Go Tell It On The Mountain
Written by FoxPhile
Go Tell It On the Mountain
can go wrong, it will. - Murphy's Law
are two or more ways to do something, and one of those ways can result
in a catastrophe, then someone will do it. - Murphy's Original Law
Left to themselves, things tend to go from bad to worse. - Murphy's First Corollary
It is impossible
to make anything foolproof because fools are so ingenious. - Murphy's
goes wrong all at once. - Murphy's Restatement
will be worse. - The Murphy Philosophy
to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity. - Hanlon's
Murphy was an optimist. - O'Toole's Commentary
General Jack O'Neill looked up just in time to prevent his nose from colliding with the boot heel blocking his path. Stopping short, he glanced upward, along the green-clad leg, past the regulation belt and over the rumpled BDU shirt to the upturned face of the airman standing on the ladder -- the ladder that was blocking the exit from the elevator and blocking Jack's path to his office. Farther up, the light fixture that should have been firmly affixed to the wall above the elevator doors dangled from one screw while the airman replaced the bulbs inside.
"Airman…Canton, is it?"
Looking down, the younger man nearly toppled from the ladder in his effort to snap to attention.
"SIR! Yes, SIR!"
Jack shook his head slightly, and sent up a silent prayer to the ghosts of generals past to save him from overeager airmen.
"At ease, airman." Jack realized his mistake just in time and added, "Just relax, airman. If you do a real 'at ease' on that ladder you're going to land on top of your base commander."
While the airman did his best to approximate an at ease stance on the small space afforded by the ladder rung, Jack returned to his intended dressing down of the young man, somewhat deflated by his target's endearing clumsiness. The boy reminded him a bit of Daniel when they'd first met.
"You do realize you have the elevator door blocked, airman? Do you realize that I nearly walked right into you? We could both have been seriously injured. And frankly, I've spent more than my share of time in the base infirmary."
Jack was losing steam. If the kid made a mistake like that out in the field, putting his teammates in jeopardy, his ears would be blistering by now. But somehow, Jack just couldn't attach the same level of importance to something this mundane. Fortunately, a quick dressing down and a phone call to the NCO in maintenance would suffice. He hoped Siler wouldn't go too hard on the kid. For now, he needed to get past the obstacle and into his office before Walter sent out a search party.
"Consider yourself on report, airman. And next time, put some tape across the door or have the elevator shut down or…something!"
Canton snapped back to attention, nearly falling off his perch again. Jack tried to squeeze past on one side, then the other. Unsuccessful, he decided to duck between the ladder's legs.
"Good morning, sir."
Walter's cheerful voice signaled the arrival of the one-sergeant search party.
"Morning, Walter," Jack sighed, as he traded the reports he'd been carrying for the cup of coffee his waiting aide held. "So, what's on the agenda today?"
Jack continued down the hall as the sergeant fell into step beside him and began his morning litany. This would be a long one. Monday mornings always were.
"SG-9 reported in last night as scheduled from PVD-473. Doctor Jackson indicates that the native inhabitants are friendly and things are going very well. He and the contact team will be returning Wednesday or Thursday at the latest. He did mention discovering something exciting about the indigenous people, but did not provide any details."
As they approached the office door, Walter stepped aside to allow the General to enter first. Dutifully playing his part in their ritual morning dance, Jack walked through the door and set the coffee down on his desk. He wasn't quite ready to take his place behind the big, mahogany monstrosity just yet. Walter continued with his morning rundown. It still amazed Jack that he didn't have any notes. He seemed to rattle it all off from memory.
"Teal'c sent a message from Dakara. The factions are still split on your proposal, but he believes he can convince the Free Jaffa Council to send representatives. He expects to arrive with them tomorrow afternoon."
Walter paused, expectantly. Jack supposed his aide was anticipating a caustic comment. But Jack had already said pretty much everything that he could say about the continuing growing pains of the Free Jaffa. And he was beginning to realize the value of tact and diplomacy, much as he still found them difficult to practice. He hoped Teal'c was able to exert some influence on the Council, despite their inferences that he had greater sympathies for his Tau'ri friends than he did for the Jaffa.
Getting no response, Walter continued. "Colonel Carter remains at the Alpha Base, completing tests on upgrades to the F-302's hyperspace generator. Her next scheduled check-in is expected at noon today. Scheduled return is still slated for Friday afternoon."
While Jack mused on how much fun Carter was having playing techno-geek with Alec Colson and the rest of the engineering research team on Alpha, the phone in the other room rang.
"Oh. Excuse me, sir. I should get that. I'll be right back."
"Sure, Walter, go ahead," Jack replied, still lost in his own thoughts. He wandered into the briefing room, where he could look out the observation window onto the dormant Stargate. A lot had happened during the last year and a half. He supposed he had adapted well enough to the new stars on his shoulder. He still felt keenly the loss of his adventurous days leading missions through the gate. The responsibility of sending others into possible danger also continued to weigh heavily on him. That was one burden he hoped would never lighten, at least not as long as he occupied this office. The thing he couldn't seem to get used to was the sense that things were not quite right whenever his old teammates were off world without him. Somehow, not being with them just felt so wrong. While Teal'c was busy with the Jaffa, what remained of SG-1 had spent less of their time on off world missions and more time doing what Carter and Daniel were doing now -- lending their individual expertise and talents to other teams on special projects. Still, anytime they were all away, Jack felt as though a spark was missing from the base, and from his life. He knew that promotion and advancement was a part of military life -- in the same way that gray hair and bad knees were parts of the inevitable aging process. It didn't mean he liked either.
Walter returned and resumed his recitation while Jack turned back toward his office.
"Sorry for the interruption, sir. Where was I? Oh -- SG-11 should be returning this morning from P2T-364. They've been on an archeological mission, so I've taken the liberty of having the secure storage areas reorganized a bit. They're bound to be bringing back a load of artifacts and the next transport to Area 51 won't be until the end of the week. So we'll be stuck with whatever they've got until then."
"Good thinking, Walter." Jack walked back into his office, causing the sergeant to backpedal a bit to get out of the doorway. As he passed, he retrieved the reports he had previously handed off to Walter with the realization he would have to finish reading them, no matter how mundane they might be. The pile seemed much thicker than it had earlier.
"Thank you, sir. The only other team currently off world is SG-2. They're scouting for a new Beta site. Major Griff reported in last night to say that P6J-242 seems promising. No evidence that the Goa'uld have ever been there and no evidence of indigenous personnel. If all goes well, they may return this afternoon to pick up additional supplies for an extended scouting mission."
Jack stood by the desk, waiting. It was obvious that Walter had something else to say, but was hesitating. That usually wasn't a good sign.
"One more thing, sir -- that phone call was from General Hammond's aide. The General will be arriving this afternoon, so that he can meet with you before the other delegations arrive tomorrow." Walter hesitated, apparently unsure of how to impart the next bit of information. "It seems that a number of the coalition countries, notably the Russians and the Chinese, have insisted on being included in the selection of members for the new teams. Their own representatives will arrive Wednesday, AND they'll be bringing prospective candidates with them. The General's aide says we should expect another dozen or so visitors."
"Oh, CRAP!" Jack exploded, slamming the reports he was carrying onto the desk.
Like so many things, Jack's aim was not what it used to be. The corner of one folder nicked the edge of the coffee cup he had placed on the desk earlier, and hot coffee began to spread across the now paper-strewn surface of the desk. Walter dashed to the sideboard to grab handfuls of napkins while Jack did his best to rescue the papers that were in the path of the spreading pool of dark liquid.
"Well, I didn't really want to read these anyway." Jack commented ruefully as he lifted up several dripping, nearly illegible sheets.
"Uh, sir," Walter began as he sopped up the mess, "Some of those are the personnel briefs for the Russian and Chinese candidates as well as the French and the British. You really should review them before General Hammond gets here. I'll run off new copies for you."
"Thanks, Walter. Just what I wanted to do today -- study some Russian briefs." Jack said with a snide smile as he dropped the pages into the trashcan. A brief grin passed over his aide's face. Jack wondered if the man ever truly laughed. "I suppose these should be destroyed. I'm guessing they're classified. I don't think we can put them through the shredder like this, though."
