Title: Mourning After
Disclaimer: Don't own Buffy or Stargate, and will make no money off of this fic.
"We have Nights for Thursday. All the 'Dalers are gathering for the remembrance."
"I'll see you there then." The woman turned to leave, and almost ran into Sam as she walked into the room.
"I'm sorry," Samantha Carter smiled apologetically. "I don't mean to eavesdrop but are you having a wake for Sgt. Linstrom? I'd like to attend if you don't mind. I feel I owe it to him, since he-" Sam paused, brushing back her hair nervously, "he died extracting my team, so- I mean. . ."
Corporal Matthew Jennings and Private First Class Linda Harkrider exchanged glances. After a moment of silent conversation, Jennings spoke up. "Normally, we only invite 'Dalers, but, w-well. . ." The kid actually blushed as he stammered.
His female companion came to his rescue. "We'd be honored to have SG-1 with us, I mean, you- you're legendary, and Linstrom would have. . . He would have wanted you to come."'
Sam nodded, and stood aside to let the two egress from the cafeteria, falling into step alongside them as they walked. "So, um, what do you mean by that term, um, was it 'Dalers?"
Two exchanged a meaningful glance again. Sam noted with some amusement that the two wore vaguely guilty expressions. "We're from Sunnydale, California, ma'am," Jennings explained. "There's a lot of us here, at the SGC I mean, about twenty, and we tend to, well, look after each other. It's a custom of sorts. 'Dalers, we look out for each other, ever since Graduation '99 anyway, that's been our way."
The answer only made Sam more confused, and she hated not understanding anything. Seeing that the nervous corporal mean to say no more, she turned to the private. "So, the class of '99? Academy?"
"Uh, no ma'am," Harkrider said nervously, somehow finding a place to shoot Jennings and angry glare as she tried to explain. "It refers to the Sunnydale High School class of '99. That’s where the, uh, custom began. Us Sunnydale folk, we get recruited a lot, you know, for any government project or job or agency that needs open minds and closed mouths. The SGC, NID, NRA, NSA- anything. And it can get tough in this kind of work, so we stick together and take care of each other. I'm sure this sounds rather strange-"
Sam was genuinely hooked now. This was interesting. "So why is your town such a recruiting ground?" She didn't even need to look to know another silent exchange would follow. Not that that kept her from watching, and enjoying the enlisted personnel squirm a little.
"Well, a number of reasons. Sunnydale's always been a tech savvy town. . . several big names in Computing and AI development hail from our home." Jennings was warming to his subject, no longer so hesitant. "Also, 'Dalers are tough, and the recruiters, the ones in the know anyway, they, uh, know that. People in Sunnydale who aren't careful and resilient, well. . ." Jennings looked wistful. "The place can really get to you; massive problem with gangs on PCP running riot, gas leaks breaking out far more often than can be explained by any normal cause, snake infestations, and- it was just not a nice place to live. S'why most of us got out as soon as we could. Class of '99, they established the whole thing about 'Dalers looking after our own. They had the lowest student death rate of the school's history, and in Sunnydale that was a big deal."
"Whoa, w-wait! Lowest death rate? What was going on in that town?" Sam was beginning to feel a little concerned. The conversation certainly wasn't going the way she expected.
Harkrider cut in, her voice laced with anger, "The High School newspaper? It had a friggin' obituary section. Every weekly edition. It was that bad. I know some of what was going on, but not all, and frankly, I don't want to know- ever. Those of us who made it, though; like Matt said- we're tough. And we take care of our own, always."
"Why don't you report that, get the government to-" Sam stopped as both of the former Sunnydale residents shook their heads.
"Last time the government tried to do something about Sunnydale, well, it turned ugly. Really ugly. I heard the casualties for that Op were forty percent or more. Destroyed a good chunk of real estate too. Sunnydale's a black hole. The NID knows that, now. They won't throw good money after bad." Jennings shook his head. "It's for the best. Some things are best left well enough alone. The program, whatever it was, it's gone, deleted, erased from history. God willing it'll stay that way. Sunnydale's enough of a Hellhole as is."
"The NID?" Sam was starting to actively worry now. The National Intelligence Directorate was in theory, a watchdog agency that provided civilian oversight for Intelligence Agencies and Special Forces. In practice only a fraction of the agency was devoted to its legitimate business and every congressman, bureaucrat, and officer with sufficient rank or pull and a desire to micromanage used the agency as a tool to try and cut themselves a piece of the Intelligence/Special Operations pie. The agency was the perfect cover for all sorts of less than legal or legitimate operations that needed the cover of a governmental agency. In short, it was a madhouse of every petty micromanaging megalomaniac's pet project, shoehorned into an ever burgeoning budget, all theoretically under the aegis of civilian oversight, a function that occupied no more than eight percent of the NID's actual funding or personnel. There were a few honest and conscientious men in the agency, like Agent Barrett, but for the most part, the NID was full of men of at best mercenary and at worst, utterly degenerate character.
