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Chapter 8

Back aboard the space vessel Jack rushed over to Penegal. "I found him, but..."

With a fixed stare the Asgard regarded the human, who at first appeared a little flushed before looking more than a little peeved about being observed. The plan had been to find the friend, put the medical strip on him and then decide what to do based on that information, but no medical data had been streamed from the device. He watched Jack pace from the console to the viewing port and back again.

Jack wasn't frantic, but he was worried. They had a limited amount of time and a very narrow window of opportunity to get to Jethro. He quickly finished his sentence. "They're already running a test on him."

Penegal blinked long and slow a couple of times. "Show me."

Pointing to a room in a sea of rooms in the radiology department, Jack explained about the layout, the people he had seen there and the CT scanner, and in only a minute they had shuffled their plans and altered their ideas to come up with something else. Being okay with a plan and believing it would truly work were two very different things.

"You can do that?" It wasn't that Jack didn't believe it possible. He just wanted confirmation.

"The room is shielded; however, I have detected a gap." With a tiny bob of his head Penegal admitted, "Timing will be critical."

Jack tried not to scoff. "Don't we need to synchronize our watches or something?"

The little Asgard mouth seemed to smirk, if that was possible, before stating, "Touch the stone when you are ready. I will know."

"Okay." Jack shrugged and nodded vaguely, knowing that he couldn't do anything without Penegal.


With the lights dimmed in both the scan and control rooms, the test on Jethro had started out just fine with the first images appearing completely normal. The radiologist had seen them come up on the screen, but then had looked away for only a few seconds when the tech groaned. Looking back he'd found them all changing, even the fresh ones before he could preliminarily examine them. "What's causing that?"

"I have no idea," the technician growled. He had never seen the computer control act so squirrelly before and instinctively knew the problem was something he would not be able to resolve by himself. "We're gonna have to get a factory rep."

"Turn down the lights a little more and pause it," the doctor advised, hoping the change would make it easier to see the display. He needed to get good pictures of the man's head for a proper diagnosis.

Jack materialized in the lavatory and immediately cracked opened the door to look across into the control room where the lights had been dimmed. The doctor and technician were staring at the display screen where something was happening. The room lights had dimmed even more and all of the small images of Jethro's head displayed in rows and columns were distorting until much of the screen was nothing more than a blurry mess. After verifying that the big white x-ray tube was no longer rotating around his friend who was still unconscious on the table, Jack hunched down into a partial squat and touched the stone in his pocket. He was immediately transported into the scan room behind the machine where nobody would see him. At least not right away. The room was sealed and shielded and he took a moment to silently thank Penegal for finding a gap to safely send him through.

He looked over to the glass to see what he could see and the two men in the control room were looking around, probably trying to figure out where a flash of light might have come from, but after a few seconds they were again looking at the monitor. It seemed the interference Penegal had provided was still working so keeping low Jack got to his friend's side and reached up to place the thin strip of plastic-y material against his bare skin. It was not a short reach because Jethro's head and upper body were still inside the big ring, but he managed and it warmed against his fingers as soon as he pressed it to Jethro's chest. In another second the table made a rumbling sound as it moved out of the gantry and startled, Jack hunched down a little more behind the big donut. He peekd over the back in time to see the technician on the phone and the doctor walking toward the door opening. In another few seconds Jack heard the door to the scan room clunk open and he could hear the tech talking to someone, probably on the phone and the sound of a rolling cart of some kind as the wheels bumped on the breaks in the tile floor. Then he heard the doctor's footfalls coming close.

"You're still here," the man jokingly told the unconscious Gibbs and Jack almost choked on a laugh before suddenly suppressing it. "We have a technical malfunction so you need to sit tight for a few minutes." Jack heard fabric rustling, a click and then the tell tale thumping sound of the machine automatically inflating a blood pressure cuff. After a full minute the man quietly announced, "One twelve over sixty nine and pulse is eighty four. Not great, but you're hanging in there." After the ripping sound of Velcro which Jack guessed was the cuff being removed, he crouched down a little more as the guy came around to check the ventilator and the position of the blue plastic extension hosing. Jack realized he'd been holding his breath and was careful not to make a sound when he finally exhaled and took a fresh breath as the doctor did something to the IV. In another few seconds he was gone with the door closing behind him and the room again sealed.

