Okay, the previous chapter was delayed because of my feelings about SGU. This one was pure procrastination. Disclaimer:
All other notes and disclaimers are at the beginning of the story.
Colonel Samantha Carter had seen a lot of odd things in her life. She’d done a lot of them too. But watching the group of young women train out on one of the Council’s blue, mat covered tennis courts, she found herself revising her definition of the word. She was impressed by the size of the yard which came with the house. Manor, more like it. And equally impressed with the paved track which circled the two tennis courts and decently sized equipment shed.
The previous night had been eye opening to say the least. Carter’s mind kept trying to come up with rationalisation for what she had seen but she couldn’t. Though their witch, Willow, had said that magic and the supernatural couldn’t be rationalised or explained within the current scientific framework. That that wouldn’t one day change, Willow had been unsure. The supernatural was a science all its own. It had its own rules and ways of working.
She almost missed it as one of the girls, no more than fifteen and barely five feet tall, picked up a one hundred pound weight and start jogging around the track. Six other girls, some smaller, some bigger, picked up their own anchor and started following the first girl.
Buffy had sat with her at breakfast that morning and explained a bit more about the history of the Council and those within it. She had to admit that it did all rub her the wrong way, but her curiosity was winning out. Carter had come out onto the porch off the dinning room afterwards. The activity outside had caught her attention even though she should probably be with the others going over what they know so far. But seeing the woman, Faith, teaching a line of girls how to fight with a sword had drawn her in. Carter turned as she heard Willow approach her from behind.
Willow gestured at the girls, now jogging at a fair clip. “It’s so they can get used to carrying heavy awkward stuff while still being able to run. Either equipment, stuff a demon may have left behind, or an injured person.” She paused. “Or a prisoner if need be.”
“I can understand that.”
The group completed one lap and started another.
Carter glanced at the woman now standing beside her. Some things were still bugging her about her reputation in the cyber world. Particularly the ease with which she could apparently infiltrate government agencies. Even if she provided unofficial assistance for the NSA, as she alluded to yesterday, and received help in return for things, that still didn’t explain how she was able to do what she shouldn’t have been able to do at all.
“I’ve been wondering…” Carter started. She wasn’t quite sure how to ask. Or if she even wanted an answer as she was starting to suspect it had something to do with the woman being a witch. Willow gestured for her to continue. “Well, it takes a lot of skill to do a lot of the things you’ve done with government computers. Some of the systems you’ve accessed aren’t even connected to an outside line. Or are tiered against invasion. Like the SGC. People, myself included, are still trying to figure out how you were able to access them.”
Willow smiled sheepishly. “Ah. Yeah, you see, there are a few tricks that can be done to help that kind of thing along.”
“Tricks, as in… magic?” Carter guessed.
“Yeah,” Willow smiled. “Actual, honest to goodness, magic.”
Carter shook her head and laughed. “When you think of computers, you don’t really consider them compatible with magic.”
“No, you wouldn't at first,” Willow agreed. Turning fully to Colonel Carter, she explained, “It’s an offshoot of technopaganism, though what I do really doesn’t have a name. It takes a great deal of skill to really mesh magic and technology. You see, computers and other electronics are all about order and everything in its proper place. Everything has its function. And magic, well, it’s a natural force. It’s everywhere. Not everyone can feel it or use it, but everyone and everything has a bit of it. It’s sort of like radiation. You can pick up traces of it just by coming in contact with something that does.”
Willow paused a moment, gathering her thoughts. “In its natural state, magic is very chaotic. It has no form. No function. It just is. It’s the person using it, shaping it to their will, that turns it into something else. Into some semblance of order. So unless you know exactly what you’re doing — and I mean deep, thorough knowledge of how computers work and how they communicate, etc — then all it basically comes down to is combining the strict instructional order of computers and the chaos of magic. It can be very problematic at first. You have to learn a very, very high degree of control. That is, how to turn unordered magic into something of rigid order that won’t mess up the computer. It’s very difficult.”
Carter thought she could understand the theory of what Willow was describing. “And you can do it.”
“Yes…” Willow hesitated. “But it still isn’t something that can be done easily. Or even on the fly. Turning something unorganised into a perfectly ordered system takes time. And honestly, while I am a very talented hacker, there’s no way I could’ve gotten into some of those systems without help. Both in other hackers who knew the system, and magic. A lot of what I did to gain access to many of those systems involved nothing more than some magical equivalents to keylogging and Van Eck phreaking. A magical programme if you will that was inserted into a computer and then copied whatever was done on both the screen and keyboard. But again, those things take time to get access to things, but they’re also less noticeable if done right. But for the SGC, I was able to do something far quicker.”
