Jackfic Fiction Archive Story

 

Following The Leader Series - Part 6: Commanding  The Leader

by Elizabeth

 


 

*****

 

How many times have I stood here, I wonder, watching the iris obediently close under my command? Watching the SFs rush into the gateroom, placing their lives between that gateway to danger and this planet? All on my command.

 

My words, my voice, my orders - my commands.

 

It’s one heck of a responsibility, this place, one I certainly never expected when I signed up for duty. Actually, I do remember one meeting with a certain group of unusual characters, led by a cocky son of a gun, which paved the way for my later career. If I’d told anyone back then what I knew, or what I thought I knew about the future, they’d have locked me up and thrown away the key. Now, thanks to the seed of encouragement that unlikely meeting planted in me, I’m in charge of possibly the most important project this planet has ever known. Not that said project hasn’t been employed before, of course, but that was a different time and man wasn’t as independent as he is now. Back then, if a man with glowing eyes said he was your God, you bowed down before him. Now, we tend to ask for an affidavit. I know at least one person who would anyway. The same cocky son of a gun who convinced me back then to believe in their crazy story and commence the most unbelievable career I could ever think of.

 

It’s that same hot-head who’s out there now - him and his unlikely team of heroes. A scientist, a civilian and an alien. Who’d have thought that such a rum team of contrasting characters could be turned by a reclusive retiree into the spear head of the whole operation? Not me and I already had advance intel. The traumatised man who’d led the first mission to Abydos was not the same man who’d met me back in 1969. Of course, when I took over this command, I thoroughly acquainted myself with General West’s report of the first mission, and the man who’d led it. However, if I hadn’t known better, I’d never have recognised him from his changes in character. I’d met a live-wire back in time, someone you couldn’t help but respond to and believe in. The man West wrote about, who I instantly recognised from the file photo, was a suicidal time-bomb. Yet the man I finally met again, after ordering him back onto the base, was a cauldron of burning anger and shattered dreams. Here was a man who’d seen too much and done too many things to ever sleep easy in his bed. He walked with the same casual confidence I remembered, but he was yet to become the leader I remembered.

 

I felt obliged to watch over him, even though I didn’t know how things were yet supposed to pan out. The first clue was finding out how much bending the rules my hot-head had done with his mission report. I needed men like him, people who could think on their feet, without waiting for backup that might never happen. This wasn’t ever likely to be a large-scale military operation, more of a lone-wolf approach to finding out what was going on in the universe. Guerrilla tactics and covert ops were more apropos here and this man had that experience in spades. OK, so I had to knock him down a peg or two at first, make him sweat, just to remind him who was in charge. However, I had a feeling that once you gained this man’s trust, you’d never lose it again and I planned to reciprocate, in spades.

 

The second sign that I hadn’t lost my marbles, was when Captain Samantha Carter joined us from the Pentagon. I hadn’t recognised her back then, in the back of that truck. The last time I’d seen her was when she’d been a child, in Jacob’s back yard. When I was finally reintroduced to her, my heart had quickened its beat. Memories and images flooded back – things were finally going to happen. Not only was this base *going* to happen, but I’d found half of the team who’d prove it - even if I couldn’t tell them, yet. The sparks that flew between the two officers during their first meeting were highly amusing to watch. I knew how well they would work together, or at least on one particular mission. O’Neill was a fair man, his record and what I’d already decided myself after meeting him, left me in no doubts about that. All I had to do now was sit back and wait for the next two members of the team to come together.

 

One, Daniel Jackson, civilian advisor had shipped out to Abydos a year before and never returned, but his photo captured the younger man’s energy as well as I remembered it. The fourth team member had been a mystery at first. Something from my memories had been jogged over those first few trying days, but my concerns over the dead and missing officers had overridden those thoughts. I knew the fourth member would turn up at some point. I merely had to wait. Of course, if I’d studied the poor quality security tapes more deeply, I might have recognised Teal’c, but perhaps it’s best that I didn’t. Back then, before I met the Jaffa properly, I might have let my righteous indignation overrule my common sense awareness of what *had* to be. So I’m relieved I left O’Neill to sort his own team out. He’s sorted so much out for everyone over the years, it’s a pity he’s never managed to sort his own life out, but there you go. Some tragedies you just never get over.

