Chapter 7. Escalation
Disclaimer: Stargate SG-1 and its characters are the property of Showtime/Viacom, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions. I have written this story for entertainment purposes only and no money whatsoever has exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended. The original characters, situations, and story are the property of the author(s).
Jack gave a brief tug at his jacket and straightened his tie just before opening the door and entering the oval office.
"Jack! Come in! Come in!"
He put on a warm smile as he crossed the room confidently and grasped the extended hand of his commander and chief in a firm handshake.
"Good morning, Mr. President. How are you, Sir?"
"I'm good, Jack. I'll be even better when you tell me you've found a way to solve this little problem of ours."
"Not yet, Sir, but we're getting there. We have the subject under surveillance and we're watching the situation closely. It's too early to take any action yet. It's just too risky, Sir."
"So you know where he is, Jack? You know for sure?"
"As sure as I can be without being there myself, Sir."
"How much longer until we know for sure?"
"That's hard to say, Sir. A few days, it could be as much as a few weeks."
"Let's make it a few days, shall we Jack. I don't want this to drag on forever."
A few minutes later Jack was stepping out into the sunshine of a cold Washington morning. He stepped into the car and waited as the driver climbed in behind the wheel.
"Where to, Sir?"
"Back to work, Mason, business as usual."
"Yes, Sir! Next stop the Pentagon. 3,705,793 square feet of office space, one of which belongs to you, Sir!"
Jack smiled as he listened to the young sergeant begin a light-hearted rant about their destination. It was something he did on occasion and Jack had come to enjoy it, smiling behind his sunglasses and allowing himself to be momentarily distracted as he concentrated on the tourist-guide tone of his driver and absent-mindedly twisted the ring on his left hand.
"Approximately 23,000 employees occupy said building along with their 4,200 clocks. They drink from 691 water fountains, consume 4,500 cups of coffee, 1,700 pints of milk and 6,800 soft drinks after which they immediately utilize the 284 available rest rooms."
Jack chuckled softly as he listened to the young man spilling out facts and numbers.
"Tom, where do you get this information?"
"Oh, here and there, Sir!"
"Well, with all that liquid consumption I guess it's good we have...how many rest rooms did you say?"
"Two hundred eighty-four, General."
"And 23,000 employees?"
"Yes, Sir." The driver was smiling broadly, enjoying the relaxed banter with the General.
"Well, that's a viable reason for staggered breaks! And just how far does one have to travel to reach these numerous facilities, Sergeant?"
"That's very interesting, General. Even though there are 17.5 miles of corridors the design of said building allows you to reach any point within its' walls in seven minutes."
"Seven minutes? Hmph! I'll have to remember that."
Jack glanced out the window as they pulled up to the entrance and reaching forward patted his driver on the shoulder.
"Thanks, Tom. Dr. Jackson would be proud of you!"
"Dr. Jackson, Sir?"
"Just an old friend of mine. Likes to dig around in ruins, collects rocks and ancient stuff. Loves anything even vaguely historical!"
"Oh, yes, Sir. Thank you, Sir."
"So how long to get to my office from here?"
"Four minutes, tops, Sir, maybe less with your stride."
"Thanks for the ride, Tom."
Tom flashed a full-tooth smile and Jack patted his shoulder briskly as he stepped out of the car and disappeared inside the confines of the Pentagon Building.
Four minutes later he was sitting behind his desk, sipping his first cup of coffee and occasionally glancing at Sergeant Kathy Andrews as she briefed him on the day's appointments.
"Is that it, Sergeant?"
"Yes, Sir, for now. There's always last minute changes you know."
"Yes, well better leave that battle plan with me." Jack reached out and she placed the copy in his hand. "First meeting in...."
"Thirty minutes, Sir."
"Thank you, Sergeant."
The Sergeant returned to her desk, closing the door behind her and Jack picked up the top folder, scanning the contents for the information he would need in the next meeting. When he'd finished the folder, he turned to his computer and typed in his security code bringing up the files on the latest threat, Abdul Kassem.
Jack breathed out a deep sigh as his computer screen displayed the information he was seeking. Kassem had not moved from his known location, he was holed up behind his massed forces, probably planning his next attack. Jack was waiting, too. He was waiting for him to relocate, to make a mistake, waiting to neutralize the threat he posed to the country and the world at large.
