. Gary was delighted to learn that Casey would be the one who would meet him in the visitor's lounge, and escort him to General Hammond's office.
Standing in front of the restaurant, saying their goodnights, Gary hugged his daughter once again. "See you in the morning, honey," he said softly.
"Okay, Dad. Sweet dreams."
She smiled all the way home. Daniel smiled, held her hand tightly. Maybe having her father in her life would help to ease the hurt she'd suffered as a child. He pushed down a twinge of regret...regret that his own father was gone. That he'd never had the chance to introduce his Destiny to his parents. Maybe, just maybe, they could see him, and see her, and knew just how happy he was...how happy she made him.
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