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The Simple Necessities of Life
Christmas Day had been declared a success. The gifts exchanged had proven just how well the teammates knew one another. Given and accepted with love, hearts had overflowed with warmth and happiness.
The ham had been baked and served with sweet potatoes and apple pie, all of them so stuffed after the meal that they fell asleep in the living room shortly afterwards.
Dinner had consisted of what few leftovers were left, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. More games had been played...Monopoly, Sorry, even a few hands of Old Maid with a deck of cards so worn and faded that the pictures were nearly obscured.
A A A A A A
It was after midnight, the house was silent, the occupants drifting to contented sleep when the storm blew in. The wind had been howling off and on for two days, the sound failed to alert them of any potential problems...perhaps because, for the most part, they had ignored the howling, if they even heard it over the sounds of their discussions, their laughter, their singing.
It was nearly four a.m. when the tree snapped. The sound echoed like thunder. Several seconds later the entire cabin shook as the giant hit the ground with a loud groan of protest. Daniel, Casey, and Teal'c, met on the small landing, Jack and Sam hurried into the living room.
"We need to check it out," Jack said. "And see if it looks like any others are about to come down. Fast and warm," he instructed, his 'kids' knowing automatically to what he referred.
In less than ten minutes the team was warily making their way off of the front porch. It took a few minutes to actually locate the downed tree. An old birch had given way, and was laying across the narrow driveway. The rented SUV was going nowhere until the tree was removed. The clouds that accompanied the storm seemed to be boiling in the sky above them, barely visible when flashlights were pointed skyward.
"It could get bad," Jack said, raising his voice to be heard above the wind.
"Are we okay?" Daniel asked worriedly.
"Long as we don't have any trees come down on us," Jack replied. "That hasn't happened in the forty-six years that this place has been owned by O'Neill's."
The reply wasn't much comfort. It could be argued that the place was overdue for a disaster. Daniel unconsciously reached for his Wife, pulled her close.
"I'm going to make sure the generator is ready to turn on," Jack said. "Go on back into the house. I won't be but a few minutes."
"I shall accompany you, O'Neill," Teal'c said.
No doubt arguing would be useless. Well, he would argue, Teal'c would just stand there and look at him. Better to just accept the company and get the job done. The temperature was still dropping...and it just smelled like a blizzard. Jack gave a sharp nod, and sprinted toward the back of the house, the Jaffa right beside him.
Daniel led Sam and Casey back into the house. He had just closed the door when the lights flickered, then went out. Flashlights in hand, they began lighting the kerosene lamps. Jack hurried through the back door. It was at that moment that Daniel realized that not once had either door been locked. Of course, one had to know the cabin was even located here to find it, making habits such as locking doors unnecessary.
"There are water jugs here," the older man said, grabbing two five gallon glass jars. "I just turned on the generator. We'll fill these up, then I can shut it off. When we're ready to shower, I'll turn it back on. Gentlemen, we'll be using the old outhouse. Ladies, don't flush the commodes unless you have to. Refill the tank with a jug of water."
Four heads bobbed up and down in understanding. Given what they had lived through off world, this was nothing to even be excited over. Well, the idea of falling trees was a bit of a worry, Daniel admitted to himself.
"Might be a good idea for the three of you to sleep down here tonight. We'll drag the mattresses down, so at least you'll have those to sleep on. Okay, let's get to it!"
There were ten of the glass jugs, and all were filled to the brim with water. Two were carried into the main floor bathroom, a smaller jar going in as well, to use as a dipper.
It didn't take long to have more firewood stacked on the back porch, a task that Sam and Casey took care of while the men wrestled the full mattress and one of the twins down the stairs. The coffee table was shoved up against the wall, and the double mattress placed in front of the fire place. The twin was dropped behind the stairs, perpendicular to the structure. Sheets and blankets were replaced, and the beds were ready.
Jack blew out the oil lamps, flashlights adding their illumination to the warm glow from the hearth. "Okay, let's get a couple more hours of sleep, shall we?"
Casey snuggled into Daniel's embrace. The wind continued to wail outside. She was nervous, but not frightened. Jack's insistence that they sleep downstairs screamed of his own uneasiness. If another tree were to fall, and crash into the cabin, the small upstairs bedrooms could quickly become literal death traps. She didn't think it would happen. She was certain that Jack didn't believe it would happen. But it soothed her nerves to know that her CO, who just happened to be one of her best friends, wasn't taking any chances. She drifted into peaceful sleep, the sound of Daniel's soft snoring accompanied by the crackling of the fire on the hearth.
