It's amazing how everything you thought you knew could be overturned in
Okay, that's a
cliché, Jack O’Neill conceded. Doesn't make it any less true. He
stared in the mirror and ran a comb through his slightly graying hair.
Again. He was procrastinating to avoid going downstairs.
as they knew it had nearly ended. At least that’s the way it felt
whenever he thought back to that horrific moment when his
eleven-year-old son, Charlie, too curious and too careless for his own
good, had found his gun in an unlocked drawer. If not for Daniel
Jackson, their eleven-year-old super hero disguised as a foster child,
Charlie would have died and Jack would be combing his hair getting
ready for his son's funeral rather than using it as a stall tactic to
avoid the confrontation downstairs.
impossible to imagine.
The shock of the
blast from the discharged bullet had quickly been replaced with
unrestrained joy at a tragedy averted. For Jack, that joy had gradually
turned into anger. Charlie's reckless behavior had spelled trouble in
the past but that had been run of the mill 'boys will be boys' type
trouble. The word trouble was nowhere near adequate to describe what
had happened yesterday. Jack didn't have a word to express it. He
doubted even Daniel, the linguistic genius of the family, had a word to
cover yesterday's events. Destruction, maybe. That's as close as he
could come. The destruction of the O'Neill family.
chastised his reflection. He needed to get it together and get
downstairs ASAP. Sara and Charlie were waiting.
He and Sara had
deliberately let a day pass before they confronted their wayward son to
discuss the consequences of his actions. Sara had used that time
wisely, deciding what steps needed to be taken to ensure nothing of
this magnitude would ever happen again. The time had done her good.
This morning she appeared rested, calm even.
Jack, on the
other hand, was still wrestling with his feelings as he came downstairs
and sat beside his wife in the kitchen, directly across the table from
Charlie. Sara was talking in a calm, steady voice to their son, who was
staring at his folded hands, looking properly contrite. She was
building up to the main event, Charlie's punishment for fooling around
with Jack's gun yesterday and discharging it in his father’s home
office. Only because of Daniel’s amazing intervention had the bullet
narrowly missed Charlie’s skull.
Sara was doing
great so Jack remained quiet, not trusting himself to speak. Normally,
no matter what the crime or how angry he was with his son, when he woke
up the next morning he felt better, the anger having dissipated into an
all but distant memory. Not this time. Today he had felt okay when he
woke up but as soon as he saw Charlie the anger resurfaced, sharp and
powerful, stronger than ever. It was confusing but it wouldn't be
denied. The best he could do was hide it while his wife continued on in
an even, serious tone.
wrapping it up, rehashing the events of the camping trip they had
returned from two days ago – during which Charlie’s reckless behavior
had nearly led to Daniel’s death – and then yesterday's near tragedy in
the office. She was finishing up on the why and moving on to the
Jack watched and
listened and decided not to beat himself up over his feelings. He was
entitled to his anger. Charlie hadn't gone for a dip in the off-limits
Adam's Pond or tried one of his impossible bike stunts; his son had
nearly blown his head off with a gun. Not just any gun, his gun. Jack
pushed that thought aside. This wasn't about that, it was about
Charlie. If Jack needed to fume for another day or two, so be it.
Besides, yesterday didn't really count. He had been too shocked and
relieved to be angry.
could see how close he was to the edge because his son hadn't said a
word, he just sat and nodded at the appropriate pauses.
Sara was looking
at him expectantly. Shit, he'd lost track of where she was in the
"Do you want to
tell Charlie our decision?" she asked with a slight frown.
took his cue from Sara. It wasn't as difficult as he had feared. He had
years of practice in the Air Force and he called on that experience
now. Jack O’Neill had always been able to push the emotion aside when
necessary, whether smoozing an idiotic C.O. or dressing down a
pain-in-the ass newbie Airman.
"Your mother and
I have decided to cancel your Fantasy Sports Week Camp." He relayed the
information coolly, pleased by the lack of emotion in his words.
"That's your punishment and its final. Any questions?" He hoped Charlie
wouldn't ask anything or argue the point because he was afraid he might
flashed in Charlie's eyes but quickly disappeared. "No sir," he said to
"Well, that's it then. You can go."
his head Charlie pushed his chair away from the table and meekly left
the kitchen. A few seconds later they heard his soft footsteps heading
up the stairs.
"I guess that
went well," Sara sighed.
"Are you okay?"
Sara reached over and rubbed the top of his hand.
"Me? Yeah, why
wouldn't I be?" Jack pulled his hand away and stood up. "Where's
Daniel? Maybe I'll see if he wants to run
up to the store with me to get that shelving unit for the garage.” He
made it to the doorway before her voice stopped him cold.
waited until he turned and looked at her.
"You can ask
Charlie to go, too. He's not grounded, his punishment is missing his
Fantasy Sports Camp." Her eyes were sad and misty. “Considering he’s
been looking forward to going for two years, I think it’s more than
sufficient to drive our point home.”
Jack took a
second to suck in a calming breath before answering. "I know that,
honey, but do you really think he's going to want to run out to Home
Depot with me right now? Give him a little time alone to digest
everything." He ducked into the dining room before she had a chance to
yelled up the stairs. The blonde head appeared immediately. "You want
to go to the store with me?"
bounced down the stairs and nervously scanned the room. "Is Charlie
"No, Charlie has
other things on his mind right now."
surprised when the next day wasn't any better. He woke up thinking his
bad feelings had passed but the sight of Charlie took away his good
intentions and his anger rose up again, strong and boiling just below
the surface. It was difficult to understand. He loved Charlie, he'd get
over this, it was just going to take a little more time.
For the third night in a row there was a knock on Daniel's
"Come on in,
Charlie." There was no need for Daniel to ask who was knocking.
The boy entered
the room and spread his sleeping bag out on the floor beside the bed.
The first night was understandable, the second night questionable,
tonight was a sure sign something was wrong.
until his brother settled down. "Are you okay, Charlie?"
"Yeah," came the
hesitant whisper. "I just don't like to be alone at night. It makes me
think too much. Is it okay? If you want me to leave, I will."
"No, it's okay.
You can sleep here every night if you want to. I just know how much you
love sleeping in your own bed."
offered that information during the recent camping trip they'd taken
together at State
Forest State Park , the camping trip
during which they became blood brothers.
saddened Daniel. The Charlie lying on the floor beside him tonight was
nothing like the Charlie from the trip. In fact, he was nothing like
the Charlie Daniel had grown to love despite the wild streak that
occasionally scared the bejeezus out of him. That Charlie possessed the
strength and courage to stand up to friends and bullies alike, not to
mention SF's. That Charlie had been... what was the word? That day when
they had battled Tommy’s gang Daniel had come up with just the right
word but it eluded him now.
"I'm sorry you
lost your Fantasy Sports Week Camp," he said solemnly. He was sorry.
Charlie had talked endlessly about that coveted week since the first
awkward day of Daniel’s arrival in the O'Neill household. His brother
had been on a waiting list for two years. It wasn't that Daniel
disagreed with the punishment, he just felt sad for Charlie's
matter," came the whisper from the floor. "I don't deserve to go."
bothered Daniel. He wondered if Jack or Sara had told Charlie that or
if it was something he had decided on his own.
"Dad's still mad
at me,” Charlie said. He was beginning to sound a little shaky. “He
tries to hide it but I can tell. I think he'll always be mad. I don't
blame him. I ruined everything."
Daniel wanted to
dispute that notion and reassure his brother but he couldn't because he
was scared that maybe it was a little bit true. Jack did seem mad
around Charlie. They barely spoke to each other. Charlie was quiet and
withdrawn and Jack didn't seem concerned about drawing him out or
reassuring him. It had only been three days and maybe Jack wanted to be
sure Charlie had learned his lesson but it was tense being at the
dinner table with father and son. Heck, it was painful being in the
same room with them.
"It will pass."
The words had been Daniel's mantra for the past two years, ever since
his parents’ deaths. No matter how bad things were, somehow, those
three words held true.
"Hey, I have an idea." Daniel worked up some enthusiasm
hoping it would be contagious. "Do you want to go over to Spencer's
tomorrow? He keeps asking me when you'll be coming over. He thinks he
found that baseball card you've been looking for and he said he'd trade
it to you.”
"No, I can't.
I'm helping Mom get organized."
"I don't think
she'd mind." Daniel was positive Sara wouldn't mind. Unlike Jack, Sara
didn't seem mad. As of yesterday, she began urging Charlie to ride his
bike or head over to the baseball field at the park but Charlie had
"It's better if
I don't go out," Charlie said with certainty.
“I won't get
into any trouble at home. Who knows what'll happen out there." There
was a long pause. "Daniel, you can ride my bike if you want to. I don't
mind. I want you to have it."
Have it? "No,
you ride it. It's yours." Daniel had been hoping Charlie would show him
a few bike tricks, though not the more spectacular ones. Now he could
see that wouldn't happen any time soon.
"Nah, you take
it. At least until you get your own. I'm not going to be using it."
not grounded. You don't have to stay in the house."
"I know, but I
want to. It'll be easier that way."
"What will be
easier?" Daniel asked with a confused frown.
"To win Dad's
trust back. I know it can't be like it was before but..." Charlie
choked back a sob. "But maybe someday he can trust me and we can be
was the word Daniel had come up with to describe Charlie O'Neill. It
seemed that Charlie was long gone. This Charlie was the opposite.
"Don't be silly.
He was just scared. Remember that day at Cheyenne Mountain
when we set off the alarm? He said when he gets
really scared he gets mad. Jack loves you and he'll trust you again.
Don't worry about that." Daniel made the reassurance with all the
confidence and sincerity he could muster.
There was no
answer from the floor and he decided Charlie must have fallen asleep.
watched the relieved parents fuss over their five-year-old daughter and
was grateful for the happy ending.
“Do you have any
questions about what the doctor told you?" She knew from experience how
relief could get in the way of hearing.
“No,” the woman,
Mrs. Hendry, answered as she wiped her eyes with one hand and caressed
her daughter’s fair curls with the other while the child rested
comfortably in her father’s arms.
“And you’re not
going to ride your bike without your helmet again, are you, Melissa?”
Sara asked with a smile.
The little girl
laid her head against her father’s shoulder.
didn’t think it would be a problem," Mr. Hendry answered. "I mean, we
were right in the driveway. I never thought – ” He stopped abruptly
when his wife glared at him.
thought. She could tell they were definitely going to have a talk when
the family returned home. The man had made a mistake that almost
resulted in serious injury to their child. She had no doubt Mrs. Hendry
was going to make that very clear to her husband. Probably for quite
farewells, the family headed for the hospital exit and Sara returned to
the nurse’s station to make a last note in the file. Melissa Hendry had
been fortunate to get off with only a bump on the head. The entire
family had been fortunate.
As her own
family had been. The thought was automatic. Two weeks ago her family
had come so close to unspeakable tragedy that Sara couldn’t bear
thinking about it even now. But the memories returned every night in
her dreams – memories of how Charlie had come within millimeters of
shooting himself in the head. With Jack’s gun.
A shudder ran
through her and she gripped the edge of the desk as she struggled for
control. If not for Daniel... no, don't think about it, she told
herself. Not here. Not now. They were all right, they were *all* all
right, and that’s what mattered. That’s what she needed to focus on,
not the 'what-ifs' and the 'almosts'.
weren’t all right. Charlie hadn’t been hurt physically but he hadn’t
been the same since that day. Her exuberant, outgoing, devil-may-care
son had disappeared, replaced by a quiet, withdrawn little boy who was
so unlike Charlie her heart ached to see him.
She needed to
talk to Jack, and she would, tonight.
"Jack, you have
to talk to Charlie."
Sara caught him
in their bedroom, in the middle of changing his clothes, and the tone
of her voice warned him this wasn’t going to be an enjoyable
"Why? What's he
done now?" Jack asked with more than a touch of sarcasm. He was as high
as a kite from work today and it was almost impossible to come down.
They were so close to something amazing. He could feel it.
A quick glance
at his wife let him know he was dangerously close to the limits of her
patience. He reined himself in and gave her an apologetic half smile.
"He's so... sad.
He's different. I know you've been incredibly busy at the base but you
must have noticed."
Sara was right.
He was busy. Beyond busy. He'd been taking Daniel with him to the
Mountain almost every day. The scientists were on the verge of
something so huge it gave him chills to think about it. The electricity
ran rampant through the science department. As an added bonus, Jack
actually liked the new scientists. Dr. Lee was soft-spoken and
easygoing and more importantly, he was fond of Daniel. So was Dr.
Rothman. So were the other scientists. He hadn't even needed to
threaten them. They recognized the brilliant mind housed in the little
body and they cherished the child, as well as the knowledge, almost as
much as he did. They worked well together and Daniel was just as fond
of them as they were of him.
in the air was impossible to ignore even for the most seasoned
personnel. They were so close that it was a thrill to come to the
Mountain every morning and almost a disappointment when it came time to
leave each night.
Jack also needed
to talk to Sara about Daniel and school. General Hammond had asked him
if they would consider letting Daniel be home-schooled at the Mountain.
With the base on the edge of a discovery beyond imagining, Jack felt
confident Daniel would jump at the opportunity. Sara was another story.
He decided to save that topic for another day.
He wrapped his
arms around his brooding wife. "Honey, I know Charlie's sad but it
hasn't been that long. Let him stew for a while. I think it's finally
hitting home that he can't run around doing whatever he pleases with no
consequences. If he's quiet or sad for a while, so be it."
