"Hey Alex,"Daniel said cautiously,"there's a guy here to see you."

There had been no way to hide her little project from him, not when he was running all over the shop at all hours and only a week before Christmas. Not to mention, he was the one trading for the parts. But he had been sworn to secrecy and knew enough to keep an eye over his shoulder when she was working on it.

She cocked a curious eyebrow.

"I think he's the guy with the horse-trailer," Daniel responded.

She dropped her tools immediately and followed him into the office, carefully locking the door behind her. The man standing there glanced over her shoulder, then when no one else appeared, looked at her with surprise.

She must be getting used to the reaction, she thought, when the usual feeling of annoyance did not arise. More likely she just wanted to get her hands on his merchandise, she countered herself with a mental chuckle.

"I understand you need a car for your daughter," she said leadingly.

Surprise vanished and the man instantly nodded. Points to him, Alex thought approvingly.

"Yes... she goes to school in September and she won't have much money. I wanted to get something reliable, good on gas." the expression of hope in his eyes had her discretely scanning his clothes. Inexpensive and well-cared for, but not new. The same for the car she could see out the office window.

She chewed her lip thoughtfully.

Daniel smiled."You said she was taking Biochemistry?"

The man's eyes lit up and he proudly launched into a brief description of his daughter's hopes and dreams. The perfect picture of a devoted parent. As she listened, she realized Daniel had steered the conversation toward the trailer.

"...really her mother's horses, and when she died two years ago I wasn't ready to sell them. But we need the money to pay for Julie's tuition next year. Without the horses we don't need the trailer, so I'd like to try and get a good car. If she can live at home, we can save on the residence costs."

She saw Daniel frowning thoughtfully. The Buick was ready to go, and while it would be safe, it would guzzle gas on a long daily commute. It might also not be the easiest car for a young driver to manage. The '64 Volkswagen would be an easy sell, the body work and lime green paint job she had given it were guaranteed to appeal to a young college student, but again, the kind of mileage the girl would put on the car would be...

She made up her mind and gestured for the man to follow her.

With the experienced eye of an archaeologist, Daniel had seen the faint outlines at one end of the barn suggesting cellar-type doors under a forty year covering of earth and grass. Excavation had revealed two large hinged doors that looked like they might be original. When they swung them open, they realized that the original farmer had built the basement to house cattle. The stalls had been removed, and someone had laid a cement floor. The entire space had been empty except for a few scattered bits and pieces of rope and metal hanging from the walls. She suspected the commune had used it for storage and Jon and Will had built an interior stairway leading down from Daniel's office.

The same gradual slope that had made the entrance safe for cattle had made it the perfect driveway, and the barn was wide enough to sit the cars three to a row with room to work. Alex and the guys had spent one Sunday moving all the vehicles she thought she could repair into the basement, with the cars being first in line to be repaired, being closest to the exit. The Buick and the Volkswagen were clearly visible near the outside doors and predictably, the man's hopeful gaze fixated on the lime green paint.

When Alex headed for a car in the middle of the pack, he trailed after her a bit confused. Daniel raised both eyebrows when he saw where she was heading, but he stayed silent.

She turned to look at the man behind her.

"Mr..."

"Jennings,"he responded automatically."Frank Jennings."

She smiled. "We're looking for Christmas gift, Mr. Jennings, for a very good friend. If you are open to something a little out of the ordinary, I have a car I think you'll be happy with."

She pointed to boxy four-door sitting on blocks next to him. "That is a 1989 Volvo, with moderate mileage and a lot of rust. It needs the engine rebuilt, new brake lines, a gas tank, and a few other misc repairs. The transmission however, is in great shape. If you are interested, I promise to have this car running properly, and looking as good as that Volkswagen by the end of April, and Julie can even pick the paint color. I'm willing to guarantee my work for a year. I'll have Daniel add it to the contract."

Jennings' eyes had widened at the word Volvo and kept on going. His worried look eased when the word contract appeared and he studied the rusty car, then looked back at the Volkswagen, attempting to imagine the way the Volvo should look. He had done his research and was obviously aware a running Volvo, completely overhauled, was worth a lot more than the advertised price of his horse trailer.

"I can't afford to give you any money. I've just got the trailer," he said slowly.

"And I can't get this car finished sooner than April," Alex pointed out.

Jennings flicked his gaze back and forth between Alex and Daniel, and a split second of curious appraisal entered his eyes. Before she could wonder what he was thinking, he smiled abruptly, and held out his hand,"What say we call it even?"

Jon walked around the horse trailer and whistled through his teeth.

"This is fantastic. And he's willing to wait for the car?"

Daniel sprayed some Windex on a rag and started on the tiny windows. "He's getting a good deal and he knows it. The Volvo will be worth three times what he could get for the horse-trailer. He's mostly just happy his daughter will be driving a reliable car, though."

"Good man," Jon said.

Daniel paused, then nodded."I think so."

Alex rounded the other end of the trailer with a rotary sander and a handful of safety gear.

"Is the paint going to have time to dry?" Jon asked.

She nodded.

Jon grinned happily."Cool. Very cool."

It had taken some careful timing, but they had managed to get the doors shovelled off and Jon had taken Will out to the movies not ten minutes before Jennings arrived with the trailer. It was now safely stored in the basement of the barn, near enough to the doors that Alex could get good venting while she repainted it. The faded yellow color had probably been cheerful ten years ago, but a quick coat of paint would brighten it up. They were painting it black, to match the eventual color of the Ram 350.

Jon had suggested yellow and orange flames down the sides. Muttering that it was going to look like it was hauling dirt bikes instead of horses, Daniel had nevertheless hopped online and found a pattern they all liked.

Will's desire to raise horses had taken them all by surprise. They had been sitting in the living room, Daniel and Carter reading, Will and Jon watching TV. Jon had muted the commercials and was about to head for the kitchen when Will had looked around the room.

"I wish to purchase some Canadian horses."

Jon had blinked,then said the first thing to come to mind."Something wrong with the American ones?"

Daniel, who had dropped his book, had frowned, "That's the name of the breed." He continued to gaze at Will, thinking hard."Didn't we watch a documentary on them a week ago?"

Will inclined his head."Indeed. They are a noble animal." He turned to face an astonished Jon."Were you aware O'Neill, that almost 200,000 of these horses were imported into the United States over the course of the Civil War as mounts for soldiers, and to pull cannons and wagons. Their stamina, steadfastness of character, strength of body, and loyalty made them ideal for this purpose and they are, in fact, the foundation stock for many popular modern breeds including the Morgan and the Tennessee Walking horse."

Will appeared completely unaware of the fascinated gazes of his friends as they listened to him extol the virtues of an animal they did not even know if he could ride.

"As a direct result of heavy losses during battle, and the desire of many farmers to crossbreed the characteristics of this race of horses into their own herds, this animal has been driven almost to the point of extinction. They were bred to serve and their masters failed to protect them. This is not the fate deserved by so fine a beast, O'Neill."

Jon just nodded dumbly.

"Such an animal would be welcomed among the warriors and on the farms of Dakara," Will said.

"It will take decades to breed a large number of horses, Will," Alex said softly.

"It will take generations to build Dakara," Will replied. "And I have decades."

