Chapter 8: Variety Optional
See Chapt. 1 for disclaimers, warnings, timelines
Once again…… thanks very much for the many and interesting comments, reviews and questions, keep’em comin'. I hope you will forgive me for treating most of the questions, comments as rhetorical and not answering individually, but I think any substantive response would, whether by commission or omission, tip my hand farther than I want to just yet.
Secrets: A Father Goose Tale
A BTVS-SG1 Crossover
Chapter 8: Variety Optional
Barcelona, Spain, Late June 2007
Willow trotted obediently along, trying to keep up with Shad as she strode back and forth and up and down the dark back alleys of the old town district, staring at the walls and muttering to herself.
They had taken a couple days in England to get used to the bikes and work the kinks out of the packing arrangements, then taken the weird ride through the chunnel, and a leisurely, back roads path across France, stopping when they felt like it, eating well, learning to cut back a bit on the wine. Shad was wide-eyed and curious and wholly flexible as to the route.
But now that they had reached Barcelona she had turned purposeful. They left the bikes chained up outside the pension,
with, of course, a little extra magical protection.
Shad had simply waved at Willow to follow, and started off, first to Las Ramblas and then toward the sea …. Then down a side street that apparently hadn’t led where Shad had thought it would. And now, clearly, they were lost. Well, Willow was in no hurry.
And then suddenly Shad was sprinting away at slayer speed and Willow let her go. She stopped to buy a falafel at a rather popular back alley storefront, then walked away and let her senses reach out….
She found the tall Somali girl four blocks away. A hapless vampire, toes dragging on the cobbled street, hung limply from one upraised fist. He was pointing frantically and jabbering instructions in rapid Spanish, the words, Willow assumed, a wasted effort as Shad had never indicated she spoke any more than a few Spanish phrases. Finally the vamp was pointing upwards at some faded carvings on dirty rock wall. Shad stood staring, seemingly lost in thought, then with an idle flick of the wrist she dusted her guide, stepped back and took a moment as if to mark the spot, then turned… and saw Willow and smiled with pleased surprise, apparently she had thought she was going to have to go find her.
She waved for Willow to follow, then trotted along to the next corner and turned, when Willow rounded the corner herself she found Shad beating an odd tattoo on a huge wooden door. After a brief wait the door slid open.
“Come,” Shad said and motioned for Willow to follow her inside. In the weak spray of light from a distant streetlamp Willow could see strange symbols above the door, she did a quick translation spell and for a moment, and for her eyes alone the words glowed, “Church of the Left-Handed Serpent.”
“Come!” Shad repeated, and Willow acquiesced, they started walking down a long winding flight of well-worn stone stairs, below Willow could smell a dank, salt-water quality to the air, and began to hear the distant beating of drums.
Stargate Command, Colorado, O800 Monday, October, 2007
Samantha Carter straightened the reports on the table in front of her and sat waiting for General Hammond to join them in the conference room, vaguely wishing for a cup of coffee.
She had gone home on Sunday to sleep for at least eight hours, as ordered. She had taken the pills Janet had given her and set the alarm and eight hours and twenty minutes later she was freshly showered and on the road back to the base.
She had spent some more time trying to trace the various servers in the vampire game, but whenever she got close she would find herself re-directed… no, not re-directed, transported like…. She refused to use the word magic.
It was as if there were …wormholes in the internet. Hidden traps that she would fall through.
It couldn’t be random. Far too often she ended up either in some high security system… government, military, major corporations, banks… that left her scrambling to escape before she was discovered and had to start explaining the rather large number of felonies she was racking up, or in the most perverted pornographic … Sam was learning you didn’t need to leave the planet to find the really strange …
In addition, sometimes she found herself transported to entryway sites to various philosophy/religions, Taoist, Buddhist, Wiccan …or there were general, if perhaps a little pointed, essays on achieving inner peace or respecting privacy rights, she found herself perusing the works of Tom Paine once, another time Henry David Thoreau.
She refused to accept the idea that the system was unbeatable, but recognized she would need a brainstorm of some sort first. She tried some other tacks, she laid out a map and started marking her exact locations when she was transported. It worked to some extent, she learned that London and Rome were major hands off areas, but she couldn’t narrow it down any farther than that and the game had pretty much told her that much in the FAQ.
