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 Picking Up the Pieces

 

Chapter 11

SG-1 was sitting around the conference table, giving their mission report to the general. That man was frowning slightly as he listened; each of the team members reiterating Casey’s insistence that the ‘super weapon’ not be reconstructed. There had already been inquiries about the possibility of using the Ancient weapon against the Goa’uld. Too much pressure from the Pentagon could force the president to order the components put together for a ‘test run’.

"So," Jack said, concluding his report, "other than the piece in Arizona, we’re ready to take on Ba’al."

"Very good, colonel," Hammond said.

"Sir, is something wrong?" Casey asked softly.

The general started slightly. "Not yet," he replied.

"We’re running out of time," Casey said flatly.

Again the general jerked slightly. Knew from the look in the green eyes that watched him intently that the seer knew exactly what he was facing. "Yes, we are."

"Let them have what we found," Casey suggested, ‘seeing’ the pressure the general was under to offer up a working weapon to use against the Goa’uld. "Well, minus the ZPM...we’ll need that for the Antarctic weapon. And what we find, we don’t tell them about."

"I wish it were that easy," Hammond sighed. "But the Pentagon brass are interested in the weapon they’ve been reading about from mission reports."

"They haven’t read mine, or they wouldn’t be so hot to get their hands on it," Casey muttered.

"Sir, there’s always the chance that we won’t be able to locate that final piece," Sam pointed out. "We’re already fairly certain that all of the pieces, including a working platform, have to be together for the super weapon to function. The scepter alone is useless, so if we can’t get it from Ba’al, he won’t be able to do anything with it."

"At the moment, the platform in the Antarctic is non-operational," Jack added. "And without further examination by Major Carter and her lab rats, we won’t know how it works."

General Hammond could feel the twitch in his cheek as he listened. SG-1 was doing their best to hand him the results he needed.

"If we get rid of that piece from Arizona quickly enough, let the brass prove we found anything there," Daniel suggested. "We could find nothing more than...I dunno...an empty box!"

Sam perked up. "I have just the box to give them, too!"

"That godawful thing in your lab?" Casey asked.

"That’s the one," Sam confirmed.

"I don’t intend to lie to the president," General Hammond said succinctly.

"So don’t lie to him. Let him lie to the brass. Politicians do that all the time," Jack smirked. "Lie, that is."

"Sir, maybe if SG-1 doesn’t go to Arizona, the Pentagon brass will think that whatever was there turned out to be nothing of consequence," Sam offered.

The idea had merit, the general mused. "Major Carter, do you believe that Doctors Lee and Coombs can find the device beneath the crater, without causing a commotion, or revealing exactly what they’re doing?"

Sam tugged at her lip. "I think, with enough...preparation-"

"Coaching," Jack muttered.

"-they can retrieve the component and return to the SGC without anyone being aware that they’ve removed anything."

General Hammond studied Jack for a moment. Had to agree with his second-in-command. The civilian scientists had never been in a situation where their every move would be monitored by the Pentagon, and possibly the media.

"Sir, what about sending Cam Balinsky along?" Daniel suggested. "He’s got a degree in geology, I’m certain he could come up with a plausible cover story for using the existing bore holes. And if we need to dig further, he could explain that as well. He also has three years experience on an SG team."

"Maybe he could just say that he wants a ‘clean’ sample to work with?" Casey said.

"That’s plausible," Sam nodded.

"I’ll speak to Doctor Balinsky," General Hammond promised.

"As long as the brass doesn’t know he was in Antarctica with us, they shouldn’t get suspicious," Casey mused.

"Well, you know how easy it is to misplace reports. It might take a couple of weeks to get everything on this mission together to send on to the Pentagon," Jack tossed in.

General Hammond put his elbows on the table, laced his fingers together, leaned his chin against them for a moment, studying the faces of his premier team. "If Doctor Balinsky believes he can retrieve this device without detection by those who supervise the crater area, then I’ll send him and Doctor Lee to Arizona immediately," the general said, after several moments of tense silence.

"What the Pentagon brass doesn’t know, won’t hurt us," Casey murmured softly.

"In the meantime, colonel, I want a full mission plan on my desk by tomorrow afternoon, detailing your thoughts about getting that scepter from Ba’al," the general said.

"Yes, sir. Teal’c and I will get to work on that right away," Jack promised.

"Very well. Dismissed."

The team rose to their feet, waited until the general had returned to his office before exchanging worried glances. "We have to keep the brass out of the loop on this weapon," Casey said softly.

"We’ll just have to see to it that we get rid of the significant parts before anyone in the Pentagon is any the wiser," Daniel sighed.

