Jack got out of his staff car, gingerly putting weight on his knees. After he was sure they would keep him upright, he stood fully and started walking to his front door. Thank God for steroids and cortisone shots. Three months on Edora had really done a number on him physically. After the meteor shower, it had been a back-breaking grind to survive. The survivors had harvested what crops remained then replanted what they could. In the meantime, they'd rationed food, and did their best to rebuild the remnants of the village at least well enough to have a roof over their heads. But despite their best efforts, the survivors were faced with the slow erosion of their ability to feed themselves. The brutal truth was that they had been only weeks away from making some tough decisions regarding the fate of the less productive members of their group.
Jack rested his forehead against his front door a moment. It would have been up to him to make the decision of who lived and who died. The close ties of the villagers, despite their differences, prevented them from choosing. Only the outsider, the one who refused to become part of the group, through marriage and family, would have been able to pick those who must be sacrificed.
With a grimace, Jack unlocked his front door, stepping inside. He had been given a great deal of grief over his refusal to become part of their village. Still, Jack had no regrets with his decision not to become involved with Laira or anyone else. He had found her attractive, and if things were different on Earth, he would have gladly taken her as a lover, perhaps even a wife. But the problem was jack just couldn't stop thinking about Joyce. The way her hair framed her face in soft waves. Her infectious smile. The way her eyes lit up when she laughed. Her love and devotion for her daughter.
Jack had made a vow that if there was any way possible, he would get back, no matter how long it took. That it took more than three months didn't matter. He had stayed faithful to Joyce and to Cali. The temptation had been there, especially when Laira had confronted him late one night in minimal clothing, but he had stood strong, resisting the urge to seek comfort.
The first phone call Jack had made three hours ago when he was finally able to contact the outside world was to Joyce. He grinned ruefully as he thought about her reaction.Three hours ago
“Hello, Joyce's Fine Antiques. How may I help you?”
“Yes, I was looking for a bed warmer.” Jack kept his voice low and controlled, wondering if Joyce would recognize it.
The woman's voice remained calm as she replied, “I am sorry, sir, but currently we are out of those. I can probably track one down for you for a small commission if you would like to come by and look through some auction catalogs to see approximately what you'd like.”
“Actually, I can describe her. She's five seven, chestnut hair, sparkling blue eyes, and has the sexiest little-”
The shriek over the phone almost ruptured his ear, but it was worth it to know that Joyce was that excited to hear from him. “Heya, honey girl. How have you been?”
“Oh my God, I can't believe you calling. I've been so worried about you. What happened to you? When did you get back?”
Jack teased, “That's just because I'm such a fine lover. And I just got back. You're my first social call after reams of paperwork.” Uh oh, it sounded like she was crying. “Joyce, are you okay?”
Her sniffle was audible over the phone. “They wouldn't tell me what happened to you. Nothing. Just dead silence. Then finally, they declared you MIA.”
Jack winced. “Sorry about that. I was marooned out in the boonies and they didn't know if I was dead or alive. Obviously, I am alive and was finally found, but it was a pain in the patootie.” He hesitated a moment, but he'd already made the decision during his three months away to be more open about his feelings with the most important people in his life. “I missed you, Joyce.”
He could hear her soft murmur over the line. “I missed you, too. When can I see you?”
“Soon. I need to finish up here, then I really need a good night's sleep in a real bed or I'll be completely useless. Although, I wouldn't say no if you wanted to rub my back tonight. I have some leave coming up, starting tomorrow. I'd love to spend it with you and Cali.”
Jack wondered if he imagined the slight hesitation on Joyce's end before she babbled, “Back rub, huh? Why don't you get the rest you need. I'll come by tomorrow after work. I'll even close early. That way you can sleep in on your first day. After all, I want you rested for my visit. You can expect me around three.”
“Don't forget to wear something sexy.”
Her voice was coy as she cooed, ”I'll have to think of something to wear. I think I might have something lacy I bought a while back.”