"A while? It's
been two weeks."
Two weeks? It
didn't feel like two weeks to Jack.
bother you?" Sara asked.
Okay, maybe a little bit. But nothing like it did Sara. "Not if it
saves him from disaster.”
"You don't see
him every day," she sighed, giving him a handy excuse.
right, I don't. Let's give it another week. If you're still worried
we'll both talk to him again. I just don't want to coddle him and tell
him everything’s fine when it's not fine. You agree with that, don't
"I suppose." She
pulled out of his arms to see his face. "Jack..."
That particular way she said his name usually meant he wasn't going to
like the question.
"What did you do
with the gun?"
himself to look her in the eye and was relieved that the question was
sincere, without accusation. "I bought a lockbox at the Home Depot.
It's on the closet shelf."
himself for more but she just nodded, smiled at him and rubbed his arm.
"I'm tired, I'm
going to take a hot shower before going to bed.” She kissed his cheek
and headed for the bathroom.
coolly, thankful for his years of military training. Sara had admirably
refrained from pointing out that she had suggested the lockbox idea
last year and he had readily agreed. He just hadn't gotten around to
it. It was understandable, he was busy with work, and then Daniel had
joined their family and everything had exploded. The Stargate project,
Jack took a
deep, shaky breath. Excuses. He was making excuses. The truth suddenly
stared him in the face, the same truth he’d been hiding from since the
day Charlie pulled the trigger of his service revolver.
If there was one
thing Jack O'Neill hated it was excuses. It was time to face facts. His
anger wasn’t exclusive to Charlie’s actions, part of it was his own
culpability. Jack knew precautions needed to be taken when a child
shared a house with a gun. He knew all about those precautions. Hell,
he and Sara had talked about all of them ages ago. Bottom line – she'd
never wanted him to keep a weapon in the house. Jack understood that,
he even agreed with it. Unfortunately, things weren’t always that
simple. Bitter experience had proven how dark this world could be,
especially in his line of work, and he needed to be able to protect his
After a lengthy
discussion, Sara had reluctantly agreed with his reasoning. Jack had
promised to keep the gun locked up; he had also promised their son
would never see it, much less handle it.
Jack was big on
the importance of keeping his word and had drilled that lesson into
Charlie as well. But he had failed to keep his word to his wife. He had
failed to get the lockbox, failed to keep his guard up, and ultimately,
he had failed to keep his son safe. It had been Daniel who saved
Charlie when Charlie found the weapon lying benignly in an unlocked
If not for
Daniel, Charlie would be dead. And Jack would have had to live with
that for the rest of his life.
He slumped down
on the bed and leaned forward to rest his head in his hands. “Stupid,
O’Neill,” he breathed.
Jack had been
taking all of his anger for his own stupidity out on Charlie. Enough,
he decided. It had taken two weeks and one day but it was time to face
the truth and shoulder some of the responsibility for what had
Anger and guilt
were two sides of the same coin. He had always mixed up those two
immensely complicated emotions. Charlie was still wrong and his
punishment had fit the crime, but it was over. Charlie needed to see
that and move on and Jack needed to accept his share of the blame and
move on, too.
It was a relief
to finally see the light and Jack felt at peace for the first time
since the nightmare began. It was too late to do anything about it now;
Charlie was already in bed. Jack and Daniel were going back to the
Mountain early in the morning but he'd talk to Charlie tomorrow night
and clear the air. It was time for things to return to normal in the
He slipped out
of his clothes and surprised Sara in the shower. She gave a small start
before turning into his embrace.
"I'm not going
to wait a week." He kissed her neck and blew behind her ear. "I'll talk
to Charlie tomorrow."
answering she kissed him full on the lips and began to soap his chest.
“That’s it! I’ve
Daniel Jackson slipped, slid, and stumbled down the ladder while waving
his hands in the air. Fortunately, Captain Lou Ferretti caught him just
before he would have fallen face down on the floor.
That last step would have hurt for sure.”
Heedless of the
man, Daniel turned to face Captain Samantha Carter as she hurried up.
“What is it,
Daniel?” she demanded.
“I’ve got it!”
he exclaimed jubilantly. Now he needed to tell –
“Got what?” came
a familiar drawl behind him and Daniel spun around to see his foster
father, Colonel Jack O’Neill, enter the room.
here!” He grabbed Jack’s hand and pulled him closer to the great circle
of stone. “It was right here the whole time and I didn’t see it until
gripped the boy’s arms and gave him a gentle shake. “You need to calm
down before you blow an artery. Take a few deep breaths and then you
Daniel sighed in
frustration but one look at those dark brown eyes gazing down at him
told him there would be no arguing. Obediently, he took a deep breath,
then another. By the third one he could feel his heart rate returning
“Can I tell you
now?” he pleaded.
quirked. “Okay, what’s all the hullabaloo?”
Daniel pointed at the center of the cover stone, high above his head
now that he was on the floor. “Do you see it?”
Jack took a
couple steps back, bringing the boy with him, and studied the
“I see a lot of
those picto-thingys you like so much but... nope, they don’t look any
more exciting now than before.”
and knew Jack heard it when the man cocked an eyebrow at him.
spill. From the beginning.”
another deep breath. “Okay. We already figured out that the symbols on
the Stargate are actually constellations...”
intently, amused at Daniel’s use of ‘we’. ‘We’ hadn’t figured out
anything. Daniel had done all the figuring out so far.
“... but we
haven’t found the key to putting the symbols together in a way that
would open the Stargate. Well...” Daniel swallowed and went on in a
rush of words, “I think it’s been staring us in the face the whole
“Look, Daniel –
” Sam started.
“Let him talk,
Captain.” Jack knew Daniel, the kid would get there eventually and it
was usually worth the wait.
Daniel continued, oblivious to Sam, “that the cartouche that runs down
the middle of the cover stone arranges these symbols into a kind of
Even though it was happening right in front of him, he had a hard time
believing a little kid was capable of understanding all this technical
crap. Okay, this particular little kid was a certified genius, but
“Are you talking
about coordinates?” Sam asked with a frown.
affirmed with a vigorous nod. He looked around. “What happened to my
“You dropped it
when you jumped down the ladder,” Ferretti noted as he handed it to him.
opened it to a blank sheet and scribbled the symbols from the cartouche
vertically down the page.
Jack drew closer
so he could see over the boy’s shoulder, aware that Carter and the
others were doing the same. Daniel continued with his impromptu
lecture, laying out the ideas that had coalesced in his mind.
cartouche gives us are the seven points required to map the route to a
“What d’ya mean,
seven points?” Ferretti questioned.
the page and drew a three-dimensional cube on the paper, then put a
large spot of ink on each ‘wall’ of the cube.
“When we talk
about locating a destination to any three-dimensional space, we need to
find two points to determine the exact height, two more points to
determine the width, and two more points to determine the depth.” As he
spoke, he was drawing lines between the dots until he was finally left
with three overlapping lines. “The cartouche on the Stargate gives us
those reference points.”
her mouth but Jack jumped in first. "Where’s the seventh point you
Daniel gave him
a triumphant smile. “These six identify a destination. The seventh is
the point of origin. That’s how we map the route to a specific
nothing more in the cartouche to draw from,” Dr. Rothman objected.
He hadn’t realized Dr. Rothman had entered the room. For the first time
he noticed the circle of people surrounding him, Jack, Sam, Captain
Ferretti, a couple of the technicians, and now Dr. Rothman had joined
them, too. Suddenly self-conscious, Daniel had a brief panic attack.
What if he was wrong? What if –
familiar hand came to rest on his shoulder. “Go on, Daniel. We’re with
you,” Jack encouraged.
himself to lean into that hand and the strength it offered, and his
self-confidence returned. He was right. He knew he was right.
“The point of
origin isn’t inside the cartouche.” He glanced up at the massive cover
stone before turning again to his notebook. “It’s just below it.”
sketched two small stick figures on either side of a triangle and then
drew a circle above the triangle. After studying it for a minute, he
looked up with a satisfied smile. “Here’s the point of origin. Earth.”
isn’t on the Stargate.” Sam stared at the drawing, then up at the cover
“Yes, it is.”
Not for nothing had Daniel spent all those hours gazing at the
Stargate. Over the last few months he had memorized all the symbols on
the great structure and he knew what to look for. The symbol on the
Stargate was fancier than on the cover stone but it was there.
Too excited to
feel self-conscious, Daniel led Jack and Sam and a few stragglers down
to the huge room that housed the Stargate, then he sped up the stairs
to the computer-filled room overlooking the renovated silo. Ignoring
everyone else, Daniel looked directly at Jack.
“Once when I was
in here with you, I noticed one of these computer monitors was showing
a close-up of the symbols on the Stargate.”
staring down at the silent Stargate as he listened. Daniel cleared his
throat rather noisily and continued.
“Can you do that
again? Only this time, can you also make the symbols turn, I mean
revolve, so that we can see them close up as they go around?”
Daniel was going
to show them what the scientists claimed didn’t exist. Jack’s heart
swelled with excitement as he recognized the future he had barely dared
to believe in was about to become a reality.
He nodded again
and turned to the senior technician sitting in front of the main
computer terminal. “Do it,” he ordered.
flickered and the picture appeared, then zoomed closer with dizzying
speed as the camera focused on the uppermost symbol of the great ring.
Daniel leaned forward until he was almost pressing against the
technician’s shoulder but for once he wasn’t aware of anyone or
anything except the screen.
“Make it go
around.” His eyes were fixed on the monitor.
Though most of
Daniel’s attention was taken up in anticipation of what was about to
happen, part of his mind marveled at the intricate detail in the carved
symbols on the Stargate. Ten thousand years old! Who had carved the
symbols ten thousand years ago?
The inner ring
of the Stargate began to revolve and Daniel forgot everything else. One
by one the symbols passed by the camera’s eye and he held his breath as
he compared each one to the carving below the cartouche in the cover
blurted, startling everyone in the room. They all drew close, their
attention torn between the little boy and the symbol on the monitor.
closer and scrutinized the image on the screen.
“There it is.”
He traced the symbol on the screen with his finger, a triangle crowned
by a tiny circle.
realized what Daniel had already known – they were the same symbol, one
was more stylized than the other but they were definitely the same.
Sam moved up
beside Daniel and ran a shaking finger over the symbol. “It’s been here
the entire time.” Her voice was
little more than a whisper.
cut his eyes to her.
“Sir, I need to,
I need to study this to be sure but...”
It was the first
time he'd seen the cool, controlled Captain Carter fumble for words,
and he let her take her time.
“I think,” she
gave Daniel a dazed look, “I think he’s done it, sir.”
around the circle to see the same combination of amazement and shock on
everyone’s face. Then he looked down to meet Daniel’s anxious gaze
while fighting back his own awe. This little boy, this eleven-year-old
child, had just solved a mystery that the military’s best and brightest
had struggled in vain for the last two years to figure out.
Not so fast.
They needed to be sure. He’d leave that to Carter and her team. Now
that Daniel had given them the how and the what, he had no doubt the
Captain would run with it. As for him, he needed to see Hammond ,
A smile spread
across his face as he slid his arm around the boy’s slim shoulders,
giving him a squeeze.
“Way to go,
kiddo.” He watched as Daniel’s anxiety was replaced with relief.
noting the patient’s vitals in the chart before slipping it back into
its usual slot. The boy was recovering from his surgery nicely. It
never ceased to amaze her how fast young children could bounce back
from serious injury.
“A nickel for
startled her out of her absorption and she looked up to see Ellen
Fremont smiling at her. Sara smiled back.
“A nickel? I
thought it was a penny.”
Ellen laughed. "And aren’t you supposed to be getting out of here?”
Sara glanced at
her watch in surprise. “You’re right, the morning flew by so quickly I
wasn’t paying attention to the time.”
“You’re also not
used to working half-days,” Ellen noted.
“No, I suppose
you're right.” Sara gave her friend a warm smile. “I really appreciate
you filling in for me this afternoon.”
“I’m glad to do
it. Besides,” the petite woman gave her a wink, “a little extra in my
next paycheck will come in handy.”
laughed just as Margo Cameron came out of the supply room. Her eyes
brightened at the sight of them.
“Ellen, what are
you doing here today?”
“I have to leave
early.” Sara signed off on the last chart. “So Ellen’s taking the rest
of my shift.”
Margo’s eyebrows rose. “This is a first.” Her smile widened and she
gave Sara a little shoulder nudge. “Special date?”
Sara kept her
smile in place. Margo was an excellent nurse who was, unfortunately, an
incorrigible gossip. Although Ellen knew some of the story because she
and Sara were good friends, Sara knew better than to breathe a word of
anything personal to Margo.
exciting, I’m afraid. Ellen, thanks again. Would you mind calling Tom
and asking him to send Charlie home? I'll meet him there.”
"Will do," Ellen
agreed. They routinely shifted the boys to each other's house during
the summer months or school holidays so the kids wouldn't be home
alone. The boys were getting older but they weren't quite old enough to
be home alone for more than a few hours at a time.
before Margo could ask any more questions. Once she was in her car and
heading for home she reviewed her secret plans for the afternoon. She
was grateful Jack had decided to talk to Charlie tonight but that fact
didn’t change her plans. She had formulated an idea of her own and she
was ready to put it into action.
Sara hoped her
plan would work. They needed to do something to help Charlie. Standing
on the sideline waiting for him to come to them was proving to be
fruitless and frustrating. Charlie had suffered a frightening
experience and then had the dream he’d been looking forward to for two
years snatched away. No wonder the poor kid was depressed. Even though
he'd brought it on himself she couldn't help but feel badly for him.