Jack peeked into the general’s office, then motioned to the corridor.

Hammond wasn’t unaware of what was transpiring. He could only hope that whatever plan SG-1 came up with would work...and that he wouldn’t be tasked to call them on any ‘insubordination’ that might be construed by the elements determined to have a new weapon, one built by the Ancients, added to the arsenal of the United States military.

 

A A A A A A

 

Cam Balinsky looked up when Doctor Lee entered the room.

"I see you’re going over the information I found about the crater site," Lee said immediately. He was still in a state of shock that he and Doctor Balinsky would be going after that piece of the Ancient technology, rather than SG-1. Personally, he’d much rather it be the premier team. He was a theoretician, his doctorates were in micro-engineering and nanotechnology. He’d worked off world, many times. But never before the area had been deemed ‘safe’. Doctor Bill Lee just wasn’t interested in ‘adventure’. Give him a piece of technology...Goa’uld, Ancient, whatever the alien discovery might be. Put him in a lab, and let him examine it, tinker with it, reverse engineer it. That made him happy. "It looks like there’s at least one bore hole we can use to reach this thing."

The redhead nodded. Cam had done a bit of his own research into the details of the Meteor Crater in Arizona. "There was quite a bit of mining that went on, in an attempt to locate pieces of the meteorite."

"That’s to our advantage," Lee nodded. "I’ve come up with what I think is a believable reason for wanting to extend the deepest borehole."

"And that reason would be?" Cam asked, when it became clear that the scientist was waiting for the question.

"We’re researching the possibility that there are fragments of the meteorite deeper than anyone has searched before."

"I thought that it had already been proven that the meteorite had disintegrated on impact," Cam argued.

Doctor Lee grinned. "A scientist can study anything he wants when he has a grant to fund that research. And we have that funding. As well as permission to access the old mine shafts."

"So we’ll be able to drill down to that device, and bring it up?"

"Yep. Coombs helped me locate a robot that will be perfect for going after the device. It can dig its way to the level we need, burrow over, and the retrieve the component."

"Sounds impressive," Cam allowed.

"For nearly sixty million dollars, it should be."

Cam whistled slightly. Then his eyes widened. "General Hammond approved that purchase?"

An excited nod had Lee pushing up his glasses as a result. "He said that chances are we can use it again. If not, we can sell it and recoup our costs."

Sixty million dollars! That was a lot of money for a small robot. Which only increased the sense of urgency that the entire Ancient weapon had brought to the mountain. Ever since the first inkling of its existence, it seemed that almost everything being done by scientists and SG teams was somehow related to the weapon. Sure will be glad when that thing is gone, Cam thought nervously.

"We’re scheduled to leave tomorrow morning," Lee continued. "We have permission to dig for two days. Undisturbed. Not quite sure how the general managed to do that, and keep the SGC, the Pentagon, and the rest of the US military out of it."

"The director for the meteor site doesn’t know that we’re working for the Air Force?" Cam asked incredulously.

"Nope. Hammond just said that he was sending a team of scientists to do a bit of digging, that we had the necessary permits, which I figure someone from DC procured for us, and that we have funds to cover the fee required for such a dig. From what Major Carter told me...she helped the general set all this up...Hammond made it sound as if he’s nothing more than the field coordinator of a research project."

"Wow."

Doctor Lee nodded again. "I know. Hammond had the permits within a couple hours’ time. No questions asked from what I heard. I don’t know if he’s calling in favors, or if someone in DC is as worried about this thing as we are."

"Not everyone in DC is afraid of it," Cam replied dryly. He’d heard Daniel and Casey complaining about the contingent in the military who were anxious to get their hands on the weapon.

Lee had heard the rumors as well. Like everyone else at the SGC, he’d seen first hand what Casey’s ‘gift’ was capable of; and like the others who knew about the weapon, and her unease, he wasn’t any more willing to put it together. "Well, the sooner we get this thing, the sooner we can get it back here."

"And lose it, if we’re very lucky," Cam murmured. As spooked as Casey was about this particular component of the weapon, he hoped it would remain at the SGC for a very short time, and would be ‘lost’ again - in the most permanent manner possible.

"Yeah," Lee said quietly. Shook his head slightly. "We’re flying commercially. Have a rental car reserved in Flagstaff. We’ll have to drive to Winslow, where we have motel rooms reserved. We’ll drive to the meteor site from there."

"Okay, I’ll meet you at the airport."

"Seven a.m."

Cam bit back a groan. "I suppose that the sooner we get there, the better."

"Yep."

"What about the robot?"

"Due to arrive today. We’ll have it crated, and we’ll check it through with our baggage."