He knew he could see into the control room a lot more clearly than anyone could see him so he glanced up into the glass of the viewing window once again. Another person had joined the other two and Jack figured it was another technician since more than likely the hospital wouldn't have a CT field service engineer readily available. The three men were talking and gesturing and Jack hoped that since the doctor had checked Jethro that they would all stay in the control room for a while longer. Since ventilators could be equipped with monitoring and alarm systems for patient related parameters and function, Jack knew Penegal had the right idea to transport all the equipment along with Jethro so he waited until he was sure the men weren't looking into the scan room before he reached for the stone. Hoping he and Penegal hadn't overlooked anything, Jack closed his hand around the object and waited.

The overhead lights in both rooms and the hallway went out completely for a full two seconds before going extremely bright all at once. When they returned to the previous illumination, Jethro, the IV stand and the ventilator machine were gone and in their place was a hologram which looked very real, even to Jack. The lights were at a minimum and from Jack's position crouched behind the scanner, the men in the control room were looking around, but did not appear to be too alarmed as they returned their concentration to the computer and monitor. Satisfied, Jack touched the stone a second time.


Jenny Shepard tried to stay positive. The drive had been tedious so far and she found herself thinking about how great it would be to have super or magical powers. Samantha or Endora would have just zapped themselves to the hospital in nothing flat. Jeannie would have bobbed her head, flicking her ponytail and been to Jethro's side instantly. Wonder Woman would have flown there a lot faster than the dang car she was riding in. The bionic woman would have run to the hospital in a flash.

Knowing she couldn't get there any faster, she changed her attention to thinking about her arrival in the emergency room lobby wearing an evening gown. Jenny grinned because it would most certainly cause a little bit of a stir. She looked damn good: she knew it and all the men at the White House dinner had known it. The women knew it too, but Jenny didn't like to think about them. Had she dressed for herself, for the men or for other women? Jenny always dressed for herself first and she loved the gown she had chosen for the evening, but she had been keenly aware of the way most of the men at the WH dinner had looked at her. And yes, she had liked it.

Happy to have a go bag in the trunk, she silently debated whether to change before or after seeing about Jethro. Having never gotten out of the habit from when she was a field agent, her bag contained two changes of clothing, personal items, cash, toiletries and even extra ammunition. Her gym bag was also in the trunk, but the clothes in it were sweaty and she'd go into the hospital wearing nothing but a towel before she'd put the shorts and t-shirt back on. She still had time to think about changing so she concentrated instead on the drive. It had been a few minutes since Fredericksburg and they'd passed a sign for Bowling Green, Carmel Church and Ashland so Jenny directed her attention out the front windshield of the car looking for the lights of Richmond. She could see some lights, but nothing like she expected. They were still too far away to see much of anything, especially with the rolling hills and heavily wooded areas blocking any view. They passed a huge lighted billboard and Jenny giggled softly. Tipping her head back onto the seat, she smiled and contented herself with humming and then softly singing "Smiling like the girl wearing nothing but a smile and a towel in the picture on the billboard in the field near the old highway" until she saw her driver looking at her in the rear view mirror.

After that she stayed quiet with her thoughts of times spent with Jethro when they were partners and how his heart had ended up in tiny pieces scattered by the girl in the towel on that old highway. It wasn't a morbid thing to do. They'd gone their separate ways and now it was her being hopeful by remembering the bullet wounds, scrapes and near misses that Jethro had survived and how improbable it would be for him to not make it through this time. And of course along with those memories were lots more of friendship, good food, excellent wine and smooth bourbon, walks in romantic places, songs that stuck in your brain, laughter that made your sides ache and your face hurt, and last but certainly not least, memories of making love. She and Jethro had lots and lots of shared memories and she settled her mind on remembering those times instead of worrying about whether or not he was going to be alive when she arrived at the hospital. To do otherwise was unacceptable… for now.


