Chapter 4 - Doors and Windows
Jack was eager to get back to work, but when Sam pulled up in the drive early on Monday morning he almost got cold feet. Exactly what was he supposed to be doing? She rang the bell. Too late to back out now. He grabbed his cane and opened the door.
Sam kissed him. "I've got something for you."
He held out his hand. "Hey...that's my cap! I'll be damned. Where did you get that?"
"Well, when we ran by the mountain yesterday so I could pick up those papers, SG-2 was just getting back. You know Osiris bugged out of there in a big hurry, and intel's had all available personnel going over her complex with a fine tooth comb ever since. Lou turned this up yesterday."
"Kinda like a sign." He grinned and pulled the cap on.
Jack had known he'd made a lot of friends at the mountain--good friends--over the last seven years. That had first hit home with the way the whole place had pulled together a year ago to clear him when he'd been framed for murder. But that was nothing like the welcome home party that started as soon as he entered the complex.
Sam said, "Oh, Jack. There are yellow ribbons everywhere, dozens of them. And all the signs are in braille now. The whole maintenance crew must have worked all night on this." She guided his hand to the elevator door sign, the new braille sign was right beneath it.
The elevator now counted off the levels out loud.
People came up to welcome him back all the way to his office. He recognized most voices, but not all. That would take a little time.
Sam had to get to work. Hammond shook hands with him with way more warmth than formality. "Damn, but it's good to have you back, son."
"Good to be back, sir."
"I want to introduce you to someone. Lieutenant Geri Mercer, this is Jack O'Neill."
He folded his cane and transferred it to his left hand. "Pleased to meet you, Lt. Mercer."
"The pleasure is mine, sir. You're something of a legend up at 51."
"Oh, I can imagine what they had to say about me up there. Whatever it was, I'm innocent," he grinned.
Mercer laughed. "I have to admit, I wasn't sure where the tall tales started, and after actually being here, I'm still not sure."
Hammond explained, "Jack, Lt. Mercer is a vocational coach. She's here to determine what's going to give you trouble and what we can do about it."
"OK. Where do you want to start?"
"With your office, if you don't mind, sir. I've taken the liberty of bringing a few things that might be useful."
Those things turned out to be a new computer keyboard and braille text display for his computer, and various office sundries, also in braille. After that, he walked around the base with her.
Memorizing the layout of the place had been second nature to him. He knew the whole installation like the back of his hand. It was just a matter of counting cross corridors and paying attention to how many doors he had passed. He only got tripped up a couple of times, and both times reoriented himself immediately by checking a room number on the nearest door.
At lunch, Lt. Mercer said, "Wow, you really don't need my help for everyday things. What kind of emergency situations could you run into down here and what kind of difficulties do you foresee dealing with them?"
"Well, I won't get disoriented and panic if the lights go out, for whatever reason," he laughed.
"What if the elevator stops?"
"I can't discuss the alternatives, but I wouldn't have a problem."
"What if there should be an incursion?"
"I'd stay out of the way," he replied immediately. "And if trouble ever starts coming to me, we'll find out just how well I do know this place. Pretty sure I know where all the breaker boxes are." He laughed softly, and it was not a nice sound.
Mercer thought about that one, and swallowed hard at the suddenly terrifying idea of being trapped in this warren, in the dark, with someone who could move like a cat and kill with his bare hands. "Yes, sir."
O'Neill got to work the next Friday morning to find that he had an assistant.
"Did I miss another memo? What's this about an assistant?"
"I'm sorry, Colonel, I was given to understand that you knew I was coming." Female, young, Southern accent.
"It's Jack, I'm retired, and what are you supposed to be doing to assist?"
"To start with, I'm Dee Parsons. The reason I was assigned here is that I was special forces until I lost most of my sight three years ago on a mission. Weird retina damage, and I can't talk about how it happened, but I still have a very small field of vision in my left eye, tunnel vision in other words. I read braille and I can tutor you if you still feel like you need lessons."
"I'll take you up on that. I've had quite a crash course this month, but I'm still not exactly up to speed compared to someone who's really had the chance to learn it. You're out on a medical also?"
"Yeah, but I did some work for our friends in Virginia recently that made it...ah...wiser for me to duck under a mountain for a while, if you get my drift."
O'Neill laughed. "You could find a safer mountain."
"Yeah, but this one is pretty damn exciting. I'm just saying, I won't be a liability and I won't be in the way," Dee said.
"OK, let's see how this goes. I'll need to check with General Hammond about your security clearances before you can start work."
"Yes, sir--I'm sorry, Jack. Old habits die hard."