Jack's relief was short lived as he continued to view the files. More bombings in Iraq, a terrorist car bombing in London, subway explosions in Paris and threats were now becoming apparent in South America. There were reports of heightened concerns in New York City and Las Angeles, as well as Seattle; the list seemed to go on and on. Jack had just pulled up the page on the SGC when Sergeant Andrews spoke through the intercom.
"Excuse me, Sir, but it's time for your meeting."
Jack scrubbed one hand along his frowning face and then pressed the button on his phone, acknowledging her message. He typed in the code to lock his computer and stood from his chair. Watching as the computer screen blanked, he buttoned his jacket and exited the room. Glancing at his watch as he entered the outer office and noted the time was almost 15 minutes before the scheduled meeting time. Attempting to lighten his own mood, he couldn't resist teasing his assistant.
"A little early isn't it, Sergeant?"
"No, Sir. You'll need the time to get to your meeting."
"Yes, of course, but I can be anywhere in this building in seven minutes, Sergeant." The young woman stared back at him, surprised at this comment and unsure of what to add.
"It's all right, Andrews. I don't like to be late." Then he turned on a warm smile and strode from the room.
Andrews waited until she was sure that General O'Neill was out of earshot and then picked up her phone. Curiosity getting the best of her, she dialed the information office of the Pentagon.
"This is Sergeant Andrews. What is the walking time from General O'Neill's office to the most distant point in the building?"
The clerk that sat across from her was also curious and listening in on the conversation.
"Really? Any point. Seven minutes. Yes, thank you, that's very helpful." Andrews placed the phone back in its cradle and shook her head grinning at the clerk. "How the hell does he know all this stuff?"
The clerk smiled and shrugged her shoulder, "He's a general!"
Down the hallway, Jack O'Neill was moving quickly away, eating up the hallway with his long strides and grinning broadly at his small victory.
An hour later he was back in his office, attacking the work on his desk. He began with all the mundane tasks that he knew could be dispatched quickly and when those were completed, he focused his attention on the computer. He was searching through personnel files and on the notepad in front of him was a hastily scrawled list of names, candidates for the team he was selecting to aid in the pursuit and/or capture of Kassem.
It would be a dangerous mission and the list was short. Most of his people were already in place and he couldn't pull them off their current assignments but this job was special and required a specific personality and training, training that Jack was all too familiar with. They must be experienced, proven in their dependability, adaptability and unquestioning loyalty.
The team he chose must have a record of getting the job done regardless of circumstances and be willing to sacrifice their own lives to accomplish the mission. They would need confidence, inner strength, resourcefulness and the ability to think and act quickly in dangerous situations. They must work together as a concise unit, melding themselves into one individual, almost reading each other's thoughts and trusting each other completely, without a second thought or the slightest hesitation. They must be willing to walk straight into hell with only his order as motivation, get the job done and get out. Rubbing his tired hand across his face, Jack sighed audibly, getting out was obviously the hard part. Many of the candidates on his list could get the job done but if they were captured, the situation would only worsen.
Jack tossed his pen onto the desk in frustration and rubbed both hands across his tired features as a recurring thought penetrated his mind. The team he needed was SG1.
Suddenly he stood and extended his arms towards the ceiling, stretching his long frame to relieve the hours of stress and immobility. Then he turned to gaze out his window seeking the comfort of the sunny fall day and was met instead with the twinkling lights of the city, sparkling brightly in an already darkened landscape.
He turned again and pressed the intercom, dismissing Andrews for the day. It hadn't taken long for him to realize that she would not leave until he did. She would remain quietly outside his door, on the assumption that if he was working, she might be needed. She was loyal and smart and Jack had come to like and respect her.
He stood for a moment allowing his eyes to rest on the photo on his desk. Sam was smiling back at him, her penetrating blue eyes twinkling behind the glass. He missed her.
And then just like every other night, he lifted the phone and dialed, knowing that she wasn't home and that she wouldn't answer, he waited for the machine to pick up. It didn't matter; he wanted to hear her voice. The ringing stopped and the machine kicked in, her voice filled his head and he closed his eyes as he listened to the familiar message, waiting for the beep before he began.
"Hey, baby, it's me..."
