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The Usual, With a Twist

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Date and Time: Classified

Place: Conference Room 2B, Level 26, the SGC

"I'm pretty sure you can't say that to McKay, CJ," Josh said, reaching across the table for another doughnut. He sat back, maple-frosted in hand, and lifted his coffee cup. "I mean, the guy's supposed to be a national treasure, or something. A certified genius. You really can't tell a genius to shut up."

"They're all geniuses, supposedly," CJ said in her steeliest voice, and Josh unconsciously brushed away the crumbs he'd scattered across the table. "And yet not one of them seems to understand the concept of keeping his or her mouth shut, and letting me handle the press."

Sam looked up from the sheaf of papers he'd been annotating. "Actually -- and this is kind of interesting -- many people consider the plural of 'genius' to be--"

CJ glared at him.

"Not important," Sam finished weakly.

"Smart, Sam," Josh said, handing Sam the last of the glazed doughnuts. "There's hope for you yet."

"No, there's not," Toby bellowed as he barreled into the conference room, barely acknowledging the armed SFs who opened the door for him. "There's no hope for Sam. There's no hope for any of us."

"You met with McKay?" CJ asked sweetly.

"No, I met with O'Neill, and some clown named Mitchell, and several people who couldn't finish a sentence -- much less achieve verb-tense agreement -- if the fate of the universe depended on it, which apparently it does, and, and..." He slammed the report he was carrying on the table, which luckily was bolted to the floor. "Did you read this thing? Parasitic flying snakes that take over the minds of their hosts..."

"That explains a few members of the House," Josh said. Sam nodded thoughtfully.

"Not to mention the vampire aliens who look like rejects from an 80's glam rock band, and religious fanatic aliens, and--"

"And that explains a few Senators," Josh interrupted.

"And, and--the people defending us from these horrors are insane, when they're not inept; it's a miracle the universe still exists in any form at all."

CJ nodded sympathetically, but didn't look up from the briefing paper she was reading. Sam was now immersed in a newspaper. Josh began playing with his pager; Donna had been off in search of sandwiches for way too long.

"Are you listening?" Toby went on, leaning on the table. "I'm telling you, this situation is hopeless, and no fancy words, no razzle-dazzle with the press corps, is going to make it better."

"On the bright side," Josh said, "you said it yourself: we're living a miracle."

"And the Mets are doing amazingly well," Sam added. "Which, considering their disabled list, is probably due to some benevolent alien influence."

Toby gave him a look. "Because aliens are so interested in the performance of one sports team, in one city, in one country, on Earth's North American continent."

"They seem to be interested in the individual comings and goings of members of the SGC," Sam said mildly as he folded over the sports section of the Colorado Springs Gazette. "Also, from the briefing papers I've read, at least one of the Asgard appears to know something about ice hockey." He shrugged. "And the Mets are doing awfully well."

"How well?" Toby asked, after a beat. He finally sat down in one of the gray military-issue chairs in the SGC conference room, and reached out for the paper.

"They took the Dodgers, even with Hernandez injured," Sam said, handing over the sports section. Toby began reading. Josh grinned.

CJ caught Sam's eye and gave him an approving nod. "Maybe you should talk to them, Sam," she said thoughtfully.

"The press?" Toby looked up in alarm. "For the love of God, don't let Sam near the press."

"Not the press," CJ said. "The geniuses."

"Actually," Sam began, "the word is--"

"I should go try to find Donna," Josh said to no one in particular, as he stood up in a flurry of crumbs.

Just then the conference room door flew open to reveal two men in BDUs, one of whom was brandishing a weapon.

"Do you people actually do anything? Anything useful, I mean?" one demanded.

"This," CJ said in a clipped voice, "is Doctor Rodney McKay."

"Not really," Josh said over her. "We're the government."

"Sorry, folks," the other BDU-clad invader said. "He's a tad... perturbed... about all this press stuff." He turned to his companion slowly, training his weapon so that McKay couldn't help but notice it. "Now calm down, Rodney, or I swear I'll use this on you."

"And this is Lt. Colonel John Sheppard," CJ informed the room. "From the Atlantis Project."

"You're holding a lemon," Sam observed.

"No doubt life handed it to him, and he's going to demonstrate his superior universe-defending, problem-solving skills by making lemonade," Toby said.