The room was silent.

"You could look at raising breeding stock, selling them as breeding pairs," Daniel said hesitantly.

Jon had looked at Will as Alex and Daniel hopped on-line to research the breed.

"You know this is nuts, right?"

Will smiled calmly."It is the honorable thing to do."

Jon sighed."Yes. Well...how much do they cost?"

They had considered buying him a foal, but felt it would not be appropriate. This was something Will was doing for his people. Besides, it would not be fair, to take his first purchase from him. He was researching the situation meticulously, reading everything about the six active genetic lines. He was having difficulty making his final decision on whether to focus on one line or all of them.

He had decided to keep the dominant black coat with the long kinky mane and tail. He wanted a horse that was visually distinctive and Daniel thought it was a cool marketing idea. Unfortunately, the temperament traits Will wanted belonged to two lines containing alternate coat colors. He had been torn between compromising what he wanted temperamentally, or cross-breeding for temperment, and then inbreeding for the coat color. Alex suggested cross-breeding. It would take longer, but they could reduce the number of generations needed by DNA-testing for any recessive genes determining coat color, once he had the right combination of personality traits in the parents. Daniel pointed out that his culls would still be highly desirable on Earth, which meant he could sell them for cash or trade them for a different horse.

The vote to put the RAM 350 in Will's name was unanimous. Since they all had access to the vehicle, it was a purely symbolic gesture, but it had felt right. They had settled on a horse trailer as the perfect Christmas gift and Jon and Daniel had both worked like demons to help her get the Buick and Volkswagen ready to sell before Christmas. Unfortunately, no one was buying. Daniel had been looking into trading one of the vehicles when he stumbled across Jennings' newspaper ad requesting cash or trade.

Alex did not regret the deal she had made. The actual cost of the parts and labor for the Volvo were equal to what the trailer was worth. The fact she could ultimately sell the Volvo for three times that price was a null issue as far as she was concerned. They got a Christmas gift in time for Christmas and Jennings got a reliable car that was not going to cost a fortune in gas or need repairs three months into his daughter's first semester.

As Jennings said, call it even.

The downside was that now she had two last minute projects to complete and only four more days until Christmas. Leaving Daniel to finish the the sanding on the trailer, she locked the door to the shop and turned to look at project number two.

Hot damn, she was good.

Now, she just needed to be fast.

A Christmas elf named Daniel had exploded all over Project Sinking Ship.

"Can I go into sugar shock, now? Please?" Jon requested plaintively as the strains of Bing Crosby's 'I'll Be Home For Christmas' started again for the 84th time. In the living room, Jim Carey stole Christmas, their electric bill from the Christmas lights was going to rival the National Debt, and there was tinsel, tinsel, everywhere.

Except below four feet, because T.J. tried to eat it.

"You're one to talk," Alex muttered.

"What?"

Alex smiled brightly."Nothing."

Jon stared suspiciously, then hurumphed. T.J. barked once in counterpoint, then went back to mauling a red and white knitted Santa Claus toy. The one lazy ear that had never straightened flapped manically with every growl and bob of his head. Alex stared morbidly at his paws. The dog was going to be a monster by the time he stopped growing. Her Tazmanian Devil slippers had been the latest casualty in the canine-human conflict called social understanding. He had been suitably contrite when she discovered he had killed the left one. However, the minute she went hunting for his absent master, he terminated the right one.

Good thing he was cute.

"Hey Alex!" Daniel carolled,"Mistletoe!"

This was the third time in an hour and she was beginning to think the Baby Duck and orange juice had gone straight to his head. Before she could react, Will grabbed Daniel's face and planted a noisy kiss on his cheek.

Daniel dropped the mistletoe in shock.

In a flash T.J. was across the kitchen and up the stairs. Jon, who was doubled over laughing, gasped,"Oh crap. T.J. come back here. Drop that." Then he, Will, and Daniel were barrelling up the stairs after the fleeing dog and she could hear the thunder of paws and feet across the ceiling.

She picked up Daniel's abandoned Mimosa and tasted it. Not bad. She continued to drink as she rearranged the contents of the Christmas baskets on the counter. There was one for General O'Neill, one for Harper, one for Coach Rivers, and one for each of their teachers-although those were more in the nature of apologies rather than thank-yous. One for Patterson, one for Lt. Hailey, and one for Tim. There was even one for Mr. O'Reilly from the building salvage yard. He had helped them out a lot this summer, holding stuff on credit and delivering it at no extra cost. There was also one for the dog breeder- Alex had tucked in a couple of pictures of T.J.-and one for each of the Paintball Academy students.

They had originally planned to donate some baskets to the local Food Bank, then decided to target some of the kids at their schools who did not officially require aid, but whose families might be having a tough time this Christmas. A handful had family members in the hospital or had a parent who had just lost a job for one reason or another. Nothing unusual enough to put them on the radar for an official charity group, in fact, most would probably not consider asking for help as they were not going hungry. But recent events for those families were enough to strain budgets and make Christmas something stressful rather than joyful. They had quietly gathered fifteen names and added them to the list.

She smiled at the bottles of wine clearly marked 'Do Not Open 'til Christmas'. These were the results of Jon's first attempts at apple wine, and the results were surprisingly good. While it was illegal for minors to buy wine, it was apparently not illegal to buy wine-making equipment. Jon had purchased the pails and tubing back when the second orchard proved to be larger than they thought. Almost three acres larger.

He wanted to try a strawberry wine next.

She went down Daniel's checklist as the guys returned to the kitchen. Jon went back to working on something that smelled like pumpkin pie, while Will and Daniel continued to decorate the living room. Wine, check. Block of homemade cheddar, check. Block of homemade smoked cheddar, check. Strawberry jam, pumpkin marmalade, apple jelly, and salsa sauce, all checked. One jar of either bread and butter pickles, dill pickles, pickled beets, or pickled baby onions. All checked. One small container of honey, che...

"We don't have bees," she said, brow furrowed."Do we?"

"Clarence Atkins," Daniel said.

And he would be...?

"Jon pulled him out of the ditch in September. You fixed his Chevy."

Oh right. That had appeared on her schedule one morning. Jon never explained, she never bothered to ask.

"We got honey?"

"Lots of honey," Jon said smugly."And maple syrup. Daniel gave him a set of tires. We're also getting some plum trees in the spring, when it's warm enough to plant."

Oh.

One small container of honey, check. One small jar maple syrup, check. The guys must have rebottled both because she doubted Clarence Atkins used baby food jars with Christmas trees painted on them. Mint jelly, check. String of garlic,check.

"You realize these things are going to weigh a ton," she pointed out.

"It's Christmas," Jon replied.

The baskets, which were actually copy-paper boxes wrapped in cheap Christmas wrap, were beginning to look like miniature fields of red and green mushrooms. Will had disguised the recycled nature of the jars by attaching a red or green square of fabric to the metal lid with a colored elastic. Someone had been reading decorating magazines again, she could see. Jars on the bottom, everything else on top. Five pounds of apples, two pounds of pears, and a pound of walnuts completed the package. She added a bag of homemade cookies, and a card with their names and return address to each of the fifteen boxes headed for the kids from school. Since the food was not store-bought, and the recipients did not know them, Daniel thought they might feel uncomfortable eating it if they did not know where it came from.

