Disclaimer: Stargate SG-1 and its characters are the property of Stargate (II) Productions, Showtime/Viacom, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions. This story is for entertainment purposes only, and no money exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended. The original characters, situations, and story are the property of the author. This story may not be posted elsewhere without the consent of the author.
Author's note: Just because I can. Many thanks to Charli Booker for her willingness to use her jar of beta wax and elbow grease, the combination of which made this a better story.
"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat." Teddy Roosevelt
It began as a dare. A dare issued over a lousy cup of coffee that came with a 'money back if you get busted guarantee' to keep you awake during watch. A dare that in the end became a legend in the annals of candidate-hood shared with reverence and awe over the flames of an open campfire. There were those who scoffed; naysayers who hid behind their safe core of superiority, determined not to give in to temptation and bite into a practical joke. But even within those skeptics, a seed of doubt sprouted as the legend grew.
Red Team was on the offensive this time. Jack's obligatory bitchin' had started somewhere around the downbeat of a three count after the announcement. Frank knew he could set his watch by it. He caught Peterson's eye and tapped his watch, enjoying the silent acknowledging glare that he'd just fleeced the new guy for ten bucks. He'd only get one chance. It didn't take the rookies long to catch on to O'Neill's clockwork complaints every time assignments were posted. Jack would finally wind down somewhere deep in the middle of the 130,000 acres of swampland and pine barrens that surrounded Fort Bragg.
During their entire stint of training, not once had the names O'Neill or Cromwell ever made the list for the cushy defensive Blue Team. And despite Jack's colorful protests, Frank knew they both preferred to be members of the field unit, even when the specialty of the house came with scales and a rattle. It beat sitting on your ass, baking under the instructor's glare and the hot North Carolina sun where humidity was not only a way of life, but a life form of its own. Frank had a sneaking suspicion there was a method in Jack's madness. It hadn't taken him long to notice that Jack's grouching increased in volume whenever there was an instructional officer in the vicinity, so maybe there was something to be said for that reverse psychology crap. The way Jack claimed it worked was if he wanted a spot on Red Team, then he should bitch loud and long about Red Team's merits. Frank'd never had nerve enough to test his theory, but Jack always made sure Frank's name was included in his harangue and up to this point the names Cromwell and O'Neill had been synonymous with Red field team - offense.
It was the big boys' game of capture the flag. Special Force qualification, 'Q'course, fondly dubbed 'gut check' by the candidates; an endurance test created to develop teamwork and stretch each man until he hacked up the last ounce of his potential or choked under the strain.
It became Blue Team's job to deter, detect, and defend the section of the field nicknamed Raisen Hell Hotel. Conditions were pretty damn primitive in home base, but duck soup compared to those out in the field. In fact, it was standard dinner etiquette to sprinkle dinner conversation with complaints about the fine repast the boys in Blue were dining upon. The longer the field exercise, the more elaborate the meals were likely to become.
On the last night, as Red Team pooled their meager resources, scrounged amid the scrub, Jack had regaled the team with visions of inch thick Porterhouses grilled to perfection. As he stared at the steaming pot of bull frog stew he was facing, Frank debated killing Jack himself.
"O'Neill, shut the hell up," Hawkins drawled. "You don't know shit for beans. Blue Team can't be eating steaks every night. They'd spoil in this heat."
Jack leaned back on his elbow, casually picking a piece of Kermit's cousin from his teeth and ey it skeptically before flicking it into the fire. "I'll spell it out for you, Stevie Boy. It's called refrigeration." He held up a finger, silencing the brewing interruption. "And before you ask, it's run on a generator. I saw them load it on the supply truck. Can't expect the colonel to use powdered cream in his coffee, can you?"
Hawkins snorted, "O'Neill, you are so full of crap." But Frank could see doubt reflecting in his eyes.
Jack grinned and laid back, crossing his arms under his head as a pillow. "Sour cream and real butter for the baked potatoes. Every night," he added with malicious smugness.
"Shit," Hawkins growled, "I'm gonna get some shut eye. Maybe I'll dream about a steak, but with my luck, it'll hop. Wake me in two, Cromwell."
