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Man and Machine
"Hey, gorgeous, wake up. Let's go take a bath," Daniel said softly, kissing her cheek, her jaw, nibbling lightly on her neck.
"Mmmphf…just five more minutes?" Her arms automatically wrapped around him, pulled him close, her body responding to his even before her mind was fully awake.
"Sorry, Case, it's now or never. Jack has a bath schedule set up. As well as a tarp to offer some privacy."
With a grumble about Napoleonic generals, Casey followed him out of the warmth of the sleeping bags, and pulled on the robe that he held out to her. She managed to find the bag that held her toiletries, then followed her Husband. Yawning, her eyes still swollen with sleep, she padded across the shelter toward the pool. The water was cold, but it served to wake her up when she stepped into the small, rock-bottomed pond. She smiled when Daniel washed her back, she returned the favor. He squeezed the excess water from her hair, and when they were back in their robes, led her back to the tent.
"Are you okay?" she asked him as she pulled on clean BDUs over clean, hot pink undies.
"I'm fine. Why?" He had taken note of the tiny bra and lacy panties that she was now wearing under her standard issue green fatigues. Knew that he would think about them for the rest of the day, think about taking them off of her.
"We didn't make love this morning," she replied.
He grinned. "Well, if I had woke up sooner we would have."
"Hmm…you must have been worn out," she smiled, her eyes dancing.
"Must have been," he replied, winking at her.
"Coffee…now!" she demanded.
He held the tent open for her, leaned down to sneak a kiss from her as she walked by him.
Breakfast was instant oatmeal, something that SG-1 had started carrying ever since Casey had suggested it. Conversation was light, quiet as the group woke up and readied themselves for their day. A playful discourse on who would get which flavor of oatmeal brought smiles to every face.
The grad students were surprised to see Dr. Jackson braiding his wife's hair as they all had one last cup of coffee. No one else seemed to even notice, so they realized it was a common occurrence. Stephanie sighed as she watched the handsome archaeologist lean over and kiss his wife before she moved away from him. She glanced at Todd. If only he were as romantic as Dr. Jackson! She sighed again, then hurried to join the group as they gathered around General O'Neill.
"Okay, campers, we had a quiet night, let's hope today stays that way. Danny, what are your plans for the day?" Jack asked, looking over at his best friend, effectively turning command of the mission over to him.
"Well, we found all that seemed to be available in the library. We found several newspapers, and a location for the main office. It's not far from here, about three blocks west, according to the city map we stumbled across," Daniel replied. "I'd like to see what we might find there."
Jack turned to the young blonde Immortal standing beside him. "Case, anything new?"
She shook her head. "We're still being watched. I don't think they'll do anything to stop us, unless we try to damage something."
"You said last night that they were…are…caretakers?" Sam asked.
"That's what I'm picking up," Casey confirmed.
"It's odd that they haven't tried to contact us," the colonel said.
"Not really," Daniel said. "If they're caretakers, then unless we do something that they consider harmful, they'll probably remain out of sight. Case said they don't want us to know that they're out there."
"True. Still, it would be the polite thing to do," Sam groused, sounding suspiciously like Jack. She preferred knowing her potential enemy. It made it easier to prepare a defense against them. Unknowns were dangerous…deadly.
Jack was thinking the same thing as his wife. He would have liked a head-on with these 'caretakers' as well. He wanted to know exactly what they were up to, besides watching him and his people. That could lead to trouble. "Parker, I want you and the boys to stay here, keep an eye on camp. Turk you and your Marines are with us. Keep your eyes open," Jack said.
The men nodded their understanding. It was evident in their eyes that Major Parker, Texas and Tony were not happy at being left behind.
Once again Daniel led the way on foot. The wide avenues, with the surviving indications that they had been brightly and cheerfully decorated, deserved closer examination, something made possible by the relaxed pace of their walk.