The little Asgard hadn't wasted any time placing Jethro in the medical pod. Jack knew that like Thor and most Asgard, Penegal probably wouldn't like a lot of questions or interruptions when he worked so he stayed quiet while he paced and watched, and paced some more. What seemed like many minutes had actually only been one or maybe two when Penegal turned from the medical pod to address him.

"This human has been gravely injured."

A little stunned, Jack stared at the pod and softly asked, "What's wrong with him?"

"There is substantial concussion and contusion to both head and body," Penegal explained before turning back to the console.

Jack thought again about explosions and sudden air pressure changes that result in concussion when the brain is shaken inside the skull. And he knew that contusions were bruises. Without hitting your head or body against another surface, an explosion could still cause severe if not fatal injury and a graphic vision of the white butterfly effect popped into his head making him wince. Jethro would probably already be dead if he had severe internal injuries so hoping Penegal could do more than just save his life, Jack concentrated on understanding what he'd been told.

Settling his attention back to the Asgard, Jack confessed. "He has a shook up bruised brain and internal injuries."

Penegal seemed to frown before responding. "That is correct."

Jack couldn't help himself and continued to pace from the pod to the console and back again. During each pass he glanced at Jethro who looked pale except for the scrapes and blood on his head, face and hands. He had an urge to clean him up, but knew the medical personnel would notice when Jethro was returned.

Penegal continued to work, but he was aware of Jack's interest and need for information. "There is evidence of several prior injuries."

Jack knew about his friend's previous head injury and 19 day coma, bullet and shrapnel wounds, his leg, knee and hip and other assorted damage that had been done to him over the years. "Can you fix him?" He flinched when he heard himself ask that question in that way.

Penegal's head bobbed up and down just as the normally clear viewing panel began to look frosted inside.

Jack stared as the pod glowed and the clear panel turned white. "I don't remember seeing it do that before," he mumbled, moving closer to see what was going on and momentarily forgetting that Penegal had not yet answered his question. After a few seconds he remembered and accepted that maybe the head bob had been a yes. The air inside the pod looked like fog and he reached out to touch the panel, finding it cool, but not cold, and still it glowed.

Anticipating Jack's curiosity, Penegal announced, "I have changed the atmosphere, temperature and pressure inside the pod."

Jack could not see Jethro's face or his body. A minute went by and then another and Penegal kept working until finally the air inside the pod cleared and he announced, "His condition has stabilized."

Jack had faith in Asgard healing abilities and hope that Jethro would be fine, but he couldn't stop the worry that niggled at his brain. "So he'll be okay?"


They were using borrowed supplies, had too few NCIS personnel and were carrying too much worry. None of them had heard anything since Gibbs had been taken to the hospital and Ducky and the others were still about an hour and a half away; longer unless they seriously exceeded the speed limit.

He tried to sound casual; just another day at a crime scene. "How's it going?"

Ziva knew he was being anything but casual. "The crew members are angry, especially the Captain."

DiNozzo had seen the man when he'd been taken into custody and angry was an understatement. The bomb had damaged his ship and rather than being treated like a victim, he was considered a suspect and had been detained accordingly, away from the rest of his crew. Those men had all been rounded up, had pat downs bordering on strip searches and US Customs agents were busy taking their fingerprints and photos while keeping them from speaking to each other. They were also using the crew manifest and customs records to try to account for everyone who should have been on the freighter at the time of the explosion to make sure nobody had gotten away in the chaos.

Ziva stated confidently, "I do not believe there are more bombs."

DiNozzo nodded his head in agreement. "I don't either. ATF looked, Homeland Security looked, the dogs sniffed and you did your thing."

