Chapter XX - Out of Mind
"I guess Carter'll be there by now," O'Neill said, as they approached Peyton. "Page her, would you, Teal'c."
Teal'c did so. They waited for her to 'phone back with increasing apprehension as the minutes ticked by with no response.
"Try her again, Teal'c."
Again there was no response. O'Neill had a bad feeling in the pit of his stomach. It was so not like Carter not to call in with a progress report as soon as she arrived back in the Springs. And she must be there by now. Surely? He wondered if she'd come off the road further back and they'd passed her by unknowing... Couldn't think of any places where it was likely though. She was a good rider - a very good rider.
The thought that Peruzzi might have driven her off the road arose only to be dismissed. She would be as anonymous to him as he was to her. No. Either she'd had an accident or something had happened in Colorado Springs and O'Neill's money was on the latter.
A.S.M. Joe Nazarian zipped up his leathers, picked up his helmet and took a last look around the stage area at the Pike's Peak Centre before leaving. Sadie Mason was singing 'With A Little Bit of Luck' as she swept the foyer and he gave her a cheery wave as he passed through.
He left the building in time to hear the first shot which he initially dismissed as a bike back-firing. As he reached the parking lot, two more shots left no room for doubt. Mesmerized, he watched the scene unfold - gasped at the sudden arrival of a fellow biker - looked on in horror as bike and rider flew through the air when yet more shots were fired.
Ducking low, he snaked towards the fallen biker as another man went down. The contours of the biker indicated a female. Knowing not to remove her helmet, he checked for injuries as well as he could without moving her. He was thankful to find a pulse, then his hand found something warm, wet and slightly sticky. As the van drove off, Joe fished out his cell 'phone and called 911, then ran back to the Center for the First Aid kit.
Back outside again, he unzipped the rider's jacket and packed wadding over the wound in her shoulder. That done, he glanced around and found another shooting victim. His pulse was weak and thready. Joe packed the wound in his abdomen as well as he could, then looked around the parking lot to see if there was anyone else wounded. Thinking back, he'd seen a third person go down as the van drove off. As he headed for the exit, he heard a groan from the street outside and went towards it.
There was another man down on the sidewalk. As he approached, the man pushed himself up on to his elbows. Joe ran towards him.
"Take it easy, guy," he said, "I called the emergency services."
The man responded by grabbing Joe's arm and pulling himself to his feet, then he doubled up in pain.
"You gotta take it easy, man," Joe insisted, amazed at the guy's resilience, "You've been shot."
"I'm - I'll be okay," the man gasped, clutching his side.
He fended off Joe's restraining hand and staggered towards the woman rider. He took one look and pulled out his cell 'phone.
"Janet?" he said, his voice ragged with his shortened breath, "Sam's been shot .... Peak's Pike Center .... parking lot .... Thanks, Jan."
"Your other friend's been shot too," Joe told him. "He don't look so good."
"He's no friend of mine," the man growled, slumping down beside the woman. Shortly afterwards, the cops arrived and Joe went over to talk to them.
Daniel sat beside Sam and rested his head on his knees. Now that the effects of adrenaline were wearing off, he felt physically drained and emotionally numb. Around the sites of the two hits he'd taken, pain began to kick in.
He ran his dazed mind over the last few minutes that had turned delight into despair. How had it all gone so wrong? Where had Peruzzi suddenly appeared from? Worst of all, where was Serena? Who had her? What the hell use had he been to her? Sod all. And Sam she'd saved his life. He'd been looking straight down the barrel of the guy's gun. Now she was laid motionless beside him. What a mess!
The cops were heading his way as Janet's car arrived. She climbed out, dragging her medical kit from the front passenger seat and raced over.
"Ma'am" one of the cops began.
"Doctor Fraiser," Janet replied briskly before he could say more. "These two are my patients. I could use your flashlight to work by, please."
"Yes, Ma'am," he responded.
As she was assessing the damage, the paramedics arrived. While they were treating Peruzzi, the most seriously injured, Janet commandeered their resources to set up an IV line for Sam so she could at least improve her fluid balance. Very soon they were all on their way to the Air Force Academy Hospital, Janet following in her car with an agitated Daniel.
It was around 2300hrs. by the time O'Neill and Teal'c reached the outskirts of the Springs. Neither Sam nor Daniel were answering their pagers for whatever reason, nor had either of them called, which only served to increase their concern and did nothing at all for O'Neill's temper. He hated being kept out of the loop.