"I'll take care of that, sir. I can take them to the incinerator. At least the coffee may improve the smell." Walter picked up the can full of sodden papers and turned to walk out the door, leaving Jack to get started on the few that had been rescued.
An hour later, Jack was working on his second cup of coffee and still slogging through the personnel briefs. The work hadn't been made any easier by the intermittent racket Airman Canton made as he worked to replace the light switch beside the door. Jack found it ironic that the same airman who had come so close to causing him grief at the elevator that morning had been assigned to fix the switch. And he'd had to postpone the phone call that would put the young man on report. It just didn't seem right to do it while the kid was right there in the room.
Jack closed the latest file and added it to the pile he'd finished. He picked the next one off the stack and began reading another superlative report. Most of the candidates he reviewed were undeniably qualified, at least on paper. It's not that he thought it was such a bad idea to have teams of mixed nationalities, despite the fact that he had been adamantly opposed to a Russian joining SG-1 after Daniel ascended. But his experience told him that when you put a Russian or a Chinese on a team with Americans there was likely to be some friction. Hell, even the French and the Brits couldn't get along. He needed the Tau'ri team members to set an example. How was he supposed to broker a truce between the Jaffa, the Tok'ra, and the Tau'ri if the Tau'ri couldn't manage to get along amongst themselves? He supposed he should be more tolerant of the factional squabbling of the Jaffa. They at least had the excuse of being young and inexperienced -- sociologically speaking of course.
And when had he started thinking of his fellow citizens of Earth as Tau'ri?
And when had he started using terms like 'sociologically'? Jack shook his head and returned his attention to the brief.
"Incoming wormhole!" announced the base intercom.
Jack glanced at his watch as he stood up from his desk. It was 0800 on the nose. Count on Edwards to be right on time. Not a bad trait when there was a nervous mother-General waiting at home.
Just as he was about to walk through the office door, the wall plate that Airman Canton had been hammering on came loose and flew across Jack's path. One corner snagged the sleeve of his BDUs and ripped the fabric, leaving a small, triangular tear. Jack stepped back, nearly losing his balance in his effort to avoid the apparently lethal missile.
"Oh, my gosh! Sir! I'm sorry! Are you all right, sir?" Airman Canton dropped the screwdriver he'd been using, narrowly missing Jack's foot, as he reached for the general's arm to steady him.
"I'm fine, I'm fine." Jack protested. He examined the tear in his uniform and added another line to the mental checklist of things he had to do today: Change shirt. He shrugged out of the young man's grip. "It's ok, son. I've had much worse, and accidents will happen. But right now I have to get downstairs."
The airman faced his commander with a blank stare.
"If you could move aside, airman, I might be able to get through the door." Jack prompted.
"Oh, yes, sir. Excuse me, sir." Jack fully expected another salute as the airman stepped aside, but he didn't pause to confirm his suspicions.
Jack's boots clattered on the metal steps as he made his way down to the gateroom. Edwards was just walking down the ramp as the wormhole dissolved behind him. The rest of his team preceded him, carrying an assortment of odd-looking objects.
"Welcome back, Edwards. How'd it go?"
Colonel Edwards came to a stop at the bottom of the ramp, his team arranged in a semi-circle with him around O'Neill.
"No problems, sir. Although I'm looking forward to a nice shower. It was pretty humid -- I feel like I lost forty pounds in sweat. It looks like P2T-364 was quite a hot spot at one time. There's definite evidence of Goa'uld occupation, but it doesn't seem as though they found much to make them stick around. I guess they're not known for their patience. Lieutenant Menard here is a bit more persistent. He and Lieutenant Woeste found a hidden chamber near the gate that's straight out of Doctor Jackson's sweetest dreams. The place is just chock full of gadgets and thing-a-ma-jigs. We brought back what we could carry and sealed the chamber back up, just in case the Goa'uld decide to stop back by. I think Jackson will particularly want to take a good look at that thing that Menard is carrying."
Edwards pointed to the round object the Lieutenant held. It was a little larger than a basketball and made up of dozens of triangular panels, much like a geodesic dome, each panel covered with lines of symbols.
Menard stepped up and thrust the object into Jack's face. "I'm pretty sure the writing on this is Ancient, sir. I can't actually read it, but I've seen some of these symbols before. We were hoping that Doctor Jackson could translate it. It may hold a clue to who lived there, and what the rest of the objects in the chamber…do."
Jack stepped back and put a hand up to gently push the Ancient artifact out of his face.
"That's fine, Lieutenant, but you're going to have to wait a bit. Daniel is off world right now with SG-9. He's due back later this week. In the meantime, take all this stuff to the secure storage area. Put a hold on it in the inventory. I agree; Daniel should get a good look at this before it gets shipped off base and most of the stuff in there is scheduled for transport on Friday. I don't think he'd be too happy with me if I let a ball full of Ancient writing get away before he had a chance to play with it."
Jack turned to face the other members of the team. "We've got a hectic schedule over the next few days, so I'd like to get your debriefing out of the way. Check in at the infirmary and get your showers. We'll meet back in the briefing room at ten hundred hours. With any luck, you guys will be home in time for lunch."
Jack turned amid a volley of 'Yes, sirs'. He returned to the stairs, bounding up two at a time. His mood was always buoyed when one of his teams returned home, safe and sound. When he reached the landing, he nearly collided with Airman Canton, who was tightening a screw on the railing. Side-stepping the crouching airman, he walked back into his office, whistling under his breath. Even another near-disaster with The-Airman-Who-Is-Everywhere could not destroy his mood. Although he would feel even better once Sam and Danny were safely back on Terra Firma.
And he'd like to see Teal'c back as well. The big guy was unendingly optimistic. Although the defeat of the Goa'uld and the rise of the Free Jaffa had been Teal'c's dream, Jack knew that part of him had never believed it possible. So much so that he'd nearly died in a simulation game that required him to defeat the Goa'uld to win and end the game. Yet he never gave up the fight. Now that his dream was a reality, nothing -- not even the distrust of his fellow Jaffa -- could keep Teal'c away long. He was pursuing the establishment of a free and fair Jaffa nation and the re-establishment of the alliance with the Tau'ri with the same zeal. But Jack worried whenever Teal'c returned to Dakara. And it angered him that the Jaffa could ever imagine that Teal'c was anything less than one hundred percent devoted to their cause. He sighed as he strode through the doorway to his office. So much for his good mood. Introspection really sucked.
Jack sat down behind his desk, please that the new chair continued to operate in blissful silence -- minus the customary squeak. The klaxon blared and the intercom announced "Unscheduled off world activation! General O'Neill to the gateroom!"
This time Jack jumped up from his chair and sprinted through the door, keeping a wary eye out for Airman Disaster-Waiting-to-Happen. If he had unexpected visitors, or a team in trouble, he couldn't afford to be delayed. As he dashed into the control room, the first thing he saw was Sergeant Walter Harriman, manning the control console. Always a good thing. The second thing he saw was Airman Canton, kneeling in a corner. At least he was basically out of everyone's way, so hopefully there would be no tripping or colliding or bodily injuries.
"What've we got, Walter?" Jack was annoyed to realize that he was just a teeny bit breathless.
"We're receiving SG-9's IDC code, sir. They're on PVD-473 with Doctor Jackson. He's asking to speak with you."
"Put him on speaker, Walter. And open the iris."
There was a rush of static, followed by Daniel's voice, sounding frantic. This did not give Jack a good feeling.
"We've got an emergency here. There's been a series of earthquakes that have just about completely destroyed the village. Over half the villagers have been killed. Our team's basically okay -- we're camped on the edge of a forest near the gate. But Lieutenant Grogan fell down a ravine and broke his leg. We need to evac him right away. The aftershocks are coming every few hours, no let up at all. And we've had one tidal wave already, so I have to assume that the fault line extends out into the ocean. I don't know how much longer they'll last. The villagers tell us they've been getting minor shocks every few weeks for years now, but they say they've never known anything like this before. Jack, we've got to get out of here, now!"
O'Neill grabbed the microphone and shouted, "Danny, don't stop to explain all this. Get the team together and come on back now." He flipped a switch and then his voice was booming out of the intercom. "Medical team to the gateroom, on the double."