"Yes, they do." His cane contacted furniture. "You've got a desk?"
"Rule number one. I need to know about anything that's new or been moved around in here."
"I think just the desk, but it was here when I got here. The airman said it was mine. And I have a box of my things, but I'll be sure it isn't in your way."
"OK, you go ahead and unpack while I talk to the general."
Hammond looked up when he knocked. "Jack, this is about Lieutenant--I mean Ms.-Parsons right?"
"Yeah, what's going on?"
"Shut the door."
Jack did so, then located a chair and sat down. "This is a good story, isn't it, sir?"
"She's Leo McGarry's goddaughter. She helped bust up a terrorist cell working out of the biotechnology department at Florida State. These fine folks didn't suspect a woman, much less a blind woman. The FBI swooped in and busted the whole cell. The leader turned out to be Hosni al Sharak, one of the highest ranking al Queda who gave us the slip in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, there's now a half a million dollar price tag on Dee's head. Leo and I figured the two of you can probably protect each other better than anyone else can take care of either of you individually. I'm asking for a favor for an old friend here, Jack."
"Sure, George, no problem. People do need to know about the kind of trouble that could be following her around, though."
"I'll leave that to your judgment as to who needs to know."
"Let's see, she thinks she's babysitting me, and vice versa."
"Well, you're both right. And that's the other thing I need to talk to you about. Somebody hacked your retirement papers on the Pentagon computers."
O'Neill all but yelled, "Oh, for cryin' out loud! Why don't we just save everyone the trouble and take out a full page ad in USA Today!"
"I know how you feel, Jack. It might not mean anything."
Jack headed back to his office, where Dee was just finishing putting her things away.
"Jack, what exactly do you do here? There's a lot of things that fall under the job description of consultant."
"Right now, it seems to be looking out for the Chief of Staff's goddaughter. An al Queda top brass, huh? Good work, kid."
"Then you also know they're after me to the tune of half a million dollars--hell, I'm trying to figure out how to collect the reward on myself and kick their asses when they deliver the money."
O'Neill laughed. "Sounds like a good plan if you can pull it off. Did they tell you somebody hacked my records?"
"Something like that, but they didn't know who," she said.
"I can make a guess. Kinsey."
"You mean the US Senator they said you tried to kill?"
"The one and only. After that, I've got a short list of enemies, on Earth that is, unless you go back about ten years."
"That's bound to make life interesting," Dee commented wryly. "Can they get to us here?"
"It isn't likely but it isn't impossible. Do you know how to use this braille reader?"
He heard her cane tap a couple times as she came around his desk. "OK, what, you scan a page with this and read it with this thingie over here?"
"Yeah, but have you ever been watching TV with the closed captioning turned on and it's just garbage?"
Dee bent over to squint at it with her little patch of sight. "How do you put the paper in?"
"There's a raised guideline. I always have someone clip the top right corner so I can make sure the paper's going the right way when I put it in there."
Dee fussed with it and got it working a little better, by increasing the scanner resolution, but it still wasn't perfect. "Some of this technology isn't quite there yet. I can read normal print, if you need to know exactly what something says."
"You're so lucky to have even a little sight left. I've had to relearn everything."
"I know I'm lucky, but it just hasn't ever started to feel that way," she said, a wry regretful tone in her voice.
"It sucks to have this happen at any age, but you're just starting out. That's bound to really suck."
"Everyone says it should be easier for me to adapt."
"Easier to learn new things like braille, maybe, and kids are tougher in a lot of ways. It's easier to start all over before you get too set in your ways. I went to blind school with a bunch of teenagers and they didn't let anything stop them. On the other hand, if this had happened to me when I was younger, I don't know if I would've made it then. You have to learn to roll with the punches, Dee, you're not born knowing how to do that."
There was a faint vibration through the floor.
"What was that, an earthquake?" Dee's tone gave away her very real nervousness. New people were always aware that they were under tons of rock and there was a real concern about a collapse.
Jack knew that was really unlikely...unless a bunker buster came down the old missile silo into the gateroom. If the Goa'uld ever attacked from orbit, that would have to be their first target. Like the threat of nuclear holocaust during the cold war, it was an eventuality that he had simply learned to live with. This time, there was nothing sinister about the tremor. "SG-2, right on schedule. Come on."
Mystified, she followed him down the stairway to the control room as a female gate tech whose voice O'Neill didn't recognize called out the last two chevrons, and then as soon as Jack heard the kawhoosh, Dee exclaimed, "Wow! What's--that's--that's it, that's the stargate? Oh, my God!"
Hammond laughed. "That's it, Dee."
