Title: From the Mixed up Files of General Jack O'Neill
Email: Stargate SG1
Word Count: 8,630
Disclaimer: Neither the SG-1 television show nor its cast of characters belongs to me. This rather strange little story does. No profit is being made on this adventure, and I promise to leave the team in (pretty much) the same condition I found it.
A/N: Written for the LiveJournal SJfanfic10 community in response to the prompt "Puppies!"
This is formatted a little differently than what you're probably used to. It's set in the future, but takes place mostly in the past. Confused? Don't be. It'll all make sense when you read it. To make it easier, events taking place in the future (present time for the characters in the story) are in italics, and events taking place in the past are in regular text. If you find font colors less distracting, the story is also posted at my website.
Summary: What happened when SG-1 brought back an innocuous artifact that wasn't?
"Sto-ry! Sto-ry! Sto-ry!" The chant bounced around the crowded room as seventeen pairs of eyes targeted Jack. He turned to Sam, who sat next to him on the couch.
"Isn't it your turn?"
She grinned and joined the chorus. "Sto-ry!"
A small voice rose from the equally small person nestled in his lap. "Story, Daddydy!"
"Traitor," he accused with an affectionate smile.
His daughter graced him with one of her mother's grins, and he knew he was beaten. He gave her a quick hug, and then looked around.
"It's been almost ten years since the gate went public," he said eying the group of grinning barracudas armed with beer bottles and wine glasses. "Another five since most of our insane adventures were declassified." He turned to Sam. "How long have we been having these little get-togethers?"
"I've lost track."
Teal'c, comfortable and amused in an overstuffed chair across the room, volunteered the answer. "I believe it has been approximately seven years, O'Neill."
"Right. Seven years." He nodded, then gave a one-shouldered shrug. "The well's dry, folks."
"I don't think you've told them the puppy story yet, Jack." Daniel, helpful as ever, offered his suggestion from the other end of the room.
Jack stiffened. Beside him, Sam smothered a giggle.
"Puppies?" The interest in his daughter's voice was unmistakable. "I like puppies, Daddydy."
"Daniel," Jack said, glaring at his friend. "Remind me to kill you later."
Daniel lifted his beer in a mock toast. He didn't look worried.
"I don't believe I've heard the puppy story, Jack." Landry apparently hadn't delved quite that far into Jack's filing system. The convoluted methodology had served Jack well, leaving several of SG-1's more ignominious adventures well out of the public eye. Now, thanks to Daniel, one of those adventures was about to see the light of day. Jack sighed.
"It happened during the summer after Anubis and the Ori...
SG-1 lugged the unwieldy artifact through the gate. I watched, amused when Daniel muttered what sounded suspiciously like an Abydonian curse. Teal'c grunted. Since Teal'c is the strong silent type, I considered the grunt to be of singular interest, so I didn't pay much attention to Carter.
"That oversight," Jack said, "was a mistake."
"I'll say," said Daniel.
Jack ignored him.
"So, boys and girls," I said, walking over to where Daniel and Teal'c were setting down their load. "What have we here?"
"No idea," Daniel said. "Sam wanted to bring it back. She said something about unusual structural design and alien metallurgy."
"It is unusual," Carter said, "Look at it. No seams, no joints..." She hit it sharply with her flashlight. "And it's hollow. And look at this." She pulled a screwdriver out of her pack and attempted to scratch the surface, to no apparent effect. "If we can figure out what this is made of and synthesize it on here Earth...just imagine the implications!"
I looked at the box (six sides, eight corners, square shape, knee-high...yep, a box) while Carter talked about highly advanced technology and new additions to the periodic table.
"So... Not a weapon?" I asked, disappointed.
Teal'c shook his head. "It does not appear so, O'Neill."
"And you wanted to bring it back because...why?" I turned to Carter who, I noticed, was becoming more exasperated by the passing moment. It looked good on her.
Sam elbowed him sharply in the ribs.
"Oof!" Jack grunted, deliberately exaggerating his reaction.
"Mommy! Don't hit!"
Jack grinned at Sam. Busted by a six year old. Sweet.
"So that I can study it," Carter said, with exaggerated patience.
"And why would you want to do that?" I couldn't help it. I just didn't see the point in lugging this big metal box thing all the way back to the SGC just so she could poke it with a stick. On the other hand, as long as it wasn't emitting an energy signature, it didn't appear to be a threat. If it had, I wouldn't have given her permission to bring it home.
"To see what it does."
I nodded, pretending that made some kind of sense. And who knew? Maybe the box contained the secret of life...or something. I waved a hand at a pair of bored looking airmen. "Fellas... Take this thing to Carter's lab, would you?"
"Yes, Sir." The men, new to the SGC, approached the box with the hesitant air of the uninitiated, which amused me and exasperated Carter.
"Guys, it's not going to bite!" She bent down, preparing to lift the box herself, forgetting that Daniel and Teal'c had barely managed to get it through the gate not five minutes before. The airmen, apparently afraid that she'd do permanent damage, stepped forward, only to be stopped by Carter's upraised hand.
"Wait a sec." She bent down, examining the bottom edge of the box. "Daniel?" she asked, not looking up. "Do you have your magnifying glass?"
"In my pack, why?"
"Can I see it?"
Daniel looked at me, but I shrugged. How the hell was I supposed to know what she was up to?
Magnifying glass in hand, Carter bent to study the box again. "There's something here," she said. "A symbol of some kind."