Carter raised an eyebrow. “You’re being pretty free with your methods. Plus… that first part sounded a lot like it was rehearsed.”
Willow blushed. “That’s because it is. Partly. I teach both magic to those with the ability and computer sciences. There are a few who are good with both so I instruct a separate, very small, class about combing the two. That’s part of the introductory speech.”
“Well thanks for giving me the basics.” Carter, for her part, was keenly interested in what she was being told, even if it seemed a bit out there to her. And she knew they probably should be leaving the talks like this until there wasn’t work waiting to be done to catch some bad guys, but… she was curious to find out about this world she had just been exposed to and how it might affect hers. “You said you did something faster for the SGC…?”
Willow looked nervous all of a sudden. “Yeah, when it came to that, I only needed a small bit of magic to stop people and watchdog programmes from noticing certain bits of data traffic and log messages. You see, although I found your exterior network on the DoD’s data line, that didn’t help me. So I trawled through NORAD’s network, which is more easily accessible through certain channels, until I found something that I had been hoping to find after looking through pages and pages of floor plans from NORAD’s computers. You see, your mountain used to be entirely interconnected. All the main lines to your section of the base had been severed, a single new more secure line set up, I’m guessing to keep your main systems more easily defensible?”
Carter nodded. “Yes. Even before we built the SGC, the bottom portions had been made inaccessible through normal lines so it could be used as, basically, protected cold storage for information. Only accessible through NORAD’s closed system. But that obviously changed once the Stargate project began.”
“I thought so.” Willow looked nervous all of a sudden. “Well, anyway, what I was hoping to find — which I did — was an old service line that the techs in the eighties used instead of the mainline so as not to hog bandwidth. It was still there. And it was still connected to all the other networks in the mountain.”
Carter’s eyes widened as she considered the ramifications of such a line of access. “There’s been an outside connexion to our mainframe all these years? Where is it, how did you access it? Do you know if anyone else had been using it?”
“I don’t think so.” Willow shook her head. The service line had been old, even considering the two decades old schematics she had found. “It was originally installed in the seventies from what I could make out. It wasn’t a modern data cable so the transfer was sketchy at best. I had to use a bit of magic to stabilise the data stream. I’m not sure if anyone else could’ve used it reliably.”
“Still, I’ve got to call the techies and have them start disconnecting that line just in case.” Carter stared at the woman beside her curiously. She was still a bit annoyed that the SGC's systems had been penetrated, but she couldn’t quite blame these people for trying to find out all they could. Honestly, if she had been in their position — and she had a few times before — then she would’ve (and had) done the same. Eventually, she said, “There’s something else I wanted to ask you. Your attitude towards hacking is a bit cavalier and you talk about your experience pretty openly considering how highly illegal it is.”
Willow hesitated. “Colonel, I follow the old hacking rule of ‘look, don’t touch’. I try not to do too much to any system I might be on. I mostly do fact checking because I don’t do malicious very well at all. It would take something pretty darn serious for me to actually try tampering with a system. And something on the scale of world ending for me to actively attack, or outright destroy, a system. Admittedly, I can, unfortunately, think of a few scenarios where I’d cross that line.”
* * * * *
O’Neill would sometimes get a feeling in the pit of his stomach.
It was not painful. More like a twinge, almost as if he was hungry. But it was different in that, when it happened, something extremely annoying was about to occur. That was another thing. It was not necessarily a warning of danger, just a warning of impending annoyance. A feeling that he was about to experience something he would not like and would have him reaching for the bottle of Tums™ General Hammond had left on his desk topped with a bow when he had taken over.
Jack thought the general had been joking in his note about keeping a good supply of them on hand. Now he knew Hammond had been quite serious.
O’Neill sighed as he flipped to the next page of SG-11’s latest mission report. He was just getting to the exciting part of their trip — where they encountered large rat like creatures that then tried to mate with their legs — when there came a knock on his door. Before he could issue any sort of invitation, the door opened and a man entered.
Immediately, O’Neill disliked him. It wasn’t because of any ‘feeling’ he got from the man. It wasn’t because of the suit the man wore. It wasn’t even the obvious ‘desk-jockey’ look about him. No, it was the look on the man’s face. The man had a bored look on his face, like the task before him was beneath him, that rubbed O’Neill the wrong way.
O’Neill raised an eyebrow. “Now I know
that I didn’t have any appointments today.”
“I’m afraid I didn’t have time to make an appointment.” The man approached the desk and extended his hand. “Agent Darren Caruthers, NID.”
O’Neill ignored the hand. “And what does the NID want today?”
Caruthers lowered his hand and sat in one of the chairs in front of the general’s desk. “The NID is curious as to why there are teams currently working out in the field, here, on Earth. And how the SGC has suddenly acquired five, as of yet, unidentified prisoners.”