Most of the days since his return from Colorado had passed in a similar manner with Jack working long hours and honing his plan to catch Kassem. When he did make it to his apartment he would fall into an exhausted sleep and often be awakened in a few hours to be advised of a changing situation that required him to return to the Pentagon. He was tired and stressed, but he still managed to call Sam every night leaving a message on the machine at home. She hadn't returned his calls. After the first week, he'd sent flowers but still received no response. It had been over two weeks now and her silence was eating at him, threatening to rip his confidence apart.
He'd only spoken to her once since his return and she'd been extremely rushed, preparing for an off world mission. He could hear the tension in her voice and it worried him, but he tried to hide it, telling her instead that he had every confidence in her and that he'd talk to her when she returned. That conversation had been almost as painful as the last one in Colorado; twisting his heart in ways he'd never suspected possible. But she hadn't called when she returned and he hadn't called the base. He knew she was safe. The daily reports from the mountain told him that much and as her silence continued, he left messages on their machine and waited impatiently for her to call. It was getting late and he needed a break so he hung up the phone and walked toward the door, planning on a short workout and maybe even a quick dinner before he returned to check on Kassem. He hesitated as he reached the door, turning back towards his empty office and speaking in a barely audible voice, he whispered "Good night, Sam," before he closed the door.
Thousands of miles away in Colorado, Sam sat at her worktable with Daniel, picking at the food he'd brought from the commissary. He had been chipping away at the wall of silence that Sam had built up around herself and now sat dumb struck as the wall fell and the words tumbled freely from her rose colored lips. His hand was frozen in mid-air, his eyes glued to her face and wide-open as he listened intently. His brow furrowed slightly as she talked and he realized that he was barely breathing as he absorbed her explanation.
The room went suddenly quiet but he continued to stare, waiting for her to speak again.
Finally Sam averted her eyes, picking at the macaroni and cheese on her plate while the silence continued to surround them.
Daniel moved his head slowly side to side as he continued to stare and then practically threw his fork onto the plate.
"You did WHAT?"
Sam's head jerked up quickly at the tone of his voice, accusation practically dripping from his lips while he stared back at her in obvious disbelief.
"No, Sam! You didn't!"
"I thought it was the only way, Daniel."
"The only way? For what? What do think this will accomplish?"
"I need time to straighten this out. To clear my head and I need to do it without Jack's influence. We'll never make it if I don't."
Daniel shook his head again and looked away, totally frustrated.
"This is Jack we're talking about, Sam. I thought you knew him! What makes you think that's even still an option?"
"What? What do you mean, Daniel? Jack agreed to try this, he..."
"Willingly?" Sam shrugged her shoulder in answer. "Because this doesn't sound like something Jack would agree to! Not after all you've been through! What did he say?"
Sam stared off into space for a moment thinking back to the day Jack left for Washington. She recalled his anger as he tossed the papers aside, "but don't expect me to sign these;" the coldness in his eyes and the determination in his steps as he walked away, never turning to look back. A sudden, deep shutter swept across her soul and she looked back up into Daniel's eyes but it was Jack's voice she heard in her head, "And don't expect me to wait forever."
"He said he wouldn't sign the papers."
"Papers? You filed for divorce?"
"No, a legal separation. I didn't think it was fair to ask him to do this and not give him a way out, if that's what he wanted. He knows how I feel, Daniel. This is only temporary."
"God, Sam. You...I can't believe this..." Daniel raised his hands to shoulder level and let them drop dramatically then one hand came up to push up his glasses. "Have you talked to him since he left?" Daniel's voice had developed that high pitch screech that appeared when he encountered something that completely frustrated him.
"Just once, it's been so busy with the missions and my work in the lab that I've hardly even been home."
Daniel tilted his head to the side, thinking about her statement. "I thought you told me he called every day."
"Until now. Until he went back to Washington?"
They talked for a while longer, Daniel asking questions and trying not to groan at Sam's answers.
She listened and countered every remark with what seemed to her a reasonable answer, but her resolve was failing. Her eyes were moving rapidly and her fork had dropped onto the now abandoned plate. It suddenly sounded so different as Daniel reflected her words and actions back to her. It had seemed so logical in her mind. She couldn't have been this wrong. She didn't look up as she shook her head in acknowledgment.
Daniel watched her and let out a long sigh.
"Look, Sam, I know this is none of my business...and you don't have to say anything...but I have to wonder what all of this is really about! Did Jack do something?"