Both CJ and Sheppard stared at him. "That was awful," Sheppard said. "You're the wordsmith who's gonna fix it so the world doesn't freak out about the Stargate program? I think we might be better off handing the press over to Teal'c."

"Or O'Neill," McKay said, his voice dripping with disdain and fear of citrus. "Or Zelenka. Or, or, that guy who tells us that the chevrons are locked. Or--"

"That wasn't one of your better efforts, Toby," CJ chimed in.

Toby opened his mouth. Josh sat back, moving out of the line of fire. Sam, who'd been scribbling something on a napkin during the whole exchange, crossed something out, murmured, "No, that should be more active," and began scribbling again. Before Toby could speak, however, the door opened again, and a mild-looking man in BDUs wandered in. He looked as though he'd expected to find himself in his neighborhood library, and had instead ended up in a JiffyLube in Kyoto; his expression said, Oh, not again. "Excuse me," he said, and then he lifted both hands slowly. "I'm Doctor Daniel Jackson, and I, uh, come in peace."

"Funny," Sheppard said.

Daniel smiled, put his hands down, and ambled over to the conference table. "Well, there did seem to be a lot of yelling going on," he said.

"McKay," Sheppard explained.

Daniel nodded, and grabbed a doughnut. "I heard. But it pays to be cautious. You never know when the co-worker who's yelling about something in Conference Room 2B will turn out to be a clone, or to be wearing a device that only makes him look human, or to have a Goa'uld explosive device implanted in his head."

"Implanted in his...?" Josh repeated, eyes wide.

"Or to be invisible," Daniel finished. "And even when it's none of those things, some people tend to throw things when they're angry." He looked around the room, peered closely at what seemed to be an empty space in the far corner, and took a large bite of blueberry crumb. "Jack, for instance. Hey, isn't that one of those things from Sam's lab?"

Everyone followed his gaze. "That's not from Carter's lab," McKay finally said, speaking slowly and clearly. "It's a lemon. It's not a scientific device, it's a, a -- wait, I thought you got all your knowledge back after you," he fluttered one hand up, and then down, "ascended and descended the last time."

"Right," CJ said, picking up a folder marked CLASSIFIED in big black letters, and rifling through the pages. "I wanted to talk to you about that, actually, because we foresee a few problems with the whole 'higher plane of existence' thing, in terms of the press."

"It's not a weapon," McKay went on, amping up the volume in case Daniel didn't understand. "Except to me, as I'm deathly allergic to citrus. Sheppard here think it's funny to threaten me with--"

"Understandable," Toby said. "Sam, do you have any allergies?"

"We could say that Dr. Jackson, in his capacity as cultural specialist and diplomat, went to -- no, was invited to -- live with another race of beings, in an act of friendship and understanding not just between different people and different races, but different universes," Sam said to CJ. "Or..."

"Or, 'went all glowy,' " Daniel said, pushing up his glasses as he bent down to inspect the lemon more closely. "That's what Jack calls it."

"Seriously," McKay said. "Did the Ancients wipe out all your memories of fruit? Or is it anything that -- do you remember squash? Not zucchini; the other kind. Because--"

"These," Toby said with a sweeping gesture, and a tragic expression somewhat marred by the fact that he'd managed to smear newspaper ink over his right eyebrow, "are the people upon whom our continued survival depends."

"What?" McKay asked. "This is interesting. I mean, he could have had his memories of fruit wiped out, or it could be anything yellow. Squash. Popcorn. Or, or school buses, or pencils, or--"

"School buses and pencils are orange," Sheppard said. "Always have been, always will be."

"Our continued survival," Toby repeated glumly. "As a species. All our collected knowledge, all our accomplishments. Jazz, twelve-year-old Scotch, the works of Shakespeare, of Dickens, of Dante, for the love of--they all rest in the hands of these people."

"Well, we're in charge of the government," Sam pointed out.

"He has a point, there, Toby," Josh said.

"Definitely not a lemon," Daniel said, straightening up. "You didn't get that in the commissary."

"Well, no," Sheppard admitted, as McKay made his alarmed, now face. "As a matter of fact, I got it from...from a basket. You know, with crackers and cheese and apples and fancy teabags and that shredded up cellophane they use in Easter baskets."

"A gift basket with lemons? Who gives lemons as a gift?" McKay demanded.