"If there have been any injuries, may they not have called DoctorFraiser first?" Teal'c suggested.
"Good thinking, T. Call her."
Teal'c did so and was gratified by a prompt reply.
"We're at the Academy Hospital," she said in response to his questioning about Major Carter, and told him about the shooting.
"I see," he replied gravely.
"Sam's in surgery at the moment. She took a bullet through the subclavian triangle, just above the clavicle - er, collar bone. The bullet passed straight through. It was a miracle it didn't hit anything vital. She was also concussed when she came off her bike, but I think she's going to be okay. I'll try to contact her father when we get to the S.G.C. and see if he can't accelerate the healing process."
"Do you know anything of the whereabouts of DanielJackson, DoctorFraiser?"
"Well, Daniel's here with me as well. He's playing the 'I'm fine' card right now. However, he was shot twice. The body armor seems to have absorbed most of the energy of the bullets, but there'll still be blunt force trauma at the site of the impacts. He'll have a couple of serious bruises at least. He also has a black eye and swollen jaw, and he's refusing any treatment. Well... you know Daniel!"
"Indeed I do, DoctorFraiser."
"We're going to the Mountain right about now. He doesn't know it yet, but I'm going to take a good look at those injuries. There may be lacerations and possible cracked ribs. Poor Daniel. He's far more concerned about Serena."
"Has Serena been injured also?" Teal'c asked.
This question fetched a startled look from O'Neill who swerved dangerously close to an oncoming truck. Flashing lights and vigorous use of the hooter forced him to return his attention to the road.
"I don't know," Janet replied. "She was snatched outside the Peak's Pike Center as they left the show."
"I am most disturbed to hear that, DoctorFraiser. Unfortunately, Niccolo Peruzzi eluded us. O'Neill has had much to say on the subject of his 'selling him a dummy'...?"
"Oh it wasn't Niccolo who took her. In fact he was shot too and he's in a critical condition here in the hospital."
"Then who has taken her?"
"I have no idea, Teal'c, but I'm going to have to go. Daniel wants me to drive him to the Mountain a.s.a.p. Something about tracing a bug..."
"Then perhaps we had better go to the S.G.C. also?"
"What, Teal'c?" O'Neill asked sharply, realizing that the situation was seriously fouled up, and frustrated at hearing only a very small part of the conversation.
"MajorCarter and DanielJackson have been shot and Serena has been kidnapped," Teal'c replied sombrely.
"Our presence in Cheyenne Mountain has been requested as soon as possible," Teal'c concluded.
Chapter XXI - Beneath the Surface
Janet and Daniel arrived at Cheyenne Mountain first and headed for the elevator. Daniel was as tense as a fiddle string, but looking pale and washed out under the fearsome-looking bruising. He made urgent representations to Janet about beginning to track down Serena, but Major Doctor Fraiser was unmoved.
"Right now, you are not in a fit state to do anything much except sleep and recover," she insisted, "and that's after I've checked you out."
"But Janet, the sooner we start looking, the sooner we'll find her," he argued.
"And your glasses are broken," she countered, producing the sad remains of his new spectacles.
"That's O.K., I've an old pair in my lab.," Daniel responded, reaching for the button for sublevel 18, and missing. "I'll just go and"
"Oh no you won't, Daniel," Janet said, pulling Daniel's hand away from the control panel. "You're not going anywhere until I'm satisfied it's safe for you to do so. Okay, the body armor stopped the bullets, but the blunt force trauma damage can still be life-threatening."
"I feel fine," he muttered.
"And you think that will convince me?"
"No more 'buts', Daniel. I don't query your translations of hieroglyphics, and you don't query my professional opinion. Do I make myself clear Doctor Jackson?"
With that, all the fight seemed to go out of him. His shoulders sagged as he slumped back against the wall of the elevator car. As if in slow motion, his face crumpled into misery, the other eye closing too and squeezing out a tear. He drew a jagged breath.
"I've lost her," he said despairingly, "and I couldn't do anything to stop it...!"
"Aw, c'm'ere, hun," Janet soothed, pulling him into a careful hug and feeling mute sobs shudder through him. "It's gonna be all right. Colonel O'Neill and Teal'c will be here soon. They'll take care of it."
Daniel pulled away from her.
"Them!" he growled bitterly, "They couldn't even keep tabs on one guy. What good are they gonna be against a whole armed gang?!"
