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The Gray-haired Avengers

 

Chapter 1

"Come on, Case, get a move on, we’re late," Daniel called, grabbing his jacket from the coat-rack beside the back door. "Grandma, don’t forget that Emma is expecting you for lunch."

Muriel smiled. "I won’t, dear."

Casey rushed from out of the bathroom, still twisting the tie that would hold her long hair back in a ponytail. "We shouldn’t be too late tonight...I’ll call if something comes up. You have my keys, right?"

The elderly woman held up the brightly colored key ring. "Right here. Don’t worry, I won’t lose them."

"Never crossed my mind," Casey replied honestly, dropping a kiss on the still smooth cheek.

"Probably less of a chance that you’d lose them than Casey being unable to find them in that ridiculous pit of hers," Daniel teased.

"I’ll remember that the next time you want me to carry something for you," Casey retorted, shifting the strap of her oversized handbag on her shoulder.

"Don’t you two worry at all about me," Muriel insisted as she followed the couple to the door. "One of these days I’ll actually make a planned visit, rather than just dropping out of nowhere on you!"

Casey smiled. "You drop out of nowhere any time you like," she said softly.

"That’s right. You’re always welcome here, Grandma," Daniel said gently.

For just a moment, a sheen of tears glistened in the old woman’s blue eyes. She could feel the love of her grandson and his wife wrap around her gently, warming her to her very soul. "Thank you, Daniel," she said, her voice quavering slightly.

He smiled, dropped a kiss on her cheek. "I’ll try to call later."

"Don’t worry about me, I’ll be just fine," Muriel repeated. "Drive carefully."

"Always," Daniel tossed over his shoulder as he followed Casey down the back steps.

She watched from the door as her grandson and granddaughter-in-law disappeared into the small garage. And then the bronze-colored Jeep was backing out, toward the street. She returned Casey’s wave, stood at the door until she couldn’t see the vehicle any longer.

With a sigh of contentment, she shut and locked the door. Busied herself cleaning up the few breakfast dishes...Casey had barely touched the second slice of toast; Daniel had eaten a full bowl of cereal. Muriel carefully rinsed out the glass that had held the fruit smoothie that Daniel had made, cajoling Casey into drinking it. Apparently the protein powder he’d added was to help the young woman gain and maintain weight. His concern had been visible in his blue eyes, and if she had to make a guess, she figured the only reason Casey drank the concoction was to please him.

The blender was easy enough to take apart, although it was just a bit different than the old jar and base type she had at home. Probably a lot more expensive than hers had been, as well. The counters were wiped down, the tea towel spread out on the granite surface to dry.

She carefully folded the sheets and blankets that had covered the sofa, making a comfortable bed for her to sleep on. It was impossible not to smile at how Daniel and Casey both fretted about her sleeping on the couch. Truth be told, she probably slept better on her grandson’s sofa than she did in her own bed, old as it was. Maybe she should consider investing in a new mattress...

The soft tap on the French door startled Muriel from her rambling thoughts...she smiled broadly to see Emma Hanks peering in at her. She hurried to open the door.

"I know I said lunch, but I just took a coffeecake out of the oven. Fresh coffee in the pot, too."

"Let me grab my sweater and purse," Muriel said, patting her hair absently. She’d hurried to dress and be out of the bathroom before Daniel and Casey were awake, not wanting to be in their way as they rushed to get ready for work. Well, she wasn’t going out anywhere, she thought. No need to worry about how she looked.

"I called Janelle, she should be here soon. Figured we might just as well make a day of it," Emma said, glancing around the room. Took note of the bedding neatly folded on the chair. She’d often wondered if the couch was as comfortable to sleep on as it was to sit on. When she’d been able to speak with Daniel’s grandmother, Muriel had confided her delight at being welcome in her grandson’s home, and how their concern regarding the sleeping arrangement warmed her heart.

Muriel put the brightly colored key ring into the pocket of her cardigan, then carefully pulled the French door closed behind her, unaware of the fact that the latch hadn’t engaged. "There. All snug. Don’t know how to set that alarm that Daniel has, but I guess locking the doors should keep everything safe enough."