Will and Daniel murmured approvingly as the lids were finally fitted on. Jon just rolled his eyes.

The walnuts had been a pleasant surprise. The harvest was relatively small given that the trees had not been pruned recently, but the tree doctor they had out to look at them assured them that with a little TLC, they would produce large harvests for years to come. The commune had planted several acres of walnut trees almost six decades previous. Twenty years ago, Patterson had sold most of the maturing trees as lumber. About a dozen of the smaller trees had survived the thinning, and the reduced competition had allowed them to grow unhindered and they were just starting to reach their peak productive years.

The pears were an even bigger surprise. For the most part, the fifty or so acres they used for the Paintball Academy was not usable farmland. Too rocky, too hilly, or too swampy. The real estate agent had written those acres off as worthless when appraising the land, although Jon had mumbled something about some of the trees being almost mature maples. Still, any maple syrup they managed to acquire would be sufficient for personal use only, not sale, so she supposed the agent had been technically correct.

The Paintball Academy had stumbled over the orchard during one of their exercises. The field had been little more than two and a half acres surrounded by a bowl of swamp and high rock. Too small to cut hay, too far away to comfortably graze cattle or grow vegetables, the running water from the brook that cut through it and the nearby swamp created a small micro-climate that left it frost free about six weeks longer than the land around it. The commune had taken advantage of the fact to turn it into a small pear orchard. Even without regular pruning, the harvest had been substantial. The tree doctor had identified two seperate varieties(apparantly two varieties were needed to pollinate), a soft pear he advised canning and a firmer pear he said would keep like apples right into the winter months. The Academy kids started bringing them bags of recycled jam jars, jelly jars, pickle jars, and baby food jars. They did not trust the recycled jars in the pressure canner, but anything that could be boiled was fair game.

They still ran out of jars.

And Daniel still wanted to plant cherry trees next spring.

The teachers were probably not going to be thrilled that they knew their home addresses, but they had not had time to get everything completed before school ended. Jon and Will started loading the boxes into the car. With almost sixty baskets to deliver, Jon and Daniel had promised to keep Will away from the farm for the entire afternoon and evening. With all of them gone, she could easily get everything else finished in plenty of time.

Jon was driving them all into Denver tomorrow to finish their Christmas shopping. She knew most people hated shopping on the 24th, but she loved it. Half the time, the stores were almost empty and the sales were great. After fighting Goa'uld, mud, bugs, and alien life-forms, she had never been in the mood to battle the Christmas shopper.

T.J. flopped down beside her and rested his head on her foot.

"Still alive are you?" she asked.

The puppy sighed.

"He's only been gone ten minutes. I think you'll survive."

Canine disbelief looked back at her. She groaned and rubbed his ears. He followed her into the living room and when she settled down to watch the rest of the Grinch, he stretched out beside her, head in her lap.

"It's a good thing, you're cute," she told him.

Christmas morning and it was a race for the bathroom in reverse.

He whose bladder caved first, got to freeze his-or her-feet on the cold tile. They had installed electric baseboards, but it took ten minutes for the bathroom to warm up. Being third in line was best. One of the guys would have had a shower leaving the bathroom nice and tropical. Plus, there would still be a reasonable chance of hot water. Three showers in a row was the limit on their hot water tank.

They were definitely making a second bathroom a priority.

Jon must have been up early because the wood-stove was roaring and the kitchen was toasty. Daniel was pouring coffee and she was just reaching for a mug when the front door opened and T.J. bounded in, covered in snow. Jon was right behind him and from the looks of him, he had been shovelling snow for a while.

Will appeared in the door of the living room. Reflexively she glanced upwards, but Daniel must have reconsidered the wisdom of the mistletoe.

"It is time to unwrap our stockings O'Neill."

"Jeez,"Jon protested,"Give me a minute will ya? I've been up for hours."

"Aren't we eating breakfast first?" Alex asked, confused.

"We are not," Will said.

Jon gazed after the Jaffa as he disappeared into the living room. "Apparently not," Jon answered.

Daniel grinned, then handed them mugs with snowmen on the front.

They trooped into the living room, Alex and Daniel grabbing spots on the sofa. Jon took the overstuffed chair they had found at a garage sale and after handing out the stockings, Will settled cross-legged on the floor near the Christmas tree. T.J. scampered and grabbed for the discarded paper as they unwrapped the obligatory pairs of socks and sticks of deodorant. Several pounds of candy and fruit later, they were ready to hand out the big gifts.

Will handed a gaily wrapped package to Jon. "This is from me, O'Neill."

Daniel leaned over to mock-whisper in Alex's ear,"As if we could not guess."

Alex snickered. The Star Wars wrapping paper was a bit of a clue.

Investigation revealed the first three seasons of the Simpsons collection on DVD, something Jon had refused to buy for some unknown reason. Whatever that reason was, either Will had decided to push the issue, or it had changed, because Jon looked genuinely delighted.

Will's expression was a bit more anxious as he handed over his gift to Daniel. Daniel unwrapped the package gingerly, then Alex heard nothing but a soft gasp as the wrapping fell away to reveal a wooden mortar and pestle. She heard him whisper,"Abydos." and she understood. Flashing back to Teal'c holding a 3000 year old Egyptian game piece and describing how Daniel connected to the past, she knew that for Daniel, touching the smooth surface of the bowl meant touching the sand that had rubbed it smooth. Sand that might still hide in cracks and lines of the bowl Will must have asked Teal'c to find for him. She wondered if this had somehow survived the blast, hidden in a cave somewhere, perhaps. Maybe even the same caves Skar'ra and the boys had hidden Daniel and Colonel O'Neill on that first trip through. Or maybe it had been sent through the Stargate along with the shipments of Naquada at some point in time and ended up at an offworld flea market. She supposed it did not matter.

Daniel closed his eyes and brought the bowl to his face, breathing deeply. When his eyes opened, they glistened with unshed tears.

"Thank-you," he said simply.

Will nodded, pleased, and reached for the next package.

Seeing the bright red wrapping paper, she shook her head. "Ah, not that one Will. Not yet."

Will gave the box a puzzled stare but obediently moved his hand to the next package.

"Er...not that one either," Daniel said sheepishly.

Will gave them exasperated glares.

Jon snorted and reached over and snagged an envelope off the tree and handed it to Daniel. A piece of plastic fell out and Alex saw Daniel's eyes widen. She leaned over and felt her own mouth drop in shock. How the heck...?

"It's an all-access pass to the university research library," Jon explained unnecessarily. "They said that since you're in the system, you'll also have access to online materials from other universities even though you're not faculty.

"I..."Daniel stammered,"I don't know what to say."he admitted. "How the hell did you get this?"

See a problem, solve a problem, Alex thought. And his casual shrug meant they were not going to get an answer. Obviously he had gotten someone involved. General O'Neill, maybe. Or Daniel.

"Who's next, Will?" Jon asked.

Will turned obediently toward the tree, then frowned in consternation. "I do not know."