Teal’c came into the room, greeted Sam with a nod and took his usual seat, Dr. Fraiser came in shortly after, followed by Jack who took a look around and left again, presumably to find Daniel.
She had tried playing the game, quickly getting the hang of the mechanics of the movements she at first spent her time searching through the various virtual landscapes, trying to find some sort of back door, a signature, any sort of programmer’s show-off notion that might give her a clue. But she only managed to get her avatar ‘killed’ over and over by the monsters that seemed to lurk in every doorway or at the top of every stair.….. she’d consulted with Daniel who’d explained, briefly, that the purpose of the game was to be found in the interaction with the other players. She tried again, resetting her avatar so she was visible to others... but her text conversatons with the other avatars on the screen were awkward, her newbie status clearly recognizable, some quickly dismissing her as a tourist, several times she was given the Watcher’s 800 number and told to call them if she really needed information urgently.
A player calling him or herself “Vampsmacker Z” took pity on her and explained how she could work her way up from potential to slayer to senior slayer, how she could pick up various special skills by performing virtual katas, beating obstacle courses, and/or answering quizzes on the properties of various demons. This was a concept she could understand and she put a little time into building up her avatar’s “powers” and “skills” and was rewarded when a friendly, more or less like-minded group invited her along on what they called a “romp and stomp.”
For nearly an hour she was busy guiding her avatar through the back streets of Prague, engaging in virtual duels with vampires and other things to, along with four other survivors, reach a castle tower and rescue an ungrateful princess (Geez, took you guys long enough.)
“Now what?” Sam asked.
“Now we party,” she was answered. An address for an all-night bakery in Boulder appeared on her screen. As parties go, Sam guessed, it wasn’t going to be Tailhook. And apparently the players didn’t feel any real need to maintain their anonymity in any meaningful way.
“But isn’t there another level or something? Some reward for rescuing the princess?” she asked
“Its not that kind of game,” she was told. “See you next time.”
“I don’t think so,” Sam said aloud, checking her watch and realizing just how much time she had just wasted getting absolutely nowhere.
She forced herself to take a break and got a sandwich and coffee from the cafeteria. Her mind a little clearer she had spent a little time tracing the money. To a bank in Panama and a dead end. The funds were regularly withdrawn in cash, presumably walked across the hall to another bank and sent off elsewhere. A possible weak spot, but any further exploration would require on the ground surveillance in a foreign country. The next move was up to Hammond.
She spent a bit more time searching the SGC records for aliens with regenerative powers, there were the Nox of course, and the goa’uld sarcophagi, and a couple other species they’d come across that had the ability to replace lost limbs, others with advanced medical techniques, and of course the Asgard cloning system. But nothing that seemed to apply to the Werner situation.
By then it was time to get her report in order and printed and that’s when she came across the banana memo.
Jack and Daniel came in then, Daniel, his hands full of note books, looking like he’d made even more of a brief sleep-and-return than she had. Hammond followed moments later, taking his usual seat and shuffling a handful of report folders.
“I don’t seem to have your report yet, Colonel,” he said.
“Working on it, sir. Dotting the t’s, crossing the i’s.“
“It’s not that you’re a little reluctant to go on record as having had a meeting with two young ladies, who, according to a little birdie, may not actually have been there?”
“Oh, they were there, sir. I’m just not entirely sure they’re young ladies. They are liars sir. Good ones. They denied knowing Werner, and when they saw I had proof that they did know him they went right into another lie that not only explained how they knew him, it explained the first lie. They’re either really quick, or they were ready for us. But they know something about Werner, sir, stake my pension on it.”
“Well, then they’re ahead of us. Dr. Fraiser?”
“Yes, sir. I reviewed his medical file, he had his last check-up a little over a week ago, after his return from PXJ-585. Everything checked out normal, as did all the other members of SG19. As you requested, SG19 came in yesterday, I’m still waiting on some lab results but I could find nothing abnormal. They said that, other than being a bit more subdued than usual since his divorce there was nothing unusual about the Captain that they’d noticed. None of them can believe he would do anything to hurt the program sir. The stargate was his life, they say.”
“You did check on the ex, Jack?”
