X Marks the Spot
Epilogue: Penny Lane
- - x - -
Jack nodded to the airman on duty outside the door of one of the rooms at the RAF hospital on the base at Akrotiri. The base was sovereign territory of the United Kingdom, and the base commander, Major General Pearson, had made it clear that he would offer courtesy accommodations to the Americans as long as they didn't get in the way or make a nuisance of themselves. Since their most immediate need had been medical facilities for Dr. Najjar, they'd been glad to accept whatever was available.
"Sir, let me unlock that for you – "
Jack quirked a smile that had little real humour in it. "Don't bother."
"Tell ya what. I'll betcha a case of the best local beer that it's not locked." Jack didn't wait to see whether his bet would be taken; he turned the handle and went in. Behind him, he heard the airman emit a choked sound.
Inside, the room was small, neat, furnished comfortably although not lavishly. The medical equipment had been cleared out of the room altogether when it had been pressed into service as guest quarters. MacGyver was sitting at a small table, chin propped in his hands, avidly studying a computer screen full of text. The table beside him held a small stack of books and half a dozen file folders. Jack recognised Daniel's handwriting on some of the scattered papers.
Jack cleared his throat. "The door was unlocked."
Mac didn't look up. "I suppose this is your idea of payback?"
Jack didn't answer. After several minutes, Mac looked up at him, glowering. Jack gestured at the books and papers and computer screen. "Looks like Sam and Daniel gave you plenty to read while you've been waiting."
This time, it was Mac's turn to not answer. Jack rolled his eyes. "C'mon, Mac. It wasn't on my orders. In fact, I told the base commander it was a stupid idea. You wanna cut me a little slack here? It's partly your own fault, you know. How'd you manage to get yourself declared persona non grata in both Syria and Turkey anyway?"
"Oh. That." MacGyver looked chagrined. "You mean – I thought all this – " he waved a hand around the windowless room and the guarded door that should have been locked. " – I thought it was, you know, because of being a civilian. Since your unit's so top secret it doesn't even exist."
"Well, yeah, I think the commander was thinkin' about that. Only he was wrong about you. Anyway, thanks for hangin' around . . . since I'm guessin' that you coulda waltzed right off the base any time you wanted to." He jerked his head sideways towards the door. "Anyway. You got a minute? My CO finally got here. He's waiting to meet you."
As they left the room, Mac cleared his throat. "They haven't let me see Lacie since early this morning."
"She seemed to be coming round when I looked in on her about five minutes ago."
MacGyver looked at him with surprise and unspoken gratitude. "Have they figured out yet just what happened to her?"
"I'm not sure. But she's bein' looked after by the best."
"Your Doctor Frasier seemed real sharp to me."
"Best doctor I've ever had sticking me full of pointy things. And that's sayin' a lot. We keep her pretty busy."
"Yeah, I'll bet."
They rounded a corner and nearly ran into Sam.
"Whoa! Watch it, Carter!"
"Colonel! Mac! I was just looking for you – Lacie's recovered consciousness, and Janet's confirmed she isn't carrying a Goa'uld or any other ugly surprises. She says she thinks she'll recover fully."
Mac's face lit up, but Jack's expression turned serious. "Have they got any idea how much she remembers?"
"Not much, so far anyway. She doesn't even remember finding the throne room."
Mac looked from one to the other, the pleasure in his face ebbing. "That oughta make your cover-up a lot easier."
Sam winced. Jack gave an eyebrow shrug. "Well, yeah. Daniel and Teal'c have gone back there with a couple of airmen, to check out how much of a mess was left and try to clean it up."
"I suppose you're gonna destroy all the photos and records?"
"Just from the throne room," Sam replied, her heart sinking at the look on MacGyver's face. "They'll collect the other Bad Pennies and fill in the holes – "
"We figure we can put out a story that somebody was tryin' a little freelance treasure hunting."
"And are you collecting the graduate assistants also?" Mac demanded. "And digging more holes to put them into?"
Jack threw up his hands. "Aw, crap, Mac, would you lighten up? We have to make sure they aren't carryin' passengers either."
