<<Previous  | Story Intro | Return to Stories | Next >>


Puzzles

 

 Chapter 1

It’s a known ‘fact’ that the government - of any nation, but in this particular instance, the government of the United States of America - was expert at keeping secrets. Any military, the US military included, even more so. Usually there was an understandable, if not always completely logical, reason for having such secrets. Most of the time, it was as simple as the fact that John Q. and Jane Public just didn’t need to know all of the details of operations that protected them; provided them with the freedom and security from which they could shout their displeasure; which allowed them to sit on their sofas and watch the six o’clock news and grumble and complain about the state of affairs in the world. Operations carried out by men and women who understood two things: freedom is never free, and the ‘need to know’ stopped with them.

Those hearty souls who were willing to risk life and limb for their country...and the usually ungrateful public within...also knew that they, themselves, didn’t have the ‘full picture’. And that, as they were aware, was a simple case of the less people knew, the less they could tell. There were always malcontents to be found; selfish individuals for whom life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness meant only their own lives, freedom, and bank accounts. The few of this disdainful ilk were always ready to whisper anything they knew into the ears of anyone who would pay enough.

But there is no such thing as a true secret. Military personnel talk at lunch. And get transferred. See things they shouldn't, or hear things not intended for their ears. It was through rumors that he’d first heard about a program that was taking the best pilots the Air Force had trained, and sending them off to duty...somewhere. Doing something so secret that not even the families were certain where their loved one really was. They had an AFPO address, a telephone number for emergencies, and the hope that their pilot was safe. Most assumed that these men and women had been chosen to fly secret sorties in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Rumors, however, were usually very unreliable. He even managed to push aside the most persistent of the stories, telling himself that he was rated one of the top pilots in the Air Force, and he hadn’t been tapped for this ‘secret’ program. Still, it was interesting...

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

The morning had started out as an exercise in frustration. He'd been called to the Pentagon...but not told why. He’d been in the military long enough to know that asking questions at this point would get him one of two things: a silent glare from a commanding officer, for daring to ask anything at all...or a boot in the ass helping him out the door while the brass searched for someone less inquisitive for whatever the job was. He wasn’t a blind follower, by any means; nor were the majority of the men and women he served with. He did understand ‘need to know’. Apparently, at this point in time, he didn’t need to know. It could be aggravating, but that was just life in the military.

Traffic seemed more snarled than normal on the confusing freeways that led into and out of the capitol city. The weather was beautiful...sunny with a hint of spring in the air...which had, at that point, been the only redeeming quality of the day.

Finding a place to park had been an adventure unto itself. He'd finally given up, found a lot nearly a mile away, and rode the tram to the five-sided building; along with dozens of others, military and civilian, whose destination was the same as his own.

He had to sign a non-disclosure form before he could even proceed to the meeting he'd been scheduled for. Okay, he was in the Pentagon. Lots of programs being run that were classified as either Secret or Top Secret. His military ID had been checked, he'd been fingerprinted; and when the guard assigned to him was told that he was who he claimed to be, he'd been escorted deeper into the labyrinth of corridors and hallways that created a honeycomb within the walls of the building.

After cooling his heels...alone...for nearly two hours, he'd met with General Vidrine. He knew the general by reputation only. The 'meeting' that had lasted all of five minutes. He'd been given another non-disclosure form to sign, and then handed a packet. His escort had reappeared as if from thin air, and had brought him...here. Across the hall from the general’s office to another room. No windows. One camera in the upper corner opposite of the door. One small table. One chair.

Given all of the secrecy, it went without saying that whatever he was about to see...read...was sensitive in nature. He was a pilot, he understood about classified material. But the 'cloak-and-dagger' attitudes that he'd dealt with all morning had his curiosity piqued. Somewhere, in the back of his head, the theme from 'Mission: Impossible' began to play. He didn't know whether to be amused or annoyed.

Bold black letters decorated the front of the white envelope. 'Top Secret: SCI/SAP ACE Classification Level 5'. Okay, he understood SCI and SAP. Both levels of security meant that whatever he was about to see was not only Top Secret, but about as 'sensitive' as it could get. But what in the hell was 'ACE Classification Level 5'? Trembling fingers opened the flap.

He flipped through the information folder, skimming the contents, then went back to the summary page at the front of the collection of documents. Designated 'Area 52'. Code name, 'Stargate Command'. Work done by one Doctor Daniel Jackson had, according to the report, been crucial in the program even existing. He barely glanced at the credentials listed. Bookworm extraordinaire, to have that many letters behind his name. Scientist and geek, no doubt. His mind conjured up an image of a thin man with pale, pasty skin and thick glasses.

There wasn't much else. The mention of a new ship. A promotion...if he was selected to command this new ship. Of which there were no details. For a moment he wondered if he'd been given the wrong package. He was Air Force, not Navy!

He shrugged mentally. What the hell. Given that he was sitting here, reading this file, someone, somewhere, believed he was fit to do the job. While he struggled with his own personal demons, a result of doing the job he’d been trained to do, in his heart he knew he could handle whatever was assigned to him. He filled out the transfer request chit that he had been given. Signed yet another, highly detailed confidentiality form. If he so much as sneezed wrong at this point, he’d either be sitting in a military prison for the rest of his life…or executed for treason. That alone whetted his interest. What project could be so highly classified? He'd heard the rumors, of course. Of the alien ships being examined in Area 51...his eyes went back to the first page...

Area 52.

Holy shit! What if it were true? What if there really had been such a ship? What if...what if after all these years, the scientists at Groom Lake's most secret facility had managed to repair, or even reverse-engineer, an alien ship? His hands began to shake at the thought that he, of all the pilots in the Air Force, had been selected for this position.