She was surprised Jack hadn't been equally as worried for their son.
regretted denying Charlie his Fantasy Sports Camp Week, she remained
convinced it was necessary. Charlie had been extremely fortunate to
come out of this in one piece. They couldn’t risk his unthinking
attitude taking him into another disastrous situation.
considered, it was no wonder Charlie wasn't himself. It was time to
take the bull by the horns.
When she walked
into the house she was struck by the quiet. Normally when Charlie was
around there was noise, whistling, feet thudding on the hardwood
floors, his cheerful voice... except for the last two weeks.
called as she wandered from room to room.
There was no
sign of her son downstairs so she went upstairs. He wasn’t in his room
and the bathroom door was open. Although she knew Daniel was at the
Mountain with Jack today, she peeked into his room to be sure Charlie
hadn’t taken refuge there. Empty. The boys knew better then to go into
Jack and Sara’s room without permission but Sara checked just in case.
went back downstairs and headed for the kitchen. Maybe Charlie had gone
out in the yard? Opening the back door, she found her quarry sitting on
the porch steps. For a moment Sara watched him, feeling the now
familiar ache in her heart. To see her normally boisterous, energetic
son sitting so quietly, hands empty, staring at nothing, seemed so
“Hi, honey.” She
took a deep breath and plastered on a smile.
What are you doing home so early?” Charlie started and twisted around
to look up at her.
run,” Sara answered lightly. “How about you give me a hand grocery
was something her guys avoided like the plague. Even Daniel tried to be
elsewhere when she looked for volunteers to accompany her to the store.
Sara had never figured out if it was an inborn guy thing or something
they learned in the cradle but she decided long ago it was easier to do
it herself than have to deal with a reluctant, impatient assistant.
for Charlie, Sara wasn’t going to accept excuses today. He didn’t know
that yet and he’d made the mistake of sitting here, obviously doing
nothing, so he couldn’t claim he was in the middle of something.
mumbled, getting to his feet.
agreement surprised Sara and strengthened her resolve. “Let me get my
grocery list,” she went on, “and we can get going.”
feet, Charlie joined her in the car where he sat silently, ignoring her
conversational gambits during the brief ride to the store. At Sara’s
insistence, he pushed the cart for her up one aisle and down another,
until all the items on the list had been checked off. After going
through the checkout and loading the bags into the trunk of the car,
they headed home.
By now, Sara had
run out of words. She avoided looking at her son for fear he would pick
up on her anxiety. Charlie was quite intuitive when it came to her
emotions, even if he didn’t understand the reasons behind them. Not
recently, though. Not today. He was slumped in the passenger seat, his
normally alert expression empty of emotion and his usually bright eyes
dull and unseeing.
stung and she blinked with determination. She saw the street up ahead
that they normally turned on and swallowed as she gripped the steering
wheel more tightly. This is for your own good, Charlie, she thought as
she passed the street without turning. She expected – hoped – for a
comment from her son. Something along the lines of – “You missed the
turn, Mom,” or “This isn’t the way home,” or even “What are you doing,
Mom?” But there was only silence. Another furtive glance at Charlie
confirmed her suspicion that he wasn’t paying attention. He was locked
away inside himself, lonely and depressed. Even though he was sitting
beside her, Sara had never felt so far away from her son and the
realization made her eyes sting again.
She cleared her
throat, relieved that the street she wanted was just ahead. She turned
on the car’s blinker, slowed to take the turn, and slowed still further
as she drove into the parking lot. Unlike the rest of the school year,
there was plenty of available parking during the summer. Sticking to
her plan, Sara drove deliberately down to the end of the lot before
Just ahead of
them, on the other side of the chain link fence, was the building that
housed the P.E. department. Sara smiled to herself at the sight of the
gate that had been left wide open. So far her plan was working.
“You want to
come in with me, honey?” she asked.
For the first
time Charlie raised his head and took in his surroundings. “Why are we
It was his first
expression of curiosity in two weeks and Sara was delighted, though she
kept her expression neutral and her voice casual.
“I need to pick
up some paperwork about the extra classes Daniel will be taking in the
fall,” she fibbed. “You want to come with me or stay here?”
here.” Charlie's brief animation faded.
Though she had
expected it, even hoped for it, Charlie’s response deepened her
anxiety. Giving him her brightest smile, Sara rolled down the
driver-side and the passenger-side windows before turning off the
“So it won’t get
too warm in here while I’m gone,” she explained. “I’ll be back in a few
then slumped back in his seat after his mother was gone. He stared
outside, unseeing, wishing he was home where he could just... do
He rubbed his
eyes. They felt gritty, like they had sand in them. He guessed it was
because he was so tired. It seemed like a long time since he’d slept
through the night. The only times he’d actually been able to sleep at
all were the nights he snuck into Daniel’s room and slept on the floor
in his sleeping bag. His parents didn’t know about that ’cause he
always waited until he saw the light go out under their bedroom door
before sneaking over to Daniel’s room.
worry about Daniel saying anything. Over the last few months he'd
discovered that Daniel was good at keeping secrets. During the past
couple of weeks Charlie had been relieved to learn that Daniel was also
good at knowing when not to ask questions.
Daniel was safe
to be around.
Not that he
deserved a brother like Daniel. He’d almost gotten his brother killed a
few weeks ago. It was amazing Daniel hadn’t been angry. He’d even saved
Charlie’s life just a few days later. Which wouldn’t have been
necessary except for his own stupidity.
swallowed at the thought. It had been haunting him day and night since
it happened. He would’ve died. He, Charlie O’Neill, wouldn’t have made
it to his twelfth birthday next month. He really would have died.
He rested his
head against the back of the seat and swallowed again. He deserved to
lose his Fantasy Sports Camp Week. He deserved a lot worse, Dad knew
Charlie!”Jolted out of his misery, Charlie straightened and opened his
eyes. Coach Engels, his soccer coach, was standing by the car door
holding a bag of soccer balls, peering into the drivers-side open
window and smiling. Charlie cleared his throat.
doing this fine summer day?”
hesitated, not knowing how to respond, then he remembered Daniel’s
catch-all phrase. “Fine. I’m fine, thanks.”
Hey,” the coach continued, as if he’d just had an inspiration, “if you
have the time, you want to help me with the training camp?”
Oh. Now Charlie
knew what Coach Engels was doing here. Every summer the school offered
new students the chance to get acquainted with the sports program
through mini-camps. Charlie had helped out in the past, both in soccer
and baseball. This year had been different. Because he had expected to
be attending the Fantasy Sports Camp Week he hadn’t been involved in
the mini-camps. He’d been too focused on brushing up on the
fundamentals that he thought he'd need for his long-awaited,
long-dreamed-about, Fantasy Sports Camp Week.
Fantasy Sports Camp Week was no longer an option, thanks to his own
foolishness. Now he had the time to help out. Except all he wanted to
do was hide in his bedroom, away from the people and the fun, and
everything else he couldn’t face.
“How about it?”
Coach Engels asked. “We have some good prospects, they could use your
experience and advice.”
encouraging word, Charlie's spirits sank lower. The last thing the new
kids needed was his experience – in getting into trouble – or his
advice – that just led to more trouble.
he managed around the growing lump in his throat, “but I’m, uh, kind of
busy. Right now, I mean.”
The coach nodded
in disappointment. “I’m sorry you’re so busy. I know how summers can
be. If you change your mind, it’d be great to have your help. Just come
on by and I’ll put you to work, okay?”
always thought Coach Engels was a good guy and this genial offer proved
it once again. For some strange reason the realization made his throat
feel even tighter.
tried to smile and failed miserably.
The coach gave
him a cheery wave and went back through the gate, disappearing into the
P.E. building. Charlie sighed and leaned his head against the back rest
again. He hoped his mom would be back soon. He really wanted to go home.
He had no idea
how much time passed before he was startled into opening his eyes
again. Someone was knocking on the passenger-side door. He blinked to
clear his vision and was surprised to see one of his teachers.
he said out the window. “Uh, hi.”
taught science and was one of Charlie’s favorite teachers. He was
always nice and approachable and never made a kid feel dumb for asking
questions. Something happened last year – the rumors floating around
school said someone in his family had died – and Mr. Peterson abruptly
disappeared while a substitute teacher taught his classes for the rest
of the year.
This was the
first time Charlie had seen him since, geez, since last fall, almost a
year ago, and he was struck by Mr. Peterson’s changed appearance. He’d
never been a big guy but now he was really skinny and he looked a lot
older. But his smile was still the same as he gazed at Charlie.
“Kind of warm to
be sitting in the car, isn't it?”
mom’ll be right back.” Charlie shrugged and tried another smile.
“Ah, okay.” In
the distance, someone called Mr. Peterson’s name and the teacher turned
to see who was calling. “I’ll see you later, Cory." He reached into the
car and patted Charlie's shoulder before walking away.
as he looked after the man. Cory? Mr. Peterson knew him. He'd even
given him pointers in his job as assistant coach of Charlie’s Little
League baseball team. Why would he call him Cory?
He sighed again
and closed his eyes. So Mr. Peterson had been distracted. No big deal.
He really wished his mom would hurry up.
later, Sara walked back to her car. Her feet were dragging as much as
her spirits. She’d seen Dave Engels and he’d told her of Charlie’s lack
of interest in helping with the mini-camp. She had thought... she'd
been so hopeful...
So much for her
approached the car, she could see her son slumped in his seat and her
feelings of helplessness and frustration deepened. How on earth was she
going to reach him? Maybe Jack would have better luck this evening.
Sara allowed herself a smile and a tiny bit of optimism. If anyone
could get through to Charlie it would be his father. Maybe Jack was
what Charlie really needed.
It turned out to
be an exhilarating yet exhausting day after Daniel had explained his
discovery. A day filled with jubilation and excitement and partying,
and also an immediate and intensive re-examination of everything Daniel
had said, especially in relation to his earlier discoveries. Being the
one who had figured out the long-standing puzzle, as well as being the
foremost expert on the snake language at Cheyenne Mountain, Daniel –
and his interpretations – was at the center of it all.
By the time he
and Jack arrived home at the end of that eventful day, Daniel wanted to
crawl into bed and go to sleep. Jack, he noticed, was still wired. The
next thing he noticed as they entered the house was the fragrant aroma
of... beef stew? Despite his exhaustion
his taste buds went on full alert.
Jack called the moment he crossed the threshold. “Something smells
she replied and both Jack and Daniel turned to look up the stairs to
see her coming down.
Jack’s voice trailed off. Standing beside him, Daniel saw why.
At first glance
Sara looked like always. But a closer look revealed a slump in her
shoulders and her usual smile was missing. There was something else,
too, Daniel thought, but he didn’t know what it was. Sara wasn’t
looking or acting like Sara.
wrong?” Daniel watched Jack’s eyes narrow as he looked at her.
“The same thing
that’s been wrong for two weeks,” she said quietly.
Jack took a deep
breath. “Yeah, well – ” he shot a look at Daniel. “Why don’t you go get
without speaking. His excitement and hunger, even his weariness, paled
in comparison to the cloud that had settled over the house. He went up
the stairs slowly, hoping Jack and
Sara would be able to figure out how to help Charlie, hoping Jack would
stop being mad and Charlie could get back to being his old self. But
they were just hopes and Daniel's weariness overtook him as he climbed
Charlie had made
clear his desire for privacy but Daniel couldn’t shake the feeling
that, deep down, his brother didn’t really mean it, at least not
entirely. Several times in the past two weeks Charlie had snuck into
Daniel’s room with his sleeping bag and spent the night. Daniel hadn’t
said anything. Charlie had no desire to talk during his night-time
visits so he pretended to be asleep each time his brother’s gentle tap
on the bedroom door heralded his arrival. The fact that Charlie always
snuck back to his own room before his parents woke up the next morning
was proof to Daniel that Charlie preferred to keep his nocturnal
wanderings to himself.
At the top of
the stairs, Daniel turned toward Charlie’s room, stopping when he
reached the closed door. Another sign Charlie wasn’t okay. Up until two
weeks ago, his gregarious foster brother usually left his bedroom door
open, closing it only on special occasions, such as when he was making
a present for Jack or Sara. Since the accident with the gun, Charlie
always kept his door closed.
his hand to knock and his stomach rumbled. “Shhh,” he told it and
answered. After waiting a polite minute, Daniel knocked again.
“Charlie, it’s me. Can I come in?”
There was no
response and Daniel's heart sank. Should he knock again or leave
Charlie alone? It made him a little sick to think of Charlie by
himself, lost in his own misery. Daniel had firsthand knowledge of
loneliness and depression and it wasn't a good feeling. It would
probably be best for Charlie to talk to his parents but since he
wouldn’t do that, Daniel decided he had to offer.
didn’t seem to be interested in his help because the door remained
firmly shut. Sadly, Daniel started to turn away, just as the door
opened. Charlie looked at him through the narrow crack. His expression
was not welcoming and Daniel had to swallow before he could speak.
raced. Charlie wasn't making it easy. Come on, you’re good at talking.
“Um, are you
hungry?” He babbled the first thing that came to mind. “Sara’s making beef stew. It smells really good.”
“I was thinking
maybe it's time to set the table.” Setting the table used to be
Charlie’s job. Now he and Daniel shared the chore.