"Buck up, Daniel," Janet coaxed as the elevator reached sublevel 21. "It's not like you to be so defeatist."
O'Neill and Teal'c went straight to Sam's lab. on their arrival. One of her computers was monitoring the bugs that Serena and Daniel were wearing. O'Neill twitched the mouse and the Hubble Deep Field screen-saver flipped to a map of Colorado. A blue marker blinking over Cheyenne Mountain told him that Daniel had already arrived. He would go down to the infirmary shortly, but wanted to be able to take an up-to-date report when he did so.
A red marker blinking over central Colorado Springs indicated that Serena was still in town and was apparently stationary. Good. Now all he needed to do was round up a few marines from S.G.-3 and/or S.G.-5, square it with Hammond and they'd have her back by - well probably not by midnight, Cinderella, but not too long afterwards. He clicked on 'zoom in' to get a more accurate fix on her position. The screen greyed over as the program reset itself, then the large-scale map was revealed from the top, working tantalizingly down the screen.
When more than half of the map was showing, Jack became uneasy. Surely the marker should have appeared by now? He was certain he'd centered the map over Serena's bug. His heart sank as the last of the map became visible. No blinking red marker. Either the bug had stopped working or someone had found it. But perhaps the map had centered itself before the signal was lost? He focussed on the centre of the screen. It seemed to be an industrial estate. Great. Just peachy. To check that it wasn't just a bug in the program, he zoomed out again. Yes, the blue marker was still blinking, but only the blue marker.
"We appear to be back at the first square," Teal'c observed glumly.
"Ya think?" Jack grouched.
With no further point in hanging around, he and Teal'c left the lab and headed for the infirmary. There were still curtains around Daniel's bed when they arrived.
"How is he, Doc?" Jack asked.
"Just a minute," she called back.
Doctor Fraiser pulled the curtains aside. Daniel was wearing a hospital gown, a black eye and a scowl.
"Déjà view, Daniel?" Jack asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Déjà vu, Jack," Daniel murmured and gave the ghost of a smile.
"How're ya doing?"
"Been better, but... been a whole lot worse, I suppose."
He certainly didn't look too good, but then, the facial decoration probably had a lot to do with that. He decided not to say anything about Serena if Daniel didn't ask. Doctor Fraiser wouldn't thank him for agitating her patient and would probably take it out on his own butt later.
"Doc?" he asked again.
"I'm just waiting for the full CT scan results to come through. He has a hairline crack in one rib and I'm hoping that the blunt trauma damage is limited to bruising only. Fortunately, he's fit and muscular so I think his body has withstood the impacts pretty well, though it may not look - or feel - that way right now."
"Oh good I think," Jack responded.
"At least you do not appear to be kicking Heaven's door this time, DanielJackson," Teal'c said with a deadpan look.
"That's kicking the buck er - knocking on Heav erm..." he floundered.
Then he caught the quirk at the corners of Teal'c's mouth and the gleam in his eye, and grinned.
"Ah..., right," he chuckled, wincing slightly.
"And now, you two go and fetch that pretty young lady back home," Janet ordered, pushing them towards the door with a significant look and a wink.
Chapter XXII - Menace
Daniel returned to consciousness a little after 0930hrs. and wished he hadn't. It felt like he'd just done twelve rounds with Mike Tyson. Instinctively he checked that both ears were still intact. Then he woke up. Serena! The memory of the previous night returned like a punch to his stomach. He groaned and looked blearily around. He was in the infirmary. So it hadn't been a nightmare. It had to have been horrendously real.
He threw back the covers as Dr. Fraiser arrived by his bed.
"And where do you think you're going?"
"Um... er... to find Serena" he began, then suddenly realized that he hadn't got a clue where to start.
~ Bugs. She wearing a tracking bug. Sam. He needed Sam. Oh God! The last time he'd seen her, she was flying through the air... ~
"Sam?" he asked Janet in a pleading voice. "How's Sam?"
"She's gonna be fine. All being well, she'll be transferred back here tomorrow."
The infirmary door opened and O'Neill and Teal'c walked in.
"Have you found her?" Daniel demanded, trying to stand up against Janet's restraining hand.
"Ah, no," Jack said ruefully.
Daniel's face fell.
"But I have found this," Teal'c added, holding up a hair-clip decorated with small enamel flowers.
"That's hers!" Daniel exclaimed, taking possession of it with reverence. "Apple-blossom - symbol of hope. Where did you find it?"
"It was outside the rear door of a warehouse," Teal'c replied.
