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A Cover's Story

by ACarlGeek
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Story Bemerkung:
Except for Sgt. PLMN's advice about sources and terms for military clothing in the first few paragraphs, and some minor adjustments in response to LJ comments, this story is unbetaed and all errors are mine.
A Cover's Story

From the start, I was proud to know that my existence would be dedicated to aiding one of the servicemen or servicewomen of my country. Whether I was issued to an enlisted airman or purchased by an Air Force officer, I would be doing my small part to protect and serve. Of course, my main duty would be protecting someone from getting sun in his or her eyes, but even such a small detail can occasionally be of vital importance.

After final assembly and inspection, I was assigned to a case of basic duty covers that were shipped out to join a quartermaster's supply inventory somewhere in Colorado. At a stateside base, I expected a leisurely stay in the Military Clothing and Sales stores (after all, the war's on the other side of the planet, or so I thought), but apparently this facility had a lot of personnel on active field duty and requisitions for replacement uniforms were a fairly common occurrence.

I never realized professional military garments could get bored enough to create some of the stories I heard while waiting on the shelf. Gossip I expected; after all, the pressure and tight community associated with active military personnel almost require gossip to allow venting of frustration or expression of relief at near misses. But some of the stories the uniforms worn by the supply staff presented as supposedly verbatim reports would warp your woof. I'd thought military garments were cut from better cloth.

It only took me three or four months to work my way to the front of the soft caps' shelf. When the supply sergeant finally picked me to fill a requisition in my size, I saw the entry for charging items to an officer, rather than simply issuing me to an enlisted man. For a moment, I relaxed all the way down to my seam binding; since officers pay for their uniforms, they have a tendency to be a bit more careful. However, serving my country to the best of my ability was woven into the very fabric of my being, so I had mixed feelings when I learned I was being issued to a colonel. I'd probably spend most of my career protecting my wearer from intense fluorescent lights in a hangar, when I wasn't waiting in a closet while his dress uniform got to see most of the 'action'.

Never-the-less, performing one's assigned duty comes with the top stitching, so I had little difficulty suppressing my misgivings about my 'distinguished' (yet most likely undistinguishable) deployment. "Keep it under your cap" is more than a motto for us military covers, it's our entire existence. I would do my duty and be proud to grace the head of a leader, in whatever capacity that leader served. As it turned out, my colonel's dress uniform was the one who held the front lines against invading dust. I was busy elsewhere.

The basic duty jacket in my colonel's locker actually snickered when I expressed my contentment at learning that Colonel O'Neill led an active field team. I expected more proper decorum from a service uniform. How can we protect our wearer if we aren't serious about our duty? Obviously, I was going to have quite a job keeping this uniform team in shape.

I wasn't helped by Colonel O'Neill's unnecessary efforts to reshape ME, but I'm getting ahead of myself (which isn't really that surprising for a hat, I'm designed to get a head).

My first impression of Colonel O'Neill was favorable. While he was changing from civvies into the rest of his green BDU, I had time to observe his experienced economy of motion and habitual adherence to uniform regulations. I also registered the lean lines and neatly trimmed greying hair that confirmed his respect for his own person and military bearing. Not that I'd expected any less of a full bird colonel.

Then he pulled me down from the top shelf of the locker and proceeded to crush the edges of my bill into an unseemly curve. Of course I resisted. I'd passed inspection both at the factory and when I was unpacked here at Cheyenne Mountain. I did not need to be reshaped into some non-regulation curlicue. I'd fully expected that I'd need to do some stretching and bending to conform to my wearer's head, and it's not as if I'm anywhere near as stiff as those starched basic duty covers of the marines, but there are limits!

The jacket snickered again. The tac vest muttered something indistinct about respect for sacrificial victims (or was that virgins?), which shut the jacket up as I was finally placed atop the colonel's head. Then we were out of the locker room and I was too intent on the scenery around me to pay much attention to the rest of the uniform. They'd all seen this before and considered it, well, old hat. However, I was a new hat and the rounded grey walls, respectful acknowledgement from passing airmen, and general air of bustling activity were novel to me.

All those months in the quartermaster's supplies, and I never had learned exactly what went on at this base. SOP secured decommissioned uniform items in a completely different area from where new clothing was stored, so we'd only had wild speculation about what fates befell our predecessors. A pair of gloves that had been dropped during transit insisted that decommissioned clothing was routinely quarantined and then incinerated, but even those of us in the Olive Drab bins weren't green enough to believe that.