"Was this 'gift basket' in Sam's lab?" Daniel asked.

Sheppard just nodded, very slowly.

"That lemon's not going to...not going to explode, is it?" McKay asked anxiously. "Because, really, fatal citrus allergy here."

"No," Daniel said. "Well, probably not. At least...not exactly. I think."

"You think?" McKay, CJ and Josh chorused. Sam crossed something out and wrote something else in its place. Toby rolled his eyes.

"Not...exactly?" Sheppard asked, looking at the lemon as though it were a live grenade. "What, exactly, do you think it's going to do?"

"Give birth," Daniel said cheerfully.

"Oh," Sam said, "Yes! Birth to a new era of...Yeah, I can work with that."

"But...but the basket," Sheppard said.

"The cellophane was as close as we could get to nesting material," Daniel said. "The other stuff...well, some of it was for food, of course. The babies -- about fifteen to a litter, we think -- are born with sharp teeth, and big appetites. The cracker box and the teabags were just to make the nest look like a food basket. You know. Camouflage."

"Camouflage?" various people repeated.

"We not supposed to have pregnant aliens on base," Daniel said seriously. "The last time we--well, you probably don't want to know."

"I'm not ready to be a father," Sheppard said. "Maybe I'll just walk Mama Lemon here back to the lab. How much time do you think I have, anyway?"

"Judging from the color," Daniel said, squinting, "about three minutes."

"McKay, you're with me," Sheppard said, edging for the door. "Anybody gets in our way, zat 'em."

The two men took off at a pace that, had Sam Carter been there to measure it, might have set a new land-speed record for two men and a sort-of lemon.

"Okay," Daniel said, when they'd left. "I have a translation to get back to, so...anything else I can do for you?"

"Excuse me?" Josh said.

"You're awfully calm for someone's who's not sure if an alien lemon's going to explode or give birth," Toby said.

"It's definitely not going to explode," Daniel said. "Oh, you have coffee! My office is all out." He poured himself a large cup, and took a long sip. "It's not going to give birth, either."

Sam looked up, then. "So...what is it going to do?"

Daniel was heading for the door, but he looked back. "Rot, eventually, I guess. Unless someone slices it up and puts it near the teabags."

"So," Toby said, getting up from his chair, "it's really--"

"A lemon," Daniel said. "From the market down on 3rd and Salinas. I brought it in for Sam. Colonel Carter. She's got a cold, and she thinks it helps if she drinks tea with lemon. I guess she stuck it in the gift basket she got from the people in Accounting after she..." He looked up, his attention apparently caught by something across the room. "Uh, you know, I think that's classified."

"You did that to get rid of them," CJ said, a distinct note of admiration in her voice.

"Imagine if we could do that at budget meetings," Josh said. "I mean, they always have tea out next to the coffee, right?"

"Partly," Daniel agreed, smiling at CJ. "I mean, no offense, but it seemed like you needed the help. Not that that's unusual; it takes a while to get used to McKay. And the whole idea of the Stargate. And evil aliens. And cloning, and cloaking, and..." He put down his coffee, scratched his nose, looked thoughtfully around the room, and picked up his coffee again. "And invisibility, and...pretty much everything here, actually. And you haven't even met Vala yet."

"No offense taken," CJ said.

"You said, 'partly'," Toby said, looking at Daniel intently.

"Uh, yeah." Daniel made a face, and shuffled his feet, just slightly.

"So...the other part?"

"I...uh...we have a bet going," Daniel said. "I get twenty bucks from Jack every time I make Sheppard nervous. And from Mitchell. And Ronon, and sometimes General Landry. Don't tell Sheppard, okay?"

No one said anything for a moment, and then Toby sat down with a thump. "Sam, we need to get to work on the press statement," he said.

"Already started," Sam said. "I think we need to--"

"So, Toby," CJ interrupted, "you've decided this isn't so hopeless after all?"

"The evil aliens," Toby said, "don't stand a chance."

"Well, duh," said a voice that sounded a great deal like Jack O'Neill's, and in the far corner of the room a chair was pushed back, though no one was in it. Daniel smirked, nodded once, and made his way out of the conference room. The door hung open a minute after he'd left, and for some reason the SFs outside saluted, but inside the conference room the machinery of government was already gearing up for another challenge; no one noticed a thing.