"I would think so," Emma agreed. "And we’ll be sitting right there in my kitchen, so we can see back here any time we need to."

The two elderly women hurried through the gate in the fence that separated the two yards, then up the back steps and into Emma’s home.

 

A A A A A A

 

"I totally forgot to ask," Casey said, just as she and Daniel were boarding the bus that would take them to the cavern of Cheyenne Mountain.

"What?"

"Did you manage to get through to the cable company last night? We’re not paying for squiggly lines and static." After all of their guests had said their final farewells, Casey had turned on the television in hopes of catching the late night weather report. Only to find that the cable service was out.

"Yep, I did. The lady I talked to said that when she did...whatever test it was...that it came back as an error on the box."

"Are they going to replace it?"

Daniel glanced at his watch. He would just barely make it on time for the meeting with Jonas and Beth. He couldn’t be late; Jonas and SG-12 had a briefing before their mission immediately afterward. "Sometime this morning."

"Did you tell your grandma?"

He shook his head. "Forgot. It’s not that big of a deal. He’ll ring the doorbell, she’ll answer, he’ll hand her the box, that’s the end of it. I can plug it in when we get home."

"And what’s she supposed to do all day?"

"She’s having lunch with Emma!"

"Well, if the cable guy plugs it in for her, she can watch TV before lunch, and after she gets back home," Casey replied.

"She said something about reading her new book," Daniel countered.

"I’ll call her and let her know to have him hook it up just as soon as I get the chance."

He barely resisted rolling his eyes. Sometimes he wondered why he even bothered arguing. Once Casey got something in that pretty little head of hers, it was impossible to get it out. Good thing I love you, Angel.

"I’m glad that Grandma and Aunt Janelle can stay for a couple of days," Casey continued. Never noticed the indulgent smile her husband tossed at her. "Even with working, I feel as if we’ll be able to spend more time with them than we did the last time they were here."

"So, did you invite that old battleaxe, or did she just show up again?" a familiar voice asked.

Casey whirled around, looked up into her father’s smiling face. "Dad! I thought you were back in Kansas City!"

"I was on my way to the airport last night when I got a message from Dennis Ballard. He wanted to meet with me first thing this morning. Something about a new idea for helping Franklin Enterprises," Gary responded.

"What about Charley?" Casey knew that her father’s lover was still fighting a bad case of flu, and that he’d much rather be with her than in a meeting...no matter that said meeting did involve his business. She also knew that he’d see to it that the woman he loved was taken care of, one way or another.

"I called Dancer. Told him to sit on her if that’s what it took to keep her home today," Gary replied. "So, did you?"

"Did I what?"

Gary rolled his eyes. Looked over his daughter’s blonde head into the amused blue eyes of his son-in-law. "Annoying as hell when she does that, isn’t she?"

Daniel grinned. "Usually."

"Ha ha. Like neither of you are annoying," Casey retorted. She finished signing her name in the log book, then strode over the boards that covered the dirt floor of the cavern.

"Did she?" Gary asked Daniel, his voice low.

"No idea. The only thing she’s said so far is that she’d emailed both Grandma and her aunt about the birthday party I was throwing for her," Daniel replied. "This morning Grandma mentioned that one day she’d make a planned visit, rather than just dropping in on us."

"I knew it!" Gary declared. "I knew that old bat had just horned her way in! She only brought your grandma along to keep you from kicking her old ass out."

Daniel snickered. "It’s okay, Casey was thrilled that they thought enough of her to show up."

The two men paused in their conversation when they were close enough for her to overhear. Stood with innocent expressions during the ride to the lower levels of the SGC.

"I’ll try to catch up with you later," Casey promised her father, leaning up to plant a kiss on his cheek before he left the elevator on level sixteen.

"Shouldn’t take me too long," Gary replied. "We’ll grab a cup of coffee before I head back to KC."

"Deal," Casey agreed.

Gary planted a kiss on her forehead, nodded at Daniel, and stepped out of the car. Disappeared from view when the doors of the elevator closed.