 

“It’s SG1’s code, Sir.” The technician calls out obediently and my reply is automatic. I don’t even think about the words as they’re formed.

 

“Open the iris.”

 

The metal barrier that prevents this world from becoming the subjugated slave of who-knows-whom glides open and the magical effect that is the wormhole beckons my gaze again. It’s a view that never grows old with anyone around here. The day that it does, is probably the day that person should ship out. No one can risk getting complacent around here, the threats are just far too great. Four figures stroll out of the shimmer and the tension dissipates around us. They’re home, in one piece, and in their right minds, if the bantering is anything to go by. Perhaps for some people the wormhole *has* become everyday technology.

 

I can see the SFs relax below me. They’ll not drop their guard until someone in higher authority tells them, but this is a familiar routine and we know each others’ mannerisms well. Even amongst the SFs I allow enough leniency for individual characters to emerge. ‘Yes’ men are quickly ‘dead’ men in this place. I march on down to the gateroom, just as my team are handing over their ordnance.

 

“Successful mission, Colonel?” I ask my 2IC. His BDUs are torn and scuffed and he seems a little tired, but he brightens up at my question.

 

“No signs of anything useful to us, Sir, but at least the natives weren’t revolting.”

 

I smile and nod at him. His humour will also never grow old around this place. He can afford to push the envelope, after all we’re the ones who called him back into service and he can leave again any time he wants. Hope he doesn’t though, as I don’t think Earth could afford to lose his skills and knowledge. However, I’m still obliged to reign him in on occasion, when we have the brass in. Wouldn’t want it to look like I can’t run a tight ship. 

 

“Jack’s baseball went down well.” Jackson pipes up from the end of the line, as he leads the way out of the room.

 

“Children on the planet, Sir.” Major Carter informs me, as I shoot a puzzled look at the retreating civilian. Ahhh. It’s a formula I’ve grown accustomed to:

 

O’Neill + Children = Mayhem.

 

My own grandchildren are no exception to this unwritten rule.

 

The Colonel gives me a shy grin and shrugs his shoulders, as he follows his two scientists out, headed for the infirmary.

 

“We’ll debrief when you’re through with the Doctor.” I call after them, although putting voice to the expected routine is rather redundant, and O’Neill waves a hand back at me in acknowledgement. Teal’c, however, does honour me with a tilt of his head, before he follows his team-mates through the door. Shaking my head, at nothing in particular, I watch as everyone stands down and politely waits for me to leave the room first. I reckon I’ve probably got just enough time to finish processing SG9’s last report before the members of SG1 turn up for their first post mission briefing. As usual, I expect anything *but* the usual to be involved in the re-telling.

 

*****

 

It’s well over an hour later and I’ve long since finished SG9’s report, without any signs of SG1 turning up. Something’s amiss and if Mohammed wont come to the mountain, then I guess the mountain’s going to have to move instead. I could telephone, but I don’t want to disturb the doctor if she’s busy and neither do I want a second hand report off some junior nurse. In this business, there’s nothing like my stars walking through the door to make an impact.

 

I’m entering the infirmary long before some folks would give me credit for being able to. Don’t let this well-earned padding fool you. If I couldn’t still hack the job, I wouldn’t still be doing it – and that’s my rule, no one else’s. I walk into a scene of frenzy. Organised frenzy, maybe, but the pace has definitely gone up a notch or two since my last visit. It’s not hard to guess why. I can see three members of SG1 stood to one side, outside a curtained off area, suspiciously missing one Colonel. Nursing staff are scurrying in and out of the curtains, with never a sideways glance at me as they speed past. Major Carter sees me standing nearby and I wander over to her, careful to not let the worry show on my face.

 

“What’s the situation, Major?” I ask her in a professional voice.

 

“Colonel O’Neill collapsed during his examination. We’re not sure why. Doctor Fraiser hasn’t been out to tell us anything yet.”

 

“And the rest of you? How do you feel?”

 

“Fine.” “Fine, Sir.” “I am in perfect health.” Come back three separate responses. Only Teal’c looks unconcerned, but even though I don’t know him as well as his team do, I can see the extra effort his facial muscles are putting in at keeping control.