"And hope the airline doesn’t lose it," Cam grinned.

"Well, when I tell them that it’s a sixty million dollar piece of equipment, and that it’s delicate, and any damage will see the airline held accountable, I’m betting they’ll treat it like it’s their own," Lee grinned in return.

"Let’s hope so."

 

A A A A A A

 

Daniel and Casey were on the elevator, on their way topside when Cam stepped into the car. "Heading home?" he asked, smiling at the couple.

"Yep," Daniel replied, tucking his arm around Casey’s waist. "We’re waiting for a message from Selmak."

"Selmak?" Cam asked, slightly surprised.

"She has a little trick for getting the team onto Ba’al’s ship, and keeping the alarms from going off for a few seconds," Casey explained.

"And a few seconds gets you out of the line of fire," Cam said, nodding his understanding. "Think she’ll share the secret?"

"I’d like to think she will," Daniel sighed. "Nothing we can do if she doesn’t."

Casey cocked her head sideways. "Watch out for the spider. When it runs backwards, move out of the way."

Cam frowned. Just what in the hell could that mean? "Okay..." he said slowly. "I’ll be sure to watch out for spiders."

Daniel grinned. "Not just any spider, Cam. The spider."

"Right."

"Hey, don’t look at me," Casey exclaimed when Cam gave her a second questioning glance. "I just pass along the messages. I don’t know what it means, either!"

He couldn’t help but chuckle. "Right. Thanks for the heads up. I’m certain that I’ll understand when the time comes."

"I hope so," Casey sighed.

The doors opened, and the trio signed out at the level eleven checkpoint. Rode in silence to the surface.

The mood was subdued as the group of military personnel and scientists, huddled in twos and threes, waited for the bus to make its way to the reserved parking lot. Casey shivered slightly. The more time that passed, trying to get the parts of that Ancient weapon together, the more stressful the situation became. No one in the mountain was unaware of the demands, subtle as they were at the moment, being made from certain military circles. No one had any desire to see an Ancient weapon, working or not, in the control of those ill-equipped to handle the technology. Especially when everyone knew of her aversion to putting the thing together.

"If I don’t see you before you leave on your mission, good luck," Cam said, offering his hand to Daniel.

"Same to you. Try to keep Doctor Lee out of trouble," Daniel replied.

Cam grinned. "I’ll do my best."

With quiet ‘good-nights’ exchanged, Casey and Daniel headed for their Jeep, Cam walked toward his battered Datsun. He watched the couple for a few minutes before starting his car. He wondered if Casey would be on the base when he and Lee brought back...whatever it was that awaited them in Arizona. There wasn’t a single doubt in his mind that they would find something. And, he understood that whatever it was, the object was fairly small. The size of a shoebox, was how Major Carter had described the amount of naquadah, faint as it was, that she had discovered lurking beneath the impact crater. If Casey was around, he had the feeling she wouldn’t rest until the component had been disposed of...in one way or another. He shivered slightly. Wondered if just leaving the thing where it was might not be their best choice.

"Just our luck some geologist, or other scientist, would dig the damned thing up," he muttered to himself. And that was something that would cause more trouble than anyone at the SGC wanted to face.

He drove slowly through the streets of Colorado Springs, to his apartment. He’d grab a bite to eat, pack a bag, and get a few hours of sleep. And do his best not to think about spiders.

 

A A A A A A

 

Checking the sensitive piece of equipment at the airport had been amusing. The very nice ticket agent had suggested buying a seat for the crate, rather than risking damage...especially, she informed them, when the airline couldn’t be held responsible for its loss or any possible damage. Doctor Lee had conceded that the idea had merit, as he was loathe to let the crate...which was a blue plastic-polymer affair just larger than an old fashioned milk crate...out of his sight. So it had been nestled into the seat between the two men for the duration of the flight. The funniest part, Cam decided, was the fact that the guards who ushered them through the security screening area were just as eager to get the two men, and their very expensive piece of equipment, into someone else’s jurisdiction as quickly as possible. Neither man had even had time to remove his shoes before they were being waved through the scanner. Not even the beeping caused by coins and watches slowed the TSA agents in shooing the two men toward their gate.

The flight itself had been uneventful. Cramped as hell, which was nothing unusual when flying economy class. Doctor Lee insisted that doing so gave them the appearance of scientists more interested in spending grant money on research than on creature comforts. Cam’s back and knees vehemently disagreed.

He supposed that he should be grateful for the chances to stretch his legs. Well, the layover in Denver wasn’t such a big deal, it wasn’t much more than a thirty minute flight from Colorado Springs. The layover in Phoenix had been longer. And expensive...they’d both been hungry, and airport restaurants charged premium prices for average fare. Twenty bucks for a sandwich, a cup of soup, and a can of Pepsi!