Oh, this was just perfect.
* * * * *
So far, Buffy had learned that Colonel Carter was very smart. Exceedingly smart. And once pushed beyond certain new realities — like magic existing and the laws of physics, in some cases, being more ‘guidelines’ — she was surprisingly open minded. On the outside at least. It didn’t take a telepath to see there was still some hesitance in the Colonel whenever they would say or do something that was, to her mind, impossible without vast amounts of technological trickery.
It had taken the entire previous day to actually bring the woman and her team up to speed on certain things. Firstly, because Carter had asked for so many clarifications and explanations that Willow — the only who had ever had an interest in such questions herself — was the only one able to answer. And secondly, because she needed actual physical proof in front of her, to judge herself, before she would except anything told to her as fact instead of the ravings of a lunatic.
It had been a gruelling night for all of them. The Colonel had handled herself reasonably well when they patrolled the previous night. Carter had insisted she be included to gain a first-hand perspective of the supernatural. And Buffy had to admit, the woman was good. In the end, she would not have won against the vampire attacking her but she did a damn sight better at fending it off then most people Buffy had met.
Something else which Buffy had learned was that Carter’s hesitance and disbelieving nature had more than a little to do with the people doing the fighting: her girls. Now admittedly, the Colonel was all for ‘girl-power’ and the like, but this…
Buffy didn’t like it either. But she used to be that age. And more importantly, she used to be alone
. It had taken a private chat with Carter over a very long breakfast to give her some of the facts and history of their cause. Buffy hoped that she would be able to take everything in with a touch more acceptance.
A while after breakfast, Carter and Lieutenant Patil had left to ask some questions at the airport. The rest of the team had gathered in the conference room once again. Already, the long table and many surrounding surfaces was covered with files, boxes, and the equipment the SG team had brought with them. A white board had been brought in and secured to the wall so they could do the investigating thing properly, as Willow had put it when some of her techies had brought it in.
Buffy had been sitting next to Faith, the two sharing a file containing some of the SGC’s information on the Trust, when Carter and Patil finally returned an hour and a half later.
While Carter began telling everyone what they had found out, Patil set to work on her laptop confirming some of the things they learned at the airport and during their trip back.
“Uh, not to rain on your parade,” Faith said eventually, “but I’ve seen this movie; what are the chances the plane was actually heading there?”
Faith’s question was a valid one, though the others didn’t particularly want to believe their first real lead was false. Not after getting a copy of the flight plan of the kidnappers getaway plane.
Obviously, the airport had been the first thing on everyone’s mind to begin the investigation, to find out where the planned getaway plane was headed. Colonel Carter had been able to finagle a copy of the inbound and outbound flight plans for the private plane that had been prepared to take the captive slayer (or slayers) away.
It was something Willow had already planned on obtaining before the SGC’s involvement. However her methods would have been less, one might say, official. Not to mention legal.
Carter nodded. “Good question. And usually, the chances would be very low that it was a valid plan. But I think this is a real one.”
“What makes you so sure?” Buffy asked.
“Because, a call to Sea-Tac on our way back confirmed the plane’s arrival,” Carter answered. “But once they landed, they abandoned it on the tarmac and just drove off in a waiting van. The plane was impounded shortly thereafter and the authorities there have already run into trouble finding out anything about the owners. I’m reasonably certain a search will turn up either false information or a dummy-corporation. Anything but the truth basically.”
“Makes sense,” Buffy commented. “Did they all come in from the same place or did they just gather in Cleveland?”
“Hard to tell,” Lieutenant Patil answered. “It’s more likely the second, that they all came in from other places separately and met here.”
“Gives us a place to start at least,” Graham said.
“Yes, it did.” Carter grinned. “The security at Sea-Tac said they had the getaway van’s plate. The supervisor promised to send us what video and reports they had once our authorisation was confirmed. But he did give us the van’s description and plate right there which led to another set of calls. Lieutenant?”
Patil hit a few keys on her laptop before looking up at Colonel Carter, grinning. “Sea-Tec sent us their stuff. And the DMV also sent us what we asked for. I’ve been running the information while you’ve been explaining.”
“And?” Carter moved to read over Patil's shoulder.
“The van is registered to a company called Kensington Realty Ltd., I little digging so far shows a flimsy exterior.” Patil glanced up. “A front. Most likely, the plane will turn up under the same name.”
“So this is like an episode from one of those crime dramas, right?” Faith asked. “We see what else the name has been slapped on and find out where they’re getting their money from?”
“That’s where you’re taking your investigative cues from, TV?” Buffy eyed her dubiously.