Frank gave a clipped nod, got up and stretched. Sleeping on the forest floor without benefit of a bedroll could be a bitch. He paced the length of the glade, eying the dark pines suspiciously. Only foolish rookies made the mistake of wandering into the woods at night for a little privacy. Instructors were only too happy to sneak up on you when your pants were at half mast, pick you off and march your bare assed carcass back to base camp as a casualty. He had no intention of sitting out the games in some shallow hole covered with bars while Blue Team guards screamed for him to stay awake and used buckets of water to assure that he did.
Plopping down next to Jack, he sighed and poked the fire, driving an arc of sparks to be devoured by the darkness. "Porterhouse, huh?"
"Yep, an inch thick," Jack answered softly as he stared up at the stars. Frank's stomach growled and Jack snorted softly. "Yeah. Me too."
Lamzhic, a burly sergeant from Buffalo, eyed them from across the fire. The man was tenacious and tough, a human bulldog with a fierce loyalty to his team. But it was his wicked sense of carefully concealed humor that surfaced as he poked the meager remains of their meal with a stick. "Prove it, O'Neill."
Jack continued to stare into the heavens. "Prove what, Lam?"
"Prove that Blue Team has a refrigerator."
Rolling to face the man, Jack frowned. "How the hell am I supposed to do that?"
"Steal it," Lamzhic said calmly. "You and Cromwell. Go retrieve it and bring it back here."
"Wait a minute," Frank sputtered.
Jack was up on his elbow again and Frank could see his teeth flash white in the light of the campfire. The other guys were watching, listening, waiting to see whether O'Neill would take Lamzhic's bait. "Okay."
Frank had already known what the answer would be. "Ah crap," he groaned as a wide grin spread across Lamzhic's broad face.
In a smooth movement, Jack was on his feet, smiling like a kid on Christmas morning as he dusted the pine litter from his fatigues. "Come on, Frank. Let's go steal a fridge."
Jack took the lead, quickly guiding them through the pine forest, hugging the trees and slipping amongst the shadows. Sweat stung the cuts caused by the saw grass as they crept cautiously across the open meadows so silently a herd of swamp deer continued to feed undisturbed.
The sound of the creek confirmed their position. It also marked the dividing line between the teams' territories. It was serious from here on in. As soon as they crossed the line, the odds skyrocketed they would be detected and they stood a better than good chance of being captured. If that happened, he and Jack would be considered POW's and considered prime candidates for interrogation to aid Blue Team in gaining information concerning the enemy's plans. Grim rumors of the techniques used by the instructors to extract information from any soldier unlucky enough to be captured were sufficient to keep the most unwary on his toes. Thus far, skirmishes between the two had been limited to a few brief sniper attacks with neither side retaining any casualties, but Frank had little doubt Blue Forces would be bivouacking in and around base camp, hoping to ambush and halt any Red night advancements.
They waded through the rapids just north of the ford on Moonshine Creek. Thus far, it had been SOP - textbook infiltration - the stuff they'd had drilled into their skulls for nearly a year Frank could feel the cold water, singing down from the Appalachian Blue Ridge, soaking through his pants to his knees, but the adrenaline pumping through his veins negated its effects. "How deep do you think the water gets here?" he whispered.
Jack's voice drowned beneath the sounds of the water. Crouching carefully, Frank moved closer, giving a low hiss. "What? I couldn't hear a damn thing you said."
"Good. Then neither can the Blue patrol if you'll keep your big mouth shut." Jack stared into the menacing shadows on the far bank. It was too damn easy to get paranoid in a situation like this, to get the feeling they were being watched. That feeling could work for or against you, save you or get you killed. "I said, it doesn't matter, even if we have to swim. We had to cross into Blue Territory away from the ford. It'd be the first place they'd guard."
Nodding, Frank signaled that he'd take the lead. Without waiting for Jack to comment, he cautiously made his way towards the far bank. He knew without looking Jack was on his six covering their rear from surprise attack. As they made their way over the bank, there was a loud splash to their right. Like synchronized swimmers, both men squatted and spun in one motion. Frozen, Frank listened, trying desperately to identify its source in the pitch of the shadows created by the fickle moon. After long minutes, no challenge was issued for their surrender. Sharing a look of relief, Frank raised an eyebrow, silently questioning what the noise might have been.