Ziva didn't look amused, but knew Tony had been dealing with the incident in his own warped way. He was concerned about Gibbs and had been thrust into taking charge and she herself wanted something to do where she could express the aggravation she'd been feeling. They'd been left out of the mission when Gibbs and the customs agent boarded the freighter. They had been there but across the water they'd been in no position to provide backup of any kind. The blast had almost killed their team leader whom she had great affection for and the thought of Gibbs dying before she could tell him bothered her to the point of actual physical pain. When she shot and killed her half-brother Ari, death took that bond, but a new one had instantly formed when Gibbs had touched and then squeezed her hand in a sympathetic gesture. Now she and Gibbs shared a new, special bond and she hadn't yet found a comfort zone where she could tell him. She was secretly afraid that she might never get the chance, and that helpless feeling had manifested into visible signs of anger and frustration, and outward indifference.

DiNozzo told her in his usual know-it-all style, "Ducky and the autopsy gremlin will set a new land speed record to get here so in the meantime let's keep doing what we do best."

Ziva nodded vaguely before expressing herself in a clipped, kind of annoyed way. "McGee has been working on sketches and photographs in the areas around the laundry room." The anger and frustration she'd been feeling was almost overwhelming and it wasn't something she'd experienced in a very long time. She didn't like it and it showed. "I will go and help him finish and then perhaps we should begin interrogations."

DiNozzo had noticed her hostile demeanor and fixed her in a steely gaze before quipping, "Why? So you can hit somebody?"

Ziva smirked and waited a full two or even three seconds before replying. "Perhaps."


Penegal hadn't replied right away to his query about whether or not Jethro would be okay so Jack waited, but instead of pacing he pulled nervously on his dog tags which slid easily along the chain as it hugged the back of his neck.

Finally the little Asgard announced, "I have corrected the internal damage and reversed the nerve damage in his left hand and wrist."

That sounded positive, like very good news. Nerve damage was never a good thing so having it resolved was excellent, but Penegal had not been exactly forthcoming with information and Jack still had questions.

Tugging on the tags as his hand swept back and forth in front of his neck, he asked, "What kind of internal damage?"

Speaking succinctly the Asgard replied, "Hemorrhage."

Jack stared at him while his brain processed the one word answer. Hemorrhage meant bleeding, but what had been bleeding? Penegal had met his gaze, their eyes not wavering until Jack blinked. Then he stammered, "Wha… what was bleeding?"

With his vision once again directed at the medical display console, Penegal figured out that Jack needed and wanted more information and while he had never been much of a conversationalist, the Asgard did recognize concern. "Primarily kidney. Also spleen." He paused before adding, "Severe contusions."

Jethro hadn't moved and still looked pale as Jack took in the information. It was good that Penegal could heal the severe bruising and internal injuries when other types of damage must be a lot more difficult. Jack took a moment to wonder and then almost didn't want to ask. "And his brain?"

Penegal kept his head down and fiddled with a couple of dials and knobs before announcing in a pretty compassionate way, "Substantial contusion requiring more healing followed by sufficiant time for recovery."

Jack's jaw clenched and he knew he should be glad that Jethro would be okay, but he hated thinking about him having a long drawn convalescence. And he was informed enough to know that even the Asgard couldn't promise total recovery from a brain injury.

Suddenly remembering that Jethro would probably have vital information, a long recuperation was not an option. "How much time?"

The Asgard raised his head, looking thoughtful. "I do not know."

Jack wanted to know more, but he wasn't sure what else to ask about Jethro right at that moment so he changed the direction of his concentration and asked, "Think you should send me back down there to make sure nobody has discovered him missing?"

With a nod of his head he declared, "Touch the stone when you wish to return."

And just like that Jack was back in the shielded room behind the CT scanning machine. The projected image of Jethro and the respirator still looked good and the three men were still working in the control room so with nothing else to do he touched the stone to have Penegal retrieve him.


Note: Borrowed the song lyrics from "Girl on the Billboard" recorded by Del Reeves and written by Walter Haynes and Samuel Garrett aka Hank Mills.

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