I sighed. She couldn't have waited until after she'd gotten the thing to her lab to make that announcement? Now we'd never get Daniel out of the gate room.
"Hey!" Daniel protested. "I wasn't that bad!"
"Yes, you were," Sam said.
Teal'c nodded, and Jack threw Daniel a triumphant grin. "See?"
"Symbol?" Daniel asked, moving closer. "Where?"
"Right here. We must not have noticed it before because of all that stuff around it."
This, I thought, couldn't be good. "Stuff?"
Daniel gave me one of his absent minded professor looks. "That's right."
"What kind of stuff?"
Daniel, who'd already bent his head to look at the inscription, glanced up at me. "I don't know," he said, waving a disinterested hand. "Soft stuff. Maybe some kind of nesting material. It was kind of hard to tell."
I felt a strong urge to throttle somebody. "Nesting material?"
"You know," Jack said, "if you'd mentioned that 'soft stuff' before you'd brought the thing home, you could've saved everybody a lot of trouble."
"It was a long time ago," Sam answered. "Besides, it turned out all right in the end."
"Maybe, but you should've mentioned it." He tried to keep the pout out of his voice, but it still rankled.
"Would you have let me bring it home if I had?"
"Probably not, but..."
"Well, there you go."
Carter looked up from the box. "It wasn't emitting any energy signals, Sir. It was just... soft stuff, like Daniel said." It was patently obvious that she had no idea why I was so concerned.
I sighed. "I heard what Daniel said." I'd also heard the word 'nest' in there someplace, and the implications of that were making the hairs on the back of my neck stand at attention. "I've got two teams coming back within the hour. How about moving this little party to your lab?"
"That," Jack said, "was another big mistake." I should've sent that contraption back where it came from quicker than Teal'c can say 'indeed'."
"Indeed," Teal'c said, and Jack had to wait for the laughter to die down before he could continue.
A few minutes later, we arrived in Carter's lab. She had to clear everything off her workbench in order to make room for the alien gizmo. Once it was arranged to her satisfaction, the four of us gathered in a semi-circle around the big metal box.
"So," I said.
"So," Carter echoed. Then she went back to staring at the box.
I waited, shifted from foot to foot a few times and said, "So…."
Daniel jumped. This somehow made the boredom less irksome.
"What?" Daniel seemed to be trying not to look annoyed.
I didn't give a damn how annoyed Daniel was. I wanted to hear more about that nesting material. "So, what is it?"
Carter and Daniel exchanged one of their brainy looks, and I grabbed the magnifying glass myself. Bending down, I took a closer look at the symbol.
"Sir," Carter said in that warning sort of voice she always adopted when I touched one of her gadgets, "Don't say it."
"See?" Sam chortled. "I knew I told you not to say it!"
"Who's telling this story?" Jack asked, feigning annoyance.
"Oh, by all means, dear husband. Continue."
Jack suspected that if they hadn't had guests, she'd have stuck her tongue out at him, but they both knew where that always led, which was probably why she didn't do it.
"Don't say what?" I glanced up at her, puzzled.
She waved a hand at the symbol. "What that looks like. Not until we know what it means."
I examined the symbol. This? How dangerous could it be? I'd seen things like it in every comic strip I'd read since I was about six.
"You mean you don't know what it is?"
"I know what it looks like, but..."
I didn't give her a chance to finish.
"You should've let me finish," Sam said. "Would've saved us all a lot of trouble."
"Yes. Well. Telling me about that nesting material might've done some good, too."
"It's one of those speech bubble things," I said, thrilled that for once I knew an answer that she apparently didn't. "Only instead of words it has a picture of..." I looked closer. "Huh. Looks like a dog. That's odd." I glanced at my companions. "You're sure this thing is ancient?"
All four of us jumped back from the workbench then, because that's what any reasonably intelligent person does when a big metal box starts to hum mysteriously.
"Jack..." Daniel said, drawing the name out on a rising note of worry. "What did you do?"
I put up my hands and backed away. "I didn't do anything!"
"Sure sounds like you did something," Daniel insisted.
Teal'c, who'd been blessedly silent, chose this completely inopportune time to speak up. "It does indeed sound as though it has been activated, O'Neill."
Carter didn't say anything. She was too busy scrambling for equipment and taking readings and doing that other scientist type stuff that made her world go round.
That's about when I remembered I had paperwork to do.
I backed toward the door, offered an encouraging smile, and said, "I think I'll leave you kids to figure this out." I left before they could answer. Luckily, the three of them were still too fascinated by the odd humming to pay much attention to me.
Beset by the same sort of urge the rats on the Titanic must've felt, I cleared my desk, locked my door, and told Walter I was heading home for the night. I wasn't about to stick around to see giant purple worms come slithering through the walls. Besides, Carter would call if there was a problem.
"Had I known what was coming," Jack said, "I'd have headed off-world without leaving a forwarding address."
"And left the rest of us behind?" Sam asked.
He quirked an eyebrow at her. "Your point?"
"You would not," his daughter said. "You always say you don't leave people behind. You would've taken Mom with you."
"Well," Jack said, amused. "Yeah. I would've taken Mom."
Jack turned his head to give his wife a quick kiss, but the kiss took on a life of its own and it took their guests' renewed "Sto-ry. Sto-ry" chants to remind him of what he was supposed to be doing. He pulled back from her and cleared his throat.
I probably should've suspected trouble when my phone stayed silent all night. Left to my own devices and some rare peace and quiet, I enjoyed a couple of beers, watched a ball game, and went to bed early.