The final page of the information packet offered him one more crumb. Daedalus. Project Daedalus. The only tidbit of actual information he'd been able to glean from the sheaf of papers now scattered on the table in front of him. Heart pounding with the need to know, he signed his name on the bottom of the final information form. He wanted to be a part of this project, more than he'd ever wanted anything in his life.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

Winter was giving its last thrust of the season, dumping cold rain mixed with sleet on the entire Washington, DC area. General Hammond pulled the collar of his coat tighter as he climbed the out of the cab. He could have taken the subway, he supposed. But he spent so much time underground that he preferred to be 'topside' whenever possible.

The warmth inside the building rushed around him in a burst of air when he passed through the wide, plate glass doors. He was already pulling his ID card from his pocket as he approached what looked like an ordinary concierge counter. It was, however, a state-of-the-art security check point. Any of the armed guards strategically, if not all noticeably, posted in the large foyer could have any intruder down in less than ten seconds. Almost, he thought with a silent chuckle, as good as the security in Cheyenne Mountain.

Meetings of the sort he was arriving for were part and parcel of his job. Particularly since he was the commanding officer of one of the most important...most secret...military bases in the world. This meeting had actually been scheduled for the middle of the prior week, but a ‘last minute’ visit from the president...and the drama of having Jack O’Neill kidnapped by an Asgard, and a teenage clone of him put in the colonel’s place...had made postponing and rescheduling a necessity. His responsibilities as the commander of the SGC took precedence over a meeting with a Pentagon General. The result of the delay, unfortunately, was that the decisions made during this meeting would need to be implemented immediately. There would be no time for the normal ‘review’ process. Something, Hammond thought, that might not be a bad thing after all. Far too many important decisions were hung up ‘in committee’. The men and women who risked life and limb for country...or in the case of the SGC, for the entire plant...deserved to have those decisions made in a more timely manner. Career officers too far removed from the field, politicians all, were the bane of the military in general, and the Pentagon in particular. And, Hammond thought, a pain in his neck.

In moments like this, the weight of his responsibility...to the President of the United States, to the people who worked within the concrete bunkers of the SGC, and to the people of the world who were unaware of the protection they were receiving...rested heavily upon his shoulders. He had a proposal to make today. It would lighten his burden considerably, in theory anyway. There was no telling how long it would take The Powers That Be to make up their minds about the situation. Didn't help that only a dozen people in the entire Pentagon were actually aware of the SGC. Given the circumstances, however, what he wanted to do not only made sense, it would prevent future problems - mostly in the form of over-zealous military minds who would demand to know why certain events hadn't taken place beforehand. Promotions were not only a reward in the military, they were a way of marking the career of each individual. Too much time lapse between one promotion in rank to another often signified a problem. The military didn't like problems. Particularly among their officers. Many a career had ended prematurely because of one failed test...one bad review. Often military politics played a role in those events. This was one time that the machinations of those particular 'players'...generals and admirals who believed they were more important in the grand scheme of things than they really were...could not be allowed to interfere.

He walked down the wide hallway, more familiar with the layout of the building than most people realized. Like many officers, he had once aspired to work within the walls of the Pentagon. Now... This time his chuckle was audible. No way in hell. All of the posturing would give him permanent indigestion. What he was doing...what he would be doing for many years to come...thanks to a miracle he never questioned, lest he drive himself crazy thinking about it...was far more important than what went on here. Sometimes, he wished that more people were aware of the Stargate Program. The reasons for its existence and operation. Perhaps, he thought, that knowledge would cause a shift in attitude that could only benefit those inside this building, and the millions of taxpayers who supported it.

He stopped outside the open door. Removed his damp overcoat. Adjusted his jacket. Took a deep breath, and entered the reception room. "I'm General Hammond. I have an appointment with General Vidrine."

The secretary, a woman in her late forties, gave a perfunctory smile. "Yes, sir. The general is expecting you."

Ushered into Vidrine's office, Hammond took a moment to lay his coat on a nearby chair.

General Vidrine had risen to his feet. "General Hammond. It's good to see you."

Hammond nodded. "Thank you. It's a pleasure to see you again."

Vidrine sat down. "Thank you for coming to DC."

"Not a problem. It gives me a chance to discuss a matter with you."

The black man raised an eyebrow. "Oh?"

"I believe it's something we need to think about, given certain...facts."

"I see."

"But, that can wait until after we've discussed the new 303."

The general behind the desk gave a small smile. "The Daedalus. I have three pilots who qualify for the position of commander of this new ship. I'd like you to pick that commander."

"Me?" Hammond was taken aback. His input had never been required, nor even sought out, in the assignment of personnel to the SGC.

"George, Stargate Command is a post so different from other military installations that it's...it's just impossible for those of us who don't work there to understand completely what you and your people face on a daily basis. I've been pushing for some time to put the control of that personnel completely into your hands."

Hammond was surprised. He was flattered. And, he thought wearily, it was just one more thing for him to deal with. "I appreciate that."

"Whatever happened during the president’s tour of the SGC impressed him enough that he’s backing me. It doesn’t hurt that I’ve been able to convince him that leaving the selection to you will negate the need for a committee to assign personnel to the Stargate Command Program. Which means that many fewer people who will have to know about it." Vidrine motioned to three large brown envelopes. "But, back to today’s business. I have the records here. I'd like for you to go over them, and make your choice as quickly as possible."

"Now?"

The Pentagon general nodded. "I realize that I'm not giving you much time. But the Daedalus is ready for her maiden flight. She needs a commander. And we need that ship out there, if recently past events are anything to judge by."

