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Picking Up the Pieces
"...Taking care of business every day
Taking care of business every way
I've been taking care of business, it's all mine
Taking care of business and working overtime
By Bachman Turner Overdrive
Written by Randy Bachman
The quiet mountain air was filled with a humming sound, then the echo of a metallic ‘clank’. In a flash of light, three identical, glowing metal rings appeared to drop from nowhere, and then disappeared...or so it seemed...into the dirt. Another flash of light, and a man was standing where the ‘rings’ had been just milliseconds earlier. Dressed in simple cotton trousers and a cotton shirt, the weapon he held in one hand and the black emblem tattooed on his forehead bespoke of the fact that he was not a native to the area.
He looked around warily, and not without curiosity. He checked a device on the wide, silver band that encircled his wrist. Grimaced slightly, and glanced around again. When he touched what appeared to be a simple red stone...one of three that were centered side by side on the band...the stranger vanished from sight.
The Jaffa made his way quickly toward the coordinates he'd been given, following the beacon on the armband. Information garnered from a spy who faithfully served his god led the warrior toward an unassuming concrete bunker of sorts, the round structure not more than four feet tall. On the top was a metal hatch. And a lockbox that hid a keypad. It was crucial that he enter the correct sequence of numbers before the lockbox had been open for thirty seconds. The device he wore would determine those numbers. He could only pray that it would do so before alarms were triggered within the fortress he was attempting to breach.
He had memorized the steps he must take. He would descend to sublevel twenty-one, leave the escape tunnel, find the medical labs, and then determine where the blood samples of those working for what the Tau’ri called the ‘SGC’ were located. He was after one particular sample. Once he had it in hand, he would attach a homing beacon, and it would be taken aboard the ship that hovered in cloaked silence above the First World. The First Prime had informed him that the technology for retrieving the sample from the secured facility had been stolen from the Asgard. Why the technology would not see him on board the ship as well, the Jaffa had no clue. He would be required to return to the escape tunnel, climb back to the surface, where he would ring back to the ha’tak.
If he were to be captured, there would be no rescue. He had thought about this particular aspect of the task given him. Unbeknownst to the First Prime, or their Master, he'd made the decision to bring along a fast acting poison. If he was captured, he would tell the Tau’ri nothing. He would die faithful, in the service of his god.
Glancing around, his training keeping him aware of every sound, his genetically enhanced sense of smell noting the scents that the breeze carried to him, the Jaffa crept toward his goal. The spy had insisted that the grounds were patrolled, and that the schedule changed daily. Even if he couldn’t be seen, the results of his actions would be. The Tau’ri were crafty...no doubt they had devices that would locate him if they suspected an intruder.
It was his nose rather than his eyes that first alerted him to approaching danger. Something was burning. He found a low bush, and crawled beneath it to watch. Three men...wearing the very distinctive (and somewhat strange, in his opinion,) uniforms of the Tau’ri military, and carrying the weapons the Jaffa had faced in skirmishes with the warriors of the First World...were walking slowly toward him. One of them put the unlighted end of a small white stick into his mouth, drew in a deep breath. The Jaffa was familiar with the smoking pipes used by the priests and some of the tribes people who served the Goa’uld. He had not, however, seen anything like what the man was using. The man took another puff, then dropped the burning stick to the ground, used the toe of his boot to crush it and put out the embers.
The men looked around, both their manner and their conversation relaxed, then continued on their way.
Waiting until he could no longer hear their voices, the Jaffa slid from beneath the bush. Brushed himself off carefully. The cotton of his shirt had grabbed several leaves from the bush as he had left its protective cover...they were clinging to his back. A fact of which the Jaffa was unaware. Unaccustomed to the simple garb, it was an oversight that would alert his enemy to his presence. Or at least have them searching for the intruder who dared to breach their security.
Carefully prying open the lid of the lockbox, the Jaffa took the band from his arm, pressed the largest red jewel to the front of the keypad, and waited. Numbers flashed on the narrow strip that served as a view screen. The first number had been selected. He continued to count in his head. The second number. The third number. Sweat beaded at his hairline, and on his upper lip. The fourth number. That he didn’t recognize the symbols used was of no consequence. He understood enough to know when the final number of the sequence had been established. A loud click resounded as soon as the numbers stopped flashing. He twisted the metal circle that served as a latch. Heard the lock open. Swung the hatch up and peeked into the tunnel. The rungs of the ladder that was welded to the side of the tunnel disappeared into inky darkness. Once the hatch was closed, there would be no light. He would have to depend on the ‘markers’ that the spy insisted were present at every level; small red lights that shined beside the doors that opened to the individual levels. It seemed to him that he should see some reflection of that light. Perhaps when the hatch was closed, the dim light would be more noticeable.
He had no choice. To attempt to return to the ha’tak now would mean failure, and more than likely his death. Sliding the band around his wrist once again, and taking a deep breath, the Jaffa climbed into the 'tunnel'; pulled the hatch closed above him.
The darkness was nearly suffocating. Lowering himself slightly, he used his foot to find the next rung. When he felt it, he put both feet on the rung, then lowered himself again, holding tightly to metal bar just in front of his face. He couldn’t see the rungs, but he could feel them. It would be slow going, but no one would know of his presence.
His god had garnered information on this fortress from a spy who had stolen documents from Cronus. That Goa’uld had created as accurate a map of the underground citadel as he had been able, given his limited access during the negotiations with the Asgard, in which this planet, the First World, had become protected by the Asgard. The meeting was an event that angered his god greatly, both at not having been ‘invited’ to be part of the negotiations, and for the fact that it prevented the subjugation of the planet by any Goa’uld, most notably his god. The Jaffa had studied Cronus’s map carefully, memorizing every turn, every doorway, every hatch.