"Earlier than eight o'clock?" His daughter asked.
He gave her a squeeze. "Well, no. Maybe not quite that early."
The full night's sleep, one of precious few I'd enjoyed since joining the Stargate program, put me in a good mood the next morning, and I was feeling positively cheerful when I arrived back at the mountain.
Then the elevator doors opened, and my whistle died mid note. I blinked. That airman who'd just scurried past. Had he been holding...? No. Not possible. Certain that I'd just imagined the dangling tail, I stepped off the elevator and turned down the hall toward my office. Once there, I turned on my computer, settled into my chair, and pulled the top item from my inbox.
I'd just started reading when something rough, and wet, and decidedly inhuman slid across my leg just above the edge of my sock.
"You yelled like a true warrior," Teal'c said.
"Didn't you have to get a new desk chair after that?" Daniel asked.
Jack shot both men a glare. "As I was saying..."
"Walter!" I yelled.
The office door opened slowly. Walter looked distinctly uneasy when he peeked around the corner. "Sir?"
"What," I pointed, "is that?"
Walter looked where I pointed, looked back at me, and blinked. "Looks like a puppy, Sir."
I huffed in irritation and spoke again, this time using the patient tones with which one usually addresses a toddler.
"I know it's a puppy, Walter." I scooped it up by the scruff of its neck, deftly avoiding a small blue tongue. "What the hell is it doing under my desk?"
"It had a blue tongue?" somebody asked.
"Just wait," Sam grinned. "It gets better."
Walter looked under my desk. Then he straightened and turned back to me. "Apparently it was chewing on the power cords, Sir."
"What?" I looked under the desk. Then I straightened and held the puppy out to Walter. "Get this out of here," I said. "And where's Carter?"
"I believe she's in her lab, Sir." Walter took the puppy.
"She'd better be," I said, as Walter sidestepped out of my way. "And she'd better have some answers."
I passed three puppy-carrying airmen on the way to Carter's lab and mentally started tabulating colors. So far, the score was at one brown (though the ears were an odd shade of crimson), two green and white, and an odd multi-colored glittery one. Arriving at Carter's lab, I found the door closed - sure sign that trouble was brewing inside. I knocked.
"I said I'd call when I knew something!" Carter yelled from inside the room. Evidently, she'd been expecting somebody other than her CO.
I reached for the knob, opening the door just enough to get a glimpse inside. "Carter?"
"Oh. Hi, Sir." She nudged something under her workbench. "Come on in."
I opened the door cautiously, not sure what to expect, but aside from the usual mismatched collection of gadgets and the (still humming) metal box, everything appeared normal. At least, it did until something whimpered from somewhere in the vicinity of her feet.
I lifted an eyebrow. "Carter?"
She tried to look innocent, failed, and started fiddling with something on the workbench. "Sir?"
"What was that?" I crossed my arms and leaned against her desk. She obviously felt guilty as hell about something, and guilty Carter always amused me.
"What was what, Sir?"
"You really do need to work on that innocence thing, Sam," Daniel said.
"Yeah," she said. "I know. Still haven't quite got it perfected."
"Keep trying," Jack encouraged. "It's always fun when you try." He leered at her.
Sam gave him a look of amused exasperation.
The whimper sounded again, and I stood, walked around the workbench, and squatted down, peering into the darkness beyond her feet. There was a box under there. Cardboard. The kind of box that was ordinarily filled with reams of copy paper. Only problem was, copy paper didn't wiggle. And it didn't whine, either. I twisted my head to look up at her. Carter blew out a breath, shrugged, and backed away. I pulled the box into the light and stood up.
For long moments, we both stared down at the wiggling mass of fur. I was just about to say something brilliant, when the alien contraption on her workbench made an odd sound. Beside me, Carter groaned.
I switched my attention to the device just in time to see an opening appear in what moments ago had appeared to be solid metal. "What the...?"
My question was answered by a pink tongue, then a shiny little black nose, a pair of bright eyes, and a set of sad-looking ears. I stared, spellbound, as the canine head was followed by body, legs, and finally a bright yellow pom pom of a tail. With a sigh, Carter scooped the animal up and deposited it in the box on the floor with the others while I was still trying to decide whether to tally this latest addition in the black or multi-colored category. After all, only the tail was yellow.
"Sir, before you ask... I don't know."
"But you turned it on!"
"Actually, you did that."
"Did not!" I knew the defensive response was immature, but really...
"Did..." I was about to say the word 'not' when the door opened to admit Daniel bearing an empty box.
"Found another box for you, Sam..." All at once he realized she wasn't alone. "Oh. Hi, Jack."
I eyed the empty box in Daniel's hand. "Another one, you say?"
"Those two," Jack said, hooking a tolerant finger first at his wife, and then at his friend, "were always in cahoots about something."
"Not true!" Daniel and Sam answered together, and Jack grinned triumphantly.
"See what I mean?"
Carter picked up the box under her desk. "Just in time, Daniel. This one's full."
Daniel dropped the empty box and took the one Sam held in her arms. "It's getting a little full downstairs too, Sam. Any luck figuring out how to turn it off yet?"
"Not yet. There aren't any other inscriptions that I can see and..."
"Wait!" My raised voice brought instant, blessed, silence. I turned to Daniel. "It's getting a little full where?"
Daniel glanced at Sam, who shrugged and sidestepped out of my reach.