"No clue how long this meeting with the general is going to take," Casey said, leaning against Daniel as the elevator began to move again. "Could you ask Jonas to make sure he leaves all his notes so I know what entry he’s been working on?"

"I can do that," he replied easily.

"Thanks." She kissed him gently. "I’ll see you in a bit."

"I’ll be there," he replied, taking just another quick taste of her sweet lips before stepping off on level eighteen. "Love you, Angel."

"Love you, too, Stud Muffin." She leaned back against the metal wall of the elevator, humming softly as she waited to reach level twenty-seven. She’d go over the MALP reports with the general, and then she needed to check with Tiesha Taylor to find out if the SF had had time to finish up the portrait of the ‘French Maid" that Daniel had requested. The artist had spent the entire time she’d been photographing Casey...looking for that ‘perfect’ shot...teasing the slender blonde about the ‘collection’ of erotic portraits the couple was acquiring. She wondered idly if Tiesha would take a photo of Daniel in that red shirt and those black pants... She shivered slightly. Good grief, we’re getting kinky as hell! As soon as she had the chance, she was definitely going to have a talk with her husband about their very...creative...love life. Surely role playing and ‘dressing up’ for one another, and then having portraits done of the results, just couldn’t be ‘normal’!

The elevator stopped on level twenty-five, and a young lieutenant with long, dark hair stepped into the car. She gave Casey a shy smile. "Good morning."

"Good morning," Casey replied, noting the recognition that flared in the woman’s brown eyes. Frantically searched her memory for a name to go with the face. The woman looked familiar, but...

"I’ve been meaning to talk to you," the lieutenant said softly.

"Oh?" Come on brain! Who the hell is she?

"I never did thank you for your encouragement my first day here."

First day, okay that’s a clue...

"I still do stupid things sometimes, but at least I’m not tripping over my own feet now." The smile was full of humor.

Tripping? In a flash it came to her...the lieutenant walking into one of the Monday morning meetings...tripping...the chaos that had ensued, and then...she barely swallowed her laugh. She still needed to find a purple Care Bear for Jack.... "We all do stupid things," Casey replied with an easy smile, the young woman’s name finally settling into her mind. Lieutenant Alison Peters...assigned to SG-9. Wonder if she’s still being called ‘Felger’ by her teammates...

"Major Farnsworth actually told me I’m an asset to the team on our last mission," Alison said proudly. Then her cheeks went rosy, and she ducked her head. "I suppose the fact that I was the one who fell into the pond and prevented the other leader from doing so might have helped."

Casey’s smile went wider. "At least your CO doesn’t have a list of things you’ve done that have put the team in jeopardy."

Alison’s eyes went wide. "You?"

"And Daniel. Mostly Daniel, though," Casey whispered conspiratorially. "His natural curiosity takes over, all common sense leaks out his ears and heads right out the door."

The young woman laughed. "I’ve heard a few stories."

"They’re probably true," Casey giggled. The elevator stopped, and the doors opened. "I’m glad things are working out for you. Just keep your camera ready. When these heroes trip over pebbles, it’s always a Kodak moment!"

Their feminine laughter filled the air.

"Thanks again, Mrs. Jackson."

"Any time, Alison," she said, mentally patting herself on the back for having recalled the lieutenant’s name. "And please...call me Casey. All my friends do."

The lieutenant beamed. "Sure...Casey!"

Her smile going wider, Casey stepped out of the elevator. "And if you ever need cheering up, come talk to me, I can tell you all the stupid things that have gone on around here!"

"I’ll remember that!" With a wiggle of her fingers, Alison waved goodbye, and headed for the briefing room.

Casey frowned. Was there a team going out this morning? Had she gotten her signals crossed with General Hammond about their meeting? She rapped her knuckles lightly on the door to the general’s office.

"Casey!" Hammond smiled. "Right on time!"

"Is there a team going out?" she asked immediately, noting that SG-6 was in the briefing room...along with SG-9.