That, Hammond thought, was without a doubt the biggest understatement he'd heard. No one in the SGC, particularly those among SG-1...who had the experience, and the skills, to make such a judgment call...believed that there wouldn't be another attempt by one Goa'uld or other to try to take the First World. Ba'al had given them all a lesson on what not to do. If the Goa'uld came knocking, there wouldn't be threats. It would be an all out attack. "Can't argue with that," he said quietly.

"All three of these candidates are more than qualified. I trust your judgment, George. Whoever your gut tells you is the one, will be fully briefed immediately."

Hammond nodded his understanding. ‘Immediately’ in this case most probably meant this afternoon. No doubt those pilots had already undergone the first round of interviews and more probing background checks, had signed all necessary non-disclosure forms, and had been given at least a basic idea of what they were applying for. Whoever he chose would certainly be at the SGC first thing in the morning. He accepted the folders that Vidrine handed him.

"I have a couple of phone calls to make. There's an empty office across the hall you can use."

Another nod, and Hammond rose to his feet. "Shouldn't take me long," he said.

 

 

 

Settled behind the bare table, it and the chair he was sitting on the only furniture in the room, the general began to read the contents of the folders. Vidrine was absolutely right, all three candidates had exemplary skills. He went back to the second folder. Studied the report regarding a mission that had 'gone bad'. Noted that two of the man's commanding officers had written that the pilot seemed to be holding himself solely accountable for what had happened, in spite of the fact that it had been faulty recon information that had led to the 'disaster'. War was war. And sadly, innocent victims died during wars. That cold, hard fact was probably the most difficult for any soldier - regardless of rank and the military branch he or she served in - to accept.

Hammond put one of the folders aside. His gut told him that the pilot might not be able to deal with the 'reality' of working at the SGC. He wholly accepted the concept that everyone had the right to believe whatever he or she wanted; it had been his experience, however, that those who followed a fundamentalist dogma were often narrow-minded in what they could, or would, accept about the world around them. No, the presence of aliens, good and bad; the fact that so far, all of the 'gods' from human history had been parasitic creatures bent on total domination; the proof of multiple levels of existence...the general just wasn't certain this candidate could handle the truth. Such a mindset could make him a security risk, and certainly not a commander that those below him could rely on to make rational decisions. Oh, Hammond was certain that there were those who could do the job and maintain their religious views. He just wasn’t certain that this particular major was one of that number.

The third folder was that of a female pilot. Damned impressive record. Two notes tucked into the record by a former CO brought a frown to his face. There was no room for one-upsmanship at the SGC. While Hammond realized that women in the military, especially those in the officer's ranks, faced the trial of proving themselves again and again, this woman seemed a bit...over-zealous. That need to prove herself, to do 'better' than the men around her, could cause problems. Could possibly put those around her at risk. That wasn’t a gamble he was willing to take, not with the lives of at least a hundred crewmen involved.

For the third time, he reached for the second folder. His gut told him that this man was the best pilot for the job. Hammond grinned slightly. "Well, Major, prepare to have the world as you know it turned completely upside down."

Gathering the contents of the files, making certain that each folder held the correct documents, the general stood to his feet. One decision made. Now, if he could just get Vidrine 'on board' with his idea, he could consider this trip completely successful.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

Casey sat at the table, chin in hand, watching as Teal'c and Janet laughed over something the petite doctor had just said. She hadn't actually been listening, too distracted by the white glow that surrounded...encompassed...the two. Nor did she notice how closely they were sitting, in spite of the fact that only the three of them were at the table.

They might just as well be alone, Casey grumped silently, for all of the acknowledgement my presence has been given. The brief thought that often she and Daniel would be wrapped up in conversation, totally forgetting that anyone was with them flashed through her mind. She shoved it away. That was different. She and Daniel were happily married.

Janet frowned slightly. "Casey? What's wrong?"

Other than the fact that I can't figure out what the hell has possessed the two of you to be in a freaking love triangle…with my dad? She shook her blonde head. "Nothing."

"You're sure? You look...upset."

Someday she was going to master the art of hiding her freaking feelings! Tossing about for something to say, she glanced at the empty chair beside her. It offered the perfect ‘excuse’. And she really was concerned about him..."Well, as much as I care for the two of you, I'd prefer to have lunch with my Husband. But he hasn't moved a muscle since he started studying those star charts this morning. He just mumbles about the constellations from time to time, or grumbles that 'it doesn't fit', whatever that means." She heaved a sigh. "I understand that finding this weapon is important, but Daniel seems...obsessed...by it."

"It has been my experience with Daniel Jackson, that when he stumbles upon a puzzle, he is not content until he has solved it," Teal'c said calmly.

"I know," Casey replied. "He's brilliant and he's stubborn. That's a lethal combination."

"Do you want me to talk to him?" Janet offered. "As CMO I can order him to take the occasional break."

Casey gave an unladylike snort. "Right. Do you really think he'd worry about something as inconsequential as doctor's orders? Unless you sedate him and drag him to the infirmary, he isn't going to rest until he has this thing figured out. I guess-" she dropped her eyes.

Janet leaned over, put her small hand on top of Casey's. "You guess what?" she asked, when it became apparent that the slender blonde wasn't going to continue.

"I think I'm just as frustrated, because I don't know how to help. I don't know what he's looking for...I'm not sure Daniel knows what he's looking for."

"If he's not eating or sleeping, he's only going to exhaust himself, and then he'll be unable to continue looking for whatever it is he's looking for," Janet said sagely. "Take a couple of sandwiches and a cup of coffee to him. Make sure he eats them. If he doesn't, find me."