"There are currently seventy-seven puppies, O'Neill." Teal'c's calm voice was accompanied by a sudden increase in noise from the alien device. All four turned to stare as another oddly colored canine emerged from within its depths. "Seventy-eight," Teal'c amended, coming further into the room and handing Carter another box.
I turned my incredulous gaze on Carter. "Seventy-eight puppies?"
Carter held up the latest addition. "Your favorite color," she said a little desperately. It was indeed periwinkle blue from head to tail. That was when I gave up my tally. I also decided I needed a new favorite color.
"You can have my favorite color, Daddydy."
Jack looked down at his daughter. "Thanks, sweetheart, but I think there are enough colors in the world that you can keep purple all for yourself."
She nodded, and he saw the relief in her eyes as he kissed the top of her head before continuing his story.
"That does it." I started toward the door. "We're sending that thing back where it came from."
Daniel moved to block my path. "We can't send it back, Jack."
I stopped long enough to glare at him. "Give me one good reason why not."
"The planet was abandoned. If we send the device back while it's still active, they'll all die."
I was unimpressed. "So we'll send dog food."
"And when it runs out?" Daniel pressed the point.
"We'll send more!" I started mentally adding dog food costs to the SGC budget. It'd be difficult to explain to the IOC, but I'd gotten stranger things past them before...
"You can't do that, Jack."
"Watch me," I said, as I walked past Teal'c. "There's no way in hell I'm going to have the SGC overrun by pink and blue..." I paused long enough to wave a hand at the box Daniel still held. "Space puppies!"
"You should've let me do it," Jack said to Sam. "Would've saved us all a lot of trouble."
"Surely you couldn't have done that to the poor things," Sam said.
"Eight hundred and twenty puppies later, you would've done it if we hadn't figured out how to turn that thing off."
But she didn't get to finish the argument, because Teal'c cleared his throat in that distinctive way of his, and Jack remembered he was supposed to be telling a story.
Sam caught up to me before I made it halfway to the control room. "Sir!"
I spun around, glaring. "Carter..."
"Sir, Daniel's right. You've got to give us time to figure this thing out."
I folded my arms across my chest. Evidently the guys had known that Carter was my weakness, that saying no to her was something I didn't do unless I absolutely had to. Sneaky of them to send her to fight their battles.
"Give me one good reason why," I said.
She still held the periwinkle puppy in her arms, and now she pushed it towards me. "Sir, could you really send this poor creature back there to die?" The puppy wiggled, and I reached out to take it from her before it could escape. Despite myself, I ran a hand through its soft fur. It thanked me with a quick lick of the tongue.
I sighed. "How long do you need?"
"Forty-eight hours?" Hope sparkled in her eyes. I held out the puppy, waiting for her to take it before I answered.
"Make it twenty-four," I said, as I turned away. Then, over my shoulder, "And I am so not cleaning up after them."
"I should've learned something from that comment," Sam said, amused. "You don't clean up after kids, either."
"Legos aren't messes," Jack argued. "They're building blocks!"
"You obviously haven't stepped on one on your way to the bathroom at three o'clock in the morning."
Four hours later, when I tripped over a yellow pawed pink and green puppy in the commissary, I began to wonder if I hadn't made a mistake. Two and a half hours after that, three puppies managed to sneak into the gate room with SG-12. When the gate activated and two puppies got vaporized, everybody looked at me like it was my fault. That's when I sent out messages to all of the off-world teams. No gate travel until the puppy invasion was over.
After the incident in the gate room, I holed up in my office, hoping it would be a safe place to hide until Carter sorted the mess out. And it was, for about forty-five minutes. Then Walter showed up to tell me that a puppy had chewed through an electrical cable and shorted out the power to half the labs - including Carter's. I sighed and stood up. The generators would kick on while repairs were made, but I might as well see how bad the damage was.
Twenty minutes later I was ready to box up all two hundred puppies and ship them off to Ba'al.
"Should've kept the puppy planet in the dialing computer," Jack said. "Would've come in handy the next time he showed up."
"Which Ba'al would you have sent them to?" Daniel asked.
"Take your pick."
I decided this would be a good time to check on Carter. If I was lucky, she was ahead of schedule.
It turned out that not only was she behind schedule, she might miss the deadline all together. Not a good thing, since the device was now spewing out puppies with appalling frequency.
"Carter..." I said, watching her put yet another wiggling furball in yet another cardboard box.
"Sir?" She asked with a wary glance in my direction.
"No luck yet?"
"I'm afraid not, Sir." She glanced at the alien device. "Except for one thing."
"One thing is good."
"Well... not really."
"Well, it's just..." She picked up her magnifying glass and a small black-light. "See for yourself."
She handed me the magnifying glass and pointed at a spot at the bottom corner of the alien device. I leaned in for a closer look. "I don't see anything."
"Hold on a sec." Sam fiddled with the light, cursed, and finally smacked it once with the palm of her hand. Chastened, it obediently lit up.
I raised an eyebrow. "That the scientific approach, Carter?"
She shrugged. "Whatever works, Sir."
I turned back to the device, the surface of which had taken on a vaguely eerie glow. "What am I supposed to be seeing, exactly?"
"There, Sir." She pointed. "Just at the edge."
I squinted, stared, and then stood back up to look at Sam. "What the hell is it?"
"Eighth notes, Sir. They're used in musical notation."
"I know what they are, Carter. I want to know what they mean."