Jack smiled at the thought of what Joyce might be wearing soon. “Bye, honey girl.”
So he would be seeing Joyce tomorrow afternoon. Maybe he would wait for her, since she was closing down early. Or he might swing by and surprise her at work with some takeout from her favorite Chinese restaurant. After all, he did want to talk with her about what had happened while he was gone and hopefully get caught up with Cali as well. Jack knew once he got her alone at either of their homes, they wouldn't be talking for several hours.
Tossing his keys in the tray on the end table by the door, jack smiled at the thought of Cali. He couldn't wait to see her and find out how the last three months had gone. Before he'd left for Edora, he'd been fighting the idea of Cali being his. His heart knew, but his head doubted the truth. Cali was his. His surrogate daughter. There. He'd thought it again. Every time Jack thought it, the idea became easier to accept. But over the past three months, Jack had done a lot of thinking. About his life and what was important. And Cali and Joyce were the two most important things in his life. Life was too damn important to waste it not doing the things that made you happy. And being with Joyce and Cali made him happier than he'd been in far too long.
Jack suddenly froze. Something was wrong. He moved away from the center of the hallway to put his back against a wall. Slowly he sidled towards the living room. He took in the peaceful scene a moment before stepping inside. That's when he saw the shadowy form of a person sitting in his recliner. The person reached up and turned on the lamp next to him, lighting his face. Harry Maybourne's face. With a sardonic smirk, Maybourne snarked, “Welcome home, Jack.”
Harry smiled with amusement as he saw Jack's face wipe clear of all expression as he stared back at Harry. Good poker player, he thought, although the complete lack of expression might be as good as any other tell in letting the other person know what cards you're holding. For instance, Harry knew that Jack was thinking why the hell he was here in his house as well as what could he possibly want.
Jack's slowly smiled, no trace of humor entering his eyes, which remained cold as ice. “What do you want, Maybourne?”
“Jack, Jack, Jack. Is that any way to treat an old friend? Where's the hospitality?”
Jack gestured to the open bottle of Heineken sitting at Harry's elbow which had been revealed by the lamp's light. “Appears to me that you have all the hospitality you need. Now get out.”
Harry shook his head, a doleful expression on his face. “Jack, you should be nicer to someone who is here to do you a favor. I mean, I could have gone to someone else with this offer, but instead, I came to you.”
“Of course you are. Now this is what I can do for you. My... associates and I are interested in protecting the Earth from hostile alien forces. In order to do so, we need access to alien technology. Now we understand that many of these aliens are loath to part with their technology, but luckily, we have a plan to deal with that issue.”
Jack's eyes, if anything, grew even colder as his expression stayed grew grim. “I have no interest in alienating any of the cultures we have met, Maybourne. We need aliies a lot more than we need toys. Besides, the SGC controls the Stargate. Without that, you're not going anywhere or getting anything.”
Harry stopped smiling, letting his own expression mirroring Jack's. Getting up, he paced back and forth in front of the chair. “No alien scum is going to be willing to bleed for us. Die for us. Not like how we have done for them. With a fraction of the technology of say the Tollan, we could end the war with the Goa'uld in months. The way it's going, we'll be lucky if our children see the end to this war in their lifetime. That's assuming any of us are even alive by then. We need weapons and technology, and we need them now.”
“Let's just agree to disagree.”
Harry continued as if Jack hadn't spoken. “I am putting a team together to 'liberate' technology from anyone possessing it. I want you to head that team. And don't worry, I have a way around the Stargate.”
In his head, Harry laughed with glee at the expression on Jack's face. Despite Jack's stoic expression, he could see that jack was trying to figure out Harry's angle in all this. Now to put in the clincher.
Jack shook his head. “The answer is no. Now get lost.”
“Jack, you don't want to say no to this. If you do...” Harry shrugged eloquently.
Jack's expression grew contemptuous. “You don't exactly scare me, Maybourne. I mean, what are you going to do? Threaten me? Yours can join the heap of bodies of those that have threatened me in the past.”