The Jaffa knew the marks of each level, those had been taken from other sources, of which the warrior had no interest. Only one level was of importance to him, and it was that mark which he had memorized. He prayed that he’d be able to see the marks. Glancing down again, the Jaffa sighed inwardly. He could just barely make out a faint red glow. It seemed far away, much farther than he had hoped.
Slowly, one step at a time, the Jaffa made his way deeper into the tunnel...the only escape route that could be used in case of emergency by those of the SGC.
A A A A A A
It had been decided that the team wouldn’t embark on their mission of ‘picking up the pieces’...as Casey so colorfully described the efforts of gathering the components of the Ancient weapon...until they were certain they knew the locations of each. Consensus was, if SG-1 wasn’t out ‘looking’ for something, it wouldn’t cause unwanted interest from any Goa’uld who marked their steps. And there were several, Ba’al particularly, who did just that. A fact of which they weren’t totally unaware, thanks to their own network of spies.
Although the general had declined Daniel’s request for several days of vacation, pointing out that his expertise was vital in finding the exact hiding places the Ancients had chosen, Hammond had agreed to give the Jacksons a single day off. Which he'd insisted be taken immediately, so that the archaeologist was back working on the mysteries left by the Ancients as soon as possible. It hadn’t been what he wanted, but Daniel understood the need for urgency. Ba’al had possession of one of the weapon pieces. They only assumed he didn’t know what it was. There was always the chance that he was searching for the rest of the weapon as well, and allowing the device to fall into Goa’uld hands was absolutely unthinkable.
He'd been disappointed that he and Casey weren’t able to slip away from Colorado Springs for a couple of days...just the two of them. He also knew that his Wife shared that disappointment. It was better to make the best of the situation, even though it wasn’t exactly what they had hoped for.
One day did afford him the opportunity to keep a promise made to Jonas. And to Casey. When he'd told her of his offer to take the Kelownan to the zoo, she had enthusiastically embraced the idea, declaring she hadn’t been to the zoo since she'd been a child. Plans had been made, and the agreement that the full day would be needed for their adventure had seen his Wife out of bed and ready to leave by nine...almost unheard of for a day off.
Jonas had been so eager that he'd been standing beside the main gate that led onto the base, nearly bouncing as he stood watching the Jacksons’ jeep approach. He'd requested copies of the maps for the zoo when Daniel had first made the offer to take him there; those had arrived by mail a few days prior. They were clutched in his hand, another visible sign of his excitement.
Daniel couldn’t help but smile as he leaned against the fence. Casey was busy explaining to Jonas that sheep were raised for their wool, and for meat. The young man was wide-eyed as he ran his hand over the back of the animal. Who seemed more interested in the food pellets Casey was feeding it than the fact that the man was touching it.
"So, they cut the...wool...from the sheep, and then spin it?" Jonas asked.
"Yep," Casey replied. "Don’t ask, I have no idea how it’s done."
He bit back his chuckle at the frown that creased Jonas’s brow. "I’m not sure, either," Daniel said, when the younger man’s eyes swung toward him.
"I guess I’ll look it up when I get back to the base," Jonas sighed.
A squeal of excitement caught the attention of both men. Casey was on her knees, a small lamb butting up against her, seeking more of the treat she had in her hand.
"That’s an infant sheep?" Jonas asked.
"They’re called ‘lambs’," Daniel replied. His eyes went back to his Wife. The soft glow of happiness on her face made his heart batter his ribs. "Ready to move on, Casey?
"Just a minute," was the quiet reply. "He’s not finished yet."
"From the looks of it, a minute is all it will take for him to finish off that food," Daniel teased, as the lamb ate greedily from Casey’s hand. He sent a silent ‘thank-you’ to Jack for suggesting the petting farm. A suggestion that had been made when the former Black-Ops agent had called to see how the day was going. There were times Jack’s penchant for being nosy (when it came to his ‘kids’ at least) could be a good thing, Daniel thought.
While the trip to the zoo had been interesting...and entertaining; watching Casey and Jonas nearly race from one exhibit to the next, reading everything they could find about the animals on display...both had been disappointed when they'd learned there wasn’t a ‘petting zoo’ available. This particular farm, just an hour’s drive from Colorado Springs, offered the chance for visitors to pet cows, pigs, horses, goats, sheep, the friendly farm dogs and cats, and even a collection of rabbits.
They’d arrived with an hour in which to ‘visit’ each of the available animals. Friendly dogs had greeted them upon arrival, and had received pats and scratches as a reward. The cows and pigs had been summarily examined...but neither Casey nor Jonas had seemed eager to actually touch the pigs. Casey had reached out to gently pat the face of one of the cows that had wandered close enough to examine the visitors. Most of the rabbits had been asleep when they’d arrived at the cages, and Casey had insisted the the poor creatures were probably worn out from being handled all day, so they refrained from bothering the slumbering animals. Once they had arrived at the sheep pen, however, with the numerous ewes and goats, the two had been enthralled with petting and touching the animals.
The owner of the farm, a jovial man with a shock of white hair and weathered skin, and whose age was an indeterminate sixty to eighty, joined him by the gate of the sheep enclosure. "Looks like you young folks are having a good time."
"Yes, we are, thank you," Daniel said, smiling at the man.
"Well, I hate t’ rush ya, but I’ll be calling it a day in about twenty minutes."
"No problem," Daniel replied. "Casey, if you want to see the horses, we have to do it now. Mr. Appleton will be closing the gates soon."
Brushing her hands off, Casey rose to her feet. Giggled as the lamb followed as she walked toward the gate, its little body bumping against her legs.
"Isabelle seems mighty taken with you, ma’am," the farmer grinned.