“Mom will say
There was no
life in Charlie's voice or sparkle in his eyes. Those signs of life had
been missing for two weeks now. Daniel’s worry got the best of him.
really like to help with whatever’s wrong. Can I do something?” The
words escaped in a rush before he had a chance to stop them. Then
Daniel wondered if he should apologize. He didn’t want to push.
flickered in Charlie’s eyes and for a minute it looked like he was
going to say something. Then he looked down at his feet and shook his
brothers now,” Daniel whispered around the lump in his throat. Charlie
looked up at that.
twisted then straightened. After another strained minute he took a step
back. Daniel watched in despair. He shouldn’t have just blurted it out.
He should’ve – his self-reproaches stopped when Charlie opened the door
“Come on in.”
Not giving his
brother a chance to change his mind, Daniel darted inside and heard the
door close again behind him. Remembering the first time he'd come into
this room and met Charlie O’Neill, Daniel couldn’t help contrasting
that bright, enthusiastic, outgoing kid with the dispirited, withdrawn
figure in front of him. Why weren’t Sara and Jack doing something?
Charlie was miserable. He needed something, maybe a shoulder to lean on
or someone to listen to his problems. Something. If he could get
Charlie to start talking, about anything, that would at least be a
beginning. That gave Daniel an idea.
around the room, skipping over the sports trophies and looking closely
at the models. There it was, third from the end on the shelf above the
“I remember that
one.” Daniel pointed out the jet. “You showed it to me my first day
here.” He turned a casual look at his brother.
his gaze; his jaw quivered and he turned away. Too late, Daniel
remembered that was the model jet Charlie had built with Jack. With the
memory came understanding. Charlie really believed what he’d told
Daniel a few nights after his accident with the gun. How had Charlie
put it? 'But maybe someday Dad can trust
me and we can be friends again.'
Jack didn’t trust him. Sadly, that part might be true. But the other
part was even worse. Charlie didn’t feel as if his father wanted to be
friends with him.
believe it but he had to admit Jack was acting weird around Charlie. It
wasn’t like Jack. Daniel had lived in this house for over three months
and he’d seen Jack happy and sad and angry and laughing. The few times
he'd seen Jack really angry, he'd blown up and then calmed down.
Sometimes it happened right away, sometimes it took a few hours or even
a day. This was the longest Daniel had ever known Jack to stay mad. It
didn’t make sense.
“Your mom and
dad had a big scare.” Daniel did his best to make sense of it. “It’ll
just take time for things to calm down and get back to normal. Look at
your mom. She’s treating you like always, right?”
swallowed and nodded. “She took me to school today.”
That made Daniel blink.
For an instant
Daniel thought he saw an embryonic smile around Charlie’s mouth before
“I didn’t think
of it then, but I think she and the coach planned it.”
“She went into
the school to do something and I stayed in the car,” Charlie explained.
“My soccer coach, Coach Engels, came by and asked me to help out at the
soccer camp with the new kids.”
opinion of Sara shot even higher. What a great idea. If anything could
drag Charlie out of his doldrums it would be his beloved sports.
fun.” Daniel tried to control his enthusiasm.
“I said no.”
Charlie’s head dropped.
No? It was hard
to stop his instinct to protest. “But Charlie...”
Peterson got in on the act,” Charlie continued.
“One of my
teachers. He was an assistant coach on my Little League team.” Faint
lines wrinkled Charlie’s forehead. “Or maybe he wasn’t part of the
plan. He seemed distracted. He called me Cory.”
shrugged. “Dunno.” His shoulders slumped. “Doesn’t matter. I don’t
deserve to play sports right now.”
This time Daniel
couldn’t stop his protest. “Charlie, you’re not grounded. There’s no
reason – ”
Jack’s faint but
distinctive bellow cut off the rest of his words. Charlie got off the
bed and opened the door.
taken the trash cans out to the curb and it’s time to eat.”
and smacked his forehead with the palm of his hand. “I forgot,” he
muttered as if to himself, then he yelled, “I’m coming.”
word or look at Daniel the older boy vanished through the door. Daniel
looked after him with a sinking heart. He didn’t know what to do.
the dining room, Jack debated how to approach his son. Sara had told
him about her unsuccessful plan earlier in the day and he realized his
son was suffering needlessly. Charlie didn’t deserve to shoulder all
the blame for their shared mistake. Jack’s thoughts from last night –
that they needed to finally clear the air and move on – had been right
on target. No more delays.
His order to
Charlie to take the trash cans out to the curb was his opening gambit.
First he wanted to get his son downstairs and off guard, doing
something he was used to doing. Then -
footsteps pulled Jack out of his thoughts and he looked up to see his
son coming down the stairs. As he approached, Jack took a good look at
the boy. Charlie’s head was down, his shoulders were slumped, and the
sight brought a lump to Jack’s throat. Damn it to hell, Sara was right,
this had gone on far too long.
Charlie stared at the floor as he walked past his father into the
after him, his mouth open to call him back, but he caught himself. No,
he needed to stick to his original idea and wait until the boy
returned. Then they’d talk. Then Jack would offer his son a long
overdue apology. There was enough guilt to go around. Charlie didn't
need to shoulder it all. They'd talk, get it all out in the open and
then they could move on.
It had taken
Charlie longer than usual to get the trash cans out to the curb. His
dad had built a little cart years ago that the trash cans sat on.
Whenever the trash needed to be picked up, it was simply a matter of
unlocking the little brake that kept the cart in place and pushing it
out to the curb. The next morning, after the garbage truck came by, the
process was reversed.
pestered his parents for a long time for the privilege of rolling the
cart out to the curb for trash pick-up. It had always struck him as a
grown-up kind of job and he’d been thrilled when Jack finally gave him
permission to take over the chore when he turned ten years old. Since
then, the job had been his. Charlie had discovered it wasn’t as fun
when it was hot outside or raining or snowing but he guessed that was
part of what made it a grown-up job.
fled the house in such a hurry he forgot to turn on the back lights.
Ordinarily it wouldn’t have mattered, he knew every inch of his yard.
Except this time the little brake switch was sticking and it was too
dark to see what was wrong. He thought he’d unlocked it, pushed the
cart a few feet, then the tires locked up again. He jiggled the switch
until the brake unlocked, pushed the cart a few more feet, only to have
the tires lock up again.
If not for the
events of the last two weeks, Charlie would have gone back into the
house and told his dad. Dad would have fixed the problem right away.
He couldn’t do
that tonight. It was silly but it felt like the stupid brake switch was
testing him. It wouldn’t have dared do this to Dad, he was sure of it.
Well, Charlie would show the stupid switch he was still an O’Neill,
even if his dad was mad at him.
In fits and
starts Charlie maneuvered the cart down the driveway, muttering at it
under his breath. The sticking switch got worse and worse and finally,
fed up with it, he dragged the whole heavy contraption the last couple
of yards. When he made it to the curb, he released it with a gasp of
relief and sank to the ground.
his sweating forehead and flexed his sore hands. Despite the soreness,
he felt good. He’d done it. He’d stuck with it until it was done. Dad
would like that.
At the thought
of his father his sense of accomplishment vanished and he closed his
eyes in misery.
at the edge of his consciousness. Charlie sniffed and wiped his face
before raising his head.
An iron band
caught him around the chest in a hard, paralyzing grip. The breath
whooshed out of him.
clamped down over his mouth and nose and he smelled something sickly
sweet, kind of like medicine.
instinct was to fight, to struggle against it, except after a minute it
seemed like too much of an effort.
inside, Charlie knew he should be afraid.
Instead he felt
sleepy, so sleepy...
Early the next
morning, Jack sat in his office at the Mountain, waiting for Hammond to
finish up his call to the President to see how far his C.O. would be
allowed to go in authorizing military resources and personnel in the
search for Charlie.
thought of his son's name made his throat close and his eyes burn.
Shit! He should be coping better, especially here at the base. He had
come in this morning to get himself under control and to take action.
he was Colonel Jonathan O'Neill, tough, smart, Special-Ops trained,
second in command of a top-secret military base. At home he was Jack,
husband of Sara, father of a missing child. Charlie O'Neill's emotional
wreck of a dad.
He could think
here, reason out the next logical steps without the burden of emotions
clouding his judgment. Except that part wasn't going as well as he had
Jack was also
meeting with General Hammond as soon as the General was off the phone
with the President. It calmed him somewhat, knowing the President of
the United States
was personally interested and involved in Charlie's
It was an
abduction, even though
Hammond had gently asked the question on
everyone's mind. “Are you sure he didn't just run away?”
Jack was sure.
Ninety-nine point nine percent sure. He kept the point one percent to
himself, not wanting it to interfere with the intensity of anyone's
search efforts. Charlie wasn’t the type of kid to run away. He hadn't
been himself since the gun incident, that was true, but he wouldn't run
away. Besides, Charlie wasn't stupid, he wouldn't run off while taking
out the garbage, right before dinner, without the benefit of his fifty
dollars in savings and a jacket.
Jack wasn’t sure
how serious to take the other possibility floating around in his
crowded thoughts. When Sara’s father, Mike, died a few months ago, he
had left his considerable estate in a trust for Sara and Charlie. It
wasn’t common knowledge but anyone with an interest wouldn’t have a
hard time finding out about it. When probated, information contained in
a will was easy to access. A garden-variety kidnapper might think the
risk worth taking. That prospect further complicated the muddled
Jack sighed and
rubbed his aching head. The long wait made him wonder if Hammond was
having trouble convincing the President of the certainty of Charlie's
kidnapping. No matter. Kawalsky and Ferretti were at his disposal
regardless of the outcome of the conference call taking place
downstairs. He was grateful they had already privately expressed their
intentions to help, even if it meant taking temporary leave of their
taught Jack that complete honesty was essential in a crisis in order to
accurately assess the facts and follow the logical clues. Honesty and
objectivity were crucial. He didn't have the luxury to wallow in his
pain and give in to his fears and be the distraught father. He needed
to stay focused and in control because not only was he Charlie's dad,
he was also the best person on God's green Earth to find his son.
honesty to the limit brought him face to face with another reason why
he'd driven up to the Mountain this morning.
He needed to get
away from Sara. There, how was that for honesty?
She blamed him.
At first, for Charlie running away, and later, after Jack had driven
the neighborhood and Sara had made all the mandatory, hopeful phone
calls to Charlie's friends, she had blamed his career. He couldn't
disagree, that had been his first thought, too, in light of what he did
for a living.
morning, after a long, sleepless and increasingly frantic night, Sara
did something she'd never done before. She punched him in the chest.
Hard. It shocked him. And when Jack didn't react, she punched him
There were no
words of comfort he could offer or reassurances he could murmur so she
beat against his chest with both fists, over and over with a fury he'd
never seen from her before, until she exhausted herself and collapsed
on the bed. His chest still hurt and a few light bruises were
Jack could have
stopped her at any time. He could have grabbed her wrists and tried to
talk some sense into her.
He knew what she
needed from him... the promise that it would be okay. That their son
was okay. Jack was afraid to make that vow and when he couldn't say the
words, it had rattled her to the point of physical violence.
Jack didn't make
the promise or stop Sara's assault because in all likelihood this was
his fault, and the pain of that knowledge was too hard to bear if
things went badly. It was easier to hurt physically. It felt good. He
briefly wondered what a shrink like Mackenzie would think of that, and
if it was something they'd have to deal with after... after Charlie was
home, safe and sound.
Neither of them
had slept. It had been impossible between their fears for their son and
the military personnel roaming the house downstairs and the yard
outside who had appeared after his first phone call to Hammond .
Despite it all, Sara seemed somewhat better when he last saw her this
morning before leaving for the Mountain. She was still red-eyed and
shaky but better able to answer questions and perform simple tasks like
making coffee. Using his chest as a battering ram had done her good. He
had helped her after all.
Then there was Daniel. Was this really the same kid who
figured out the Stargate just yesterday? He seemed so small, a ghost of
his former self. The little linguist was so quiet. It was almost as if
the boy wasn't there at all. With no small amount of guilt Jack
wondered if Daniel had heard Sara's distraught fury. He knew he should
talk to Daniel and reassure him, but he couldn't do it. Just like he
couldn't talk to Sara.
Jack had only
heard a few words from the boy since Charlie vanished. Daniel had
caught him at the front door as he was heading out to the Mountain and
offered a few words of encouragement.
“I know you’ll
find him, Jack.”
punch his chest, of that Jack was certain. It would be far worse than
anything physical. Daniel would look up at him with those intense blue
eyes exuding all the trust and confidence in the universe and utter
phrases like, 'I know you’ll find him, Jack.' And
that was worse, far worse. So he had avoided Daniel this morning. He
couldn't bear to look into those innocent eyes.
where are you?
rang, startling him out of his anguished thoughts.
recognized the voice; it was
Hammond ’s aide. “The General wants to see
remember his walk to
Hammond ’s office. Not until he was standing
in front of the door did Jack recognize his surroundings.
the familiar voice.
Jack entered and
closed the door behind him.
Hammond was sitting behind his desk, his face
hoping his superior couldn’t hear his pounding heart.
“I’ll come right
to the point.” Jack appreciated the fact that the General jumped right
in. “The President has authorized the use of Cheyenne Mountain
personnel to provide limited assistance in the
search for your son.”
thrumming through his head was almost deafening. If Jack hadn’t already
been sitting down, he doubted his legs would’ve held him up. It was a
relief to know the President was willing to authorize help.