“Threaten you, Jack? Now why would I do that? I mean, you're a legend. Tortured by the Iraqui's, but you never gave up a thing. There are much easier targets out there than you, Jack.”
Jack's expression grew murderous. Harry felt the first stirrings of trepidation as Jack growled, “Stay away from my team.”
Despite any misgivings he might have, Harry knew he had to set the hook. “I'm not talking about your team, Jack. They're
protected by General Hammond, who has the ear of the President. But you have other... vulnerabilities these days, don't you? I mean, you're dating a wonderful woman. How is Joyce these days, anyway? I know you just called and spoke to her. Hopefully, she's doing well. How about Buffy? Or do you prefer Cali? Have you heard from Cali, lately? Because all kinds of things could happen to a young woman at the mercy of the vagaries of a system like the US Military.”
A strange expression crossed Jack's face. “Harry, what did you do?”
Gotcha! Harry thought gleefully. He grinned broadly as he said, “If you want to see Cali again, you're going to have to play ball, Jack. Get my drift? Because you never know what might happen to someone as pretty as...urk!”
Harry felt himself falling, as Jack's fist hammered him in the jaw. He reached for his gun, but as he drew it, Jack kicked it out of his hand. The next kick took Harry in the stomach. Staring up at Jack, Harry saw the look of homicidal rage on Jack's face. Instantly he dove for the gun. As Harry closed his fingers on the grips, Jack stomped Harry's hand. Harry could feel his fingers break as Jack crushed Harry's hand under his combat boot, the sensation as broken bones moved against each other completely agonizing. Jack's gone insane, Harry thought frantically, trying to shield himself from the onslaught. He managed to duck away from another driving kick, cradling his broken hand protectively, but took the next one to the temple as bright points of light exploded in front of his eyes, obscuring his vision.
Jack became aware of a roaring in his ears. Distracted, he stopped the rhythmic movement of his foot kicking forward. The roar slowly faded and Jack became aware of other noises. His breath whistling in and out of his lungs as he panted. The chiming of the clock over the mantel striking 1600 hours. And the harsh grating sobs of pain from the person who lay on the ground at his feet. The person who he'd been kicking over and over as they lay helpless at his feet.
Jack reached down and grabbed Maybourne under his arms, dragging him over to the chair that he had recently vacated. He tossed Maybourne's dead weight into the chair, his head lolling back as he half sat, half lay on the chair, semi-conscious. Jack walked to the kitchen, stopping to pick up Maybourne's gun, tucking it behind his back into the waistband of his pants. Grabbing a glass from the kitchen cabinet, Jack calmly filled it with ice, then water.
Jack slowly drank down the glass of ice water, savoring the cold crispness of the snow melt water. None of the water he'd drank on Edora had been cold or particularly clean. He enjoyed every last drop. After finishing it, Jack refilled the glass with the same mixture of ice and water.
Walking back into the living room, Jack stopped directly in front of Maybourne. Dispassionately, he noted the obvious broken nose, the black eye that was already swelling shut, the various cuts and bruises. Almost casually, he tossed the glass of ice cold liquid directly into Maybourne's face.
Sputtering, Harry came awake, his face stinging from something cold and wet. Something was wrong with his vision, and it took a moment to figure out that his left eye was swollen closed. Through his right eye, he could see Jack standing directly in front of him. Suppressing the fear that rose within him, Harry managed to rasp out, “You are in so much trouble, colonel.”
In response, Jack reached behind him and drew a gun, Harry's gun, from the waistband of his pants. Deliberately, he pulled back the slide and chambered a round. With a click, he switched off the safety. Harry blustered, “You'd better put that gun away! Or you'll be spending the rest of your life in Leavenworth.”
Harry flinched as Jack surged forward, driving a knee into his chest. Batting away Harry's arms, Jack drove the barrel of the gun into Harry's mouth, cutting his gum and chipping a tooth. The snarl on Jack's face was almost animalistic as he rasped, “Where is she?”