Daniel's voice hesitated a moment. "Jack, I want to bring the rest of the villagers back to the SGC. They'll never survive here now; the quakes have wiped out most of their livestock and their food stores." As if to punctuate his words, rumbles could be heard in the background. A man screamed and what sounded like children sobbing punctuated the rest of Daniel's speech. "There's no shelter left. Several of them need medical attention. We can relocate them; get them back on their feet. We can't leave them here, Jack. We can't."
Jack's face was grim. "Daniel, you know we're not supposed to take in refugees." Jack hated to seem heartless, but Hammond and the Joint Chiefs had been pretty clear on the subject. Earth wasn't equipped to take in every primitive society they came across. And too many of their relocation efforts had been problematic.
"You don't understand, Jack." Daniel was pleading now. "These people may have something very important to teach us. Jack -- they're human -- one hundred percent human -- we've done DNA testing to prove it. But they're immune to the Goa'uld. Goa'uld symbiotes are repelled by them. They've been raided by the Goa'uld several times over the years, but every time, the Goa'uld get to within a few feet of the villagers and they turn and run. When a Jaffa tries to approach one of them, they tell me 'a great snake emerges from the Jaffa's belly, screaming in terror until the Jaffa moves away'. Jack, if these people have evolved some sort of immunity to Goa'uld, we have to study them and find out if it's something we can duplicate. This could be the ultimate answer, Jack!"
While Daniel was pleading his case, two members of SG-9 stepped through the event horizon, supporting another man who was hobbling, holding one crudely splinted leg stiffly in front of himself. The medical team arrived with a gurney, and ran up the ramp to meet the injured man. Jack winced in sympathy. He hoped the man's injury wasn't serious. A broken leg could end a man's field career -- and land him in a desk job. Jack knew better than most that some men just never adapted to that sort of life once they had tasted a piece of the real action.
Jack pondered the losses the SGC had suffered over the years. True, this man had been injured in a natural calamity, but too many good men and women had been badly injured -- or killed -- by the Goa'uld. Daniel was right. If there was a chance they could make humans anathema to the Goa'uld, they stood a chance of saving not just Earth, but the many other humanoid populations they had discovered throughout the galaxy. There was a certain poetic irony in making humans something that the Goa'uld would find repugnant. And besides, Joint Chiefs be damned, Jack O'Neill was not a man to stand by while innocent people suffered when it was in his power to help.
Suddenly, the lights flickered ominously. The speakers emitted a piercing squawk. Computer monitors flashed and popped, then settled back to their normal displays as emergency power kicked in. Lights throughout the control room went dark and the eerie dim glow of emergency lights came on.
From behind, a quiet voice rose from the floor. "Uh, sir? I think I may have crossed the power wires with the intercom wires here. I'll have them switched back in a jiffy."
Jack pivoted slowly, still holding the microphone. Looking down, he glared at the young man looking up anxiously from the floor. "Airman, if I didn't know better, I'd think you had been planted by enemy forces. Unfortunately, there is no lower rank that I can bust you to. I'd have you scrubbing toilets, but I prefer to have THEM continue to be in good working order. Therefore, I suggest you get those wires uncrossed before I can turn back around. After which, I want you to report immediately to the maintenance office where you will remain until the end of your duty shift. You will not touch anything, and I do not want to see you again for the rest of the day. Is that clear, Airman?"
"Yes, sir," came a tiny voice. Canton sat, paralyzed, until Jack began to turn back. Scrambling, he went back to work on the wiring and within minutes, the lights had returned and a comforting crackle of static announced the return of the audio systems.
Jack returned to survey the scene below. Grogan had been helped onto the gurney, and was being wheeled out into the corridor where the elevator would take him to the infirmary.
"Daniel? Are you still there?"
"Yeah, Jack. I'm still here," came the response. "What happened?"
"Never mind, Daniel. Bring 'em on through. But please remember this is NOT the Holiday Inn. I'm putting you in charge of getting those people relocated A - S - A - P. I can't have a bunch of off world refugees tramping around the SGC any longer than absolutely necessary."
Jack hadn't had time to put the microphone down before the first people began to walk through the gate, looking bewildered. Medical personnel, along with the SFs who had been standing guard, began guiding the refugees down the ramp, and herded them to one side of the gateroom. Soon, a steady stream were coming through the rippling barrier, as those who had arrived before milled about, staring in wonder at the flashing lights and painted concrete walls.
Jack moved out of the control room and waited for Daniel to come through; he knew the archeologist would be last. Several of the injured refugees were taken on gurneys to the infirmary. Others were treated by medics in the gateroom for more minor cuts and bruises. Realizing the gateroom would soon be overrun, Jack instructed some of the SFs to take a number of the refugees to the detention areas. He hoped they wouldn't get the impression they were being locked up, but with a dozen or more VIPs on the way, it was the only area large enough to house this many people. Next time, he thought, he would instruct Daniel to RSVP with the number of guests he was bringing to the party.
Jack walked among the refugees, smiled, and tried to look reassuring while he helped the SFs herd small groups out the doors. He was beginning to think the flow of people through the gate would never stop, when he suddenly realized it could be worse.
There were cows coming through the Stargate.
As Jack watched, stunned, twenty or more cows had marched calmly down the ramp, followed closely by a number of small ponies. Bringing up the rear, several more villagers were struggling to lead the biggest bull Jack had ever seen. Not that he had seen that many bulls. Finally, as Jack stood dumbstruck, a filthy, exhausted Daniel came through the gate. Walking down the ramp, he nearly slipped. Jack made a mental note to get that airman back in here for clean up duty. He would be sure to have Daniel supervise.
"Daniel, I said you could bring refugees. I don't remember any mention of livestock. Why the cows, Danny? What in the name of…" Jack couldn't think of anything, "…..do you think we're going to do with all these -- bovines?"
Daniel scratched idly at what appeared to be a two-day growth of beard. "I'm sorry, Jack, I couldn't stop them. The cattle represent wealth to these people. They refused to leave them. And I couldn't let them stay behind. I'm hoping we can take a small contingent of villagers with their livestock to Edora or one of the other agrarian planets we've found. They can stay there temporarily until we can find a more permanent place to resettle them."
Jack rolled his eyes at his friend's blithe discounting of what was a major logistic problem. "That's fine, Daniel. But just exactly where are we supposed to keep them in the meantime? This may have escaped your notice, but the SGC is not exactly equipped with a litter box that will accommodate twenty cows!"
Daniel ran a grubby hand through his sweat-soaked hair. Fatigue was adding to his exasperation. Still, it didn't hold a candle to how perturbed Jack obviously was. "Look, Jack. I promised I would deal with these people and I will. I'll handle things. I'm sure there are some farms around here somewhere that we can get some hay and straw from. If we spread it on the floor of some of the detention cells, it'll be almost like a barn. I'll have them out of there within twenty-four hours, we can muck out the stalls and scrub them down and it will be like they've never been here."
The last of the refugees had left the gateroom, escorted by SFs, leaving just the cattle, the ponies and their handlers -- and Bull-zilla. Who seemed to be getting more fractious by the minute. The gateroom was beginning to reek. Jack grabbed Daniel's elbow and steered him to the far side of the room, away from the milling herd.
"Daniel, the detention levels are where I've had the other refugees taken. We've got a major meeting with the Russians, Chinese, French, and British, along with the Free Jaffa and the Tok'ra. I'm going to be up to my brass in VIPs day after tomorrow. I can't have this place smelling like a barn. The cows have got to go -- and I don't mean tomorrow, I mean today!"
"Jack, these villagers are used to living in close quarters with their animals. We'll put the animals in one section on the detention level for the time being. I need to get a shower, then I'll start seeing about someplace to take them. I'll try to have them off world by tonight, if I have to herd them out myself."
Not waiting for a reply, Daniel went to speak to the herders, and began the process of moving the animals out into the corridor. Jack wearily climbed the stairs back up to his office. How was it possible for him to feel this tired when it was only just past 0900?
Walter had arranged for cleaning crews to give the gateroom a thorough scrubbing. After which, they followed the trail through the corridors, and into the elevators, and cleaned as they went. Jack was tempted to wait until the cows had exited, since the cleaning would only have to be done over again. One whiff inside the elevator changed his mind. In fact, he decided the cleaning crews were long overdue for merit pay.