“I, uh...” It
came out as a croak instead of words and he stopped to clear his throat
before trying again. “Thank you, sir. I, we, really appreciate that.”
looked down at
the pad of paper in front of him, nearly covered with scribbling. “What
was the name of the police officer you spoke with earlier?”
He’s a Sergeant in the Major Crimes section of the Colorado Springs
Police Department. And he's a family friend.”
“Is the personal
element going to be a problem, Colonel?” The pale blue eyes of his
superior were steady on him.
“No, sir.” Jack
shook his head. “We didn’t call him for that. Sara called their house
last night looking for – ” he swallowed and forced himself to continue,
hoping the General hadn’t picked up on his hesitation. “For Charlie.
Charlie and the Fremonts
’ son, Spencer, are good friends and Sara hoped
Charlie might be there. Tom answered the phone, said they hadn’t seen
Charlie and then, well, Sara told him what was happening. He offered to
file a report to get the department involved but I told him to hold off
until I talked to you.”
“So the police
aren’t officially involved?”
sat back in his
chair. Despite his ongoing battle to keep his panic in check, Jack
wasn’t so self-absorbed that he didn’t notice the man’s expression.
gaze came back to him. “Colonel, I know you don’t believe your son ran
away but if he did, or if this is a simple kidnapping, the police or
FBI should be brought in. They have experience in these types of
Jack bit his lip
to keep from speaking.
Hammond was thinking out loud. He decided to
wait and hope his C.O.'s thoughts led him to the same conclusion.
“On the other
hand, if your son’s disappearance is related to your past activities in
the Air Force or in this particular program, then I'd feel more
comfortable with the military in control of the situation.”
“Yes, sir.” Jack
agreed and sent up a silent word of thanks that Hammond was thinking along the
“It’s based on
the last possibility that the President agreed with my request to
permit this base to take point in the search for your son.” Hammond
sounded more formal than usual.
“Yes sir,” Jack
repeated, adding, “Thank you.”
do you need for the search?”
and Captain Ferretti have both volunteered to help.”
“So they have
already informed me."
Hammond nodded. "Very well, Colonel.”
That had been
easy, so easy it emboldened Jack to try for more. “Sir, I know Captain
Carter is still reviewing Daniel’s theories about the Stargate but her
expertise on computers would be very helpful – ” He stopped when Hammond
raised his hand.
“I wasn’t going
to bring this up but I’m afraid I have to. Captain Carter has completed
her review. A meeting is scheduled at 1100 hours for Daniel to explain
his theories to a hand-picked group of scientists and military
personnel who are flying here even as we speak.”
hung open and he snapped it shut. “Oh, shit,” he breathed, momentarily
forgetting where he was. “I’m sorry, sir. I – ”
“It’s all right,
Colonel. The last time we spoke about the Stargate was yesterday
afternoon. I had no idea when I informed the Chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff, he was going to insist on a full-scale meeting today
to discuss Daniel’s discoveries.”
at home. They can’t expect him to – ” he stopped again when Hammond
shook his head.
Colonel. Sometimes our orders can be damned unpleasant. The truth is,
they’ve been threatening to pull the plug on this project for the last
six months. Either we give them solid evidence we’re making progress or
they’ll do it.”
Jack opened his
mouth and closed it again. Every instinct was screaming at him that
nothing mattered except his family. Finding Charlie and protecting
Daniel were his priorities. The big-cheese bastards flying in from
wherever could damn well turn around and fly back. No way in hell would
he subject an eleven-year-old boy to a demanding, draining meeting
regarding the Stargate. The skepticism, the hard questions, the doubts,
the challenges were bad enough when the focus was an adult. But a
little boy, suffering over the disappearance of his brother, no way in
hell was he going to let that happen.
If only it were
The truth of the
Stargate and its potential made the decision more complicated. The
scientists had tossed around various theories for the last two years.
How many of those theories were correct, how many were incorrect?
Probably more than they could imagine. Thinking about it was
staggering. This was no longer a small, obscure, esoteric program based
on a bunch of unproven theories. What happened in the Stargate program
would affect the entire planet. The military man in Jack acknowledged
those facts couldn't be tossed aside to avoid upsetting a young boy
distressed over the disappearance of his brother.
Then again, the
boy was Daniel. His Daniel. And Daniel was as frantic as the rest of
them over Charlie’s disappearance. The poor kid didn’t need any more
pressure on him, much less pressure of this magnitude.
It was a
difficult decision, especially with the implications for the Stargate
“Sorry, sir.” He
willed himself to stop agonizing and warring with himself and focus on
what needed to be done.
nothing to apologize for, Colonel,” Hammond 's voice was heavy. “I'm
not going to order you to comply with the Joint Chiefs’ request. The
decision is yours.”
He'd had several occasions in the past to recognize and admire the
deep-down decency of his commanding officer. Hammond never talked about morals
or principles, he simply lived them. The man had to know he was risking
his career by refusing to give the order that Daniel be present at the
meeting. Yet his simple words – “I won't order you to comply” - gave no
hint of potential repercussions.
Jack looked down
at his hands. Without meaning to, Hammond had just upped the
pressure on him. If he refused to bring Daniel to the meeting, he was
ensuring the end of Hammond
’s career. If Daniel didn’t participate, Hammond ’s
long service would end in disgrace and the Stargate program would
probably be terminated.
Why was it that
the right thing to do so often conflicted with the necessary and
expedient thing to do? Was it the fault of sheer human cussedness? Jack
didn’t know but he knew what needed to be done.
“I’ll call my
house and have someone bring Daniel here. I’ll explain things to him
myself. As for the other thing...”
provide Captain Carter with a list of your non-classified missions. How
hand squeezed Jack’s heart and he shook his head. “Sir, everything I’ve
done for the last twelve years or so has been Special Ops. It’s all
classified except for my first few years in the Air Force.”
compressed. “Of course. Colonel, we can’t look at anything that’s been
classified. You know that.”
Jack waited a
minute until he was sure he was in control. “Yes, sir, but there really
aren’t a lot of choices. My son was kidnapped. I’m sure of that. Maybe
someone heard about his grandfather dying and leaving everything to
Sara and Charlie and they want some of the money. Maybe it has
something to do with me, a past mission, someone looking for revenge.
Maybe it has to do with the program now, though I can’t imagine what.
Beyond that?” he shrugged.
omitted one other possibility. Maybe Charlie had been kidnapped at
random by someone who wanted to harm a child. Except Jack couldn’t bear
that thought because there was nothing to hope for in such a hideous
was a smart
man, he must have considered that possibility. Either way, Jack was
relieved he didn’t bring it up.
Captain Carter review your non-classified missions, postings, anything
that might possibly have a bearing on this. I’d also like her to speak
to your police friend, Sergeant Fremont. He could give her the
department’s list of suspicious individuals in and around Colorado Springs
. Do you think he'd be willing to do that on his own or should I call
Jack fought back
the sharp pain caused by
Hammond ’s words. No, the General wasn’t going
to bring up his worst fear, but the fact he wanted the police
department’s list of local known child molesters made it clear what he
had in mind.
“ Fremont ’s
a good man but he’s pretty much by the book. He’ll probably need an
order from above to release any official info to us.” He marveled at
his calm tone when inside he felt like one giant tornado of fear and
“I’ll talk to
Chief Barclay, then.”
“You know the
Chief of Police, sir?” That surprised Jack.
It made sense.
The General was probably connected up the wazoo with every mover and
shaker in the city, maybe in the state.
permission, sir, after Daniel’s done here, I’d like to talk to the
people we spoke to on the phone last night.”
“Do you think
someone is withholding information?” The General looked down at some of
the papers on his desk.
“No, sir, at
least I didn’t get that feeling. But if I can talk to them face to face
maybe something, a thought or memory, will shake loose. They’ve had all
night to think about it.”
Whatever you need, Colonel.”
“I’d also like
to go by the school and talk to anyone who might’ve seen Charlie there
yesterday. I know his basketball coach talked to him, maybe someone
else did, too. Maybe they saw or heard something.”
“You want to do
all this by yourself?”
Hammond raised his eyebrows.
Jack almost said
yes but stopped himself. He couldn’t do it himself. He needed to be
with Daniel at the meeting. He needed to be home with Sara. As much as
he wanted to be running around, doing something, he couldn’t balance
everything that needed to be done. Jack would do everything in his
power to find Charlie but he couldn’t forget the rest of his family.
Sara and Daniel were as frightened and frantic and torn-up as he was at
the ugly possibilities.
“I’ll use Major
Kawalsky and Captain Ferretti, too.” That should help. “That way, we
can split up and talk to more people in a shorter period of time.”
nodded his approval. "Why don’t you brief them and
Kawalsky’s at my house right now. I’ll have him bring Daniel in and
then I can talk to both of them.”
nodded again. “Get to it,” he ordered. “And Colonel?” he added as Jack
rose. "If this gets to be too much for you I'll put Major Kawalsky in
charge and you can stay home to be with your wife. We would all
"I'm fine, sir."
That thought had briefly crossed Jack's mind. "For now," he added in an
effort to be honest.
satisfied. "One more thing..."
that followed was brief and Jack left, struggling to wrestle his
emotions into submission.
Hammond ’s last words confirmed how lucky he
was to be working with a man with the integrity of George Hammond. He
walked back to his office, trying to stay calm and in control, his
expression blank, revealing nothing. He could do this. He’d done it
countless times in the past on innumerable missions.
This one was
different, his gut insisted. Jack dared not listen to it, dared not
think of anything that would distract him from this newest mission, the
most critical he’d ever undertaken.
Sara paced the
length of her bedroom, back and forth. Back and forth. Just as she had
been doing – she glanced at her watch – for more than an hour. She
gripped her hands tightly, afraid if she released them she’d also
release all the pent-up fear inside.
Fear paced with
her, sat on her shoulder, hovered in the air in front of her every time
she raised her eyes from the floor. It surrounded her and made thinking
clearly next to impossible.
Her little boy
was out there, in the hands of someone who had stolen him away from
her. Was he hurt? Was he -
Bile rose in her
throat and she coughed until it subsided. What was she doing pacing in
her bedroom when her son was out there somewhere? With someone... with
someone who might be a monster. She needed to be searching for him and
she was stuck here, useless and pacing while Charlie –
A sob caught in
her throat and she collapsed on the bed. Wrapping her arms around
herself, she rocked back and forth, the pressure of tears rising within
her like hot magma in a volcano. She couldn’t cry. It was too easy, too
facile, and wouldn’t touch on the source of her anguish.
whispered, “Charlie. My god, where are you?”
Sara buried her
face in her hands as she struggled for control. Anything was better
than this useless waiting. She needed to get up and go out and look for
her son. Except the last time she’d tried that Jack had stopped her.
Jack. Guilt shot
through her at the thought of her husband. Jack was as frantic as she
was; she had no doubt about that. He didn't deserve to be pummeled. She
had never resorted to physical violence before this morning but there
was nothing normal about this situation. She had punched Jack several
times, and he let her. He hadn’t said a word or made a move to stop her
and that, more than anything else, told Sara how her husband was
dealing with their son's disappearance.
Sara had never
lost control like that before. She should apologize. She would
apologize, but not now. Now she needed all her energy to think. To
figure out who took Charlie and where they might be hiding. Sara needed
to be calm and rational and think this through... except she kept
seeing Charlie in the hands of someone who wanted to hurt him.
She muffled a
scream and jumped to her feet. Jack wasn't here. He was at the
Mountain, she was free to look for her son now.
Sara rushed out
of the bedroom and down the stairs.
short and stared at the room full of uniforms. She’d forgotten General
Hammond had sent a group, a squad, whatever they were called, to the
“I’m going out –
” then she saw a familiar face. Charlie Kawalsky came forward.
“Hi, Sara. Let’s
go upstairs.” He spoke in a soft voice and took her hands in his.
She yanked her
hands free. “I have to find my son,” she snapped, hating the tremor in
“I know,” he
returned in the same gentle tone. “Can we talk first? I’d like to give
you an update.”
If he had made
any demands on her she would have rejected them and shoved him aside.
The soft-spoken appeal broke through her haze long enough to recognize
the worry and concern in his dark eyes. And the thought of an update...
“You found him!”
He shook his
head and her brief hope collapsed, replaced by fear.
upstairs.” Kawalsky reached for her hand again and this time Sara
allowed him to take it and lead her back to her bedroom. As soon as
they reached it she turned on him.
demanded, fighting back the panic that wanted to send her screaming out
of the house in search of her lost son.
know what to think. One minute he’d been hiding out in his room, unable
to face Sara’s anguish or his own fearful heart, and the next minute,
Major Kawalsky was driving him to the Mountain.
He sat quietly
in the back seat. He didn’t know the man very well. He’d seen him
around the base and the Major had come by the house a few times. He and
Jack were good friends. The Major and Daniel hadn’t spoken much, a few
brief – “How ya doing, Daniel?” “Fine thanks,” kind of conversations.
The truth was, he was intimidated by the man. Even though Kawalsky
seemed pleasant and easygoing and always had a smile for Daniel, he was
still very much a soldier and an officer. Daniel was uncomfortable
around the soldiers, not wanting to say or do something stupid. He
preferred to spend his time with the scientists; he was much more at
home with them.
Jack, of course,
was the exception. Jack was a soldier and career military. He was
second in command of the base and the other soldiers deferred to him.
In Daniel's eyes, Jack was much more than a soldier and it was the
other part of Jack that made the soldier part acceptable.
He started when
he heard his name. “Uh, yeah?”