A A A A A A
When he opened his eyes, he automatically checked his watch. He was certain he'd slept for at least a couple of hours, but there was no light filtering through the windows. Five minutes before nine. What the hell?
Daniel reached out into the cool air of the room, his groping hand coming into contact with his flannel robe. He slid from beneath the blankets, moving slowly so as to not disturb his still sleeping Wife. He pulled on the robe, tied it absently. Went to the window and pushed the curtain completely aside. He knew he'd just awakened. But damned if that didn't look like snow!
It was at that moment that he realized he was listening to silence. The roar of the wind was gone. Either because the cabin was buried in snow, or because the storm had passed. Curious, he hurried up the stairs to check the windows in the two bedrooms. Bright sunlight poured through the glass, leaving large warm spots on the floors. It seemed that a large drift of snow had lodged against one side of the cabin.
He went back downstairs, checked the windows in the kitchen and dining room. Yep, one side of the house had snow piled at least twelve feet high against it. Chicago winters could be brutal, but he didn't remember snow like this! Of course, living in the city probably contributed to that lack of such snow drifts.
The can of coffee was completely empty. He squatted down to rifle through the box of groceries Jack had packed. Soup, crackers, Pop Tarts, two cans of chili...Come on, damn it! he groused silently. Where in the hell is the coffee? Jack said he brought a can!
Sorting through the cans a second time, Daniel admitted that what he was looking for simply wasn't there. Maybe Casey or Sam or Jack had stuck it into the cupboard...he began searching. Moved everything in the pantry twice. Well wasn't that just a pain in the ass!
"What are you doing?" a soft voice asked from the doorway.
He glanced over his shoulder. "Looking for coffee."
"In the box," Casey replied, stifling a yawn behind her hand.
"Of course it is. Jack said he brought coffee." She hurried to the box. Could see that it had been thoroughly searched. "No coffee?"
He couldn't miss the almost whimpering sound. "Doesn't look like it."
Jack and Sam stepped into the room. "What's going on?" Jack asked.
"No coffee," Daniel growled.
"I put a can in the box," Jack insisted.
Casey lifted the box onto the counter. "So find it."
With a frown, Jack ignored the obvious...that the box had been searched at least once. He went through the contents. "I had everything on the table, and...hey, where's the jar of peanuts?"
"Not there," Casey retorted.
"I know I had it all there! And I put all the soup in first, to make certain it fit, and then the Pop Tarts on top..." His voice faded as he realized what had happened. The coffee and the peanuts were still sitting on the table in his cabin outside of Colorado Springs. "Shit."
"I need my coffee," Casey said. Calmly. Firmly.
"How far is that little town you were talking about?" Daniel asked.
"We can't get the SUV out until we take care of that tree," Jack pointed out.
"Fuck the SUV. How far?" Daniel demanded.
"About fifteen miles," Jack replied.
"Let's go," Casey said, already moving toward the door.
"What?" Jack asked, his voice going up in pitch. "You're going to walk fifteen miles in drifted snow just for a can of coffee?"
"Damned straight," Sam snapped, turning on her heel. "I can't believe you'd forget the coffee!"
"The three of you are pathetic! You've dealt with the day without coffee before!" Jack pointed out.
"Off world, usually under fire," Daniel shot back. "There's coffee in town. I am going to have a cup of coffee!"
"You know, you should probably think about cutting back a bit. Seems you have an addiction to more than just Casey!"
"Watch your mouth, Jack."
"What? All I said was-"
"I heard what you said."
"Daniel, you're a grouch."
"And I should care because?"
"I am seriously worried about you," Jack snapped. "It's not the end of the freaking world! Radar can make some hot cocoa-"
"No Radar can't," Casey interjected. "No milk. We used the last of it last night."
"There were four gallons of milk in there!" Jack exploded. He knew exactly how many gallons there had been, he'd counted them. They were there because he'd mentioned to Tom, when he had called to alert the caretaker that he and his friends were coming up, that he was looking forward to having hot cocoa every day. Dottie had made certain that enough milk was available.
"And we used them!" Casey replied hotly. "We've had hot cocoa every night this week! How much do you think that takes?" She brushed past him, Daniel following closely.
Jack wiped a hand over his face. Radar and The Brains. Confined to the cabin. Sans coffee. Oh, hell, that was worse than facing pissed off Jaffa! Speaking of which...didn't Teal'c have a stash of tea? Tea had caffeine, right? Well, problem solved!