Jack shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe a frog."
"Too damn big for that."
"Probably just an otter. Maybe a muskrat"
Frank nodded. He was a city boy, through and through, and he knew squat about the wildlife around a creek. He wouldn't know a muskrat if it swam up and bit him on the ass.
His knowledge of animals came solely from his neighbor's poodle, Pippin, and the rare trip to the zoo when he was a kid. So he'd let Jack make this call. Jack hailed from Minnesota where to hear him tell it, a lake was within spitting distance no matter where you stood. So Frank figured there was a pretty fair chance that just this once, O'Neill wasn't blowing smoke and might actually know what he was talking about. It didn't really matter anyway. Anything that didn't interfere with their mission focus could be discarded, or relegated into their mental files to be retrieved as needed. And at the moment, giant frogs, otters, or purple people eaters definitely fell in that category.
Intel had their target approximately two clicks north by northeast of the ford. Frank was mildly surprised when they failed to spot any patrols. So far, luck had been on their side, but Frank's pragmatic nature reminded him just how fickle that lady could be.
There it was - base camp - rising up like a boil on the butt of the landscape, just waiting to be lanced. They crouched low, observing silently through the fronds of scrub palms. The moonlight reflected off the barbed wire coiled around its perimeter like an overprotective serpent. Armed guards walked a circuit, patrolling just inside the fence. "Jack, remind me why we're doing this."
"This?" Genuine amusement washed across Jack's damp face. "Hell, buddy, this is class 'A' fun. Primo."
"Right. And I got roped into it because . . . ."
Genuinely puzzled, Jack turned, meeting Frank's eyes. "You didn't want to come?"
Feeling like a total shit, Frank plastered a smirk on his face and gave it all he had. "Hell, yes, I wanted to come. I was just bullshitting. You think I'm gonna listen to you brag how you pulled this stunt off by your lonesome when we get back to camp? No way. Let's go retrieve our target."
"Damn straight." Jack's teeth were impossibly white against the streaks of camo paint he'd smeared across his face. "We've got a refrigerator to extract."
It had been just a matter of locating the best place for infiltration and timing their actions to those of the guards. Jack's wire cutters made short work of the fence. It took scant moments to worm their way past the gleaming wire and into the compound. Jack led them into the shadow of the largest tent. He glanced at Frank, who nodded silently as he drew out his knife and slit the canvas. It had to be the Mess.
Frank stared. Well, what the hell. As his Great Aunt Jean used to say, 'Would wonders never cease?' Jack had been right after all. It was one of the slick little box types that ran on a generator. The kind coeds might have in their dorm room to keep the beer cold. Not much, but to a bunch of guys charged with living off the land- which translated to 'belly up to the bar, boys, the frogs and snakes are on me'- it was a matter of honor, a matter of pride, a matter of eating something you didn't have to kill and gut first. And it was sitting there in all its unguarded glory.
Unhooking the generator, Frank hefted the corner, refrigerator. Not too bad. Between the two of them, they should be able to carry it and still make good time hauling ass for home. "Ready. Let's hit it." There was no answer. Jack had been keeping watch near the front flap of the tent.
Frank spun. Jack was eying the blue flag hanging limply in the humid night air, temptingly close. "Forget it, Jack," he hissed. "Our objective did not include the flag."
"But just think about it, Frank. It's just hanging there ripe for the picking."
"What'll end up being picked off is our asses in about two minutes if we don't bug out of here." He shook his head in frustration when Jack ignored him and pulled out a carefully folded piece of blue material from his pocket.
Frank was pissed, with himself for not biting back the question, with Jack for suggesting they try such a harebrain stunt, but mostly with himself for asking. He asked anyway. "What is it?"
"A pair of Rhineland's boxers." Jack gave the material a shake and held them up for inspection. "I swiped them from the colonel's quarters before we left."