It was just after four in the afternoon when Cam and Lee walked through the airport in Flagstaff. They'd agreed that they’d drive to Winslow, check into their rooms, have a bit of dinner, and start their adventure at the crater site the first thing the next morning.

Cam fell into the motel room bed, stared at the ceiling. What if he and Doctor Lee were unable to retrieve that component? Would their interest in digging further beneath the impact point spark others to do the same? If so...and that piece of the weapon was still there... No. We can’t let that happen! He mentally shook his head with determination. They had to get that weapon component. Failure was just not an option. He didn’t think he’d ever felt as much pressure to succeed as he felt in that moment. So much was at stake! Was this how the members of SG-1 felt each and every time they embarked on a mission? Because nine times out of ten, the missions that special team went on were literally life and death, and usually meant the safety of every human in the galaxy...or the universe! How did they deal with it?

Sleep came slowly, and was filled with nightmares of shoe boxes that continually remained just out of reach, and were guarded by giant spiders.

 

A A A A A A

 

Rental cars were offered in a variety of sizes. The larger the car, the more it cost. In keeping with their ‘frugal’ research personas, Doctor Lee had reserved a compact. Cam figured he should be grateful it wasn’t a ‘subcompact’, although what the hell could be smaller than the Honda Accord he crawled into, he wasn’t certain.

Doctor Lee had been adamant about no food or beverages in the car...which included Cam’s much needed cup of coffee. Nor was he willing to wait for Cam to finish. With a pained sigh, Cam left his coffee sitting on the small, round table in his room. And chuckled mentally at the thought of Doctor Lee trying to keep Casey from her morning cup of coffee. Or Daniel, for that matter. Neither Jackson functioned well without their caffeine ‘injections’ first thing in the morning. Cam was actually grinning when Lee pulled out of the parking lot, thinking of the frosty glare his companion would have received if he’d dared to demand that Casey forego her first cup of coffee for the day.

By the time the little white car had turned on the road toward the crater site, Cam had determined that he would drive back to Winslow. Doctor Lee seemed to think that talking, which the man couldn’t do without looking at the person to whom he was speaking, was perfectly acceptable. Cam would swear on any and all holy books that Lee had spent more time looking at him than at the road.

In spite of the annoyances, and the two heart-stopping moments when Lee decided to pass slower moving vehicles, regardless of oncoming traffic, the two SGC scientists arrived unscathed at the meteor site just after seven a.m.

The director of the meteor visitor’s center, and the crater site itself, an aging man who was so average as to be forgettable as soon as he was out of sight, had driven them to the mining site in the very center of the crater. The jeep had lumbered down the side of the crater on what passed for a road, adding more gray hairs to his head, Cam was certain. During the bumpy, nerve-wracking ride, the director let the two scientists know that they were wasting their time...that no significant deposits of the meteorite had ever been located.

The mining shaft was in the very center of the crater. A fence protected what looked like nothing more than a dilapidated shed that covered a gaping hole in the earth. Wooden cutouts of an astronaut in a full space-flight suit and an American flag, the colors faded from years under the desert sun, decorated the fence beside the single gate that offered access.

"There are ladders that will take you down to the survey platforms," the director informed them, when they arrived at the mining shaft. "There’s an old elevator, but I don’t know how well it works. No one has used it for a couple of decades."

"We’ll climb," Doctor Lee said, his voice betraying his disquiet. He was clutching the crate that held the robot in his arms with what appeared to be a death grip.

"Whatever suits you," the man shrugged.

"With luck, we’ll be able to get several good, ‘clean’ samples," Cam said, offering a smile to their ‘host’. "Then we’ll be out of the way."

"Well, not many tourists are willing to hike this far," the director replied. "Doubt you’ll even be noticed."

I certainly hope not, Cam thought. Especially if they came out of that mine shaft with a alien ‘shoebox’ in hand!

"Here’s my cell number," the director said, offering Cam a small business card. "When you’re ready for a ride back to the Center, just give me a call."

"Thanks," Cam said, his gratitude sincere.

"Good luck, gentlemen," the director said. He disappeared as quickly as he’d arrived at the Center to whisk them to the bottom of the crater.

Doctor Lee looked around a bit apprehensively. "Did you think to bring flashlights?"

Cam chuckled. Gearing up for missions with SG-13 had taught him to anticipate specific equipment that might be needed for each mission. Flashlights were considered ‘standard’ gear, even if they were just the small pen lights. He and his teammates had been caught unaware...and unprepared...enough times for him to have thought carefully about what he and Doctor Lee might need. "Yep. A couple of ropes, too," he said, patting the bottom of the backpack slung over his shoulders.