After visiting Grogan in the infirmary, Jack held the debriefing with SG-11. Their report was refreshingly normal. Lieutenant Menard was excited to hear that Doctor Jackson had returned early, but Jack was quick to tell him that Daniel would be entirely too busy over the next few days and the Ancient artifacts would just have to wait.
With the debriefing concluded, Jack decided it was time for lunch, although he wasn't sure if he would have much of an appetite since he was suffering from over-exposure to 'eau de cow'. The odor had since been supplanted by the noxious fumes of military issue cleaning fluid. Jack was convinced it wouldn't matter what he ate, it would all taste like pine with a side of lemon sauce. But the rumblings of his stomach indicated that it didn't care, so he made his way to the cafeteria.
As he made his way up to level twenty-two, the foul smell returned, overpowering the pine cleanser. It seemed to have permeated all the levels. The smell seemed strongest a few levels up from twenty-eight, then it began to diminish again -- which didn't make any sense -- unless the cleaning crew had missed a spot. The detention levels, which probably reeked by now, were up on levels twelve and sixteen.
Jack hoped that perhaps Daniel had already found a new home for the bovines and what he was smelling was their return trip to the gate. He made a mental note to watch his footing on his trip back from the cafeteria.
Stepping off the elevator, Jack noticed the smell seemed to be stronger. And it seemed different -- less earthy and more foul. He supposed that the cow smell was mixing with the cleaning fluid smell to form a bizarre bouquet. He selected a sandwich and a piece of cake. Reaching for a tall glass of milk, he thought better of it and opted for tomato juice instead. Seeing Doctor Brightman having lunch alone, Jack decided to see if he could get an update on the various medical issues while he ate.
"Mind if I join you?" Jack asked politely.
Doctor Brightman looked up from her salad and soup. "Of course, sir. Please sit down."
Jack removed the plates from his tray and set them on the table. Setting his tray to one side, he sat down, picked up his sandwich and took a healthy bite. As he chewed, he realized how much he still missed Janet. Brightman was a competent doctor, no question. She wouldn't be stationed at the SGC if she wasn't. But Jack had never developed the relaxed, trusting rapport with her that he had with Janet. If Janet Fraser had demanded he drop his drawers in the middle of the cafeteria so that she could administer a vaccine that would only work if given under extreme humiliation, he probably would have accepted her word and done as she asked -- after an appropriate amount of grumbling, of course.
Jack swallowed his bite of sandwich. "Sorry to interrupt your lunch with business," he began, "but I was hoping I could get a rundown on your patients."
Doctor Brightman looked up from her meal, dabbing her lips quickly with a napkin. "Of course, sir. It's not a problem. Lieutenant Grogan is very lucky. He has a fairly simple closed tibia/fibula fracture. There was minimal soft tissue damage and his teammates did an excellent job of splinting the leg. He's in a cast, and I'd like him to stay off the leg completely for a day or two, then he'll be on crutches for several weeks. He should take it easy for the first week. After that, can handle light duty on base while the leg heals. In two to three months, if all goes well we'll put him in a walking cast. I'm afraid he won't be fit for field duty for at least five or six months. There's a remote chance he may be grounded permanently, but I'm confident that's unlikely."
Brightman paused to take a sip of her water, then continued. "As for the refugees, I've got about twenty injuries ranging from a variety of broken bones, several concussions and one skull fracture. Along with a lot of cuts and bruises. Add to that most of them are traumatized and in varying stages of shock. From what Doctor Jackson has told me, these people led a relatively idyllic existence before this happened, with very few hardships. They don't understand what is happening or why. I'm really not sure what sort of resilience we can expect from them. And we're not equipped to counsel them effectively. Successful therapy requires that the therapist have an understanding of the living conditions and culture of the patient. We know very little about these people."
Jack had finished his sandwich while Brightman was speaking, and had started on the cake. Even the cake didn't taste quite right. "Well, we'll just have to do the best we can for them. How many of the more serious injuries will have to stay here while the rest are relocated, Doctor?"
Suddenly Jack dropped his fork, which clattered on the plate before dropping to the floor. Doctor Brightman looked up from the spoonful of soup she was about to eat, then turned to follow Jack's shocked and angry stare. In a far corner of the cafeteria, an airman was surrounded by a number of tables. He was making a bit of noise as he dragged the tables across the floor.
Jack stood up and strode across the floor. Just as he was about to put the fear of General Jack O'Neill into the man, the unsuspecting airman turned around, moving to get the next table. Looking up to see the base commander barreling down upon him, he stopped, frozen at the grim look on General O'Neill's face.
Jack stopped short. He'd been about to ream the wrong man. This wasn't Canton, who was hopefully still cooling his heels and staying out of trouble, as ordered, in maintenance. Maybe it was time to check his paranoia at the door. For now, he needed a cover. Although it was good to know that he could still make a face that would have an airman shaking in his boots. Jack schooled his features into the image of the genial base commander, just checking up on the troops. "What're you doing with all these tables, airman?"
The young man stared at the General's suddenly transformed face and blinked. He must have been imagining things. The man smiling at him and inquiring about his task couldn't have been the same vision of fury he had seen descending on him a moment ago. "Some folks on base have been complaining about wobbly tables in here, sir. I've been assigned to check all the tables and see if I can tighten up the legs or something to keep 'em steady." He grabbed the wrench from his toolbelt and held it up for the General to see.
"Well. That's fine, just fine." Jack thought he sounded pretty lame, but he'd have to go with it. "Just carry on, then." Feeling completely stupid, Jack turned back to his own table to finish his cake. Maybe it should have been a healthy helping of crow.
As he sat back down, Jack shoved the cake aside, his appetite gone. He ignored the questioning look on the doctor's face.
Doctor Brightman spooned up the last of her soup, made a face and put it back in the bowl. "The young man with the skull fracture will have to stay behind, definitely, at least for a week or two. One or two of the more serious fractures may need to stay here until we can determine how well the bones are healing, in case surgery is required. Other than that, they should all be able to travel within a day or two. As long as we can provide some follow-up after they're settled in their new homes."
"That's good." Jack finished off the last of his tomato juice and decided to change the subject. "I'll be glad when we can finally get rid of this smell. I always knew farm animals were smelly, but this is getting worse by the minute. I'm beginning to think we'll have to have the whole mountain fumigated."
"I don't think that smell is from farm animals, sir." Doctor Brightman wrinkled her nose. "Farm animals smell earthy and musty. And sometimes they smell of dung. But this smells like something rotten. More like a dead animal than a live one."
"Oh, no!" Jack's eyes widened in horror. "You don't suppose one of those cows is dead, do you?"
"Sir, if the cow walked through the gate this morning, even if it dropped dead on the ramp, it wouldn't smell this bad so soon. It takes at least a day or two for a dead animal to begin smelling this bad. I'd have the kitchen staff check for dead rodents, if I were you."
"Oh, great!" Jack muttered. "Dead animals in the kitchen. Just great. What more can go wrong?"
"If you'll excuse me, sir," Doctor Brightman stood up and began to collect her empty plates on a tray. "I should really be getting back. I've got a pretty full house just now."
Jack stood as well and gathered up the rest of the plates. "Sure, doctor. Here, let me take that for you." he said as he took the other tray from the doctor and placed them on the pile of dirties. "I'll walk you back to the elevators."
"Well, sir. If you can find out what that smell is and get rid of it, I'll be forever grateful. It's only been around for an hour or so, but I've taken to wearing a surgical mask in the infirmary. It's stronger up there."
"I'll see what I can do, Doctor. We'll conduct a full sweep of the facility if we have to, that smell has got to go!" Jack grinned as he followed the doctor out the door and down the corridor to the elevators. Rounding a corner, he realized he was finally beginning to warm to the new doctor when she suddenly stopped.
The next thing Jack knew, he was lying flat on his back, starring up at the doctor, who was quickly kneeling next to him. He felt something cold and slimy smeared up the back of his leg. Whatever it was, it was on his right hand, too. Raising his arm, he stared at his palm, wondering what the blue goo was.
"General, are you all right? How many fingers do I have?" Doctor Brightman was waving her hand in front of his face, two fingers wiggling in the air.