A A A A A A
The buildings on this street were not as tall, allowing more of the sunlight from the bright disk above them to warm the sidewalks. Boxes, long and narrow, hung from nearly every window, or stood in front of the window openings where plate glass had once been, many still showing the bright colors that they had been painted. A profusion of weeds grew in each one. It didn't take a skilled archaeologist to understand that these had been flower boxes. A few basket-like containers were still hanging on lampposts, igniting a debate on whether all of the posts had been so adorned. The question was decided when Stephanie pointed out that all of the posts had a small hook on the side for holding the chains that supported the baskets. The residents of this city had obviously enjoyed color, and beauty, and had surrounded themselves with it.
The 'newspaper office', as Daniel dubbed the building, was only two stories tall. The inside took them all by surprise. After the nearly pristine condition of the library, the chaotic mess inside every room raised a multitude of questions. Especially when the Immortal archaeologist pointed out that not one newspaper, book, magazine, tablet or scroll could be located. They attempted to access several of the dozens of computer terminals scattered throughout the building, but none seemed to work. Frustrated, Daniel sighed, his hands on his hips, surveying the destruction in the last of the 'offices' that they had found.
"It's like somebody didn't want something revealed…wanted to keep inquiring minds from learning about something," Casey said softly.
"Looks like," Daniel agreed, frowning. "Okay, let's go back to the library. We weren't looking for anything other than references to the Lost City yesterday. Let's see what we can find out about…this."
The group stopped at the park to grab water, check with SG-6, who reported that nothing was stirring anywhere near the camp. Then they moved on to the library, following the same path they had taken before.
Just as she had yesterday, Casey felt uneasy as they walked down the street. She reached for Daniel, both mentally and physically. His hand wrapped tightly around hers, holding her firmly in his arms in that meadow in her mind, she reached out. Nothing. At least, nothing that she could identify. Which set her brain to work on the puzzle.
Once again the lights came on as soon as they entered the building. They were stunned when they returned to the section where they had located the newspapers the day before. Nothing was left but tiny shreds of paper.
"Somebody doesn't want us finding out something," Jack hissed. "We're checking this building out. Turk, you and your men take the top two floors. Sam, you and T take the next two. Todd, you're with them. Ramir, Stephanie, you're with me. We'll take the first and second floors. There are some stairs leading down. Danny, you and Case take the bottom floors."
Weapons gripped tightly, eyes moving, letting nothing escape their attention, the group split into teams, and began to search. Whoever had done this had made a huge mistake. Nothing spurred curiosity in humans faster than leaving evidence of destruction, especially when what was destroyed had been intact only hours earlier. Now the group would not stop until they had the answers for which they sought.
The lower level consisted of storage rooms, most of which were empty. The lowest level, there were no other stairs leading down any farther, was cold and dank. Daniel moved slowly, Casey close to his back. Their flashlights were attached to their weapons, and they moved them carefully, slowly, taking in as much as possible.
"Seems to be where all of the plumbing is," Daniel whispered.
"Typical," Casey replied. Her eyes caught the glint of something…mechanical…in a room to their right. "Daniel, look," she said, shining her light into the dark room.
Both of them gasped. The room was large, and every wall was lined with what appeared to be computer data banks and terminals. Nearly a dozen monitor screens were glowing, and each displayed either text messages in an unknown language, or what looked like system readouts. In one corner was an oddity…a tube of some sort, large enough for a person to fit into. It looked like a narrow shower stall.
Casey was examining the nearest terminal, her fingers moving over the keyboard, although she didn't recognize any of the symbols. She was merely attempting to see if the computer was active. The flash of those symbols across the screen proved that it was indeed working, and made her jump away from the console.
"This is…weird," Daniel said, standing just outside of the tube, examining it closely. When he put his hand against it, lights flickered on in the room, startling both of them.
"I wonder what it's for?" she asked, stepping up behind him.
"I have no idea," he murmured. "It's just big enough for a man to step into," he said, starting to do just that.
"Daniel, don't you dare!" Casey objected. She felt an odd tingling in her spine. She looked around nervously, but could see nothing amiss in the room.
As if from thin air, a man and a woman appeared beside the two Tau'ri.
"Yes, yes, step inside," the woman whispered, moving to stand next to Daniel, her lavender eyes locked with his blue ones. She smiled up at him, reached out to caress his cheek.
Mesmerized, Daniel began to obey. He was shrugging his pack from his back, his P90 clattered to the floor at his feet.