"I haven't figured that out yet." Then, apparently seeing that my temper was about to blow, she rushed ahead. "But I have learned a few things about our... guests."
"Well, they like to eat."
I folded my arms.
"A lot," she said, and I could tell she was holding something back. I waited.
"And they're not particularly picky," she finally finished, her voice trailing off at the end.
"What, exactly, do you mean by 'not particularly picky'?" I wasn't entirely sure I wanted to know, but I'd long since learned that in cases like this it was always better to ask the tough questions.
Carter sighed. "So far, they've chewed the legs off half a dozen bunk beds, gnawed through the wiring in three places, and Daniel caught one puppy gnawing on a plate in the commissary."
"Round thing they serve food on? That kind of plate?"
"And aren't those bunks made of steel?"
Another nod. I sighed. "So what don't they eat?"
"Apparently they don't like paper."
"Paper." They ate steel and plastic and insulated wire, but not paper, and Carter was wearing that look that said there was more news I probably didn't want to hear. "What aren't you telling me?"
At about that time, the alien device spewed out another puppy, blue and gold this time, and they put the conversation on hold while Sam collected the animal and added it to the box under her workbench.
That done, she turned back to me. "They don't sleep, Sir."
Puppies that eat everything and don't sleep. Lovely. "Carter, do you have any good news?"
She brightened marginally. "Remember that clean up thing you mentioned?"
"The part where I said I so wasn't going to do it? That clean up thing?"
"What about it?"
"Turns out, nobody has to do it, Sir. The puppies don't make messes."
"They eat everything in sight but they don't...?"
"Not that we've noticed, and with this many puppies, I think we would have noticed by now." She turned to her computer, punching a few buttons to open a complicated looking chart. "From what I can tell, everything they eat is converted into kinetic energy."
I stifled an urge to bang my head against the closest solid surface. "And the only clue you have," I waved at the device, "is a pair of eighth notes?"
"It's a start."
"You're reaching, Carter." I glanced at my watch and turned to leave. "Thirteen hours and counting, and if those mutts chew through the wiring one more time, all bets are off."
"That bit about no messes? Only good news during the entire fiasco," Jack said.
Deciding it was time to check out the damage in guest quarters, I headed in that direction, leaving Carter to puzzle out the mystery of the eighth notes. Hopefully she'd figure it out soon. Very soon.
A few minutes later, I rounded the corner into the guest quarters hallway and stopped short. In front of me, Daniel, Teal'c, and half a dozen SF's were building a makeshift wall out of reams of paper. Nearby, a precarious pile of cardboard boxes testified to their efforts.
"We need more over here!" Daniel's voice held a note of rising panic. "They're coming over!"
I folded my arms and watched the proceedings for a moment, amused when Teal'c reached down, plucked a pink, poodle-looking creature from the top of the makeshift wall and dropped it back in with the others. He repeated the process with a fugitive orange puppy, and then went back to methodically stacking reams of paper. The guys were so busy holding back the furry flood that they didn't notice me until I cleared my throat.
Daniel added another ream of paper to the makeshift wall and turned. "Care to give us a hand, Jack?"
I shook my head. "Nope. Brought you some entertainment, though." I held out the boom box I'd brought down from my office. "Carter found some sort of musical notation on the alien device. Maybe they like music."
Daniel gave me an odd look. "What kind of music?"
I shrugged. "Not a clue." Beyond the wall, the wiggling, squirming mass of puppies whined for their freedom, and I knew that if I stuck around the headache that had been threatening all day would burst into a full blown migraine. I gave Daniel the boom box and backed away. "Looks like you've got things under control here, guys. I'll just..."
I didn't see the ball of fur that had escaped its makeshift prison and now sat right behind me. At least, I didn't see it until I tripped over it, landed flat on my ass, and had it climb into my lap to lick my face.
Laughter erupted around them. When the general amusement continued beyond what Jack considered to be a reasonable time, he looked to Sam.
She smiled and kissed him. "Don't worry," she said. "I still love you."
He was only slightly mollified. Really, he thought, it wasn't that funny.
I yelled at the puppy, but it kept licking my face until I finally grabbed it by the scruff of the neck, rolled to my feet, and dumped it in with the others. Behind me, I thought I heard Daniel choke on a laugh, and I spun around. But Daniel was too quick for me. He was hard at work by the time I had him in my sights.
I cast him a suspicious look and turned back toward the elevators. It was fitting enough punishment, I thought, that Daniel should have to stay in this madhouse while I could escape back to my peaceful office. As the elevator doors closed, my last sight of the men in the corridor included three frustrated SF's making a mad dash for a handful of escaped canines.
Meanwhile, the alien device continued to spew out multicolored puppies with increasing frequency. This was a fact that Carter hadn't bothered to tell me - probably out of a desire for self-preservation. Felger, however, had no such defense mechanism, because he showed up in my office, graphs and readouts in hand.
"Poor Felger," Sam said. "He really was a brilliant scientist."
"Who, as we speak, is safely corralled in a well-padded room," Jack said without sympathy. "If he'd been as smart as all that, he'd have left the program before he went bonkers."
"Three fries short of a happy meal, O'Neill?" Teal'c said, amused.
An odd look crossed Jack's face, but before anybody could ask about it...
It didn't take me long to figure out that there would be well over six hundred puppies in the SGC by the end of Carter's twenty-four hours. This information did not please me.