Harry tried to say that he didn't know, but it came out, “Ooo duuunt ew.” Frantically, he tried to watch both Jack's eyes and his trigger finger. He could see Jack's finger actually tighten on the trigger, and was resigning himself to death, when Jack pulled the gun from his mouth. Almost gratefully he looked up, only to freeze at the look in Jack's eyes.
“You have one chance to tell me. Then I spatter your brains all over my chair and get Carter to do the looking.”
Harry didn't doubt for a second that Jack was serious. Still, he if he didn't try to obfuscate the issue, he wouldn't be Harry Maybourne. “Jack, we can talk about this-”
BAM! The gunshot rang out, the chair next to Harry's head exploding. Instantly, Harry decided that he preferred to live. Quickly he blurted out, “It was McNamara. He's in charge of some black ops outfit called the Initiative out in California. Sunnydale, California. It's NID funded. He must have arranged to have orders cut for her to go out there. I think he's insane, Jack. They're supposedly investigating something they call HST's. Hostile Subterrestials. Storybook monsters. Guy is five beers short of a six pack.” Harry knew he was babbling, but he didn't care. He'd nearly wet himself when the bullet had impacted so close to his head. He had no doubts that the next one would hit right between the eyes. Jack looked that pissed.
Jack leaned in closer. “Where in Sunnydale?”
Harry waffled, thinking that he might be able to still get something, even though he had the feeling it was a mistake by the slight narrowing of Jack's eyes. “Ahh, well, I'm not sure...”
“Goddammit! You hit my nose again! It was already broken and you hit it again. You could kill me doing that!” Biting back a groan, Harry held his nose protectively, grimacing in pain as seemed to throb in time with his hand.
Jack nodded in agreement. “I know. I also know you well enough to know that if you checked Colonel McNamara's posting deeply enough to find out about Sunnydale, then you found out a lot more than that. You could probably tell me the passcode to his personal workstation inside the Initiative. I want the exact location of the Initiative.”
Harry felt oddly flattered at Jack's description which was an strange feeling when coupled with his fear. While he didn't know that
much about McNamara, Jack's description was
mostly apt. He definitely did know the street address of the cover the Initiative was using. Harry answered, “They're using a frat house as a cover. It's 2235 Westing Lane in Sunnydale. There's some type of lab complex underneath. I'm not sure how big. My source didn't have access to the plans.”
“Frat house, huh?”
Harry nodded quickly. “Cover for lots of fit young men.”
Jack reset the safety of Harry's pistol and placed it back into the waistband of his pants at the small of his back. With a quick gesture, he said, “Get out.”
Harry started, “Jack-”
“Zip it, Maybourne. And take this to heart. No more Mr. Nice Guy. You mess with any of us, my team, or my ladies, and I'll bury you. No warnings. No mercy. Tell that to your masters. I may go down for it, but it won't matter to you where you'll be.”
Chastened, Harry nodded quickly and gingerly got up, his body protesting the move. Like an old man, he made his way to the door, glancing back only once. Harry caught a look of satisfaction on Jack's face, before the mask descended back into place. Shivering in dread, he left, determined that he would be ending his involvement in the SGC's business. It wasn't worth this amount of shit.
Jack grabbed his duffle and began packing. All of the basics went in, including mostly civilian clothes in order to blend in. His earlier fatigue was forgotten. Energy was coursing through his veins. He had a mission. He was going back up to the Mountain. He was going to get his team together as well as obtain General Hammond's support. Then he was going to wage war, destroying his enemy. Even if it took the full resources of the SGC to do so. After all of the times he had helped save the world, the world owed him. And he was about to collect in triplicate. God help the ones whom he was coming for, for no one else would.
“Hey, guys? Guys? Someone? What's going on? Let me out!” Cadet Summers' plaintive cries pursued Forrest and Graham as they swiftly walked away from the cell they had just tricked her into entering, locking the door behind her.
Graham glanced at Forrest. “You shouldn't have left her duffle in there. Walsh finds out, you are going to be in it.”