Casey nodded her understanding. Daniel would be unable to solve anything if he fell ill, or dropped unconscious from lack of sleep. Although she didn't think that was a problem...yet. If he was still awake after they made love at night, he was a stronger man than she'd ever suspected.

Janet turned back to Teal'c. As she did so, the light that seemed to surround the two 'flared', and Casey barely bit back her gasp. Damn, that white glow is bright!

Stumbling to her feet, Casey made an excuse that sounded lame to her own ears, and hurried out of the commissary. General Hammond would be back by late evening; tomorrow Daniel could get the permission he wanted to return to 611, they’d go on the mission, and she could push this...this...puzzle...out of her mind. Even if only for a few hours.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

Daniel put his mug of coffee on the table. Sat down beside her. Reached for her hand. He had hoped that getting rid of Mibi, severing the influence the daemon had had on Casey...on her emotions...would see the return of his happy, gregarious Wife. She'd been rather quiet since returning to their own reality. Almost five days now, and still there was sadness lurking in her eyes...sadness that she couldn't completely hide from him, no matter how much she might try. There was no doubt in his mind that what had happened in an isolation room in another reality was the reason for her current demeanor. That sadness had settled into those breathtaking emerald depths when she'd taken Annika and her Daniel into the corner of that observation room and spoken quietly to them. In spite of his overwhelming desire to know what had been discussed, he'd managed to refrain from asking about it. Now, however... It had been five days. Maybe she just needed him to open the door...to offer her the chance to explain. "Need to talk?"

She glanced over at him. Bit her tongue to keep from snapping that there was so much bouncing around in her mind that if she tried to talk about it, she was most liable to babble incoherently. One problem was her own to deal with...at least for the moment. The other... A soft sigh escaped from her lips. She knew that he was...curious...about what she’d said to Annika. What it was that she’d been hiding from him. Probably even upset that she continued to hide it.

Confession, they said, was good for the soul. But what would it do to her marriage...her relationship with the man who was the reason she drew each and every breath? If she could just find closure for one of the issues that was driving her to distraction, she could finally work out the pieces of the other...puzzle. No doubt about that. Not to mention the relief of telling him. The dark fear of his reaction squirmed inside her. She took a deep breath. Better to get it over with.

He was bracing himself for her refusal when her fingers tightened around his.

"I think I do," Casey admitted softly. "I just don't know if I'm ready to face the consequences."

He frowned. "Consequences?"

"If I...when I...when I tell you what my secret is," she said hesitantly, "I'm afraid it will make you angry...make you hate me."

"I can't promise it won't make me angry," Daniel replied slowly. He would admit, albeit hesitantly, that watching his Wife sharing a secret with strangers in that alternate observation room in an alternate SGC had left him feeling more than a bit hurt. Shut out. He'd felt completely shut out. He'd dealt with feelings of rejection in that moment that had rocked him to his very core. He'd wondered just what secret Casey could possibly be harboring that she felt she couldn't share with him...when they'd always been able to tell each other everything. From the moment they'd met, there had been nothing they couldn't discuss. "I can promise that nothing you can say would ever make me hate you."

"This might," she murmured. She took a sip of her lukewarm coffee.

"Casey, I love you. Nothing can change that."

She gave him a smile as sad as the emotions lurking in her eyes. "Better wait until you hear what I have to say."

This sounded as if it was going to be a very...intense...conversation. The type best held while they cuddled on the bed, arms around one another tightly. "C'mere," he said gently. Rose to his feet, tugged at her hand until she was standing beside him. He wrapped his hands around her face, kissed her tenderly. "Now, let's go get comfortable."

Letting him lead her into the bedroom, Casey couldn’t help but smile. When they needed to have a ‘serious’ discussion, sitting on their bed, holding one another tightly, was the way they chose to do so.

Daniel pushed the pillows against the brass spindles of the headboard. Situated himself in the center of the bed, held his arms open for her.

Casey settled into his embrace, sitting in her preferred position - sideways, one arm around his shoulders, the other hand moving up and down his chest. She could see his eyes when she sat this way, between his legs, hers over his thigh.

"Now, what's this 'secret' that has you so sad...and so worried?" he asked softly.

She took a moment to gather her whirling thoughts. She'd pushed down her fears, the memories...they'd remained 'hidden'. Hadn’t been able to hurt her. Until the need to help her friend transcended her need for inner peace. She hadn't looked at those memories since her return from that horrible incident. Now, it seemed that she couldn't stop examining them...seeing her weakness. Couldn't stop the feelings of contrition that plagued her. Just what I need, she grumped silently. Get rid of guilt over one thing, only to be swamped by guilt over something else. That her guilt…concerning what she had feared was a failing gift, and the events that had led up to one very long, very trying afternoon…had been removed by a Seventh Level Being didn't go unacknowledged. Nor was it unappreciated. It just felt as if she would always do the wrong thing, would always be haunted by failure due to her actions. Or, in this case, her words.

Daniel waited, if not patiently, then quietly. He moved his hand over the arm that rested against his chest...the soft, repetitive motion intended to soothe her.

"When Ba'al captured me the first time," she said slowly, "he didn't inject me with the ker'nish'ta right away. I guess he wanted coherent answers to his questions."

His heart lurched in his chest. He knew that Casey was about to share the horrors of what she had endured. And, without a doubt, her 'secret' had to do with her anger at him, for his failure to protect her, to save her from the Goa'uld who had damned near succeeded in turning her into a mindless slave.

"I kept waiting for you...all of you...to come rushing into the room to save me," she continued. Tears filled her eyes. "It hurt so bad, and I was so scared...and...and...I said such horrible things!"

Not exactly what he'd expected to hear. "What horrible things?" he asked softly.