"Good, good," Lee murmured. "I suppose we should just get this done."

"Suppose so," Cam agreed.

The interior of the shaft, which was a good eight feet in diameter, seemed especially dark after the bright morning sunlight. Shining flashlights down toward the bottom of the hole, they could see the platforms that marked the side at regular intervals. It was going to be a long climb to the bottom. One look at the small, rusty cage that was connected to an equally small and rusty cable sent both men for the ladder without a second glance.

The problem of getting the robot, or at least the crate that held the robot, to the bottom of the shaft was easily dealt with. A quick check, done by simply tossing one end of the rope toward the first platform, let them know that the rope was too short. Cam carefully tied one end of the rope around the crate, the other end around his waist. The crate wasn’t overly heavy, not more than fifty pounds, he guessed, no heavier than the pack he normally wore on missions. It would swing free while he climbed down, which meant it would undoubtedly bang against the rock wall and the ladders, but Lee assured him that the robot was packed in a protective case, and would be well protected from any particularly hard impacts. The crate could be tugged to each platform as they rested.

Cam was surprised to find that the width of the shaft remained constant for such a long way down. As the two men descended, he took note of the rock that made up the walls of the shaft. Like the walls of the crater above them, the layers of rock told the story of the planet before the meteor had impacted upon it. That impact had overturned and inverted the layers of rock and sediment to a distance of one to two kilometers outward from the crater’s edge, or so he’d read. Which meant that the layers of rock and sediment immediately exterior to the rim of the crater were stacked in the opposite order in which they normally occurred. The oldest rocks were on the top, the youngest, on the outer foot of the rim.

The walls of the shaft, Cam noted, offered a view of the rock exactly as one would expect. His trained eye could see the differences in each layer. He knew what to expect in this part of the country, because he’d done extensive training in the Grand Canyon. Mudstone that had been formed around two million years ago was the first layer. Dolomite, which had formed around fifty million years earlier than the mudstone was just beneath the first layer.

Each platform held a small plaque that measured the distance from the top of the shaft to the wooden boards of each platform, the space between each being exactly one hundred feet. Cam insisted that they rest and drink a bit of water at every other platform. Again, it was his experience on SG-13 that had taught him to recognize the need for rest, and to remain hydrated as much as possible. The shaft wasn’t overly warm...no doubt it would be warmer than it normally was, since the two men would be spending the day there.

It had to be his geological training, Cam thought, as his eyes continued to move over the rock. He couldn’t be here, not in this shaft that had been bored straight into the earth, and not note the limestone. From the depth, beneath the dolomite layer, he’d wager that the rock had been formed around two hundred and fifty-five million years ago. He was certain he’d read that about this particular shaft, as well. At the bottom of the shaft he could see just a hint of the sandstone that had been created almost two hundred and sixty-five million years ago. This place had been ancient when the beings known as Ancients had been here, he thought. And the crater had impacted only fifty thousand years ago. In geological terms, that might as well have been yesterday! And the Ancients had left part of their weapon here? There was proof that the Ancients had interacted with early man...the cave-dwelling ancestors of modern man. Proof, that was, if one knew about the evidence left behind. Such as the sudden leap forward of hominids who had lived in caves for at least two million years. But, as far as he knew, there was nothing to indicate the Ancients had made a trek to what was now known as Arizona, in the United States! "I wonder if the Ancients launched this thing into space, thinking that it would be ‘harmless’ out there," he said, doing nothing more than thinking out loud, panting slightly.

Doctor Lee, who was above Cam, stopped for a moment, breathing heavily. "That’s an interesting theory. Maybe it was just a fluke that it wound up here."

"I’d say that’s very likely, since everything else they left behind seems to have been in Antarctica."

"Or the deserts of Egypt," Lee pointed out.

"Well, back then, there wasn’t as much desert as there is now," Cam argued.

Lee shrugged, although his companion was unaware of the action. "I’m sure the Ancients were well aware of the fact that the naquadah would protect it...whatever ‘it’ is...during re-entry into the atmosphere."

"True," Cam conceded. "So if they did send it into orbit, they didn’t intend for it to ‘return’."

"Whatever the reason, however it happened, there’s a piece to a weapon down here," Lee said, breathing harder.

The two scientists continued their descent in silence. Both were more concerned about retrieving the component of the Ancient weapon than how it had managed to be at such an unexpected place.