 

Just then Doctor Fraiser emerges from behind the curtain, pulling the material out of the way so we can see the Colonel. He is either asleep, or unconscious, and I’d hazard a guess at the latter. His uniform has been removed and he’s been dressed in one of those impersonal hospital gowns. The nurses are quick to release the wheel clamps and he’s soon being moved away from us, toward the more intensive care area of the medical section.

 

“Doctor?” I ask, not needing to ask anything more.

 

“Well, so far, all I’ve been able to do is take samples for testing. However, from his initial responses he seems to be acting as if drugged. I managed to get him to come round for a short while, but he didn’t seem to be able to focus on anything, either aural or visual. He’s out of it again at the moment and I’m putting him in the ICU as a precaution, until I’ve got some results back. Now I suggest you all go away and get some rest, until I have a better idea of what’s happening.”

 

“But why is the Colonel suffering and we’re not?” Carter asks, her worry evident in her voice. “He hasn’t touched or done anything we haven’t.”

 

“The children.” Young Jackson points out. “He played with them this morning.” There’s a wistful smile on his face as the memories came back and I can’t help but smile in response. Seeing Jack with children is nothing like seeing *The Colonel*.

 

“Indeed. He also returned with his uniform sporting minor damage.”

 

“You’re right. Maybe the Colonel did something then that we aren’t aware of.” Carter carries on the train of thought. “He did mention something about rescuing a child from a fall.”

 

“Is that what he was referring to, when he mentioned someone called Newton and his laws of gravity?” Teal’c asks.

 

“I’ll tell you later.” Jackson says in a manner that suggests he’s repeated this reply many times in the past.

 

Teal’c’s polite bow of acknowledgement suggests he’s often had to wait for explanations and is also used to it. The ebony forehead creases in thought before he announces. “O’Neill did appear to be withdrawn on the return journey to the gate.”

 

Everyone thinks over this new puzzle and I’m not surprised to hear Carter’s eager request. “Permission to return to the planet, Sir?”

 

“Permission granted.” I’m not about to leave my 2IC lying in a bed, suffering from God-knows-what if I can help it. “You’ll gate out in one hour, but with an escort. We can’t be certain yet what happened to the Colonel, so I’ll arrange for additional personnel.”

 

“We can’t leave Jack on his own!” Jackson states vehemently, looking at the direction the Colonel has been taken. He wants to help, but doesn’t want to leave the man who means so much to him on his own either. It’s a trait within SG1, no one gets left behind, no matter where you are. Just a little rule of the Colonel’s that’s been taken up by the whole base and I’d like to think that’s part of the reason why we’re the success we are. Everyone cares.

 

“Then you have permission to stay.” I offer him, knowing the whole team don’t need to go if there’s backup too.

 

“Thank you General, but I have to go as I’m probably the only person here who speaks that ancient Russian dialect.”

 

“Then I shall remain with O’Neill, as I believe MajorCarter’s scientific knowledge may also be useful in locating whatever contagion the Colonel may have encountered.”

 

That having soon been settled, the two scientists quickly disappear to get themselves geared-up, ready for re-departure. They obviously didn’t want to go and leave the Colonel behind, but the thought of losing him has made the decision very easy. All I can do now is occupy myself with other matters until the Doctor has something else to go on. Much as I might like to keep the Colonel company, he already has that, and I still don’t know if there’s a threat to the base from whatever the Colonel collected. So many ifs in this job and so few answers.

 

*****

 

It’s many hours later and I’ve somehow found myself back in the infirmary. The only bed currently occupied is the one I’m facing now in the ICU. The patient, one wilful, opinionated, wise ass, is anything but at the moment. There are so many words I could use to describe Jack O’Neill, but none of them would suit the man who looks so ill and lost beneath me right now. Many times I’ve had to pull back and *not* use those words in my official reports, because pain-in-the-neck that he is with his unyielding nature, that’s exactly the kind of man we need working here. Nothing else is going to pass muster, with what they face out there on a daily basis.