"I'm pretty sure you have eight fingers, Doctor, like the rest of us." Jack quipped.
Doctor Brightman frowned. "General, I'm serious. You could have a concussion. Now how many fingers am I holding in front of your face?"
"Oh, if you insist." Jack looked closely, to be sure. "Two. You're holding up two fingers." It was time that he got back up on his feet. He really didn't want to take the humiliation cure right now, and he was sure to get it if any base personnel saw him knocked flat on his butt in the corridor. "I'm going to get up now."
"Don't get up too fast. You may get dizzy."
Jack put his hands down by his side in an effort to raise himself to a sitting position, but his right hand, the one with the blue goo, slid along the floor like a heated hockey puck on ice. "What *is* this stuff?"
"I think it's Jell-O. Blue Jell-O. With whipped cream." Doctor Brightman gripped Jack's arm to try and help him up. "Someone must have dropped it."
"It's Carter's revenge." Jack muttered as he managed to sit up. "Ow!" Jack leaned suddenly to one side and rubbed his goo-less hand against his backside. "That hurts!"
"My butt. That's what. Feels like someone stuck a hot poker up…um…well…it hurts."
"Stay here, sir. I'm going to call for some help to get you up to the infirmary."
"Negative, doctor. Give me a minute and I'll be fine. I just need to stand up." Jack gingerly rolled to his knees, making sure his tender backside didn't make contact with the floor. His knees protested the hard surface, but right now, they constituted the lesser of two evils. Slowly, he brought one knee up to his chin and put his foot flat on the floor. Pushing up with his hands, he got the other foot on the floor and slowly stood up. Bracing one hand on the wall, he straightened his back.
"Ow!" Jack doubled over, bracing his hands on his knees and sucking in deep breaths of air.
"General. I must insist that you come with me to the infirmary. I suggest you walk slightly bent over. It may look funny, but if your problem is what I think it is, it'll feel better. Otherwise, I can still call for a gurney and have some orderlies give you a ride."
"All right, all right. I'm going."
Jack rose until he was not quite standing, and began walking slowly down the hall to the elevator, Doctor Brightman close by his side. Each step sent renewed pain shooting up his spine. He was feeling distinctly like an old man.
Mercifully, the trip to the infirmary was short, and the corridors were fairly deserted. As Jack hobbled through the doorway, Doctor Brightman pulled the privacy curtain around the first exam table, and instructed Jack to change into a gown and hop up. Then she disappeared into the back area of the room. Thankful that most of the injured from PVD-473 appeared to be asleep, Jack stripped to his boxers and t-shirt and gingerly eased one cheek onto the side of bed.
"How did I manage to injure myself without even leaving the base," he grumbled while he carefully rolled up onto the bed. He maintained a noticeable tilt to one side. "I don't think Hammond's ever *been* to the infirmary as a patient."
"You might want to roll over and lie on your stomach, sir."
Jack heard the ominous snap of a latex glove. He was over fifty -- he knew just what that sound could mean, and he had no intention of allowing the good doctor those kinds of liberties over a simple bounce on his backside.
"Doc, I'm fine. I just got a good bruising. I'd appreciate a little something so I can sit through my next briefing, but that's all I really need." Reaching for his shirt, he began to get dressed.
"Sir, I believe you've fractured your coccyx. I need to manipulate it to be sure."
"Fractured my *WHAT*?"
"Your coccyx, sir. Your tailbone, if you will. It's a small triangular bone at the base of the spine. It can be broken in a hard fall. I need to manipulate the tailbone digitally in order to make a proper diagnosis."
"And if it *is* broken, what do you do, put a cast on my ass?"
Brightman nearly cracked a smile at that, but managed to maintain her professional demeanor. "No, sir. If it's broken, I'll give you some analgesics for pain, and a stool softener so your coccyx won't move any more than necessary while defecating. If the pain persists beyond a week or so, surgery may be necessary."
"So, basically, for now, you just give me some pills and send me on my merry way?" Jack didn't wait for the doctor's answer. "In that case, since I *do* have a severe pain in the rear, why don't we skip the exam, which I'm sure will only aggravate...things. Give me the pills and I'll let you know if my tushy's feeling all better in a week. How's that?" Jack jumped off the table, winced and reached for his pants.
"Sir...." Realizing the general wasn't likely to budge, Brightman relented. Removing the gloves, she turned to pick up a small packet and a water cup from a nearby instrument table and handed them to Jack. "All right, sir. This is fairly mild, so you can stay on duty. And please be sure to take the stool softener. Trust me on that, sir. You can pick up some more pills from the pharmacy before you leave today."
Jack gratefully accepted the pills, thankful he had avoided what would surely have been an uncomfortable examination. Tossing the pills into the back of his throat, he quickly swallowed them with the water and threw the empty cup into the trash.
Brightman retrieved a box that was also resting on the table. "You'll need this, too, sir," she said, holding the box out to Jack as he was buckling his belt.
Jack accepted the box, shaking it slightly. It seemed empty. "What is it?"
"It's a cushion, sir."
Jack opened the box and removed the ring-shaped cushion. Holding it up, he raised one eyebrow in practiced imitation of a certain Jaffa. "You're kidding, right? You want me to sit on an oversized donut?"
"Believe me, sir, if you *have* broken your coccyx, you'll thank me for it."
Jack jammed the cushion back in its box and tossed it onto the exam table. "I have a nice, comfy General's chair, Doctor. I'm sure I'll be fine." Moving the curtain to one side, Jack walked out the door.
Grabbing the box, Doctor Brightman caught up to Jack in the hallway. "Sir! At least take it with you. It might save you a trip back here. If you really don't need it, you can just leave it in the box."
Jack stopped short, turned and took the box. Tucking it under one arm, he turned and strode back down the hall to the elevators. This was definitely *not* his day!
Jack returned to his office, the oversized pizza box still tucked under one arm. Walking around the desk he took the box out and stood and looked down at his seat. With one quick flick, he tossed the box into a corner behind a bookcase and gingerly sat down on the well-padded chair.
'This isn't so bad. I can manage this.' Jack thought, as he slowly leaned back, adjusting to a more comfortable position. 'No problemo. I don't need no stinkin' do-- Ow! Ow, ow, ow, ow, OW!' Jack brought himself back up to a stiffly upright position, his hands gripping the front edge of the desk in an effort to take some of the weight off his abused backside. Glancing towards the corner of the room, where the box lay, waiting, he swore. He could almost hear it laughing. He rose carefully and walked over to the corner. Bending very carefully, he picked the box up and took out the ridiculous cushion.
"Well, a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do." Returning to his chair, he placed the cushion strategically where it would provide optimum protection for his injury. Turning, he gripped the chair's arms and slowly lowered himself into the seat.
"Phfffftt! SQEEEEEE! Pfut! Skreek!"
No. No, no, no, no, NO! This was not happening. His brand new, beautiful, comfy executive chair had developed a squeak. And the plastic donut was adding its own impolite melody to the tune.
"Great. Now I've got a regular band playing in the rear guard." Jack muttered under his breath as he opened the brief he'd set aside earlier. At least he *was* more comfortable this way. Hopefully his little problem would heal quickly and he could dispense with at least one of the noisemakers within a day or so. The he'd get Siler to attend to this chair. Surely somewhere on base there was a can of WD-40.
Jack was about to punch the intercom on his phone when he remembered that Walter hadn't been at his desk as he came through the outer office. He fumbled awhile with the phone's directory function until he found the number for Base Services. Waiting while the phone rang, he tried in vain to adjust his position to one that was more comfortable to his backside.
"Sergeant Bayliss, good afternoon. This is General O'Neill. I don't know if you've noticed, but there's a nasty smell in the base that's getting worse by the minute. Smells like something *died*. Seems to be centered somewhere around levels twenty-three or twenty-four. I know you folks just finished cleaning up after our four-legged guests, but I was wondering if you could give those levels a thorough going-over. We might have a dead mouse or something, so be sure to look under cabinets and such." Jack paused a moment, listening. "Thank you, Sergeant, that'll be great. Let me know if you find anything."
Jack put the handset down and drummed his fingers on the desk. He really didn't feel like tackling the pile of reports, but it had to be done. And the pile wasn't getting any shorter while he was giving his desk a good finger pounding. He reached over and picked up the topmost folder. Opening it, he leaned back in his chair.