"Oh, he’s a she!" Casey exclaimed. She bent over to pet the lamb one final time. "It was a pleasure to meet you, Isabelle. I’m sure you’ll provide lots of wonderful, soft wool."
Daniel led the way towards the barn; more specifically the corral beside it, where several horses stood watching with apparent disinterest.
"I looked up horses, and did you know that the name ‘horse’ isn’t actually used by breeders?" Jonas said, as they walked toward the corral. "Male horses are known as stallions, unless they’ve been castrated, then they’re geldings. If they’re younger than five years old, then they’re called colts. All baby horses are called foals, until they turn one, and then they’re yearlings. Female horses are known as mares, or if they’re young, fillies. Sire is the name of the father, dam is the name of the mother, and did you know that a pony isn’t a baby horse at all? Just a small horse."
Daniel couldn’t help but chuckle. "You’ve been hanging around Casey too much," he grinned.
"Why do you say that?" Jonas asked immediately.
"I don’t think you took time to breath during that spiel."
He clapped the younger man on the shoulder. "I’m joking, Jonas."
The Kelownan smiled nervously. "I’ve always found it...amusing...when Casey talks non-stop without taking a breath."
"I find it endearing, myself," Daniel admitted. Grinned wider when the object of their conversation rolled her green eyes in response.
"It’s not like I do it on purpose," Casey retorted.
"Which makes it all the more...adorable," Daniel said.
She shivered slightly, his voice low and sensual, and just as effective as a caress. "Glad I can be so entertaining," she replied.
"You have no idea," Daniel whispered in her ear. Chuckled at the exasperated look she tossed in his direction.
"Jonas, I found that every interesting. I actually hadn’t realized that ‘horse’ is such a...generic...term," Casey said, giving her attention to the lean man walking beside her.
He was unable to reply. They had reached their destination, and the most magnificent creature he had ever lain eyes on was standing near the split rail fence that circled an area of bare ground. "Oh, wow!"
Casey’s eyes brightened at the sight of the sorrel mare. "Oh, she’s beautiful."
"She?" Jonas asked.
Casey blushed. "I peeked."
Daniel chewed the inside of his lip to keep from laughing out loud. Instead, as he had been doing all day, he stood back, willing to observe Casey and Jonas as they interacted with the animals. His interest in animals was academic at best, limited to the uses that ancient civilizations had for any particular species. He’d never been comfortable around them...a result, no doubt, of the fact he’d never been around animals as he grew up. Only one of the foster homes where he had lived had a dog. And the animal had never liked him. Not that he’d cared much at the time. There had been the camel ride he’d been forced to take in Egypt...that he hadn’t actually controlled the animal was the only reason he’d been able to climb onto the nasty-tempered beast’s back. He’d never forget...nor live down...his experience with Abydonian mastadges. Just one more reason that being near large animals made him the slightest bit nervous. Yep, animals were okay to study, or look at...from a distance.
Accustomed to having strangers approach her, the mare watched the woman and the man who leaned against the fence.
"You are so beautiful," Casey said softly. She held her hand out. "It’s okay, I won’t hurt you."
Sensing the gentleness that surrounded the woman, the mare took a step closer to the fence.
"That’s a nice girl. I just want to pet you," Casey continued, her voice soft, her eyes dancing with delight as the mare continued to move closer, albeit cautiously.
The mare gave a toss of her head, then allowed the soft hand of the woman to stroke her nose.
"Just like velvet," Casey whispered. "You are a magnificent creature, you know that, don’t you?"
Again the mare tossed her head, as if responding to the woman’s softly spoken comment.
"And smart, too," Casey giggled.
Jonas reached a hand toward the mare, ready to jerk his fingers out of harms way if the animal decided she didn’t want to be touched. When his hand came into contact with the soft muzzle, he gave an involuntary gasp. "So soft!"
"Amazing, isn’t it?" Casey asked. "Such strength...she could easily kill us if she reared up and hit us with her hooves, and yet she stands here so proudly, and allows us to pet her."
"Amazing," Jonas whispered in agreement. His hand moved up the horse’s face, to her ears. Discovered that the mare was partial to a good scratching in a particular spot just behind her ear, where her mane fell.
"She likes that," Casey smiled.
Grinning from ear to ear, Jonas continued his ministrations. When the mare rubbed her face against him, nudging him gently, he laughed out loud.
"Miss Lizbeth doesn’t do that to just anyone," the farmer grinned, having followed the trio to the corral. He always enjoyed the visitors to his farm. These young folks were polite, friendly, and the younger man seemed absolutely delighted in the animals. Must be a city boy, the farmer thought.
"She doesn’t?" Jonas gave the mare a loving pat.
"Nope. Means you’re a good person," Appleton replied.
"Jonas is one of the best," Casey said softly. Just before the mare nudged her shoulder. Missed the blotches of color on Jonas’s cheeks.
"Seems you are too, miss."
"One of the best," Daniel said softly.
The look in his eyes made her breath catch in her throat. The love that blazed there warmed her to her very core. "Almost as good as you," she whispered, when she moved close enough for his arm to surround her shoulders. She smiled at the farmer. "Thank you so much...it’s been so much fun!"
"It’s been incredible!" Jonas said, his eyes glowing, his hand still scratching the mare. Who had decided to rest her head on his shoulder.
"Glad ya enjoyed yer’ selves. Always like t’know folks are havin’ a good time when they visit," Mr. Appleton replied.
Daniel offered his hand. "No doubt we’ll be back."
"We’ll be here. Look forward t’ seein’ you agin’," the farmer smiled, shaking hands enthusiastically.
With final nods of farewell, Daniel led Casey and Jonas back to the Jeep, his arm around her shoulders, the young Kelownan in step beside them.