"Yes, as a matter of fact. Permission that we’ve been waiting for was received last night. SG-9 is returning to..." He searched through his notes. "PR3 771. They’re going to finalize a treaty for mining trinium. The only other planet we’ve visited where that particular mineral has been identified."

The first mission to the planet had been tricky. If she was recalling correctly, it was the mission for which her ‘psychic radar’ had sent her messages about cakes and cherries, or some such thing. "They’re willing to renegotiate?"

"It certainly appears that way. Thanks to your warning, Major Farnsworth was able to refuse the first treaty. It sounded too good to be true, and upon further investigation, it was," the general said.

"Just doing my job, sir," Casey replied. "Do you want to reschedule our meeting?"

"Actually, if you can give me about five minutes, we’ll get started. This is a return trip for both teams, I don’t think there’s much to discuss," Hammond said.

"Sure, I can wait."

"Thank you. Help yourself to a cup of coffee." With a nod, the general gathered up a folder and several notes, and hurried into the briefing room.

Casey couldn’t help but smile when Tony Sabotti and ‘Texas’ Yates gave her wide grins, their eyes sending warm greetings. She wiggled her fingers in a wave, then turned her attention to pouring a much needed cup of coffee.

The folders that she was to look at were on the corner of the general’s desk. She didn’t figure he’d mind if she glanced at them. Scooting the chair closer to the front of the desk, she opened the first folder, and began to examine the report written up from the MALP data. Arid. Ugh. I hate deserts. Preliminary tests indicated at least trace amounts of naquadah in the soil. Okay, that meant a team would go and perform more in-depth testing. Hopefully not SG-1.

The second folder was a bit more interesting. UAV photos had captured what looked like a settlement. Not much more than a few small houses gathered together. And fields. Definitely an agrarian society. How friendly the inhabitants would be...she couldn’t tell. There were no whispers to be heard regarding her questions about the planet.

The next folder...she frowned. A feeling of sadness washed over her...a feeling of absolute despair. The MALP images showed a deep forest near the Stargate, which could easily hide a large group of people. The mountains nearby could also be home to indigenous groups. She examined the infrared pictures taken by the UAV, compared them with two others photos of the same area. Yep...there they were. Just small huts, it looked like. Tears filled her eyes as she looked at the two close-up photos of the mountains that the UAV had taken.

Gone. The most important thing in their lives...gone. They weren’t sure how...or whom...or even when. Until it was returned to its rightful place in the belly of the Great Mother, the people would grieve, just as the Great Mother mourned for the loss of the missing portal...

Tears rolled down her cheeks even as she started at the thought...the word ‘portal’ echoing in her head. She glanced into the briefing room, just before the flash of light that heralded a download filled her vision. She closed her eyes.

Mystical...magical. She could sense power...not overwhelming. But enough to definitely pique her interest. It wasn’t a portal that a person could move through...what she was seeing was nothing more than a stone. The striations of dark and light were intriguing...

Portal...Portal...Portal. Not all things are obvious. Portals are doorways...Not all doorways are seen with the eyes...Not all doorways are on the mortal plane of existence...

Like a tape set to repeat, the words, visible as well as audible, continued to play again and again. Casey shook her head. This certainly warranted a closer look...if only to offer solace to the people who were so distraught. It didn’t matter that she had no clue just how SG-1 would be able to help...how they could locate one specific stone in an entire mountain range. She only knew they had to try. The upheaval of her emotions prevented her from realizing that it was SG-1, and not any other team, who would be going on the mission. Her attention strayed to the briefing room for the second time. She silently willed the general to wrap up the briefing, her interest in the planet making her heart pound against her ribs...

 

 

 

Casey held up the folder as the general walked through the door. "I don’t know how important it is," she said hesitantly, tears in her eyes as the agonizing emotions washed over her once again, "at least to us. But to these people, the loss of that stone is devastating."

"Stone?"

She explained what she’d seen, the devastation that she’d felt as the general settled behind his desk.

"Is there any way that an SG team could recover the stone?" Hammond asked, accepting the folder, glancing through it.. He looked back at her, watching the seer carefully.

