The sparks stopped flying, and I lifted my goggles. Perfect. Let the weld cool a few hours, run some diagnostics on the new sensors, and this UAV would be ready to fly.
Aaah! Air Force majors don't shriek. It's a rule, as Jack - Colonel O'Neill would say. Still, it's not every day Daniel can sneak up on me.
But there he was, our favorite errant archaeologist, leaning in my lab doorway with a mug of industrial-strength coffee in hand and a folder under his arm, golden hair the tousled mess that has tempted more than one of Janet's nurses into unprofessional behavior. Shame on them. "Daniel," I said, as I forced my heart back down my throat. "Is something wrong?"
He didn't look like something was wrong. Exactly. Though he had plenty of reason; it's not every day you get scooped out of a Central American kidnapping and dropped back into the U.S. without so much as a by-your-leave.
What he looked like was a man who couldn't quite figure something out. Which is scary, when you consider Daniel. Here's the man who deciphered an eight-thousand-year-old mystery, opened Earth's gateway to the stars... and inadvertently let the Goa'uld know we were here. Ouch.
When Daniel can't figure it out, it's time to duck.
"I was wondering..." his tongue wet his lips. "Would you have some time to help me research? I'm - not exactly sure where to start looking."
I hesitated, shutting off my welding torch. The UAV was done, but there were other experiments I could get to...
But then, outside of the strict debriefing after Janet declared him in one piece, Daniel hadn't talked about that odd rescue. Considering the source, that was scary. "If it's Ancient Mycenean pottery shards, I'm not going to be much help."
"No, it's..." He shifted in the doorway, looked away. Looked back at me, quietly determined. "I think I'm looking for a pilot."
Bingo. And uh-oh. "Daniel. We've been looking. When we find the agency, you'll be the first to know." Or not. The general and the colonel both were looking for whichever intelligence agency had stuck their fingers into the SGC pie. But they probably wouldn't tell Daniel until after they'd softened up those responsible. Intelligence operatives tend to be rather cranky when they're first dragged out from under their rocks. Look at Maybourne.
"But there are a lot of agencies, and a lot of security," Daniel observed.
"Yes, there are." Not that that would stop the colonel. That was his job; poking into dark corners to see what was lurking there. Not Daniel's. Never Daniel's.
Oh, Daniel. Haven't we hurt you enough?
"How many helicopter pilots?"
I blinked. "What?"
"I know languages, Sam. We're looking for three Americans." Some of the humor came back to his gaze. "Two of them are pilots, one knows how to do that... thing in the back. Engineering. How many American helicopter pilots are there?"
I gaped like a gaffed fish. How many... find the pilots? That was crazy. There had to be at least...
Daniel. This is Daniel. Think about it.
Fact was, I didn't know that much about helicopters. The Air Force tends to sneer at them. Eggbeaters. Dragonflies. A collection of bolts, flying in loose formation.
I just had the impression they were common; because in the military, when you need one, it's there. Pilot included.
Think outside the box, Sam....
In the real world, they're multi-million-dollar pieces of machinery. Dangerous pieces of machinery, that you have to be... certified to fly.
Holy Hannah. Daniel was onto something.
Why didn't we think of that?
Reality check, Sam. You're military. You, the colonel, the general - you're all trained to go after the opponent's head.
Daniel is not. Daniel never will be. Daniel is an archaeologist, trained to find a fact here, a shard there, and put them together into a broad picture of what-might-be.
A pilot got Daniel out of that camp. Therefore said pilot must exist, must have been trained, must put in enough flight hours to keep his rating. Fact. Fact. Fact.
I put down my torch. "Hold that thought."
Ten minutes and some manhandled propane tanks later, we were on my computer. "Okay... we've got some databases," I murmured, looking over the numbers. Could do it the hard way, but I'd rather not. "Keywords?"
"String, Dom... Michael?"
"Michael?" I raised an eyebrow.
Daniel shrugged. "It's probably a code name. But they mentioned it." He pulled some pictures out of his folder.
I blinked. Composite sketches? "Daniel, you didn't-"
"The FACES program, Sam." He gave me that grin that makes any sane person want to tuck him under a blanket with milk and a chocolate-walnut cookie. "I couldn't really put one together for the copilot, I couldn't see enough of her face, but the other two were just in caps and camouflage. Don't you ever check out the AMW website?"
"Gimme that." I snatched. Hmm, cute guys. Though Dom was a little old for me, and String was too dangerous for my tastes. Daniel's debriefing had made that abundantly clear. But no harm in looking, right? Yum.
"Sa-am... stop drooling and search already."
"Majors don't drool." I hit Enter, let the computer work. "Daniel..." How should I say this? Maybe I shouldn't say anything. No, no, that would be even worse; I already know he's put a lot of work into this. And he doesn't do that unless it's important. Daniel is an adult, after all; and an intelligent one, even if slightly lacking in the paranoia most of us in the classified fields call common sense. "I know why the general wants to find them. Why do you?"