I headed to the commissary in search of cake. I ignored an assortment of four legged escapees along the way, pausing only long enough to extricate an orange, green, and purple animal from the midst of a tangled mass of fallen humans. After a detour to guest quarters to return the dog to its harried captors, I finally approached the commissary at something approaching a run.
"Not quite a run, you understand," Jack explained. "Running is too undignified for generals - even generals with the hounds of hell at their heels."
"Odd," Sam commented, "I can remember at least one time when you ran."
He looked over at her. "The imminent birth of a child doesn't count."
"Hmm," she said, noncommittally.
Sadly, the commissary had been forced to close down most of its services. Too many people had complained about dog hair in their food. Lucky for me, the cook had one slice of cheesecake hidden away in cold storage. There was a brief bidding war during which various puppy extermination offers were tendered by hopeful buyers, but being a general has its privileges. I snagged the cake, grabbed a fork, and hurried back to my office.
I'd finished about half of it and was about to take another bite when the phone rang. I popped the bite in my mouth and picked up the handset.
"Sir," Carter's voice was oddly hushed. "Can you come down here for a minute?"
"Carter? Everything okay?"
"It's fine, Sir. I just need to show you something." I'd never heard that tone in her voice before, and something about it made me push my chair back from the desk. "Be right there."
I reached her lab in record time. "By my count, we're close to three hundred, Carter. I hope you have something for me."
The harsh whisper, coming from two sources at once, brought me to a dead stop just inside the door. "What?"
Repeated, the sound was no less confusing. Then I realized what was going on. Carter had been one of the sources of the command which, unaccompanied by its traditional "sir" was stunning enough. The other source, seated on a stool in a dark corner of the lab, was Teal'c.
I rubbed my eyes and looked again.
Still Teal'c. Still Teal'c, seated on one of Carter's spindly stools with a tiny ball of fluff curled up in his arms. And he was crooning at it.
Jack shook his head. "I still list that as one of the most bizarre things I've ever seen in that place."
Comfortable in his overstuffed chair, Teal'c smiled complacently.
I couldn't make out the words, but I was more interested in the fact that the puppy seemed to be doing a Cheshire Cat routine. It was fading out, disappearing bit by bit. Its tail had already gone, and I watched in fascination while the feet, the belly, and the neck followed. Eventually, all that was left was a black nose. When that finally disappeared, I turned to Carter.
"Recorded music doesn't work, Sir," she said by way of explanation. "Vocal, instrumental - none of it works." She looked across at Teal'c who, I noticed, looked pleased with himself. "This is the only thing we've found that does."
"You have to sing to them?"
"We have to sing to them."
I started backing toward the door. "Oh, no. There's no way in hell."
Carter shook her head. "Sir, there's no other way."
The machine spit out another puppy, and I glared at it.
Carter dealt with the puppy and then tried again. "Sir..."
Her jaw slammed shut. Sometimes being her superior officer was a good thing. Then I saw a glint of mutiny in her eyes, and sighed. "How much longer is it going to take you to figure out how to turn that thing off?"
"I don't know."
"You don't know?"
"I'm working on it, Sir."
"Work faster." I turned to leave.
Without looking back, I waved a vague hand in her direction. "Do whatever you have to, Carter. Just leave me out of it."
"For years afterwards," Jack said, "I couldn't listen to anybody sing without being reminded of the Great Puppy Incident."
Sam laughed. "When the kids were little, he used to cringe every time I sang a lullaby to one of them."
"But I like it when you sing, Mom!" Their daughter, who'd been half-asleep in her father's arms, was apparently more alert than they'd realized. Sam and Jack exchanged rueful smiles.
"I know you do, Sweetie." Sam reached over to brush a wisp of hair out of sleepy brown eyes. "Don't worry. Daddy can't make me stop singing."
"Good," the little girl said, her eyes closing again as she snuggled deeper into her father's embrace.
Carter soon had most of the base involved in the puppy eradication project. Everywhere I went I heard different songs. It was... disturbing. I stopped by my office long enough to down a pair of painkillers with a chaser of cold coffee, and then I headed back to Carter's lab.
"So?" I said, when the puppy she held finally disappeared. "What news?"
She sighed. "We've made a dent in the population, but this thing," she glared at the alien device, "isn't making it easy."
Right on cue, the device hummed, an opening appeared, and yet another puppy joined the party. Carter picked it up and dumped it in the box on the floor, her movements somewhat less gentle than they had been in the beginning.
"Still haven't figured out how to turn it off, I see."
She shook her head tiredly.
"One of Felger's gizmos?"
Carter just looked at me.
"Right. Bad idea."
I seated myself on one of the stools and picked up an energy meter, tossing it idly from hand to hand.
She snatched it away, handed me a rubber ball, and went back to staring at the device.
"No more inscriptions?" I asked, bouncing the ball.
"Daniel and I went over every inch of it. Nothing."
"So all we know is how to turn it on and how to make the damned puppies disappear."
"No wonder the locals abandoned the thing."
"The thing is, Sir, they must have known how to turn it off. There wasn't a single puppy on that planet."
"That you saw."
"So they could have all gone off somewhere to chew on rocks or something."
I could tell this news didn't make her happy. Hell, it didn't exactly thrill me, either. I glanced at my watch. "We're fifteen hours in, Carter. That gives you nine hours to figure it out or I'm sending that thing back - on or off."
"I know, Sir."
She looked tired. And frustrated.
"Here," I said, reaching into my pocket. "Grabbed this from the vending machine before the well ran dry." I pulled out a chocolate bar and handed it to her. "You look like you need it more than I do."