Jack sat back up, throwing the report down on the desk. Twisting to pick up the phone, a sudden pain shot up his spine.
"Ow, shit! That hurts!"
He slowly adjusted his position until the pain subsided. "Damn. How can something so ridiculous hurt so damn much?" Reaching once more for the phone, he dialed.
Jack's face fell and he scowled, not sure if the young man was following his orders to the letter. He had to touch something to answer the phone. "This is General O'Neill. I see they've got you answering the phones down there. Is Sergeant Siler around?" Jack resumed his drumming. "On leave? I forgot about that. I sure hope he's having a better day than I am. No, no, it's nothing urgent. There's a squeak in my desk chair and I was hoping he could come up here with some oil to take care of it. That'll be fine. I guess I don't need the head of maintenance to oil my chair. I've got a briefing at fifteen hundred, send him up around then and he'll have a whole hour to work on it. Well, no, I don't think it'll take a whole hour either. All right. Thank you, airman."
After he set the phone down, Jack rose from his seat to reposition the donut where he thought it might do a bit more good. The base intercom began to crackle. Jack thought Walter had gone to lunch, but the voice over the speaker told him otherwise. "Gen.....Neill. ....ease...troom immed....ly.....eneral....come.....gate...."
Static still crackled in the air as O'Neill dashed out of the room. The pain from his backside was nasty, but the urgency in Walter's voice didn't allow for a busted butt to slow him down. Halfway down the stairs, he realized he was still holding the silly donut in one hand, thrust out in front like a relay runner's baton. Tucking it under one arm, he plastered as much dignity on his face as possible and limped quickly into the control room.
If Walter was surprised to see his commander limping, he didn't let it show. And although his eyes riveted on the donut for a moment, he quickly forced them back to look his commander in the eye. Jack wasn't sure what it would take to surprise the sergeant. He supposed that, even though he stayed behind while team after team went through the gate, Walter had been through about as many surprises and adventures as anyone else on base.
"Oh, good, sir. I was about to send someone to come get you. I wasn't sure you would be able to hear the intercom. It seems to be on the fritz."
"Yeah, so I noticed, Walter. What's the problem?"
"Well, sir. The intercom's not the only thing on the fritz." Walter nodded toward the window, through which the gate could be seen, standing serenely as usual.
Jack noted that the iris was closed. A bit unusual when there was no wormhole active, but no big deal. As he watched, the iris began to slowly unfurl, the opening in the center slowly widening until the iris itself nearly disappeared. It *did* seem to be operating much slower than usual. Maybe his chair wasn't the only thing on base that could use a little WD-40. Before he could comment as much to the sergeant, the iris suddenly snapped shut, faster than a blink. So fast that Jack thought he could see the leaves of the iris quivering from the shock.
Jack turned back to face Walter, "That's not good."
"No, sir. It's not," Walter agreed. "It's been doing that for about 20 minutes. SG-2 dialed in and sent their IDC code, so I tried to open the iris. And this is what happened. I had to radio Major Griff and ask him to stay put for awhile. Didn't want to risk having them all squashed. Since then, the iris has been doing this. It stays closed for two or three minutes, then it'll open slowly and snap shut again. Twice, it appeared that an outgoing wormhole had been dialed, but we sure didn't do it."
"*Can* we dial out?"
"I'm not sure, sir. We haven't tried."
"Well, at least two teams are back safely. Hopefully SG-2 is comfy enough to stay put while we figure this out. Carter's still at the Alpha site and we're supposed to have a bunch of diplomats trooping in here in a few days. Not that seeing one or two of them playing Double Dutch through a snapping iris wouldn't be entertaining." Jack started to lean against the counter, remembering his injury just in time. He began to pace in the small confines, hampered by the damn donut under his arm, but not willing to draw attention to it by putting it down. "Try dialing something. Someplace uninhabited would probably be best. If you establish a wormhole try to keep it going. See how long we can keep a wormhole open. What a time for Siler to be on vacation."
All eyes turned to the gate as Walter began dialing, announcing each chevron as it engaged. Between chevrons four and five, the iris began to slowly open. Just as the final chevron locked and the familiar kawoosh splashed into the gateroom, the iris snapped shut again. Jack thought it might actually slice off a piece of the kawoosh, leaving a big water puddle in the gateroom. But, he reminded himself, it's not *really* water.
"Wormhole established and holding, sir." Within five minutes, the iris began to open again, the wormhole clearly visible. As soon as it reached its maximum aperture, it snapped shut again.
"Ok, Walter, shut it down. Call SG-2 back and let them know they're going to be stuck there for a while longer. Make sure they stay close to the gate, though. Then see if you can dial up the Alpha Site. I want to talk to Carter about this, and let her know that she may have to extend her stay." Jack paused a moment, trying to think of everything that might be affected by the day's latest debacle. "We'll need to try to contact the Tok'ra and the Jaffa, let them know that the door is malfunctioning." Jack pounded the doorjamb with his fist. "And see if you can get in touch with Siler. I may need to cancel his leave."
Jack walked out into the gateroom, being careful to stay beyond the ramp area. A tech on a ladder was working by the big double doors, apparently replacing yet another light bulb. Jack was beginning to think it was National Fix-It Day.
With the iris closed, he heard, but did not see, the wormhole disengage. Not long after, the chevrons began to light up, one by one. There was a muffled kawoosh behind the closed iris. As he turned to walk back into the control room, the iris began to open yet again.
"Sir, the tech at Alpha Site is calling Colonel Carter to the gateroom. She should be there in just a moment. Radio communications seem unaffected by the iris problem. I contacted SG-2. Major Griff indicates they're well able to hunker down for an extended stay."
"Well, thank goodness for small favors." Jack picked up the microphone just as the radio crackled to life.
"Stargate Command, this is Colonel Carter. General O'Neill? Is there a problem?"
"Carter, you have no idea how good it is to hear your voice. The iris is on the..."
Once again the iris snapped suddenly shut.
"Carter? You still there?"
Walter leaned over and whispered, "Sir, the iris doesn't affect radio waves."
As if to underline the sergeant's words, Carter's voice came through loud and clear. "Yes, sir. You were saying there was a problem?"
"Yeah, Carter. The iris is on the fritz. Every few minutes it starts to open really slowly. As soon as it opens all the way, it snaps shut. One of my teams is still out, and Daniel brought a bunch of house guests that are quickly overstaying their welcome."
"What about Siler, sir? What does he have to say about this?"
"Siler's on leave, Carter. I've got Walter working on recalling him, but I don't know how long it'll be before he can get here."
There was a short period of silence. As the iris began to open yet again, Jack began to worry. "Carter? You still there?"
"Oh. Sorry, sir. Yes, I'm still here. Can you tell me how long you've had this problem? And has anyone timed the opening and closing to see if there's a pattern?"
"It's been going on about half an hour now, Carter. It seems to happen about every five minutes or so, but I don't think anyone's actually timed it."
"Uh, sir?" Sergeant Harriman interrupted, "Actually, sir, I started timing it after the second round. It's pretty consistent -- between four minutes thirty-seven seconds and five minutes twenty-three seconds from one closing to the next. We've also run a number of computer diagnostics. There's no indication that this is a systems glitch."
Jack turned toward the technician and nodded approval. "Hmm. Good thinking, Sergeant." He turned back to the window just as the iris snapped shut once again, flinching in surprise. "Carter, did you get that?"
"Yes, sir. I did. If it's that predictable, I'm sure we can dial up from here, and time it so that I come through when it's safe. I'm not sure how much help I can be from here, sir."
"Absolutely not, Carter. Under no circumstances am I going to allow you or anyone else to come through that gate. There's no guarantee that the pattern won't change. Let us know if you come up with anything. In the meantime, I'll get Siler back and see if he can fix it. If necessary, we'll send Prometheus out to pick you up. Just be sure you have a good tip for the taxi driver."
"Yes, sir. But frankly, it sounds suspiciously like a mechanical problem. I think Siler may be in a much better position to help. Although I hate the thought of you having to rescind his leave, sir. I don't remember the last time he actually took any."