"I guess she dropped it deliberately in case we came looking. Smart kid," Jack commented, "but then, I'd expect no less of someone who shares your genes, Daniel. We - ah - gained entry," Jack went on with a fleeting impish grin that suggested the use of C4, "and searched the place. Found this"
He pulled the crushed remains of the bug from his pocket.
"Guess they moved her elsewhere when they found it on her. The big question is - who they?"
"More of Stefano's hoodlums, I guess," Daniel scowled.
"I'm not so sure. Why shoot his brother if they're both working for the same guy?"
"It was an accident. There was a bit of a free-for-all and a gun went off..." Daniel tailed off as the scene replayed in his mind. Niccolo had run in from behind him - must have been in the van ready to drive off once they had Serena. So, why leave the van and join in the mêlée if they were all on the same side? Someone had knocked him out of the way with the butt of a gun, too. And why have two vans? Janet had been right about him not being fit for anything. He certainly hadn't been thinking straight last night.
"...You're right," he said, "they weren't working together."
After Daniel had managed to persuade Dr. Fraiser to sign him out of the infirmary, if not fit for active duty, Jack drove him back to the Peak's Pike Center to collect his car, taking Teal'c along too. The idea was to meet up at the Air Force Academy Hospital where the three of them would look in on Sam, see how she was doing, and decide how to proceed next. That was the plan...
Daniel decided to go home and change his clothes first, then maybe buy some flowers or chocolates for Sam. No. Make that flowers and chocolates. She had saved his life, after all. And when she was feeling better, he'd buy her something really special - whatever she fancied - to thank her properly.
He rode up in the elevator feeling very much alone. Serena had been a part of his life for less than four days, and he'd been riding that elevator on his own for over three years, and yet... Now there was a big hole next to him where Serena should have been. He stepped out and walked along the corridor to his apartment. As he inserted the key into the lock, the door swung open. His heart gave a little leap. Maybe she'd escaped by herself and come... Home?
Then other, less pleasant, thoughts gathered. He drew his gun. Cautiously, crouching low, he pushed the door wider and listened, wishing he'd brought Jack and Teal'c with him. No sound. No movement. He edged inside, his senses alert. Carefully, he checked out the apartment, feeling a sense of violation, but found no one, nor any signs of a burglary. He returned to the living room, puzzled. Then he saw it.
On the coffee table sat the chess set, the pieces all set ready for a new game. Except for the knights. They had all been gathered together in the four centre squares. Sandwiched between them was a long white envelope.
With shaking fingers, he extracted the envelope from its custodians. In dread of its contents, he slid his thumb under the flap and ripped it open. It contained a single sheet of folded paper and something else which slid on to the floor He read the four terse lines:
IF YOU WANT YOUR DAUGHTER BACK ALIVE, FOLLOW INSTRUCTIONS EXACTLY:
> DRIVE TO THE NORTH END OF CABLE LANE (RIGHT OFF ALTURAS DRIVE)
> BE THERE BY 12 NOON AND WAIT TO BE CONTACTED
> COME UNARMED - NO MORE TRICKS - TELL NO ONE
Daniel sat down suddenly, his legs having for the moment lost the ability to support his weight. He stared at the paper with glazed eyes, his breathing jerky and shallow. Something white on the floor caught his eye. It was a lock of long dark hair held together with fine white string.
Chapter XXIII - Into the Fire
"No" Daniel breathed, "no, no, no, NO! NO!!"
~ Not my little Serena... What kind of a useless father am I? Snap out of it, Jackson. Won't be any use to her wallowing in self-pity. Think. What to do - what to do... Guess I do as I'm told for now. I'm on my own on this one. Can't tell Jack. What time is it? Gone eleven o'clock. No time to see Sam now. Damn! He'll call me if I don't show at the hospital. Better switch my cell off. Don't want them to think it's a 'trick'. What do I tell him? Never mind - deal with it when I have to. Gotta go now. Don't want to be late. Wait. He might try to find me here. Can't leave any evidence ~
Having made his decisions, he slid the letter and the lock of hair back into the envelope, folded it in half and stuffed it into his jacket pocket. Next he removed the tracer bug, his pistol and holster, and thrust them into the bottom of the broom closet. He hadn't bothered to sign out another kevlar vest. A final glance around and he was on his way.
