What in heaven's name had been in that salad?
Chicken. Rough chopped Iceberg Lettuce. A smattering of tiny little tomatoes. Cheddar cheese. Slices of hard-boiled egg.
Croutons—those she'd shunted off to the side of her plate. Croutons were nothing more than salty, stale bread. Like raisins were nothing more than desiccated grapes. Anyone who would think that food well past its prime was desirable lived in a totally different sphere than did Glinda Baldrich. She preferred her food fresh, thank you very much. And preferably not semi-decayed.
She should have relegated the onion to the side of the plate with the croutons. Red onion had never really agreed with her—she'd had a bad experience once with some during a romantic evening with Bruce Gillinsby. After having consumed just such a salad as the one currently in question, she'd experienced a bit of—shall we say—re-familiarity with the red onion.
Glinda had burped.
But burping was a far cry from this current crisis.
She'd awoken prone—lying on her back, to be exact. All around her, darkness—and silence. At first there had been the noise of a car, and traffic, but that had long-since stopped. She thought that she had lost consciousness again, and now all she could hear was an eerie silence, punctuated with infrequent and unidentifiable bursts of muffled noise, besides the faint noises that she herself emitted.
And someone else's breathing. Glinda felt certain that she had not ended up in this blackness alone.
Something underneath her poked persistently in her right side, and her hands had been secured together with a stiff plastic band of some sort. Her bare feet had long since gone to sleep, and dollars to donuts her hose had run.
She tried to shift, but found that movement proved difficult and painful with her hands bound and the bulky lump pressing into her back. Scooting a little to the left helped to relieve the pressure on her ribcage, but then her feet awakened, and Glinda fought against the urge to gasp when the prickly tingles started to stab at her heels. Biting her lip, she squeezed her eyes shut, clamping her mouth closed, as well. She would survive.
She was the administrative secretary to the General in charge of Homeworld Security—what were a few tingles when in comparison with total global annihilation?
Few women were constructed of stronger stuff than Glinda Baldrich! Steeling her resolve, she lifted her chin. What would General O'Neill do?
Knowing the man as well as she'd come to, Glinda admitted with a small sigh that he would most likely make a joke out of the whole fiasco. And then he would get free. And he would probably hurt some people. Glinda knew this to be true—she'd read his file.
But as unexpectedly talented as Glinda had proven to be in her seniors' karate class at the YMCA, she still doubted her ability to do the sort of damage to her captors that would precipitate their releasing her. So, unless she suddenly found the ability to unleash the hounds of hell in a roundhouse kick like her instructor had demonstrated, she felt less than able to acquit herself remarkably in that regard.
She could not see well enough to even know what obstacles lay in her path—she could not move enough to free herself. She'd taken a self-defense class once with her church women's group, and her instructor had stated that one should not act until one knew how to act.
And Glinda knew precisely nothing about where or with whom she currently was being held. She only knew that she'd stepped off the elevator after a particularly lovely lunch with the affable and gracious Colonel Carter, and been met by pain and an odd flash of blue.
As quietly as she could, she took a deep cleansing breath, blowing out slowly through her mouth.
She needed to relax. A tense mind was not an ordered one. Preparation started with clear thoughts.
Lying as still as possible, Glinda forced herself to focus on something other than her predicament. She hoped that would help her remain calm and collected. Her brain rifled through possible topics of thought until it came to the perfect one.
She needed a binding for the General's quilt.
The green log cabin quilt had grown—as quilts tended to do around Glinda. Instead of the nice throw sized piece that she'd intended, she'd found herself continuing to make blocks until it had morphed into a king-sized behemoth. Surreptitious queries had ascertained the fact that the General and his wife did indeed share a king-sized bed. And really, Glinda hadn't been surprised by that. Obviously, the two of them needed a wide expanse in which to—she carefully chose the most delicate of the phrases that sprang into her mind—recline. Both of them being tall, she reasoned, and athletic.