 

 

 

When they reached the final platform, the metal grated floor was resting almost two-thirds of the way out on solid rock. The shaft narrowed considerably as it went down from there.

"The shaft only goes down for about another seventy-six feet," Doctor Lee said quietly.

"How far down do we need to go?" Cam asked.

"Major Carter said that whatever it is, it’s about two thousand feet below the impact crater. We’re thirteen hundred feet down."

Cam hissed a sigh. "We need to drill seven hundred feet. That could take awhile."

"Well, this little baby can burrow at four feet every ten minutes," Doctor Lee reported.

Quick calculations told Cam that they’d need damn near thirty hours. He and Lee were looking at two very long days...fifteen hours each day spent in the shaft while the little robot burrowed toward the prize. Not counting the time it would take to climb in and out. It wouldn’t, Cam thought, be much different than some of the missions he’d been on with SG-13.

Doctor Lee opened the crate that Cam had ‘carried’ down. Pulled the aluminum case from the specially fitted interior. Inside the case was a titanium-alloy covered body. It was oblong, and when the doctor lifted it from its cradle, eight legs dangled beneath it. An opening at one end revealed a diamond tipped, titanium drill bit, four inches in diameter. At the bottom of the box was a larger drill bit. Lee carefully removed the four-inch bit, and replaced it with the eight-inch bit.

"I’ll be damned," Cam said softly, when he saw the thing. "It looks like a spider!"

"Watch out for the spider. When it runs backwards, move out of the way."

Casey’s words echoed in his ears. When this thing came out of that hole...backwards, as it would probably do...he would be damned careful to be out of its way!

Lee put the spider on the platform, powered up the compact motor, which was more powerful than its size would indicate, and moved the robot back and forth several times, getting a feel for the remote control.

Inside the case that had protected the robot was what looked like a small television. It would display the images that the robot would relay via the camera, which was located above the drill bit, aided by the small spotlight, implanted at the top of its ‘head’.

"Let’s get this done," Cam said quietly.

Lee pressed the joystick of the remote, and the robot nimbly climbed over the side, onto the rocks. And began to descend into the much narrower shaft.

When the robot reached the end of the shaft, with nothing but solid rock filling the view screen, Lee activated the drill bit. The whine was audible even from the distance, and dust began to make its way up from the shaft.

Responding to the programming that ran inside the spider, the ‘legs’ of the robot began to move the rock and dirt that broke loose, pushing the debris behind itself. Backing the robot out of the hole it had just dug and lowering the drill bit slightly, Lee was able to make the new bore hole larger than the robot itself.

It would certainly take time. But they’d be able to reach the Ancient weapon component by the end of tomorrow, Cam thought. He continued to watch as time ticked by...ten minutes...fifteen...thirty...forty-five...an hour. The robot was making progress...slowly but surely. With nothing else to do, he settled comfortably, and reached for the book he’d brought along...just in case. Being on an SG team had its benefits, he thought wryly. The Boy Scouts had nothing on the teams of the SGC for ‘being prepared’.

 

A A A A A A

 

Selmak read the message, frowning slightly. "Why would Samantha be interested in this information?"

"Maybe SG-1 is going to sneak onto Ba’al’s ship," Jacob replied teasingly.

"Perhaps."

"Sel, I was joking," Jacob protested.

"For what other reason would this information be of use to them?" Selmak demanded to know.

Jacob had no answer to that question. He did, however have questions of his own. Just what was SG-1 up to this time? And why did George seem so...evasive...about the whole thing? He’d sent his own request, nothing more than asking that Major Carter’s inquiry be responded to as quickly as possible, and that he hoped that the Tok’ra would be willing to share ‘whatever information was needed’. Jacob didn’t for one minute believe that George didn’t know what Sammy’s request contained.

"I believe I have a decision to make," Selmak sighed.

"Whether or not to tell them how to delay the alarms?"

"Whether or not giving them this information will put them at risk. If they believe they can infiltrate a Goa’uld ship with less risk of detection, will they begin to plan assaults on every Goa’uld ha’tak they can find?"

"Selmak, I don’t think that’s what they have in mind. If that were the case, they’d want to know how to disable the alarms completely," Jacob argued.

"Possibly."

"You’re ticked because they haven’t given you a reason for wanting this information."

"It would be much easier to decide whether or not to share this knowledge if I knew what they intended to do," Selmak responded.

"Sort of like them demanding to know the details of missions we ask them to go on?" Jacob chided gently. "We don’t always share all of the details. That’s bitten us in the ass a couple of times. The last time, we damned near lost the Tau’ri as allies."