She took a deep, shuddering breath. "Ba'al kept asking me the same things over and over again...at first he was just demanding to know who you were...where you were. Then...then I guess I must have said something about you coming to get me...that you'd kill him. He...he started taunting me...telling me that you had abandoned me...that his Jaffa had proof that you'd fled. I realize now that he really didn't have a clue...but...then...right then...I hated you. I hated Jack and Sam and Teal'c and I hated you because you’d left me."

There it was. In all of its ugly glory. The anger, the hatred that she had every right to feel. "I'm so sorry, Casey," he whispered.

Her fingers went to his face, traced his jaw. "There's no need for you to apologize...ever. What happened, was supposed to happen. But..." she lowered her eyes. "In that moment...in those moments, all I knew was pain and anger and feeling as if I'd been deserted by the one person I trusted the most. I know now that you were on Ba'al's ship, that you had tried to rescue me."

Tears filled his eyes. "I was going mad with the need to get to you," he said softly.

"Daniel, I did something...something terrible."

He doubted seriously that whatever she was about to confess would be nearly as bad as she perceived it to be.

"I...I screamed out that anger, that hatred. I called you awful names...said just horrible things about you. I...I gave Ba'al the perfect weapon to use against us...because I screamed out our secrets...your secrets," Casey said.

"I see. Just what 'secrets' did you divulge?"

She couldn't look at him. Couldn't bear to see his disappointment. "I called Jack a lousy fisherman and an egomaniac, and I said that Sam had to tinker with gizmos because she couldn't keep a man in her bed and I called Teal'c a goddamned shol'va who couldn't even save me from a few Jaffa..." She paused, and took another deep breath. "I called you an ivory tower bastard who couldn't get his nose out of books long enough to get in touch with the real world."

Definitely not what he had expected to hear! In fact...he bit the inside of his lip.

His silence spoke volumes. "I know you're angry with me. Now Ba'al has a way to taunt us...ways that will hurt."

He struggled for several seconds before giving in to the inevitable. His laughter bubbled up, erupted into peals that had him shaking. "Oh, Casey, this is the dark secret you've been hiding?"

Her eyes went wide. Studied his laughter filled cerulean blue depths for a moment. "Well, I thought it was dark!"

"Honey, Jack is a lousy fisherman...at least, he must be, since he never catches anything. And at times he can be an egomaniac. It’s not so much ego as confidence. That's part of being a pilot, given that they all seem to be that way. To be a test pilot, and Jack has done that, takes a hell of a lot of confidence. And Sam did hide in her work because of her...history...with men. Which had nothing to do with her, and everything to do with lousy circumstances. And Teal'c is a shol'va, according to the Goa'uld." He tucked his finger under her chin, forced her to look at him. "I did hide in my books, Case. Until I became part of the Stargate Program, I didn't have much of a clue about what was going on around me."

"But...but I was so angry, and now Ba'al-"

He put his finger against her lips. "So you told Ba’al about our ‘foibles’. Not one thing you said is any deep, dark secret. I doubt that any of it means a thing to him. You didn't say anything...didn't reveal anything...that you have to worry about," he reiterated.

"Then you're not mad at me?"

"Case, if that's the worst you ever say when you're being tortured, you're doing better than the rest of us."

"...every one of us have said things...revealed things to our enemies...that we're ashamed of..."

The words echoed in her head, spoken by Annika's Daniel as he attempted to ease her guilt, even as she tried to do the same for Annika. No doubt he had intended what he said to help his wife more than to help her, she thought. "I was just so ashamed...for being so weak...for screaming out when deep in my heart, I really didn't mean what I was saying. I...I can't remember much else...not clearly. It's possible I said more, that I revealed more."

"You were being tortured, Angel," he said. A thought...a fact...that was like a knife twisting in his heart. "I'd say you did a damned good job of holding out against Ba'al if that's the worst thing you did."

"You don't think Sam and Jack and Teal'c would be upset if they knew?"

"I doubt it. And...to be honest, there's no reason for them to know. We've all been tortured, Casey. We've all reached that breaking point, and said things we've regretted. Things much worse than putting into words what's obvious to those who know us...or know about us," Daniel said gently.

Casey sighed, snuggled into his embrace, rested her head against his shoulder. "I still feel guilty."

"I'm afraid that's something that you'll have to deal with," Daniel replied softly. "We all deal with our guilt over things we've said or done. But, know this...what you've done is no different, no worse, than what anyone who's ever been a Goa'uld captive has done at some point."

"Really?"

"Really. You're not alone, Angel. We're all dealing with that guilt."

She sighed again. "At least it's not...suffocating. It hurts, and it makes me angry that Ba'al was able to do that to me...but...I can deal with it."

"I know you can," Daniel said, his arm tightening around her. "You're one of the strongest people I know...emotionally and mentally."

She contemplated his comment. Leaned up to kiss him. "Thank you."

"Okay, now that this deep dark secret has been dealt with, think we can have dinner?"

She smiled. "I suppose so." Climbing to the side of the bed, she paused, turned to face the man who could always make her world right. "Thank you."

"For what, Angel?"

"For not being angry."

"Nothing to be angry about," Daniel replied easily.

"You don't think I should tell Jack? I mean... I did give Ba'al a couple of specifics."