Forrest didn't give a shit what Maggie Walsh found out or would do if she did. Ignoring Graham's comment, he asked, “Do you think we're doing the right thing?”
“Are you talking about hiding her in the back test cells or about giving her bag?”
Forrest shook his head. “Should we have just let her go? Sent her on back where she came from? The Colonel's dead and he was the one with a hard on for Summers.”
“We did what we needed to do. With what's going on with Cain, Walsh isn't going to be thinking about Summers. Finn's got far too much on his plate. I'm surprised he even remembered to have her picked up. I don't think he would have, if it wasn't for that computer memo that kept popping up on the Colonel's monitor.”
Forrest nodded. “Yeah, that was odd. I just don't know I'm doing the right thing.”
Graham's eyes were oddly sympathetic as he responded, “You're doing the best you can. Hell, I support you. We're both running the same risks here. You're only nominally in charge so if you go down, I go down. The girl's safe. You covered everything that can be covered. Unless something completely nuts happens, we're going to be okay.”
Forrest sent Graham a shaky grin. “You know what Kennedy would say about talking about what might happen?”
“Yeah, yeah. She'd say it would happen. But really, what are the odds?”
Buffy paced the eight by eight cell she was in. As accommodations went, she'd had better. Of course, the summer she'd been in LA, she'd spent at least one night on a park bench before she found a place she could afford. But at least that had allowed freedom of movement.
Tentatively she touched the clear plastic-looking material in front of her. Ouch! Okay, that had stung. There were a few hundred volts traveling through the material, probably conducted by the tiny wires she could just barely see. Not enough to truly hurt her, but it would make getting through the door unpleasant.
Buffy abruptly grinned as she recalled how Gates and Miller had walked her through the woods to get here. She wasn't sure if they thought she was just that clueless or they didn't care that if she figured out that there was no way this was an alternative route in Shepherd Arms Depot. If they thought she was a brainless bimbo, that wasn't necessarily a bad thing. Buffy had been underestimated before and she was the one who was still here, alive, when all her enemies were dust and worm-food.
Buffy had followed the two men through an official looking heavy door into an what appeared to be an older building. Apart from the lack of windows, you couldn't even tell you were underground. After shutting the door behind them, they had only gone twenty or so feet in when Forrest had suggest Buffy leave her duffle in the small room to their right, while they check in. It had been odd, but Buffy gone in as if she didn't suspect a thing. The door had closed right behind her, trapping her inside.
Buffy hadn't wasted a moment before asking what was going on and for them to let her out. Both men had identical guilty looks as they rapidly walked away, shoulders hunching slightly as if they could physically feel Buffy's cries turn panic-stricken behind them. Buffy congratulated herself on being such a good actor. She had come a long way since the days of the talent show sophomore year. She had definitely been convincing as a damsel in distress.
Of course, now she was bored. Buffy had nothing to do and hadn't even brought any reading material with her since the last thing she'd expected to do was have to sit in a room and wait. She knew she should have gone ahead and kept one of those magazines about bow hunting. Oh, well. Trying to make the best of things, Buffy turned her duffle on its side and used it as a chair, sitting down and leaning against the wall. Hopefully, they wouldn't wait too long before bringing her dinner. Come to think of it, maybe she shouldn't have pulled such a guilt trip if it kept them (and dinner) away longer.
Buffy closed her eyes, letting her senses roam the world outside her cell. She could actually sense vampires off to the west of her, which unless they were just the other side of the wall, probably meant there were a lot. She could also sense something...
“Whoah!“ Abruptly, Buffy opened her eyes and leaped to her feet, the feeling of intense danger making it impossible to sit still. Where just a moment before she had been alone, now there was something
on the other side of the door. Staring up at the large intimidating demon that in turn, was staring down at her from it's side of the door, Buffy felt a sinking feeling in her stomach as she recognized it.
“Cadet Summers? Let me introduce myself. I am Cain. I'll be the one killing you today.”