- x -
As they approached the ad hoc briefing room, Mac could hear two voices in animated and jovial conversation; although he couldn't make out any words, he knew one of the voices well enough to identify the speaker just from the patterns of the vocal tones. His face broke into a broad grin.
As they entered, the second man was just asking, in an unmistakable Texas accent and a tone of complete incredulity, "How many camels?"
"Four!" Pete Thornton replied, laughing. "Three purebred racing camels, with gilded saddles and halters and all the fancy trappings you can imagine, and one incredibly cranky male camel – I think that was in case Mac wanted to set up a camel-breeding operation."
"Good to hear the sheik was so appreciative."
MacGyver poked his head into the room, with Jack peering behind him. "Pete – did you hafta tell that darned story again?" He was grinning from ear to ear as he crossed to the old man in a few quick strides and embraced him. "I can't believe it! They dragged you all the way out to Cyprus?"
Pete gestured towards the other man. "MacGyver, I'd like you to meet someone very special: this is General George Hammond, US Air Force. You can trust him and rely on him. And there aren't a lot of generals I'll say that about."
"Yeah, no kidding." Mac eyed General Hammond thoughtfully.
Hammond was looking from MacGyver to Jack and back again, carefully. "Well, I'll be damned."
"And he isn't even a robot double in a wig," Jack said.
Mac rolled his eyes. "Yeah, right. And I'm not a clone, or a shapeshifting alien, or Jack's twin from another dimension, or . . . that was a joke, right?"
"Son, you better sit down," said Hammond.
"Is that an order?" Mac's eyes narrowed.
"No, it's a suggestion. In fact, I'd say it's a recommendation." He turned to Pete Thornton. "It really is like seeing double. Except for the hair, of course."
Pete smiled. "It's like hearing double." He peered at Jack, shaking his head. "So, Mac, that's what you'd look like if you ever actually got a real haircut?"
"Pete, don't you start on that – "
"After this, I swear I'll stop nagging you about it. Never again." Pete shuddered theatrically.
"Hey," Jack spluttered.
Mac perched on the table next to Pete's chair. He was grinning like a small boy. "It's not that I'm not glad to see you, Pete, but what the heck are you doin' here?"
"Oh, just drumming up a little extra business for us. I hope."
"Colonel Thornton has been briefing me on the Phoenix Foundation's extensive portfolio of defense contract work," said Hammond. "Including a good many projects so top secret that I didn't know they'd even been involved."
"I could've told you about some of them, sir . . . " Sam started.
"Colonel?" Jack interrupted.
Pete held up his hands in a deprecating gesture. "Long since retired."
"How'd you make it stick? I never did figure that one out."
- x -
As Jack and MacGyver left the briefing room some time later, they could hear Hammond asking, "One other thing, Pete. Just what did your man do with all those camels after all that?"
Mac winced. Jack looked at him thoughtfully.
"What?" Mac said irritably. He couldn't figure out Jack's expression.
"I'm still tryin' to imagine you in Vietnam," Jack said slowly. "It's not working."
"And Afghanistan," Mac said. "That was a bit later, though."
Mac waved one hand noncommittally, as if he could sketch the answer in the empty air. "I had this chemistry professor – he knew I wanted to do something. There was so much killing going on, so many people dying . . . he had some contacts, he pulled strings, they pulled strings. Next thing I know, I'm on a plane to Saigon, talkin' to this skinny black kid barely older than I was, just as crazy, with a headful of crazy ideas for out-thinkin' bombmakers."
"Crap, Mac, you musta seen actual combat before I did! And I can't wrap my head around how you ended up with Special Forces. At that age? You do not just go skipping a grade with those guys!"
Mac shrugged. "I was attached to their unit in 'Nam. My bomb-busting partner and I weren't military, and after all the trouble it took to get us out in the field, the brass got nervous. We got a reputation pretty fast, and I guess they thought we were gonna get targeted. Anyway, after a while, the SF guys kind of adopted me."
"Adopted you?" Jack's voice was incredulous.