He couldn't help but smile. "I don't think Jack is going to care one way or the other what Ba'al knows. Or thinks he knows." Daniel paused, contemplated what his counterpart's wife had screamed at all of them. Cutting remarks that left her targets battling their pain, their shame; struggling to remain outwardly calm, for her safety. Annika had been at the disadvantage of having a daemon controlling her, seeking out every dark, hurtful bit of knowledge he could find to use against the people who were preventing his escape. He couldn't help but wonder if Annika's taunts would have been as...cruel...had Mibi not been involved. If he were a betting man, he'd lay money on odds that she never could have conceived of saying the things that Mibi forced her to say. He'd even wager that had Mibi controlled Casey in such a way, anything she said would have been just as...hurtful. Thankfully, that would be a terror they'd never have to face. He sighed silently. Hoped that this discussion would put to rest all of the personal demons that had been loosed in his Wife’s heart and mind. "Don't worry about it, Casey. Put it behind you. And remember that Jack, and Sam, and Teal'c, and I have all said things while we were being tortured."

She gave a slight nod. Doubted that any of her teammates had screamed out their anger as she had. It took less effort to push the memory back into that place where she had hidden it. Only, she thought gratefully, because Daniel had managed to strip it of the strength it had held over her. His response had surprised her, to say the least. Relieved her. Even amused her. And was so typical of his kind, understanding heart. "I think there's a dish of lasagna in the freezer."

"Sounds good," Daniel smiled. It just happened to be his favorite among the casseroles that she made and froze, offering them a hot, home-cooked meal even on the nights when they came home too tired to want to do more than crawl into bed.

As was his habit, he searched the produce drawer of the refrigerator, tossed the ingredients for salad onto the counter, while Casey located the casserole and put it into the microwave. Ducked out of her way when she reached around him to turn on the oven.

They stood side-by-side, cleaning the vegetables. His heart sighed with happiness, and relief, as she began to chatter; telling him about the latest news concerning the people who worked within confines of Cheyenne mountain. He laughed at her impressions, questioned her about her progress on the database. Answered her questions about the search for the Ancient weapon, and the clues they hoped would lead them to the pieces of the weapon before any of the Goa'uld figured out what those of the SGC had only recently learned. The threat of the daemons was well and truly behind them. For the first time in months, that weight was conspicuously missing. He sent out a silent thank-you to the Seventh Level Being responsible for the peace of mind that he and his Wife now shared. Then turned his attention back to the slender blonde beside him.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

The major hesitated slightly. Took a deep breath. The call he'd been fervently hoping for during the past three days had finally arrived. He wasn’t certain what to make of the fact that the phone had rang at midnight, nor that he had been ordered to report to the general’s office in the Pentagon at zero-three hundred. Actually, he thought idly, walking through the silent, dimly lit hallway, the early hour fit with the cryptic nature of the entire thing...from the carefully worded message he’d received, to all of the non-disclosure forms he’d had to sign. Now it was time to find out what all of the secrecy was about.

He opened the door, stepped into the office. Saluted smartly.

"At ease, Major," the general standing behind the desk said, a smile tugging at his lips. "And congratulations. Upon accepting this assignment, you'll be promoted to Lieutenant Colonel."

Blue eyes blazed with unbridled excitement - and the promotion had little to do with it. "Thank you, sir," he managed to reply.

"I'm afraid there won't be time for a ceremony."

"I don't mind, sir. Never did care for having to get all gussied up in a clean dress uniform, just to stand at attention for a couple of hours," the major drawled, his southern roots audible in each quietly spoken word.

A tiny smile tugged at the general's lips. He opened a small box, two silver oak leaves were nestled against the blue velvet. Stepping around the desk, the general reached out and unclasped the gold oak leaves from the collar points of the major's uniform jacket. Dropped them onto his desk. "This promotion is deserved, son, for more than just accepting this assignment."

He stood as still as a statue while the general fastened the silver oak leaves onto his collar. Swallowing, he pushed down memories that continued to haunt him. "Thank you, sir," he managed to say, his voice raspy with pent-up emotion. Returned the salute that the general gave.

"You'll leave immediately. I suggest you sleep on the flight. Once you arrive in Colorado, I rather imagine you'll be kept busy for several days," the general said, returning to his chair.

"Colorado, sir?"

"Yes, Major...er...Colonel. Colorado. Colorado Springs to be precise."

"Yes, sir."

"Now, I have a few more forms for you to sign. These cover more than just reading the basics of an information packet. Colonel, make certain you can live with these requirements."

"I can, sir," the major replied confidently, as he scrawled his name on the appropriate lines, without even glancing at the content of the documents..

The general studied the pilot standing in front of him. "Yes, I believe you can. I have to say that I believe General Hammond made the right choice." The latter was spoken softly, more to himself than to his visitor. "Now, get packed and head over to Bolling. There's a transport heading to Peterson. They're waiting for you, Colonel, so best time."

"Yes, sir." He took a breath, gave a nervous smile. "I'm looking forward to this mission."

"Let's just hope you'll feel that way next week," the general replied drolly. Handed the newly promoted colonel a sealed file. "This will give you the basics of what you’ve just gotten yourself into. You’ll be fully briefed when you arrive. Good luck, Colonel. You’re going to need it."

"Thank you, sir."

"Dismissed."

He saluted, then left the office, his mind spinning in circles. He leaned his back against the wall in the hallway, taking a moment to come to grips with the fact that his life had just taken a very…interesting…turn. The general's parting words echoed in his head. Just what in the hell had he gotten himself into?

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

The flight to Peterson had been uneventful. For which he was grateful. His mind was still reeling from the information he’d been reading. Names of people and places had been blacked out, which was standard SOP when allowing sensitive, classified material, even copies of such, to leave the Pentagon. Without a doubt the folder he had closed just before the plane flew over Arkansas would be shredded upon his arrival at Cheyenne Mountain.