Colonel O'Neill proceeded straight to a medical wing where a nurse performed a quick medical check; then we took an elevator ride down several levels and wound our way through to a control room filled with some serious monitoring and communication equipment. The technical staff assured O'Neill that there'd been no change in the MALP data, so General Hammond had not modified their orders, and SG-1's departure for P6W-428 was on schedule for 08:30. Since it was 08:21, I wasn't surprised that O'Neill's next destination was to pick up a pack and sign out weapons, some of which were decidedly unfamiliar. However, instead of heading for the elevator back to the surface to depart, the team rendezvous point was apparently an "Embarkation Room" that contained more instrument panels, a big stone ring, and a ramp to nowhere. With all due respect, I do wish that covers were required rather than discouraged at mission briefings. Just because we provide shade doesn't mean we like to be kept in the dark. Quite the opposite, in fact.

I didn't have time to do more than inquire about departure SOP (was the jacket suppressing a full-fledged giggle this time?) before an impressively large and dignified man strode into the room. "O'Neill." was the only word that issued from his mouth as he nodded his clean-shaven head respectfully to my wearer and then turned to face the metal ramp.

"Morning, Teal'c. The others behind you?" Inquired O'Neill as he surveyed what was evidently a member of his team. Uniform, pack, and weaponry, both odd and familiar, were all impeccably in order, aside from the blatant absence of a proper cover for his head. The gold tattoo on the man's forehead was something I'd never seen before, but it certainly added to the sense of implacable power that emanated from him. Maybe that was why Teal'c wore no hat. If I hadn't been several sizes too small, I would have gladly helped shade that keen gaze. This sort of back-up from O'Neill's team helped explain, but did not excuse, the jacket's relaxed attitude about the colonel's personal security.

"Indeed." The single rumbled word had barely left Teal'c's formidable visage when a woman marched smartly into the room, clipping her automatic rifle to her tac vest as she strode toward O'Neill and Teal'c.

She glanced up as she finished securing her weapon, her confident expression mirroring her competent body language. She nodded to her teammates in turn, "Morning, Sir. Teal'c." As with Teal'c, her pack, weaponry, and uniform were neatly in order, and in her case, complete, since she wore a standard issue cap of her own. The uneven and frizzy blonde hair escaping from beneath that cover's efforts to conceal it was another matter. Its length was barely within regulations, and it apparently hadn't been combed before she reported for duty. Obviously, the tendency toward undisciplined giggles in O'Neill's jacket wasn't the only laxness sprouting on this team. I was rather astonished when O'Neill's reply to her greeting indicated that a captain would report for duty in such disarray.

I suppose Captain Carter's marginal adherence to regulations and military propriety should have given me some sort of warning for the apparition that followed her through the doorway, but I don't think anything could have prepared me for the floppy, undisciplined abomination that bounced into the room with loose ties dangling in unfettered chaos. Couldn't that spineless jellyfish even TRY to look alert and at attention? Of course, the wearer underneath that shapeless boonie was obviously a poor influence. His uniform was baggy, his jacket and tac vest were both incompletely fastened, the holster for his only weapon was improperly strapped to his leg, his pack bulged in odd places, unsecured glasses threatened to slide off his nose as he wrestled with something in a pocket of his tac vest, and the only positive thing that could be said about his non-regulation-length hair was that, unlike Captain Carter, he appeared to have combed it before slapping on that embarrassing hat. The vagrant wore no sign of rank insignia, but whether that was due to laxness or a failure to earn any rank above Airman was unknowable. Was this some sort of joke?

Apparently not. Rather than giving the inattentive newcomer a dressing down proportional to his degree of uniform faults and failure to acknowledge a superior officer, O'Neill simply asked, "Was that new video camera ready, Daniel?" Oh, I so dislike surnames that are also common given names; it sounds too informal when using them on duty. Maybe Airman Daniel would be better at meeting military standards if his name were the more common 'Daniels' or 'O'Daniel'?

The boonie and head under it came up at O'Neill's question. "Yeah, fits nicely into a cargo pocket." Daniel gently patted the bulging pouch on one pantleg, "but they didn't have a proper field container for spare memory cards, yet, so ..." he tapped the pocket with which he'd been preoccupied, "a couple Ziplocs will have to do for now." He smiled expectantly at O'Neill, apparently oblivious to his multiple infractions of proper military protocol.