Daniel scooped a variety of packages from beneath the tree and handed them to Will. They were themed to match the horse-trailer hiding in the barn. Daniel had gotten him a veterinary textbook on horses. Alex had given him a DVD copy of the Horse Whisperer, and Jon had decided on a VHS seminar on horse training given by the real horse whisperer, the man Robert Redford's character was based upon. Will studied the license plate that fell out of the last package with confusion.

Jon grabbed the plate,"Field trip, Will. We'll explain after Alex opens her gift."

"You might as well open your gift from me first," Daniel told him.

Jon ripped the paper off the box Daniel handed him, his eyes lighting up as he saw what it was. He looked up, curious, when only the removable face of the CD player fell out of the box.

"Alex has already installed it," Daniel said truthfully.

Jon grinned,"Excellent." He had been complaining about the lack of a CD player in the car for weeks.

Daniel bounced slightly on the sofa."Okay...Alex."

Will obediently picked up a large wicker basket and carried it to the sofa, a smug expression on his face. Alex gaped as he placed it at her feet.

The whole basket?

A seemingly endless array of gaily wrapped packages in all shades of red filled the basket and as she started to unwrap them, it did not take long for the underlying theme to become apparent. Strawberry. Soap, shower gel, shampoo and bath oil. Strawberry body spray, strawberry facial masque. Strawberry flavored lip gloss. When she got to the pink silk panties with strawberries on them, she lost it. The giggles shook her hands so badly that she almost dropped the book of strawberry recipes. The last item in the very bottom was a strawberry shaped card. She was not surprised to see all their signatures, but the key attached to a strawberry-shaped keychain was unexpected. She glanced at them, puzzled.

"And this would be why we haven't had breakfast yet, Carter," Jon told her gleefully."Field trip."

The guys dove for the door and shoved her into her winter clothes. Then they dragged her past the barn and stopped at the greenhouse. Jon and Will immediately began pulling back the hinged plywood covers and she realized this must have been what Jon had shovelled off this morning. Nor were they the simple covers Jon had led her to believe they were when he built them back in August. These were insulated with the same type of six-inch R-19 batts they had in the house.

The windows of the greenhouse had moisture on the inside, something that should have been impossible at the current temperatures. Unless there was something growing inside and a supplemental heat source...

She looked at the key in her hand, then at the guys who almost pushed her down the stairs. The rush of humid air was scented with the smell of green growing things and she involuntarily took a deeper breath. The guys crowded in behind her and closed the door to keep out the cold.

Strawberries. Pots on the floor, long rows of planters and hanging pots by the dozen. Some flowering. Some bearing bright red fruit in defiance of nature.

Strawberries in the dead of winter.

Her eyes picked out the florescent lights, the automatic timers and the fact the beds were filled with white reflective rocks and not earth. Hydroponics.

"How is it powered?" she heard herself ask.

"The solar panels on the barn." Jon replied proudly.

They must have buried the lines because she had never even seen the shunt. She had seen the panels when Jon bought them at the salvage yard, but he had never told her what they were for, and she had just assumed they ran the lights on the barn. The guys must have come down every morning to open those covers, and closed them again every night for months. And coordinated the chores so that she never had reason to walk past the greenhouse during the day. Good lord.

Without thinking she picked a strawberry from one of the plants and bit into it.

"There's a bowl of them in the fridge," Jon said dryly.

She licked the berry juice from her fingers and smiled happily. Alexandra Carter had died and gone to strawberry heaven. And she had a whole BOOK of strawberry recipes. She hugged them all and they ignored the fact that she was crying.

The guys slapped each other on the back, delighted by the success of their gift.

"Field trip," Alex reminded them.

Daniel grinned when she snagged a second strawberry on her way out the door.

Will came to a dead stop when they pulled open the basement doors and the horse-trailer was revealed. He looked at the license plate Jon shoved back into his hands and walked slowly toward the trailer glistening with its new paint. He traced the bright flames curling down the side, then stood staring at the logo Daniel had carefully air-brushed onto the upper rear corner on each side.

The glyph for persistence.

Jon had muttered that it really translated as "mule-stubborn".

Daniel handed Will the printed design they had used, the color print showing the other half that would be painted on the truck. The purifying flames, the open mouth of the fire-breather, literally out of the mouth of the dragon. Jon solemnly handed him the ownership papers for the RAM 350, the first vehicle Will had ever owned. Then Alex handed him an envelope containing gift certificates for both US and Canadian gas stations.

"Round-trip to Quebec," Alex said. "The truck will be ready by foaling season."

The lime-green Volkswagen had sold two days before Christmas. Only half the amount would be needed for the remaining parts for the Volvo, so three maxed out credit cards and Fedex got the certificates delivered just in time.

This was only the second time she had ever seen the stoic warrior this close to crying.

Jon grinned nervously and slapped Will on the back.

"I only muck out stables on Tuesdays."

Will looked at him in disbelief, then they stared in astonished delight as he roared with joyous laughter.

Alex hugged him, then Daniel yelped when he was unexpectedly engulfed in a Jaffa bear hug. Jon rolled his eyes and hugged his friend, mumbling "might as well make it O for 3."

Then Will stood grinning at all of them and they grinned back until Jon coughed. "Breakfast anyone?"

Daniel did a double-take and glanced at Alex. "Uh..."

Alex solemnly slipped an envelope from her pocket and handed to Jon. The only thing inside was a key. A key that represented seven months work, stealing time where she could find it. She had hoped to have it done in time for his birthday, but with all the emotionally laden gifts this Christmas season, this was better.

"A car?" he raised eyebrows in astonished delight.

Daniel snorted and even Will rolled his eyes.

She pointed at the stairs.

He galloped up the stairs eagerly and she shook her head. Daniel met her gaze, a slightly evil look of anticipation in his eyes.

"He has no idea..." Daniel murmured.

Will stopped and stared accusingly at the two of them.

"He peeked!" Alex protested."Besides, he does the books."

Will tilted his head."Would it be correct to assume this vehicle is something unusual."

"Mystery Beast, Will," Daniel said gleefully. "It's the Mystery Beast."

Alex flicked a gaze between them,"Excuse me?"

"Gotta go..." Daniel yelped and raced past Will.

The Jaffa snorted, then grinned and pounded after him. Since she had the key to the door, Alex followed more sedately. She arrived behind them just as Daniel told Jon she would murder him if he picked the lock. Muttering under her breath she pushed him firmly out of the way and told him to stay put. She wanted to see his face when he saw the car inside. Will and Daniel each grabbed an arm as he leaned forward reflexively when she opened the door.

"I'm standing. See? This is me standing."

Lord save her if this was genetic. Daniel closed the door firmly after she slipped through. Anticipation shot through her and she ran to the lights on the far side of the room. Oh yes, this was going to be good. Even Daniel had not seen it fully assembled, with the new coat of paint. He knew what it was, but oh...he had no clue.

She practically danced over to the car, and gave the big white bow on the hood one last minute pat.

She took a deep breath and moved out of the way so he had an unrestricted view. She had already tested the angle, making sure the best view showed as soon as he walked through the door.

"Carter? I'm dying here."

She crossed her fingers. "Okay," she yelled.

He was three steps into the room when he jerked to a halt so abruptly Daniel crashed into him. Will grabbed them both,then looked between Jon's dazed face and the car sitting under precisely angled lights.

One bright red 1957 Corvette Roadster.