"Thanks for bringing me out here," Jonas said as he settled into the back seat.
"You’re welcome. I’m glad you enjoyed it," Daniel smiled.
"I never dreamed I’d actually get to see so many animals," Jonas continued.
"One day, you’ll have to go to Sea World and see all of the marine animals," Casey said, adjusting her seatbelt.
"One day," Jonas agreed, still a bit overwhelmed from all that he had experienced in his trip to the zoo and the farm.
"I don’t know about the two of you, but I’m hungry," Daniel announced.
"I could eat," Casey replied.
"If you want to drop me off at the base-" Jonas started.
Casey turned sideways in her seat to look at their ‘guest’. "Nonsense! You’ll have dinner with us. Right, Stud Muffin?"
"Right, Angel," Daniel smiled. "Is there anywhere particular you’d like to try, Jonas?"
The younger man frowned. "I’ve heard some of the people talking about Mexican food. Is it good?"
"Depends on where you get it," Casey informed her young friend. "But we just happen to know about a great Mexican restaurant."
"Okay, Jose Muldoon’s it is," Daniel grinned. He pulled out of the driveway of the farm, and onto the narrow, two-lane highway.
Casey shivered, then frowned slightly. There hadn’t been any poking, nothing to alert her that anything was wrong... Another shiver moved her frame from head to toe.
"Casey?" Daniel asked, concern etched on his handsome features.
"I don’t know," she said softly. "I’m not sensing anything...not exactly. Just-" A third shiver moved over her slender body. "I have no clue what’s going on."
"Well, until you have something, there’s nothing we can do," Daniel said gently. "Let’s have dinner."
"Good, because now that I think about it, I’m pretty hungry!"
He smiled and reached over to wrap his hand around hers. There were, he noted gratefully, no tremors that he could feel. Whatever was about to happen couldn’t be of the urgent variety, or Casey would have sensed as much. It was even possible that she was simply chilled. While the day had been sunny and warm, a hint of the summer to come, when the sun had dipped behind the mountains, the temperature had followed. He adjusted the heat...and made certain the vents were pointed in her direction.
Jonas watched silently. It never ceased to amaze him how many little ways Daniel and Casey showed their love for one another, every day. Seemingly insignificant acts took on new meaning when done with such love, he thought wistfully.
A A A A A A
He had reached the bottom of the tunnel. The Jaffa frowned when he noticed the mark beside the door. Part of it was the same as what he had memorized...but the first mark...was different. It was identical in shape and size to the second mark. He frowned. Something was wrong...
Taking a deep breath to calm his ragged nerves, the Jaffa stared at the number. There was no doubt that the Tau’ri numbers and alphabet were similar to that used by the Goa’uld gods. He closed his eyes. Counted the levels he had passed, ticking off each one in his head. Not far enough. Only eleven levels so far. He was able to associate the ‘incorrect’ mark with what he knew the number ‘eleven’ looked like when written out in the language of the gods. He was still ‘above’ the level he needed to reach. By ten levels, to be precise. The problem with that seemed to be that the access tunnel that he had been told about ended far too soon. The floor beneath his feet was solid...the ladder had simply stopped on this level. With no other option left to him, he carefully turned the lever that would open the door.
When he peeked through the crack the barely opened door had provided, he could see the armed guards who stood just in front of a set of double doors. If he wasn’t mistaken, it was the entrance for a lift, similar to what he used daily on the ha’tak. A large circle, with the same number as marked the wall beside his head, was painted on the surface of the doors.
Taking the opportunity to see as much as possible, he shifted from one foot to the other, looked again. Another set of double doors with the same number painted on it was on this side of the guard’s post. The spy hadn’t reported that access to the lower levels of the Tau’ri facility was so well guarded. There was nothing he could do about the situation, however.
He was about to close the door again, to further consider his dilemma, when he noticed a door not quite opposite of his position. There were markings beside it, but nothing that he could recognize. He chanced opening the door he was leaning against just a bit farther. Looked across the corridor once again. Dared to smile.
Checking the band on his wrist, he slipped from what was referred to as the access tunnel. Leaned against the wall beside the other door, biding his time. When the guards were all looking once again at a small screen that flickered beside them, he dared to open the door, and slipped inside.
Letting out a silent sigh of relief, the Jaffa found himself in another tunnel, indistinguishable from the one he'd just negotiated his way down. Whether his eyes were simply more accustomed to the darkness after so long inside the vertical tunnel, or this particular section was better lit, he wasn’t certain. Able to better see around him, he began to climb down.
For all the planning of his Master, the hours spent to perfect his scheme, one tiny detail had been overlooked...
A A A A A A
The Airman on duty tapped the temperature gauge with his index finger. Frowned at the reading.
"Is there a problem?"
The young man looked over his shoulder at his older, more experienced companion. "The temp in Tunnel One just went up."
"Fifteen degrees." The young man glanced back at the readout. "Make that eighteen."
The frown on the older man’s face matched that of his duty partner. "That’s odd." The only time there was a significant change in the ambient temperature of the tunnels was when someone was there. A single body could raise the temperature, two or more made it rise considerably. "Is there scheduled maintenance going on?"
Grabbing a clipboard, his eyes scanned the schedule for the day. "No, sir."
Reaching over the younger man’s shoulder, the duty officer adjusted the camera closest to the thermometer that was used to monitor the temperature of the tunnel. Using a small remote control lever, he moved the camera to several different angle positions. Everything appeared to be normal. "Better let the general know. Probably a malfunction in the equipment. I’ll send a message to Siler. He’ll get someone up there to check it out."
A A A A A A
Jonas hadn’t spent much time ‘outside’ of the SGC. His work, his determination to learn as much as possible, had seen him spending every moment reading, studying, listening to those around him. He had thought himself prepared for being among the Tau’ri. It had been nothing like he’d thought it would be. It was more interesting, more...amazing, than he could ever have imagined.