"Well . . . we'd just cleaned up our twenty-third bomb, and on the way back to Saigon, I made the whole unit stop and wait in sauna heat and a cloud of stinging bugs while we checked out a wrecked bicycle that somebody had dumped by the road."
"Yeah. That was number twenty-four. After that, they didn't treat us like unwanted baggage." Mac's eyes had taken on a faraway look. "There were some real good guys in that unit. They taught me a lot."
"Yeah," Jack murmured. "I'll just bet. You ever see any of them these days?"
Mac smiled, or grimaced. "Kinda. Every time I'm in Washington, I stop at the Wall and thank them and tell them I'm still okay."
- x -
Jack could hear MacGyver's voice clearly from well outside the open door to Mac's temporary quarters. "Wait a minute – you're sayin' these people – "
"The Tollans," Sam prompted.
"Yeah, the Tollans – they'd trashed their own planet so completely that they'd never even seen so much as a cat, and then they came all superior about being 'highly advanced'? Where'd they get off? Did they think it's 'highly advanced' to sterilise your whole planet? The heck with whatever their technology is. You'd think they coulda figured out they could learn a few things from us!"
Jack leaned against the doorway. "Y'know, Carter, I never thought of putting it to them that way. Maybe we should try that if we ever get a chance. Good thing we didn't give them a dog."
"I did think about that, sir. Cats are pretty good at looking after themselves. I actually named him Schrödinger because he always managed to get at food even when it was inside a sealed box." She cocked her head at Jack. "How are the debriefings going?"
"What debriefings?" Mac asked.
"Lacie's graduate assistants. Didn't the Colonel tell you . . . ?" she looked at Jack's expression and made a face. "Sorry, sir."
"Permission granted to extract foot from mouth, Carter." Jack held up a hand. "No need to go ballistic, Mac. We've been all nice and fluffy with them, and they've been very cooperative." Jack smiled, a false flat smirk. "I've just been chatting with them while Doc Frasier runs a jillion tests and deprives them of bodily fluid samples. But she's nice even when she's sticking pointy things into you. Much nicer than me."
"We're telling them the same cover story we told Lacie," Sam explained. "We're attributing her memory lapses on the 'mysterious high fever' she had – which is also a very good cover for all the medical tests and the extended observation period. She's been asking about you – she thinks you're being kept in isolation till we're sure you didn't get it too."
"We got the grad students all nervous about the fever being contagious, and then they calmed down and felt way better because they were out of danger," Jack said. "They were kinda confused once their minds stopped being messed with – they couldn't even remember leaving the dig, and poof, there they were back in Kansas."
"You're kidding me," MacGyver spluttered. He was scowling. "After running out on her like that, they don't even remember doin' it?"
Sam held up a hand. "Mac, they probably couldn't help it. Janet has a theory – she suspects the Goa'uld who was posing as Aphrodite programmed an aversion response into the DNA of the original local population – a variation on the methodology of the subsonic broadcasts from the Bad Pennies. They're all Cypriot, after all, and the gene pool's been relatively contained for centuries, except in the Turkish regions."
"And since the native population was impacted much more profoundly than anyone who wasn't from the area – Janet and I think the archeological team must have triggered a security protocol when they were in the throne room the first time. We know that Lacie activated something, and we don't know just where she found that amulet, or what else happened in there."
"No, no, hang on a second here – Sam, are you seriously talkin' about genetic manipulation? Genetic experiments on humans? Four thousand years ago?"
"Yes, exactly – "
"Slow down, Carter," Jack said. "You just pegged the needle on the Outraged Ethics meter. He's gonna take a bit to calm down now." MacGyver glared at him. "All true, Mac. The Gooulds can do it, they've done it before, they'll do it again and think it's fun."
Mac looked from Jack to Sam, speechless. Sam swallowed at the look on his face: the light had gone out of his eyes completely, as if the entire night sky had gone into eclipse.