“Fine.” The word
slipped out before Daniel could stop it and he bit his lip. Even though
Kawalsky didn’t know him very well, he had to know that was a lie. He
wasn’t fine. He hadn’t been fine since last night when Charlie had
his clenched hands deep into the pockets of his jeans. Please be okay,
Charlie, he prayed. Your dad’s looking for you. He’ll find you. Just
hang on wherever you are.
will find Charlie.”
must have read his mind. Daniel hunched his shoulders tighter. The man
was right. Jack would find Charlie. No matter where Charlie was, Jack
would find him. Daniel knew it, he believed it with all his heart. It
was just that, right now, they didn’t know where Charlie was or what
was happening to him.
hard, annoyed at the tears pressing against his eyelids. He hadn’t
cried and he wasn’t going to cry now. Crying would be an admission of
how scared he was and he wasn’t scared because Jack was going to find
Charlie and bring him home and everything was going to be okay.
Sara's face just before Major Kawalsky came to take him to the
Mountain. She was pale and hollow-eyed, her usually neat blonde cap of
hair tousled and neglected.
Daniel had left
his bedroom door open a crack in case something had happened. He’d
heard Sara come up the stairs and knew she wasn’t alone, then he
recognized Major Kawalsky’s voice, softer than normal. They barely had
time to reach the master bedroom before he heard Sara speak in a loud,
harsh voice that he almost didn’t recognize.
“We’re still in
the early stages, Sara –”
“My son has been
missing for sixteen and a half hours! Don’t talk to me about early!”
“No, I didn’t
mean – I’m sorry. What I meant to say – ”
said after that Daniel didn’t hear because he was distracted by the
distant ringing of the telephone. He jumped to his feet, his heart
thumping wildly in his chest. Had they found Charlie?
voice echoed along the upstairs hallway. She was on the bedroom
extension. “What have you – what? ... He’s right here, why? ... What
are you talking about? I don’t want him going anywhere right now....
No, he’s right here, too. But I want to know ... then when?”
stung Daniel’s eyes. Charlie was still lost. He slumped back on his
bed, barely aware Sara’s voice had stopped and Major Kawalsky was
talking to Jack now. He didn't know what was happening but the tone of
the conversation made him nervous and he wrapped his arms around
himself for comfort.
“It’s gonna be
okay,” he whispered to himself, unaware he was rocking back and forth.
“It’s gonna be okay, Charlie. Jack will find you, real soon. I know he
will and everything will be okay.”
Sara stood in
the doorway of his room with the Major behind her. Her expression was
an odd mix of fear and anger. It scared him. And her eyes were dry,
just like his eyes. Sara might feel better if she cried. It was
different for him. Sara was Charlie’s mom. She had to be crazy with
worry. Daniel was in control because he knew everything was going to be
“Jack wants you
to go to the Mountain,” she told him in a flat voice that sounded like
someone else. “Major Kawalsky will take you.”
He headed for
the door, wondering if he should hug her. She might need a hug but he
wasn’t sure if she'd accept it. Besides, he was half-afraid he might
break down if she hugged him back and he didn’t want that. Daniel
needed to stay strong and confident for her and for Jack.
Sara made the
decision easy. She caught him when he would have walked by and hugged
him so tightly he could barely breathe. Sure enough, Daniel felt tears
pressing against his eyelids and he blinked furiously to keep them
back. She kissed the top of his head before releasing him.
He gazed up at
her and shared his confidence. “Charlie will be okay, Sara. I know he
She tried to
smile then but it wasn’t very good. “I know.” Her hand stroked his hair
before she turned and disappeared back into her bedroom.
his throat before speaking. “Come on, Daniel. The Colonel wants you at
the Mountain ASAP.”
“Why?” He asked,
sniffing back the traitorous tears as he followed the Major down the
“He didn’t say.
We have to hurry.”
That was how he
had ended up in the car with the Major driving like a bat out of hell
to get back to the base. They hurried all right and Daniel was glad
because he didn’t have anything else to say during the drive. The Major
wasn’t his usual talkative self either so it was a silent, shorter than
usual, ride. It normally took at least thirty minutes to drive from the
house to the base but Kawalsky did it in twenty. He barely slowed at
the first security gate to flash his I.D. before continuing through.
Daniel had never gone through the checkpoints so fast and in a matter
of minutes he was in the elevator and then the door opened and Jack was
“Hi, kiddo.” His
smile wasn’t any better than Sara's.
looked at the Major. “Report to Captain Carter’s lab. She has your next
Kawalsky disappeared behind the closing elevator door and Jack turned
back to Daniel.
“We need to
talk, kiddo, and we don’t have a lot of time.”
Daniel tried to keep up as Jack hurried down the corridor.
“No, we don't.”
outside Jack’s office. He ran his key card through the scanner and
Daniel heard the lock disengage, then they were inside and Jack closed
the door behind them.
He pulled his
chair out from behind the desk and put it next to the one Daniel sat
in. The strain in his foster father wasn’t as obvious as it was in
Sara, maybe because of Jack’s military training, but this close Daniel
could see the lines around the man’s eyes and mouth that weren’t
usually so noticeable. And his eyes looked... the budding linguist in
Daniel searched for the right word. When he found it, his heart
Daniel had no
idea what he was doing here. It couldn’t be about Charlie. Jack would
have told Sara when he called. Was it something about the Stargate?
Maybe his theories turned out to be wrong. Please, please don’t let
anyone get hurt because of a mistake.
father was sitting so still, staring at the wall above Daniel’s head.
Jack had said they didn’t have much time and now he was just sitting
Jack turned to
him and this time his smile was closer to normal. “Sorry, kiddo.” He
glanced at his watch and took a deep breath. “In twenty minutes there’s
going to be a meeting in the main conference room about the Stargate.”
“What did I do
wrong, Jack? Did I miscalculate? Did someone get hurt?” Daniel’s fear
rose to the surface.
take it easy, buddy. Why would you think – ah, never mind.” He shook
his head and tapped Daniel’s head with his forefinger. “Nothing’s
wrong. No one’s hurt. For your information, Carter’s team has been
working all night, doing all kinds of calculations and I don’t know
what else that confirmed everything you told us.” He leaned forward,
holding Daniel’s anxious gaze with his own.
“You were right
on the money, kiddo. You figured out the puzzle no one else could.” He
patted the boy's knee. “You did it, Daniel.”
“I thought it
was right.” Relief swept through Daniel and he gave a tentative smile.
“And it was. Is.
Right, I mean.” Jack blew out a breath. That’s why you’re here.”
in confusion but bit back his questions. Jack would explain.
“That meeting I
just mentioned? There’ll be several scientists and high-ranking
officers there, most from the Pentagon but others from all over the
country.” He stopped and Daniel had the odd feeling that he didn’t want
to say any more.
“To talk about
the Stargate?” he confirmed.
blew out another breath. “Daniel, you remember everything you told us
“You need to
tell it again to the people at this meeting.”
waiting for Jack to laugh. When he didn’t laugh, Daniel did, albeit
nervously. “That’s funny.”
tone was neutral. “It’s not. It’s the truth, kiddo.” His lips tightened
and he leaned a little closer.
“Daniel, all you
need to do is tell us again what you told us yesterday.” He reached for
a file on the desk and opened it. “See these?”
Daniel saw. The
top sheet was a neat, computer-designed representation of his crude
drawing from yesterday. Below that drawing was a stack of papers filled
with writing and numbers he couldn’t see clearly
from where he was sitting.
everything you said. You just need to say it again. Some of these
people might ask you a few questions, but nothing you can’t handle.”
eyes, Daniel looked up to meet Jack’s gaze. It was intense enough to
send a shiver down his back.
seems a little scary to you.” Jack was so good at reading him. “But you
don’t need to be scared. I’ll be in there, too.”
“In the room?”
Daniel latched onto this hope.
there in the room with you. General Hammond will be there, too.” Jack
closed his eyes and scrubbed his face with one hand.
“This is lousy
timing, I know. Lousy timing for both of us. We’d rather be looking for
dare try to speak. His throat was too tight. He settled for a nod.
and others are looking right now and we’ll help, too, in just a little
while. But we need to do this first. Okay?”
in an effort to get a grip on his emotions. He was scared for Charlie,
for Sara, and for Jack. For himself, too. It was crazy, worrying about
the Stargate while Charlie was missing. Yet Jack seemed anxious about
this meeting. He should be out looking for Charlie but instead he was
here, worrying, so the meeting must be super important.
go out and search for Charlie himself, he was just a kid. Obeying Jack
seemed like it was the only thing he could do to help. So if talking to
a bunch of strangers about the Stargate would help Jack, then that's
what he'd do, despite his fears.
Jack had good
reason to be proud of Daniel over the last few months but never had he
been as proud as he was today. Watching his eleven-year-old son
speaking clearly and matter-of-factly to a room-full of high-ranking
military personnel and scientists while frantic with worry over his
missing brother, was a sight Jack wouldn't forget. The little boy was
chock-full of an inner strength and determination equal to most adults,
hell, more than equal. It made Jack look forward to seeing the kind of
man Daniel would grow into.
When it came
down to it, there weren’t a whole lot of questions. Daniel’s
presentation, along with the computer data Carter and her team had
gathered in the last twenty-four hours, took care of most of the
questions. An hour and a half after it began, the meeting ended and the
participants, several of them looking somewhat shell-shocked by the
information, filed out.
Jack had sat
beside Daniel the entire time and kept his mouth shut. When the last of
the visitors were gone, the boy slumped back in his chair. Jack figured
the kid was overdue for a break. He patted the slim shoulders.
“Way to go,
Daniel looked up
and Jack was startled to see the young face pale and drawn.
Okay, enough of
this. “Let’s see about getting you home.”
“No.” Daniel sat
up straighter. “I want to stay here. I want to help find Charlie.”
Jack should have
anticipated this response. He understood Daniel's feelings, the
helplessness and the desire to be doing something useful. He understood
it but Sara was waiting at home. There were half a dozen soldiers
there, keeping an eye on things, but Sara was alone. Daniel needed to
be home for Sara’s sake as well as his own. They needed the comfort of
each other, now more than ever.
approaching footsteps before
Hammond entered the room and rose to his feet.
“As you were,
patted Daniel’s shoulder, much like Jack had done a
“That was very
well done, Daniel. You made us all very proud.”
sir.” Daniel swallowed a yawn. His sleepless night was catching up with
him. He didn’t want Jack to notice how tired he was because then he’d
definitely be sent home and he didn’t want to go home. He wanted to
stay and help find Charlie.
convinced.” General Hammond didn't beat around the bush.
the strain on Jack’s face, his eyes brightened.
“So I’ve been
advised that a Mobile Analytical Laboratory Probe will be arriving
within the next few days.”
Hammond rubbed his hands together. “Once the
MALP is in place, we’ll see what the Stargate has to offer.”
“Within the next
Daniel. “We have a lot to talk about, Colonel. First, let’s find your
boy and bring him home.”
For a minute it looked like – it couldn’t be but for a minute it looked
like Jack had tears in his eyes. No way. An instant later he knew for
sure he’d been wrong because Jack answered crisply, without emotion.
“Yes, sir. Thank
at Daniel, and left them alone.
his case. “Please let me help find Charlie. There's lots of stuff I
could do to help.”
“Sara needs you
home with her, kiddo.” Jack sat down beside him.
started, only to stop when Jack shook his head.
“I know you want
to help but right now we have all the help we need.” Jack’s gaze
shifted away but Daniel didn’t think he was looking at anything in
particular. After a minute, his eyes turned back.
“Daniel, I think
the best thing you can do for Charlie right now is to be with Sara. She
needs you home, and so do I.”
stung as he nodded his agreement. It wasn’t what he wanted to do but if
it helped Sara and Jack then it was the best thing. Everything was
going to be okay. Now that the stupid meeting was behind them, Jack
could concentrate on finding Charlie. Jack would find him, Daniel knew
he would. He had to.
Carter leaned back in her chair and sighed in frustration. She’d spent
most of the night studying Daniel’s theories and running dozens of
simulations based on them. When she finally finished with that earlier
this morning, she then spent three solid hours wading through the
non-classified missions of Colonel O’Neill. Although what she learned
shot her high opinion of the Colonel even higher, it didn’t get her any
closer to finding eleven-year-old Charlie O’Neill.
She rubbed her
tired eyes and called Sergeant Tom Fremont of the Colorado Springs
Police Department. She identified herself and made her request which
wasn't a request at all.
"I have to say
I've never heard of non-law enforcement personnel being given access to
such sensitive information,”
“You know what’s
at stake, Sergeant.” Sam was determined. If the man tried to stonewall
her she'd go straight to the General.
“Yes, I know,
which is why I offered my help to Colonel and Mrs. O’Neill last night.”
“And?” she asked.
“And I’ve been
ordered by my Chief to give you the list we maintain of all local
residents who have been convicted of crimes against children. Can I
e-mail it to you or would you prefer it faxed?”
fine,” Sam confirmed. She'd get it that much faster. She gave him the
email address and added, “This is a special account I set up this
morning for this particular situation. As soon as I receive your
e-mail, the address will be changed. So don’t email anything else
without talking to me first so I can give you another address.”
“This is a
top-secret military installation.” That was all he needed to know.
The e-mail came
through a few minutes later and Sam plugged the names on the list into
her computer. An hour later she finished researching the last name and
pounded her fist in frustration. She had access to the most powerful
computers in the military and the most sophisticated search engines in
existence. All of it added up to a big zero.