Despite the additional provocation, O'Neill merely nodded in apparent approval, rather than disapprobation. Why wasn't this colossally unprofessional underling getting even a frown of warning for reporting for duty in such a sloppy state? I was confused, and not just about O'Neill's failure to express disapproval when the situation obviously merited it. Where were we going that we'd need a dweeb with a video camera? Why were we assembling 28 stories underground for an Air Force mission?

Those questions and several others were put on standby when several things happened at once. O'Neill turned to look back up toward the control room, where General Hammond was speaking to the technicians. The technicians nodded, activated some controls, and an odd metallic sliding/grinding noise started up behind us. The general locked gazes with O'Neill through the glass window and nodded once. O'Neill directed a deep acknowledging nod and a very non-regulation wave back to the general as the sliding noise behind us stopped with a loud 'clunk' and the technical sergeant next to the general announced into a microphone, "Chevron One encoded."

O'Neill turned back to his team as the sliding/grinding sound resumed, "As you know, there was no change in the MALP readings, so our orders stand." O'Neill grinned at his team, "We're off to see the lizards!" I began to suspect the source of this team's inadequate adherence to military decorum was under my very own brim.

SG-1 did not return O'Neill's grin. Teal'c raised a dignified eyebrow and maintained a challenging silence. Carter muttered an insubordinately reluctant, "Whatever you say, sir". Daniel trumped them both by actually grimacing in disapproval as he shook his head, rolled his eyes, and heaved an aggrieved sigh. All three of them pointedly turned toward the ramp to nowhere and the big ring, which was obviously the source of the sliding noise and clunks, as the inner part rotated within the stationary outer ring.

O'Neill turned to face the ramp with a self-satisfied smirk. Several of the decorative chevrons were now glowing red, and a fifth one clunked into life as the inner ring paused for a moment. The technical sergeant announced, "Chevron 5, encoded." Evidently all these clunking chevrons meant something, but the rest of O'Neill's uniform remained mum as to what. In fact, most of O'Neill's uniform seemed to be bracing itself, and a fatalistic sigh escaped the taciturn tac vest. The jacket started laughing maniacally.

As chevron 6 was encoded, Colonel O'Neill chose to don a pair of sunglasses. Inside. Twenty-eight stories below ground. As if I couldn't provide adequate shade from the fluorescent lights? The only comment I got from the sunglasses was a condescending, "Don't mind the jacket. It hasn't been the same since that incident with the acidic phosphorescent mud. They got the glowing stains out, but no amount of laundering can salvage the edge for a garment that's been violated all the way through to its buttons like that." Yeah. Sure. Right. Why do sunglasses think they're so smart when they're always the last to get the message? Yes, I'm the new boy, and I'm olive green, but I'm still not that green, Bucko!

Then chevron 7 locked and water whooshed in from nowhere, only apparently it wasn't actually water. Okay, so I guess that ramp doesn't go to nowhere, but what's with the big rippling mirror? The shades and I were busy protecting O'Neill's eyes, and the only other part of O'Neill's uniform making any kind of comment was the still-cackling jacket.

General Hammond's voice echoed through the embarkation room, "You have a go for P6W-428, SG-1. Godspeed." O'Neill and his team followed a loaded FRED up the ramp and into the rippling mirror. I hung on because that seemed the most appropriate thing for a military cover to do at that moment.

Cold! I was frozen in place on the colonel's head, but there was an impression of speed and twisting and space and nowhere all mixed together. As soon as I started to get used to the dizzying sensation, it stopped and we were standing on a rock platform in the middle of a big green meadow, or maybe a rocky grassland, or the border between the woods and a rocky grassland, with lizards on the rocks. Lots of lizards on lots of rocks. Lots of grass and short plants, too. Just a few trees. And sky, a little more lavender than proper sky blue, but definitely a partly cloudy SKY, instead of a ceiling more than two dozen stories below ground....

It took me a minute to shake off the cold and dizziness. The sunglasses were laughing at me. The jacket was just laughing. The tac vest gave me a solemn 'welcome to the club and P6W-428'. O'Neill was doing a perimeter check, as was Teal'c. Carter and Daniel were respectively checking the FRED and a mushroom-shaped stone pedestal. Despite their non-regulation attire and decorum on the other side of the rippling mirror, these people obviously were serious about their jobs on this side of it.