Selmak cringed slightly. She still battled her guilt over what had occurred. That mission had been a priority. The Tok’ra Council was convinced that removing Ares was vital in keeping the ‘status quo’ among the galaxy’s System Lords. Even knowing that the results had an equal chance of bringing those same System Lords together, taking decisive action against Ares also removed him from the equation completely. It had been, the Council decided, worth the risk. ‘Facts’ that the Tok’ra had kept to themselves. "I suppose, this could be construed as their way of ‘getting back’ at us."

"Could be," Jacob allowed. "I guess you have to decide how much you trust SG-1," he said, shrugging his shoulders.

"What do you think we should do?"

Jacob barely hid his surprise. Selmak didn’t often ask for his advice. She had plenty to offer, on just about every aspect of his life. But she’d been around long enough that she normally had a plan in place before she actually needed it, no matter what the situation. "I think we should give them what they’re asking for."

The mental image of Selmak nodded slightly. "I agree. I’ll send the message right away. I’m certain Samantha will understand the intricacies of the frequencies involved."

"I’m certain she will," Jacob agreed, his pride echoing in his ‘voice’. He did his best to hide his surprise that Selmak was willing to share the information, and to quell his own concerns about the request.

 

A A A A A A

 

Cam climbed out of the shaft, and called the director of the crater site shortly after seven p.m. He told the man they had just a bit more work they wanted to do, but that they would definitely be done by the end of the following day. The director reluctantly agreed to leave a jeep just outside the gate of the fenced enclosure for them, telling them there would be no one nearby to help them if anything happened, should they insist on staying into the night. Cam assured the director that he had his cell phone, and that if help was required, a simple call to 9-1-1 would get him all the assistance needed. He then told the man that other than being bored, waiting for their robot to tunnel to the depth they had determined would give them the best chances of finding pieces of the meteorite, he didn’t foresee any calamities occurring. If the director had misgivings about the two scientists, he kept them to himself.

"We need to get as much done now as possible," he told Doctor Lee quietly, when he’d returned to the bottom of the shaft.

"Do you think it will be safe to leave the robot here when we leave?" Lee asked, dividing his attention between the view screen and Cam.

"I don’t see why not. We can pull it out, lock it into the case, and then seal the crate again. There isn’t anyone else scheduled to do anything in this shaft, as far as I know. I don’t believe there would be anyone interested in our idea anyway. After all, we’re going against what’s already been proven...at least as far as anyone outside of the SGC is concerned."

Lee nodded. "If we can work until midnight, then we’ll be able to get back here in the morning, and finish up tomorrow."

"I’ll get some sleep, and then take over drilling duty for you," Cam offered. The two men had been switching back and forth all day. It was wearing on the nerves to have to stare at that small screen too long and make any minute adjustments in the placement of the robot.

"I won’t argue that," Lee said amiably.

"Give me a couple hours to nap, and I’ll finish up," Cam promised.

"You’ve got a deal."

 

 

 

It was just after midnight when Cam pulled the robot back into the shaft where he and Doctor Lee, who had started snoring the instant he’d closed his eyes, had spent the day. He carefully returned the metal ‘spider’ to its nest. After making certain that the key was still on the wrist chain of the theoretician, he locked the case and then put it into the crate, and clicked the padlock tight. The tensile strength of the polymers that made up the crate would prevent anyone from breaking into it without a great deal of trouble.

He woke Lee, and the two began the long climb to the top of the shaft, fatigue mirrored in every movement they made. They practically staggered to the fence.

Just as the director had promised, a jeep was waiting for them, along with directions on which way to go, in order to drive out of the crater. The ride was a bit more vertical than either man was comfortable with, and did a fair job of getting their adrenaline pumping, but the jeep continued to climb up the side and onto the rim. They left the jeep in the parking lot of the visitor’s center, and climbed wearily into the rental car...which was the only vehicle to be seen.

The drive back to the tiny motel in Winslow was done in sleepy silence. Never had a plain room, badly in need of painting, looked so good! Dropping face first onto the bed, not even bothering to undress, Cam was asleep before his head hit the pillow.

 

A A A A A A

 

The need to finish their task, and time running out, resulted in the two being back at the crater bright and early the next morning. The jeep was still sitting where Cam had parked it the night before. The keys were still behind the visor as well. "Whaddya think?"

Doctor Lee shrugged. "It’s just barely after six. I doubt anyone will be here for another hour or so."

"Might make them think we spent the night down there."

"It could," Lee agreed. "But," he said, grinning from ear to ear as he pushed his glasses up, "we’re just so darned excited about proving our theory right!"