She rubbed her
temples but the exercise didn’t ease her throbbing headache. Twenty
hours in front of her computer, going through the information provided
by Daniel on the Stargate, had been followed by three hours of looking
for something in Colonel O’Neill’s background that might connect to his
son's disappearance. Then the list from Fremont had also proved to be
fruitless. She was exhausted and worried her fatigue might cause to her
overlook something important.
Sam needed sleep
but couldn’t bear to stop working. Every time she took a break her
thoughts returned to that afternoon a little over a month ago, when she
and Charlie and the Colonel had tossed a football around up on top of
the Mountain, cheered on by Daniel watching from the sidelines.
That was the
first time she had met Charlie O’Neill and she’d been delighted by the
bright-eyed, happy-go-lucky youngster. The thought that he might now be
in the hands of someone –
Sam squeezed her
eyes shut and willed the thoughts away. She needed to remain focused.
She had gone as far as she could with the information provided. What
now? She couldn’t bear the thought of giving up the search. What else
could she do? How could she help?
Maybe the person
to ask was Colonel O’Neill.
The big meeting
had to be over by now. As far as Sam was concerned, it had been a waste
of time. Daniel had figured it out all right. Everything checked out.
All the hours she’d spent in front of the computer running simulations
based on his theories proved them to be true. An eleven-year-old had
figured out a mystery that she, Samantha Carter, not to mention a
hand-picked team of scientists drawn from all over the country, had
been unable to solve despite two years of effort.
Sam shook her
head. Those thoughts were for another day. Right now she needed to find
the Colonel. She needed to report her lack of progress, painful though
that would be, and offer further assistance with whatever needed to be
"I'd like to
help, sir. Please.”
It was Captain
Carter. Her morning-long computer search through his past had turned up
nothing, yet here she was, obviously tired but still eager to help.
Jack wasn't sure what more she could do but she was incredibly smart
and he certainly wasn't going to turn down any offers. The President
had given General Hammond and the Air Force the authority to offer
limited assistance in the investigation. After the briefing had ended Hammond
confided he had a lot of leeway in what constituted "limited" and that
gave Jack hope.
could stay at the house with Sara and Daniel. He wasn't sure how Sara
would feel about it but Daniel would be happy to have a friend nearby
and Jack liked the idea of someone he could trust being in the house at
something you could do, Captain.” He hesitated. It was a lot to ask. "I
need someone to stay at the house. If you - "
"I'll grab my
gear and meet you topside, sir." As soon as she said the words she took
off down the hallway toward her lab.
laptop," he shouted after her. Jack needed her to be his anchor on the
home front but not at the expense of losing his best computer geek.
She waved her
hand in acknowledgement as she jogged down the corridor.
Jack watched her
go in stunned silence. He hadn't expected this level of support and
loyalty from her. Kawalsky and Ferretti were a different story. They
were known commodities. Jack expected nothing less than their best
efforts. He'd be there for them if the situation were reversed. Their
friendship had been put to the test innumerable times and they had
never faltered. Old, trusted friends.
The response of
the SGC, under General Hammond, was another matter entirely. Charlie's
disappearance was classified and shared on a 'need to know' basis. Most
of the SGC personnel were in the dark about what had taken place but
everyone was aware that something was up and that it involved Colonel
O'Neill. Jack was amazed at how willing they were to put aside their
work on the Stargate to offer assistance. There were people on
computers right now pouring over data, looking for specific details and
generic clues regarding a matter they knew nothing about.
He didn't feel
he deserved it. Someday, he promised, he'd earn the confidence and
trust they'd so freely given.
As for Captain
Carter, she had come to him and offered to do anything he needed.
Anything, no restrictions. The Stargate, two years of her life's work,
was coming to fruition and on a day she should be joyfully celebrating,
she had been holed up in her office, along with a few other trusted
scientists, scanning through old mission reports. Now she was going to
walk away from the Mountain on this of all days to sit with his wife
The loyalty of
his subordinates and colleagues was humbling. Jack vowed that no matter
what the future held, he wouldn't forget.
returned slowly. For a while, Charlie lay still in that half-asleep,
half-awake state that preceded waking up, enjoying the sensation of
warmth and comfort. He was aware that it was later than he usually
slept and sighed happily at the realization that it must be a weekend.
No, not a weekend. It was summer vacation. He could sleep in...
A sense that
something was wrong intruded on his comfort level and his thoughts
stopped drifting. Something had happened.
his eyes closed as the last month swept over him like a giant,
slow-moving tidal wave. He had screwed up. Dad was mad at him, had been
mad at him for weeks. Charlie couldn’t blame him. It was his own fault.
He sighed and reluctantly opened his eyes and found himself staring at
the unfamiliar low-beamed ceiling above him.
“What the - ?”
he muttered and sat up.
He was in a
strange room with walls made of unfinished wood. Apart from the bed,
the only pieces of furniture were a wooden chair and small dresser
against the opposite wall. Above them, just below the roofline, three
small windows were cut into the wall. They were too high for him to see
outside but they did a good job of letting in the morning sunlight.
confusion, Charlie took another look around the room. Nothing looked
familiar. He was sure he’d never been here before.
He rubbed his
forehead, wondering where he was and why. Charlie closed his eyes and
thought back. He remembered going grocery shopping with his mom,
stopping at the school, talking to Daniel, taking out the trash, the
stupid brake switch kept sticking, he remembered all that. Then...
smelled so good he stopped thinking. Someone was making waffles or
maybe pancakes. He could the smell maple syrup heating on a stove.
toward the smell, shoved back the covers and shivered as a chilly draft
penetrated his pajamas. He looked down at himself. The pajamas had tiny
baseballs and bats imprinted all over them. They were kind of cool,
except they were a little tight and not warm enough. He shivered again.
When his feet
hit the chilly wooden floor Charlie quickly jumped back on the bed.
“Okay, time for
Plan B.” He just needed to come up with a Plan B.
Hopefully there were some clothes in it.
Charlie made his
way over to it and hopped up on the chair to escape the cold floor. To
his relief, his sneakers were half-hidden behind the chair. Feeling
hopeful, he opened the top drawer to find socks, tee shirts, and
underwear. The second drawer was stocked with shirts and pants.
“This is more
like it,” he muttered.
quickly, discovering that all of the clothes except his shoes were a
little tight, like the pajamas. At least they were warm.
Charlie went to
the door and cautiously turned the handle. It opened easily, the hinges
squeaking, and he peered out. His jaw dropped.
“Mr. – Mr.
Peterson?” That was the last person he'd been expecting to see.
his science teacher and sometimes assistant coach of his Little League
team, stood in the middle of a small, rustic kitchen holding a spatula.
He looked up, smiling.
sleepyhead,” he greeted. “You almost missed breakfast.”
open-mouthed. What was Mr. Peterson doing here? And where the heck was
He looked around
the room trying to make sense of things. The walls out here, like in
the bedroom, were made of wood. He was in a cabin. Low-beamed ceilings
gave it a snug, comfortable feel, so did the fire roaring away in the
fireplace at the end of the room. It was much warmer in here than in
the bedroom. To his left was a door framed by windows. Through the
windows Charlie could see lots of trees. It looked like the cabin was
in the middle of a forest. To his right was the little kitchen. A small
table separated the kitchen area from the rest of the room. There were
two old, overstuffed chairs next to the fireplace, a small bookshelf
and on top of the bookshelf, a boom box.
It was cozy, all
right. But nothing looked familiar.
He turned back
to the one thing, the one person, rather, that was familiar. “What,
what’s going on?” he asked. “Where is this place? How did I get here?”
questions,” Mr. Peterson laughed. “Why don’t you sit down? I just
poured the orange juice. Or if you’d rather – ” he gestured down the
short hallway. “The bathroom’s thataway.”
in the direction Mr. Peterson had pointed before studying the table.
Two places had been set, complete with silverware and glasses of orange
understand,” he said in confusion. “What’s going on?”
on except breakfast,” the man returned cheerfully. “You better get
moving, Cory. The waffles are almost done.”
Cory? Now he was
even more confused. Cory was the name Mr. Peterson had called him the
other day at school. None of this made any sense.
he said carefully, “I’m Charlie O’Neill. Remember? I was in your
science class last year and you’re the assistant coach of my Little
League team. You remember that, don’t you?”
blinked rapidly and Charlie was shocked to see tears in the man’s eyes.
“I don’t blame
you for being upset with me, son,” he gulped. “It took me so long to
realize the truth...” he swiped at his eyes. “They told me terrible
lies, Cory,” he said hoarsely. “Lies that made me think – “ he
swallowed. “But even though everyone was telling the same lies, somehow
I knew deep down they weren’t true, that you weren’t – ” Mr. Peterson
took a deep breath.
realized that I needed to pretend to believe the lies so they’d let me
go. Then I’d be able to find you and everything would be okay again.”
He smiled at a flummoxed Charlie though his eyes still shone
“I was right,
wasn’t I? I did find you and we’re together again and I promise you,
son, no one will ever separate us again.”
The more Mr.
Peterson talked the more confused Charlie felt. Mr. Peterson had called
him ‘son’. Some grown-ups liked to call boys ‘son’ but he had the
feeling that his teacher was using it the way his dad used it. Charlie
was his dad’s son so sometimes Dad called him son. It sounded like Mr.
Peterson was using ‘son’ the same way.
He wasn’t Mr.
Peterson’s son. He was Charlie O’Neill, not Cory Peterson. Where was
Cory? Why did Mr. Peterson think that he was Cory? People had told Mr.
Peterson lies... about Cory? Maybe Mr. and Mrs. Peterson were divorced
and Mrs. Peterson took Cory someplace Mr. Peterson didn’t know about?
Charlie had heard stories about that kind of thing happening. What
confused him the most was that, whatever had happened, Mr. Peterson was
calling him by his son’s name. How could Mr. Peterson think he was
Cory? Didn’t he know his own son?
“Here we go.”
Mr. Peterson removed two waffles from the waffle iron and put them on a
plate and set them on the table. Turning back to the counter, he did
the same with the other two waffles and put them on the table in front
of the second glass of orange juice. “All ready. Oh, I need to cut up
at the waffles in front of him, then at the bowl of warmed maple syrup.
“Go on,” Mr.
Peterson urged. “Eat your waffles before they get cold. And later,” he
added with a grin, “the Rockies are
playing the Padres.” He gestured at the boom box. “The pre-game show
doesn’t start for a couple of hours so we have plenty of time.”
Because he was
hungry and didn’t know what else to do, Charlie sat down at the table,
buttered the waffles, poured the maple syrup over them, and dug in. He
was pleased to discover that the waffles tasted even better than they
As he ate, he
wondered if he was supposed to be afraid. He didn’t know where he was
or how he’d ended up here or what Mr. Peterson was doing here. Despite
all that, he didn’t feel afraid. Charlie glanced at his teacher to see
him back at the kitchen counter, slicing up a couple of apples and
whistling under his breath. Mr. Peterson seemed confused about things
but he was still Mr. Peterson. Charlie had known him for over three
years. He was a nice guy, a great teacher and a great coach, always
patient and helpful, never harsh or critical even when a guy muffed an
easy catch. Now Charlie had learned something new about his teacher.
Mr. Peterson made great waffles.
Wherever he was,
Dad and Mom would be looking for him. It didn’t matter if Dad was mad,
he’d still be coming for him. Dad was Special Ops so it probably
wouldn't take very long.
In the meantime,
Charlie decided he might as well enjoy the waffles and the afternoon
packed a lot of patience when he left home this morning. Sitting across
the desk from the principal of Charlie’s school was rapidly shredding
what little he had left.
Sutton had been
going on for several minutes about how it was impossible for anyone
connected to the school to have anything to do with Charlie’s
disappearance. Grabbing for his last remnants of self-control, Jack cut
“I don’t give a
damn how outstanding your school is. My son is missing and this was the
last public place he visited before it happened.”
that,” Sutton returned, “but as I’ve been saying, I’m sure – ”
saying his name. It sounded like it was coming from far away, down a
very long tunnel.
“Colonel, I have
something to report.”
Jack blinked and
realized he was standing behind the principal’s desk with Sutton only
inches away, backed into a corner and wearing an expression of abject
terror. His shirt and tie were askew and looked as though they had been
What the hell?
He didn’t remember getting up, he didn’t remember going around the desk
or yanking Sutton out of his chair and pushing him back against the
wall. But he’d obviously done just that.
He took a deep
breath and backed away a few steps. Glancing over his shoulder he saw
Kawalsky standing just inside the door. It was the Major who’d been
calling his name. Giving him a brief nod, Jack turned back to the
principal who hadn’t moved from the corner.
“I want you to
sit down and make me a list.” Jack backed up another foot. “A list of
everyone you know who was here yesterday. Then I want you to make
another list of everyone who might have come here, for any reason, even
if you didn’t see them. I want you to do that now.”
He spoke with
authority and control, careful to keep his voice down. For some reason
the man looked even more scared. Sutton nodded and slid around him to
collapse into the desk chair. Spotting a legal pad on the corner of the
desk, Jack shoved it in front of the man.
the pad closer, pulled a pen from the desk drawer and began scribbling.
Jack noted the principal’s hands were shaking. He didn’t care. Just so
long as what he wrote was legible.