The tech grinned, "You never quite get used to it, ma'am. SG-2's code, General."
"Open the iris."
Ferretti's team came running through. A projectile the size of a grapefruit spiderwebbed the window, but the bulletproof glass did its job and stopped that one. Ferretti yelled, "Close the iris!"
"Shut it! Jack, Dee, get down, we're taking fire!"
They were already moving, O'Neill had heard the impact and the cracking glass and pulled Dee down with him. As soon as the iris locked, Ferretti got up and checked on his team. Hammond ran down the stairs, put the SFs on stand down, and asked Ferretti, "What the hell was that all about?"
The wiry New Yorker panted for breath. "The place wasn't as deserted as we thought. Some indiginous persons didn't like us poking around in the old ruins."
"Get checked out, we'll debrief in two hours."
"Yes, sir. After you, ladies."
One of the SFs had recovered the cannon ball and turned it over to the general. He carried it back upstairs and handed it to Jack. "That's what almost came through the window."
He studied it with long sensitive fingers. "Are these hammer marks? Wait, there's a crack...sir, this could contain something, suggest you send it to the lab."
"Colonel, it's smoking, get rid of it now!" Siler interjected.
"Is the gate room clear?"
He punched the already cracked glass out of the window and threw the cannon ball out, then dropped to the floor along with everyone else. The cannon ball hit the gateroom floor and exploded, spraying shrapnel and birdshot.
An alarm sounded. Hammond ordered it off then checked on them. Dee, the tech, and Siler were OK. Jack had cut his hand badly. Hammond wrapped a bandage around it. "Can you make it to the infirmary?"
"Yes, sir. That probably wasn't the smartest thing we ever did."
Hammond laughed at himself in agreement.
Siler wisely kept his mouth shut and got back to work. For once he wasn't the one on his way to the infirmary with a bloody bandage around his hand.
Dee recovered both their canes and they headed for the infirmary.
"Jack, is this business as usual around here?"
"Never a dull minute," he grinned.
Fraiser took Jack and minor injuries in stride. "Dr. Janet Fraiser, this is my new assistant, Dee Parsons. Dee, Doc here is the only reason nine tenths of the SGC are still walking around."
Janet said, "Welcome aboard, Dee. He always talks nice about me when he knows I've got a needle. I'm going to take this dressing off, Jack."
She flushed the cuts with a sterile rinsing solution. "Glass? Did all the alarms a few minutes ago have anything to do with this?"
He laughed. "Two came through the gate hot and some locals fired a cannon ball through the wormhole after them. It hit the window and cracked the glass. Somebody gave the cannon ball to General Hammond. He brought it back up to the gateroom to show it to me and Siler. About that time we figured out it was a hot potato. There was nobody in the gate room, so I knocked the busted glass out of the frame and threw it out the window before it went off."
"Well," she said, "You've got one deep cut with a piece of glass imbedded, and a few nasty scratches besides. I don't know how but you missed cutting a tendon. A few novocaine sticks here, ready?"
Janet knew needles were a flashback trigger for him, and gave him the chance to get focused before she injected him with anything. "OK, go. Not too much, though, remember I need that hand to read."
"OK, just a little where I'm going to have to put sutures."
Dee asked, "How long have you been here, Doctor?"
"Almost since the beginning, and if Uncle Sam wasn't paying this guy's medical bills, he'd have sent my daughter to Harvard by now," Janet said.
Jack laughed, "Hey, you do good work, you get repeat business."
Sam stuck her head in. "Jack? Are you all right? What the hell is this about you and an exploding cannon ball?!"
"Lot of noise over nothing. I have a little piece of glass in my hand, that's all."
"Didn't look like nothing, from the mess in the gateroom. We're sweeping fragments of that thing out of everywhere."
"Hell, we had at least half a second to hit the deck before it went kaboom."
Janet said, "He's OK, Sam. I'll have the glass out in a minute and then he's going to need a couple of stitches, that's all."
"Tell me something, Jack, was there ever at any point a woman involved with this whole cannon ball incident?"
"Not to my knowledge, Dee and the gate tech were just minding their own business. And yeah, before you start, all of us should have had better sense than fool around with unexploded ordnance. But don't you dare call it a guy thing because you would've been poking around with it too."
Janet said, "Ha! He's got you there."
Jack introduced Dee and Sam, and got Sam talking about SG-1's next mission to take his mind off what Janet was doing to his hand.
Dee noticed that, while he complained as if Janet was killing him, his hand lay relaxed and motionless the entire time.
Janet bandaged the injury carefully so that he could use his hand as normally as possible.