He had been overjoyed when Daniel had asked him if he’d like to take a day off, and spend it at the zoo. Cam Balinsky and Beth Meyers had insisted that he had been working every bit as hard as ‘the boss’...as Daniel was referred to by those on the archaeological staff...and deserved a bit of relaxation. He would never know how telling his excitement had been, revealed by the fact that he had been waiting for them when Daniel and Casey had arrived to pick him up. He did his best to remain outwardly calm, sitting quietly in the backseat as the jeep moved through traffic toward the restaurant. This was the first time he would actually experience a Tau’ri eating establishment.
Casey insisted that before they even approached the hostess, they find the restrooms and wash their hands. She had, she declared, been slobbered on by no less than a dozen different animals. Not that she was complaining, she told Daniel. Wiggling her fingers in a wave, she disappeared around a corner.
Jonas followed Daniel, discussing the day with a man who had become a friend during the course of his time at the SGC. Just one of the treasured friendships he’d cultivated since his arrival on Earth. The man he hoped to be like...if just a little bit.
He looked around with unabashed excitement as the hostess led the three toward a table near the middle of the restaurant. So vastly different to the small, intimate eateries of which he was accustomed. On Kelowna, to see this many people in one such establishment was a rare occurrence...usually happening only on the few holidays that were celebrated. Jonas knew for a fact that there were no such special days being celebrated that day in Colorado Springs. "Is it always this...crowded? And the smells...there are so many...that must mean there are a lot of different things being cooked, and the food really does smell good. It looks good, too," he said, nodding toward a table where the patrons were busy eating. "How do the cooks keep up with the demand? Are all restaurants this busy?"
Daniel grinned at the questions. Jonas was always full of them, always so curious about the world around him. Which is natural for someone so inquisitive, since he’s on an alien planet...alien to him anyway! "I don’t know if it’s always this busy, Jonas. But usually around what we consider to be dinnertime, most places are full."
"I agree, Jonas, everything smells so good!" Casey said, sniffing appreciatively.
The young Kelownan looked at each table they passed, trying to determine just what dishes were being served. He’d researched Mexican food, of course. Had seen dozens of pictures of burritos, enchiladas, chimichangas, flautas, taquitos...those seemed to be the most ‘common’. Had learned that most of what was served in the US was considered ‘Tex-Mex’, and wasn’t always an accurate representation of what was served in Mexico itself. Although time had seen some of the more ‘favorite’ dishes integrated into the cuisine of both countries.
It was all he could do to keep from laughing. Daniel watched as Jonas looked around, his head swiveling back and forth as he tried to take in everything at once. I wonder if I have the same look of wonder on my face when the team is off-world? He was betting that the answer to that question was a resounding ‘Yes!’
The hostess smiled, blushed slightly at the grin that Jonas flashed in her direction, then placed three menus on the table of a booth. Casey slid onto the closest bench seat, putting her purse against the wall, her hip against Daniel’s when he sat down beside her. "Enjoy your meal."
Jonas eagerly picked up the menu, began to read out loud. Stopped long enough to look over the top of the plastic coated pages. "Have you eaten here before?"
"Actually, the question should be how often do we eat here," Casey smiled. "And at least once every other week."
Daniel grinned. He understood that being in a foreign, or alien, culture could be overwhelming. Thought about the kind souls who had helped him acclimate to his surroundings whenever he’d found himself in such a situation. "How about we order for you?"
The Kelownan gave a nod, his eyes revealing his gratitude. Everything sounded so interesting, but he really wasn’t certain what he should get, what he would actually enjoy. "I'd like that, thank you," he replied.
"The usual?" Daniel asked his Wife.
"Sounds good to me."
The waiter arrived at the table, all smiles and exuberant greetings. "Welcome to Jose Muldoon’s!"
"Thanks," Daniel smiled in return.
"I’m Josh, and I’ll be your server tonight. Looks like you already know what you want," Josh said, noting that all three menus were closed and stacked at the edge of the table.
Daniel nodded. "We’d like an order of Aztec Queso to start with, and three plates of Pollo Topolobampo, with extra guacamole."
"Excellent choice, sir," the waiter replied. "To drink?"
"Two strawberry margaritas, and an iced tea for me."
The waiter finished writing the order and scooped up the menus. "I’ll be right back with chips and salsa, and your drinks."
It was all he could do to keep from bouncing like an excited child. So far, he’d found the food of the Tau’ri to be much more varied than what he was accustomed to eating. There were so many more flavors than he’d ever encountered before. And he hadn’t been served much that he’d not found at least interesting. Jonas was certain that nothing could top pizza, but he was hoping that this food would be at least as good.
When the basket of chips and bowls of salsa were placed on the table, he watched what Casey and Daniel did, before imitating them. Scooped a generous portion of the tomato based sauce onto the chip. Took a bite. Felt the fire that burned on his lips and tongue. His eyes filled with tears, and it was all he could do to swallow. Grabbed for the glass of water that had been placed in front of him. "Is it all this...spicy?" he gasped.
Casey burst into giggles. "Jonas, you’re a lightweight. This is the mild sauce."
"If this is...mild...I don’t think I’d ever want to try anything stronger!" Jonas declared.
"Hotter," Daniel laughed. "The term would be ‘hotter’."
"Hotter, or stronger, this is..." He took another sip of water. "It’s good. I just wasn’t expecting it to be so...hot."
"I promise, you’ll enjoy the food," Casey said. "If you like spicy pizza, you’ll love the Queso and the topolobampo."