Jack headed for
Kawalsky who stepped outside the office. Jack followed. “Report,” he
The Major glanced around the reception area. The others who’d been
working in here earlier had disappeared. “I’ve spoken with half a dozen
people, staff and a few teachers. No one saw anything.”
shrugged. “It’s possible someone’s lying but it didn’t feel like
anything was off when I talked to them. I figure if there was anything
to see yesterday, it didn’t happen in here.” He glanced at the door to
Sutton’s office and the tone of his voice changed from an impassive
professional to a concerned friend.
“I don’t know
what you’re going through, Jack, but maybe it’d be better if you stayed
“Knock it off,”
Jack snarled. It was only Kawalsky’s intervention that had stopped him
from shoving Sutton through the wall a few minutes ago but he wasn’t
about to admit that out loud. He needed to keep tighter control. He
could do that, just like any other mission. Jack O’Neill was a
professional. He could do whatever needed to be done to find Charlie.
the radio on his belt. “He reported in a few minutes ago. Nothing so
came a nervous voice from inside the office.
With Kawalsky on
his heels, Jack went back in. Sutton was standing behind his desk, a
couple pieces of paper in his hands. They were still shaking.
everyone I saw or can think of who might have been here yesterday,” he
said, holding out the pages like a peace offering. "I, I hope it helps.
I know you must be frantic about your son. Charlie is a wonderful boy."
Jack tried to
ignore the words as he took the pages and ran a swift eye over the
lists. Hell, he’d been afraid of this. There were over thirty names of
definites and possibles.
He needed more
than Kawalsky and Ferretti helping him with these interviews. There
were plenty of bodies available at the Mountain but he wanted people he
trusted, people he knew could get information out of a turnip.
Jack took a
deep, calming breath. What he really needed was someone like Sara. All
she had to do was look at someone with those sympathetic blue eyes and
they spilled their guts to her. He’d never understood it but he’d seen
it happen more times than he could count. It was too bad there was no
one at the Mountain like –
Sara was the
perfect person. Better than that, it would get her out of the house,
where she was climbing the walls, and doing something that might help
reluctant to have her actively involved in the search. For his own
peace of mind, until he knew what had happened, Jack wanted her safe in
the house with a military presence surrounding the place, ensuring the
safety of both Sara and Daniel. Except that kind of sitting on the
sidelines and waiting wasn’t for Sara. Even when they'd first met
nearly twenty years ago, it had been obvious she wasn't a shy,
helpless, take-care-of-me kind of woman. She had guts and an
adventurous spirit equal to his own. It was one of the many things he
loved about her.
Charlie was her
son, too. Jack didn’t have the right to try to keep Sara out of the
search, ‘try’ being the operative word. He knew damn well if he didn’t
bring her into the action, she was going to go off half-cocked, doing
god knows what on her own. At least this way she'd be doing something
positive and necessary, and he’d make sure Mountain personnel stayed
close by to keep an eye on her.
leave Daniel sitting home by himself. He wouldn’t actually be alone;
there was a squad of Marines around the house. But he’d still feel
Jack closed his
eyes. He couldn’t do that to the kid. As much as he preferred to keep
Sara and Daniel locked away, safe and sound, it wasn't right. Hell,
Daniel was a genius. Why not get that brilliant mind of his involved in
this, too? Daniel and Sara could work together. Jack O’Neill was mush
when it came to dealing with those two pairs of big blue eyes.
Hopefully, everyone the pair talked to would feel the same.
“Sir? What are
it’s time we brought in the big guns.”
big guns, Colonel?” The Major’s eyebrows rose.
Jack pulled out
his cell phone and hit the speed dial. He wasn’t surprised when Sara
answered on the first ring.
No, no news yet. But I had an idea.” After he finished talking to her
he asked her to put Sergeant Nichols, the senior non-com at the house,
on the line and gave him his orders. Done with that, Jack snapped the
cell phone shut and dropped it into his pocket. A look around the area
revealed a couple of women peering timidly around a file cabinet at the
far end of the room and he gestured at them. The older woman with short
graying hair approached.
something I can help you with, sir?”
He held out the
lists. “I want several copies of these,” he demanded, then remembered
he was talking to a civilian. He forced his grim features into a more
pleasant expression and added, “Please.”
woman nodded and took the lists from him. “Certainly. I’ll be back in a
disappeared, Jack turned back to Kawalsky. “One copy’s for you,
another’s for Ferretti. Check off who you’ve talked to even if they
didn’t notice anything, and make a note of anyone spotted hanging
around the school who was acting strange or didn't belong.”
and his manner shifted again from subordinate to friend. “Jack, I
couldn’t help overhearing your conversation with Sara. Do you think
it’s a good idea letting her loose like that? Whoever took Charlie – ”
“Yeah, I know.
She won’t be loose. She and Daniel will be together and Nichols along
with a squad of Marines will stay close.” Jack took a deep breath
and people like to talk to her. She’ll be able to help. So will Daniel.”
but didn't look convinced. Because he was talking to his friend rather
than his subordinate, Jack explained further. “I could never stay home
twiddling my thumbs with Charlie missing. I can’t expect them to. I
just need to make sure they're safe.”
again and the compassion Jack saw in his eyes was almost his undoing.
He turned away and was relieved to see the woman returning with a stack
of papers in her hand. Good. Now they could get to work.
Daniel had been going quietly crazy. The trip to the Mountain and the
unexpected meeting had been distractions that left him exhausted, but
they didn’t touch his underlying anxiety. He hated that Jack had sent
him home when he wanted to stay at the Mountain and look for Charlie.
Daniel was positive Jack would find Charlie eventually but maybe he
could help speed things up. After all, everyone said he was a genius.
Even if he wasn’t, there must be something he could do to help.
helping, he was home with Sara. Technically, they weren't even
together. Sara was holed up in her bedroom and he was hesitant to
intrude. Jack said he wanted Daniel home to keep Sara company. Some
company. He was home all right, but he wasn’t with Sara. They worried
separately in their own rooms.
During the last
two years, Daniel’s wishes rarely came true. He had never wished to
become an official member of the O’Neill family. That had been
something too important for a wish and he had never dared to think
about it, much less wish for it. Now that he was a member of the
O’Neill family, with the adoption process underway, maybe it was time
to wish for something big, far beyond his usual wishes. Maybe it was
stupid little-kid stuff, but Daniel decided to wish big. He wished he
could help find Charlie.
astonishment, less than an hour later he found himself standing beside
Sara on the school playground listening to Jack and looking around.
Even though the new school year hadn’t started, he would have expected
to see more people. Aside from Jack and Sara there wasn't anyone but
military personnel in sight.
was standing beside Major Kawalsky near the P.E. building. Daniel
couldn’t hear anything from this distance but he could see the Major
talking and the Sergeant nodding.
chain-link fence Daniel saw cars driving by, and down the street people
were going in and out of Jerry’s Quik-Stop. That was one of Charlie’s
favorite stops on the way home from school because Jerry was a big
sports fan and had lots of memorabilia in his little store. He and
Charlie were always talking about one sport or another.
empty athletic field, everything and everyone looked normal. How could
that be? Charlie was missing. Jack and Sara and Daniel's entire world
had turned upside down. How could the rest of the world go on as if
nothing had happened?
It had been the
same way after The Accident. Everything had been wrong. Nobody looked
the same or sounded the same or moved the same. It was difficult to
understand what people were saying when they spoke. Even the sky seemed
like it was the wrong color. Worst of all, after a week or two, nobody
seemed to notice his sadness. At least Charlie had lots more people
than just him who cared. There was Jack and Sara and Major Kawalsky and
Sam and Captain Ferretti and the Fremonts. Heck, the whole Air Force
was out looking for Charlie.
A large hand
closed over his shoulder and Daniel looked up to see Jack gazing down
at him, his eyes dark with concern.
“I’m fine.” The
words were automatic and Daniel wondered why Jack grimaced.
“So you on board
with this idea?”
idea? He'd been so lost in thought that it took a second to remember.
“I can help find Charlie?”
“Yeah. You and Sara will be working together here at the school asking
questions and talking to people, while I check out some other stuff.
“Okay, Jack. I’ll listen really hard and I’ll remember everything, I
“Look, buddy, I
don’t want you taking too much on yourself, understand?” To his
surprise, Jack stopped smiling and crouched down so they were eye to
eye. "Just do the best you can."
Daniel stared at
him in confusion.
“What I mean is
a lot of people are looking for Charlie so I don’t want you thinking
it’s all up to you. You and Sara will do what you can here and other
people will do what they can somewhere else. We’re all working to put
the pieces together. Does that make sense?”
Daniel let out a relieved sigh.
gave him another smile and straightened to give Sara a hug. “Sergeant
Nichols will stay here in case you need to get in touch with me.”
“I know your
cell phone number.” Sara’s eyebrows rose and Daniel was confused by the
tone of her voice.
humor me, okay?”
Sergeant or about the other soldiers?” Sara offered a pinched smile.
noticed them, too, when Sara drove into the school parking lot. Three
soldiers were spread out around the side of the administration
building. He thought there might be more he couldn’t see.
Jack actually laughed.
Sara agreed. “Go. We have work to do, right, Daniel?”
“Right. We have
to find Charlie.” He beamed at her.
Jack gave Sara
another hug, then to Daniel’s embarrassment, gave him one, too, before
striding away. For a minute Daniel looked after the tall figure and
wished he didn't have to leave. That was silly. Jack was looking for
Charlie, too. He must have lots of stuff to do. Finding Charlie was all
Sara unfolded the papers Jack had given her. “This is a list of the
people who were here at the school yesterday and this is a list of who
might have been here.”
“Do you think
one of them saw something?”
he'd been here yesterday. He was pretty observant and maybe he would
have seen who his brother encountered. But yesterday he'd been at the
Mountain with Jack. It didn't seem possible that less than twenty-four
hours ago he'd been so excited about the Stargate. It was impossible to
get excited about it now.
drifted away for a minute. “Maybe.” Her voice was soft. “Do you know
any of these people?”
Daniel took the
list from her and studied it. “Some of them.”
she pointed at the names that had little stars next to them, “are here
at the school right now. Let’s go talk to them.”
agreed with a swell of determination. He and Sara were just some of the
people out looking for Charlie, but no one, with the exception of Jack,
wanted to find him as much as they did. That had to count for something.
rubbed his eyes and leaned back in his chair. At that moment his
“He’s here, sir.”
“Send him in.”
The door opened
and Dr. William Lee appeared. His smile looked a little nervous.
“You wanted to
see me, General?”
Have a seat, Doctor.”
Lee sat down on
the edge of the chair, leaning forward as if ready to leap out of it at
a moment's notice.
“How are the
language lessons coming along?”
“Language – oh,
you mean from the artifacts?”
Lee’s tension seemed to decrease a few notches.
“To be honest,
General, it’s extremely difficult.”
“Are you having
problems with Daniel teaching it?”
“No, no, sir.
That's not it.” The scientist put that notion to rest. “Daniel is an
excellent teacher but the language is...” he hesitated, “extremely
complicated. It’s like no Earth language any of us have ever
encountered.” When Hammond
didn’t react he continued.
convinced it’s related to ancient Egyptian but since that’s a dead
language it’s difficult to find connections we can use.”
“What do you
mean, a dead language?”
Egyptian, General. Also known as the language of the Pharaohs. It
hasn’t been a living, spoken language for over a thousand years.”
the language on the artifacts and the Stargate is connected to
“Yes, sir. He’s
found certain similarities between the two languages that make me think
he’s correct. However,” Lee gave a shrug, “that doesn’t make it any
easier to read, even for Dr. Rothman.”
“Yes, sir. Next
to Daniel, Dr. Rothman’s our ancient Egyptian specialist. He’s very
familiar with hieroglyphics as well as the culture.” Lee smiled. “He
and Daniel have been having quite an exciting time working their way
through the artifacts.”
The General was
listening intently and felt a stir of hope at the scientist’s words.
“So Dr. Rothman
is able to translate this ancient language?”
well...” Lee’s smile faded.
don’t beat around the bush.”
“Robert – that
is, Dr. Rothman is the most qualified Egyptologist we have. But,” Lee
looked at the General with unhappy eyes, “he would be the first to tell
you he does not have Daniel’s gift for languages.”
thought. He’d been hoping it wouldn’t come down to this.
is...” Lee hesitated again, searching for the right words. “To put it
as simply as possible, sir, Daniel is amazing. Not only intellectually
but he has a gift, an ability to understand and absorb new languages,
such as I’ve never run across before. None of us have.”
help, Dr. Rothman's made significant progress in learning this ancient
language, but without Daniel he'd be struggling almost as much as the
rest of us.”
“Is there anyone
else who understands the language as well as Daniel?” The General had a
sick feeling he knew the answer but still had to ask.
sir.” Dr. Lee shook his head.
answer didn't make it any easier to swallow. It was risky enough
sending his people through the Stargate and this intel was going to
strengthen the arguments of the Joint Chiefs. What they had suggested
was unthinkable, but George Hammond was running out of options. Perhaps
with more intensive one-on-one tutoring between Daniel and Dr. Rothman,
the latter might be able to help.
Might be able
sighed. With Daniel’s brother missing neither he nor the O’Neills were
in any state to think about anything other than Charlie O’Neill.
As he had so
many times in his long career, George Hammond found himself in the
uncomfortable position of trying to protect his people while
simultaneously dealing with orders from his superiors. He was getting
too old for this.
“Thank you for
the information, Doctor.”
and waited until he was gone before telling his aide to have Dr.
Rothman come to his office. Maybe Rothman was more advanced in the
snake language, as Daniel called it, than Lee realized. Robert Rothman
was the General’s last hope.
On to Part 2
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