"I think they could at least determine what had happened to it," Casey replied. She cocked her head sideways, shivered as more strong emotions washed over her, watched as more images appeared...took a few seconds to examine them. "I’m sensing a rivalry...between two groups, I think. My guess is that the other...tribe...took the stone. Whether for revenge, or just to cause trouble, I don’t know."

Hammond frowned. Getting involved in the ‘internal affairs’ of indigenous people wasn’t something he was willing to do. They had nearly fallen into that trap once, to what could have been devastating results. Only Doctor Jackson’s insistence that they remain neutral in the conflict, the archaeologist's argument strengthened by information netted from his careful questioning of the Eurondans, had prevented him from recommending that the Eudorans be given the means of annihilating their ‘enemies’.

Casey could sense the general’s hesitation. "This is important, sir," she said softly.

"I don’t doubt what you’re seeing," General Hammond said slowly. "However, I’m not comfortable with the idea of walking into a situation where we don’t have the full story. Can you tell me for certain that aiding these people, choosing sides, because that’s exactly what we’d be doing, won’t come back and bite us in the butt?"

A flash of light...images danced behind her eyes. She watched Daniel and Jack argue...felt Daniel’s hurt, and his anger, when Jack so bluntly insisted that he ‘shut up’. The horror that both men felt when they learned the truth, and how close they’d come to choosing to aid the ‘wrong’ side. The images changed...she could see the people of the two clans; related by blood, torn apart by belief. Only one group could control the power of the portal, understood its importance. The other...those who had taken the sacred stone...were convinced that by taking the stone, burying it, their ‘rivals’ would follow their way of thinking. In their minds, they would reunite the two clans once again. There was danger to both groups if the stone wasn’t returned to its ‘proper place’. Faces of several people filled her mind, their blank stares as eerie as the wails of grief uttered by friends and family echoed around her. Casey had no idea what kind of ‘portal’ the stone was. But in the wrong hands...

She took a deep breath. Explained what she saw, both the past mission, allowing that she fully understood the general’s hesitation to become ‘involved’; and the images of the villagers. "Sir, the only thing I know for certain is that if we don’t return that stone to where it belongs, we’ll be as guilty of harming those people as if we’d done the damage ourselves."

There were still tears in the Casey’s eyes. Her plea was based on the emotions that had accompanied what she’d seen. The information contained in her ‘download’, however, couldn’t be dismissed. Didn’t they...those who worked within the concrete walls of the facility known as the SGC...consider themselves the ‘good guys’? Wasn’t it the responsibility of the ‘good guys’ to protect those who needed protection...even if that protection was to prevent them from harming themselves, or each other? If just one life was saved by their interference, that could...would...justify their actions, wouldn’t it? Particularly if the result of their non-interference was what Casey described as ‘brain death’ in several people. The general nodded. "The MALP readings don’t show anything of interest on the planet." He held up a hand when Casey took a breath to speak. "However, I’ll have Doctor Jackson look at the images. If there’s anything there that he believes would be of interest or use to us, I’ll authorize the mission."

She nodded. She understood that the general had to prove to the Pentagon that any and all missions were ‘of value’. Finding a missing stone for a group of people would not qualify as far as the brass in DC were concerned. No doubt Daniel could find numerous things about the indigenous people to be worthwhile.

 

A A A A A A

 

Daniel was alone in the office when she walked in. Lost in his work...he hadn’t looked up to acknowledge her arrival. Tossing an indulgent smile at her husband, Casey settled behind her desk. Immediately noticed the note Jonas had left for her, detailing just which entries he had been working on. With a nod, she gathered notes for another entry, and began to type.

"Damn!" she said softly, reaching for the phone. She’d nearly forgotten!

"What?" Daniel asked, glancing over at her. Wondering just how long she’d been there.

"I have to call Grandma, and let her know that she needs to have the cable man hook up the box," Casey explained, dialing the number that would ring in the little gray house on Baldwin Street.

He rolled his eyes, went back to his translations. It wouldn’t do a bit of good to point out that more than likely his grandmother was already at Emma’s, the two old women talking about...whatever women their age talked about.