"Anyhow, the kids are gonna be okay. By the time they're all back sifting sand, they'll think nothin' bad happened." Jack jerked his head in the direction of the door. "You coming? I thought you'd like a chance to check in with Doc Lacie. And your boss wants to talk with you before he leaves the base."
"MacGyver," Sam called as he was leaving. He turned to look at her. "Are you doing all right?"
Mac glanced over his shoulder to make sure that Jack was already far enough down the hallway to be out of easy earshot. He shrugged. "I'm – it's just that it's a lot to deal with – Sam, I've spent most of my life tryin' to save just a few of the people in a few corners of this one planet . . . and now you're telling me that the whole galaxy's full of planets of people who need help." He buried his hands in his jeans pockets. "Whole constellations of slave worlds . . . how'm I supposed to go back to stargazing now, knowing all that?"
Sam met his look with a brittle smile. "I bet you'll find that the wonder is still there. It's just . . . well, different."
Mac smiled faintly. "Do you really have ray-guns that stun people without killing them?"
"Uh, yeah. But they hurt like hell."
- x -
Mac caught up with Jack easily, and raised an eyebrow when Jack slowed down and took an unnecessary turn. Figures. He can't actually say that he wants to talk.
"Teal'c and Daniel just checked in," Jack said casually. "They're on their way back from the dig site. Daniel says it doesn't look too bad there – well, expect for the place where the roof fell in on the throne room, of course. That's toast. The rest of the spooky tunnels are there, and your guy Thornton is gonna go into Nicosia and talk to the guy in charge of digging up ruins – "
"You mean the Director of Antiquities?"
"Whatever. Anyway, he – Thornton, I mean – he's gonna make sure Lacie doesn't lose her shoveling license or anything. I guess since she doesn't even remember finding the throne room, she won't miss it too much. There's a season for digging stuff up, right? We're gonna wait till it's over and then send in a crew to see if they can retrieve any of the stuff from what used to be the throne room."
"Nice of you to give Lacie a chance to finish her work," Mac said drily.
"Well, if we try to muscle her aside, it'll just draw more attention. We really don't want that. Daniel's gonna give her a bunch of notes about the inscriptions – I guess he's better at reading that stuff than she is." Jack cleared his throat. "You know you're free to leave any time . . . if you want to go back to shoveling sand yourself."
"You tryin' to get me out from under foot?"
"Well . . . " Jack shrugged. "I gotta admit I'm not sure about the idea of you and Carter being alone in the same room."
Mac glowered at him, and Jack swore he could see his cousin's neck reddening. "Why not? You afraid I'll try to take advantage of her or something?"
"Whoa, get a grip. Nothin' like that. I just get a bit nervous thinkin' about what might happen if both of you put all your brains to work on the same thing at the same time. I'm not sure the galaxy can handle the strain."
Mac tried to punch him in the shoulder. Jack smirked and evaded the blow easily. "You never did learn how to fight, did you?"
"Depends on what kind of fighting."
"Yeah, I guess it does." They walked for a few steps in silence. "But what about the guns? You musta had to deal with the guns."
MacGyver shrugged. "Yeah. I dealt with them."
"Yeah? How? Take 'em apart and use the bits for other things?"
Mac shrugged and gestured vaguely. "Well . . . yeah, sometimes . . . "
"Well, you can keep your damned mitts off my P90, thang kyew. And the rest of it – gettin' your wings? And your pilot's license? Mac, my memory sucks on some things, but I coulda sworn you hated heights."
"I did. I do."
"Look." Jack stopped dead. "I got Crazy Jimmy Taylor good 'n drunk after he got back. The 'head case' from Special Forces that he said brought him home had to parachute in, free-climb a nice sheer cliff about a mile high, and then jump off it again." Jack gestured emphatically, stretching his arms as far up as he could. "Crap, maybe I shoulda figured it was you all along – I remember now, he said the guy had a Swiss Army Knife."
"And a paper clip," Mac said brightly. "I had a real good paper clip with me that day."
Jack stopped walking, turned and frowned at Mac. He'd caught the false note in Mac's voice.