“Oh like you aren’t.” Faith shot back. “How else are we going to do it?” She nodded to the SG team across the table. “They’re the only ones trained for this sort of thing.”
Carter spoke up here. “Actually, while the rest of us are knowledgeable enough in this area, only Lieutenant Patil has any real investigative training.”
“And to answer your question,” Patil interrupted. “Basically, yes, that is exactly what we’re going to be doing.”
“Cool.” Faith grinned. “Still though, this sort of thing is more your area. We’re good on the ground when it’s the supernatural we’re dealing with but, in the real world, we can only do so much.”
Buffy sighed. “That’s true unfortunately. We would’ve been relying pretty heavily on Willow and her people to get this kind of information. And the methods probably wouldn’t have been anywhere near legal.”
Willow nodded and hummed her agreement. “And then I probably would’ve gotten stuck trying to track down the money from this company. I’ve never been good with banking systems. I’m always scared of accidentally deleting a few zeros from some charity fund or—or something.”
Everyone around the table stared at her. Her eyes widened and she hastened to explain, “Not that I’ve ever gone through bank computers. Top secret government computers sure, but not banks. Nope.”
* * * * *
It was night time again and Carter was taking the opportunity to check in with General O’Neill. She had been tempted to go out with the some of the others on another patrol, but she decided to stay in with Lieutenant Patil to go over the data. Stepping out onto the conference room’s balcony, she pulled out her SGC issue satellite phone and punched in a number. Carter hit the send button and waited for O’Neill to pick up. Which he did, a few seconds later. “O’Neill.”
“General,” she said. “It’s Carter.”“Carter! Glad you called.”
She heard the sound of paper being pushed away and the distant clink of a pen being tossed across the room. “This paperwork was really starting to annoy me so I definitely need the distraction. How’s the investigation going?”
“It’s going good,” she answered. “Better than expected, which has me a little concerned to be perfectly honest.” “Yeah, I’d be worried too. Things are never meant to go right. Especially with our luck.”
She chuckled. “Yeah, but I’m sure we’ll probably hit a roadblock a mile wide eventually and I can stop worrying about things going too smoothly.”
O’Neill laughed. “Don’t say that. Be cautious but don’t hesitate to use those leads while they last.”
“Don’t worry. We already are.”
O’Neill was silent for a moment. “Seriously though. I got a visit from the NID today wondering why we’ve got a team loose on earth and where our new ‘guests’ just came from. I was able to deal with it for the time being but still. Be careful. I don’t want the NID anywhere near this stuff.”
Carter suppressed a groan. While the NID wasn’t that bad, she couldn’t deny that they got in the way of things a lot. Especially given how often the agency’s employees seem to like going rogue. But she had hopes for the agency after the last few purges that had been done. Still, she could see the point in not letting the NID get involved with this group. “Don’t worry, sir. We’ll keep an eye out.”“Good.”
She smiled at how relieved he sounded. “And how are you taking the supernatural aspect of this? Doing all right?”
The smile dropped and she sighed. “I’m fine, sir.”“Good. So, nothing too unusual as of yet?”
“Is that a trick question, General?” Carter ran a hand through her hair in exasperation. “I’ve seen and been told so many unusual things the past couple days that it all makes our sort of unusual stuff seem downright ordinary.” Carter shook her head and thought back to everything that had taken place over the past twenty-four hours. Much of her world view had been turned sideways. Though she was appreciative of Willow’s help in reorienting herself. “It’s all unusual. But I’m working on redefining my definition of the word. Again.”
O’Neill chuckled. “Yeah, we do seem to keep having to do that, don’t we?”
Carter smiled. “That we do, sir.”“I suppose I’ll let you go now,”
O’Neill said. “Good work so far. Be sure to keep me informed.”
“I will.”“Oh, and Carter?”
O’Neill hesitated. “I know you’ve got a lot to do there, but there’s something I’ve been curious about…”
After nothing else was forth coming, Carter prompted him. “What is it?”“It’s nothing much, I was just sort of wondering if any of those old legends, like, say, the Loch Ness monster were at all, you know, true.”
O‘Neill spoke in a rush. “That’s all really, not important though. Thanks Carter.”
Carter pulled the phone away from her ear as Jack hung up on her. She wasn’t entirely sure what to make of the conversation she just had with her commanding officer. It had started out pleasantly enough and then… that. Staring at the phone for a while longer, she put it back in her pocket and decided to file it away with all the rest of the odd things said or done by General Jack O’Neill.
“Colonel!” Lieutenant Patil called from inside. “I think I may have found something.”
For some odd reason, this chapter rubs me the wrong way. I really don't know why. Also, I couldn't help but include some sort of reference to O'Neill's dream in here. You know the drill: read and review.