"Daniel, I don't want..."
"Sam. When Jack left here, he thought he was leaving for good. You didn't see that? You didn't feel it?"
"No. No, he wasn't...." She was shaking her head in disagreement, her eyes growing large as she watched Daniel and absorbed the meaning of his words. "He was just trying to convince me that he believes in me!" She looked into Daniel's confused face and then continued. "This isn't about Jack!" She paused and looked back into non-threatening blue eyes, looking away before she spoke again. "Well, in a way, maybe it is. Remember when he wouldn't assign the Russian to SG-1?"
Daniel shook his head, acknowledging that he remembered.
"But he assigned Mitchell who doesn't have anywhere near that much experience."
Daniel remained still and silent as he listened.
"And then he wouldn't approve the mission to Anubis' abandoned base until SG-3 could go along as backup? Which didn't help at all, I might add."
Daniel again shook his head.
"He doesn't believe I can do the job, Daniel, and whether he knows it or not, he's influencing a lot of people with that attitude."
"Sam, he was just being cautious. Didn't you tell me that he gave you good reviews and agreed with your handling of that mission?"
"Later, yes, but I still think..."
"You know, Sam, Jack hadn't been in command of the SGC for very long when all that happened. Has it occurred to you that maybe he was struggling with the responsibility of command? Maybe even feeling a bit overwhelmed and unqualified to do the job?"
"Oh, please, Daniel! Jack is an excellent commander. He's got a ton of experience and I can't see him ever being overwhelmed."
"Ok. Well, how about the stress of sending the woman he loves into unknown danger on the other side of the galaxy while he stays behind and does paperwork?" Daniel cocked his head and stared at her. "We both know how much he cares about all of us and especially you. Don't you think that was tough on him?"
"Yes, of course he cares, but he's experienced in command. And it wasn't the first time."
"No! I've taken missions without him before, Daniel, when Hammond was in command..."
Sam's voice trailed off as she finished the sentence, suddenly realizing that Daniel might be right about all of this. Her mind was searching through hundreds of missions and encounters, years of working at the SGC beside Jack and the recent days spent without him.
"But why all these rumors? What about that, Daniel?"
"Yeah. Well, human nature I suppose, curiosity, jealousy, boredom...who knows, Sam? There have always been rumors and I suspect there always will be but the people that know you don't believe them. Did you talk to Jack about all of this?"
"Not all of it. I have to work it out on my own."
"Why? I just do. It's my problem, there's no need to drag Jack through all of this."
"So instead, you shut him out? Sam, maybe you know a side of Jack I've never seen but I can't believe that you don't know what this is doing to him?
"I know he was upset, Daniel, but he understands."
Daniel shook his head "no" and stared at her quietly for a few moments.
"Sam, he thinks you've changed your mind."
Sam's head jerked up quickly, confusion coloring her usually bright eyes.
"He thinks you want out...that you don't love him."
"No, he...he couldn't think that." She stared at Daniel while he cocked his head and his concern spread across his face. "Did he tell you that, Daniel?"
"Call him, Sam."
Sam stared at him, completely motionless except for her eyes. Slowly panic started to build inside her as she considered the situation and Jack's possible reaction. Daniel could be right. Jack could spiral out of control and alone in Washington he could slip so deeply into the darkness that she'd never reach him. She jerked the phone from its' cradle and with trembling fingers began to dial as Daniel slipped out of the room.
In a gym at the Pentagon, Jack was slamming his fists into a punching bag with all the force he could muster. Perspiration covered his skin and dampened his tee shirt from the exertion of his workout. There were only a few other people in the gym and Jack was ignoring them, striking the bag with brutal, unforgiving force as he thought of Sam and then Kassem, cursing his inability to control either situation.
He tried to focus on Kassem, working through possible tactics to assure his capture. Most scenarios he came up with were doomed to failure and as he discarded each one, he punched the bag harder. There were bound to be casualties, how many or how few depended entirely on his decision, and his stomach turned at the thought of ordering good men to their deaths. He kept punching; sweat spinning into the air around him as he released his frustration. Finally he stopped, pressing both arms around the swinging bag then lifting his chin in resignation. He knew what he had to do.
He removed the gloves and stepped onto the treadmill. He ran hard against the machine, his mind finalizing the plan while a few hundred feet away, inside a closed locker, his cell phone was ringing.
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