Before they went with the new body style.

She shivered reflexively as Jon paced forward and ran his fingers over the hood. He caressed the satin paint job, then ran his hands over the pristine red vinyl of the newly reskinned seats. Luckily Eric Chandler had wanted custom upholstry in his Viper. That job had paid for the industrial-strength sewing machine she needed. Daniel had gotten a sweet deal on both the vinyl and the carpet. He had even found the patterns for her on eBay.

Jon slid into the front seat and breathed deeply as the vinyl creaked. Sensitive fingers danced along the steering wheel, then brushed against the one modern piece of equipment, a brand new stereo CD player missing the removable face.

Every minute she had spent was worth it, just to see the soft nostalgic smile on his face. Every blister, every painstaking second since she had found it during her first solo explorations of the farm and had bribed Tim with forty dollars and a pizza to help her tow it back to the barn.

"How in God's name did you do this, Carter?"

She stuffed her hands into her pockets and grinned. "Daniel traded for all the parts. I bribed Siler to let me use the mech shop to rebuild the engine and the transmission. And Corvette used fibreglass, so the body was easy to repair."

In fact, the fibreglass would have been the most expensive part except there was always a little left over whenever she did bodywork for someone else. No sense in throwing it out. The body of the Corvette had literally been rebuilt one piece at a time. The paint, carpet, and vinyl were the only things for which they could not trade parts - and Daniel had worked his magic there by tracking down a warehouse selling deeply discounted products, including discontinued product lines.

The owner was an American import/exporter handicapped by the fact he only spoke English. Daniel started trading translation and negotiation work for warehouse inventory. The owner was esctatic, especially when Daniel was able to turn a one-off purchase from a vital overseas supplier into a permanent contract. Alex charged her clients the discounted wholesale price instead of the discount retail for anything Daniel "bought" from the warehouse and gave Daniel the cash. They had agreed on a flat rate reimbursement for any of the repairables that might be sold and Daniel was happily making a list of several reference texts he planned to buy. As a perk, Daniel had promised Alex all the automotive paint, carpet, and material she could ever want for her private projects.

She felt her grin widen.

Jon blinked,"You bribed Siler?"

Alex laughed softly,"He hates doing Gate diagnostics."

And everyone from the security guards to General O'Neill had looked the other way.

She ran a gentle fingertip down the line of the hood. The car had originally been stored extremely carefully, probably before Patterson got too close to the bottom of the bottle. Several other vehicles had shown similar care, but thirty years of neglect had done damage. Luckily, not so much to the basic metal as the interior of the engine compartment had been well coated with years of oil build-up, but she had still had to take the car completely apart and rebuild it.

It had been worth it.

It was always worth it, when she got to see the final product, but this project had been different. Touching this car had grounded her. Anger, uncertainty, and fear had faded away as she welded and sanded. Cleaned and rebuilt. Repaired what time had broken. As the smooth curves reappeared beneath her hands she had felt the last of her resentment, the last of her fury crumble and fall away. It was too soon, and too complicated for her to reach out to the man. The car had allowed her to touch, and feel, and remember.

He would never know, but that was okay, too.

That was not what she had needed.

Oblivious to her thoughts, Jon shook his head at her and chuckled,"The insurance company is going to shit a brick, you know that right?"

"The police are going to be investigating us for drug dealing," Daniel muttered.

Alex snorted. Good thing Daniel kept excellent records, then. The Graveyard had revealed three more classic cars, two of which she felt she could cost-effectively repair. The third she would strip for the parts and see what Daniel could do with them. One car she was definitely keeping for herself, and the insurance company really was going to throw a fit. The other...

She rather thought it would make a nice wedding present.

So much could have been lost, but for a single decision. And that loss, she mused, studying Jon's downturned head, would have been unacceptable. So, for the life that choice had saved, for the life Alex herself had been given, there would be a thank-you, somewhere in there.

Merry Christmas, Colonel Carter.

It was worth it.

It was an hour before she could pry Jon from the car, which was fine because Will and Daniel were online mapping a least-time route to Canada. Three hours and two dozen strawberry waffles later, Will remembered the red package still under the tree.

"This belongs to you, Daniel." he said.

Daniel sat down on the sofa after a quick smile at Alex and started tearing into the paper. Alex sat beside him hesitantly. Of all the gifts today, this one...

She had no idea how he would react.

She curled up in a tight ball on the sofa and watched anxiously. She was probably wearing the exact expression Will had earlier and for the same reason. Daniel was highly visual, and he used photos to connect to the events in his own life the same way he used artifacts to connect to the past. A quick glance at Jackson's office showed that.

One of her first referrals from Turner was a professional photographer. World-class photographer at that, although she had not known how good until she had seen the photos. If she had had any idea, she never would have had the guts to approach him. Especially not for something like this.

She had asked him to create a family photo album.

In exchange for the work he wanted done on his car, she wanted him to take pictures of the four of them, with Daniel as the focus. Bending the truth only slightly, she told him that Daniel had been in foster care most of his life and had taken his foster father's 'death' extremely hard. He needed to know he was not alone any more, so she wanted Mark to create what most people took for granted. A family history. Continuity. Something Daniel could see.

Mark had looked intrigued and had slowly agreed.

She had expected him to take a few photos here and there while she was working on his car. Instead, he became one of the regular drop-ins, taking pictures with several ever-present cameras. People got used to seeing him tramping around the property, snapping away.

She had anticipated a few dozen photos. She had gotten almost one thousand, with negatives on both film and CD. Mark just shrugged away her stunned expression and said that was how he worked. When she stammered that there was no way the work she had done had covered this, he had gotten a strange expression on his face, then smiled.

"Go show your friend the truth," he said lightly.

She had cried when she looked through them for the first time. With an artist's eye, Mark had captured in black and white and color, something she had never been able to quantify satisfactorily.

SG-1.

Home.

With the first few rolls, he had been getting to know them. Candid shots of the four of them together, then paired off, each of them with Daniel, then with each other. He had started to peel back the layers, trying to get inside who they were, and who they were to each other. Abruptly there were rolls dedicated to individuals alone. Long shots. Tight shots. Close-ups. She had shivered uneasily as the photos ripped away pretense to reveal hidden passions and motivations. Mark peered inside their souls, trying to know them.

His camera stripped them naked.

They were completely vulnerable to its merciless lens. Worse, he SAW them. Somehow, he knew what he was seeing. The military officer who spent eight years hiding herself from the world cringed in horror. The photos became more deliberate. A patient stalking of prey, the photographer knowing what he wanted to show and not afraid to take the moment. Pieces of their souls, she had thought numbly. That camera had stolen pieces of their souls.

Or revealed them.

The four of them, exhausted and filthy, shoveling dirt into wheelbarrows. Mark had caught a moment when Will had been reaching down to help Daniel out of the pit. Some trick of light and focus pulled the eye into the picture and the viewer saw not the two men, but their clasped arms, Will's hand wrapped firmly around Daniel's wrist, fingers digging into skin and sinew. A simple shot...and the blindest of men could see that Will would die first, before letting Daniel go.

Jon resting against a tree, expression soft as he watched the three of them snooze in the sunlight.