With a nod, Jonas picked up another chip. Put less of the salsa on the corner. Took another bite. This time he was prepared. Could taste the other flavors that mixed with whatever it was that made the sauce so...hot. It really was very good. "It’s rude to ‘double-dip’," he announced, carefully breaking off a piece of tortilla chip to dunk into the sauce. "Teal’c taught me that."
Casey giggled. "He should teach a couple of others in the mountain about that little bit of etiquette."
"Well, it really is rude," Jonas replied.
"And unsanitary as well. Not to mention just downright gross," Casey added.
"Actually, I just read about a study that was done," Jonas said, dipping another chip, "and it’s really not unsanitary. Saliva has a natural bacteria killer. According to the article, you get more ‘diseases’ from shaking hands, or handling money, than from double dipping."
Casey giggled. "Yeah, well, that’s good. It would take all the fun out of kissing if you were worried about spreading germs."
"Double dipping is still gross," Jonas declared.
Daniel did his best not to laugh out loud, managed to keep his mirth contained in a soft chuckle.
A A A A A A
The Jaffa paused. The first mark beside the door was exactly like he'd memorized. The second, however, was different. And he'd lost count of how many levels he had climbed so far, although he wasn’t certain how he’d managed to do so. He was close, he was certain of that fact. Wiping the sweat from his brow with the back of his hand, he began to descend once again. When he reached the next level, he gave an audible sigh of relief. The marks were exactly what he had been looking for.
He checked the band on his wrist, and satisfied that he was still hidden from sight completely, he eased the door open. Surely his god was blessing him, for there wasn’t a soul to be seen. Careful study of the layout of the fortress gave the Jaffa knowledge of what his position should be within it as he moved down the escape tunnel. He had an idea of where he needed to go. More Tau’ri marks had been memorized, marks that would take him directly to that which he sought.
Making his way along the corridor, keeping against the wall as much as possible, he studied the marks on the signs above each door, and found the door leading to the goal of his mission.
Sweat trickled down the side of his face when he realized the door was locked. He had the means to disable it. What he didn’t know was what, if any, alarms would be triggered. He was cloaked, true. That cloak would not prevent him from being discovered if someone ran into him, or he into them. If he had to run, and disturbed anything around him, the movement would alert the Tau’ri to his presence. Once again the thought that the Tau’ri were sneaky, and particularly lucky, moved through his mind.
He had no choice. To obey the will of his god was his duty. Glancing around to make sure he was still alone in the corridor, the Jaffa pressed the metal band that circled his wrist against the combination lock on the door. Heard the sound of the lock disengaging. Another look over his shoulders, to ascertain that the enemy wasn’t creeping up behind him, then he carefully opened the door, and slipped inside.
A A A A A A
"Sir, Siler just called in," the Airman said. "There’s nothing wrong with the temperature gauges, or the thermostat."
The sergeant frowned. "Did he have any idea what could have caused the temp change?"
"No, sir. He said the only way the temp would rise that much, that quickly, was if someone were in the tunnel."
The frown deepened, hearing that the Master Sergeant had confirmed his own thoughts on the matter. "Do another visual sweep."
Once again the cameras were rotated, scanning the surfaces of the tunnel carefully.
Shaking his head, the sergeant made his decision. "Write it up, get it to the general."
"But we didn’t see anything."
"And Siler didn’t find anything wrong with the equipment. Run a check on our systems, then write it up. There was a temperature fluctuation. Just because we didn’t see anything doesn’t mean we don’t report it."
The Airman nodded. "Just another day at the SGC, huh?"
The sergeant chuckled. "God, I hope not!"
A A A A A A
The Jaffa looked around the room. According to the First Prime, what he wanted would be in a special cabinet, which would keep the specimens cold. ‘Frozen’ was the word Laqip had used.
Several large gray cabinets lined the walls. All of them had locks on them. The Jaffa wiped a hand over his face. It would take time to break all of those locks. And anyone who came into the room would notice immediately. He couldn’t allow his presence to be noted. Hopefully no one would be the wiser that he had been into the fortress until after he was safely back on the flagship of his god.
Maybe he’d be able to tell which of the storage units were cold. He crossed the room, put his hand against the polished stainless steel exterior. It was cold, but...
The next cabinet felt the same, and the next, and the next.
Nearly panicked, the Jaffa spun in a circle, trying to discern the cabinet he needed. Voices outside the door had him diving toward a shadowed corner.
The door opened, and a small woman with auburn hair stepped into the room, after waving to whomever was still in the corridor. She hurried toward one of the cabinets, pulled a strand of yarn from her pocket. Blood red yarn. Tied at one end was a key. Which she used to open the cabinet.
Fog swirled around her as the door opened, the frozen air meeting the warmer air of the room. From the other pocket of the white coat she withdrew several slips of paper. She quickly attached them to the fronts of a half dozen trays. With a satisfied nod, the woman closed the doors, reattached the lock, and hurried out of the room.
The Jaffa grinned from ear to ear. The Tau’ri had shown him exactly what he needed. When he was certain that no one else was going to enter the room, he raced to the cabinet. Brute strength, aided by the adrenaline that coursed through his body, made quick work of the small padlock.
The euphoria of having found the cabinet he needed faded as he stared at the multitude of trays. The front of each was identified with small yellow tags. More importantly, the marks on those tags were easily read. A fact which forced its way past the shock of finding so many vials.
He had memorized the marks that had been on the small piece of metal he had been given. There had been two, apparently the Tau’ri had all been wearing the tags beneath their clothing when they had been captured. The assumption by the First Prime and High Priest that they were some sort of identification, most probably required for all Tau’ri. There was no explanation as to why two were considered necessary, when the marks were identical on both. Nor was that a question he needed to concern himself with. He did, however, wish that he’d thought to request one of those pieces of metal. It would be so much easier to use it to compare to the marks he could see!