But she digressed.
Binding. The beast—er—quilt—had ended up measuring one hundred and ten inches square. Glinda closed her eyes and began the mental math—she'd always enjoyed this particular process. The figures marched in orderly rows in her imagination. One hundred and ten multiplied by four sides—four hundred and forty, plus ten inches for mitered corners, equaled four hundred and fifty inches. The average piece of fabric measured forty usable inches across, so she would need twelve strips sewn together to attain that length. After deciding that she would use a low loft batting, she opted for a two and a quarter inch wide strip, so twelve multiplied by two and a quarter meant that she would need twenty-seven inches of fabric from which to cut her strips, so she rounded that up to an even yard. Then she'd have a little bit to put back into her fabric stash.
She was in the process of envisioning the exact color of green to buy when she heard a change in the breathing of the other person with her in the darkness.
It was a hitch—as if the person had suddenly come into consciousness.
Glinda lay as still as possible, listening intently. The other person moved something—an arm, perhaps, or a leg, or maybe just shifted, but the movement was muffled by something—carpeting perhaps? Or a rug. Glinda tried to concentrate on where her bare feet—no longer tingling—rested on the floor. Soft—she dug her heel in slightly and felt some give. Carpeting with a pad underneath. Not an office or a hotel. A residence of some sort.
The whisper barely registered in Glinda's ears, but she recognized the voice. The relief that flooded through her was immense. "Colonel Carter?" She knew her voice rang out too loudly, but she found herself woefully unable to control it.
Filled with concern, the other woman's voice sounded again. "Are you okay?"
"I think so, Colonel. I seem to be bound."
"So am I." A short pause was punctuated by movement. The Colonel shifted positions, and Glinda heard the younger woman groan. "They always get you when you're not expecting it."
"Who got us?"
After a brief silence, and a little more shifting, the Colonel spoke again, her voice tight. "I'm not sure—I was talking bad guys in general. Not in specific terms."
"Might I ask what happened?"
After a brief moment, the Colonel's voice wafted quietly back towards Glinda. "How much do you remember?"
She reflected. Rolling back over the events of the day, she recalled arriving at the Pentagon, putting on a fresh pot of coffee, filing reports. She had been in the process of sending an e-mail on That Infernal Contraption when the Colonel had arrived with an impromptu lunch invitation. "A salad. The restaurant. We were leaving it. Your car was parked around the corner in a parking garage. We took the elevator, and stepped out into the basement area. Then I felt a pain and everything went black."
"A blue light."
"Yes—I recall that. It went with the pain." Glinda frowned. It had been a singularly unpleasant experience. Like sticking one's moistened finger in a light socket, she imagined, although she never had been simple enough to do such a thing.
"Zats." The Colonel breathed out heavily. "They used zats."
"Zats. Zat'ni'katels. They're an alien kind of weapon. One shot stuns, the next immediate shot thereafter kills."
Glinda nodded, more to herself than to her companion, then remembered that she had once filed a report about something by that name. "They are used by the 'Go-a-oold'."
She sensed the other woman smiling, and then heard it in her voice. "Goa'uld. Yeah. And by the people who used to be their foot soldiers, the Jaffa."
"The General's friend." Glinda reached into her memory and brought forward a name she'd heard several times. "Teal'c."
"And mine. And yes, Teal'c is Jaffa."
"Does it always cause victims to lose consciousness?"
"To some extent, yes. Usually."
"Did you just now come to?"
A pause, then the Colonel sighed. "A few minutes ago. It always seems to take me the longest."
"You've been—zat-gunned before?"
"Many times. I've been zatted many times."
A thought occurred to Glinda. "Colonel, your baby—how—"
But a quick, stilted noise cut her off. She waited through an impossibly long silence before the Colonel spoke.
"Please, Glinda—I can't think about that right now." And in the Colonel's tone was the tiniest note of pleading, the barest hint of a tremble.