She smiled weakly. "Thank you, Sir."
"Yes. Well." I stood up. "I think I'll go see what Daniel and Teal'c are up to."
She nodded, and I left her to her work.
"Somewhere around here I still have a piece of paper that lists all the times you didn't know the answer to something," Jack said, looking at Sam.
She sat up from where she'd been leaning against his shoulder.
It's here. Someplace." He looked around the room. "But
it's about two-inches square. Gets lost a lot."
I wandered the corridors, pleased to note that I was beginning to see fewer and fewer airmen with their arms full of multicolored fur. The voices had dulled to a low and nearly bearable hum. Walter looked positively chipper when I passed him on my way back to the elevator, and I was still trying to decide whether that was a good thing or not when I got to Daniel's office.
"So," I said. "You having any better luck than Carter is?"
"Maybe." Daniel closed the book he'd been reading. "A lot of early civilizations relied on herds of sheep or goats for many of their needs. Shepherds did a fair job of guarding the flocks, but they still lost a lot of animals to predators. Then somebody got smart and trained a dog to help. They made the job easier, helping to keep the herds together and chasing off predators."
"Get to the point, Daniel."
"My point is," Daniel said, looking faintly annoyed, "That it was common practice for goat herders to talk to their dogs and even sing to them during the long hot days."
"Just this." Daniel pointed opened one of his books and pointed at something. "In ancient Egypt, there was a musical instrument called a sistrum. They used it in a lot of religious ceremonies, including one that honored Hathor."
"Hathor?" I felt a tingle of dread at the base of my spine. I hated that name.
"What's Hathor got to do with puppies?"
"I'm not really sure how it all ties together yet, but I do know that in Australia they have a version of the sistrum called the barcoo dog that the shepherds there still use."
"A bark oo dog? What does it do, moan at the sheep?"
Daniel gave me a patient look. "A barcoo dog is a musical instrument."
"Strange name for an instrument. Why not just use a harmonica like normal people?"
"Does it matter?"
It didn't. I looked around the cluttered office. "I don't suppose you have one of those barker things around here someplace?"
"Barcoo. And no, I don't, but I think I can get one."
"And you think it might turn off that device?"
"I don't know for sure, but it's worth a try, isn't it?"
Daniel glanced at his watch. "Couple of hours, maybe?"
"Hey!" I was struck by a brilliant idea. "They just opened a new super Walmart in town..."
But Daniel was already shaking his head.
I sighed. "Damn."
"I'll let you know what I find out."
I nodded and went to make another phone call to the President. I hated calling the President.
"I can't imagine he was any too fond of calling you, either," Daniel said.
"Hey, can I help it if you kids got into trouble all the time?"
Daniel shrugged. "We had a good teacher."
I yanked the phone away from my ear in reflexive self-defense. "Forty-five at last count, Sir." I didn't think it necessary to inform the President that at one point there had been close to four hundred of the beasts loose in the SGC.
"And nobody knows how to turn it off?"
"I've got my top people working on it."
The President harrumphed doubtfully. "And meanwhile, you've still got the SGC locked down."
"Seemed a smart move under the circumstances." I didn't think I needed to remind President Hayes of what could happen if a pack of multi-colored omnivorous puppies was unleashed on an unsuspecting public.
"How much longer?"
I glanced at my watch and crossed my fingers. "We'll have the problem resolved by morning, Sir."
"You'd better. I want that gate back in operation by the time I eat my Grape-Nuts."
I hoped the President wasn't an early riser. "We'll do our best, Sir."
The only response was a sharp click as the other end of the line disconnected. I returned the handset to its cradle and leaned back in my chair with a sigh. God, I hoped Carter and Daniel could pull another rabbit out of their collective...hats.
An hour and thirty puppies later, Daniel called to tell me he'd located a barcoo dog. I didn't ask for particulars.
Six hours and two hundred puppies after that, with base staff developing a collective case of laryngitis, Daniel tracked me down in Carter's office, where I'd been helping her transfer puppies from the machine to boxes. A steady stream of exhausted airmen transported the full boxes of puppies to guest quarters, where the latest round of choir boys kept themselves busy singing the furry bundles out of existence.
The entire scenario was a twisted joke on that whole circle of life theme. I wasn't amused. Neither was Carter, who handed me yet another puppy as Daniel skidded to a stop inside the door.
"Got it!" he said triumphantly, holding up something that looked like a loaded slingshot.
"That's it?" I said. "I could've made one of those out of a pair of sticks and a rubber band.
Daniel ignored me. "Try this, Sam."
She took it from him, examined it carefully, and looked up. "How does it work?"
Daniel shrugged. "I'm not sure. All I could find out is that it's some kind of improvised rattler."
I snorted. "We waited almost eight hours for an 'improvised rattler'?"
"Hathor," Daniel reminded me.
I sighed. "Fine. Whatever. Just... Do something before that thing spits out another one."
Carter took the instrument and moved back to the device. It hummed quietly, mocking her. Daniel and I stepped closer, and the three of us exchanged a hopeful (if somewhat doubtful) look.
"You and Sam were doubtful," Daniel protested. "I knew it would work."
"You did not," Sam shot back.
"Quiet down, kids. Let me finish." Jack grinned at Daniel, threw out a quick, "did not," and launched back into the story before Daniel could comment. Carter tossed Daniel a smug look and dropped her head back down against her husband's shoulder. Their daughter slept soundly, oblivious to them now, her small chest rising and falling rhythmically.