“Yes, sir. She seemed.. terribly frightened by something, sir. But Talbert said she was pretty stoned when he searched the house, so she might have been worried about being arrested on drug charges. We are maintaining surveillance, as we are on the other two … ladies.”
“Dr. Jackson, how are you doing. Any progress?”
“I’m now a full-fledged Watcher with level one spell-casting powers, and blue belt status for both cross bow and staff… And I’ve got three slayers.”
“That’s very good, Daniel,” Jack said. “How many of them are you engaged to?”
“None, though I did receive a rather intriguing offer.”
“Did it happen to involve anything of possible relevance, say, Goa’uld sightings?”
“The offer, no, but yes, actually I did gather some information there. The existing information has been updated, rather accurately, I might add. They have correct information about the Jaffa, symbiote relationship. And the manner and nature of the mature Goa’uld taking over a host, including an estimate of the distance a mature goa’uld can travel outside a host that matches our own. There’s also information about the glowing eyes and the increased strength and the hand devices…
“In other words, everything.”
“Everything except their extra-terrestrial origin, actually, yes, although that’s pretty strongly implied. There’s a note…” he flipped the pages of his pad… “Ah yes, there’s a note thanking ‘Jade Penguin’ of the Beijing game for the additional information.
“What?!” Hammond said.
“There’s also a bit of buzz about them in the various chatrooms, a number of possible sightings from all over,“ he checked a list in one of his notebooks, “Miami, Houston, Atlanta, Managua, Caracas, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Jamaica, Lisbon, Barcelona, Munich, Budapest, Ankara, Taiwan, Nairobi, Shanghai, Khartoum, Tripoli, Casablanca, Dakar, Capetown, Harare …. Of course, almost all of these are just reports of guys with glowing eyes which could be any number of things, mostly reflective sunglasses I expect. There is some talk about some small time cults whose leaders have rather Jaffa-like bodyguards. I know what this implies, but it is awful hard to separate fantasy from reality in this game…”
“Oh, really… “ Jack said, but Sam thought his sarcasm lack a little of its usual …sincerity.
“Well, keep checking, Dr. Jackson. See if you can’t find any specific sightings we can disprove or verify. It all seems very unlikely but if there is any truth to it we can’t afford not to investigate. Major Carter, I’ve read your report, what I can understand of it anyway. Looks like a lot of hard work….”
“Getting me nowhere. Yes, sir. There is one thing I need to add. I trust you didn’t write this, sir?”
She slid a piece of paper across the table and watched the General’s brow furrow as he read aloud, “All personnel regardless of rank or function will obtain and carry at all times, concealed about their person; one ripe unpeeled banana, and two ripe grapes, variety optional….”
“I can assure you, Major, I did not write this.”
“Of course not, sir. Nevertheless as you can see it is clearly marked as coming from your office with your signature…..”
“This hasn’t actually gone out, has it?”
“No, sir. I only have it because I noticed it in the printing queue and marked as urgent
so I downloaded a copy just to see what the urgency was. Once I saw what it was I went back to trace the file sir, and it was gone, and I’ve been able to find no trace of it on the system. If I didn’t have the downloaded copy I would have had to conclude it was a figment of my imagination.“
“Exactly. I believe I am familiar with all the people on this base with the skills to… misuse the system in that manner, I cannot imagine any of them having the desire, or, frankly, sir, the courage to do this. I can only conclude that our system has been compromised. I think they intended to play a joke and thought better of it.”
Hammond reached for the phone, “I’ll have all internet access to the base disconnected immediately….”
“Sir, before you do that… First, I suspect it’s too late. I have been noticing tiny fluctuations in energy levels, the slightest of hesitation in accessing some files, all well within normal parameters, nothing out of the ordinary, but in hindsight… The one advantage we may have is that they may not know we know they’re there…”
“Say again…. No, don’t, really, I get the idea,” Jack said.
“If we shut down we signal that we’ve discovered them. And since I have no idea how they beat our firewalls the only way to keep the base secure would be for the entire complex to stay off the grid indefinitely. However, if we maintain normal operations we can perhaps sow a certain amount of disinformation, and perhaps they will make another mistake that will allow us to determine their identity.”
“I don’t know, Major.”
“I do think we should keep any additional information gathered in this investigation offline….”
“So you’re saying it’s a good
thing I haven’t finished my report?” Jack said.