Scrunching up her nose at him, having seen his response to her comment, Casey sighed loudly as she listened to the message on the answering machine...

"Hi. You've reached Daniel and Casey Jackson. We can't come to the phone right now, so leave a message after the beep. We'll get back to you as soon as possible."

"Grandma, this is Casey...can you pick up?" She waited a moment or two. "I just wanted to let you know the cable man is coming by to drop off a new box for the TV. Have him plug it in for you, okay? I’ll try to call later. Bye."

"Told you so," Daniel said.

"What?"

"I told you she’d be at Emma’s."

"What if she’s at Emma’s when the cable guy drops off the box?" Casey asked, a frown on her face.

Daniel shrugged nonchalantly. "He’ll leave it on the porch. Probably on the swing."

"Oh." She studied the handsome face of the man she loved. "I don’t suppose we could go home at lunch to check...just to see if it’s there? Then you could plug it in, and when Grandma gets home she can watch TV if she wants."

"I don’t suppose so. I have two meetings this afternoon. Any lunch break I have is going to be short," Daniel replied. Little worry-wart. He wondered briefly if Casey was going to continue to be as concerned about his grandmother. As tender-hearted as she was, he’d bet the answer to his question would be ‘yes’.

"I guess I could-"

"Casey, don’t worry about the cable box," Daniel interrupted, knowing full well what his Wife was planning. "I’ll plug it in when we get home. Grandma will be just fine. She’s with Emma. And if I don’t miss my guess, your Aunt Janelle was probably invited to lunch as well. Grandma won’t even be there to watch TV."

Her teeth tugged at her lip for a moment. "I wonder what they’ll talk about?"

He couldn’t help but grin. "No idea. Three lifetimes of experiences, I guess."

"Wouldn’t that be a fun conversation to listen to?"

"Might be."

Casey sighed. "I guess I’ll work on this database instead. I think I’d rather you just shoot me, though."

He chuckled. The longer she worked on the project, the more involved it became, and the more she complained about the Goa’uld in general and the database in particular. "Hang in there, babe. You’ll have it done yet."

"Ha!" she retorted. "The damned thing will never be done. Not unless the damned Goa’uld all fall dead at once. And we both know they’d never be that freaking considerate!"

His chuckles morphed into laughter. "Someday, that database will be hailed as the most comprehensive collection of information about the Goa’uld in existence."

"And that’s supposed to make me feel better...how?" Casey asked.

"You’ll be hailed as the architect of that impressive database."

"Unless there’s a free trip to the Bahamas involved, I’m not seeing anything special about that," she grumped. Ignored his continued chortles.

"How about a cup of coffee?" Daniel was already rising to his feet, his empty mug in hand.

"I love you. And I’d love a cup of coffee," she sighed.

With a grin, Daniel filled the mug she normally used, added sugar and creamer, carried it to her desk, sat it beside her keyboard. Dropped a kiss on the top of her head. "If you’d rather work in the gym today..."

She looked up, smiled at him. "Nope. I’m going to get this thing done if it kills me. Or if I kill someone out of sheer frustration."

"Okay." Once his own mug was refilled, and he’d settled back at his desk, silence filled the room, save for the quiet sounds of keys clicking on two keyboards.

 

A A A A A A

 

Emma poured coffee into the waiting cups. Janelle had arrived just moments after she and Muriel had returned to the house. Gary had dropped her off, waving at all three of the gray-haired women as they stood on the porch of Emma’s home.

"Well, now. There’s no one else around, let’s talk about Daniel and Casey," Emma said, a twinkle in her eyes.

"How long have they lived behind you?" Janelle asked, sipping her coffee, mentally nodding in approval at the rich blend.

"Let’s see...two years, I think. It was spring when they moved in..." Emma said, thinking back. "First time I saw them was when they were taking in paint and scaffolding. I was working out in my garden. Casey saw me, and waved. Dragged Daniel over and introduced him and herself. Then offered to let me see what they were doing."

"She’s friendly," Muriel mused. "In spite of everything that-" She bit off the comment, a faint hint of pink coloring her cheeks.