O'Neill wove his way around large squared-off stones covered in basking lizards as he worked his way in a rough circle around a big stone ring just like the one in the embarkation room. I must have been suffering some after-effects from the transition through the ring, because I was having trouble keeping track of the sun as O'Neill looked around. It seemed to be casting shadows from two directions, which wasn't possible. Behind the ring, O'Neill passed Teal'c heading in the opposite direction, also gazing alertly around at their surroundings, which seemed to be the remains of some very old stone buildings, with isolated trees interspersed among heaps of rock and shallow, grass-covered soil. Teal'c and O'Neill met up again in front of the big stone ring, then accompanied Carter and Daniel as they escorted the FRED to a lizard-covered pile of rock slabs atop a slight rise about 50 meters from the stone ring.

"Still no detectable energy readings, sir." Carter reported as they arrived at their vantage point.

O'Neill nodded acknowledgement, "So why's it so nippy, Carter? I expected it to be warmer by now, what with the second sun being up." Second sun?? That's why I was having trouble keeping my shade angles straight! I wasn't just disoriented; the light really WAS coming from two different directions! Despite the intermittent cloud cover, I should have made that connection sooner. Two suns? Where the hell WERE we?? I wasn't certain what to make of the jacket's apparent response, a sing-songed 'We're on another pla-net. We're on another pla-net.'

Despite not having been addressed, Airman Daniel interjected before Captain Carter could respond, "It's not exactly nippy, Jack, it's in the low 60's, and Sam did mention the low insolation levels from either of the suns during the briefing." I'd survived that high-tech roller coaster ride with no permanent damage, but hearing a subordinate use such an admonishing tone to his CO, while addressing said CO by a nick name, had me ready to unravel.

Nobody else seemed to think anything was amiss. Carter blithely provided a more detailed answer to O'Neill's question, "We'll need the more precise equipment we brought on the FRED to refine our calculations, sir, and more time for observations, but as I explained during the briefing, it appears that P6W-428 has a rotational period of 52 to 53 hours. The current configuration of the suns results in about 48 hours of continuous daylight, with only 4 to 5 hours of night. However, at this location, the angle of incidence for both of the suns is fairly shallow, so although there is light, there's not as much heat as we might expect. The humidity in the air is high enough to act as a buffer as the water vapor absorbs much of the heat, but if you feel any of these stones, they're warm because they've had at least one sun shining on them for over 16 hours." She glanced from O'Neill over to Daniel, "I suspect that's why these lizards are all basking on the stones and not on the trees or bare ground."

"And they really ARE all aligned pretty much the same way, Sam, with a sun on either side, as we suspected from the MALP images. So they probably are getting heat from the warmed surface underneath as well as from both of the suns at the same time." Daniel gestured toward a large stone slab with a neat array of parallel lizards ranging in size from about five inches to over five feet from snout to tail tip, "I think the bio labs will confirm that these lizards are exothermic like reptiles back on Earth."

O'Neill surveyed the pile of slabs and the rocky field, confirming that the lizards were all lined up in the same direction, no matter the shape or orientation of their perch, "Why are you all so sure they weren't listening to a lizard lecture, which our arrival interrupted, or having a rock concert? Why are there so many of them? It looks like different species, not just different sizes of the same species."

"There may just BE more species of lizards to be out basking than what we're used to on Earth, Jack." Daniel responded as he pulled out the video camera and started surveying the area with it.

Carter piped up as soon as Daniel paused for breath, "As we explained in the briefing, sir, the environmental fluctuations and extremes resulting from the dynamics of the two suns may make food resources unpredictable enough that cold-blooded life forms survive better because they don't need to eat as much as equivalents to warm-blooded mammals or birds. That's one of the reasons we're here to select a site and set up the first phase of long-term environmental and astronomical monitoring equipment. I can't wait to get data on the dynamics of this binary solar system." Carter had already assembled a prefabricated instrument rack and was affixing the contents of several of the crates to the rack as she spoke.

As if they were on a relay team, Daniel resumed talking when Carter paused, "These ruins are so weathered I don't see any signs of ornamentation, writing, or definitive indications of the level of sophistication of the original construction. However, even the largest of the lizards currently here would be unlikely to build structures on such a large scale, especially with feet and claws that don't look as though they can manipulate tools. I also doubt your concert theory, Jack, unless some of them watch with their tails. Even though all their bodies are parallel, they seem to be split about half and half for which way their heads are pointing. Although the little ones do seem to be keeping the big ones where they can see them. Such calm intermingling between predator and possible prey is unusual."