The traffic was lighter than expected and he arrived at the end of Cable Lane twenty minutes early. The road was a dead end. Time passed excruciatingly slowly. Daniel must have looked at his watch a dozen times in the first ten minutes. By the time half an hour had passed, his nerves felt shot to pieces. No! Bad metaphor! He was beginning to wonder if he'd somehow come to the wrong place when a guy in a chauffeur's uniform with peaked cap and dark glasses appeared beside his car.
"Dr. Jackson?" the man enquired politely, when Daniel opened his car door.
"Please come this way, sir."
Daniel locked his car and followed the man across the road and down a narrow track-way between the buildings on the other side of the road. A brisk walk soon brought them into another road where a limousine was parked. It had deeply tinted rear windows.
"Please put your hands on the car top and spread your legs, sir."
The chauffeur respectfully frisked him then opened a rear door for him to enter, and closed it when he was inside. Daniel found he had two travelling companions, both dressed in black and wearing balaclavas. One was pointing a long-barrelled pistol at him. O'Neill could have told him it was a .50 calibre Desert Eagle. The gun had its own language which Daniel didn't need to be a linguist to understand. The other man passed him a sleep-mask and told him to put it on, then it felt like a hood had been pulled down over his head. Only then did the car drive away.
Daniel tried to follow the route mentally, but after a few minutes, the twists and turns of the journey had him hopelessly lost. He tried to concentrate on the sounds outside the car then, but again, there was little to go on. A longish stretch of straight road told him he was on a divided highway, but whether it was expressway, freeway or Interstate, he had no way of knowing, nor which direction he was heading. No one had spoken.
He estimated that he'd been travelling for about forty minutes by the time the car reached its destination, but that didn't mean much. They could've been driving him round in circles. The car door opened and he was assisted to leave the vehicle. Daniel figured that he must be somewhere fairly private as they hadn't bothered to remove the hood.
His feet crunched on gravel - a driveway perhaps? Someone - the chauffeur? - took his right arm to guide him. Five steps and then he was walking on flagstones. It had sounded as if one of the goons from the limo. was walking behind him and one in front. What? They expected him to make a run for it when this seemed like the only way to get Serena back?
After fourteen slightly hesitant paces, he was guided round a ninety degree turn - around the corner of a house? He reached out his left hand as if to steady himself - felt smooth ashlar - let his fingers run along the wall a little way. After about a foot, they hit rough brickwork - and something growing. He snagged a leaf and slipped it into his pocket, then concentrated on counting paces again. Thirty-two, then another turn. It seemed a large property. Another twenty-eight paces and he was brought to a standstill and turned another ninety degrees.
"Mind the step, sir," came the ever-courteous voice.
It was the chauffeur then. It was a high step, and despite the warning, Daniel tripped, but the driver held him steady. He was then walked across a large open space. The floor was smooth. Tiles? There was the tantalizing smell of coffee - and other smells. A kitchen perhaps?
"We're going down a flight of stairs next, sir, so be careful. They're rather steep and worn."
An old property then, mansion, maybe, and he was being taken down into the basement, or cellar. That was a little unnerving. It was noticeably colder down there, and smelled dusty, the kind of stone-dust smell that one associated with old buildings like churches. A few more paces and he was stopped again. There was a scraping sound behind him and something touched the back of his legs, then he was gently eased down into a chair.
"I'm sorry to do this, sir, but would you mind putting your hands behind the chair-back?"
Daniel did mind, but went along with it. He wasn't surprised to feel the cold touch of metal as handcuffs were snapped over his wrists. Only then were the hood and mask removed. The room was lit only by the light from a monitor on an old wooden table in front of him.
"Serena!" he gasped, straining forward.
She was fastened to a chair like him, though more securely. There was a strip of duct tape over her mouth and a bruise over one cheek mirroring his own, though less spectacular. He was uncertain as to whether the look in her eye was fear or fury. Possibly both.
"Yes, Serena," agreed a voice from a little loudspeaker beside the monitor, "alive and uninjured - more or less. Whether she continues in that way depends entirely upon you, Dr. Jackson."
"What do you want?" Daniel demanded tersely.
"Twenty million dollars"
"What?! How the hell do you expect me to get that sort of money?! I'm an archaeologist, dammit, not a merchant banker!"
"Not money, Dr. Jackson - diamonds."
Daniel was speechless for several seconds.
"Diamonds?" he breathed incredulously. "You have to be kidding me. You expect me to rob a jewellery store? Where in Heaven's name would I get diamonds from?"
The voice told him, and Daniel's jaw dropped.