"You broke into the commander's personal quarters and filched his underwear? Okay, O'Neill, that's more than a little weird. What, you got some seriously strange fetish, going I didn't about?" Jack glared and Frank snorted softly, shaking his head in amused disbelief. "God, Jack, you are certifiably nuts. So what do you plan on doing with those things?"
"We're gonna exchange them for the flag, grab the fridge and get the hell out of here."
Frank rolled his eyes. "We're talking majorly demented. Have you thought about seeing a shrink?"
"For cryin' out loud, Frank, did ya join the Special Forces to learn to knit? Piss or get off the pot. This is a chance to live." Crouching low, he slid into the shadows of a Jeep.
"Or die," Frank muttered, as he followed Jack towards the improvised flagpole.
Feeling naked and exposed, Frank spent the time it took to crawl from the tent to the pole inventing ways he could kill Jack O'Neill slowly. Making love to a couple of barrels, they watched as the guards moved within yards of their hiding place stopping to exchange complaints about the mosquitoes. Frank held his breath and ignored the sweat stinging his eyes as one of the guards punctuated his complaint by slapping the back of his neck. To Frank, it seemed as loud as a rifle shot. Across from him, Jack had frozen in his hiding place, attaching himself like a leech to the barrel. The damn guards were talking quietly. Frank strained to hear what they were saying over the buzz of the cicadas, but quickly dismissed the effort. They were obviously bored, just killing a few minutes BS'ing. He'd been there himself.
Across the courtyard, Frank could see a pit crisscrossed with darker slashes. So the barred POW holding cell wasn't just idle bullshit created to scare the new recruits. Swallowing hard, he gestured towards it with the slightest jab of his chin. Jack caught the movement and followed his gaze. Frank saw Jack's eyes widen. He shuddered and seemed somehow to draw himself tighter against the barrel as if he were determined to get inside and go over this waterfall from the dubious safety it offered.
After a few minutes that stretched into forever, the guards moved off for another circuit. Frank watched as Jack uncoiled from the barrel's shadow and swiftly made the exchange.
"Go," Jack mouthed and Frank, his heart pounding loud enough to give them away, led the way back into the Mess tent. Within the relative safety of its canvas, they dared to exchange a delighted glance.
"There's gonna be hell to pay," Frank smirked.
Jack grinned. "Let's grab that fridge and get out of here so we don't end up being the one's to pick up the tab."
They'd well and certain caught the Blue Team with their pants down. The perfect extraction. A thing of beauty. Wait 'til the boys heard about it. Wait'll they saw the flag squirreled safely in Jack's pocket. He'd give a month's pay to be a fly on the wall at first light when Rhineland discovered what they'd done. He could almost dreg up a little sympathy for the unfortunates on guard duty. Almost. "Okay, Jack, the truth. Did you plan all along to exchange Rhineland's drawers with the flag, or what? And how the hell did you know he wore blue boxers?"
"Special Op's motto, buddy. 'Be prepared and use what's available.'"
"You didn't answer my question."
Frank grinned. He should've known better than to ask. Jack wasn't gonna give. A few minutes later, they broke through the underbrush and slid down the bank into the creek, carefully keeping their plundered refrigerator above the surface. Unchallenged, they crossed safely into Red territory. "We did it. Hot damn, we did it." The adrenaline rush was making him giddy. "I can't believe we freakin' pulled it off!"
Jack gave a long, lazy smile. "Well, Frank old buddy, it's like I always say when you're down, 'There's nothing Like a Fridge Over Troubled Water.'"
O'Neill and Cromwell graduated a few weeks later, earning their berets and entrance into the elite brotherhood of Special Operatives. They left in their wake a host of stories which grew with each telling around the campfire. Tales of azure blue briefs waving proudly beneath the hot North Carolina sun, unnoticed by the troops until the colonel himself spotted them. They say the citizens of Raleigh, seventy-five miles south, could hear his enraged bellow across the swampland as he chewed out the men on the disgraced Blue Squad. That he was so incensed he threatened to wash the entire platoon. Exaggerations and speculation aside, Operation Icebox was firmly entrenched in the annals of the stuff whence legends are born. The stuff that would live forever.