Each vial had writing on it. But to go through all of them... Another examination of the contents of the cabinet had him sighing out loud. Each tray held small square containers. Each container held twelve vials. The containers were marked with yellow tags as well.
Another sigh hissed past the Jaffa’s lips. A glance at the band on his wrist alerted him to the fact that he was quickly running out of time. Studying the tags, it didn’t take the Jaffa long to understand that the vials were grouped according to their marks.
After an agonizing five minutes, he located a container with marks that were close to those he had memorized. More voices in the corridor. The enemy was on the other side of the closed door. He picked up the container. Pressed the small disc against it. Watched as a flash of bright light appeared, nearly blinding him. When it faded, the container was gone. The slip of white paper that the petite woman had attached to the front of the tray, however, had drifted to the floor. The Jaffa had missed what would become a second clue for the Tau’ri.
He still questioned why the technology stolen from the small, gray Asgard couldn’t have been adjusted to return him to the ha’tak as well. He was Jaffa, he reminded himself firmly. The ways of his god were not to be questioned.
His mission complete, the Jaffa slipped back into the hallway. Found the hatch that led to the escape tunnel. And began his long climb back to the surface of the planet.
A A A A A A
Walter Harriman tapped on the general’s office door. "Sir, we have a silent alarm in med lab."
At least he hadn’t left yet, General Hammond thought, just a bit irritably; there would be no need to turn around and return to the base. Why did it always seem that crises arose at dinner time? How long had it been since he’d actually had dinner with Abby and the girls? It’s part of the job, and you’d miss the excitement, he told himself. And grudgingly admitted the truth of that. Then pushed his personal thoughts aside. "Precise location?"
"Storage lab number two. That’s where Doctor Fraiser stores alien devices, and blood samples."
"Two teams on their way."
"Good." The general pushed himself away from the desk. Nodded at the young sergeant who had entered the office, a stack of folders in her arms. More paperwork, Hammond sighed mentally. He hurried toward the elevator. By the time he arrived at the med level, the security teams would have a preliminary report for him. "Alert Doctor Fraiser."
"Yes, sir," Walter replied.
A frown on his face, Sergeant Siler was on his way to the general’s office. In his hand were half a dozen small, green leaves. He hadn’t noticed them on the first sweep of Access Tunnel Two, the shaft that actually connected the SGC to the outside world. But when he had returned, just to double check that the thermostats were working, he’d found them. Two had been on the landing beside level two. One had been on top of camera three. The others had been on the landing for level eleven.
"Tell General Hammond we just picked up an energy surge," one of the techs from the control room called out when Walter walked back into the room.
Without taking time to ask where the surge had been located, the short, gray-haired man dashed back up the spiral stairs. "General! Sir, wait!"
Hammond turned around to see his assistant running toward him.
"Sir, Jones just reported that an energy surge was detected."
"I’m going to guess that it was also in the med lab?"
"I’m not sure," Walter admitted.
What information he had was sketchy, but it indicated to him that something was amiss. "Have all security forces go to REDCON-3," Hammond ordered.
Similar to the well known ‘red alert’ used so often on television shows, ‘Readiness Condition’ allowed a base commander to set into motion protocols that had been devised to deal with hostile situations. There were five such alerts, with 4 being nothing more than business as usual, to 1.5, which would see his teams ready to embark or to stand and fight, whichever the case might be; to 1, which was a full blown engagement alert.
"Sir, I found these in Access Tunnel Two," Siler said, hurrying toward the general, after hearing Walter’s report.
The general sighed at the pile of leaves in the sergeant’s hand. Well, that proved that there was some sort of security breach in progress, didn’t it? "When?"
"About ten minutes ago. Security called Maintenance when they noticed a temperature change in the Tunnel One," Siler replied.
That was a potentially dangerous situation. He knew that a dangerous situation could go from bad to worse in a matter of minutes, or even seconds. "Thank you, sergeant. Could you please tell Walter to recall all SG teams currently off base? If we’re being invaded, we need everyone here. Tell him to raise REDCON to level 2."
Siler could feel his stomach falling to his knees. The SGC had been invaded before, and it had never been anything other than a terrifying experience. He wasn’t looking forward to dealing with aliens...or any hostile humans...bent on taking over Cheyenne Mountain. "Yes, sir!"
A A A A A A
Janet reached for her phone, it had begun ringing just seconds before the klaxons had begun wailing. "Doctor Fraiser."
"Ma'am, General Hammond is on his way up, there’s been a security breach in Med Lab. Storage lab number two," Walter said quickly.
She sat upright. She’d just been in that room! Closed her eyes and gave a silent groan. She must have left the refrigerator ajar. Or forgotten to reset the keypad when she left.
"There was also a power surge that was located there," Walter continued.
Now that couldn’t have been caused by her brief visit to the room! Janet frowned. Heard the stamp of running feet. Security team. Teams, it sounded like. "Thank you, Walter. I’ll meet the general."
She nearly tossed the receiver back onto the cradle, already on her feet and moving toward the door. Please don’t let this be because I screwed something up! she prayed silently.
Marines were already in formation around the door to the lab. The general was just stepping off the elevator.
Hammond nodded to the petite doctor, and she carefully entered her pass code. The door audibly unlocked.
Janet stepped out of the way, and the squad leader for the first team stepped up to the door, his partner standing on the other side. With a quiet count, the men coordinated their movements, threw the door open, their weapons pointing into the room before they peeked around the corner.
Rushing into the lab, the Marines found it empty.
Janet was the first to see the slip of paper lying on the floor. She bent down to retrieve it, recognized her own handwriting. "I just put this on one of the trays. The samples on it are to be destroyed."