“Colonel…” Hammond said.
“Just wanted to … get that out there. Food for thought,” Jack added.
“Yes, sir,” Sam said. “It is a good thing. Because now we can fabricate an entire new report. I suggest that we record that there has been a reported sighting of Captain Werner in Salt Lake that we are concentrating our investigation that area.”
“When you say we,
Carter…” Jack started.
“I mean mostly you, sir. I don’t feel competent to convincingly recreate your… unique style.”
“She’s got you there, Jack,” Hammond said with a smile.
“Sir, I don’t suppose there’s any important missions that might require SG1 to go offworld for a couple months… no, I didn’t think so.” Jack said.
“I just hope you’re right, Major,” Hammond said, turning back to Sam, “If it turns out we had reason to believe the system was compromised and didn’t shut it down … and there was a subsequent breach…. We’ll both be lucky if we can just retire. Okay, I want an update and I want that false report ready for upload and a detailed plan of action at 1200 hours. Until this situation is fully resolved, this is
your one and only mission, SG1. Dismissed. “
Slayer House, Denver, Nine-ish Monday Morning October 2007
“Ouch, easy there, hop-a-long.”
“I thought you liked me sitting in your lap.”
“For breakfast? Fresh pizza?”
“Love it, normally. When you’re in a cast, not so much.”
“Yeah, this is the good stuff, fresh from Rome.”
“We could take it off.”
“That’s my shirt!”
“Yeah, Dawn sent it along with a bunch of files an stuff.”
“No it’s not!”
“Yes, it is!”
“Nice try. Tomorrow. Quit your bitchin’. Most people with a break like that would be in that cast for weeks.”
“It’s better while it’s hot.”
“Look see, it’s my shirt, right there on the label. Renee.
“Just cause you’re pissed at Giles don’t take it out on me.”
“Well, you have to get rid of it then, cause I have one just like it.”
“Oh, is this the alien? Gross!”
“Why should I get rid of my shirt? Get rid of yours.”
“What? Jeez, Jen, you don’t have to yell, we were just…”
“Shut it. No, stop that. Pizza after
“It’ll get cold.”
“Then shut up and we’ll get done quicker.”
“Geez. Grouchy much?”
“Okay then,” Jennifer Redwolf said. “See this? Red folder? This is the basic stuff about the aliens and the stargate that Dawn and Andrew found out. You will all read it today before noon. There’s some more stuff here you can read if you want, but this you need to know. Got it …. Good. Tonight, Colorado Springs, we’re leaving at four-thirty…
“How come so early…”
“Traffic and I want to get there in time to scout the town. Marisol and Renee, you two are on war chest duty, lots and lots of stakes, could be a big night. Jun, you’re on the first aid kits. Sassa and I will prep sandwiches and so on, you’re on your own for lunch today. I want everything in the front room and ready to go by four. Dress warm and bring a change. Vamp said there might be as many as fifty targets, we may have to stay over and finish it tomorrow if they scatter… Questions?”
“Is Xander coming?”
“Did Xander mean all those thing he said to Giles last night?”
“No,” Xander said. “We just had a little disagreement. Just cause you guys can hear a gnat fart on the next block doesn’t mean you have to listen to everything you hear. Sorry, Jen, all yours.”
“”S’okay. Any other questions?”
“Do gnats really fart?”
“Okay, here, Sassa, if you would, warm pizza from Rome, for fighting over, take it in the TV room.”
“Don’t worry, Faith, she sent four. I hid a couple in the kitchen. I’m not a complete
“So, looks like we’ve got some reading to do.”
Slayer House, Denver, Monday Afternoon October 2007
“What I want to know is why this stargate thing couldn’t be run by a secret cabal of science fiction writers,” Xander whined into the phone. “Or typing monkeys. Have you read these reports, Dawnie? My god these people would describe a naked woman skiing down a mountain trying to outrun an avalanche as humanoid, app fem, non-standard attire, proc. in a downward dir. Rate max given gravitational pull, less friction. Apparent object. Reach level area prior to fatal interaction with mountain specific geographic phenomenon type 4: snow, subtype b-sliding. Prognosis: undetermined.
My head hurts.”