Cam couldn’t help but chuckle. He wondered absently if the site director was checking their credentials, and trying to determine just exactly what they were up to; the man hadn’t seem totally convinced of their ‘theory’ story. No doubt General Hammond would be able to deflect any problems that might arise from someone too curious for his own good. The last thing they needed was for the director to decide he wanted to discuss their ‘research’. With that thought in mind, he crawled out of the Honda. "Okay then, let’s go."

The climb down to the bottom of the shaft took less time, Cam wasn’t continually fighting the pull of the crate. Just as they had the day before, the scientists took turns operating the robot. If they were trying to urge the mechanical device to dig faster, neither of them realized as much. They munched on the sandwiches, chips and cookies they had purchased from the quick shop near the motel...having determined that they weren’t going to exist on just a couple bottles of water and energy bars as they had the previous day. When one ‘worked’, the other napped, or read the book that Cam had brought with him.

It was just after ten p.m. when the image on the view screen changed. Cam halted the robot, poked at Lee to wake him up.

Fumbling with his glasses, shoving them up his nose and peering at the screen, Lee gasped out loud. "Oh, my god," he whispered.

"That’s it!" Cam crowed, his voice low.

It was a box...black from what they could make out. There were several shiny objects attached to the perimeter...it looked almost as if they were jewels.

"Okay, I have to bring the robot up, replace the drill with a grappling arm," Lee said almost breathlessly.

"Do it. And be careful with that thing. Whatever it is, Casey Jackson is spooked by it," Cam warned.

Lee nodded his understanding.

The two men had been sitting on the rock beside the narrow shaft. When the robot came scurrying backwards, it nearly flew from the hole. Cam rolled out of the way just in time to prevent being scratched by the ‘legs’ of the spider. "Well, Casey warned me," he chuckled.

"You don’t want to be cut by that thing. What with all of the old dust and who knows what germs down here, that could cause a nasty infection," Lee said somberly.

Cam cast a sharp look at the robot. He knew that Casey’s warning had been in his mind, and that his reaction had been as much from her warning as any threat he might have perceived in the seconds it took to move. Had she not warned him, no doubt he would have moved slower, if he had moved at all. An infection wasn’t something to be viewed lightly. As far as he was concerned, Casey’s warning had saved him...from a bad cut at the very least; illness from an infection at the worst.

Lee unscrewed the large drill bit. Attached what looked like an arm with a multi-fingered hand.

The robot was sent back into the hole, and within minutes had wrapped its appendages around the box.

The naquadah content of the box made it extremely heavy. The best that the robot could do was to drag it along, bumping against the rocks it had loosened during the making of the narrow shaft. Both men held their breath each time the image of the box shook, or the sound of a muted ‘thump’ made its way to their ears.

When the box finally cleared the shaft some forty minutes later, neither man seemed eager to touch it. Cam eventually picked it up. Climbing with this thing in his backpack was going to be a bitch! Doctor Lee was going to have to deal with being connected to the crate that housed the robot and its protective case...he sure as hell couldn’t do it all!

Looking toward the top of the shaft, thirteen hundred feet above them, Cam heaved a sigh. "Might as well get started. It’s going to take awhile."

Two hours later, completely exhausted, the men emerged onto the bottom of the impact crater. They had the device. Now they just had to get it back to the SGC.

 

 

 

As soon as Cam reported to General Hammond that the weapon piece was in their possession, he told them to drive to Nellis AFB, which was near Las Vegas. There, he told them, a Pavehawk would be waiting to return them to the SGC.

First, Cam informed the general, he and Doctor Lee were going to sleep. He outlined the climb out of the shaft, and how physically draining it had been for both of them. General Hammond had been most understanding, and told him to call when they were on their way to Nellis.

Regardless of how fatigued they had been, and then the second harrowing ‘middle of the night’ drive up the side of the rim, both Cam and Doctor Lee were awake by six a.m. the following morning. Cam left a message on the director’s answering machine, telling him that they had reached their target depth, but had found nothing. He thanked the man for the use of the jeep, and hoped that would suffice. If not...well, he really didn’t care at the moment.

Cam stared at the box that sat on the round table. Continued to glance at it while he shaved...while he packed his few belongings into his duffel bag. Carefully, he wrapped it back in the canvas bag he’d carried it in as he climbed out of the shaft.

It was a five hour drive to the Nellis AFB, more or less. The first hour or so was spent speculating on just what that ‘jeweled box’ might be...just how it could possibly be part of a weapon. The remaining time was spent in relative silence, each man contemplating the ramifications of having the most dangerous piece of the weapon, according to Casey Jackson, in the trunk of their rental car.

The day couldn’t end too soon for either man. They were both more than willing to hand off the device to someone else...someone on SG-1.


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