"I know what you mean, Carter. Believe me, if Siler gets this fixed, I'll double his next leave and buy the tickets myself. Give us a call if you think of anything."
"Yes, sir. I'll do that. Carter out."
"Walter," Jack turned to the sergeant, "have Alberts take over here. Tell him to call Teal'c on Dakara -- oh, and see if he can contact the Tok'ra, too. Let them know that the door to Earth is temporarily closed unless they can get here by ship. Then come back up to the office. I have to call the President and let him know we've had to roll up the welcome mat. While I'm doing that, you can be tracking down Siler."
Who would have thought that Siler was such a romantic? It had taken Walter nearly an hour, but he had finally contacted the master sergeant. He and his wife were spending a romantic two-week second honeymoon in the Fiji islands. Siler had not been happy to get the call. No more than President Hayes had been when Jack told him the situation with the iris. Earth was on the fritz today, no visitors please. And the one man Jack felt he could count on to fix things was half a world away. All the planes in the US Air Force couldn't get him back to Colorado in less than twenty-four hours. And Carter was half a galaxy away. Prometheus had been diverted to pick her up, but it would take nearly two days just to get to the Alpha site, even with Prometheus' hyperdrive.
Jack stood at the window that overlooked the gate and watched the iris continue its bizarre behavior. As usual, being in charge generally meant that he got to stand around waiting while others worked feverishly to fix things. A number of techs were busily working on the various components of the Stargate and the iris mechanism, being careful to stay clear of the snapping iris itself. So far, they hadn't found anything to explain the problem, much less fix it.
Cleaning crews were back in the gateroom, shoveling cow dung. Daniel had come up with a planet to send the guests and their pets to, and he'd had the cattle herded down to the gateroom in anticipation of a quick trip. Only to be told the gate was closed. So the cows were back up in their detention cells, having left a few gifts behind.
And one of the beasts had started to munch on the flag standing in the corner. Walter was busy now, requisitioning a new one from stores and having the damaged one disposed of properly. Jack grinned at the thought of what Walter would have to write on the form in the block marked 'Reason for disposal'. He didn't guess that the quartermaster got too many of those forms that mentioned flag-eating farm animals.
In the meantime, the stench that permeated the entire base was getting stronger. Sergeant Bayliss had called to report that his crews had turned the kitchens and several other areas on base upside down trying to locate the source of the stench, to no avail. Jack really couldn't imagine that one or two dead rodents could cause that kind of smell, anyway. Truthfully, he couldn't imagine *what* might be causing it. But if it didn't abate, he'd have to start issuing gas masks.
With little prospect of dispatching the refugees to a new home anytime soon, Jack had asked Daniel if he could take a minute away from his cow-herding duties to look at the artifacts brought back by SG-11, especially the big basketball thingy with all the Ancient writing on it. Jack had recognized the look on Daniel's face. It had been that 'There's a new toy to play with and you didn't even *tell* me?' look. The archeologist had sputtered a bit, as he apparently tried to think of something indignant to say. But the call of the latest find had been too strong and he had given up and dashed out of Jack's office at top speed. In some ways, watching Daniel be so predictably 'Daniel' had been the high point of Jack's day. It felt almost like old times.
Jack turned to the big briefing room table. On one end was the pile of personnel briefs that he still had to finish. He had moved them in here to read while a tech worked on his desk chair. You wouldn't think it would take over an hour to squirt a little oil. But apparently the source of the squeak, like the source of the stench, was being very elusive.
He returned to the head of the table and gingerly eased down onto his friend, Mr. Donut Pillow. Mr. Donut Pillow obligingly greeted his backside in its own language.
It seemed that no matter how carefully Jack sat on the thing, it insisted on making its presence known. Obviously, this particular medical supply was manufactured by the same folks that made Whoopee cushions.
Jack was deep in the fascinating life story of yet another stellar Russian officer when Daniel walked in, holding a surgical mask in front of his face. Jack could swear the stench in the room doubled and wondered if Daniel had bothered to shower since he left the base's impromptu barn.
The haggard-looking archeologist pulled out a chair and sat down, setting the surgical mask on the table. He wiped a hand over his face before he continued. "Jack, you were right. That 'basketball thingy' as you call it is covered with Ancient. It seems to be a lot of technical jargon -- I can't make out much. I'm having the whole thing photographed so that I can study the writing further. I think Sam will want to take a good look at it when she gets back, too. But you better have her put on a hazmat suit. I went into the storage room and almost fell over, the stench was so bad. I tried having the artifact removed, but the stench came with it. It's not quite as bad if it's in a more open room, but after an hour I couldn't take it anymore. I've had it moved to an empty lab room. I didn't want it to stink up my office. Once they've finished photographing it, and running a few other tests, the lab techs are going to put it back in the storage room. It seems to help contain the smell a bit. They're sealing it into a container, too. It seems to be oozing a thin film of some sort that's covering the surface. We had to handle it with gloves on to keep from getting the goo on our hands."
"Wait a minute." Jack closed the file folder he'd been holding and turned his full attention on Doctor Jackson. "Are you telling me this basketball thing is what has been stinking up my base? And now it's oozing some sort of goo? And you want to *keep* it?"
"Jack -- as I said, I haven't been able to decipher much of the Ancient writing on it, but I'm positive it's some sort of technological device. And I'm pretty sure it has something to do with the gate network. I don't think we can afford *not* to keep it. Who knows what sorts of things we can learn from it? It may even hold the clue to how the Stargate actually creates a wormhole."
"Whoa, whoa, whoa, Daniel. It stinks. It stinks really, really bad. I've had half the base trying to find what's making that smell. And it's leaking something we can't identify. It's got to go back where it came from, Daniel. We have no way of knowing if that goo, or even the smell, might be toxic. Which means it can't be sent outside. And I can't take that smell, which means it can't stay here. That leaves only one option. It goes back where it came from. You can take your pictures and you can complete a few tests, but I want that thing on its way back to P2T -- wherever within a half hour."
"But, we can't send it back -- the iris is on the blink, remember?" Daniel looked pitifully like a kid being told that his favorite toy would have to go back to the toy shop.
"Daniel, the iris is broken, but the Stargate still works. And like Carter said, we can time things just right to toss that thing in when the iris is open enough. I wouldn't want to trust it for a human being, but I've got no problem tossing a basketball through a hoop. Might be kinda fun, actually. What about the other things Menard brought back? Are any of them oozing goo?"
Daniel's head fell. He stared down at his hands on the table as he spoke. "No. They seem to be fine. They don't stink, either. But they're not nearly as interesting. One item looks to be a lab tech's journal -- seems to be a record of some sort of tests. The rest of it appears to be instruments for measuring and cataloging, the sort of tools you would find in any scientist's lab. We've actually already seen quite a few of them."
Jack patted the other man's shoulder. "You'll just have to be happy with those, Danny, and study your pictures, I'm sorry."
Jack got up to go to the phone and order the lab techs to arrange for the return of the artifact to the planet it came from, knowing Daniel would comply eventually, but not trusting the scientist to get it done in a time frame that would make Jack happy. Halfway back to his desk he thought of something. "Daniel, I want you and anyone else who has been in direct contact with that thing to stop by the infirmary and let the Doc check you out. I don't want you catching some alien disease from that alien goo."
Exactly forty-five minutes later, Jack sat in the control room. Walter had consulted with Carter, who had worked out the timing necessary to ensure that the wormhole back to P2T-364 would be stable at the same time that the iris would be open enough to send the basketball back. The offending artifact was sealed in a lab container and strapped to a UAV, positioned to be launched through the iris and the Stargate at precisely the right moment. Even inside its canister, the thing gave off a stench that had cleared everyone out of the gateroom. Even the tech who had been working on a light fixture above the big double doors had abandoned his ladder and escaped. Those who had to be in the control room had donned masks, or were breathing through their mouths to deal with the problem. Hopefully, Jack thought, it will soon be over. Then he was going to requisition every drop of air freshener the Quartermaster had and have every corner of the base fumigated with it.
Walter was making his usual announcement as each chevron engaged. His finger wavered above the launch button for the UAV. The computer had been programmed to launch the vehicle automatically, at the precise moment. But if for some reason it didn't work, Walter would launch it manually and they would all pray it made it through in time. Jack didn't want to think what that Ancient contraption would do if it impacted onto a closed iris. Or worse, if it got stuck just as the iris snapped shut.