The subject of his thoughts stepped into the kitchen
"Teal'c! I don't suppose you'd be willing to share your tea with our caffeine addicts, would you?"
"I would be most happy to share, O'Neill. However, the brand of tea which I consume is caffeine free."
Jack let his head drop forward. "They're going to walk fifteen miles into town...for coffee."
"Perhaps I should accompany them," Teal'c offered.
"I believe it to be prudent for their safety."
"No offense, T-man, but I don't know that you're all that up-to-date on surviving in these conditions."
"On the contrary, O'Neill. I have completed survival training courses that encompass a wide variety of circumstance. However, the elements are not the danger to which I refer."
Did he dare to ask? Curiosity won. "Okay, what dangers could they be facing?"
"Considering that they have not had their morning coffee, I believe their dispositions are quite...surly. Someone will be needed to mediate any disagreements that are sure to arise."
There was no way not to laugh. And the thing of it was, the Jaffa had a point. "Good thinking, Teal'c. I'll just grab my cell phone-"
Teal'c raised a questioning eyebrow. O'Neill had insisted that all cell phones be left at their places of abode for this excursion.
"We're SG-1," Jack explained. "We can't be completely out of reach."
A A A A A A
Within ten minutes the team was walking toward the main road...a narrow two-lane highway that was traveled only by those whose homes sat hidden on either side of it. They'd been forced to use the back door, snow drifts had encased the front porch completely. Three fifths of the team had no desire to try to shovel their way out, especially when it wasn't an absolute necessity.
For several long minutes the only sound to break the silence that hung around them was the crunching of snowshoes against the snow.
"Nice and peaceful," Jack observed. Three faces shot him annoyed looks. "Well it is!"
"I'll reserve judgment until I've had my coffee," Casey grumped.
Silence fell over the group again as they approached the highway. There were absolutely no tire tracks in the fresh snow. Those who lived nearby were snug and warm in their homes, and more than willing to remain there until the county road crew had plowed the snow off of the asphalt.
"Doesn't anyone live around here?" Sam asked, eyeing the expanse of pristine snow with surprise.
"There are a few year-'rounders," Jack replied. "Most of the places around here are summer homes."
"Do you think the grocery store will be open? There is a grocery store there, right?" Casey asked.
"Yes, McGrumbles, there's a grocery store," Jack replied. "It's Friday, so I don't see why it wouldn't be open."
"Yesterday was Christmas," she pointed out.
"And today isn't."
She heaved a sigh. "It's Boxing Day in England. Australia, too."
"And Canada," Daniel added.
"Just what is this 'Boxing Day'?" Teal'c asked.
Jack rolled his eyes. Coffee or not, Daniel would launch into a long-winded explanation. "It's the day to take care of all of the boxes from Christmas presents."
"It is not!" Daniel huffed. "It's really a very old tradition...it can actually be traced back to the Romans."
"Not the Egyptians?" Jack queried sarcastically.
Daniel ignored him. "They weren't even boxes in Roman times, but earthenware...ceramic is what we call it today...containers. They had a slit in the top, probably where the idea for the piggy bank came from. Anyway, coins were collected to help pay for the Saturnalia festivities. Then it became habit to give a small gratuity to those in service...lamp-lighters, watchmen, dustmen and-"
"Dustmen?" Casey asked.
"Trash collectors. Garbage men."
"Got it. Go on."
"It also refers to the alms boxes placed in churches to collect offerings that would help support the church and was given to the poor. All of them were traditionally opened the day after Christmas."
"No boxes involved?" Jack asked.
In spite of his caffeine deprived state, Daniel smiled. "No, actual boxes not involved."
"Then why call it "Boxing Day"?"
"Because the containers used are called 'boxes'," Daniel patiently explained.
"And they wonder why they lost their empire?" Jack muttered, shaking his head.
"I was only joking, Daniel."
The shrill ring of the phone brought all five to a halt. They were suddenly aware of the fact that a ringing cell phone right now could mean only one thing.
Jack gave a sharp glance at his 'kids', noted that they gathered around him expectantly. And the expression on every face was now guarded. "O'Neill," he into the small device.
Casey wrapped her hand around Daniel's arm. He looked down at her. "Casey?"
"I sure wish I knew what that warning meant," she said softly.
"You'll figure it out, Angel," he said soothingly.
"Before or after the info is needed?"
He slipped his arm around her shoulders, pulled her close. "You see what you see, Casey. And you do the best you can with what you're given."
"You don't have to live with the results of my failures."
"Don't I?" he asked softly.
