TITLE: The Key
AUTHOR: Matt, March 2005
SUMMARY: Jack has received a packet in the mail, but is there more to it than meets the eye?
SEASON: Season 8, no mention of Pete
DISCLAIMER: Characters are not mine, story is, no monies made.
NOTE: I wrote the first part of this some time ago, before Pete appeared on our screens. As time went by, it remained in a notebook, while I worked on some of it in my head. Finally, I decided to get it typed up.
THANKS: To Allie, for her wonderful comments that make me really think about what I'm writing.

CHAPTER ONE

The small padded envelope was addressed in familiar handwriting, and it piqued Jack's curiosity the moment he pulled it from his mailbox. It bore no other marks other than his address, the postmark – Washington – and the return address of somewhere in northern Virginia.

Inside his house, he kicked off his boots and flung his coat onto the couch. The packet – which had been placed on a side table while he'd removed his outerwear – now held his interest once again. He walked through his home to the kitchen, weighing the packet carefully in his hands. The handwriting was familiar; and because that meant the sender bore no malice towards him he was more intrigued by the package rather than suspicious. What could she have sent him?

She'd been gone for two months now – reassigned to the Pentagon to work on another covert scientific project. He'd been loathe to let her go, but ultimately the decision had not been his – or hers – to make. Instead, he'd helped her pack up the items she was taking from her lab. He'd resisted the urge to pull her into his arms, announcing he'd retire and move with her, if only she'd have him. They'd parted as military colleagues, with awkward hugs, pats on the back and wishes of good luck. Anything else would have been too personal.

He put the envelope on the counter while he poured himself a beer. Then he simply stared at it. He knew it was light, and that it rattled. Part of him never wanted to open it – to hang onto that feeling of expectation and curiosity – but eventually he decided that the curiosity was simply too much for him.

He took the envelope back through to the living room, put the beer down and, after pushing his coat aside, sat down on the couch. It was thoroughly sealed. Not only had she relied on the self-adhesive gum to secure it, she'd added a layer of tape as well. Finally, however, he managed to work the tape loose and found an opening.

At first glance, the envelope was empty, but when he tipped it upside down two things fell out and landed on his lap. He managed to grab the piece of paper, but the other object slid neatly between his legs, causing him to mutter and stand up to see what was lying on the seat cushion.

It was a key – a bright and shiny key – and it looked like the kind used as house keys. He picked it up and sat back down, twirling the key between his fingers thoughtfully. Why had she sent him a key and what was it for? It couldn't be for her house in Colorado Springs. She'd given that to him already, with the understanding that her father would receive it the next time he came through the Gate.

The note wasn't much help either; just a series of six numbers and nothing else. What are you trying to tell me, Carter? he wondered as he picked up his beer bottle. Now had he had three items in front of him; the key, the paper and the envelope they came in – which bore nothing except a return address.

Address! That was it! The address had to be her new address in Washington – something that could easily be verified – and the key had to belong to that. And, knowing Carter, she'd probably got one of those pesky alarm systems as well which would explain the numerical sequence on the note.

So, the next question was, why had she sent it to him?

TBC