MacGyver thought about changing the topic – Jack would probably let him get away with it – or simply turning another corner down another unnecessary hallway. Instead, he found himself saying, "The mission in Mongolia – the one where I found Captain Taylor – it was kind of a mess. They didn't tell me he'd survived the plane crash, even though they had to have known. Anyway, things got real hot real sudden. I grabbed an MAK-47 and put holes in half a dozen guys' hats."
He swallowed. "Later on, I started thinkin' about what woulda happened if my aim had been off, or if the sights hadn't been just right. Jack, I had the shakes for a week. I haven't fired a gun since then."
He was studiously examining the nearest wall, hands in pockets, not looking at Jack as he braced for the inevitable acid comment.
The comment didn't come. After several minutes, Mac looked up to see his cousin studying him with an unreadable expression.
"Mac . . . that last visit of mine, when we were kids – " This time it was Jack who stuffed his hands in the pockets of his BDUs and turned away, looking at everything except MacGyver. Finally, he blurted out, "I said a lot of things I shouldn't have. I know that now."
Mac rubbed his chin and didn't answer.
"I didn't know about your buddy getting shot. Your mom told me afterwards, when she was reading me the riot act and kicking me out and telling me not to come back – "
"I never asked her to do that, Jack – "
"Fer cryin' out loud, I know it was my fault. You don't have to rub it in, Mr. Sensitivity. Anyway, she told me about the accident. I didn't say anything to you after that – "
"You hardly had a chance to."
"Wouldn't have helped. I was way too full of shit that whole decade to apologise for anything. Your mom told me about how Jesse died, but I really didn't get it even then. I had to learn the hard way – look. Thing is, you've still got a kid, and I don't, and that's why." He finally looked at Mac. "And if you go all fuzzy-wuzzy on me now, or say you totally understand, or ask me why I'm still in the military after all that, I swear I'll knock you sideways again."
Jack looked away again, quickly. "Anyway. Hammond wants me to make sure you're clear about all the non-disclosure items. Saving the planet's a lot like covert ops, but I bet you already figured that out. Nobody gets to hear about it. Kinda sucks."
Mac made a face. "I thought I'd gotten away from all that."
"It never goes away, Mac. It comes back and hides under the bed. Anyway, like I said, you don't have to stay here on the base. You're free to go any time. You'll be cleared to come back and check on Doc Lacie, of course. Hell, about the only thing you're not cleared for is offworld travel, and that's only cause you haven't had all your shots yet."
Jack saw the glow that leaped into Mac's eyes at that remark, and hid his smug triumph. Gotcha, Brainy-Mac. Hook, line, and sinker. After a moment, he added, "Hammond asked me what I thought about having you on my team."
"He . . . did?"
"Yeah. I told him it was a really bad idea." He had to swallow a smirk at the reaction he saw. "C'mon, Mac. It'd be just too weird. Besides, there are some pretty heavy guys out there already don't like my face. You'd have to deal with that."
"Jack, I'm pretty good at dealin' with stuff, just in case you hadn't figured that out yet – "
"Mac, it could get you killed. Real fast. And real messy – the Buying It menu offworld runs from explosive decompression to alien torture gizmos, and it doesn't stop there – "
The rest of SG-1 finally found them, several minutes later, still deep in heated discussion. "Hey, guys. We've been looking for you all over," Daniel began cheerfully, but Sam shushed him, a gleeful look in her eyes. Teal'c was already listening avidly.
"You gotta admit, it could really mess with some minds out there."
"The hair's the big problem, though."
"Not too bad. You'd have to get a haircut is all."
"No. You grow yours."
"Okay, okay, fine. So that's out. Although . . . I bet we could find you a wig . . . "
~ ~ fin ~ ~
As usual I owe massive thanks to many people:
Thothmes, my archeology beta, who kept the dirty details clean
Skyler, who let me pick her brain about Cyprus
Missy, who made sure I had camels
Lothi, because it's still her fault
And especially Liz, the techno-wiz, without whom I would have no Bad Pennies.
Also Fig Newton, who definitely shares the blame. Fig, you cook a fine Soup.
- x -