Teal'c finally contributed to the conversation, "Daniel Jackson, if energy from both suns is required to warm these creatures sufficiently for normal daily activities, is it possible that the smaller individuals reach optimal functioning temperature more quickly, and thus need not fear attack from the larger individuals?" Jackson? To whom was Teal'c speaking? Wait a minute....

Carter and Daniel vied to be the first to respond to Teal'c's query. Both agreed that lizards with smaller body masses would heat more quickly, but Daniel carried the idea further and presented an alternate theory that perhaps the smaller lizards' close scrutiny of the larger lizards might be an assessment for a mass attack before the larger lizards could move rapidly enough to defend themselves. I was amazed at how adeptly and quickly Carter and Daniel could assemble equipment while simultaneously bouncing ideas and talking over each other's sentences. But who were these invisible Sam and Jackson to whom Daniel and Teal'c occasionally addressed comments?

I was distracted from the continuing debate by the realization that 'Daniel' wasn't just an informal-sounding family name; both O'Neill and Carter apparently mutually addressed this member of the team by first name. 'Sam' was Captain Carter. 'Jackson' was Airman Daniel Jackson. This was so far outside proper military protocol that I needed time to process. I'll be the first to admit that I'm an action cap, not a thinking cap. However, I had already added the non-regulation informality to the undeniably non-regulation dress and had considered the unlikely possibility that 'Airman Daniel' wasn't even military BEFORE the sunglasses deigned to inform me that Doctor Daniel Jackson was indeed a civilian consultant and outside military protocol, like it or not.

SG-1 had their little data-collection station assembled and operating within a few hours. The number of basking lizards had gradually thinned as the day advanced, smallest to largest, as Teal'c predicted. No attacks of smaller or larger lizards had been witnessed by any of the team, so those theories remained untested and equally valid, or invalid. In fact, the only excitement came when O'Neill used ME to swat a small lizard off a packing crate, but the lizard had recoiled in terror and didn't even attempt to rake me with its tiny teeth or claws, so nothing significant resulted from my close encounter with an alien life form.

Both suns were still shining when O'Neill gave the order to return the FRED to the 'Stargate', which I finally learned was what they called the big stone ring. As unsettling as my first field mission had been, what with dealing with two suns, an alien lizard, and an undisciplined civilian, I felt I had performed my duty to satisfaction and was ready to return to my locker.

The return trip through the Stargate was physically just as unsettling as the first, but since I now knew what was happening, O'Neill's hair and I BOTH remained unruffled by the experience, which is good, since ruffles on a field cover are against regulations, and would look ridiculous. O'Neill reported a successful mission to Hammond as soon as the team reached the base of the ramp in the embarkation room, then SG-1 reported to the medical wing for a much more thorough medical examination than I'd witnessed prior to the mission.

At first, I didn't understand why the medical airman was handing O'Neill a biohazard bag. An ominous feeling descended when O'Neill pulled me off and examined the side which had brushed against that little lizard, "I don't think it actually bit or clawed the hat, so there's probably not any venom or anything, but there could be some skin secretions or other stuff the lab geeks may want to test." I was summarily tossed inside that suffocating bag, without even those conceited sunglasses for company. The rest of O'Neill's uniform got to share a larger biohazard bag.

I won't glorify the indignities to which those 'lab geeks' subjected me, all for a couple microscopic bits of lizard skin, by describing them in detail. Suffice it to say, that once THEY were done torturing me, I still had to go through the 'standard' decontamination: scrubbing (not as gentle as the lab geeks, but nicer chemicals), steam autoclaving (toasty and confining), irradiation (actually, that tickles), dry heat (enough already!), and after all that, the Colonel insisted I needed to have my bill reshaped AGAIN.

Never-the-less, I'm ready for our next mission. Top stitching for a top gun, even if Colonel O'Neill doesn't fly a traditional air craft. I'll keep it all under my brim, no matter how many suns they pit against me. The Air Force "Aims High", and I will, too.


Kapitel Abschlussbemerkung:
This story is a companion piece to "A Twisted Tangled Yarn", and goes where Daniel's sweater could not. 
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