The four of them laughing at something Daniel had said, the camera capturing the moment they had been looking at Daniel, and the eye followed their gazes, drawn inevitably to the sheer joy on his face.

Happy moments.

Sad moments.

A slumped Daniel sitting on the porch, the shadows emphasizing the exhausted lines of his body. Alex sitting next to him, collapsed against his shoulder. Jon on the stairs below them, his head resting against Daniel's knee, his hand clutching Alex's outstretched leg while Will leaned wearily against a shovel at their feet, head bent, face in shadow.

Reaching moments.

Alex reaching for the wrench Daniel was playfully holding out of her reach.

Daniel reaching absently for a glass of lemonade as he peered between an open book and the part in his hand. His expression was puzzled and he was blind to the tolerant care with which Will was reaching for Daniel's hand, his intent clear to make sure Daniel had a good grip on the glass before he let it go.

Jon reaching over to tickle the back of Daniel's ear with a blade of grass, evil glee in his eyes.

SG-1 moments.

Daniel and Alex crouched in the grass, Daniel watching Alex intently as she signalled with an open handed gesture.

The four of them relaxed and casual around the picnic table, dressed in BDUs and paintball guns. Will was smearing a splash of yellow paint across Daniel's cheek with his thumb while Daniel rolled his eyes at Jon.

The four of them in formation, alert and weapons ready, the forest vaguely threatening behind them.

Together. Helping. Reaching. Laughing.

Together.

There were more shots. Some taken in the summer. Some in the fall, as the leaves changed color. There were even a few dozen after the snow fell. A few times he had taken pictures of just the farm. The light glinting off the pond. Bare tree branches reaching across the snow as a warm golden glow spilled from the kitchen window. A basket of vivid red apples on the silver-grey picnic table, the rich blue of the barn wall behind. Many were not photos that belonged in the album she was creating, but she would be framing some of them to hang on the walls.

With the changing seasons, the pictures acquired a sense of continuity, of history. This was not the pictographic record of a brief moment caught out of time. Of a summer interlude. It had been hard, choosing the pictures to include in the album. Some, she had wanted to include for their sheer beauty, but that was not the point. This gift was about Daniel. In the end, Mark had made it easy for her because the one constant he had been able to capture was the one common element Daniel needed to see.

Love.

Pure and absolute. Uncompromising and demanding.

Jon and Will sat quietly as Daniel flipped through the album. They could not see the pictures, but unlike Alex, they could see his face. Without a word, Daniel closed the album gently and handed it to Jon. Will peered over his shoulder and Alex heard a quick intake of breath as Jon flipped to the first page.

"Oh...my," Jon said softly.

Alex tensed as Daniel lifted his head and she was not surprised to find him crying. Hell, she was crying. He leaned over and wrapped his arms around her in a hard, brief hug. Then he snuffled and she giggled because it was better than crying and wasn't this supposed to be a happy moment?

Well, truth hurts.

And pain lets you know you're not dead yet.

Jon finally closed the album and sat there breathing slowly, carefully. Behind him, Will was doing the same.

"Well...shit," Jon said reverently.

She sighed. "Yeah. I know."

Will seemed to shake himself awake. "There are planets where the man who took these photos would be burned for witchcraft, Alexandra." He hesitated. "These photos are...unnerving."

Unnerving. Terrifying. Exhilarating.

Powerful and humbling.

Mark had not created something from nothing. He had revealed what was already there, and people did not normally stand so naked before one another. Not even their loved ones.

Jon raised a cautious eyebrow at Daniel,"You get it now?"

Daniel drew in a shaky breath. "Yeah. I get it."

Jon nodded sharply."About damn time."

The day passed.

They watched 'Miracle on 34th Street', the original, and 'It's a Wonderful Life', reintroducing Will to the ultimate irony of Tau'ri Christmas traditions, the fact that there is never any half-decent Christmas programming scheduled on Christmas. Hence, the miracle of DVDs. They watched 'Scrooge', and 'Garfield's Christmas', and somewhere between 'The Santa Clause' and 'National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation', they devoured the better part of a twenty-pound turkey and all the trimmings.

Sometime after dark, the house sank into a peaceful silence. Will retreated to meditate, while Daniel had taken his photo album off to study in private. Jon handed Alex a beer and the two of them settled into a semi coma-like somulance induced by too much emotion, too much turkey and lulled by twinkling tree lights, flickering candles, and the haunting sound of Christmas music playing quietly on the stereo.

He could feel her watching him. Off and on, all day. Not angrily. Mostly just...watching. Or maybe observing might be a better word since he was not supposed to know. He had no idea what she was thinking, but her body was relaxed and comfortable, much of the driving tension of the last year, seeping away.

He told himself not push it.

Carter was thinking. Gathering data. Working through some conclusion.

Whatever answer she was looking for, she did not find it by the time the movie ended. He thought he saw a hint of regret in her eyes as she stretched lazily and smiled at him before telling him she was heading to bed. Trained instincts, or maybe just bastard hope had him off the chair before his brain could advise him that this was a really bad idea.

He caught her in the doorway and when she swung back around to face him, he saw an instant of fear, a moment of anger directed solely at him. But he also saw-he hoped he saw-a deep flicker of curiosity. He did not see retreat. He could always get a Carter with curiosity he thought with amused resignation. He told himself he was just giving her more data to consider.

He kept the kiss light, their identical heights making it easy. He had grown taller sometime in the past six months, he realized. The soft warmth of her mouth sparked a frantic need to pull her to him tightly, to deepen the kiss until she either responded or pushed him away. Anything except the emotionless feel of her lips as she politely returned the kiss.

Loss and anger crashed through him. Anger at her for not being able to give him what he wanted. Anger at himself for putting her in this position on a day when she had been relaxed and happy. Anger at a situation where truly, there was no one to blame.

He pulled back, careful not to let her see his eyes. He did not want to see the sorrow and regret in hers. Or the flash of anger he knew she would be feeling, if only for forcing her to hurt him again. He desperately did not want her to see the trained emptiness in his. Of course, that flat gaze was better than the bleak loss behind it.

Never let it be said, however, that Airman O'Neill never had a Plan B.

He forced a wry twist onto his lips and a note of light humour into his roughened voice. "Mistletoe, Carter."

Eyes bright with unshed tears, she touched gentle fingertips to his face before leaving him alone with shadows and regret.

She never once looked up to confirm he was lying.

Time slipped away from them.

While Alex spent every spare moment in the shop, the guys slowly finished the rest of the house. It was decided that once the training facility was completed, they would turn the training room into a library and general living area. Their existing living room would be divided into a still room, a second bathroom, and a utility/storage closet. The last room on the first floor would become Jon's office.

The four temporary bedrooms would be turned back into two much larger bedrooms, and as that meant they would have five bedrooms when they were finished, they voted to turn one of them into an Arts and Crafts room. Jon had protested the name, but could not deny the function. Daniel needed a place to work on restoring some of his more badly damaged books. Will had a full-blown case of decorating fever and needed a place for his paint and fabric projects. After six months of being forced to look at various Home and Garden magazines, Jon had unwillingly fallen victim to an article on stained glass.