Casey grabbed his arm, tugged at him. "Daniel, no! You don't know what this thing is! Please! Daniel!"
"She is jealous! She wishes to deprive you of knowledge! She doesn't want you to know the secrets of the universe! Move away from her!" the tall woman hissed, her eyes still locked on Daniel's.
He looked at the blonde woman, didn't recognize her. Yes, she was jealous. He could see it in her eyes. Bitch. He was Chosen, not her!
The lavender-eyed woman stepped closer to him. "Step inside, the secrets of the universe are for you alone," she whispered in his ear, her hand caressing his free arm, moved up to his shoulder, cupped his face once again; her eyes holding his gaze firmly. Casey was still tugging at him, her voice still pleading with him to move away from the machine.
Daniel shook Casey's hand from his arm, roughly pushed her away, and stepped inside the tube. Immediately a glass shield closed around him. A light came on above his head, and catheters slithered from the walls and connected themselves to his temples, one on his neck. His hands went toward the walls, drawn there automatically, where two hand shaped panels waited just about shoulder high, offset on each side of the glass door…and as soon as contact was made between man and machine, the hum that Casey had been 'feeling' became audible, and filled the room.
"Daniel! Daniel!" Terrified, she did nothing more than stare for several minutes, her heart pounding against her ribs, her breath coming in gasps. When she realized that the…people…were still in the room, watching him as well, she whirled on them. Shivered as the two stood observing her husband, pleased smiles on their faces. "Get him out of there!"
The man turned to look at her. "We would not even if we could," he said coldly. "We have waited for too long. Waited patiently for an Interface that would allow us to finish the process."
"I don't give a shit how long you've waited! I don't care what you've waited for! Get my Husband out of that thing…now!" She shouted, so distraught that the fact that the man had spoken to her in English escaped her. Casey turned back and looked at Daniel. His eyes were closed, and it looked as if he were glowing. 'Daniel? Oh, god…Daniel, please answer me!'
'Case? I can't move!'
'I know, Daniel, I know. You're in that tube. How do I get you out?'
'It's…it's amazing Casey, totally amazing! It's…it's like I can see everything…hear everything …there are people…hundreds of them…sleeping…waiting for me to wake them up…'
"Daniel! Damn it Daniel Jackson, don't you leave me!" she demanded, trying to keep 'hold' on him. She could feel him slipping away from her. She grabbed her radio. "Jack, get down here, now! We have a major problem!"
The man and woman were smiling at one another. When the woman walked toward one of the consoles, Casey fired her P90, leaving the view screen in tiny, shattered pieces.
"Unless you want more of that, the two of you had better just move away from there," she said, her voice as cold as her green eyes. She glanced at Daniel, then back at the people who had caused this disaster. She had seen exactly what the woman was up to when she had turned those lavender eyes on Daniel. She'd kill that freaky-eyed bitch. That was a fact. And the bitch was going to suffer!
The duo exchanged worried glances, and backed away. "You will damage the Interface if you destroy the system," the woman said, tossing her raven hair over her shoulder.
"I'll kill him before I let you have him," Casey hissed, her eyes shooting flames of fire now. No way in hell was that bitch getting her hands on him!
Another glance was exchanged. The man began to move toward another console. Casey opened fire again. "You will damage the Interface!" he said nervously. He looked again at the lavender-eyed woman.
It suddenly dawned on Casey that Daniel was the 'Interface'. 'Daniel?' She waited, held her breath, aching to feel his gentle, comforting touch. He wasn't there; she couldn't feel him. Her eyes filled with tears, and fear.
The raven-haired woman smirked. The female had just realized what was happening. She would do nothing to harm the male; her irrational behavior was indicative of a sexual relationship with him. Associated feelings of love and dependency would further hinder her attempts to 'save' him. With the female virtually helpless to stop them, they could continue with the procedure. If necessary, however, they would eliminate the female.
He sounded…distant. She could 'hear' him, but could no longer 'feel' him. 'Oh, god, Daniel, what have they done to you?'
'I don't know, Angel.'
"What the hell is going on?" Jack asked, sliding to a halt behind Casey. Ramir and Stephanie stared at the tube.