General Hammond frowned. "Open the refrigerator, Doctor, see if everything is the way you left it."
With a nod, Janet hurried to the cabinet. Gasped out loud. "The padlock is missing! I know I locked it!"
"There it is, ma’am," one of the Marines said, pointing to the floor just in front of the shiny stainless steel door.
She picked it up and examined it. Handed it to the general. "Whoever did that, has a lot of strength in his hands!"
"I agree," the general nodded. And that certainly didn’t bode well for the situation, he thought wearily.
Puffy clouds of fog enveloped her for a moment when she pulled open the door. She ran her fingers over the trays..."That’s...odd."
"What’s wrong, Doctor?"
"There’s an entire container missing. Twelve samples."
"Yes, sir. They’re old, I should have had them destroyed before now, but it’s been so crazy around here-"
The general smiled. "I’m not concerned about that, Doctor. I know that you’ve been busy. Is there anything else missing?"
"I’d have to do a quick inventory."
"Do it. Best time," the general ordered.
A A A A A A
His heart had nearly given out when he heard the alarms wailing. The lights in the tunnel had begun flashing, and not certain that he wasn’t about to be killed, the Jaffa had exited on the level just above level twenty-one. He remained pressed against the wall as people appeared in the corridors, and ran toward the elevator.
His pulse was pounding, he was doing his best to keep his breathing slow and steady. He inched toward the lift. If he were very lucky, when it opened again, he could slip inside and ride it to the surface. No, his brain reminded him, with not a little force, only to level eleven. Where he would have to decide...try to continue climbing through the access tunnel...or take the second lift out of this cursed fortress?
One lone woman raced past him, toward the elevator. He was right behind her.
When the doors opened, the Jaffa bit back a curse. There was no duty post! This was not the correct level! Before he could decide what he should do, two more Tau’ri warriors entered the car. He backed himself into the corner, listened as they spoke to one another. He didn't understand all that they said, only a word or two; but it was enough to know that the Tau’ri were now on alert. He could only assume that his presence, or the results of his actions, had been discovered.
This time he followed the unsuspecting Tau’ri off the elevator. It was still the wrong level, but he should be able to find the entrance to the escape tunnel. He would climb up as far as he could. Then he would decide how best to make his escape.
A A A A A A
Daniel barely repressed a sigh when his cell phone began to ring. Rolled his eyes when Casey’s began to ring just seconds later. Whenever that happened, it meant only one thing. It was an automated call from the base. For whatever reason, and it was never a good one, they were being ordered to report for duty. They might have been civilians, but they were members of SG-1. The same rules that applied to the military personnel for the base applied to them.
"I am not amused!" Casey hissed. She resolutely took another bite of her entree before opening her cellphone.
He was already waving at the waiter. Checked the message on his phone. Yep. Just what he thought...
Casey looked at him, held up her own cellphone. "At least whoever went stupid waited until we’d toured the zoo and petting farm," she sighed.
He couldn’t help but chuckle. "A few more minutes and whoever it is would have let you finish dinner."
"Well, can’t expect snakes to be considerate, can we?"
He jumped on the comment. "It’s a snake? You’re sure?"
She rolled her eyes. "Who else would be stupid enough to try to breach security in the mountain?"
He grinned. "Good point." The waiter had arrived, and Daniel gave a quick nod of acknowledgement. "We need take-out containers, as quickly as possible, please. And the check."
For those not living near a military base, such behavior might have seemed odd. But what with drills and actual emergencies, it wasn’t unusual for customers to ‘jump and run’. This was the third table of patrons who had made the request, all of them with cellphones in hand. The waiter nodded. "Yes, sir. Right away."
Five minutes later, Daniel was leading Casey and Jonas to the Jeep. He couldn’t help but wonder if the ‘shivers’ she'd had earlier were related to the current situation. If she'd felt anything, sensed anything, she would have told him immediately. That she hadn’t said anything let him know that nothing had ‘come through’. Hopefully she wouldn’t beat herself up over that fact.
A A A A A A
Whispering a prayer of protection to his god, a protective mantra that he hoped would see him safely returned to the ha’tak, the Jaffa located the hatch that allowed access to the escape tunnel. The flashing red lights offered more than enough light to see by. He climbed quickly. Reached the top...level eleven. Luck was with him, the guards at the sentry post were busy with several people, it looked as if they were coming through the strange gate. No one was looking toward the elevator behind him, nor the doors to the separate access tunnels.
Heart pounding, adrenaline flowing, the Jaffa climbed quickly. Ten...Nine...Eight...Seven...Six...
A A A A A A
"Sir, I’m getting that weird temp reading again," the young Airman reported.
"Something screwy is going on," the sergeant replied. He grabbed the phone that hung on the wall beside the door. "Yeah, I need to speak with General Hammond. We have a temperature fluctuation in Access Tunnel Two." He listened carefully, then responded in the affirmative. Carefully hung up. "We need the exact time when you noticed the first temp increase in Tunnel One. And the general wants all video from the last two hours from all tunnel cameras sent to him ASAP."
The young Airman swallowed, then nodded. "Pulling up data now," he replied, his fingers flying over the keyboard in front of him.
A A A A A A
The Jaffa scrambled from handhold to handhold, trying to hurl himself upward as quickly as possible.
When the hatch that covered the concrete cylinder came into sight, he sighed with giddy relief. He gave the circular locking mechanism a twist, listened for the tell-tale clang of the lock releasing. Climbed out of the tunnel. Stars were twinkling brightly above him, the cool of the night air caressing him like a lover.
He touched the band on his wrist, and in a flash of brilliant white light accompanied by an odd, whispering sound, three rings dropped around the Jaffa. Another flash of light, and the spot where he had been standing was empty.
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