The mud/laundry room that Alex wanted built meant the two bedrooms above the kitchen would have a shared walk-out deck if they kept the mudroom roof flat. They decided the Arts and Crafts Project Room would benefit from having access to an outdoor work area while giving all of them access to the deck. Jon claimed the second room. He had plans to add a stairway from the deck to the flattened area on the roof they had already voted to build for the telescope he intended to buy.

Will's truck was finished by mid-February, and with the second vehicle cutting the delivery time of their flyer routes by almost a third, they decided to keep the routes for a while longer. Alex was the only other licensed driver before March 17, but she did not protest when Jon asked her not to drive the truck to school. Her fitness routine was brutal and it was not unusual for her to fall asleep bare seconds after crawling into the vehicle.

Jon scheduled her training sessions on the same days as Will's cheerleading practices and Daniel was happy enough to be dropped off at the University library for two or three hours. Rather than drive out to the farm and back again, Jon used the time to shop for groceries and whatever other items were on the lists people kept sticking on his white boards. Daniel took advantage of the fact he was available and Jon soon found himself exchanging boxes of parts at the local auto wreckers. Any extra time, he spent haunting the building salvage yards.

Between the tithe and discounted building supplies, they estimated they would have enough money by May to build the mudroom and the fireplace in the library. The Buick sold just in time to purchase a set of tools that Alex needed for a big job Daniel had booked for March, and Jon and Daniel started going to the auctions alone. With Jon's understanding of automotive basics and Daniel's knowledge of the market, they managed to get the parts Alex needed for Julie's Volvo a full month ahead of schedule.

Frank Jennings was stunned by the results and while Julie and Alex discussed paint colors, Will gave him a tour of the farm. The two of them talked horses until Julie was ready to leave, and he shocked the hell out of them two weeks later when he drove her back to pick up the finished car. While Julie was going into raptures over the snazzy silver paint job and powder blue interior, Jennings quietly unloaded several saddles, tack, books, magazines, and various bits of mysteriously equine equipment from the back of his truck. Will offered to pay for the gear, but Jennings just shook his head and smiled as he said that he did not need the equipment anymore, but he had never felt comfortable selling it.

Then he left with his daughter, both of them grinning happily.

Jon and Daniel had fallen into the habit of stripping the auction vehicles themselves. While Alex worked on her clients' cars, Daniel cleaned and inventoried the parts Jon stripped. Anything they could not repair, they left for Alex. The time spent together became a companionable habit, and it was not long before Will started to wander in while they worked; sometimes to offer a hand, sometimes to work on a project of his own. Occasionally, he would simply sit on the sofa Alex had purchased for her clients, and study one of his horse books. For his birthday they had gotten him a copy of the best Stable Management and Breeding software they could find, and for the last two weeks of March, his nose could usually be found buried in the User Guide.

By unspoken agreement, they stopped scheduling outside activities on the day following an auction.

April zipped into being and Daniel fell in love with his birthday gift. The restored VW bug, quickly nicknamed the Naqua-Beetle after its distinctive two-toned blue paint job, eliminated their dependence on Jon as chauffeur. The bug was much more fuel-efficient than the truck although they still used the truck to deliver the flyers. Unfortunately, another full-time vehicle meant more gas and higher insurance costs, and Jon was beginning to worry as he worked on their budget, reworking the numbers yet again.

They were not going to have any trouble making ends meet. They might have no time, but they finally had enough money. With adding one of the pigs to the menu, their food costs had been minimal over the winter, and would be cheaper still next year once they put Bessie's calf in the freezer. The hay bales fed the cattle, and between the apples, whey, and table scraps, the pigs did not cost any extra. The chickens paid for their food through the sale of any extra eggs. Even factoring in the higher heating bill they would incur once they opened up the rest of the house, their monthly cash outley was still cheaper than their expenses had been in the city and that was including all the extra vehicles - minus the Corvette.

The problem was the training facility.

Even dedicating all income deriving from either the shop or the martial arts classes, minus whatever was needed for tools, electricity, or parts vehicles, they would not have enough cash to complete either the foundation or the roof by August. They had focused on repairing several of the remaining cars, hoping to make up the difference. Unfortunately, by April, Daniel had still only been able to find all the parts for one of them, and no one had been able to spend more than a few hours a week on the project. The one car, a station wagon, was ready to go, and they had already traded that one for something else.

They had brainstormed every idea and construction technique they could think of, including some never used on Earth. It all came out the same way. If Alex and Will both worked full-time all summer, they might - might - have enough cash by November. Jon considered - for one tenth of a second - selling the Corvette. The thought was rejected. Instantly. Immediately. Absolutely.

No freakin' way.

If it came down to it, they could live without the library for another winter.

The last week in May, Jon was rubbing his forehead and acknowledging that there was simply no way they could complete the training facility that summer when the sound of military trucks rumbling past the house brought his head up. T.J. bolted for the back door, and following him, Jon was greeted by the sight of three SGC suburbans disgorging various members of SG-11 and several people he did not recognize. Alex popped out of one of the Suburbans, a maniacal expression of glee on her face. Out of habit, Jon began to sweat nervously.

He knew that look.

It was the one that said,'I'd like to blow up a sun, now. You have thirty seconds to say yes.'

He narrowed his eyes as Alex came bouncing up to him and shoved a package of papers into his hands. People in fatigues were no strange sight with the Paintball Academy and the parents dropping their kids off after work. However, they generally did not come accompanied by US Army transports. He started to leaf through the papers when a banging crash snapped his head around and his jaw dropped as he recognized the pieces of an offworld base under construction coming off one of the trucks.

"Carter...what's going on?" he managed.

She all but danced in place. "It's the solar-aquatic recycling system the Engineering team designed for the old Alpha site." She said enthusiastically.

He watched dumbfounded as SG-11 waved and trooped past the house carrying survey equipment. His eyes narrowed as he realized they were heading for the flagging tape marking the place where the training facility was supposed to go. Okay. The Sol-Aq project. Uh huh. He remembered. Captain Dale had not been a happy camper when they built the new Alpha site under a mountain.

"What's it doing here?" he asked, not sure he wanted to know the answer.

Alex threw her arms around him and hugged him in delight. Then she whirled out of reach, oblivious to his shock. "They're giving it to us," she crowed.

The story tumbled out in typical Carter detail and for once he had no desire to fast forward. He listened in stunned silence as she told him about working on some Gate code for Siler and overhearing various techs discussing the budget approvals. That was when she had realized that the Sol-Aq project had been axed in the last budget.

Originally designed to be a self-contained, low-impact, low-powered recycling system for off-world bases, the prototype was being readied to be shipped to the old Alpha site when Anubis attacked. The new Alpha base was useless to Dale's team as it had a completely different set of environmental conditions from the ones the prototype was designed to test. They also could not use any of the offworld research posts, because the prototype had been built for a base with an ongoing and fluctuating capacity between 100 and 500 people. None of the research stations had the necessary numbers.

"Captain Dale still had budgetary approval for the installation of the prototype, but without a test site, the money and supplies were about to be reallocated." Carter was saying.

Which was a polite way of saying everything that could be cannabalized would be given to other projects. Dale could not even try to find the usual sort of cooperative test location on Earth. The system was designed to be capable of integrating into an existing offworld computer network and as a result, all the components had been classified as a potential security risk. None of the possible test locations in the Colorado Springs area had the right security clearances.