The rest of the day was a lot more routine. As was becoming the usual thing, he spent most of his time in mission planning, particularly with the newer teams. Dee was essential for describing UAV images, and they spoke the same language about threat assessment.
Over the next few weeks, as they realized they did have significant contributions to make, both of them settled into their new niche. When there were no signs that anyone was looking for Dee in Colorado Springs, she started looking for an apartment. Jack asked Sam to move in at the end of September. Sam came up with the idea to let Dee take over her lease and keep everything in Sam's name, so she wouldn't leave as much of a paper trail.
Early Saturday morning, SG-1 got together to help Sam and Dee move. Having been living in small quarters at Cheyenne Mountain, Dee hadn't collected a lot of stuff. Sam had already boxed up most everything she was taking with her, so all they had to do was carry everything to the truck. The guys took that first load to Jack's while Sam showed Dee around the house.
"This is great. Thank you, for everything."
"None necessary. We're a pretty tight family here, and I have a real strong feeling that you're going to be a part of it. You and Jack are like bookends."
Dee flushed beet red. "Oh, we aren't, Major, if that's what you're thinking--!"
Sam laughed, "Oh, no, I wasn't implying anything like that! I've known Jack for seven years, and trust me, he's all guy. When he thinks some sweet young thing is interesting, believe me, I can tell. He thinks of you as a kid."
"Well, I wouldn't have said anything, but he's almost my dad's age. I mean, I can see why you fell for him, and I think we're going to be good friends."
"That's what I meant," Sam laughed. "Seriously, you're both ex-special forces, and you're fighting the same battle with blindness. As much as I'd do anything for Jack, I can't presume to know anything about either of those things. I'm glad the General introduced the two of you. You're good for each other."
"We've both been to the dark side. I haven't pried about Jack's past. But it takes one to know one. When I realized I wasn't going to get my sight back, I washed down a handful of tranquilizers with a bottle of tequila. Woke up on the floor two days later, couldn't even get killing myself right and nobody even realized I was missing."
"Oh, God, what happened?"
"Hell if I know. Next morning I decided I might as well live, so I ate a danish and started rehab at the VA. Anyhow, I don't know Jack's story, and if he knows mine, he didn't hear it from me, but...it's like this, Sam. If I ever started wallowing like that again, he'd know, and he'd kick my ass...but I wouldn't lie on the floor for two days with nobody to give a crap."
"Where in hell was the rest of your team? Your CO?"
"I was the only one who came home alive from that last mission."
"I'm so sorry, Dee. I had no idea."
"I know. They'd have been there for me, I know it. I really let their memory down when I threw in the towel," Dee said.
"They'll forgive you for it, somewhere down the road," Sam said quietly, with a certainty that went far beyond faith.
Dee smiled, "Yeah, but they'll never let me hear the end of it."
It was late that evening before the guys left. Sam sat down on the couch.
Jack kicked a box and called, "Sam, how much stuff is in the kitchen? I just found a box, I hope it isn't your grandmother's china!"
"No, I already unpacked the china. Wait a minute--"
"Sit still, I've got it. Do you want a beer?"
He came in with two bottles and sat beside her. "Did you get Dee settled?"
"Yeah, I think she'll like it there. Don't be surprised if she calls a few times this weekend to find out where things are."
"I'm still not sure it was a good idea for her to move out on her own," Jack worried. "Those people really can't stand to get their asses kicked by a female."
"It's probably not politically correct to call them those people."
"I don't give a damn whether it is or not," Jack replied. "You and I both lost friends when that plane hit the Pentagon. Hell, everyone in the next room over from Paul Davis was killed. I was in Afghanistan when the mujahedeen were fighting the Russians, and most of them were good people. But then there were a certain bunch of rat bastards who thought the only good infidel was a dead one, and 'those people' are the ones I was talking about. Not all Muslims. Just the ones who'd be right at home in Birmingham in a white bed sheet and a pointy hat." He took a long pull from his beer.
Sam rested her head on his shoulder. "I know what you mean, Jack. And it worries me, too. I was the one who got kidnapped by the men in black and just about got dissected, remember?"
Jack's arm tightened around her. "Yeah, like I'd ever forget--"
"You and Harry cut it pretty damn close!" She laughed. "But my point is, I wouldn't want to have to live under the mountain for the rest of my life to keep it from happening again. Dee isn't any different."
Jack nodded. "I hear you."
"I guess if someone kicked the door down right now, you'd be helpless...?"
"Hell, no!" He yelled indignantly.
She laughed. "Gotcha. Neither is Dee."
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