Carter gave the odd instrument a tentative shake.
The device continued to hum.
She shook it harder.
Carter glared at the alien device, glared at the barcoo dog, and tried one more time.
The box spit out another puppy.
Daniel and I groaned our disappointment. Daniel grabbed the puppy and dropped it unceremoniously into the box.
"Let me try," Daniel said.
Carter handed over the instrument and stepped aside.
Daniel shook the dog.
"The instrument," Jack said, "not the animal. Our Daniel would ever hurt a cute, furry, little puppy."
"I don't know, Jack," Daniel said. "I was tempted to use my zat a time or two as I recall."
"Oh, yeah," Jack remembered. "There was that pink one that followed you into the bathroom and..."
"Oh. Yeah." Jack cleared his throat. "Maybe I should leave that part out."
Nothing happened. About that time, Teal'c joined us at Carter's workbench.
Daniel shook again, with more force.
Still nothing. Frustration knotted the muscles at the back of my neck. I glanced at my watch and contemplated calling the White House to beg them to take Grape-Nuts off the breakfast menu.
"A Jaffa may succeed where others have not," Teal'c said mildly.
"Gotta love that warrior attitude," Jack said.
Teal'c smiled.Daniel handed the gadget over.
Teal'c approached the device, waited while another puppy was relegated to its place in the box at Carter's feet, and shook the instrument.
Again, nothing happened.
"Daniel!" My frustration exploded with the single word.
"Jack, I don't know." To his credit, Daniel looked a little frustrated as well. Served him right, I thought. This was his idea, after all.
"If you hadn't turned it on..." Daniel said, bringing the old argument up yet again.
Jack looked at him. "Shut up, Daniel." But he grinned when he said it.
"Sir," Carter said. "Maybe it can only be turned off by the person who turned it on?"
Three sets of eyes settled on me, and I had a sudden mental image of myself standing in the middle of Carter's office, shaking a rattle at a humming metal box. I sighed. Deep in my heart, I suspected I deserved this. I made a mental note not to allow Carter to bring any more toys back to the SGC - no matter how much she begged.
"Close the door."
Teal'c raised an eyebrow, but did as I asked. When he came back, I held out my hand for the slingshot.
"Let's get this over with," I said.
I gave it an experimental shake.
The device expelled another puppy.
"Yeah. That worked," I said.
"Try again, Sir." Carter was nothing if not persistent.
I shook it again, harder.
The four of us stared at the box.
Carter smiled. "Hear that, guys?"
"Hear what?" Daniel asked.
"I do not hear any change," Teal'c said.
"I'd swear it got quieter." Carter looked up at me. "Once more, with feeling," she said.
"Somebody's been watching Buffy again." But I shook the rattle harder.
"It did get quieter," Daniel said.
The device spit out another puppy.
"Or not," I said. Teal'c put the puppy in the box.
"Try saying something while you shake it this time," Daniel suggested.
"I don't know. 'Off,' maybe? 'Play dead'?"
I snorted, but did as Daniel asked. I shook the thing as hard as I could, right next to the box, and in my most no-nonsense, general-ish voice, commanded, "Off!"
The device went silent.
For several seconds, the four of us continued to stare at the box. Then I smiled. "Well, what do you know?" I handed the barcoo dog over to Daniel. Then I pointed at the device. "I want that thing off this base."
"But, Sir," Carter said. "Now that we know how it works, I'd like to study it further. It's a fascinating piece of--"
"No!" Three male voices, raised in emphatic chorus, made her snap her mouth shut.
"Out," I said, pointing at it. "Now."
Carter sighed and nodded.
Not sure I trusted her, I headed for the door. "I'll have Walter dial the gate. Teal'c, Daniel..."
"Right behind you, Jack," Daniel said, already moving to a corner of the device. Teal'c took the other side, and with Carter brining up the rear, the group headed for the gate room.
Thirty minutes later, the gate closed behind the Daniel and Teal'c's return, and I turned to Walter. "Delete it from the system."
"Yes, Sir." Walter began tapping at the keys. Beside me, Carter started to say something, but I sent her a quelling glare and she closed her mouth. Down in the gate room, Daniel and Teal'c turned away from the Stargate, identical looks of relief on their faces.
"Done, Sir," Walter said.
"Thank you." I turned to Carter. "And now if you'll excuse me, I have a phone call to make." At least this time I had good news. The President would be pleased to know that yet another Stargate related crisis had been successfully averted.
It took another four hours to rid the SGC of all of the puppies, and then another three days to assess and repair the damage. I knew we'd be explaining the teeth marks on the bunk beds for years to come, but I figured it was a small price to pay in the grand scheme of things.
"Last time I was at the SGC I checked." Jack said. "Those tooth marks are still there."
At Jack's feet, their three-year old border collie slept, legs twitching as it chased an imaginary rabbit across an imaginary field. Their guests, seeing that the evening's entertainment had come to an end, broke into pairs and groups, most trying to figure out how much of what Jack had said was the truth, and how much of it was fiction. Sam turned her head and kissed Jack's stubble roughened jawline.
"That's what I love about you," she said.
"What?" He turned his head, capturing her lips with his.
"You tell the best stories," she said, when the kiss ended.
"And here I thought you just lusted after my body." He kept his voice low, but Sam still blushed. He loved it when she blushed.
"So," Jack said. "Can we get a puppy?"