That had been a bit of a mystery. He’d wondered just what the hell NORAD was doing that could be so classified. Now he knew. Or at least the basics of the ‘secret’. The program that was in operation below that facility was where the real secrets lay. Stargates. Stable wormholes. Travel to other planets. Aliens. Good God Almighty, as his grandma had been known to say. He was about to convince himself that nothing could surprise him at this point in time when his eyes fell on the closed folder. No, better not. His gut told him that the wild ride into the unknown had just begun, and that there were still…surprises…left to deal with.

His arrival, even at such an early hour...it was barely zero-seven-hundred hours...had been expected. Which he learned upon landing at the Air Force Base; a car and driver were waiting for him. He was scarcely allowed to collect his luggage before he was being whisked away. Should he be concerned at the haste with which he was being ushered into this new position?

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

Early morning meetings had been dealt with. Whatever tasks lay before them could wait for just a bit longer as SG-1 met in the commissary for a ‘late breakfast’. Favorites from among the pastries had been set back by the cooks, who knew that the five individuals would be arriving at any time to collect their ‘treats’.

She was just taking a bite from her chocolate-chocolate chip muffin when it hit her. She rolled her eyes. "Don’t touch it," she told her grinning Husband as she jumped to her feet. She glared at the ceiling for a moment. "Couldn’t have given this to me half an hour ago?"

Jack, Sam, and Teal’c snickered slightly, watching as the seer raced out of the room, nearly knocking Ferretti onto his ass as he jumped backwards and out of the way.

"Whatever it is, it’s important," Jack mused.

"Think we should follow?" Sam asked, licking the chocolate icing from her donut off her thumb.

"Nah. If it involved us, Radar would have hustled us out the door," Jack said.

Teal’c reached over and pulled the plate containing Casey’s half eaten muffin away from Daniel’s reach. "I believe you were instructed not to touch it."

"Hey! Whose side are you on?" Daniel huffed.

"I do not wish for Casey Jackson to become upset at me," Teal’c replied calmly. To the amusement of his teammates.

Daniel couldn’t help but grin. There weren’t many people in the mountain willing to upset his Wife. Only because she was the SGC Sweetheart, he thought amusedly. He, on the other hand, liked to push her buttons. He loved the way her chin went up, the fire that filled those amazing green eyes. Because the make-up sex was phenomenal. "Tell you what, I’ll let you carry the muffin and put it on her desk."

"Very well," Teal’c said, rising to his feet. "I will remain until Casey Jackson returns."

The archaeologist tossed a pained look at the Jaffa, to the utter amusement of their teammates.

 

 

 

General Hammond bade entry to whoever it was tapping on his open door. He glanced up from the report he had been reading, at first not recognizing the man stepping into the room. The nervous smile offered sparked his memory. Lieutenant Colonel Cameron Mitchell. Fighter pilot. Now assigned to be the commander of the Daedalus, the second ship built by the secret manufacturing site at Area 51. The new ship that fully incorporated all of the technology that had been added to the Prometheus, thanks to the Asgard.

Mitchell was an able pilot, had an exemplary record...and a burning desire to join the SGC. A fire which, the general chuckled silently, hadn't been lit until he'd been interviewed for the top secret project just a matter of days earlier. Given the barest of details, not enough information to even make a fully informed decision, Hammond thought, the newly promoted lieutenant colonel had been calling Major Davis on a daily basis to learn whether or not he'd been accepted.

"Lieutenant Colonel Cameron Mitchell, reporting for duty, sir." The new rank still sounded odd to his ears.

Hammond returned the salute, waved at the chair that was sitting in front of the desk, which had been vacated by Casey Jackson only thirty minutes or so earlier. "Have a seat, colonel."

Mitchell nodded, settled into the chair. His palms were sweaty, his heart was pounding...had been ever since he'd been dropped off in front of the massive blast door twenty-seven levels up. He'd just spent two hours reading what could only be classified as damned interesting science fiction. Events that were real, according to the mission reports. How in the world did the people working here deal with all of this? And a ship…an honest to god space ship. Second one constructed, according to the reports. A ship that he was going to command. Good God Almighty.

The general took in the wide-eyed look, one that every person introduced to the SGC had upon arrival and being informed of the existence and function of the secret facility known as Stargate Command. Bit back his smile. "I take it that you've finished reading the intro folders?"

"Yes, sir."

"Feeling a bit skeptical?"

"Well, sir, I reckon Isaac Asimov has a bit of competition from whoever wrote that stuff," Mitchell replied, his smile reflecting in his dancing blue eyes.

The general chuckled. "It is a bit...unbelievable."

"Just a bit, sir."

"What about the specs for the 303?"

"Interesting ship to say the least, sir."

"That she is. You were chosen, Colonel, because of your skills, and your experience. I won't lie to you. This is going to be the most difficult duty assignment you've ever faced. You will be responsible for the lives of everyone on that ship, and you'll be tossed into the fire more times than I even want to contemplate. I want you to make certain that you're comfortable with those facts."

"Sir, I don't think it's possible to be 'comfortable' whenever the lives of others are at stake. I can only say that it's a responsibility that I'm willing to take on."

He nodded. There was no boasting of his abilities. No promises that the crew would be safe under his command. Just an acceptance of what was, and a willingness to do the job.

"All I can add, sir, is that I'll do the job to the best of my abilities."

"That's all I ask, son. Now, if-"

Casey raced into the room, her green eyes wide, the information that had continued to repeat in her head as she had dashed from the commissary getting louder with each passing moment. "Trouble, sir, big trouble!"

Mitchell was already on his feet, hoping that his jaw hadn't actually dropped when he turned to watch the gorgeous blonde run into the room. He’d seen pictures of models, hadn’t every man? But he’d never dreamed he’d actually meet one! The fact that the woman was in a BDU, obviously a part of this secret program, was not lost on him as he watched her.

The general was rising as well.