"What's…Holy Hannah!" Sam breathed, taking in the scene in a glance when she and Teal'c raced into the room just seconds later.
"If we destroy this…stuff," Casey said, waving the barrel of her P90 at the equipment that surrounded them, the tears she had been fighting falling onto her cheeks, "we damage the 'Interface'. Which just happens to be Daniel!"
Jack assessed the situation quickly. "Okay, so we kill him, before they can damage him."
"You would not do this!" the lavender-eyed woman insisted.
"Like hell I wouldn't!" Jack moved around Casey, aimed his P90 at his best friend, and opened fire. The glass door that held Daniel prisoner shattered, and the bullets impacted on his body. Daniel dropped to the floor, the wires falling away from him and dangling in the booth.
Casey ran forward, dragged him away from the tube, held him in her arms, waiting for him to revive.
Just as they had appeared, the man and the woman vanished into thin air.
"Cloaking devices," Sam surmised, whirling to try and catch any glimpse of a distortion in the room, which would reveal their location.
By now the Marines were standing in the room as well. Turk sent two of the men to stand guard at the stairwell, he and the remaining Marine took a stand just outside of the door.
"Hey, look at this," Todd said, pointing to one of the monitors. "That's English!"
"The system must have taken it from Daniel's mind," Sam said. She settled herself in front of one of the keyboards, typed experimentally. It seemed that even though the markings on the keys themselves were in whatever language it was, the results were the same as a standard English keyboard. Again, she surmised that the connection with Daniel's mind was the reason for the change in the symbols used by the computer itself.
"Yeah, what else did that damn thing take?" Jack growled.
Sam began a search. "Nothing," she said several minutes later.
"Nothing about Earth, or Gamma, or the SGC. Nothing about Immortals. There's nothing about the Stargate…or Chappa'ai, or any other name we've come across for it. Either these people already know about it, or they don't care about it, or-"
"Daniel was able to keep them from learning about it. Way to go, Space Monkey," Jack grinned.
The object of the conversation took a deep breath, opened his eyes. He looked up into his Wife's frightened face, raised his hand and caressed her cheek tenderly. "I'm okay, Angel," he said softly.
"Daniel, if you don't stop touching stuff…so help me-" she said, just before she wrapped her arms around him and hugged him tightly.
"So, Danny-boy. What did you find out?" Jack asked. He'd save the lecture about touching alien equipment for later. It went without saying that if the computer had accessed and learned from Daniel's mind, more than likely Daniel was able to access and learn from the computer.
"Well, there's a ship buried around here somewhere. When it arrived, the citizens of this city were…I get that they…left. Those …Caretakers…were trying to find an 'Interface' for their computer system. Somehow, this system needs to be connected to a human brain to work, or at least do more than run just rudimentary life support systems." He was aware that there was more information in his memory, he just had no way to access it…yet. His brain felt…foggy. The last vestiges of a monumental headache were fading.
"Like the Sentinel on Latona?" Sam asked.
The young archaeologist nodded his head. "The difference is, the 'Interface' was kept alive by the machine, was cared for by the 'Caretakers', and the machine…the computer, was actually operated by the brain of the… 'Interface'."
"I want to know more about these 'Caretakers'," Jack growled.
"They're androids. Their purpose is to protect the machine…the computer, make sure that there is an Interface," Daniel replied. "And protect that Interface at all costs."
"Guess they screwed up this time, huh?" Jack said, a grin on his face. Daniel rolled his eyes, but everyone could see the smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.
"You said that there's a ship here?" Casey said.
Daniel nodded again. "They were looking for a planet that would serve as their new home. I didn't get far enough into the memory banks to find out what had happened, why they left their original home planet. Anyway, all of the people chosen to make the trip were put into cryogenic sleep chambers. The Caretakers were given their protocols, and the journey began. When the ship landed …crashed actually, the 'Interface' was killed. The ship was badly damaged. I have no idea why this building was chosen, but the androids chose here to rebuild their command center, and began to search for a new Interface. Except that the people who lived here, who weren't the Ancients by the way, weren't able to…connect. Several people were…tricked…into getting inside that…tube. All of them died. There was something incompatible about their brains. Nearly a dozen people died before the…uh… Caretakers gave up "
Casey was sure that she knew how those people had been tricked. She was going to take that lavender-eyed android apart, circuit by circuit.