In the darkness, Glinda squinted, then opened her eyes wide, but to no avail. No light penetrated wherever it was they were being held. "Do you have any idea where we are, Colonel Carter?"
"Glinda, please call me Sam." There was no hint of impatience in her voice. Just a degree of resignation. "Certain experiences require people to use each other's first names."
"Very well, Colonel." Glinda nodded again. Then felt her cheeks redden when she recalled that the Colonel couldn't see the gesture. "I shall if you shall."
"I think I already have been, haven't I?"
And Glinda couldn't quite believe it when the Colonel snorted, and then chuckled.
After a moment, Sam let out a long breath. "I'm sorry, Glinda, it just reminds me of the first few months after Jack and I got married. I kept calling him 'sir'. It was such a habit for me. I still do it from time to time."
"Because you were in his chain of command for several years before your respective transfers."
"Yes." And her voice had changed to something more poignant—sweeter—than it had been before. "Eight years. We knew each other very well before we were able to get married. It was a long time."
And somehow Glinda was absolutely certain that Sam was grateful for the darkness that surrounded them and hid all signs of emotion. For in those words resided far more meaning than the words actually said.
Glinda could practically see the history—the years when their attraction had needed to be quelled, to be subjugated in favor of duty and honor. She had seen a hint of that yearning. In the beginning of her time with General O'Neill, previous to the Colonel's return from her assignment, Glinda had caught it on the General's face as he'd stared at the single picture he had in his office. Now there was another picture stuck in that photo's frame—a black and white ultrasound still. Not that Glinda could make heads or tails of it—no matter how many times she studied the print-out, the figure on it still seemed like a lima bean.
"Too long." The Colonel's voice shushed through the dark—an afterthought—one of those moments when the summation of the story contained all the truth of it.
Nothing could possibly be said to answer that, so the secretary shifted again on the bulge in her back, and pressed her heels again into the carpet, trying to prevent her legs from falling asleep again. The small movement felt comforting—as if she were doing something useful. Glinda appreciated the joy in being proactive.
As if she had been reading Glinda's thoughts, and perhaps in an attempt to change the subject, Sam spoke again. "Try to move around as much as you can. You need to stay as limber as possible."
"I have been. I can't move much—I'm lying down and there is something under my back." She shifted again, but couldn't dislodge herself from the bulge. "I feel somewhat high-centered. Like a low rider on a speed bump."
"I was lying down, too. But I was able to sit up." Glinda heard a shifting again—fabric rubbing against fabric. "I think I'm leaning up against a couch. At least, the fabric feels like upholstery."
Imagining this, Glinda scowled. "Your hands are fastened behind your back?"
"Unfortunately." Another sound of movement, something rubbed against a hard surface. "I think that they're zip ties—at least it feels like it around my ankles. Are your legs bound?"
Glinda experimented. "No. But my shoes are gone."
A thought occurred to her. "My purse. I think I'm lying on my purse."
"Stay on it." The Colonel spoke quickly. She'd gone from comforting to tactical within a heartbeat. "It may come in handy later, and if they left it when they left us, chances are they don't realize that you even have it."
Glinda experimented with a small shoulder roll. "The strap is still over my shoulder."
"Good—like I said. Don't bring attention to it, if at all possible." The Colonel's voice carried a good amount of authority to it. Glinda could well imagine her commanding a vessel the size of the Hammond. "Are you scared?"
"Of course I am, Colonel."
"You're doing well hiding it. Whoever has us will admire that, so maintain that bravado, please."
From far away came a noise, and Glinda found herself straining to place it, to hear it better. Doors. Doors were opening and closing, and at least two pairs of footsteps echoed in the distance.
She tried to say something, but opened her mouth only to emit a strange, embarrassing squeak.
"I hear them, too, Glinda. Stay calm, please, and let me do the talking."