Casey almost fell face first into the desk, she came to a halt so quickly. "Oh...I'm sorry! I didn't know...the door was open-"

Hammond smiled. "It's all right. I believe you have a warning for me?"

"Don't let SG-13 leave...not yet...not today."

"Any particular reason why?"

"Food poisoning."

"What? The team has food poisoning?"

Casey shook her head. "No sir...the meeting they're supposed to attend...the food has been poisoned. Not enough to kill them, but enough to incapacitate them long enough to get them...wherever it is that those people plan on taking them. I haven't actually 'seen' that part...yet."

In that moment, the klaxons came to life, blaring the warning that the Stargate was being activated. Not waiting for the general, who she knew was right behind her, Casey zipped down the spiral steps into the control room, grabbed the microphone that would allow the men in the 'gate room just beyond the wide window to hear what she said. "Stand down, Dix...stand down!"

Colonel Dixon and his team, which included Doctor Cam Balinsky, turned around and looked at the control room window.

General Hammond smiled reassuringly at the frantic seer, and took the microphone. "Stand down, colonel. We'll send the MALP through, with a message for the Vizier. It seems that his people have plans to poison you and your team."

Dixon gaped slightly. Had Casey been just a few seconds later..."Yes, sir!"

Mitchell had followed the general and the blonde, mostly to be able to watch that amazing fanny as she ran. When she turned around, he looked her up and down, making sure that she noted his attention, then offered a cheeky grin.

Casey cocked her head sideways. No clue who the new guy was. Nice eyes. Lighter shade of blue than Daniel’s. Kinda cute. And shy. Definitely shy. But he hid that fact well behind the facade of being a 'ladies man'. No doubt he had a reputation for being a 'player', although she seriously doubted that he really was. Probably like Tony Sabotti, the reputation was self-administered. "Sorry about interrupting your meeting," she said softly.

"Oh, think nothing of it, ma'am. But you could have just waited and offered me a cup of coffee when the general and I were finished," Mitchell grinned.

For a moment Casey wasn't certain what the man meant. When the 'light' dawned, she almost gasped out loud. Was he seriously flirting with her? Was he blind...hadn't he seen the diamond sparkling on her finger, in front of an equally bright wedding band? The twinkle in his blue eyes brought an automatic smile to her face. A woman could wind up with a serious case of heartache over this guy, she thought. She studied his eyes. He wasn't a cruel man by any means. Just very self confident. A bit arrogant. Which seemed to be a requirement for being a pilot, she mused silently. The fact that she'd picked up on the fact that he was a pilot was lost among her concentration on the other facets of his character that she was ‘seeing’. For all of his bravado and shameless flirting, this man was terrified of being ‘trapped’ in a relationship. He flirted only with women who weren’t a ‘threat’ to his freedom. She smiled. Given all of that, he was perfectly harmless...at least where she was concerned. Very much a…gentleman. "Could have. But it was much more dramatic this way, don't you think?" Casey surprised herself with her response, if not the two men in the room. She was reacting instinctively, something she’d never done before...at least, not with anyone but Daniel! She turned to the general, heart hammering over the fact that she had just blatantly flirted with a stranger. Something, her mind pointed out, she’d never have been able to do if not for her Husband and his love, and the confidence he had in her and had instilled in her. "I apologize, sir. The warning just came through." 

"No apology necessary," Hammond assured her. "Casey, this is Lieutenant Colonel Cameron Mitchell. Colonel, Casey Jackson."

That he hadn't introduced her as Mrs. Daniel Jackson wasn't unusual...Casey was, after all, more than just Daniel's wife. In fact, it would have been more out of character for the general to have done so; as it was habit, born from thirty-plus years in the military, to avoid mention of any and all personal relationships under his command.

Casey smiled again, offered her hand. "Welcome to the Rabbit Hole."

"Excuse me?" He wrapped his hand around her soft fingers. Somewhere, in the back of his mind, the name ‘Jackson’ prodded at him. His libido had grabbed control, however; his full attention was on the woman standing in front of him, so he didn’t give much thought to that internal ‘alert’. 

"You know, from Alice in Wonderland. Or the Matrix. Whichever."

Mitchell grinned broadly. "Yeah, it is a bit...wild."

"Been off world yet?"

"No, not yet."

"Then you haven't even begun to see 'wild'." Casey glanced around, then stepped closer. "When Ferretti takes you on your training exercise, take extra socks. And Depends."

Snickers among the control room staff filled the air. Mitchell glanced around as well, wondered if the blonde with the incredible green eyes was joking or not. "Right."

"Seriously. You'll thank me later."

He couldn't help but grin. "Well, if it gives me an excuse to thank you, I'll be certain to take your advice."

Casey suddenly realized that Mitchell was still holding her hand. She gently withdrew her fingers. "I suppose I'd better get back...I need to get busy on the database," she said, directing her comment to the base CO.

"Very well," the general replied. "Colonel, shall we continue with your briefing?"

Mitchell watched as Casey dashed through the corridor. What a bundle of energy! Bet she'd be a little spitfire in bed! Glancing at the general, he took a firm grip of his wandering thoughts. "Yes, sir."

"Casey is our 'Resident Seer', as she refers to herself," the general explained, as the two men settled back into their respective seats.

"Seer? As in psychic?"

"Yes, colonel. She hasn't been wrong yet. And she's saved every SG team in this mountain at least once. Saved the whole damned place a time or two, with her forewarnings."

Well, why not, Mitchell thought. He added 'seer' to the list of oddities that he'd only just learned about. Besides, any reason to have a woman that gorgeous on the base was good enough for him.


<<Previous  | Story Intro | Return to Stories | Next >>





SciFi Topsites