She looked up at his face, his eyes hidden by his sunglasses. He was the one who held her when she cried, when she dealt with the agony of the results when she missed an important clue, when she didn't interpret her 'visions' soon enough. Helped her through the nightmares. "I suppose you do," she admitted.
"You have never failed us, or the SGC, Casey Jackson," Teal'c said, his deep voice filled with certainty.
"Sometimes it feels that way."
"Yes, sir," Jack was saying. "Thing of it is, we're snowed in, had a tree go down in a storm last night. We're on foot, and it's going to take a few hours for my friend to be able to get here to pick us up...yes, sir. We'll be outside the cabin, sir. Yes, sir." Jack closed his phone. "General Carter just came through the 'gate. Seems we have a chance to take out Ares. The Prometheus will be picking us up in an hour."
"Is Ares enough of a threat to warrant this rush?" Daniel asked, the team already hurrying back toward the cabin.
"Apparently. Seems he's been doing a little negotiating with a few of Ba'al's enemies. He's about to do something that we failed to do," Jack replied.
"He's going to unite the System Lords," Daniel said flatly.
"And once he gets rid of Ba'al, Ares will sweep in, take all of his holdings..." Sam shook her head. "Dad's right. We have to stop him."
Casey was tugging her lip between her teeth.
She looked up at concern in her Husband's voice. Tried to smile. Wrapped her gloved fingers around his. "I'm still working on the blanket, fire works, and tubes riddle," she said softly.
"Don't try to force it," he admonished lovingly.
"Easy for you to say."
A A A A A A
One hour and ten minutes later, still wearing their jeans and thermals, duffels tossed to the floor in the corner, the team was gathered around the conference table in the briefing room of the SGC...coffee cups full of the steaming brew in hand.
"We get one chance at this," Jacob Carter said, his face a reflection of the worry that filled his voice.
"So what's the plan?" Jack asked, studying the folder in front of him.
"We want to get you aboard Ares' ship. You'll plant explosives, we've already determined the locations necessary to completely destroy the vessel."
"And your people can't do this because...?"
Jacob closed his eyes. When they reopened, the flash of light within their depths signified that Selmak was now in control. "Colonel O'Neill, SG-1's reputation of being able to perform such closely timed and significant missions is well documented. To be blunt, we don't have the time to spare trying to gather Tok'ra with the experience needed. We are, as Jacob would point out, turning to the best."
Glances were exchanged around the table. It seemed that as a result of past events, not the least of which was the team being awarded the highest honor among the Tok'ra, praise as well as more details often accompanied any briefings between the two peoples. While the kudos were welcome, it still made the team nervous to be handed the most dangerous assignments, rather than other Tok'ra agents.
"We've developed an isotope that can be injected directly into your bloodstream. It doesn't affect you, but it will render you invisible to any internal scanners," Jacob continued.
"No armbands," Sam murmured. While narrow, wearing the bands over their BDUs was often uncomfortable, and if they were forced to crawl through access shafts, the bands had a tendency to get caught on small protrusions.
"There is a time limit, not much longer than the armbands. Seventy-eight minutes. Exactly. At seventy-eight minutes one second, the scanners will pick you up."
The discussion on where the explosives needed to be planted began. Teal'c and Casey were able to offer 'alternate routes' from one place to the other. Because they couldn't be seen by the internal sensors, they could risk moving through the corridors. Patrols would be able to see them, of course, but the five had become experts at hiding in the shadows.
The problem of ringing the team onto the ship would be lessened by the rebel Jaffa who were serving on the ship. As soon as the team was on board, those rebels would hold the rings until they were finished, and all would ring back to the Prometheus, which would be standing by to retrieve them.
The explosives would be set to go off at precisely eighty minutes after the team first ringed onto the ship. Given that they would be visible just after seventy-eight, consensus was that the team could not take longer than seventy minutes to plant the bombs. That gave them eight minutes to get to the rings, and off of the ha'tak, two for the Prometheus to get clear.
"When?" Jack looked up at the two generals. Watched the exchanged glances.
"As soon as your team is ready," General Hammond replied.
Within twenty minutes SG-1 was making their way to level twenty-four, and the 'ring-room'. Jacob, who would accompany the team to the Prometheus, clutched the case that held five hyposprays. As soon as they had located Ares' ship, the team would be injected with the newly developed isotope. And would ring to the enemy vessel.
Casey stood between Daniel and Teal'c. Continued to work on the riddle that filled her mind. A black blanket. Fire works. And narrow gold and silver tubes. Just what in the hell did it mean?
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