“Tell me about it,” Dawn replied. “I just sent you the good stuff. SG1 on a new planet. Riveting. You should read one of SG-19’s damn mineral resource assessments.”
“Yeah, I guess. This guy O’Neill’s reports aren’t so bad. It’s like he’s a human being and everything. And Dr. Jacksons’ are okay even if he does go on forever about declensions and suchlike. Thanks for the pizzas by the way. The girls say thanks too. Or they would if they thought of things like that. Look, I know you must be tired, I’ll cut to the chase … Jen and the girls are about to head down to Colorado Springs, under the circs the timing seems a little on the hinky side.”
“Yeah, we’ve been kinda watching that. They’re kinda freaked by this Captain Werner who seems to have been turned. But your vamp did call cause there were a bunch of new teeth in town that weren’t being so discreet, right? Might not be that big a coincidence. Anyway, seems like they got a report of him in Salt Lake. Sounds bogus to me, but they seem to be taking it seriously. But no, we haven’t seen any “Things to do: Set trap for slayers” plans passing through Hammond’s office.”
“Okay, good. And no more banana apparel bulletins? Dawnie?”
“You guys are no fun.” Long, sad sigh.
“Thanks Dawn. Get some sleep.”
He rubbed his eye, stared moment down that stack of files he’d been reading. Flipped though some of the pictures. Other planets. Alien worlds. Still didn’t quite seem real. Anti-climactic, somehow. He could hear the girls’ voices in the front room, he took a breath. He went out, gave each of the girls a hug and a go get’em.
He pulled Renee aside, told her was counting her taking care of Jennifer, she pretended to be insulted,
Xander,” she said, then gave him another hug and bounced away.
He pulled Jennifer aside.
“You’re doing great, I’ve got every confidence you can handle this whole deal. But don’t hold out just to prove it, okay? Hit the emergency button, Faith and I will be there immediately. Don’t forget to check in, miss a check in and we’ll be there too. Thiago and the back-up team in Cleveland will be on stand-by. Even if this vamp is sincere, she may have underestimated the bad guys. Remember rule one. …. And keep an eye out for wacky military types hanging around, they get in the way they’re liable to get themselves killed. So lets try to keep them out of it if we can, okay? Call the vamp and reschedule if you think you need to. Be safe.”
He went back to the files. Ten minutes after the girls left Faith appeared in doorway wearing her cast. And a smile.
Colorado Springs, Colorado, Monday Evening October 2007
“So,” Leticia said, smoothing the skirt of her gray suit. “What do you think? Proper attire for meeting with a slayer?”
“I’m inclined more toward a kevlar breastplate and matching collar, but you look fine, Letty. Very civilized. You too, Captain…”
“Right, sorry. Ben.
Every inch the urban cowboy, but that’s mostly what’s left these days.”
They’d put him in cowboy boots and jeans, snap-pocket shirt, sheepskin coat and borrowed one of Jesus battered hats. They’d dyed his hair blonde and darkened his face a bit and stippled his chin a little to enhance the faint beginnings of a beard. A few careful lines changed the shape of his eyes if you didn’t look too close.
“Okay, hon,” Leticia said, “as long as we don’t run directly into someone who knows you well, we should be good.”
“Not likely to be anyone I know at the Sweet’n’Hot,” Werner said.
“Okay. Now you remember. She may not look like much, but slayers are strong and fast and would just as soon dust you as look at you. They’re going to probably push you a little, make sure you really can control yourself under stress. Just be cool. Be your own calm self and you’ll be fine. Wish I could say the same for me.”
“Don’t start that Letty. It’s going to be fine. We’re gonna hold up our end of the deal and everybody says that ever since this Giles took over, the council’s word is good. It’s all going to be fine.”
“Well, let’s go then.”
Stargate Command, Colorado, Monday Evening October 2007
Jack was just settling down to a nice hamburger avec des pommes frites et le jello bleu
in the cafeteria when his cell rang.
“Colonel, you left orders to be notified if the two women left the ranch.”
“They’re on the move now, sir, they seem to be heading into town. We’re following but staying back sir.”
“Okay. Stay with them, try not to be seen but I’d rather they see you than we lose them, understood?”
He dialed out, “Carter, get Daniel and grab your gear meet me up top. I’ll get Teal’c . We’re goin’ to town.” -30-