"So, what happened to the people that lived in this city?" Jack asked.
Daniel closed his eyes…frowned…searched through the information that had been 'downloaded' into his brain. "Some sort of virus. Probably brought in by these aliens. Anyway, the Caretakers put the system on standby, set up a 'wake-up call' of sorts, and shut themselves down."
"We woke them up when we accessed the computer upstairs," Casey said.
"Okay, let's find this ship," Jack said. He turned to Sam. "What are the chances of us actually finding these people still alive?"
"Well, if the cryogenic chambers haven't been damaged, and there has been enough power to keep all of the systems functioning normally, I'd say the chances are pretty good that they're still…viable," she replied.
"What did they mean, 'finish the process'?" Casey asked her Husband. "They said that they had been waiting for an Interface to 'finish the process'."
"Waking up the travelers, so that they could rebuild…" Daniel grimaced. "Or take over. I think that was more the plan. Wherever they landed, they would have just…taken over."
"What about the people already here?" Stephanie asked.
"Expendable," was the reply.
Everyone in the room shivered. "Okay, let's hold off on trying to wake them up, then," Jack said. "Until we know more about them, I don't want to put Gamma, or any of our allies, at risk. Danny, any clue where that ship is?"
"I think so."
"Okay, let's go take a little look-see. And if those 'Caretakers' show up, shoot to kill. Or…destroy, as the case may be," Jack said, his jaw firm. No way was he about to let those lousy machines hurt another member of his team, or either of the teams with them!
"Jack-" Daniel began to object. He was sure that the androids could offer them useful information, if they were approached in a non-threatening manner. To just…destroy them…He glanced at Casey. There was no doubt in his mind that she would follow Jack's order to the letter…gladly.
"No, Daniel. No arguments. My orders stand," Jack interrupted. He turned and walked toward the stairs.
The group began to file out of the room, and up the stairs to the main level of the library. "Daniel…do you remember any of what you…saw?" Casey asked, holding tightly to his hand.
"Just what I reported," he replied. He barely remembered pushing her, thinking her a jealous bitch set to deprive him of his…opportunity, just before stepping into the tube. He shuddered slightly, gently took his hand from hers, put his arm around her shoulders and pulled her close. She never need know about it. He would eventually be able to forgive himself for it.
"Too bad. You said it was amazing," she said softly.
"Must have been talking about you," he said, his voice a soft whisper in her ear.
"Sweet talker," she replied. She put her arm around his waist. She reached out to touch him, to make sure he was still Daniel, undamaged by that damnable machine. Smiled when his gentle presence filled her mind, wrapped her in warm blanket of love. She looked up at him; saw his eyes, and the slight nod of his head, give her permission to do what she needed to do. She moved softly, gently. He was still her Daniel, still the man that she loved, adored, needed so desperately. With a final caress, she moved away from him, left him alone once again with his thoughts.
A A A A A A
The teams returned to camp to have lunch, and discuss their strategy on learning the location of the ship, which was hidden, a result more from the crash than actual attempts to camouflage the spacecraft. Casey reported that the Caretakers were still active, but not nearby.
"We'll need to be careful," she warned. "They can understand everything we say, now."
Jack nodded. "Major, you and the boys will stay here, I don't want any of our supplies disappearing, and I sure as hell don't want those ATVs damaged. Shoot to kill…er…destroy, if those damn things get anywhere near here." He turned to Daniel. "Okay, you said you thought you knew where that ship was?"
Daniel nodded. "Just on the outskirts of the city."
"Two, maybe two and a half miles," Daniel replied.
"Okay, we'll take ATVs." The older man looked at the three grad students. He had no way of knowing what they were about to walk into. Three young, untrained students would only be at risk, and possibly put the rest of them in danger. "You three will stay here with 6."
Todd and Ramir were visibly disappointed. Stephanie sighed with relief.
"Major, I want a camp to come home to tonight," Jack said, pulling himself to his feet.
"Dinner will be waiting for you," the man said, his dark eyes smiling.
Jack grinned. "Okay, kids, let's get this over with."
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