"Chevron seven locked!" Walter announced, just as the iris began to slowly open, revealing the smallest kawoosh Jack had ever seen, squeezing its way through the tiny opening. It looked and sounded just as though the Stargate was sticking out its tongue and blowing the entire SGC a big raspberry.
"Jack, I found something!" Daniel rushed into the control room, breathless. "The lab techs discovered that the device is emitting infrared signals, like a remote control. So I went back to the photos and I looked at the writing and it started to make sense."
"Vehicle away!" Walter announced, just as the UAV shot through the iris and through the wormhole, carrying its stinking burden with it. A few seconds after the vehicle disappeared, the wormhole disengaged and the iris snapped shut again.
"Well. It worked." Jack backed his chair away from the console, slapped his knees and stood up, remembering only at the last moment to slow his movements so as not to aggravate his injury. "What were you saying about a remote control, Danny?"
Daniel starred at the Stargate as if he had just lost a good friend. "Actually, it's an automatic dialing device. At least I think so. I believe it's designed to dial gate addresses and record whether a wormhole is engaged. I can only guess that the Ancients used it as a diagnostic device of sorts. A means to systematically check each gate in the system and monitor for any problems or malfunctions. The point is, Jack, it contains a record of every gate address in the entire system. And from what I read, there are thousands more than we ever expected, including some in the Pegasus galaxy and a couple of other galaxies besides. The Ancients traveled much farther than we suspected. I think it was also designed to calculate compensations for stellar drift and relay those to all the DHDs. Look, the farther the distance between gates, the faster stellar drift becomes a problem. So the Ancients, who routinely traveled between galaxies, had to constantly monitor and adjust the entire system. They used this device, and probably several like it stationed on various planets, to keep the entire system in sync. It was probably still in operation when SG-11 removed it. We need to go back to P2T-364 and make sure it's still working."
"And if it isn't, Daniel?" Jack asked, "What do we do, call the local gate repair?"
"If it isn't working, Jack," Daniel responded, "then I think we have to at least try to fix it. It's a vital part of what keeps the system in operation."
"Fine." Jack walked toward the door. "But you said yourself that there are probably several of these. I think the Ancients might have been smart enough to build a level of redundancy into a system that important. I'm sure the other units will keep the system going for a bit. But right now our best gate repairperson is at the Alpha site. When she gets back, assuming we can get the iris fixed, I'll authorize a mission back to P2T-364, in full Hazmat gear, to check up on the thing." Jack pointedly sniffed, pleased to find that the smell was already dissipating. "Speaking of which, any idea what made it smell so nasty?"
"Oh, that. That was probably the stuff that it was oozing. It was designed to operate in high humidity. In our drier environment, it compensated by coating itself with lubricant."
"Uh, sirs?" Walter interrupted, "Have you noticed the iris lately?"
Jack and Daniel turned together to look at the Stargate, which sat peacefully, the iris firmly in place guarding against unwanted visitors.
"It's been about ten minutes, sir." Walter continued, "The iris hasn't budged."
"Uh. Open the iris, Walter." Jack surreptitiously held one hand behind his back and crossed his fingers.
Walter held his hand above the activation plate and slowly lowered it until his palm contacted the glass. The iris slid open, disappearing behind the rim of the gate. And it stayed.
Jack walked back to his chair and sat down, leaning to one side when a twinge of pain reminded him of more mundane issues. "Close it, Walter."
The sergeant lifted his hand from the plate, then lowered it again. The iris reappeared, trinium leaves overlapping each other until the aperture was solidly closed. And it stayed.
"Open it again, Walter."
The iris opened.
"Woo hoo! It's fixed!" Jack jumped out of his chair, slapped Walter on the back and grabbed the sergeant's hand, pumping it up and down. "No more open, close, open, close. It's fixed! We're back in business! Walter, keep testing that iris. Let's make darn sure it's back under our control. If it's still okay in about an hour, call SG-2 and tell 'em to come on home. Then call Teal'c and Carter and tell them the Welcome mat is back out."
Walter's broad grin was the only evidence that he shared Jack's enthusiasm. "Sir, we've got an unscheduled activation right now. It's Colonel Carter's IDC, sir."
"Well then, open the iris." Jack waited as the iris opened and firmly snapped into place behind the gate's rim. "Carter? We've got great news! The iris seems to be working again!"
Jack could almost hear Sam's grin come through the radio static. "That's terrific, sir. Did Siler get back?"
"Nope. It just started to work again. Might have something to do with an Ancient device Lieutenant Menard brought back from P2T-364. Daniel says it's an automatic dialer, like a remote control. Maybe its signal was messing with the iris controls. At any rate, whatever the device was, it was stinking up the place, so we sent it back. And once we did, the iris started working again."
"An Ancient automatic gate dialer? Sounds intriguing, sir. I would have liked to have a chance to look at it." Sam's voice was wistful.
Sometimes Jack wondered which one of his friends acted more like a kid when there was a new toy to play with. "S'ok, Carter. Danny thinks we should go back and check on the thing, see if it's still working. So once you're back, I'm packing you off to make a house call."
"Oh. Well, I'm finished here, sir. And I'm all packed and ready. Is there really any reason I need to wait for Prometheus now?"
"Well, I was going to have Sergeant Harriman test the iris for an hour or so, just to be sure. But it seems to be holding just fine. Sure. Why don't you come on home, Carter."
Jack stood up and waved Daniel back through the door, following him out to the bottom of the ramp. Carter stepped through the event horizon, safe and sound, and walked down to meet them, grinning. As she reached the bottom of the ramp, she sketched a brief salute.
"It's good to have you back, Carter." Jack relieved the colonel of her duffel bag.
"Thank you, sir. It's good to be back. Sounds like you've had quite a day."
"You have no idea, Carter!" Jack turned toward the big double doors that led out to the corridor and looked up. "George! Welcome. Look who just got back."
Carter paused to stand briefly at attention, saluting the newly arriving general who was just walking in.
"At ease," was all George Hammond was able to say. As he passed through the doors, the light fixture above suddenly dropped square on his head.
Jack watched dumbstruck as the general wobbled slightly, his knees buckling. In slow motion, the man crumpled to the ground.
Jack sat uncomfortably on a small chair next to one of the infirmary beds. His predecessor lay blinking groggily, a square bandage adorning the left side of his head. A used ice pack lay off to one side on the pillow.
"Well, Jack. I guess I'm getting a taste of your medicine, here. I can't remember how many times our positions were reversed. You were the one lying in the infirmary and I would come down to see what kind of scrap you'd gotten yourself into." Hammond reached above his head, feeling for the ice pack. Jack reached up and grabbed the blue gel pack and handed it to him.
"How did you do it, George? How did you deal with all the crises and the injuries -- the major disasters and the minor annoyances? How did you manage to keep your cool so well?"
George held the pack to his still throbbing head. "Well, son. If you recall, I didn't *always* keep my cool. I got pretty steamed on more than one occasion. But you just do the best you can and trust the people under you to do their best. And so far, it's all worked itself out ok. I like to believe it generally will."
"Well, this has definitely been one of those days." Jack leaned back in the chair. At least his backside wasn't screaming at every move anymore. "Maybe it was walking under that ladder this morning, but all day, it's been one pain in the mikta -- literally -- after another...."
"...and then the icing on the cake? You walk in the door and get beaned by a light fixture. For an instant I saw myself writing a condolence letter to your kids. I can't tell you how relieved I was when Doc said you'd be okay." Jack took the cup back from Hammond and placed it on the bedside table. "So, I guess that's what you might call Jack's horrible, terrible, no good, very bad day."
"Jack, if that's the worst day you've had so far, you've been pretty damn lucky!"
"Nope. Today wasn't the worst day, George. The *worst* day I've had was the day Sam, Teal'c and Danny went off world and disappeared. You remember Baal? He dropped by, saying he had kidnapped 'em. Wanted me to turn over ol' Camel-Ass in exchange. Only he didn't have 'em at all...."
George Hammond looked to the ceiling, wondering if he had the strength to stay awake through another story.
*~*~* The End *~*~*
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