"Gary has told me a bit," Janelle murmured. "That poor little thing. Her mother," she explained, when her companions looked at her questioningly.

"Daniel said she was adopted," Muriel replied, frowning slightly in confusion.

"Yes, she was. At age five. She’d been left on the steps of a church. From what Gary was able to learn, it was the best thing Brenda...Casey’s mother...could have done for the child." Janelle took another sip of her coffee. "I just wish I’d been aware of what was going on...I’d have paid Gary’s tuition, and he’d have married Brenda before the end of their junior year. Or at least that summer. Would have prevented the whole mess. And I’d have personally cold-cocked Brenda’s father if he’d tried to object."

"So what happened?" Emma asked, curiosity written plainly on her face.

"Well, Gary said..." Janelle started, launching into the story of her nephew and the young woman he’d love so dearly.

 

A A A A A A

 

Large cable television and internet providers are always the recipients of local discontent. Customers routinely called to complain about one thing or another. Commerce Cable in Colorado Springs was no different. It was the Great Satan of cable companies, or the Greatest Cable Company Ever...depending on just whom one spoke to regarding their opinion.

One of the aspects of such companies normally overlooked by customers was that the men and women who worked for said company lived in the very same community as those customers. For the most part, the jobs were tedious and thankless. The local ‘substations’...locations throughout the city where equipment was housed, modems and cable boxes stored, and appointments set for repairs or installation...normally provided employment for at least fifty or more people.

The Silver Springs substation for Commerce Cable was typical in the layout and the equipment present - the warehouse of spare parts, the parking lot full of vans that roved the city to make certain the citizens were able to watch their favorite programs and surf the Internet with ease. It was also atypical, in that the supervisor of the site believed in people first...especially his employees. While he expected every technician to clear his ‘sheet’ of appointments each day, he wasn’t opposed to allowing certain tasks to be performed as those technicians drove to or from doctor’s appointments, school plays, soccer games, or birthday parties. As long as the customer was happy, all was good in his book. There had never been complaints about ‘drop-offs’ by technicians driving personal vehicles, dressed in their ‘street clothes’ rather than the normal Commerce Cable uniforms. As long as the technician had called the customer to inform them of the details of the drop-off, the supervisor of the substation found nothing untoward in the practice.

The stockily built man hurried into the building. Dropped his clipboard on the desk with a clatter, pulled a blue ball cap from his closely shorn head, the band rasping against the dark stubble. "Be right back," he told the woman who was sitting there, when she glanced up at him in surprise.

The door to the supervisor’s office was open. He tapped on the door lightly, stuck his head into the room. "Boss?"

"Hey, Bob. Come on in."

"I just wanted to let you know I’m taking off. There are a couple of drop-off’s on the same side of town, thought I’d do those on my way to the doctor’s office," the younger man said. "That’ll clear my sheet for the day. Don’t know how long I’ll be, if I’m out of there at a reasonable time, I’ll come back and see what calls have come in."

"Sounds good to me," the older man said. He offered an encouraging smile. "Doctors today can work miracles. Sometimes I wonder if Donna and I woulda’ had kids if we’d been able to go to a fertility clinic."

"I’d have preferred to do the job myself," Bob said, giving a slight shrug, "but at least we’ve got a chance to have a kid of our own."

"Well, good luck. If I don’t see you later today, I’ll see you tomorrow."

"Thanks, Boss."

Bob retrieved the clipboard on his way back through the main office, his thick finger running down the list of jobs he’d worked like a fiend to get finished up early. There, the last two...he’d actually rearranged the list because of the addresses..."I need two replacement cable boxes," he told the receptionist.

She nodded, and handed him the paperwork for the equipment.

A quick stop at the supply depot, he’d drop off the boxes...and then find out what he’d have to go through in order to become a father. He snorted silently. Whatever it was, it couldn’t be any worse than what they’d already been through! He made final trip to the main building, and the men’s restroom. He changed into his regular clothes, took the boxes and his uniform to his car...the sedan he’d purchased three years ago. In anticipation of starting a family...


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