"Okay." And her voice came out just a tidge shrill—her fright showing more than she'd intended. She cleared her throat and tried again. "Yes, ma'am."
"Sam." The Colonel's correction fell on ears too worried to hear.
But the footsteps grew ever closer, and Glinda's heart beat too loudly for comfort. She breathed deeply and tried to focus.
She closed her eyes and imagined tiles. Seven of them, with random letters. Started to arrange them into words. Fought against shame as a wave of hysteria threatened to flood over her and she couldn't remember the letters. So she concentrated on the carpet beneath her heels, and lying as inconspicuously as possible, and hiding the purse beneath her body. And breathing.
And trusting the savvy, experienced woman sitting with her in the blackness to know exactly how to deal with people who would use a weapon on women exiting an elevator after a casual lunch of big salads.
The footsteps stopped nearby. And a new sound filtered through a wall—buttons of some sort—like clicks on a keyboard—and an alien, electronic tone.
And then light seemed to flood the room as a door slid aside. Craning her neck to the right, Glinda blinked against the brightness, watching as three men entered the room. Two of them stopped at the doorway while the third sauntered in further, an ungracious, smug grin on his otherwise handsome face. Elegantly suited, his dark hair meticulously groomed, his facial hair trimmed around lips that seemed created for the sneer that twisted them.
Glinda heard Colonel Carter let out a short, pained groan, and she turned her head in time to see the younger woman close her eyes, watch as her lips tightened.
"Colonel Carter." The well suited man spoke in a voice that carried an accent of some sort. "How kind of you to join me. I have been waiting for the pleasure of your company for ever so long."
Sam expression eased into a pained smile—a smile that did not reach her vivid, intelligent eyes. "What do you want?"
"Who says I desire anything other than the company of an old friend?" The man's smile turned wicked. "Sometimes those such as I become lonely and yearn for the companionship of acquaintances from years past."
The Colonel answered as if he hadn't spoken. "Whatever you want—you won't get it."
"Really?" His eyebrows rose dramatically. "I think you're wrong about that. I believe that once a certain General we know discovers that I have his wife, he'll come around soon enough. I'll get what I want."
"You know he doesn't negotiate."
The man shrugged, the very picture of nonchalance. "He knows what I am capable of doing in order to get what I require."
Colonel Carter's face had gone cold. Her eyes narrowed on the man in the shaft of light. "What do you want?"
He sounded both condescending and bored as he absently waved a hand. "An artifact."
"You let me worry about that. For now, just stay here—relax in the comfort afforded by my hospitality."
Sam seemed to resign herself. Twisting her body to one side, she said, "Okay—why don't you untie me?"
And the man laughed, and Glinda forced back a gasp. His eyes had flashed—as if a light had been turned on and then off in the same instant. Her strangled sound drew his attention, however, and he side-stepped closer, studying her.
"So this is the spare." His dark eyes took her in, perusing her with a frankness that was less disturbing than it was plainly rude. "And who might you be?"
"Nobody." Carter cut in. Her voice sounded deceptively calm. "You should let her go. She has nothing to do with this."
"Oh, Colonel Carter. I don't think so." Shaking his head, he turned his attention back to the younger woman. "I think we'll just keep you both around for a while. She may turn out to be useful."
Sam closed her eyes, her jaw working steadily.
"So, Colonel Carter—or is it Colonel O'Neill now? I understand it is customary on Earth for the woman to take her husband's name." Upon ascertaining that Sam had no intention of answering, the man continued. "So, Colonel, why don't you be polite and present me to your friend?"
Slowly, the Colonel opened her eyes and lifted them to the darker ones of their captor. Tightly, she nodded her head towards the other woman. "This is Glinda Baldrich."
The man inclined his head with a practiced, obsequious air. "Miss Baldrich. Such a pleasure."
"And Glinda," Sam hesitated, then swallowed back something—Bile? Frustration? Anger?—before continuing with the introduction. "This is Ba'al."