 

I admire O’Neill, make no mistake about that and I’m not fooled by his obstinacy either. He needs to know why he’s got to do something and, if he doesn’t know, he needs to know that *you* know the reason. He places his trust in me and that thought humbles me, because I’m no better a person than he is. What does he see in me that makes his indomitable spirit willingly bend to my commands? He goes out through that plug-hole of horrors, facing down the most terrifying of fake Gods, with little more than bravado and a P-90, yet comes back to do my bidding time and time again.

 

Soldiers do that all the time in the chain of command, but O’Neill isn’t your average soldier. He’s ex-special forces and those officers, the Colonel in particular, have seen and done things that make my tour of duty seem like a walk in the park. Not that I’ve never sullied my hands with deals that have the President’s ‘restricted’ seal on it, but I’m an amateur by his standards. There are people higher up than me who’d love to get O’Neill removed from this command, probably me too, so they could get their dirty little hands on a bit of off-world technology. Those people have no concept of what it is to lay your life on the line for your country, to make a choice and say ‘Today is the day I might die, so that you and others might live.’ I can only guess at how many times O’Neill has woken up with that thought and it makes me pale, as much as he is pale before me.

 

I’m suddenly feeling a little weak-kneed and I sit down on the chair by the bed. Teal’c is sitting against the far wall, cross-legged, in meditation. I’ve often noticed him like that in the infirmary and think he does it to keep out of the way of the nurses. He leaves them room to manoeuvre around the patient and they, in return, do not usher him away. I think they’re also a little nervous of the large Jaffa. They don’t know if disturbing his meditations, will *disturb* him. It’s a good ploy.

 

I know he’s probably been aware of me since my arrival, but having respect for my silent reverie has kept silent also.

 

“How’s he been, Teal’c?” I ask and the alien’s eyes open immediately, letting his worry shine out for a brief moment, before he calms his face back down.

 

“He has been extremely agitated, GeneralHammond. I have tried many times to offer him some comfort, but he seems unaware of where he is, or who we are.”

 

“I know. Doctor Fraiser has kept me informed.”

 

The picture isn’t a good one and the Doctor has telephoned me each time there’s been any kind of information update. Some sort of natural toxin has invaded his system and is affecting the neural transmitters in his brain. Anything to do with cognitive processes has been dampened, leaving him completely unable to respond to us. From what she’s been able to ascertain, it’s having a similar effect to a hallucinogen on him and she’s been unable to provide him with any form of support therapy. Oxygen, IVs, monitors, everything is forcefully rejected by him, causing him to react in a highly volatile manner. Every time she’s tried to interfere, it’s increased the stresses on his body to an unacceptable level. She doesn’t dare sedate him either, because she doesn’t like the way the toxin reacts to the drug, at least in the samples she’s been testing. That’s about as far as my understanding goes, but if the Doctor’s sure, then that’s good enough for me.

 

Jack twists on the bed beside me. His eyes are open, but they aren’t focussed and they drift without purpose before closing again. I often call him Jack, at least if we’re not in the middle of an emergency, and particularly when we’re off duty. I’ve grown to think of him as a friend over the years and he’s certainly proved himself to be such. He’s a man of many talents and can usually be found to be in the middle of any mischief going on. He’s perfected the ‘Me? What me?’ expression, but his eyes give him away each time. You’ve got to get up very early in the morning to catch me out, but I don’t think he minds when *I* rumble him. I think finding this team has given him his second wind in life, given him a chance to enjoy himself again. At least for as long as this job will let him.

 

“Do you believe MajorCarter and DanielJackson will be able to find a cure for O’Neill’s condition?” Teal’c interrupts my thoughts and I turn around to face the Jaffa. He’s still sitting on the floor.

 

I can see the inner turmoil on his face, the muscles twitching in an attempt to keep control. I think of the two scientists, who each care about the Colonel, although in vastly different ways. Jackson has given up everything he ever had to follow O’Neill, twice now, and Carter has blossomed into a seasoned soldier under his command. I try to imagine them giving up on finding a cure and it just doesn’t compute.

 

“I’m sure they will Teal’c.” I wonder how the Jaffa is coping. After all, he’s a man of action, like O’Neill and I are, and all he can do is sit here and wait, like the proverbial fifth wheel. “How are you doing, son?” I ask him. I notice the slight twitch of his lips as I say ‘son’ and remember again that this younger looking man is in fact many years my senior.