"Not to worry, ma'am. Sunnydale is one of the few places that the NID has to play nice- or else." Harkrider giggled at some hidden in-joke Sam was not privy too. "The wake starts at 6:30. SG-1's all invited." She hustled Jennings down the hall.
"So, you're saying, that there was something important enough in this dinky Californian town to get a NID black program?" Jack O'Neill didn't even bother trying to sound skeptical. He'd seen so much of the weird since he'd joined the SGC that he could blithely listen to his SiC talk about the most insane things without blinking.
"Jennings mentioned something about forty percent casualties; and then the entire program being shut down, all records destroyed. Whatever it was, it wasn't simple research or Spec Ops training. We're talking a serious commitment of resources here." Sam shook her head. "I think we should attend this wake, Sir. I have to admit that I'm curios now; I want to know."
"Me too," Daniel put in. "I really can't think of anything in California that would cause something that bad. Maybe some surreptitious asking around?"
"Okay. I guess we'll attend this wake then. And I really hope it's nothing. I have enough on my plate as is."
"You do realize you've just jinxed us, sir?" Sam smiled mischievously.
Nights turned out to be a spacious, dimly lit Irish pub, which was already packed with people when SG-1 arrived. SG automatically separated, keeping close but not too close, getting individual impressions of the crowd before rejoining to confer.
"The people here all seem to know each other. I think they're all from Sunnydale. Almost half are from the SGC, a bunch are civilians, and some are in other services or agencies," Sam reported.
"These people have the feel of warriors, or at least of those who have seen battle. Even the civilians, they are-" Teal'c paused "alert, aware. They have lived with danger. This Sunnydale, I believe, was indeed a dangerous place as Matthew Jennings claimed."
"A surprising lot of these people are knowledgeable about ancient cultures," Daniel was frowning. "There seems to be a lot of interest in religious and occult rituals of older cultures, at least, in the corner of the room I was in." he pointed at a corner that was labeled [Witches' Alley]. "They're taking the whole magic thing pretty seriously. I don't think it's just New Age trendy stuff either; these people have done their homework. One of them actually knew enough about Hellenic ritual to correct me on a few things when we discussed Hekate."
"So we have a town which is increasingly sounding like a war-zone, where people are interested in ancient. . . magic? Anyone else getting a bad feeling about this?"
An evening of quiet probing had netted SG-1 no real leads. Daniel had a wonderful time chatting it up with the other eggheads, and Carter ended up in a long discussion on computers, but O'Neill found himself at loose ends. Deciding he needed another drink, he was just about to signal the barman, when a young man called for everyone's attention.
"Toasts, ladies and gentlemen, Toasts. To Gerald Linstrom, as brave a man as ever walked the earth!"
"Gerald" the assembled crowd roared. Glasses were upended, and O'Neill noted that while not everyone had an alcoholic beverage, everyone drank to the departed man's memory.
"Gerald, he was a steady one," one of the civilians was proclaiming. "We were on the North side during Graduation. I just about pissed myself, with those bastards coming on, and us with only bows, axes and crude stakes. But Ger, he stood there as still as a tree, stoic and unrelenting. He kept his cool and called out our volleys as calm as you please. It was his stead calm voice that helped us keep our heads- literally. I knew from then he'd make a damn fine soldier."
Bows? Stakes? What in the world has these people been fighting? It didn't sound like Goa'uld, but it didn't sound like any sort of battle he'd expect to see on earth, now, in the modern day. If people needed to shoot each other, 9mm semis and .38 revolvers were all too cheap. Hell, even in the poorest reaches of Africa, Ak-47s were all too ubiquitous. He'd be tempted to peg these folk as re-enactors, except that they were far too solemn and serious- and what historical force had wielded bows and axes, anyway?
"To the Class of '99, and kicking mayor butt!" Cried a tipsy looking redheaded woman, starting a new round.
Her toast was greeted with riotous laughter and more calls. "Class of '99!" "Graduation!" "Snyder eaten!" The last one brought a new chorus of laughter.
Someone was eaten at a High School graduation? Weirder and weirder.
As the noise died down, a tall, severe faced man solemnly stood up on the raised platform where the toast were being led from. Waiting for quiet, he cleared his throat and said plainly, "To Buffy. She saved the world. A lot."
Stillness had fallen over the entire pub. "To Buffy," voices picked up the phrase, but no one shouted it, only stated the toast with grimly quiet seriousness. "To the Slayer." Other voices chimed in, equally tight.
This Buffy, whoever she was, was important to these people, someone they deeply respected. And the proclamation that she had "saved the world. A lot." had been far too plain and matter of fact. What in the world had been going on in Sunnydale? O'Neill felt that sinking feeling he had in his stomach whenever he knew he was headed into unpleasantness. But this could not be ignored. Sunnydale would have to be investigated, and Daniel and Sam would, if he knew his team, not stand to be left out of it. SG-1 was going to California. Hell, he could use a vacation somewhere sunny. He should have known that the thought was tempting fate.