The Sol-Aq project was headed for a drawer, and Dale and his team would lose years of research data as well as any chance of getting the system approved for general construction in the near future. Jon knew what sudden fluctuations of people had done to the old Alpha Site. Sanitation had been a nightmare and while the water supply was good, a colony or base suddenly cut off from Earth was vulnerable. A bacteria, a storm that polluted the water table, an heretofore undiscovered contaminant, were all things that gave base commanders nightmares. Jack had immediately signed off in favor of Sol-Aq when Hammond first asked his opinion regarding using the Alpha Site to test the prototype.

Alex had convinced Dale to request Sinking Ship as the new test site.

The system was entirely built to spec, which meant the engineers were responsible for constructing the underground storage facilities for the water and pre-processing tanks. Since the equipment needed more room than could be easily fit under the greenhouse, and since the greenhouse itself needed to be partially embedded in the ground, the protocol called for the tanks and processing equipment to be stored under the nearest building in order to provide easy access and protection from environmental extremes.

Which meant...

Jon watched the transports dazedly as Alex cheerfully informed him that General Landry had already approved Dale's request. SG-11 was surveying the site now, SG-24 would start blasting in an hour. As the engineers needed to see how quickly they could get the equipment installed under real world conditions, the military would be building the basement of the training facility just as they would if presented with a plan for an offworld base or building. Dale had not even blinked when Alex handed him the proposed building plan on a paper napkin.

Problem-solvers, Jon whispered to himself, in disbelief.

Son-of-a-bitch.

Six hours later, Jon was damn glad they lived south of nowhere. SG-24 had blown a good sized hole in the ground and the half-sized construction equipment the SGC had built to fit through the Gate was rapidly clearing the pit and mixing cement. Generators were being connected to displays of Halogen work lights for use when the sun went down, and Jon half expected to hear the Gate activate any second. Prefabricated panels of rigid insulation held apart by metal separators snapped together to create forms for the basement as well as the greenhouse foundation. Rapid cure cement had already set in the footings and they were getting ready to pour the lower walls.

"This is insane." Daniel mumbled, he and Will having arrived home from the movies to discover they had been invaded.

Even Alex looked a bit daunted by the sheer speed and energy scrambling around the property. These folks were taking things seriously. Dale was conferring with several of his teammembers and Jon could overhear them discussing several small problems that had cropped up - mostly in coordination. They were already brainstorming potential changes in protocol to improve the work flow.

Dale had not stopped grinning the entire time he had been here.

A handful of people were adjusting the greenhouse structure for Colorado Springs. Sol-Aq relied on solar energy to grow the plants filtering the sewage, and to heat the greenhouse. Each greenhouse was optimized for passive solar collection, the glass panels angled precisely for maximum solar gain during the winter months at a given latitude. The North wall (or its wintertime equivalent in the case of offworld construction) was solid rather than glass, and heavily insulated. The glass walls were coated for strength, and double-paned. Small balls of insulating material would be sucked into the space between the panes every night to help retain heat energy without the need for the labour intensive covers used on Alex's strawberry greenhouse.

By midnight, the work lights had turned the yard into the blue-white, over-bright glow of a Friday night football field. The foundations of the two structures had been completed and the team was now working on pouring the floors. They could have used less expensive cement, one that cured in days rather than hours, but Dale wanted to test for a Genesis scenario and needed to see just how fast his people could move if they needed too.

Pretty damn fast, Jon thought.

By six am the greenhouse was being sealed and the HEPA-filters and airlocks installed. The tanks had all been lowered into place in the basement and half a dozen people were running computer cable through underground conduit laid between the greenhouse and the control room. A large blast door was being guided into place on one end to provide access in the event any of the tanks needed to be removed or replaced, and a reinforced ceiling would be poured as soon as they were done.

By noon, the entire system was being flushed and sterilized, nominally to remove any offworld contaminants introduced during the constructions phase.

By four, fresh water had been cycled through the system and the processing tanks in the greenhouse had been filled with plants. Until the system was actively online, the clones would be responsible for adding a nutrient mixture to the water to keep the plants alive. Portable solar generators were providing the power for the electrical system. Dale advised them that when they had the facility built, he would send a team over to install solar panels on the roof.

Exactly 24 hours from the moment they arrived, the Army transports left carrying empty pallets, tools, and generators. They even took the garbage. Except for the pile of dirt and two huge piles of gravel left over from the blasting, and the deep muddy ruts around the construction zone, the only evidence of Dale's small army was a rectangular cement foundation covered in plastic, and the bright glass of the Sol-Aq greenhouse winking in the sunlight.

"Well," Daniel observed blandly,"that was...fast."

"Fast," Jon echoed.

They stared at the greenhouse a bit longer, waiting for it to disappear.

It didn't.

"Carter..." Jon said slowly,"How wide are the walls on that foundation?"

Her lips curved smugly."Eighteen inches."

Daniel and Will both turned to look at her.

She shrugged,then grinned. "Dale asked how wide we needed them."

Jon gazed at the foundation in disbelief. Eighteen inches. Holy crap. They could do the cordwood thing.

The station wagon had been traded to Clarence Atkins back in February. Atkins made part of his living using a portable saw to mill trees for people with small woodlots and the commune had planted ten acres of pine trees almost a half-century ago. They had deliberately planted too close and Patterson should have thinned them out decades ago. He didn't, and the result was a tangled, dying forest of skinny pine trees almost a hundred feet high and no branches at all except at the very top.

They had ruthlessly thinned the largest pines, but they had not produced enough lumber to finish more than half of the building. Because of the large amount of undersized pine still available, Atkins had suggested cordwood, a technique that used mortar to join firewood sized pieces of wood, stacked together. The technique was easy, and resulted in a soundproof, fireproof, and extremely coldproof wall. The downside?

The walls of the foundation had to be extra wide to accommodate the length of the wood stacked on it.

Atkins had helped them to identify which of the smaller trees were dying or near death. They chainsawed them into one foot lengths and stacked them where they fell. Until they could get the tractor and sled out to them, cheap blue tarps dotted the landscape, identifying and protecting the wood from the elements.

Even thinned, the pine forest was not pretty, with its naked trunks and ragged tops. However, since they had more than enough cordwood for the lower walls, they decided to leave a few hundred of the healthier trees to continue to grow. Jon had tentatively suggested they might want to use the logs to build a log cabin someday, somewhere on a lake. A cooperative vacation spot as it were.

No one disagreed.

They had enough milled lumber air-drying in the barn to finish the outer wall of the second floor, the roof trusses, and the floors. It would look a little bumpy, but Atkins assured them that the bark-covered edges he had trimmed from the lumber trees, wood they had thought was wasted, could be used for the roof decking. They just had to lay it like shingles and use extra heavy support beams. They would need to purchase insulation and gyp-rock for the inner walls of the second floor and any dividers, but their three big expenses had been the foundation, the shingles, and the mortar they needed for the cordwood walls.

The military had just built the foundation and septic system.

They had enough money saved for the mortar and insulation.

Surely they could earn enough to buy shingles by the end of the summer.

Jon started to grin.

"Hot damn," he said wonderingly.