 

“I am finding it difficult to maintain an attitude of peace.”

 

“I know how you feel. So would the Colonel. You want to help, but there’s nothing you or I are qualified to do but wait.”

 

“O’Neill might understand how we feel, but he would be unable to remain still.”

 

“You’re right about that. Can’t keep this Jack in a box.”

 

Teal’c merely looks confused at that reference, but is too preoccupied to query any further. For a moment I feel a little slighted, a little left out of the camaraderie that follows SG1 around, but immediately quell those thoughts. My thoughts should be directed towards the man responsible for the strong feelings engendered by my flagship team. Deciding it’s time I got back to some work and leave the two members of SG1 some privacy, I make my excuses and leave them alone.

 

*****

 

I’ve only been back in my office for an hour when the klaxons sound their warning and I rush over to the control room. I stand there, in an eerie repetition of the last time I waited for SG1’s signal and breath a sigh of relief when the technician parrots the earlier phrase.

 

“It’s SG1’s code, Sir.”

 

“Open the iris.”

 

The metal against metal grating sound can be heard, even up here, as the barrier retreats into its housing and the hypnotic puddle shimmers before me again. Six figures hurry out of the blue and I can see the urgency in the members of SG1, as they hand over their weapons. Carter is holding a package closely to her chest and I can only hope the natives have been helpful. I dash down the stairs, just in time to see the two scientists exit from the gateroom.

 

“Successful mission, Major?” I ask, again getting that feeling of déjà vu and Carter nods.

 

“Yes, Sir. Permission to debrief later, Sir?”

 

Jackson is smiling, but the urgency is not hard to miss in his impatient body movements.

 

“Granted.”

 

They’re gone like a pair of will-o-the-wisps and I’m left alone again, wondering if everything is now going to work out OK. I make my way back to my office and try to concentrate on running the rest of the base until the next call from Doctor Fraiser. I remember when I was part of a team, a small group of hard-bitten individuals, whom danger couldn’t touch. That was a life time ago. A life time of being proved all too human and vulnerable. Something about the Colonel makes me believe in the power of the human spirit again, the ability to look death in the face and deny its existence. All right, so I know that’s not true, no more for him and his team than it was for me and mine. However, there’s something deeply moving about his ability to take fate by the throat and make it meet him on his own terms. His body might lose, but his mind never will. His team seems to have picked up that ability, recently. I can only hope so today.

 

The telephone rings and it’s Doctor Fraiser.

 

“The cure’s working, Sir. Colonel O’Neill is starting to respond.”

 

“That’s good news Doctor. What’s your overall prognosis?”

 

“He’s already starting to settle down enough to handle and I should soon be able to get him onto some IV nutrients and stronger doses of the anti-toxin. I can’t tell you yet when he’ll be cognisant enough to talk to and only then will I be able to give you any indication of when I’ll be able to release him. However, if you’re thinking of personnel duty, I think we might be talking about days before he’s back to even light duties.”

 

“That’s all I need to know Doctor, I’ll be down to see him later on, when his team have had some time.” I don’t know quite what else to say, after all, she’s only doing her job, but I feel the need to say something more. “Thank you for all your efforts.”

 

There is a slight pause from the other end of the line and I can tell that the Doctor is struggling for words too.

 

“You’re welcome, Sir. The Colonel is worth the effort.”

 

I think of the man lying in that bed, probably now surrounded by that small team of people who care so much about him, as he does them. The scars that cover his skin are only a poor imitation of the ones that he carries on the inside and I fully expect him to earn a lot more before the stargate is finished with him.

 

I’m more than a little envious of the bond between those four exceptional people, knowing the extremes they’ll go to in protecting each other. I left those bonds behind many years ago when I took up the desk. I’d like to be there when he wakes up, but as the CO of this base, I can no longer afford to. Yet O’Neill knows, I’m absolutely certain of that. I’m also certain that I’ll be hearing his wise cracks about the whole affair in short order.

 

“Yes, Doctor. He certainly is.”

 

 

*****The End*****