"Because..." He floundered, free hand grabbing at air. For a man who speaks about two dozen languages, Daniel sometimes has an incredibly hard time saying what he means. "Sam, they didn't have to come after me."
"Daniel-" You get orders, you go. That's how it works.
"No, no," the hand waved me quiet. "Listen. Please. Jack - he has to come after me. You, Teal'c; you... do what you have to. But they-" His glasses threw off shards of lamp light as he shook his head. "I don't understand, Sam. I..." He sucked in a breath. "String decided to kill that man. In the space of a second. As soon as he knew Alexine couldn't walk. But he had Dom grab me first."
Right. The pilot made a strategically sound, if morally dubious decision. Two armed, one noncombatant, one non-mobile casualty, all surrounded by armed enemies - only Hollywood takes a hostage in that situation. Daniel's not military, he doesn't understand-
And then I see the question in blue eyes, and shake myself, and reconsider everything.
The sad fact is, while Daniel's not a soldier, he's got more training and field experience than some people who've been in the military all their life. He knows strategy. He may not be able to use it like the colonel does; Colonel O'Neill makes tactical decisions fast as breathing, Daniel's got to think it through first. And it helps if no one's actually shooting at him.
But he knew why String shot Vasquez. Which wouldn't have kept Daniel from trying to stop String shooting Vasquez-
There. There it is. "He knew enough to stop you." Hoo, boy.
"Before I knew I was going to move," Daniel agreed quietly. "He didn't just rescue me, Sam. He protected me. From himself."
Not something your average cold-blooded agency type would bother to do. "And Dom?" Daniel wouldn't do this just to find one guy.
"Dom... listened to me."
And in that moment I know if Dom ever asks me for a favor, I'll pay up. Saving Daniel's life is one thing. Putting his heart back together... that's something else.
"There's a bunch of separate databases, this could take a little while," I said. "I'll let you know tomorrow."
Famous last words.
One week, two missions, and a skirmish with Serpent Guards later, I finally slapped my results in front of the team on the briefing room table. "California."
"Excuse me, Major?" General Hammond gave me the eye; I couldn't really blame him. My hair was barely neat, my uniform was rumpled, and my shoes were definitely not spec-shined. I'd spent most of the last night isolating the problem, and I still wasn't sure what to do about it.
"Whoever flew Daniel's black helicopter is probably in California, sir," I said, tapping my printout. "Given that that's where our search engines suddenly suffer inexplicable bugs." I flipped to the relevant page. "We've been painted, sir."
"What is the nature of this paint, Major Carter?"
Thank you, Teal'c. "Someone's added a very subtle electronic signature to our data queries. I couldn't find it until I broke some of our programs all the way down to assembly language." I rubbed the side of my head; even a couple aspirin wouldn't take the edge off that headache. Add register A to register B, Jump And Link - eeugh. That's why sane people invented compilers. "In effect, any SGC program that accesses a non-military California database may get shunted somewhere else entirely."
"Round and round the mulberry bush?" the colonel offered.
"Just let me shoot the weasel, sir."
"I can't say this surprises me, Major," the general growled. "It's been my experience that intelligence agencies generally don't want people to find them."
"No," Daniel said, half to himself. "They don't want people with access to our computer systems to find them."
"Daniel Jackson is correct, General Hammond," Teal'c stated bluntly. "If the System Lords should succeed in invading Earth, they would behave much as they have on other planets. They would move to secure the Stargate and the DHD, in order to increase their effectiveness in troop and slave movement. Our Stargate is linked not to a DHD, but to the SGC computer systems."
"Which are full of information on us, our allies, and our Earth-based defenses, sir," I nodded. "But nothing on these people. Unless we put it there."
The general looked uneasy... at least, as uneasy as a general ever looks in public. "You believe this agency is deliberately concealing itself in anticipation of an alien attack?"
"Could be, sir. If they're the same guys who bugged us. Which they probably are, given they knew about Daniel in the first place. But it could be a lot simpler than that." The colonel leaned back in his chair. "Let's not forget, sir, it's not just off-worlders who might dig into our data. Our unknowns are probably dodging some very curious members of the NID right now. Some of whom might actually be working for the government."
The general thought that over, face grim. Reached out, scooped up my report. "Thank you, Major Carter." Tapped papers together, into one neat pile. "I'd suggest you take a few hours' downtime. After that, I have a computer problem I'd like you to solve."
"Sir?" I was tired.
"The problem that lost this data, Major." There was a wry glint in the general's eye. "And wiped anything pertaining to this search from our databases."
Oh. That problem. "Yes, sir."
So Daniel's not going to get his answers. Not today.
But I can't help but wonder... Mark's out in California. With my niece and nephew. I could visit sometime.
And take Daniel.
San Diego's nice this time of year...